By David Wigg for The Express, 22nd May 1997
Comic actor Rik Mayall thinks he’s heading for a mid-life crisis and this time he isn’t joking.
He made such a huge impact as the sneeringly anarchic student in The Young Ones 15 years ago that it is hard to imagine Rik Mayall ever growing up. But now the comedy star, who along with occasional partner Adrian Edmondson remains a self-confessed purveyor of “filthy, juvenile humour”, is approaching the dreaded 40 milestone – and he’s terrified.
“I shall probably go mad as soon as I hit 40,” says Rik. “It is hard for me because so much of my success has been based on being young or on playing young people. I can’t believe it has come round so fast.
“I’m going to feign depression because I guess that’s what everyone else does. I thought 30 mattered terribly – well, you do when you’re in your 20s.
“Ade and I used to laugh at the Rolling Stones for being sad old men who drank water, but it has caught up with us all now. I thought: ‘What’s happened to us? We used to be the guerrilla warriors of British comedy’. “Now we’re too old to go out on the razz every night. We just can’t do it and perform a show – it has to be one or the other. So we go home most nights, watch the football on telly, have a meal and drink Perrier.”
Now a father of three – daughters Rosemary, 10, and one-year old Bonnie, and son Sidney, eight – Rik is already taking precautions against the onset of middle age. Every day he goes for a two mile run and regularly tackles a rowing machine to keep his weight down, which suddenly shot up to 14 stone last year. Now he’s back down to 13 stone.
“I worry about my weight because everything shows on film, and for a time I even hired a personal trainer. Lovely girl,” he says with a twinkle in his blue eyes, “but she moved away.”
When touring with Ade, a comedy partnership that began with The Young Ones in 1982, they choose hotels with gyms so they can maintain their fitness regime even while on the road. “For so long I’ve been living a schizoid existence, pretending to be a wild man when I’m really Mr Mortgage, Mr Two-cars. I get up, see my children, make the sandwiches and feed the cat, and then I go round to Ade’s house and we write filthy, juvenile jokes for a living.”
Standing 5 ft 11 ins tall, and wearing a green suit with a white T-shirt and sober brown shoes, Rik was visiting the Cannes Film Festival this week for the unveiling of his new film, Bring Me The Head Of Mavis Davis. With his hair dyed a vivid blond, he plays Marty Starr, founder of Purple Starr Records and the deceitful manager of sexy pop star Marla Dorland (Jane Horrocks).
Marty decides his client’s record sales might soar again if Marla were suddenly to die. He then sets about plotting her demise – and things start to go disastrously wrong.
“One of the reasons I was attracted to the role was because Marty had massive success when he was young and then it all fell through his hands like sand, which is why he becomes such a desperate man,” Rik explains. “I think the characters I play best are the ones that are alien to me, or have characteristics I possess but suppress because I’m trying to be decent.”
Rik says he isn’t easy to live with at his comfortable West London home during periods of inactivity.
“My wife Barbara, who doesn’t work, doesn’t like having me around the house. It’s all right for a week or so then I start kicking my heels. I only really like working,” he says.
“I don’t have any hobbies and I get in the way. She’s always busy doing something – having her girlfriends round or getting the builders in to work on the house. I get restless and bored.
“I’m never bad-tempered as long as I get enough exercise. I get rid of all my anger and frustration that way.”
Away from the world of showbusiness, Rik is keen to keep the family grounded in reality – although both Sidney and Rosemary were sent to a school attended by other actors’ children so they were not regarded as anything special.
“We just try to be normal parents and keep some order about the place, but we do have our funny moments,” Rik admits.
He met Barbara when she was working as a make-up artist on the BBC show A Kick Up The Eighties in which he made his name as the comic Brummie Kevin Turvey. The fact that fans are always approaching him to discuss his various creations doesn’t bother her.
“Fortunately she understands all that side of it. Make-up artists love actors, and actors love make-up artists because they are so pretty and sexy,” he says wickedly. “And of course they make us look so nice. Well, they appear to. But actors are really stupid and can think: ‘She really loves me’, when she is probably just thinking: ‘He is really rich’.”
Rik was instantly attracted to Barbara and says their marriage has worked simply because of their “love for each other”.
“I like everything about her. She is an enormously wise, instinctive person. She knows the effects something would have on someone. Barbara is my wife and my friend.
“I have a home where I can just be a daddy. My wife has a tremendous sense of humour. She has to have, living with me.”
While many of his screen roles show him as frantic and hyperactive, he says that image is a far cry from the real Rik Mayall. One such character is Alan B’Stard, the hilarious amoral Tory of The New Statesman TV series. Rik is now considering bringing him back – only this time under the Labour banner.
“I’m going to give it a while and see what Labour are doing, but people adore the character despite my attempts to kill him off. We have shot him twice, but he always pops up again,” he explains.
“Times have changed, and in a way he was a very Eighties character, but it is to his credit that he has survived into the Nineties. People often say that with comedy you cannot go back to the formula, but if you look at Till Death Us Do Part and In Sickness And In Health, you see that it still worked.” Rik is also working on new projects. He and Ade are preparing their first screenplay together and intend to bring the outrageous humour from the TV series Bottom to the big screen. Videos of the show have been such a success that sales have just gone platinum.
“It will be that kind of disgusting, shouting and screaming and waving your bottom humour,” says Rik, sounding like a naughty schoolboy.
So with his 40th birthday approaching, and such a rich legacy of humour behind him, what was it that originally convinced Rik he could make it as comedian? “My parents were drama teachers and as a boy they used to put me on stage with their students. I found I made people laugh and I enjoyed that feeling. I enjoy adulation, but I’m wary of it,” he recalls.
“I want to be true to myself. But now I feel like doing something straight, and an awful lot of people are prepared to come down that path with me.”