A Dramatic Turn

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

Daily Express Saturday, 22nd-28th September 2001

Rik Mayall will always be a comic genius, but Shoba Vazirani finds he’s also relishing the chance to play serious drama. His near-death accident three years ago has made him hungry to live life to the full.

With Rik Mayall, it’s almost — no, totally — impossible to have a serious conversation. He bounds around like an overgrown schoolboy, despite being in the middle of his lunch, and pulls an extraordinary array of faces, each one complete with an ultra-silly voice. If you thought his characters were larger-than-life, the real Rik Mayall is huge. We’re sitting in his trailer on the set of Murder Rooms, the BBC1 crime drama in which he has a guest starring role, and it simply doesn’t feel big enough for the both of us. His never-ending stream of banter, the leaping up and down, means he fills every inch of space. One minute he’s Rick from The Young Ones and the next Richie Richard from Bottom, or perhaps The New Statesmsn’s Alan B’Stard. Then, when you least expect it, he becomes almost quiet and sensible and you feel you’re getting an inkling of the man behind the mask. “I lie to keep the audience guessiing,” he announces. “I like that feeling of wrong-footing the audience.” So, does Rik Mayall know who Rik Mayall really is? ‘Me? Of course I don’t! I don’t know, with the amount of b******s I have spoken to in interviews, I could be anybody”

With a career spanning more than two decades, mostly spent in comedy, Mayall says he relishes any opportunity he gets to turn his hand to drama. Last year he appeared in the Customs and Excise series The Knock, and before that there was Jonathan Creek and an appearance in The Bill.

Now he’s playing a policeman, Lieutenant Daniel Blaney, in the final episode of the current series of Murder Roomscalled The White Knight Strategem. He jumped at the part, not only because he rather fancies himself in the Victorian garb, but because it was a chance to work with one of his long-time heroes, Ian Richardson, who plays forensic genius Joseph Bell, one of Blaney’s adversaries.” I adore Ian and I wanted to be his enemy/rival,” he chuckles. “I fancied making his character hate me.”

Tucking into his curry and rice, he says he enjoyed playing an Englishman in Scotland. “Largely, of course, the show’s about Conan Doyle and Joseph Bell, his inspiration for Sherlock Holmes,’ he explains between mouthfuls. “Blaney’s a man who doesn’t see the point of fingerprinting and searching for clues; he can sense whether someone’s guilty. I like to play people who don’t fit in, aren’t quite as good as the others and are a bit resentful and unpleasant. Also, I get to ponce around in great costumes and look handsome. And I get to use a gun! I’ve just shot someone this morning actually.”

Mayall was clearly born to show off — something he’s more than proud to admit. In fact, he’s been doing a lot of it on location in Buckinghamshire and he’s had his knuckles rapped. “I went on set yesterday with just my shirt on and pretended I’d forgotten my costume and stood there with my willy hanging out. Jenny, the first assistant, had the balls to say `Will you just stop showing off Rik!’ That’s what I do, you see; it’s all I ever wanted to do.”

The son of teacher parents, Mayall grew up in Droitwich, Worcestershire with an elder brother and two younger sisters. His father was head of drama at a teachers’ training college and encouraged him to act from the tender age of eight. He went on to study English and Drama at Manchester University, where he teamed up with Adrian Edmonson — Ade — his best friend and comedy partner. The pair were stars by the time they were 22.

Next month they begin touring with Bottom 2001; An Arse Oddity, a wacky offering they’re hugely looking forward to unveiling.

Twenty years on and they both still share an avid aversion to fame, with Mayall insisting he’s not a luvvie. “I’m paranoid about being poncey and starry. I come from a generation who thought being starry was crap. It’s a slightly socialist tradition of the Seventies.

“We used to have such a laugh. The university had a left wing student union with people selling the Morning Star on the steps. I remember me and Paul Bradley of EastEnders fame, going up the steps and them calling ‘Morning Star,’ and we’d shout ‘Morning darling!'”

He says he doesn’t much like giving interviews as he doesn’t want people to know the real him. That said, he is, despite the expletives and rude suggestions, generous with his time, enormous fun and, at times, self-deprecating. You can’t imagine Rick Mayall throwing a wobbly and indeed, ask anyone who’s ever worked with him and they’ll confirm he’s a true professional who enjoys a laugh off-screen as much as on.

“I nearly threw a tantrum this morning as I couldn’t see where I had to point my gun,” he jokes. “No, it’s uncool to throw tantrums. The Americans are always surprised at how egalitarian we Brits are. We don’t sit in trailers the whole time. We hang out on the set. It’s very unAmerican to be one of the crew”

He is rather unshowbizzy when it comes to his personal life, too. Not for him premieres. He’d rather be at home in west London or Devon with his wife of 15 years, former make-up artist Barbara and their three children, Rosie, 15, Sidney, 13 and five-year-old Bonnie.

He’s serious for a rare moment when he says he chooses not to discuss them, but confirms “they’re fine” and “much funnier than he is”. Apart from the now well documented quad bike accident, which left him clinging to life three years ago, the years have been kind to Mayall. He’s even found a bright side to the serious head injuries he received and the resulting epileptic seizures he’s had to contend with. ” I was happy before, I’m happy now and I like working more than ever,” he replies when asked how the accident has affected him.

“When something like that happens, you don’t worry about being perfect any more. Maybe it’s made me less worried about getting old as I’d rather get old than not. It’s made me conscious of how lucky I am. Oh God, pitiful showbiz cliche, ‘How lucky I am. …’ I know, ‘how great I am’, that’s much better! How much I deserve it. I didn’t die which is proof that the great Lord needs me to live longer. The good Mother Earth needs me…., no, humanity needs me. So the ‘powers that be kept me alive to increase the pleasure of human’ life for many…so come and see Bottom 2001.”