Amanda Abbington: Meet Martin Freeman's 'Sherlock' and real-life love interest

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"Sherlock" Season 3 has a new player: Amanda Abbington joins the cast as Mary Morstan, John Watson's fiancee. But the role isn't Abbington's first connection to the show. Rather, she and Martin Freeman have been  real-life  romantic partners for years.

How much does the fictional Mary resemble the real actress? And how did she get the role?

There are some big differences between truth and fiction, of course. While Mary is new on the "Sherlock" scene, Abbington and Freeman have been in a committed relationship for over a decade. The two actors also have two children together and have worked on multiple acting projects over the years: "Men Only" (where they met), "The Debt," "The Robinsons" and "The Good Night."

Despite all that, the "Sherlock" wedding of John and Mary will be the couple's first -- the longtime partners have never tied the knot in real life.

A veteran of British television, American audiences are most likely to recognize Abbington for her recent role in "Mr. Selfridge." She plays a department-store head of accessories, Miss Josie Mardle, in the Jeremy Piven-led period program. The second season of the Masterpiece drama will return in Feb. 2014.

Other roles include parts in "Coupling," "Being Human" and "Agatha Christie: Poirot."

Considering her history with Freeman, it shouldn't have been a shock for Abbington to be cast as Mary. That, however, was not the case. "I thought they were going to ask me, 'Do you have any ideas for this part? Which actress do you think works well with Martin?'" Abbington told The Independent on her meeting with "Sherlock" producers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. When they offered her the part, "I immediately started to talk myself out of the job, saying 'Are you sure? Don't we have millions of actresses who could do this job better than I could?'"

Abbington refers to her partner as "one of my favorite actors" but still found some of her "Sherlock" scenes intimidating. After all, Mary has to somehow relate to Sherlock Holmes ( Benedict Cumberbatch) without alienating Watson. "That was quite a bit of pressure," Abbington said in the same interview. "In the scene where Sherlock 'comes back from the dead' and reveals himself to John, I really had to up my game."

It should be interesting to see what happens next when an on- and off-screen couple interacts in "Sherlock."
Photo/Video credit: PBS