Interview: Tim Key On New C4 Series Gap Year

The last time I saw Tim Key he was onstage at the Old Vic in Art. The next time I will be seeing him is onscreen. Key plays Greg in E4’s new eight part comedy-drama Gap Year. Here he talks about the highs and lows of filming abroad and sharing his holiday anecdotes as part of the show’s writing team.

Can you talk about you guys as a gang?

We’re very lucky, we met up in London for dinner the Friday before we flew to Kuala Lumpur – I think there is always a bit of trepidation that you are going to meet up with four idiots. It would have been miserable to be at that dinner, looking at those four people and thinking ‘Oh dear’. Luckily it was the opposite where we got on very well that night, the main conclusion was that there was probably too much chemistry!

We went to KL, Langkawi and did the first six weeks of it, did a lot of going out and stuff like that, then cut back after that and became normal people a bit more. I think it’s quite important that the five of us get on in real life and we do.

Because it’s quite an intense relationship between the 5 characters, on day 1 you’re thrown together and you stay together... give us some more detail about Greg.

Greg doesn’t really get involved in all of that – there are two strong relationships, which are Sean and Dylan, and May and Ashley. They are both friends from home; there is a lot of ‘will they, won’t they’ stuff floating around. Cross-pollination between the two pairings, meanwhile Greg is very much a fifth wheel.

They sort of have this begrudging love for him almost, otherwise they would literally sling him out. They try and sling him out a few times at the start and realise that he’s not really that sort of person that you can sling out, so they make the best of it.

Sometimes he feels that he’s right in there, and it’s all fun and he’s enjoying it, and other times I think he’s just universally acknowledged, although it’s unsaid, that he is the fifth wheel and that is the dynamic – four people travelling together… and Greg.

How do you avoid it being a motif of the British abroad?

I don’t think we avoid that! I’m remember wearing this, what I actually thought was quite an obvious Route One costume, I can’t remember what it says on it, but it’s something to the effect of ‘full moon’. It’s all sort of florescent, with florescent paint and stuff. When we went to the Full Moon Party to do that scene and arrived there, I thought ‘Oh, well the costume people have got this right’ because everyone was dressed like a complete gel with all this rubbish Route One “I’m at a Full Moon Party” stuff.

I think sometimes it’s embraced that that is what they are – Dylan and Sean and Greg are British people abroad, so they sort of waft in and out of those stereotypes. Sometimes they are not recognisable as a Brit abroad in a bad way, but other times they sort of wear it quite, you know, they wear it on their sleeve a little bit. Greg does, Greg’s up for it and mad for it at times. Really mad for going to a Full Moon Party or mad for going and visiting Vietnamese tunnels and things.

There is a mixture, a nice balance I think, between going to the obvious places and trying to avoid the obvious places which I guess if you’re going away for a period of months, you would probably be a combination of those two things.

You’d sometimes realise that this is a really touristy thing to do, but if you avoid all of that then you miss out on those bits at the start of guide books where it says ‘Here are the ten things you should do’ and you’re just not doing them – you shouldn’t not do them out of pig-headedness. It would be like going to a restaurant, asking for all the recommendations and saying “Ok what is your best thing, apart from all of those things that you just said?” ending up just eating soup and feeling like there was something better in that restaurant.

You’ve ticked a lot of boxes by doing the show, I mean, you’ve got Jungle treks, canoes etc.

Yeah, there is a lot of that stuff in there - they go to China and they go to the Hutong in Beijing and they go to the Forbidden City and they go to The Great Wall. The show I think nails its colours to the mast and says ‘we’ll go to China and show you a really good bit of China. It is a bit cliché to go to the Wall but, why not?!'

Is it important that it’s a comedy rather than a drama about people travelling?

I think it would be fine if it was a drama as well, I think it would be an interesting show to have five people and it not be a comedy. This happens to be a comedy drama.

What does Gap Year mean to you, when you came to the project?

I was involved in the writing a bit to start with, it was interesting to see what it would become, we were just doing a bit of writing around the table. I felt like it was quite exposing, I told a lot of anecdotes about when I was travelling, that made me come off really badly. So, I don’t quite understand why they aren’t in it!

I feel like I went through quite a lot and none of it is on the screen! But I think, Tom Basden - who is the main writer - a lot of his life and travels are in there.

Before I got the part of Greg, I was with Johnny Sweet writing Episode Six so we went to Kuala Lumpur and had a poke around.

I guess there is a mixture of stories and autobiographical stuff, mixed in with some plot in that episode, plus this enormous story line arc that goes through it. It was interesting being involved in the writing but I sort of came out of it and now I just see myself as an actor who just reads the script as they come in and works out how to do it and sort of quite enjoy being a little bit away from it all and just playing my part.

Have you become fonder of Greg? 

I am fond of him; he’s quite resilient and he’s a softie.

In every episode everything goes wrong for him and sometimes goes wrong not in the sense of having to transport a vase somewhere and smashing it, but more having to reflect on where he is in life.

There are bits where he’s voicing it, there’s a line in Episode 6 where he says “To be honest I’ve lost my way a little bit.” It’s been very enjoyable to play on that because there is a lot of stuff that’s kind of silly and he’s a bit of a klutz. The stuff I enjoy a lot more is where there is some sort of pathos there and you feel like he is like a person and he’s having a bit of a difficult time.

Walking round the streets in Penang, you do see older British guys travelling, what do we think brings these guys out here to this part of the world – what are they looking for?

It wouldn’t really suit me, I don’t think I’d like it at all. Maybe it’s a reaction to doing this job, but I just want to be in my flat and just walk around to things like Pret and walk back to my flat, explore Costcutter and go to the cinema.

That’s really what I’d like to do at the moment, but I’m sure once I get home I’ll think “Oh it would be really great to see a temple.”

The idea of going on holiday is a way of escaping, but you’re not really escaping from yourself. Is that what we’re seeing in the show in a way?

Yeah I guess you are, I can mainly speak for Greg, I suppose that’s what he does, no matter where he gets a plane to or gets a bus to, or a train to, he still takes himself with him. He still has the same battles and the same crises, the same dead ends, cul-de-sacs and vortexes in his life that he must battle against, so I think this is right, yes.

We were talking earlier about you guys going out and getting amongst it. You had a lovely moment, where were you where you guys said you went out with the milkmen for an evening?

Oh that was Vietnam! That was when me and Anders went out to a bar. I think the problem was that we were looking around for the perfect bar which often we do and never find it. We ended up doing three circles in the area and then going back to the first bar that we didn’t really like to look of initially. We were sat outside on these plastic seats and some guys swung their chairs round and we were suddenly sat there drinking with these Vietnamese milkmen.

They obviously mistook me for being Anders' dad and we accepted that that was quite a good thing to run with. The next day they were Facebooking Anders (don’t know why he gave them his Facebook), but they were Facebooking Anders and sending their love to his father.

Every time Anders drank, I would get a bit of a pep talk from the older milkman, and I was saying ‘Come on, he is on holiday’. Then he smoked and I said, ‘He can have one, it’s fine’. It was really very enjoyable; it was quite funny going from something like that back to your hotel, it’s weirdly euphoric and you think ‘that was a good thing to happen. That’s good to remember for when you’re back at home and you have to do things like these interviews. This is good material that I can say in front of a camera!

It’s been so hot and a very different environment - was that difficult for you?

No, I knew that it was hot in Asia! The first shot we ever did was, to this day, the hottest one and that was difficult. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this could be really miserable.' But I don’t think it’s been that hot since.

There have been times when I have sweated through my clothes to the point that they are wringing-wet, about five times that has happened. There was an incident underneath a Chinese bell tower in Beijing where the action was to walk into this square, say some stuff and then notice some people playing a local Chinese game involving a large shuttlecock and keeping it in the air with your feet.

Greg, because he’s a bell-end, goes over and says 'Come on then, I’ll have a bit of this’ and plays with them for about 30 seconds and after about the fourth time of doing that I was dripping wet. It was, again quite enjoyable, that classic thing of ‘there are worse jobs’, but that was a challenging afternoon, having to go back again and again, standing at my mark, actually knowing where my mark was because there was a puddle of my sweat.

And you had the jungle trip too?

The jungle trip was challenging. I think secretly, although we never mentioned it to one another, everyone found the jungle trip a bit more difficult, just because of where it fell in the process, I think we were about a month or six weeks in, so a long way from the end.

We were in a jungle and my character is having some terrible trouble because he’s been in bitten by a mite, so he’s deaf and he’s yelling and on a stretcher.

I think when I look back at what the most difficult bits were, I think of that: lying on a stretcher looking up at the canopy of the jungle and this sort of existential feeling of ‘here I am.'

Did you ever catch yourself thinking ‘what would Greg do?’

No, I found myself thinking a lot of things that were real, fairly deep explorations of my mind - a soul in the jungle. Thinking about lots of forks in the road of your life. I think out of necessity I dispensed with Greg for a bit and just got through the day. I didn’t really think about Greg in Episode 5, you’ll notice that in Episode 5, that there is not really much thought given in to what is on screen. I was just trying to escape the jungle!

What has been the biggest impact of the places that you have gone to when you’ve stood and thought ‘Wow, I really am here!

I think that The Great Wall was definitely a thing.

Me and Anders and Molly, the head of costume, we climbed up to the Wall – the wild Wall I suppose, it wasn’t a gated or paid thing, it was just climbing up through… We were in China on a bit of the Wall that no one else was on and you could see for miles in both directions. That was quite euphoric.

There have been a few times that have been quite useful, where you find yourself transported somewhere and it’s really energised you. Ho Chi Minh City was a big moment I think, for me anyway.

Kuala Lumpur is nice but it’s not wild and mental like some cities are and so it was nice to go to Ho Chi Minh City because you just got a sudden hit of an amazing, mental place, just full of mopeds and noise and colour and fun and warmth. We all fell in love with Ho Chi Minh City a little bit.

But also there are a lot of places like that, Beijing did the same thing, I really liked Beijing, and Shanghai also, and a lot of the big cities have been really great to go to.

But then Penang has been good because it’s the opposite of that... it’s going out from the mayhem and chaos of a big city and suddenly finding yourself somewhere tranquil and heritage-y, with graffiti and shops and a nice pace about it.

Gap Year starts on E4 at 9pm on Thursday, 23rd February.

Interview supplied by C4.

Hello! Thanks for reading all the way down. I wish I could give you a prize. But BTJ needs your support to continue - if you would like to help to keep the site going, please consider donating.

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.