Interview: Nick Helm on Uncle

What’s Uncle about?

Uncle is an unconventional family sitcom. The first series was about a suicidal, estranged uncle who gets reunited with his nephew. It was about how you had these two opposites a nerdy and OCD child and a kind of slobby man-child and they learned life lessons from each other. Though not necessarily good ones.

In the second series, we took that partnership and put them on adventures. So where the first series was comedy-drama based, the second had a bigger scope and was more ambitious in every respect. For example, we did an episode with Keith Allen that was pretty much a straight drama and really serious and depressing but in a good way. Then there were some broader episodes, and some took on a different genre each. They flow together as a series, but they’re almost like individual mini films.

What’s different about series three?

This is my favourite series - we’ve taken the best from both. This is even more like an ensemble – Daisy Haggard (Sam) is in it loads, also Daniel Lawrence Taylor (Bruce), Nick Burns (Ben) and Gemma Whelan (Veronica) – and everyone’s got something to do, which is really lovely.

But also Elliott was 15 when we filmed this series. He’s always been amazing but, in the best possible way, when we started, he was very young. He’s always been my favourite person to work with, and now he’s older I don’t think the appeal is just that I’m an adult and he’s a child, I think Errol’s developed into a much more 3 dimensional character. It’s changed the dynamic of the show.

I think we have amazing chemistry when we act together, but also there’s been a two-year gap between series two and three and the step he has taken is phenomenal. In that time he’s taught himself almost every single instrument, he’s also a filmmaker. In real life he’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. I think he’s amazing and we get on really well.

What’s the process for writing Andy’s songs?

Oli and Lilah (Refson and Vandenburgh) write the scripts and they’ll put a footnote in to say we’re going to cut to a song. So, for example, with something like Seven Minutes in Heaven in series 2, the script said they were playing spin the bottle, so we added lyrics about that. And because it’s about seven minutes, time became a metaphor. Each song has to be a minute and a half and you’ve got to make it funny, but also not like a comedy song. Ideally, you’re also trying to do something that’s character based, so they’re quite complicated, but when they’re at their most fun they’re easy. We have them all ready before we start filming and then, when we come to film, more often than not I can’t remember them as the process was so concentrated.

Uncle has never shied away from the big issues – is there more of that in series 3?

The first series ended with an overdose and what was good about the second series was that there were actual repercussions, where Andy was more protective of Errol. Andy cleaned up his act slightly in the second series, and that was a direct reaction to the drug taking - so it wasn’t a just a one off story line that we used and then abandoned, but it became a running thread for the characters. What’s good about the third series is that there are repercussions from the first two series, that feed into how the characters are constantly evolving. We left series two on the cliffhanger that Andy was going to be a dad and series 3 picks up a little while after series two ends.

As it’s the final chapter does Andy live happily after?

I think it’s a fitting ending. We’ve had our cake and eaten it as we’ve got 6 episodes and a special. There’s lots of plots going on I feel like we wrap it up in 6 episodes and then we have another episode near the end. I won’t say whether it’s happy or sad, but it’s fitting. 

Read a review of the first episode here.

Interview provided by the BBC.



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