By Steve Clark for The Daily Mirror, 1st September 2001
His latest role gives Rik Mayall the chance to play a thuggish Victorian cop.
Put a straight question to a comedian and you are likely to become the fall guy for his clever answer, and legendary wit Rik Mayall is no exception.
So when he is asked why he decided to take on the role of Lieutenant Daniel Blaney in the new BBC drama series Murder Rooms, he answers, as quick as a flash with a toothy grin, “Money”. But that is only part of the appeal as it offers Rik a welcome chance to immerse himself in the Victorian world of Arthur Conan Doyle – the legendary creator of Sherlock Holmes – as well as play a thuggish policeman with particularly painful punchlines.
“The Victorian era in which Murder Rooms is set was an interesting time for criminal detection,” says Rik. “It was the beginning of the rational age where everything could be judged, measured and put together, and there was a reason for everything.
“And so, of course, there was a division between the new system and the old traditional way where, if you want to find out which person was guilty, you’d put on your knuckledusters and give them a good thrashing. They’d then eventually tell you they were guilty.
“Blaney is much more the latter category of policeman and I’ve always been attracted to playing complete gits – people who don’t fit in, life’s outsiders.”
Murder Rooms features Ian Richardson as pioneering forensic pathologist Dr Joseph Bell, the Edinburgh University expert who taught the young Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle, who is played by Charles Edwards. Inspired by the pair’s real-life friendship, he and Bell crack the most baffling of criminal cases. Rik appears in the fourth story, The White Knight Strategem, and says he leapt at the opportunity to get involved.
“I’d always been a big fan of Ian Richardson plus the part gave me the chance to play a policeman and be a hard man,” he says. “Also, I was so intrigued by the script. I was trying to work out the ending all the way through but I couldn’t, which makes it perfect.”
Rik admits that his knowledge of Arthur Conan Doyle and his detective stories is quite basic, restricted to a distant student memory of playing Sherlock Holmes 20 years ago.
“I was at Manchester University and played Holmes alongside Paul Bradley (best known as Nigel Bates in EastEnders) as Watson,” he recalls. “I don’t remember too much about it as we were drunk most of the time.”
Since those heady student days, Rik has built up quite an acting CV, both serious and comedy, on TV and film. One of his latest projects has been a cameo appearance in the eagerly-awaited film Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone, much to the delight of his three children, Rosie, 14, Sydney, 12, and five-year-old Bonnie.
Rik plays the role of Peeves the Poltergeist. But his ability to reduce people to fits of helpless sniggers means he’s managed to get his face completely removed from his big scene.
“I did my lines as Peeves to Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry, plus about 30 others kids and they all started laughing,” Rik explains. “They just wouldn’t stop and in the end I had to stand round the corner and do it. That’s the shot they are going to use, so now the only bit you can see me in is a computer animated scene. Fortunately my kids are still chuffed that I’m in it at all.”
Last time we met, four years ago, Rik was filming an episode of The Bill and he pretended to be a bit miffed that he was soon to turn 40. Now 43, he seems a happy man, which is good news for both his family and fans following his brush with death back in April 1998. While on his farm in Devon, Rik suffered serious head injuries when he was crushed beneath his 600lb quad bike.
“Yes, I’m just happy to be alive,” he says now. Would he say he’s a better person these days? “No,” he laughs, “I was a fantastic person then.”
Following The Bill, Rik also appeared in Jonathan Creek and The Knock so, if he had to choose, which does he prefer – comedy, or the more serious roles?
“Doing comedy stuff is great fun and I do get off on the laughter. A few years ago I came home and my daughter Rosie said, `Have you been at work daddy?’ I said, `Yes, and what do you think I do at work?’. And she replied, `You make people laugh’.
“That sums it up. I like standing in front of people being funny. It’s where I get my kicks.”