Interview: Tom Davis On his New BBC Sitcom King Gary

Interview: Tom Davis On his New BBC Sitcom King Gary

King Gary is a larger-than-life family sitcom for BBC One. Produced by Shiny Button Productions and brought to you by the BAFTA-winning creative team behind Murder in Successville, it is written by Tom Davis and James De Frond, with Davis starring as the lead and De Frond directing.

The story follows childhood sweethearts Gary (Tom Davis) and Terri (Laura Checkley) as they clumsily navigate family life in Butterchurn Crescent. While the couple struggle for social acceptance and material success in their competitive suburbia, Gary strives to fill his dad's big boots - but Big Gary's shadow looms large.

It also stars Simon Day (The Fast Show) as Big Gary; Camille Coduri (Him & Her) as Denise; Laura Checkley (The Detectorists) as Terri; Neil Maskell as Winkle and Romesh Ranganathan as Stuart. They will be joined by Dustin Demri-Burns (Stath Lets Flats), Lisa McGrillis (Mum), Mim Shaikh (BBC Radio 1Xtra), and Emma Sidi (Pls Like).

This six-part series will start on BBC One in January.

Below is a Q&A with Tom Davis, James De Frond, Camille Coduri, Laura Checkley and Simon Day hosted by Boyd Hilton.

 

BOYD HILTON: As Shane mentioned in his intro, pretty much one of the hardest things to pull off is a mainstream BBC One family-friendly sitcom and this is what you have done. Were you scared when you decided to do it? What was the process like?

TOM DAVIS: You’re terrified. I mean, growing up those BBC sitcoms are hallowed things. Me and James grew up in a working-class background where things like Only Fools and Horses are so prevalent to everything really. You know a Del boy, you know a Trigger. Genuinely, I think it was the hardest thing to write. When you’re trying to make that for a modern age and make it your own way. It’s nothing short of terrifying. I don’t mind saying. But we’ve got together a great group of people and we’re immensely proud. A BBC family sitcom is where it’s at and that’s where we started this whole journey.

HILTON: Are you writing from what you know? Because you used to be a builder before you became famous...?

DAVIS: Yeah that actually happened to me with the glasses. I didn’t wear glasses until I was 32. I’ve got astigmatism and I test drove them at about 26 on a building site and there was a Lee Benson there. Everyone was like ‘What you gonna go university now? You think you’re brainy all of a sudden?’ and someone would plonk the Guardian down in front of me at lunch which is seen as a big insult. Actually, my wife who is sitting up there - she’s not seen it before - was like ‘Oh my god, you had glasses like that when we were first together’. As the success grows, so have my glasses. Weirdly as well, the gucci loafer thing, a friend of Catherine had a pair of gucci loafers on down the Dave so a lot of this is mine and James’ lives. When the pilot went out someone said ‘Oh some of the characters feel a bit heightened’ and I said ‘Come and meet my Dad, come meet Leanne, come down the boozer and meet the people we grew up with’ I mean, if anything, we had to play them down a bit.

HILTON: James, you worked together on Murder in Successville which was fabulous, and Action Team, so you clearly share a sense of humour. Was it difficult establishing the tone? Because it is heightened and in some ways old fashioned but equally it doesn’t feel old. It feels modern the way you’ve directed it. Was it hard to get the balance right between those elements?

JAMES DE FROND: Yeah, this is a bit different compared to the other shows because we’ve known each other since we were fifteen and we’re from the same neck of the woods. This is very much close to the heart because we know the characters well. For me, the main thing was that these characters take small problems in life and they get blown up into melodramas. So that inspires us to film it in a more cinematic way because small things get blown up to be big things, which a lot of people do in their lives. But yeah it’s a bit different really because for us the characters clicked first, rather than an idea first or a situation first. There’s Garys and Terrys and Big Garys out there. They’re relatable characters and a relatable world. We’d been playing around with the character of Gary for a long time.

HILTON: You do study those larger than life characters on TV so there are influences there of how you watch people and see how they behave.

DAVIS: Yeah weirdly I was just saying to Boyd, with things like Arsenal Fan TV where you can see someone getting so pent up about such a small thing. But they’re the characters you love. In Gary there’s so many people that I’ve grown up with and myself and James. It’s people who I know who aren’t necessarily always represented on television. The amount of phone calls after the pilot went out of people going ‘That’s me innit?’ and I’m like ‘Urm it’s not actually, you come up in episode four’

SIMON DAY: Literally everyone, all our family and friends just assumed it was them.

DAVIS: My Dad won’t watch - Simon’s in some ways become a second father even though he’s only 5 years older than me...

HILTON: Simon, have you met the real Tom’s dad?
DAY: No, terrified to meet him. No, I did go and study him like method wise.
HILTON: He does feel like an instantly classic Dad figure. We’ve all met this kind of Dad.

DAY: Yeah, they just kept saying ‘He’s too nasty!” and then like ‘No, be more nasty’. Usually you get the horrible Dad and the Mum comes in like ‘Leave him alone’ or ‘I’ll make you a sandwich’ but she’s actually horrible to him too so it’s brilliant. You just expect her to be like ‘why don’t you leave him alone?’ then she’s actually more nasty. So he has this sort of innocence within the show and everything goes wrong for him. It was easy for me to play because it’s very well written. I know a lot of these people and I’ve had a similar sort of life to Tom so the characters are very real and I think that’s one of the strengths of the show is that the cast is brilliant. Every single part, however small or large, is absolutely that person which makes it feel very organic and real. It’s the hardest thing, like with something like The Royle family, it’s just very normal life and if you can get laughs out of that and make it real then all the best.

HILTON: Camille, your character, she definitely is larger than life but you do believe her. She never seems to go too over the top where you would slip into caricature.

CAMILLE CODURI: Yes I think you do need to always tell the truth and with impeccable writing from the guys on board all you have to do is tell the truth, whatever that truth is for you. But I think it was difficult because he’s so lovable, Tom. You want to just love him up and be the most nurturing, maternal and warm mother possible but I thought ‘No I’ve got to slap him about a bit and love him-hate him’.

HILTON: Laura, that scene where you have to jump in the pool, did you have a stunt double?

LAURA CHECKLEY: No, James said to me that we were gonna do a dive and I said ‘I haven’t done it for a while but I can do this thing where I tumble in and I can have a go’. He said ‘Get it in one because we ain’t got time’. So I just gave it a go didn’t I and it happened and I said ‘Did we get it?’ and he said ‘yeah!’

DAVIS: As the show went on, Laura is incredibly good at nearly everything, genuinely. When we needed bird noises we got Laura in to do bird noises. Literally everything we wrote in the show we thought, ‘yeah Laura can do that’.

CHECKLEY: I had a very lonely childhood.

HILTON: I remember in Action Team the physical stuff you did in that was hilarious. Is that something that’s always come naturally to you?

CHECKLEY: My huge influences were Laurel and Hardy and Lee Evans and Jim Carey. I’m a massive physical comedy fan. I’ve always said I’m not very funny, I’ve just got a funny face.

HILTON: Your faces are amazing.

DAVIS: When we were sitting down ready to write a family sitcom, there was only one name, it has to be Laura Checkley. There was no one else in the running. It had to be a couple that you would believe and I just think Laura’s the most incredible actress. She’s a joy to work with. She just makes you laugh and uh I’m getting a bit emotional.

CHECKLEY: They write really well for women, I’ve never worked with a set of writers who can really write for women and all the female characters in this are not subsidiary, they’re very funny, all the women who came in to guest were very funny.

HILTON: What’s the secret there? I felt that none of the women fell into cliché or stereotype. They feel as rounded as the men.

DE FROND: Well all the women around where we’re from are fucking funny. They’re funnier than us. They’re strong, funny and big characters and you don’t see enough of that so it was easy to write. Terry’s an amalgamation of lots of women from our lives. She was always very clear in our mind and it was always going to be Laura. We knew that she could also deliver the physical comedy of that character as well. The penny-drop for us was a husband and wife that just love each other and that’s the heart of the show. Everyone’s always going to be a nightmare for Gary, he’ll always have his rivals and his dad but if he’s got a wife who just loves him, rather than like a normal sitcom where the wife comes home and she’s like ‘what’ve you bloody done?’ she’ll come in a go ‘ah I’m proud of you’ It’s different, they’re best mates and they’re solid. That for us is where it all made sense.

HILTON: The pilot went out about a year ago now? What did you learn from that process? Did you learn much? It feels slightly different, more confident.

DAVIS: Well it was brilliant really. The amount of people who came up and said ‘is it gonna be a series?’ For us it was that support from the BBC. This is our world and proudly so. The pilot went out and I think it had a good response. It was a case of how do we convey what we’ve lived? Both Shane and Alex would listen with ideas and there was this one idea of having a dog that has anxiety and having a dog whisperer in and Shane was like ‘I dunno that’s a bit serious’. But the dog aside, they knew the world we were trying to portray. So yeah you really felt the support. Everyone in the show is authentic to the world we’ve created. There’s a big thing at the moment about working class actors and we’ve got people who are up and coming and those who are more established but they’re from the world that we’ve written. This is a world we’re proud of being from.

HILTON: So Simon, is it a working class comedy?

DAY: Yeah you don’t really see them. It’s not something you see a lot of. That sense of humour doesn’t seem to be that prevalent but maybe that’s a conversation for another day. Nah, we didn’t have a dog but we did have a seagull. He told me the seagull cost eight grand!

DAVIS: The seagull was the best actor on the whole thing.
CHECKLEY: He’s called Steve!
DAY: Yeah Steven the seagull. Let's move on.
HILTON: Camille, the script feels so naturalistic. Was it all there on the page or did you...?

CODURI: I’m so sorry, I thought we were posh? Sorry sorry come again?

Interview continues here.

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