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WITH AN EYE ON ... : There's no place like Holmes for Anthony Higgins

September 12, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Quite elementary, Anthony Higgins thought. He was the only actor to play Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his archenemy, Dr. Moriarty.

However, he'd forgotten the late Orson Welles performed both parts on radio. "I was about to be rather disappointed," says Higgins, upon being informed of that fact, "but that's very distinguished company to be in."

The British Higgins was a deliciously vile Moriarty in the 1986 movie "Young Sherlock Holmes." He now stars as the master detective in the new CBS movie "Sherlock Holmes Returns! In the Adventure of the Tiger's Revenge," airing Sunday.

In the comedy-thriller, Holmes emerges after 94 years from a self-induced sleep to find himself in 20th-Century San Francisco. He meets Dr. Amy Winslow (Debra Farentino) who befriends him. The game's soon afoot for Holmes when he discovers a descendant of Moriarty is behind a string of recent and bizarre murders.

Higgins has been a Sherlock Holmes fan since he was a youngster. "You'd be very hard-pressed to find another fictional character with the broadness of his appeal," he explains. "He's a very strong archetype of a magician. He has powers that we'd all like to have. He's able to fix things. Particularly in the unclear world we live in, he's very black and white. The issues are black and white."

During filming, Higgins would at various times put himself in Holmes' position of suddenly finding himself in 1993. "I'd number all of the things, both in speech and objects, that he would be unfamiliar with," he explains. "It's quite a frightening exercise. At least a third of the words in our vocabulary would be foreign to him--and the world of computers, jet planes and high-rise buildings. That gave me a feeling that I tried to work from. He was feeling alien and lost, but determined to come to terms with it and hammer it out."

Of course, Holmes, a noted misogynist, has to adjust working with a female Dr. Watson. "There's a constant tension between the two of them," Higgins says. "His assistant is a female with very modern sensibilities. I think it creates a wonderful comic and very touching tension."

But Holmes only really comes alive, Higgins says, when he's on the trail of Moriarty's relative. "He's the only person of comparable intelligence and deductive powers," he says. "He's the other side of the mask--the dark side--which is absolutely fascinating to have played them both. The way they operate is almost identical. The difference is the moral impetus: One is on the side of the angels and the other isn't. It's a very different kind of feeling to play the same effect."

Next month, Higgins will demonstrate his comedic side in the Michael J. Fox film "For Love or Money," in which he plays a Donald Trump-like financier. Later this year he plans to star on the London stage in Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure."

If "Sherlock Holmes Returns!" hits in the ratings, CBS plans to turn it into a series. "I resisted for years of getting myself into a situation of doing an American series, because to be roped into making bad scripts sound good is very depressing work," Higgins says. "This was, in a way, the reverse. One had to be on top of one's own craft and tools to do justice to the script."

"Sherlock Holmes Returns! In The Adventure of the Tiger's Revenge" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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