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Television press tours are usually low-key, even stuffy affairs. But with Benedict Cumberbatch arriving today to promote the new season of "Sherlock" on PBS, the atmosphere was more like an early Beatles concert, with dozens of "CumberCollective" fans lined up outside carrying signs and hoping to catch a glimpse of their unlikely idol.
And Cumberbatch is grateful for their devotion, telling critics: "It's kind of extraordinary, and a little bit unnerving… It means a hell of a lot to me." His favorite part of the fame, he said, is seeing sales for the original Arthur Conan Doyle "Sherlock" books skyrocket after the show airs. He also recalled his first awkward encounter with a fan: a Sainsbury's supermarket clerk who stammered and gawked while Cumberbatch tried to order chicken.
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But he's found himself tongue-tied at times himself, too — like when Harrison Ford told him on "The Graham Norton Show" how much he admired his work: "That was a genuine shock… I was floored by that. He's a huge hero." He also admitted to being star-struck when meeting the casts of "Breaking Bad" and "Homeland." (Though, he was quick to add, "Not Damian Lewis. He's old hat.")
More "Sherlock" scoop from today's panel:
* The most shocking moment from the Season 3 premiere may have been the almost-kiss between Sherlock and his arch-nemesis Moriarty (an alternate theory on how Sherlock might have survived his Season 2 "death"). "Sherlock" co-creator Steven Moffat (also the man behind "Doctor Who") joked, "We got the idea from the palpable chemistry between Benedict and [co-star] Andrew [Scott]."
He said co-creator Mark Gatiss (who also plays Sherlock's brother Mycroft) wrote that scene, telling Moffat afterwards, "I've done something slightly cheeky." Cumberbatch seemed embarrassed by the inquiry, insisting, "I just want to point out, we didn't actually connect." He added that the most intimate he and Scott got in any take was the lip equivalent of "a fist-bump."
* Another unexpected delight from last night's premiere: our first sight of Sherlock's parents, a shockingly normal couple that an embarrassed Sherlock quickly shooed out of his flat. And the actors playing his parents happen to be Cumberbatch's real-life parents as well. "They're trained actors with a CV, and they were available," he deadpanned, before calling it "a glorious thing… it's a joy."
According to Cumberbatch, though, the depiction we saw isn't far off from reality: "They were absolutely appalled at how accurate the relationship is between Sherlock and his parents and me and mine. I love them to bits, but I can be a bit short."
* However complicated his feelings for his parents might be, Cumberbatch had nothing but praise for his co-star Martin Freeman (Watson), who he said made him a better actor. "When Martin walked into the room, I raised my game. He was quite simply throwing out the most interesting challenges, and the most interesting questions to answer. And he's the most fun to be around. Not just because of his work, but because of who he is."
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* Cumberbatch isn't deterred by the sad tales that have dogged the lives of previous "Sherlock" portrayers like Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett, saying of the role: "I love it. I find it invigorating." He even referenced the upcoming Ian McKellen-Bill Condon film that imagines an aged Sherlock battling dementia: "Maybe I'll reach ripe old age, and it'll be able to be the same in our format... I kind of do [battle dementia] already. But that's just my bad memory."
* Cumberbatch playing a ripe old Sherlock must sound like music to PBS's ears: Ratings for the Season 3 premiere were up 25 percent (to 4 million total viewers), and Moffat has said a fourth and fifth season are already plotted out. ("It will continue until Benedict gets too famous," Moffat teased.) Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton said they're committed to co-producing future "Sherlock" seasons "forever," as long as the BBC keeps making them. Well, then… case closed.
"Sherlock" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on PBS.