Friday, January 11, 2008

Interview with Stephen Mangan

I did my first ever phone inteview yesterday, with Green Wing/Never Better's Stephen Mangan! I'm my first victim.. er I mean interviewee was so nice and chatty!

Last night was a big night for season premieres. Over on ITV1, there were the first episodes of Tony Jordan's project Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach, and Thursdays continued to be Funny with a second series of Little Miss Jocelyn, and a brand new British comedy, Never Better. This latter show stars Stephen Mangan, and TV Scoop were lucky enough to get an interview with him.

Mangan is probably best known for his role as Dr Guillaume Valerie Secretan in Green Wing, and for playing rather self-absorbed types. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth in real life, and after a brief chat about Richard and Judy getting him a Routemaster bus for him to drive ("really scary!") it was a delight to hear all about his new programme...

TV Scoop: So you play Keith in Never Better - what kind of a guy is he?
Stephen Mangan: Keith is a recovering alcoholic. I suppose he's a little self-obsessed, a little insensitive. Crucially, he desperately tries to do the right thing, but because he's spent so long drunk, now he's sober he has to relearn how to be a husband, and a father and a friend. It doesn't come naturally to him and he himself into all sorts of scrapes... but crucially he's a good guy trying his best.

TVS: British comedy likes its anti-heroes, doesn't it?
SM: Yes, he comes from a long line, starting with Frank Spencer... well, not as goofy as that! There's nothing very funny about people who are successful. We like to laugh at our losers, really.

TVS: I guess it's like Lead Balloon - although Rick Spleen's heart isn't even in the right place!
SM: No he's just grumpy and horrible! Keith is... just a bit rubbish.

TVS: I've seen a few clips, and it looks like Never Better has the capacity to be quite dark...
SM: Well it is yeah; the fact that he's a recovering alcoholic for a start, you might not imagine that it's a fertile ground for comedy, but we're not laughing at the AA or anything, it's just a good setting to put this character into because he's dealing with a lot of people who have a lot to lose, and that ramps up the pressure on him, and he gets himself into a lot of embarrassing situations.

TVS: Is that the sort of comedy you've always been drawn to?
SM: Oh I love that stuff, it's like Curb Your Enthusiasm, that sort of thing, The Office, Alan Partridge - I love all that sort of stuff. I've got a friend who can't watch The Office because he's an accountant and it's too much like real life. He just finds it unbearable.

TVS: Yeah, it's ok if you're laughing and cringing, but not if you're just cringing! I know you've done a lot of improvised work - Green Wing and Confetti - did you get much input into this, or is it quite heavily scripted?
SM: No, the writer knew exactly what he wanted. The script was very good, he didn't need me coming in and mucking it up with my improvisation! If I wanted to change an 'and' to a 'but' there'd have to be a big meeting about it...! He was very specific, and quite right I suppose, he'd spent all that time slaving over a hot typewriter. He doesn't want Mangan coming along and mucking it up!

TVS: Was it quite hard to make sure you got every single word absolutely right?
SM: Oh well he would come over with a big stick and hit me on the back of the head...

TVS: Do you think you'll go back to more improvised work, or are you quite happy sticking to a script?
SM: I think if you can integrate the two - great writing with improvisation - to me that is the best of all possible words, 'cause people can come up with some cracking stuff on the spur of the moment. But there's a difficulty of capturing it on film sometimes, because obviously if no-one knows what's going to be happening then it's hard to know where the camera should be pointing. But I absolutely love improvisation 'cause it means when you get up in the morning you have no idea what's going to happen.

TVS: On our site readers can comment on what we write, and it's always comedy that provokes the most polarised views. Do have any ideas why that might be?
SM: I think it's that it's such a personal thing, comedy. You know, if someone tries to be funny and we don't find them funny, for some reason people feel contempt for them. No-one wants to be a stand-up comedian in a club who doesn't get any laughs - you just get too much abuse. The flip side of it is that when you do make people laugh they feel affection towards you. If you're in a show that people like... Green Wing, for example. There were people who couldn't stand it, couldn't understand what all the fuss was about and another group of people who are really dedicated fans - which is fine by me. But some people do get very vitriolic... from the safety of their own bedroom.

TVS: But we want people to be involved, definitely; it's good that we're not just talking to people who don't care!
SM: Absolutely! It shows they care, shows it matters. The ones I have a problem with are the people who just slag everything off. That's a little sad. But a bit of healthy debate - great.

TVS: So what are you liking on TV at the moment?
SM: Comedy wise, Flight Of The Conchords, and the Mighty Boosh is very funny.

TVS: That is something that has split opinion right down the middle here! I personally love it...
SM: I have a lot of time for them. It's almost like a really old-fashioned double act. They could be Eric and Ernie or something - at the heart of it there's a classic double act. But it's great to see a show where you haven't the faintest idea what's going to happen next. I mean the one with the Crack Fox really was quite scary, wasn't it? Also Noel just seems to be someone who just attracts the ladies... what is it with them? People like him and Julian Rhind-Tutt! It's the long hair, isn't it?!

TVS: I prefer Julian to be honest... Julian Barratt I mean!!
SM: Oh right, well that's good because Julian Rhind-Tutt just gets the ladies flocking to him. It's just sickening...

TVS: I'm a Stephen Mangan fan, personally.
SM: laughs Thank you.

TVS: Ok, finally, have you got any other projects underway, anything we'll be seeing you in soon?
SM: We did a pilot on Channel 4 called Free Agents, part of the Comedy Showcase, with Sharon Horgan, they've commissioned a series of that, so we'll be filming that at summer sometime. And there's a film called Beyond The Pole which is a comedy about two men who walk to the Arctic to protest about global warming - but they're just a bit rubbish. That's with Rhys Thomas.

TVS: Oh fantastic, he's cool.
SM: Yeah. We're just waiting for the writers' strike to end at the moment, so we'll just have to wait an see what happens. That's holding everything up.

TVS: Yeah, The Daily Show finally came back the other day, didn't it? Jon Stewart just talking on his own...
SM: Yeah, weird, wasn't it? It's funny how it really has shut everything down over there.

And with that, Mangan was off to BBC News 24 for his final interview of the day: "It's no Richard and Judy, is it?!" Come back to TV Scoop later today for a review of Never Better.



Anonymous said...

Great interview, Anna — he sounds like a really nice bloke, very different from the characters he often plays.

"Julian Rhind-Tutt just gets the ladies flocking to him. It's just sickening..."

I would take this comment more seriously if it weren't from the man who comes home to Louise Delamere every night!

AnnaWaits said...

Well indeed :D

And thanks, I really enjoyed the whole thing actually!

Marie said...

Did I detect a hint of flirtation? "I'm a Stephen Mangan fan"... ;-)

AnnaWaits said...

That was simple flattery, Marie.

No, to be honest, it was because when I said I prefered Julian, it was clear he thought I meant I prefered Julian *Rhind-Tutt* to him... I felt I should rectify that with a bit of an ego-boost. ;)

Marie said...

Fair enough! Personally, by the end of Green Wing Season 2 my Mac v Guy loyalties were all over the place, which is appropriate given that Tamsin Grieg is my who-would-play-me...

AnnaWaits said...


I really need to give Green Wing another go, don't I...