Interviews: Rory Kinnear, Tom Basden, Matthew Baynton & Lydia Leonard of Quacks: Page 2 of 2

Lydia Leonard, who plays Caroline


What’s Caroline like?

She is really, really fun to play, she’s at times brilliantly unaware of the restraints that she should be buckling under in Victorian times. She loves life, she’s really enthusiastic about lots of different things.


She’s got a bright, brilliant mind, and gets really swept into new trains of thoughts about stuff at the time and she’d be curious about all of them, like mesmerism or Dickens. 


What's her background: is she a well-educated, middle class girl?

Yes, exactly that. And she's married Robert, who is pompous, and it's not a brilliant marriage. 


Had it been at one point?

Yes, hopefully you can see why they’re together and the attraction, but they’re very different. You don’t want them to break up. But he’s quite absorbed in his own work, so her own projects don't get the time and attention they need.  


She would very much like to be a doctor as well but obviously she couldn't at the time. I don’t even think you could be a nurse, particularly not a woman of that class. 


A lot of Caroline’s stories are about her trying to get access to surgery and information. For one of them she dresses up as a man.Her character is inspired by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. 


Have you found the filming process quite collaborative?

Yes, I think it was the most collaboratively I’ve ever worked, certainly in television. 


We had a big gap between shooting the pilot and the series. I didn’t have a hand in making it at all but what’s nice is they then write for you. 


I’d met with James a couple of times to discuss stuff and he’d run ideas by me, and things that really appealed to me. 


What do you think you put into her during that period?

What’s nice with a big gap like that, is that the characters are able to assimilate with you and sit with you. 


Obviously you read around the subject a bit, as you do with any job.  It’s nice to have an area to focus on in history and I wasn’t really sure who she was exactly at the beginning.


And this has been quite a challenge for me as I haven’t done a lot of comedy on television before. With drama I always feel like if you’re not quite sure, you can always fall back on truth. And actually it’s the same for comedy really, but it's slightly more technical, so it’s been really interesting to try and make the comedy work while you’re trying to build a well-rounded person.


Obviously you have to infuse the thing with fun and a different sort of tone. Finding the tone over the time has been really helpful, we have vastly improved with having that time to settle in and get to know each other. 


This is essentially a comedy series about a gang, a group of friends. And I don't know how you could do that without having that familiarity.  It happens quite subtly, everyone finding that shape together.  


Who did you know before?

I did something with James before called Ambassadors so that’s why I was in this, I guess. And I know Rory from around and over the years, I don’t think we’ve done anything proper - we may have done a short film ages ago but I know him from act-y type stuff. 


Rory has quite a theatre background but all three of them are so talented and funny, and they work so hard. It’s been actually very inspiring, it’s been nice to work with such a brilliant cast.


What's it like being the only leading woman?

Very unfortunately it doesn’t feel particularly unusual to be surrounded by men at work. Which is a pity I think, but there are other fun parts for women in this. Florence Nightingale’s a really fun part, and Mina played by Lisa Jackson, so there are some great female roles throughout the series. 


But in terms of the leads I suppose it’s not ideal, but you feel even more that you’re representing. We’re all aware of that so were keen to make sure that Caroline is disagreeing or is not just a 'wife', and that she has a lot of her own agenda and stories. I was really thrilled when I read the scripts. 


Talk us through her relationship with William?

A lot of Caroline’s stuff is with William, and Mat Baynton is so funny and nice. They’re actually in some ways the most fun  scenes to shoot. The marriage is not particularly satisfying, and she and William genuinely get on really well and stuff happens throughout the series.


I hope you do believe that in another life they would be brilliant together, but they are also just very good friends. He is supportive of her ideas and she’s supportive of his, and they are both decent people, so it’s not an affair, it’s just a distraction. But it sometimes veers close to an affair.


It doesn't go any further than wrist kissing, does it?

Exactly, which in Victorian times would have been pretty intense, so we get to see lots of clandestine meetings.  

Which is a fine line to balance: you really enjoy that relationship but I think one has to still hold a little bit of hope for Caroline and Robert. It’s not like you want to be all ‘Dump Robert, and go out with William’.


Robert does have redeemable qualities then?

Well Rory’s so good, he’s so funny.  I think you sense that it’s all a big show and there’s probably someone very insecure and fragile underneath. And I think that’s evident.


Do you get involved in the gory hospital scenes?

Not at this stage. Oh actually, at the very end I do, there was a great hernia. This hernia which had a pulse, with the prosthetics. It was so good. That was fun. 


You're not squeamish then?

No not in the least bit, no. It didn’t even occur to me, I was just like, 'Can I touch it?’They had to have this pump. That was the only bit of gore that I got to do. But maybe in another series...


Is it surprising to you to have this level of detail on the set of a comedy?

Yeah, it's unusual. I haven’t done much comedy, I’ve done period drama so it’s not unusual for me, but yeah, it's certainly different to have the two. That’s what I mean with the delicate tone: the tone of Quacks, I think, it is totally original in that way. They are making it so beautifully. It’s not gag comedy, it’s more character driven. 


Do you have a favourite scene?

I did like the scene with Kayvan Novak, he plays the mesmerist. He was hilarious, it’s quite a funny, silly scene. I’m interested to see how it all hangs together because some of it feels broader than other bits; some of it's much more drama. 


Is it at all difficult to keep a straight face?

Yes! Well Mat Baynton particularly is a big corpser, and I did really like doing stuff with Miles Jupp who is so great. He’s always been funny in Rev and other things I’ve seen him in, so that was great.


Would you love to take Caroline on again if it comes back for another series?

Yes absolutely, that would be really great because there is so much room for them all to move in. She could go on and open her own clinic which could be fun. You could do a lot with that. 


I think James has lots of ideas of where it could go. I think one has to wait and see but there are certainly plenty of ideas and enthusiasm to do some more. 


Tom Basden, who plays John


When did you first get involved with the show? 

The first time I auditioned for it was December 2013, a long time ago. It took nearly four years until it happened.


So did you wonder what had happened? 

I did, because I see Mat Baynton quite a lot anyway, and he was quite involved with it and he would say, 'They’re still talking about your audition'. I was like, 'It’s been 18 months now, what’s going on?!' And then I got offered the part, but they said they wanted to shoot a pilot the week before Plebs was going to shoot in Bulgaria, so it was a bit tricky to make it work. I said to Sam, who I make Plebs with, that I had to do it because it was really good. 


Why did you want to do it so badly? 

I knew it would mean working with Mat and Rory, and I’m a big fan of James’ writing. And also I think the world of it is so rich, and it’s quite unusual, I think, to do something that feels really detailed and really interesting. 


It’s really well-researched and based on the truth, and therefore it’s a very fascinating world to be in, but also it’s really funny and the relationships are very good. And I think that there’s very little stuff out there like that. 


So from that point of view, you read the script and think, 'This would work brilliantly as a drama', but it’s funny as well. It’s the kind of thing that I didn’t know very much about, and it’s a fascinating period.


They did have a kind of comedy to them in the way that things happened, you know? They weren’t scientists working in labs, very clinical and very ordered; it was people stumbling upon things and killing a few horses and digging up bodies and stuff like that – it was really macabre and gothic, and funny.


I never knew the operating theatre was a theatre. I didn’t know you could go and watch.

I think there are some operating theatres that still have a gallery! I don’t know if you can go and watch.

Now we are quite familiar with the inside of what our body looks like, and we see it on Casualty, but I guess back then it was a real treat.


This is a massive and probably fictitious generalisation, but people then were more familiar with the idea of death across the board, and were slightly less troubled by it. Life was less sanitised. So there was that kind of feeling that this could be anyone at any minute.


Tell me about John. What’s he like? 

He's quite an amoral, happy-go-lucky kind of scallywag, I suppose. There’s something Artful Dodger-ish about John. He’s very upbeat and he’s constantly on the lookout for new drugs and new practices, and he's open to anything.


I think out of all of them he’s the least Victorian in his morality. He doesn’t really care how things look, so he’s probably the most honest character in some ways, even though he’s also the most depraved – or at least the most degenerate in his lifestyle. He regularly kills people and doesn’t feel too bad about that, because at the end of the day you need to kill a few people to make discoveries. 


But is he doing it for his own ego? 

I don’t think so. I think he’s doing it for the sake of the science itself. I think his attitude is one of, 'We can get so much better at this so we have a responsibility to work out how'. 


Whereas for Robert it’s all about looking good and people loving him, and William is coming at it from a point of compassion.


For John it’s just about the brutal need to progress science and make things better in future. 


And you talk about his lifestyle outside of work. What’s that like? 

Quite loose, I suppose. A lot of home brewed brandy and mysterious chemicals from plants from different parts of the empire. He’s a sort of Pete Doherty figure, though hopefully less irritating. He’s quite free living, libertarian I suppose. 


Do we get to see much of that? 

You certainly see quite a lot of John’s wild nights with the girl who runs the pharmacy, and his experiments on the boy who comes to work for him, and things like that. 


Is the pharmacy worker a girlfriend?

John’s wife died a long time ago, and John was unable to save her, so I guess a lot of his drug taking and lifestyle is down to that. And it’s only really later in the series that he starts to move on and find interests elsewhere. At that point he kind of falls for the girl who works in the pharmacy but she’s getting married to a rich, fat old Lord for money, so he’s got to kind of suck it up that they can’t be together.


John is a troubled character. He’s got his demons that he keeps at bay by medicating himself with various potions and chemicals. But also he’s got quite a sunny outlook externally, he wants people to be excited about things. He likes to bring energy to things, but I think that probably is to cover for the fact that his life has lost a bit of meaning. 


What’s his relationship like with the other doctors?

There is a slightly antagonistic relationship between all three of them, because they all have such different attitudes towards this industry that they work in, and are slightly scornful of each other’s position. So I think John gets very frustrated with Robert because he is not as experimental as John thinks he should be, and he can be a bit conservative because he is worrying about saving face, which John doesn’t give a shit about. 


John thinks that William is slightly wasting his time by dealing with mad people and trying to stop them from being mad, which is kind of small potatoes if you’re thinking about the next 100, 200 years. So I think even though they have a lot of things in common, and they do, they are able to have a good time and take the piss out of each other, I think there is also that sense that there’s a slight marriage of convenience sometimes between them. 


The sets look amazing. You often don’t get that level of detail.

No, I think that’s absolutely right. And I love that about this show, that it looks like a proper period drama, but we’re talking about sticking tools up Mat Baynton’s willy to smash his bladder stone.


Is it possible that people could tune in thinking it's a proper medical drama?

I think it could be possible that there will be some people who tune in and want to take it as a sort of verité kind of Victorian medical drama, fly-on-the-wall drama about medical practices, so I feel like it works equally well. 


We researched Plebs and we do have Roman storylines in it, but we don’t come at that from the same position as this show, where actually the truth is very important, the authenticity of this stuff is actually really important to the programme. With Plebs we take some true Roman ideas and then we’ll turn them into something that’s quite different that works for our stories.


But with this show it’s kind of the opposite, and James has been very strict about things that could go sillier or could become a bit more overtly comic, and rein them in a little bit and keep them truthful. 


Part of the enjoyment should be that everything you’re watching feels like it definitely happened. There’s a story where Mat’s character William stages a fake trial for a guy who believes he’s a French spy, a French traitor, and that’s based on a real story. It’s really fun.


How much research did you personally do?

I didn’t do a huge amount of research into my character and to the time. I probably should have done!

By coincidence, I had already read a book called Sick City, a lot of which has made its way into the show. I felt like I wasn’t going to do any more than that! 


What’s different when you're acting in a show you haven't written? Is it less pressure? 

It’s much more entertaining from my point of view because I can come in and sort of do something that’s quite playful and fun, and to be part of a gang, and when you’re writing you’re on your own a bit. Even if you get to know everyone, obviously, and you’re working with them, the stuff you’re dealing with is pretty singular and you’re having to kind of actually keep things away from the cast and crew. 


It’s not very helpful to start sharing the problems you’re having from a writing point of view with the cast, because that makes them lose faith in the whole project. Whereas if you’re acting in something, everyone is constantly talking about how to make the scenes better and what we can do and ideas we can try, so it’s quite different in that respect, it’s a lot more of a group activity. 


Quacks seems to have been quite collaborative and James seems to have taken a lot from you all…?

I hope so. I mean, we had a good period of rehearsal and I think that really helps; it allows us to kind of put scenes on their feet and see what physically isn’t going to work and make changes before we’re on set, and avoid using valuable shooting time. 


So there was already quite a lot of stuff that we changed in the few weeks before rehearsal, and James has been on set pretty much the whole time. 


And he’s been really open to changing things, simplifying things, and adding little jokes. We haven’t needed to do a lot of that, there’s just been the few occasions where we’ve felt like we can push something a little bit. 


Is it lovely to be working with Mat again? 

Yes, great. I love working with Mat, he’s a great friend. 


What’s your relationship like? 

Well, when we’re not writing or shooting stuff together, it’s mainly just talking about football and being quite foppish men in North London, really, with beards and without proper jobs.


When we’re shooting, Mat is the most liable to corpse. He’ll find ways to make himself laugh at himself, which is quite cute, but it’s quite infuriating. He was in a scene where his role really was to eat a pie and listen to Rory, and then he ate the pie, and an operation was happening and so he started to get a bit disgusted by the pie and didn’t want to eat the pie any more, and he kept corpsing because he found that really funny. So, you know, he’s a very silly man! 


Are you personally involved in any of the kind of gory stuff? 

I help out with the surgery so I’m often there, trying to get out of the way of the spurts of blood for the sake of the costume department. But I’ve managed to avoid a lot of the main gore – that’s more Rory’s territory really. 


So instead you have to act a bit high sometimes? 

It’s one of those things that’s hard to talk about because I’ve not really seen it back yet, so I hope it’s okay. 

I think that’s just a difficult thing, like drunk acting and stoned acting, it’s quite easy to be wildly over the top, so I hope it’s not like that. I hope it’s fun.



Interview supplied by the BBC.

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