Brett was the quintessential Holmes, nobody, neither Basil Rathbone nor Benedict Cumberbatch can come close to epitomizing the essential Sherlock. In 2014, Brett was voted the Greatest Sherlock Holmes beating other actors who have also played the iconic role.
For a stage actor who played Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth, Sherlock must have been very easy. Not so.
“Holmes is the hardest part I have ever played – harder than Hamlet or Macbeth.”
What I, and I suspect many, don’t know is that Jeremy had a mental illness.
In the latter half of 1986, he exhibited wild mood swings that alarmed everybody, and after persuasion to seek treatment of bipolar disorder, he was given Lithium. This is why his physical appearance noticeably changed in the episodes filmed after 1987. He put on weight and his body started retaining water. He would have difficulties breathing and often needed an oxygen mask during the filming.
“But, darlings, the show must go on”, was his only comment.
As a romantic, my unquiet mind has often been tempted to think that it was playing Sherlock, truly imbibing the character he was portraying, that led to his mental illness.
But that is wrong. There are definite psychological effects of method acting but that was not the case with Brett. He was a victim of bipolar disorder whether he played Sherlock or not.
In his later years, he publicly acknowledged his illness and strove to raise public awareness about it. Here is a rare audio voice over of Jeremy Brett talking about bipolar depression.