Dad’s the Word!

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

For TV Times, 14 – 20th January 1989

Rik Mayall has been described as a very talented maniac but, although he’s happy to continue playing lunatics, the truth is that a dramatic change has come over him. Cordell Marks reports.

Perhaps the world would be a better place if we were all actors. Perhaps we’d all be better people. Rik Mayall, you see, has this theory that the parts he plays cleanse him of the qualities he most dislikes about himself. ‘Acting,’ says Mayall, ‘is a bit like going to the loo.’

Which is why when he was Kevin Turvey, the disgruntled, yawn-making Brummie in The Turvey Report (sic), he turned boredom into an art form – deep down he was worried that he, too, could be an intensely boring person.

‘I’ve always tried to suppress it, but I know it’s there. As Kevin I could use it. Out it all came. Great.’ And when he was the lunatic Rick in The Young Ones he could let rip with all his pent-up selfishness and hypocrisy. Says Mayall: ‘That’s what the part called for, that’s how students are, and those are the qualities I had as a student.’

Now, of course, there is the ruthless, corrupt, vicious, creeping Alan B’Stard, MP, who returned to ITV last week in a new series of The New Statesman. ‘There’s a bit of Alan in all of us,’ says Mayall, ‘and I can get rid of my bit by acting him. He’s the absolute opposite of everything I’ve tried to be since becoming a parent. That’s another role that’s changed me, but I’m not acting that one.’

He laughs when I tell him he must be a pretty terrific person by now, having been able to rid himself of so many dislikeable qualities. ‘I always thought I was basically all right,’ he says, and he is: vibrant, enthusiastic but thoughtful, and nothing like the crazies he so often plays.

He has a habit of carefully considering what he is going to say next so that often his sentences begin: ‘It may sound pretentious, but…’

‘It may sound pretentious, but it would be true to say,’ he says, ‘that I don’t find real life offers enough stimulation. That’s what’s so marvellous about being an actor. You can do anything. I mean, you go into this business because you want to live in fantasyland.

‘I’m a very mildmannered soul really, but I think if I were working in the City or as a bus conductor or whatever I’d be awful because I wouldn’t have a release.

‘Jack Nicholson summed it up. I think it was Jack Nicholson. He said that it was great being an actor because you can do anything for five minutes without any responsibility.

‘I mean I don’t normally get the chance to break windows, or blackmail people or burn down printworks, but I do as Alan B’Stard. It gives you a chance to behave on the wide scale!

‘If you want to have a good time, be an actor. That goes for any part of the entertainment industry. I mean, rock ‘n’ rollers have been having a good time for years and I suppose most actors of my generation [he is 31] had rock stars as their heroes.

‘Theirs were the lifestyles that we wanted to emulate.

‘Rocking Little Richard has been my inspiration for years. I’ve a photograph taken with him that has pride of place in my study. What Little Richard does is to get an audience on a high right from the start, and I think it’s true to say that’s what I like to do. Other people say you should take it slowly and gradually build up, but I like to start high and aim to get higher.’

Frenetic double-dealings, poisonings, infidelity and the rest are still the mix in the latest series of The New Statesman as B’Stard gets on in the world, but storylines are now simpler and scenes longer so that the characters are stretched more.

Alan B’Stard is also to be seen making more use of the media. ‘In other words,’ says Mayall, ‘you’ll see him in television interviews telling even more lies.

‘Last time we recorded the episodes we over-ran each week and a lot of the gags were edited out. Nightmare. This time we are budgeting for an over-run in laughs, and to do that we are going into the studio with a 19-minute script to make a 23 ½ minute programme (30 minutes if you include the commercial breaks) and so there will be room for all the laughter and any extra funny business that suddenly springs to mind.’

Most of his work is self-generated. For instance, it was Mayall who thought of the idea for The Young Ones and co-wrote it.

‘I didn’t want any of the characters to be able to communicate with each other. They were all shouting about themselves all at the same time, and that’s where the humour was.’

Mayall approached the writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, whose series Shine On Harvey Moon he had admired, and asked if they might write for him. The result was The New Statesman. ‘You have to make things happen,’ says Mayall.

The critic James Fen ton saw Rik Mayall’s stand-up comedy act in the early days of his career – ‘I think there were only two people in the audience and they’d come in out of the rain,’ says Mayall – but the critic was impressed.

‘A very talented young maniac,’ he wrote of Mayall, but though he goes on playing the maniacs, a change has come over him. It is called fatherhood.

‘It may sound pretentious,’ says this father, ‘but I think bringing another human being into the world is the most important thing you can do.’ He and his wife Barbara have two-year-old Rosemary and baby son Sidney. Sidney?

‘We looked at his face,’ says Mayall, ‘and Sidney it had to be. It’s a slightly unfashionable name which is a good sign. He’ll be his own man, will Sidney.’

Mayall himself is actually Richard, the Rik being inspired by the comic strip Erik the Viking. ‘I thought it very cool, brilliant, when I first started calling myself Rik, and then I decided it was utterly embarrassing, cringe, cringe, but it would have been even more embarrassing and pretentious to change it back.’

He says that before becoming a father work was the most important subject in his life. ‘Now it’s family first, work second. I love being an actor, dipping into fantasy. I’m going to be an actor for the rest of my life, but having a family gives it all a purpose. It puts the whole thing into context…’