HOLLYWOOD — When one beholds the billboards touting the first movie in the new "Sherlock Holmes" franchise, one sees the slim, natty, Anglo-looking Jude Law and imagines he is Holmes and that the less buff, older and somewhat rumpled Robert Downey Jr. is his Dr. Watson. Wrong, of course, and despite stereotypical expectations, Downey Jr.'s Holmes is earning critical praise, quite apart from the fact that the film is heating up the box office.

Indeed, it's startling to realize that former bad-boy Downey Jr., no longer so junior (he turns 46 in April), has a son aged 16. Was he at all surprised to be offered the part of the master detective — who, as created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was something of a drug addict — rather than the good doctor?

"I've always felt myself to be an outsider in Hollywood," he says slowly, as though exerting great patience, "but that doesn't mean I don't know how our movie-business works. And since this is a franchise, a big-big-bucks enterprise, I'd have been surprised — very — if they had offered Sherlock Holmes himself to, say, Jude Law, who is a fine British actor but therefore not basically a Hollywood actor and ergo not a Hollywood product. Unlike, in a strange and quite ironic way, yours truly."