Interview: Mel Giedroyc And Sue Perkins On Their New Comedy Hitmen

Interview: Mel Giedroyc And Sue Perkins On Their New Comedy Hitmen

New Sky comedy Hitmen reunites double act Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc. This is Mel and Sue’s first scripted comedy series and is a six-part original comedy about two best friends trying to make their way in the world with only each other to rely on. They also just happen to kill people for a living.

Hitmen starts on Sky One and Now TV on Wednesday, March 25 at 10pm. All six episodes will be available after first broadcast.

 

What appealed to you about Hitmen?

Sue: However mad and crazy and stunty and shooty it gets, it’s predicated on friendship. That’s what drives the narrative. It’s also what drove us to want to do it because we’ve been able to slip our time-worn shtick into a sitcom. I think that’s a quote! Because Mel and I have been friends for 30 years, it feels like an easy sideways transition into these characters. Because they have known each other since they were kids.

Mel: The script appealed. The stories, the characters. We just read it and thought, “This has made us laugh just reading it off the page”. And that’s quite rare, isn’t it?

Does a lot of it draw on your innate chemistry, then?

Mel: Yes. I have to say that the writers have been extremely generous. They’ve come to an established relationship and friendship, and we’ve been allowed to tinker and busk and add things in. So hopefully there will be a real flavour of a proper friendship because that’s really what this is about. There’s a lot of us chatting in our rusty old van, which is like our office, our haven and our HQ.

Sue: It feels very natural. Some lines we improvise, some lines we slightly change and some lines remain the same. We’ve been associate-scripting for a year, off and on. Certainly, we had a big hand in the back stories, and there are lots of lines that we might have contributed to, but the stories, which are so strong, are all from the writers, Joe and Joe. I don’t want to take anything away from them, they are brilliant. The precinct is just so well drawn, that you can then just add on bits.

How did Fran and Jamie get into the assassination game?

Sue: Well, it’s never expressly stated in the script, but we did a lot of work with the writers on the script and we had a notional back story that we were cleaners. We were cleaning in a very big, smart office block. A heavy had come on to me in a none too savoury fashion, and after a tussle, Mel had saved the day and killed him., But the heavy was connected to a gangland boss who gave us a choice: either he just killed us or, as he quite liked her style, we could go and work for him. So we are in bonded labour really, with no way out.

Are Fran and Jamie efficient killers?

Sue: I’m much more clinical at killing, and Mel is a little grubbier. I dispatch quite a few. Mel does quite a lot of stunts, though. She’s a grabber. She’s a bit more thuggy actually.

Mel: Yes, we are proficient at the job. I don’t think we’re rubbish – “Oh, I can’t load the gun.” We can do all that stuff. I suppose the humour comes from the fact that we’re doing this rather grim job, but we’re our friendship is bumbling alongside that.

Sue: So we could kill somebody whilst having an argument about something that happened at school. There’s that contrast. And even when we’re doing it, we are still arguing. It’s like, “What are you doing that for?” “Well, what are you doing that for?” Then “bong” – we kill someone.

How do you make a comedy show about two hitmen?

Mel: We didn’t want to revel in the violence. We didn’t want it to be overly gory or sick or cartoony.

Sue: We talked long and hard about the violence. It has to fit between those two worlds. As Mel said, if we were terribly incompetent assassins, you would see tussles and struggles and you would start to empathise with the targets. Then the death itself would be uncomfortable and not funny. So we had quite a hard line on the fact that all of the people we kill are mob-related. They are people who deserve it.

Mel: They’re quite murky characters.

Sue: They sell drugs to kids, for instance. It’s fair to say they are morally very questionable, so you don’t actually miss them when they’re gone, although they are really funny.

Mel: Yes, they are great characters, great characters.

Can you describe Fran to us?

Sue: Fran is an overly responsible eldest child. In that mode, she can be a little condescending, whilst failing to realise her own life is a chaotic mess. So she’s all like, “I suggest you do that, because that’s the best way to do it,” and then we’ll just start crying or falling over. She also has a sham marriage to a gay Brazilian man who she helped get a visa. At the same time, Fran is hopelessly in love with her personal nemesis Liz and is a fumbling embarrassed wreck whenever the two of them are in proximity. But underneath all the bravado she’s the really sensitive one out of the two. She’s got a big heart.

Is she unhappy with her career choice in some ways?

Sue: She feels that she’s just got to do it. She doesn’t relish it, but she just wants to make as quick and easy a job of it as possible. They are trapped by their boss, but now they’re in it, it’s going to be really hard to get out. I don’t think they’ll ever get out. I’ve met the boss and let me tell you, he terrified me! My God what an actor, bloody hell. Stephen Boxer, he’s great. He was absolutely chilling.

Mel: I didn’t have to see him. I wasn’t in that scene. I was left in the van outside, thank God. I’d have been terrified!

How would you characterise Jamie?

Mel: She is well meaning and loyal. Fran is my absolute best friend and as long as she’s alright, I’m alright. I’m in this job actually because it means we get to hang out, more than anything. That’s the most important thing I think for the character of Jamie. Although underneath the slightly Labrador fluffiness, I could be quite brutal.

Do you do a lot of your own stunts?

Mel: Yes. The most terrifying was quite a long wrestle which involved kicking a gun out of somebody’s hand. Yup, that, and wrestling on a forest floor. Quite a few biting ants. I find getting up off the floor increasingly hard these days. Oh my God, it’s embarrassing. It takes about five minutes. Also, I almost got my leg bitten by a very angry dog. And I had to fight somebody on the top of a caravan. We had wires and everything. That was really good fun.

Sue: We have also been hung from a tree. It’s an amazing rig because you’re hung really by a harness which is steel wired. They cut that out when they do post production. There’s a very loose sort of choke chain around your neck which takes the pressure off your neck, and just have your tip toes on the floor. I really enjoyed it. The idea was that I had to be really livid with a baddie because he was hanging me, and I was genuinely furious because I felt, “I can’t breathe. I’m really annoyed with you!”

The action sequences in Hitmen look very convincing, don’t they?

Sue: Yes. The director, Ollie Parsons, is so brilliant that I feel really confident that those set pieces will look fabulous.

Mel: There’s a good set piece per episode really. It’s neatly done that way – each one has its own bit of action. There are also some nice little nods to action movies, you know pastiche stuff. Ollie is obsessed with action and comedy, and he said right from the beginning, “I want to shoot this like an action movie.” It’s just so exciting. It’s been amazing.

Sue: I love action films, so it’s a secret delight to be running around carrying guns. I’ve got quite good at handling guns. It’s really weird. I can take apart and put together a 9mm pistol in under 7 seconds. 

Why have you never done a sitcom together before?

Sue: There have been a couple of things that came close in the past. But this feels like a perfect storm because Sky make very classy action-based shows. They also take risks. They put their money on screen. They have seriously invested in these scripts and given them a chance to really flourish visually and populated them with great actors.

What do you hope the viewers will take away from watching Hitmen?

Mel: I hope they will want more actually. I hope they will go, “Oh my God, I really enjoyed those six stories. What’s going to happen next?”

Will your legions of dedicated fans be surprised to see you playing hitmen?

Sue: I hope that they will see that at its core there is the same momentum as with all our stuff, which is that it’s borne out of love and affection and a central friendship. I hope as we’ve done that they will really get into the story and the action. It’s a rollicking 24 minutes, it really is. It’s full on. It’s been such an exceptional job, this. Everyone is an absolute class act on set. Oh my God, it’s been one of the great joys of my working life to do this, it really has.

Interview supplied by Sky

 

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