Best Bitter and Horlicks – Red Dwarf XII (The VH Interview)

Britain’s best-loved sci-fi sitcom is back once again for its twelfth season. We were lucky to sit down with Red Dwarf stars Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewelyn and Hattie Hayridge to discuss the new series, as well as the joy of prosthetics, and Danny’s future career with the National Opera…

How did it feel stepping back on the Dwarf once again?

Robert: It is a privilege…

Danny: Yeah, I think that is the word…

Chris: It is, because Doug’s scripts are as strong as ever, and it’s taking us into some very interesting areas. Some of the guest performances on the show (for me, season twelve is the show of great guest performances) beggar belief. In many ways, we’ve been doing the show for so long with the same chemistry and everything, when someone comes in and does this “cameo plus”, it’s a joy to see. Ryan Gage, for example, in episode one, and the great Johnny Vegas! Watching his performance unfold was great. It’s thirty years now, and it’s fabulous to be back.

Danny: When you do a new show, you have to get to know everybody, and it takes a couple of seasons, but now, we just get in and everybody knows what they have to do and it’s just about how funny we’re gonna be off-camera.

Robert: That’s what keeps us going. That energy is vital, as the years have passed.

Hattie: I used to just sit around with the guest stars and watch you guys. Sit around with the Marilyn and Elvis…

Having been going for thirty years now, what do you think the lasting appeal of Red Dwarf is?

Danny: ‘Cause it’s funny. (laughs)

Robert: Doug explained to us recently, because we’ve often said that it’s the writing, that it’s the chemistry. When he writes it, he can hear our voices, so he’s therefore writing it with us in mind. So it’s that chemistry… I don’t know how you “create” that. You could set a project with some big American media corporation; “We’re gonna create this!”, and it takes years! We’ve never been fashionable. That’s what I felt. Red Dwarf’s never been fashionable, but it’s also never been unfashionable. It’s not locked into any era.

Hattie: It was never focus-grouped either.

Robert: It’s not like watching an eighties sitcom, because it wasn’t an eighties sitcom in the eighties. It didn’t fit in.

Chris: Something that’s set in space like this does age less. Or age better. When you look at the early series, it’s not like looking at, say, an earth-bound sitcom…

The Brittas Empire, for example…

(laughs all round as Mr. Barrie composes himself)

Chris: Well… While we’re on that… (as Gordon Brittas) “Yes! Well brought up, young man!” There has been talk of more of that, and it’d be nice to see more of it in the Twentieth Century, y’know, in a different era, but you’re right; being earth-bound dates it. But Red Dwarf, being set in space, even though the actors have aged a little bit, it’s its own little world.

Hattie: Well, they never thought we were actors really.

Chris: Well we weren’t!

Hattie: We were all from the comedy circuit.

Danny: I was doing musical theatre. What was nice here was that there were no real “luvvies”. You had people that were used to walking into a club and doing their act to complete strangers, and you had to get to know all the people in there immediately. There’s no time to go “what is this about?”, ‘cause you’re going on stage in a minute! So, when we got into the room originally, it was that immediate chemistry….

Danny’s phone begins to ring.

Chris: You know, I was with Danny… Oh, and he answers it…

Danny: (answering phone) I’m in a press conference darling…

Chris: I Was having breakfast…

Danny: In a press conference!!

Chris: …and Danny was there in the hotel. And he said “oh, I just need to get my key”, so off he went, leaving his phone on the table and suddenly that bloody thing goes off and everyone looks at me and I’m just going “so sorry, so sorry…”

Danny: (hanging up) So, I didn’t get that gig. Now I’m pissed off.

Chris: That was Tom Cruise ringing.

Danny: That was Tom Cruise… “Get out of my closet!” No, I’m joking, I’m joking.

How was it filming the recent episode in which everyone dresses up in mech suits? Do you have a little more sympathy for Robert, now knowing what he has to go through?

Danny: I think he had the best fun, because he’s sitting there watching us suffering! (laughs) No, he was very supportive because obviously we felt his pain many years ago. There had been occasions where me and Craig were coming in to the hotel from a night out, and Bobby’s leaving to get his make-up done…

Robert: It took five hours…

Danny: Five hours! So there were occasions where we would cross each other in the hotel foyer…

Chris: I was in bed.

Danny: Yes, Chris had been in bed since eight o’clock the evening before…

Chris: Half a pint of Best Bitter, followed by a mug of Horlicks.

Robert: I would get out of the lift and there are Craig and Danny, and Craig’s going “Come on Bobby! Come up to the room and have a drink!” It’s half five in the morning and I’ve got to go to work!

Danny: We’d been to The Hacienda!

Chris: Bob deserves a massive fee, over and above his regular fee. Thirty-five times a series you’d do that?

Robert: Something like that.

Chris: The first day after doing that, I was ill by the end of the day.

Danny: Man, I had the bends doing that. The cast is freaky. No-one just breathes through their nose. You don’t practice that. So, all of a sudden, you can only breathe through your nose… How do you do that?? And then as it’s drying, it’s getting hotter and hotter…

Chris: You feel it lifting… The glue failing…

Danny: Apparently one of the make-up guys did one of these for Jonny Depp and he freaked out and started running around with this head on!

Robert: They were amazing though. It was a lot tougher for them than it was for me because I’ve done it for years and I’ve got used to it before I did any serious filming. So, to jump straight in, put a mask on for the first time and then do some quite complicated scenes, it’s really difficult. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, ever.

Chris: Maybe Trump.

Speaking of heads, Hattie, how was it for you with your entire performance just being your head?

Hattie: I was glad of it! I was glad I didn’t have to walk and talk anywhere at the same time!

Danny: It’s a good gig!

Hattie: Yeah, it was just a black polo-neck jumper against a black background and just sitting… a lot like this really!

Danny: Well most actors can’t walk and talk anyway! It’s like opera! They never have them walking… They’re either sitting on a big rock, or leaning on the proscenium arch… Then it’s Pavarotti playing a young Romeo! Forty stone and he’s singing Romeo, for goodness sake! That’s supposed to look like Beckham!

Chris: So, when do you start your promotional job for the National Opera, Danny?

Danny: We should do that; Red Dwarf: The Opera!

Red Dwarf XII continues on Thursdays, only on Dave