Rik Mayall Acts Up

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

icCroydon, Frbruary 2003

Zany star of countless top comedy shows, Rik Mayall goes posh. He talks to Diana Eccleston.

Flamboyantly vain and devastatingly handsome. Who can that possibly be? Well, actually it’s the publicity blurb for Present Laughter and its leading character Garry Essendine.

But it could apply equally to Rik Mayall, who is bringing the matinée idol Essendine to life in a new touring production of Noël Coward’s classic, sophisticated comedy.

It is a glorious portrait of an elegant and witty life. Essendine is about to set off on an extended tour of Africa; lots of friends, family and hangers-on decide to pay him a visit and the stage is set for a battle of glittering egos.

“Noel claims he wrote it for himself. It’s a great comedy act. Essendine has been famous for 20 years, is getting a bit paunchy and a bit bald. I couldn’t resist it, and I’m having a fantastic time.”

Since a terrible quad bike accident five years ago in which he nearly died, and was in a coma for five days, Mayall has even more of a lust for life than he had before.

He says this role is a particularly significant one for him since his previous low-key appearance at the venue in the comedy A Family Affair. “That was my first time back on stage after the accident so I had a low profile part. It was okay, so now I’ve got a much better role in Noel’s play. It’s all about me. I swan about in a dressing gown and do a lot of snogging.”

The thing with Rik Mayall is that you never know when he’s being serious and when he’s joking. He turns nearly every serious subject on its head and says a lot of things – entirely unprintable – to get a laugh.

I tell him that previous productions of Present Laughter which I’ve seen didn’t feature much snogging. “Oh yes there is. There’s a young nymphet, my mistress, wife and secretary, and I snog them all,” he inists, laughing that famous dirty laugh of his.

Hilarity is never far away – intentionally or unintentionally – in Present Laughter: “I’m finding it hard not to corpse on stage. The brilliant actor playing my manager, Gerrard McArthur, makes his character so disgustingly slimy I just can’t look at him without laughing. The cast are so great. Like a new Comic Strip team.”

Mayall, who will be 45 next month, loves the theatre and the proximity it gives to his adoring public. “TV and film are dead art forms. Very 20th century. Theatre is the thing and I’m going to devote the next 25 years of my career to it. I like the sound of live laughter. I play up to a live audience.

“It gives you the timing, the curve and swerve. You become their plaything. You have a genuine intercourse with them. Emotional intercourse, I mean, of course.”

Mayall has certainly clocked up a loyal following of fans with his outrageous creations in The Young Ones, The Comic Strip and Bottom, as Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman, and Flashheart in Blackadder.

Movies have included Drop Dead Fred, Guest House Paradiso and Bring Me The Head Of Mavis Davis. And almost Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone.

Mayall was engaged to play the mischievous ghost Peeves but his role ended up on the cutting room floor. Peeved was not the word for how the actor felt. He elaborates a crazy story as to why the axing of poor Peeves came about, which I can’t quite believe.

“But I got the cash: that’s all that matters.”

Still he and his family were invited to the première. “I was on stage with Ade (his old friend Adrian Edmondson) in Liverpool doing our Bottom tour at the time so I couldn’t go. But mummy and the kids (wife Barbara and children Rosie, Sydney and Bonnie) went.

“We didn’t tell Bonnie (seven) I wasn’t in it because we didn’t want her to be disappointed. She thought Robbie (Coltrane, who plays giant Hagrid) was me and that the make-up was brilliant. My wife says I should have played Gilderoy Lockhart in the new film.”

Despite his disparaging comments about movies, Mayall is awaiting the release of a new one called Oh Marbella. “I play a bad man who has to kill people. A sexy but horrible time-share salesman.”

And what next?

“Oh bum!” Is this the name of a new show? “No. It means I’ve got to go and do the next interview. Someone’s making rude signs at me.”

And off he goes, to spread his unique brand of fun to more people.