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The actors talk about their inspiration – and the award that means the most to them.

Laura Linney and Sir Ian McKellen at the London premiere of Mr Holmes

Laura Linney and Sir Ian McKellen at the London premiere of Mr Holmes

What drew you to the film Mr Holmes?

Ian McKellen: It’s very touching that someone we think we know well, someone perhaps we wouldn’t want to spend much time with, turns out to have a beating heart that he’s trying to catch up with and has spent 30 years running away from.

At the end of his life he wanted to complete the most emotional side of his life that had been neglected. He’s a much nicer person at the end than he was at the beginning – and so there’s hope for us all.

• Also online: Review of Mr Holmes

Laura Linney: This movie deals with Holmes in a very different way to how he has been dealt with before. For me a tiny thread is what you think someone is and what they actually are – I find that an age-old interesting dynamic – how perception is not always exact.

And what about the character interests you ?

IM: I like it that Holmes he doesn’t do things by halves. This case he didn’t solve and he was so upset by that he didn’t do any other sleuthing for 30 years. Is that will power or stupidity? Or the way he does things, not by halves? And his reward is to discover that he lives with a woman who genuinely cares for him and a friendship with a boy who is wiser than his years.

Laura Linney as widowed cook Mrs Munro

Laura Linney as widowed cook Mrs Munro

Do you think you’ll get any stick from the Holmes purists?

IM: I think Holmes comes out of the story rather well. It is another play on the familiar character. I’ve not had any complaints about trampling over Sherlock Holmes.

Who was the first actor to ever play Holmes on film? He’s an anonymous actor, I think Hungarian, it’s just a brief snippet – you can find it on YouTube. Isn’t it ironic that the very first actor to play Holmes is unknown. It’s a mystery.

Did you take inspiration from the books?

IM: I’ve long learnt that if someone has taken the trouble to write the script then any suggestions I have it’s too late. They’ve thought about all that. My ideas are likely to be irrelevant, boring, unnecessary, which does relieve you from having to read enormous biographies, like when I played Hitler. You all want the script to be good and this one was and this was a peach of a part. I’m very lucky. I knew [director] Bill Condon of old so he thought of me before he thought of any other actors who are tearing out what’s left of their hair

LL: I was a little obsessed with him from about the age of nine. I loved the movies – Nigel Bruce, Basil Rathbone. When I applied to drama school and they ask on the application form ‘who’s your favourite actor?’ and I put Basil Rathbone. I love the world – I love that Sherlock Holmes is more brilliant than anyone in the room and there’s something sexy about the fact he was a loner, a drug addict, a musician. I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes in his prime

Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes in his prime

And what about taking on such an iconic and enduring character?

IM: It’s not as difficult or remarkable to play a character that so many other people have played. I played Hamlet. If you started thinking about all the people who play Hamlet you’d never step on to the stage. You do because you don’t want to deny yourself the possibility of discovering Hamlet inside yourself or a side of Hamlet no-one else has noticed. And that’s true of the Macbeth and the Ugly Sisters and King Lear and here we are with Sherlock Holmes. This difference with this is that my Holmes is a script that nobody else has done.

LL: These characters are meant to be inhabited or else they die. Have a go. Do it. Regardless of what angle it’s coming from. Keep the exploration going.

What one award do you prize above all others?

IM: I was up in Wigan where I spent the first 12 years of my life and in the I Believe In Wigan Square there are a number of stars of people who have lived in Wigan and done the town proud and I am now one of those stars.

I got a bit weepy actually because it was over cobble stones that I have walked as a kid every Saturday going to the fair or going to watch the people selling their stuff on the market. First actors I saw up close.

LL: I won a limbo contest on roller skates.