Classic Interview: Rob Brydon

Rob Brydon

To mark his imminent appearance alongside Steve Coogan in The Trip To Italy, here's an interview I did with the wonderfully talented all-round entertainer Rob Brydon in 2007 for The Times. He was about to appear in the Old Vic's 24 Hour Plays, adding serious acting to a CV that ranged from acutely observed comedy to the voice of Toilet Duck. Lovely chap, the interview was conducted on his bed in a Cardiff hotel where he was staying because he had to be in Wales to film his part as Uncle Bryn in a small Welsh sitcom called Gavin & Stacey...

 

There are lots of us on a bed in the Cardiff hotel where I am meeting Rob Brydon. First, Brydon, secondly, yours truly. Over the hour we are joined by a full supporting cast of Brando, Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Wogan, Ronnie Corbett, Woody Allen and many more. Two Brydon factoids. He gives good chat, name-dropping here, voice-dropping there. And, contrary to his funny-but-moody TV persona, in the flesh he is funny and hospitable.

But then the 42-year-old Welshman is currently all for upending expectations. The comedian best known as the cuckolded cabbie Keith Barret in Marion and Geoff is about to appear in two very different straight roles. This Monday he co-stars in a BBC One drama, Napoleon, as the sinister French politician of the French Revolution Stanislas Fr?ron. And on Sunday he will be on stage at the Old Vic in the annual 24 Hour Plays Celebrity Gala amid a cast including fellow comic Ronni Ancona and that theatrical titan Fiona Shaw. I’d like Brydon to tell me more, but he can’t.

“We all meet for drinks and nibbles at 8pm, then the writers work all night, we rehearse new pieces the next day and perform in the evening. I don’t know any more. The producer left me a message and I didn’t return his call and now I’ve left it so long it would be odd to call back. They just asked me to do it and I knew about it because Michael Sheen is a friend of mine and he did it. He said it was the most terrifying thing he has done, but also one of the most thrilling.”

It is clearly a departure. “I am actively trying to broaden my, dare I say it, talent and get out of my comfort zone. I am wary of getting pigeonholed in a type of dark comedy. You do a job and forget about it, but that’s what people see in you. After Marion and Geoff people would shout at me, ‘Oi, you’ve left your car behind!’ ” Brydon does know that one mate will be at the Old Vic to reassure him. “Ronnie Corbett is hosting with Kevin Spacey and he’s a friend, so I suppose if I flounder he can come on and say [pushes imaginary glasses up long nose and breaks into bang-on Corbettese], ‘Rob’s floundering here so I’ll tell you the one about . . .’ ” The Times tells Brydon that he will be in a pool of actors that will include, as well as Ancona and Shaw, Maureen Lipman, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Stephen Mangan, Christian Slater and Sam West. He is impressed but anxious.

“I hope they pair me with some dramatic people, not the comedy world. But what if the writers don’t want you? It’ll be like being the last one picked for football. I don’t want to be the one who has bugger all to do. That would be very embarrassing.”

Like Brydon’s comedy chums David Walliams and Matt Lucas, his background is actually in acting rather than pure stand-up. He recently filmed the part of the magistrate Mr Fang for a BBC remake of Oliver Twist. “I met Richard Eyre recently – for a thing that I couldn’t do, I would hate your readers to think I didn’t get the part – and he said I was that rare thing, a comedian and actor who is taken seriously as both and that was lovely.“I think in a way I’m lucky that I’ve never had a monster hit and gone ‘whoosh’. The Hollywood actor Bob Balaban said, ‘Don’t ever be hot, just be warm. If you gotta be hot or cold don’t be cold, but try not to be hot.’ I don’t think I’ve ever been in fashion.”

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