A Winter's Tale: Interview with Elementary's Ophelia Lovibond

By , Contributor

CBS

Elementary's Katheryn "Kitty" Winter (Ophelia Lovibond)

For as long as people can remember, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic fictional detective Sherlock Holmes has always had his loyal companion and confidant Dr. John Watson by his side while investigating cases ranging from "A Scandal in Bohemia" to "The Hound of the Baskervilles." That tradition continues in the hit CBS crime drama series Elementary, an American modern day re-imagining of Conan Doyle’s characters, only in this case, Watson is a female former surgeon named Joan.

When the show returned this fall for its third season, this dynamic duo of deduction became a threesome with the introduction of Holmes’ new protégé, Katheryn “Kitty” Winter, played by beautiful and talented Ophelia Lovibond. Unlike the complex cases her character helps unravel onscreen, there is no mystery to how the actress first became involved in the series.

“This is probably the most straightforward audition I’ve ever had so far in my career,” says Lovibond. “I was back home in London when I got a call from my agent in Los Angeles asking if I was familiar with the show Elementary. I said, ‘Yes,’ and he told me, ‘Rob Doherty, the show’s creator, would like to talk with you about one of the roles.’ Rob then called later that day and told me about Kitty Winter, where he saw the character going and all those sorts of other related things. He then asked me if I wanted to audition for the part, which, of course, I did.

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“So I put an audition tape together and e-mailed it to the people in LA. This was on a Tuesday, and on Thursday, I was offered the role. It was as simple as that, and two days later I was on a plane to New York [where Elementary is filmed]. It’s never that easy, and I couldn’t have been happier, because I loved the writing on the show as well as what Rob had to say about the character and his intentions for Kitty’s story arc.”

At the end of Elementary’s second season, the professional lives of Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) went off in two very different directions. Holmes remained in London and accepted a job with M16, while Watson returned to the U.S. and began working as a consulting detective for New York City’s 11th precinct as well as investigating private cases on her own. In the third season opener Enough Nemesis to Go Around, six months have passed and Watson is working on a case involving a female drug kingpin. Two months later, the trail has gone cold, and Watson is surprised to learn that Holmes is back in New York and investigating the same case. He is not alone, either; the detective has brought Katheryn “Kitty” Winter with him. Lovibond vividly recalls her first days walking in her character’s shoes.

“It was all rather surreal, actually,” notes the actress. “On the first day we were filming in a park in Brooklyn that was filled with people, so it was straight in at the deep end for me. Then on the second day we were working right in the middle of Soho, which was, again very busy and filled with tourists. We actually shot the single stick fight scene between Kitty and Watson. At one point when the director called, ‘Cut,’ I looked around and thought, ‘This is so bizarre. I was in London three days ago, and now I’m doing a single stick fight with Lucy Liu in the middle of Soho.’

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“So it was quite the whirlwind, but tremendously exciting, too. I think the initial biggest challenge for me with this character is the fact that you don’t get the scripts all at once. In England, you’re typically given all the material before you even start filming, so you’re able to completely chart the arc of your character, his or her pace in the story and, if you want, you can do research into the character. However, with the network television format in the States, you get the scripts as you go along, usually a week or so before you start work on the next episode.

“That was a completely new approach after years of me working a certain way. Again, it proved to be a new challenge for me at the start, but, in fact, it made the experience really fresh and kept the character really fresh as well. I’m discovering what’s happening with her as I go along, which is how we live our lives in the real world. None of us know what’s going to happen until it actually does, so it makes me approach the work with a different viewpoint, if you will, which I’m very much enjoying.”

When crossing the pond to the States with Holmes, Kitty left a great deal of “emotional baggage” behind in London. She still, however, carries many of the scars associated with her past and, with Holmes’ help, is continuing to work through many of the demons from that past.

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“My character has quite a volatile history, which Sherlock mentions in the opening few episodes of this season,” says Lovibond. “He met her in London and had been working with Kitty and training her as his protégé. Sherlock explains to Watson that Kitty has come a long way and he’s very pleased with the progress she has made so far.

“As the season goes on, you’ll see her stabilizing a bit and being more trusting of others,” continues the actress. “In particular, her relationship with Watson further develops. Kitty is very cold to her and quite unkind to her at first, but as she begins to feel more secure, Kitty realizes that she can welcome these new friendships and that they’re not a threat to her stability. With Watson, she starts to trust her, and that’s a big gift to Kitty. She is very closed-off, self-sufficient and enigmatic because of the whole trust issue, so it’s a big deal when she feels able to entrust herself and her welfare to another person.

“What’s quite nice is that Kitty and Watson share an understanding of Sherlock’s idiosyncrasies. They relieve some of the stress, I suppose, of working with him and how demanding he can be, by sharing a joke about his strange eccentricities. Similarly, Kitty pokes fun at Sherlock and likes to prod him. In the episode "Bella," Sherlock is trying to figure out if there’s real artificial intelligence. He’s coming up with all these different theories and proposing possible actions he might take. At one point Kitty says, ‘So you don’t actually know what you’re going to do.’ She’s kind of winding him up a little bit, and I think we’ll see more of that develop, which is indicative of the fact that there’s a real friendship there.

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“The other thing I really like is that the characters kind of figure out a nice dynamic amongst the three of them. You see Holmes and Watson take on sort of parental roles. That’s not exactly what they are, but they do become mentors to Kitty and offer her different aspects of support. So you see that develop throughout this season.”

Looking ahead to the latter half of Elementary’s third season, the actress hints at what audiences can perhaps look forward to with her character. “Kitty’s past is referenced several times, and there’s that file on her that Captain Gregson [Aidan Quinn], Sherlock and Watson have all seen, but the audience never sees what’s in it. However, it’s certainly important enough for a file to exist,” muses Lovibond. “I suppose as the episodes draw on, you learn more about what is in that file and why it exists. You also see more evidence of who Kitty was in the past and why she’s become the person she is today.

“In the latter episodes this season I also have some really beautiful scenes with Jonny. He’s such an incredible actor, and I don’t say that lightly. Watching Jonny do what he does and getting to work with someone that talented is so inspiring. There are these kind of intimate back and forth exchanges between Sherlock and Kitty where you see how much they actually do care about one another. They both dance around that fact, and it’s completely platonic, but they do care. At the same time, they’re both not totally socially adaptive. For very different reasons, they’re not massively at ease socially, and yet, for that reason, they are very comfortable with one another because they both have that in common. I can’t say too much more because I don’t want to give anything away, but I felt very lucky being able to work on scenes like that with someone like Jonny.”

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Growing up, Lovibond, like many children, imagined what she wanted to be when she got older, and, in her case, looked to the sky for inspiration.

“When I was around four years old I was convinced I could be Superman, which tells you something about how precocious I must have been,” says the actress with a laugh. “Then, however, from around the age of 10 I knew categorically that I wanted to be an actress, and my desire, hunger and pure love for the profession has not wavered since. My Mum probably thought it was just a stage that I was going through or that it would be more of a hobby than anything else, but I knew differently. It’s funny, because if a 10 year old said that same thing to me I’d think, ‘Oh, that’s sweet, isn’t it.’ I was really adamant, though, and while I have other interests, I just felt that this [acting] was so right.”

In 2000, the actress made her TV debut at the age of 12 playing Poppy Wilson opposite David Bradley in the British sitcom The Wilsons. “I did that in front of a live studio audience and it was really being thrown in at the deep end,” she recalls, “which was probably a good thing, really. I didn’t have any professional training at all. I didn’t go to drama school or anything like that, so this was a truly invaluable experience of learning how to work in this profession. There were two cameras, so you quickly picked up how to be in front of a camera, how to maneuver around your costars, how to leave space in between a line for the audience to laugh, and how to respect those around you and how every job is important. The people who set the scene, those who make the props, work the lights, etc. Every single cog is important to make sure things all runs smoothly. I was so lucky at 12 to get that type of experience to prime me for the rest of my career.”

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Among Lovibond’s other TV work is her recent role of Robin in Mr. Sloane, while her feature film credits include 4.3.2.1., Mr. Popper’s Penguins, 8 Minutes Idle, Thor: The Dark World and most recently Guardians of the Galaxy, in which she plays Carina. “Guardians of the Galaxy was wild,” says the actress. “You’re walking around at lunchtime and there are all these people dressed in weird and wonderful costumes, and you grow accustomed to it all remarkably quickly. You kind of sit there painted pink from head to toe, while the people around you are green, yellow and pearlesque white, and you don’t bat an eyelid after an hour or so. You’re eating your sandwich, looking at one another like it’s the most natural thing in the world, and then, all of a sudden, you’ll have a moment of objectivity and think, ‘This is totally bonkers.’ I loved that.

“The scene with Benicio Del Toro [Taneleer Tivan/The Collector] and the infinity stones was epic. There was so much detail on that set, and seeing all the work that went into every single aspect of making the movie really helped whet my appetite for wanting to do another big Sci-Fi, Marvel-type extravaganza again.

“I often can’t believe that I get to do what I do for a living. It sounds very earnest and I don’t mean it to at all, but I genuinely do feel fortunate as well as grateful to be able to make a living doing something I love so much and that is in itself rewarding. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories and taking part in helping tell a story. I also love being around creative people and learning from them, like Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu on Elementary, and being able to do all those more emotional character-driven scenes with Jonny. Why wouldn’t you want to go to work each morning? Why wouldn’t you bounce onto set and want to do more every day?”

Please note, all Elementary photos copyright of CBS.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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