Rik Mayall

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

For Film Monthly, November 1991

“I don’t like people to think I’m normal” he tells Ken Ferguson

Rik Mayall arrived for a London press conference in a limo which he found “great” and rather amusing. “The man who drove me here had driven Mel Gibson around and he was “telling me that Mel didn’t have any privacy at all. If that’s what being a film star a really big film star, is all about, then I don’t want it. I’m interested in making films, but I don’t want to be taken away from a live audience for a start. And there’s the added pressure of thinking that each film you make would have to be so important, and spending your life doing interviews.”

Yet here he was, doing a group interview, talking about Drop Dead Fred which he made in America for an English company. He talked for an hour, about the move, about growing up, his past work, and about his image. I’ve always found his style of comedy rather akin to an outrageous, precocious naughty little boy who likes to shock, rather like the character named ‘Drop Dead Fred’ he plays in the movie — the invisible friend of Phoebe Cates who nobody else can see.

“I really don’t like doing interviews,” he told us.

Why not?

“Because I don’t like people to think I’m normal,” he replied.

But an hour in the company of Rik Mayall saw him behaving quite normally, just the occasional naughty word here and there and a few face pulls. He’s an individual who hides his serious true self behind the faces of characters such as Rick in The Young Ones, Alan B’Stard of The New Statesman, and Richard Richard in his new TV series Bottom.

“I like to have fun,” he says. “As a kid I wanted to be naughty, but I was too cowardly to be really naughty. I was the guy who stood next to the really naughty boy, persuading him to do the really naughty things! I was a bit like Fred in the movie. I was quite hyperactive as a kid until I was able to show off in plays at school. I wasn’t disciplined enough to be sporty but I did have too much energy. A lot of Fred was what I was kind of like as a kid, as was Rick in The Young Ones.”

Although he enjoyed the experience of making The Young Ones in America he admits to being apprehensive about films. “It’s nice to go to America to make a film. The actual process is fun and it gave me chance to see what I could do.” But as he confessed, “I was scared of working in their medium. I consider film to be an American medium, really, but I was amazed and surprised at how welcoming they were, and how good to work with they are. I thought they would say, ‘Who’s this English git?’ But some of the actors there couldn’t believe how I had got this role, the title role!”

He got the part, primarily, he says because he was seen in a Red Nose Day sketch as Alan B’Stard being whipped by Mrs Thatcher. “They thought it was funny, seeing what they thought was a posh Englishman saying rude things and taking his trousers off. That’s why they wanted me to play Drop Dead Fred.”

Six months before he started filming Rik went to the gym three days a week for two hours every morning. “I went because I wanted Fred to be lively, not like I am today! I needed to be able to run and jump, and be like a seven, or eight-year-old kid. I wanted to be fit and supple. I was in great shape when we filmed ‘it in Minneapolis last year during the summer. Then I came back here and fell down stairs and broke my shoulder on the day Mrs Thatcher resigned. In fact we had just recorded one of the new series of The New Statesman when Thatcher resigned. We had to rewrite all the scripts.”

Currently he’s committed to the stage production of “Waiting For Godot” until next March. He and his close pal, Adrian Edmondson, have been wanting to do the play together for 15 years. “One of the things that drew us together at Manchester University was our love for that play,” said Rik “It’s a very funny play.

More films? “Yeh, I’d like films to be part of my life, but they can be quite an upheaval, and I do like playing in front of a live audience. I don’t think I’m a very brilliant film actor. I could be in certain kinds of characters. I’d probably be happier further down the line, say like third on the bill.

“I tell you the best thing for me would be to get a character together, like for example Inspector Clouseau, and then make a series of so many films playing that character. I’d be much happier doing that than constantly trying to invent new characters for a film.”

In the meantime Rik Mayall fans will enjoy his antics as Drop Dead Fred “I Just tried to make him a typical, horrible seven or eight year old brat, and drew on my own experiences and observations of that.”