Rik Mayall: The Lost Interview*
Rik Mayall's sudden untimely death has come as a huge shock, and not just because it came at the early age of 56. It's also not just because his generation-spanning career made him a timeless asset to comedy, revelling in roles that stole every ounce of his audience's attention and, in the case of Blackadder, gazumped a cast comprised of comic geniuses.
It's not even because Bottom always made Mayall seem completely impervious to harm. No, it's because, in everything he did - every performance, every interview - he always seemed so bursting with life. And so it is here. Last year I was given the opportunity to interview the cast of Jonathan Creek ahead of its return. And I went along for one reason: to meet and speak to Rik Mayall, a comedy actor who had been a permanent fixture on my TV throughout my childhood and teenage years.
I never got round to publishing the interview because of time and workload and apparently I'm just really unprofessional. Mostly though, it's because I got what I wanted from the experience - meeting Mayall.
And he didn't disappoint. He was exactly as foul-mouthed and filthy-minded as you'd expect - as you'd want - him to be. He was also incredibly garrulous. An answer to a question would lead him off on several different tangents, and every sentence would give him an opportunity to make an innuendo or a sly dig at an establishment. Throughout our 15 minutes, his stream of consciousness seemed unstoppable.
Until now, of course. I'm not one to get gushy, or even write sincerely when I need to, but his comedy performances left an indelible impression on me as I was growing up, and this interview did the same. I didn't know him. I'm not even sure if I liked him as a person. But I'll always be grateful for the opportunity I had to speak to him. Thank you, Jonathan Creek PRs. Sorry for not publishing this a year ago, when you wanted me to.
[The interview started with Rik Mayall asking the group of journalists I was with which publications we were all writing for and then calling us "The last of the 80s radicals" and "Thatcher’s little vanity train" before saying "Well Sieg Heil, everybody" and asking for the first question]
: So this marks your return to Jonathan Creek as Detective Gideon Pryke…
Rik Mayall: Yes! Yes, have you seen any of it yet?
: Yes, I got sent a 10-minute preview actually.
RM: Did you see any… sexy tricks of me in the wheelchair?
: Er.. there was a bit when you did a little move and went out the door and round the corner…
RM: And did it look convincing?
: It did - well done! I was going to ask you about that…
RM: Oh it was a piece of piss. I was very good at it. I’ve always been very proud that the very first time I was Gideon Pryke was straight after Blair assassinated me, when I fell off my quad bike. So I was medically dead for five days, which was the day before Good Friday, which is interestingly just after Easter, 2,000 years after Jesus. Yeah, you can laugh. YOU CAN LAUGH! But I’m the son of God!
I was dead for five days and Jesus was dead for three. I went down on Crap Thursday – which is the day before Good Friday - and from Crap Thursday to the Bank Holiday – can you imagine a bank holiday? There’s nothing weirder than that, is there? Try telling that to the bankrupt…. Anyway, so I beat Jesus 5-3 and I became the new Jesus. No, I can’t say that. There’s only ever been one Jesus.
But Gideon Pryke was the first role I took after that so it was quite a job to do that, but I really think I did a brilliant job. I really like the character – honestly – because, in the first one [Jonathan Creek episode The Black Canary in which Mayall made his first guest appearance], he wasn’t really interested in people. He was just interested in the crime and I think that – very quietly – he was a bit of a cunt with a small 'c'. A very small 'c'. In this one [later episode The Clue Of The Savant’s Thumb], he’s just had a bullet through his spine so he’s actually disabled. The only thing I was allowed to move was my neck and one index finger.
: How tough was that?
RM: Extremely. Actually, I think he has quite a crush on Joey [played by Sheridan Smith]. I mean who hasn’t? So I think there’s something in that. He takes an interest in Joey very early on but it’s also to do with the plot, it is such an impossible... I am not being sycophantic but I think David [Renwick] has written a fantastic piece. It is such a beautifully, interweaving story. You just think "What the fuck is going on?"
: You mentioned your quad bike accident. Are you fully recovered from that now?
: Were you seriously declared dead?
RM: Yes! Which is fantastic. because I have died already. I have been there and I’ve come back. I actually wanted to do a live tour and tell people about how great Rik Mayall is. Are you aware that I was given a doctorate? Did you know this?
RM: I was awarded a doctorate. Other people get their fucking BAFTAs, but Exeter University, which is a fucking difficult university to get into... y’know, you need to find a really good map… no, sorry, I meant it is a really brainy place and only the top brainies go there and not just the naughty children. Right out of the blue they awarded me this doctorate. I thought "This is nice!" – they gave me a doctorate of literature for writing thousands of knob jokes. This was a couple of years ago. So I am now Dr… I am also 'The'… so I am now 'Dr. The Rik Mayall', a pan-global phenomenon.
: Talking of a thousand knob jokes…
RM: Wait… what’s the number bigger than a million?
: A billion.
RM: So what’s the number bigger than a billion?
: A trillion.
RM: Ok, what is the number bigger than a trillion?
: Er… septillion?
RM: Is that a fact?
: Er, no wait. 'Sept' is seven, so it would be… oh, a quadrillion.
RM: Right! A quadrillion. What was it?
: Ok, so a quadrillion knob jokes…
RM: [laughs] So, speaking of my quadrillion knob jokes. Or rather the one knob joke I have told a quadrillion times in so many different ways…
: There have been a lot of rumours that Bottom may be returning. Is that true?
RM: I promised myself I wouldn’t talk about that today. What I’m doing here today is selling…er… what’s it called again?
: Jonathan Creek?
RM: Jonathan Creek! Yes, I AM fully recovered…
: Are you just dodging the question?
RM: Yes, yes, I’m dodging the question. So, I was having a wank this morning…
: Is Bottom coming back? I’ve read a lot of rumours on Twitter…
RM: In simple terms, I phoned Ade [Edmondson]and said "Hey, why don’t we do Bottom but have it as older blokes". It got called Hooligan's Island which I wasn’t particularly keen on that because we have already used that title. I think it was just a working title at the time. But the BBC snapped it up. So he said "Alright, write a couple of episodes and see if you get anything". So I did and Ade thought we weren’t old enough and I wanted us to be older like...dammit who played Alfred Steptoe? Who played the old Steptoe? William Bramble? Wilfred Bramble! I wanted us to be like that: crumbling old shits and crumbling old nasties and Ade said we’re not old enough and that we should do it in 10 years. I said that in 10 fucking years I won’t be able to think! The two brain cells I have left won’t work! But he said "We’re not old enough" and I said "Jesus, there is a fucking thing called acting and something called make-up" but he said "No I don’t think we’re old enough!"
On the other hand it is very exciting being in your mid-fifties. People are - personally I am not - but people can be very bitter in their fifties. People get the blues in their forties, like the male menopause. I missed most of that because I was...
RM: Well, yes, I was dead! Also I was stuck in recovery. Me and Ade did a couple of Bottom tours and I’ve done various telly and films so things are pretty okay. Of course by the time I was 50, I wasn’t unhappy at all, but there’s something about… baddies have got to be motivated and I have always liked playing baddies or idiots or bastards! That’s my forte. You can stretch further out into playing something straighter… but I have always loved Anthony Hopkins, I would have quite liked some of his parts.
: Roles like… Hitchcock?
RM: Well, I was thinking more of…
RM: Yeah. But he’s very rich though. And he does it without my vanity. And I look at my hair now and it’s very Stewart Granger, so I’d be an evil Stewart Granger.
: You could do more Rik Mayall Presents? You could write the roles for yourself.
RM: I’d love to. I’d really love to. That’s a good idea.
: What are you doing next?
RM: Er…there has been an offer of a sitcom, which will be different where I would play someone’s dad, so I’ll have a look at the script. There’s a very naughty thing that I promised I wouldn’t say today. It’s a very naughty thing that has been very quietly released called The Last Hurrah, which has been released on CD… which I wrote with a couple of bad men from Cornwall.
It sounds very nice, but I play a snowman called Elton and I don’t think that’s going to be going out on the normal channels. He is immortal, he has lived forever, he knew Hannibal and Adolf, and he knew all of those and he’s been everywhere. And there’s a gentleman’s drinking club in London called The Last Hurrah, which has been open for five hundred years and no one has been able to find it. But it’s just sound. We made it down in Plymouth and no one really knows about it so I am hoping it gets its own cult, rather than me [gets louder] announcing it to the national press, which I haven’t done!
: And who did you make that with?
RM: Craig Green and Dominic Vince. Very good writers.
: Getting back to Jonathan Creek…
RM: Of course, we should be talking about Jonathan Creek!
: So your old friend Nigel Planer is in the episode…
RM: Oh yeah, I meant to say that.
: Did you get to share much screen-time with him?
RM: I got to share lots of dressing room time with him. He’s such an animal. He nearly put my back out three or four times. No, I tell you it was lovely seeing Nige again. Of course, my character comes along to investigate Nigel’s murder so…. But we saw each other a lot and I laughed so much, but we see each other in normal life anyway.
The weather during the shoot was so dangerous – there were floods and it was so difficult - but Nige and I spent so much time laughing in the dressing room, it was so nice. I’d love to do something with Nige. Perhaps someone who’s reading this can have an idea and write a film or a play for me and Ade and Nige. What I would really like to have is writers. I want writers who can stimulate the part of your brain that hasn’t been touched yet.
: What would you like to do next as an actor?
RM: I’d love to do more on stage. You get to have real contact with the audience and can give them a good seeing to. Of course I love the camera, but in theatre you can get your teeth right into an audience’s pussy and just (*makes biting noise*)
: And we’ll end it there. Thanks Rik!