Interview: Stephen Merchant
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Although best known for co-writing and directing (and playing ‘the Ogg Monster’ in) seminal TV series The Office, there are many more strings to Stephen Merchant’s bow - including film actor, stand-up comedian and radio presenter. Now he’s adding ‘stage actor’ to his impressive CV, playing Ted in One Man, Two Guvnors creator Richard Bean’s The Mentalists, currently at Wyndham’s Theatre. Here’s what he had to say about his new role… How did you come to work with Richard Bean – did you know him beforehand? (Angus Hall) No, I’d never met Richard. I really enjoyed One Man, Two Guvnors but wasn’t familiar with his other work. My agent sent me The Mentalists and I loved it from page one. What attracted you most to The Mentalists? (Georgie Tully) It chimed closely with my own concerns as a writer: it features a suburban British man trying to put his stamp on the world, however pathetic or misguided his attempt may be. It has dark humour mixed with laugh-out-loud one-liners, but it’s comedy born of character and situation, not just jokes for the sake of jokes. And aside from the laughs, there is a great deal of pathos and human drama. These are all the elements I try and put into the projects that I write myself. You play Ted – a middle manager in an industrial cleaning company – who has a utopian message for the world. What would Stephen Merchant’s message to the world say? (Ted Upton) ‘Before you do anything stupid, try and see it from the other point of view.’ How is the experience of working with [co-star] Steffan Rhodri? (Jill Franks) Steffan is a delight. Aside from being a really talented and thoughtful actor, he has great comic sensibilities: perfect timing and his own rhythms which make his performance fresh and unique. Is being in a West End play scarier than doing stand-up, or is it easier being in character? (Kate Hillard) Having done stand-up on large stages across the world, I’m used to live audiences. But this will definitely be a new experience and I’m really excited about staying in character and playing Ted’s emotional ups and downs. Plus, stand-up is a lonely job so I’m looking forward to sharing the stage with another performer. What role have you played that’s closest to who you are as a person? (Amy Powell) My TV show Hello Ladies drew on some of my experiences of dating. It was about the loneliness and desperation of a singleton called Stuart living in LA, trying to access the world of beautiful people as a way of punishing the past and all the people who said he was a loser. I can empathise with those feelings but I’m not that person: I’m not as frustrated and bitter as Stuart. Is being funny in the UK different to being funny in the US? (Oliver Scott)
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