Rupert Everett wanted Sherlock Holmes to lighten up a bit.

"I really wanted to say, 'Holmes, Sher-lock Holmes," the actor said of his take on the legendary sleuth in a new Masterpiece Theatre production on PBS. "I thought it would make things a bit more fun."

Although Everett's attempted nod to James Bond didn't make the cut, he did give the detective a slightly wry, yet moo-dy, demeanor. And he spoke the phrase most often attributed to Holmes: "Elementary, my dear Watson" -- a line not included in the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle but one made famous by Basil Rathbone's film portrayals.

Everett admitted he's not a fanatic about Holmes but said the role satisfied a common yearning for many actors.

"You always have a dream at some point in your acting career of playing a crime-fighter," he said. "You dream of being able to say, 'It's elementary,' and of having the fun of being Holmes. He still has so much appeal, even though he is a thing of the past."

Holmes's past goes back more than a century -- he first appeared in a story by Doyle in 1886 -- and his new adventure, set in 1902 in London, finds him tracking a series of disappearing debutantes. When the girls turn up dead, each is wearing the previous victim's clothes and has a silk stocking stuffed in her mouth.

Holmes, now retired and busy puttering around at home, reluctantly takes the case, prodded by his crime-solving partner Dr. Watson, played by Ian Hart.

While police remain baffled, Holmes finds a key to the killer's fascination with clothes in a Freudian-era medical casebook and studies the signature clues, much as present-day detectives create criminal profiles.

"Holmes was profiling a hundred years before we knew what profiling was," said Allan Cubitt, who wrote the screenplay. "He dedu-ces from the physical and the psychological."

Cubitt called Holmes a guide to the unraveling of an investigation, "and what you want in that guide is someone special to lead you," he said. "Holmes is one of the most special ever written."

Cubitt's script is not based on one of the original Holmes tales, "but Doyle would have written it if he'd thought of it," said Rebecca Eaton, one of the program's executive producers. "It's appropriate for Holmes: the fumble-bumming cops, the needy women. "

Eaton described Everett's portrayal of the detective as "having fun with the icon, being Sherlock but having a good time at it."

"And Rupert fits the role like a glove," she said. "There's a new TV generation born every 15 years. They never saw Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. It's definitely time for a new one, and he's the man for the job."

Cubitt agreed. "The most successful (film) Holmeses have looked as he was described by Doyle: tall, dark, with piercing eyes and a powerful presence," he said. "Rupert has that look."

Everett found it fun to reprise a role that so many actors have played. "It's a very funny list of those who've played him too, from Roger Moore [1976] to Charlton Heston [1991] and so many others," he said. "And there is no common thread. It's a very good role: he's dark and moody, he's a crime fighter and a criminal at the same time, so he represents the Victorian society perfectly."

Everett called Watson's role, played by Hart, a very difficult part.

"There is nothing much for him to do," he said. "Watson reacts to what Holmes says or does. It's a difficult job. Ian made a really good run at it, but it's a difficult part."

Cubitt said the twists and turns of Doyle's stories sparked his interest as a youth but no longer intrigued him as an adult reader.

"But the quality of the character endures. He is a magnificent creation who captures people's imagination," he said. "The detective genre is an abiding one. If you get it right, it can't fail."

Everett, who has read the Holmes stories in the past, said that "Holmes touches some kind of nerve in people. He's amoral in a good way. He doesn't judge, and he is equally affectionate to both the perp and the victim. That is what makes him potentially interesting.

"In many crime stories, you get wound up in timetables, where was so-and-so when it happened," Everett said. "You don't get any perspective about what it means. But Holmes is such a clever crime-fighter, I'm very interested in knowing whatever he finds."


Sunday at 9 p.m. on PBS

Holmes, Again

Sherlock Holmes has been a whodunit fixture in American and British films and television since 1916, when William Gillette first played Arthur Conan Doyle's popular detective.

The best-known Holmeses are Basil Rathbone, who played the part from 1939-46, and Jeremy Brett (1984-94). Others who took on the part include John Barrymore (1922), Clive Brook (1932), Alan Wheatley (1951), Ronald Howard (1954 TV series), Robert Stephens (1970), Frank Langella (1981 TV movie) and Paul Guers (1982).