Young at Heart – Rik Mayall

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

The Stage, 5th September 2005

Rik Mayall tells Phil Penfold how his latest role is a radical departure from the wild and dangerous characters of his past

It has been some time since Rik Mayall has graced our screens with a new project, although his inimitable commentary on an assortment of adverts has meant that he has never really felt that far away.

But the Bottom star is now firmly back in the saddle and his career is once again forging ahead after the horrific accident he survived seven years ago.

He plunged from a quad bike that he was driving on his Devon estate and his head injuries were so severe that he spent the next five days in a critical condition in deep coma.

He says: “Effectively, I died. Coming to was a strange process. Three-fifths of my brain was clogged with blood and the rest was barely functioning. The most used bits were bounced around, I was hearing colours and seeing sounds.

It was a case of pushing hard to make it all try and function in the right areas again. I think it was about seven months before things started to properly slip into place. It was a terrifying time.”

Even now Mayall will ask if he is repeating himself, or if he has answered a question correctly. He adds: “Stage shows, where lines have to come in precisely the correct order, are, if not a difficulty, then something of a strain.”

You would never guess. Wisecracking, brilliantly alert and self-deprecating, Mayall is a man clearly riding a wave. A wave that started more than 30 years ago and which shows no sign of leaving him beached anytime soon. The biggest difference of the man of old and the man of the moment is his mane of grey hair, clipped trimly short. The last time that he and Adrian Edmondson – they’ve been mates and performing partners for 30 years now – did a Bottom tour [four years ago], he admits that he was adding a bit of dye to his locks in order to perpetuate the youthful Young Ones image that his fans seemed to want him to cling to.

“Then I just thought to myself that it was all bloody stupid, I was going grey and that was that. It was far better to go with the flow. So I had a very short haircut for the rest of the tour,” he laughs.

There isn’t much he hasn’t worked on – from Blackadder to The Bill, the credits go on and on. Last year he teamed up with Ricky Gervais for popular animation Valiant and this year he can be heard as the voice of King Arthur in CITV’s animated take on the legend.

Otherwise you can see him this autumn as the eponymous character in new ITV1 show All About George, which, says Mayall, came to him out of the blue. He explains: “It is very different from anything else I have ever done. It’s a drama-comedy, or a comedy-drama, whatever you would like to call it. There are so many things that are true to life in this series. I guess that I did The Young Ones about being a teenager. I appeared in The New Statesman, which was about being in my twenties. Bottom was about the time that I was in my thirties and now All About George focuses on a man who is in his late forties and who is in the middle of a huge family and who has a ton of responsibilities.

“George is so many things to so many people. He is a son, a grandson and a husband. He is a new grandfather, a father and a stepfather and he has a large extended family. He is a funny character because he’s quite proper and middle class and that is a real first for me. I don’t know who suggested me for the casting but whoever it was, well, their imagination is breathtaking.”

The star admits he was unsure he could play such nice character, adding that the affable George has a “shed load” of qualities he would actually like. He chuckles: “I kept on reading through Bullen’s script thinking, ‘Yeah, lovely, but who is it that he finally punches?’ or ‘when is he unfaithful?’.

But he isn’t. Well, I’m telling a little bit of a fib there because there is actually a terrific fight sequence later on in the series, where I was asked to go full-on for it and the other actor really went for it as well. Huge fun.”

Mayall is reluctant to talk too much about his own family life. He and wife Barbara have been married for 20 years and he has three children. He says: “I’m very lucky because Barbara does everything around the house. All I seem to be able to be put in charge of is letting the cat in!”