by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog
By Hilary Bonner for TV Times, 1995
He’s much-loved as a one-time lazy lout and a loathsome MP, but the real ‘very polite’ Rik Mayall confesses to a very different image
Rik Mayall is an alternative comedian and proud of it. Hard-edged, clever, quick on his feet, gritty, he was aggressive in The Young Ones, beastly as Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman.
There is also a secret, soft side to him. The real Rik Mayall is a dedicated family man whose idea of heaven is a getaway seaside holiday with his children, eight year-old Rosemary, and six-yearold Sydney and his wife Barbara, 33.
Nothing showbizzy or glamorous though – they regularly visit the same quaint fishing village on the South Devon coast. ‘I like to go crabbing with the kids, walking on the cliffs, all that kind of thing,’ says Rik. ‘We don’t see the need to put the children through all that business of going abroad. Anyway, taking them somewhere very hot isn’t such a good idea. They have more fun by the seaside in this country.’
The day we met he’d been rehearsing for a new play – Cellmates – in which he co-stars with Stephen Fry at London’s Albury Theatre. He’d been delayed taking his children to school which made everything a little behind schedule and he apologised for being late, which he wasn’t really. When you ask him how he’d describe himself the answer comes readily, perhaps surprisingly: ‘I’m polite.’
Indeed he is, and strangely inconspicuous too, for a man with such a manic screen image. His hair is a medium shade of brown, barbered to medium length, and he’s casually dressed in black shirt over black T-shirt, jeans, and smart brown leather shoes.
‘People rarely recognise me,’ he says. ‘I don’t look like any of my TV roles. In fact, I don’t look like anything much.’
Which probably helps him to tackle a variety of characters. Although Rik started his career as a comedian, and comedy is still very much his field, he’s a far better actor than he’s sometimes given credit for.
This week sees the start of the second series of Rik Mayall Presents, on ITV on Sunday, in which 37-year-old Rik stars in three films, all completely different, over consecutive weeks. In the first, The Big One, he plays estate agent Louis Black, an accomplished liar who begins an affair with a gangster’s widow, played by Lovejoy’s Phyllis Logan. In Claire de Lune he’s a minicab driver who becomes involved with a mysterious femme fatale. In the third film, Dirty Old Town, he plays a down-and-out who’s mistaken for a script writer after a freak accident.
‘There’s comedy in all three,’ says Rik. ‘But Dirty Old Town is the most serious, tragic almost, and you have to be a bit careful when you’re dealing with a subject like homelessness.’
This film appears to be his favourite, though it wasn’t with his children. ‘I had to grow a beard for the role and the kids absolutely hated it!’
Rik, who can also be seen this Friday on BBC2 in his anarchic comedy series Bottom, says variety is the spice of his working life. There are no plans, he says, for another series of The New Statesman, but it’s not that easy to get rid of one of his most famous comic roles, Alan B’Stard. The unscrupulous Tory MP turned up on ITV over Christmas being interviewed by Brian Walden. ‘I enjoy playing him too much to bury him altogether,’ says Rik.
Performing seems to be in the blood. ‘I think I was always going to do something in the showbusiness world,’ he says. The son of two drama teachers, Rik, whose elder brother grew up to be a civil engineer, clearly inherited every showbusiness gene.
He lived most of his early life in the Worcester town of Droitwich. He was educated at public school and went to Manchester University when he was just 17. ‘Being teachers, my parents knew how to work the system,’ he says. ‘They pushed me to get there early to get a free place. I was out the other side and in London three years later. It was fantastic fun.’
He studied drama at university where he met his partners in comedy, Ben Elton and Ade Edmondson. They got on well, their comedy ideas clicked and they swiftly became a performing team, but because they couldn’t get Equity cards at first, most of their work came from fringe theatre, particularly at the Edinburgh Festival and The Comedy Store in London.
Rik met his wife Barbara, a make-up artist, while on a job, and there was nothing slick or alternative about his approach to courtship. He proposed over lobster in a restaurant. ‘Barbara and I have a romantic thing about lobster,’ he says. ‘So I just thought I’d go for it.’
She accepted, they went straight out and bought the ring and married in 1986 on a clifftop in Barbados.
By now his professional luck was changing. Rik landed his first TV job in a BBC show called Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights, which he describes as ‘incredibly unpopular. We were all these naughty alternative comedians, weren’t we?’
But he was on his way. More TV series followed including The Young Ones, The Comic Strip and Filthy Rich and Catflap. He’s also appeared in serious stage plays such as The Government Inspector and Waiting for Godot, but it’s for being rude and noisy that Rik remains best known.
Yet off-stage he is quietly spoken, unfailingly polite – as he says himself – and, of course, a dad.
‘I really enjoy being a father, it’s made me so much more contented – I think it has helped me cope with the ups and downs of showbusiness,’ he says. ‘Suddenly there’s something more important than things which seemed important before.’
He seems so much the city slicker, yet he’s thinking of uprooting his family from their London home and moving to the country. ‘I would much prefer my children to grow up in the country,’ he says. ‘And I’d like to think that I can make the move before they’re both grown-up.’
His success, which has included a big earning Hollywood film called Drop Dead Fred, has made him wealthy and famous, but it’s impossible to imagine him playing the prima donna.
Ask him what he enjoys most about his work and the answer comes quickly and simply: ‘It buys food for my family.’