Interview: Omid Djalili On New Quiz Winning Combination

Interview: Omid Djalili On New Quiz Winning Combination

Q&A with Omid Djalili, host of new quiz Winning Combination, daily at 3pm, ITV1

How would you explain the format to someone who hasn’t seen the show?

“Nine players are randomly assigned a number. It’s up to them to try and get themselves and their number into the final. The four that make it combine their numbers to make up the jackpot. It’s then a race against the clock. 

“You’ll probably get it quicker than something like Pointless. It’s quite simple and you’ll pick it up pretty rapidly.”

How would you describe your hosting style?

“I wasn’t really aware of any style I had... but if I had to describe it I’d say it’s a mixture of genial host and a Friars Club ‘Roast’ master. It’s not exactly a new take but it’s me - and who ever thought I’d be doing something like this? - so it’s bound to be something new you’ve not seen before!” 

What’s your favourite round?

“The Battle round – very exciting. You can sense the tension. And it’s the most difficult part to host as I have to prompt contestants who forget to nominate someone to take a point off while I ask the questions. It’s high pressure. But the drama is spell binding.

“That’s the beauty of the show: on the one hand they battle against each other and it’s highly competitive. But then, when they get into the combination, everybody has to work as a team. It’s kind of a metaphor for life: work with some, compete against others.” 

Contestants always have varied ideas of what they want to spend their winnings on – what were some of the best examples? 

“Yes, it’s anything from the most humble to the outlandish. One wanted to buy more plants for their patio. A realistic wish, as they have to share the prize money four ways. One person from Nottingham said they wanted to go to New York on a First Class flight. I had to be honest and tell them, ‘You’ll get as far as Leicester’.” 

Are you giving the likes of Anne Robinson a run for her money with your ‘GET OUT’ catchphrase? 

“Well, I remember 20 years ago when the catchphrase ‘You are the weakest link, goodbye’ was seen as the height of rudeness! It broke the geniality associated with quiz shows. Doing my best Brian Blessed impression shouting ‘Get Out!’ and dismissing the failed contestants as theatrically as I can, could be seen as a twist on Anne Robinson, I suppose. Every time I shout it at the contestants they start laughing because they probably have Anne Robinson in the back of their minds. It’s basically a joke on how rudeness has moved on in 20 years. And knowing they enjoy it is definitely a reason to look forward to that bit in the show every time.” 

What were some of the funniest answers from contestants?

“So many to choose from... but this one guy, Freddie, an Elvis impersonator, kept buzzing in early before I’d finished the questions, giving wildly wrong answers. I told him to calm down and wait for the whole question. Then came the question “Who voices Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story?’ he buzzed in and said, ‘It’s Woody….wait...wait.. I know this... Woody... Allen!’ I lost it. He’d confused the characters of Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, and Tim Allen who voices Buzz to get Woody Allen, literally the last person you’d think of getting to voice Buzz Lightyear. It took me a few minutes to get my composure back. I was laughing so much”. 

Have the contestants lucked out by being in lockdown doing so many quizzes?

“A lot of them hadn’t been with human beings for a long time. Some of them said, ‘I’ve literally been all alone the whole time in lockdown” or “I’ve only seen my family for the last five months, no one else”... there was a real frisson of nerves and excitement. 

"We observed social distancing very diligently but you could tell some of them couldn’t believe they were there – not seeing anyone for months then suddenly being in a studio.

“But online quizzes are a great thing. You’ve got to keep your brain alive. A lot of people went online for games, and multiple ways to connect with other people – in a sense it was the logical thing to do. One of the football evenings I play in, instead of football, we did football-themed quizzes during lockdown which was a great way to stay connected. So the contestants were way more prepared than I expected!” 

If there was a board of answers about you – what would be an obscure fact about you that could come up? 

“A lot of people don’t know I was in the Oscar-winning film Gladiator. Not a bad little part either. But sadly my character had no name. Just “slave trader” (selling Russell Crowe to Oliver Reed). Notting Hill too. My part got cut down so it’s basically blink and you miss it, but I give Hugh Grant the orange juice he then pours over Julia Roberts’s character. 

“Also a lot of people confuse me for Stavros Flatley. Something I have to deal with almost every week. And that’s not even his real name.” 

Have you ever seen yourself come up as a quiz question/answer?

“I hear about it on Twitter. Apparently it has happened but I’ve never seen it happen live. But yes, I can’t deny it’s a thrill. Sadly though it was a “pointless” answer that would have scored zero points (when no one remembers you in a film). I really should have called myself Dirk Turk. Now that’s a stage name.” 

Are you hoping this might be a board game?

“I never even thought of that – that would be delightful! The only other time they did something similar was on the film ‘The Mummy’. They were going to make a big deal of me crawling along with my trousers being too low and showing the crack of my back side. My figurine had adjustable trousers that would go up and down to show the crack. But when the film came out it wasn’t such a feature at all so my figurine got scrapped. One of the big let downs of my career.”

If Winning Combination had an ‘ask the host’ feature – how would you fare?

“Very badly. I hope it never comes to that. I’m the kind of person who gives myself a point watching University Challenge if I understand a question! Once I shouted out “Henry VIII!” and the answer was Nitrogen… an unwanted risk asking this host.” 

If Winning Combination was ever turned into a drama, who would you want to play you?

“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t play myself. I’m not ancient and I’m not too young. If it happens in the next 10 years, I imagine I’d play myself. I must say it would be gutting if I was played by Stavros Flatley… would make me ill in fact. Imagine - I’m totally available - and my agent calls to say, ‘’They’ve gone with Stavros Flatley.’ What? Why? ‘They just think he’s got more screen presence than you.’” 

If there was a celebrity version of Winning Combination who would you like to see play?

“Oh that would be great. I’d love Anne Robinson to do it. And Colin Firth. Lots of actors. Julie Walters. In fact why not a Mamma Mia 2 reunion?! Everyone should play this game. All of them would fancy their chances. That’s the beauty of it. The battle round… someone like Piers Morgan would do very well, he’d know who to take points from. He’d take to it like a duck to water!

“But my dream booking would be Brian Blessed. Imagine me dismissing him with a big ‘GET OUT!’ and then he comes back with ‘NO! YOU GET OUT!’ and we go backwards and forwards like that for two minutes? TV gold.” 

In the first episode you make a joke about getting heckles, what is the best heckle you’ve ever had?

“The most remarkable heckle I ever had was upstairs at a pub gig and there were about 100 people. I tried out a new joke that got absolutely nothing. It was silent. Then I audibly heard someone at the back say, ‘There used to be a pool table in here’. Which is less of a heckle, more of a wistful reminder of a happier time.” 

Best piece of advice you’ve ever had and from whom?

“Change your life, change everything, just don’t be you” said by most of my teachers at Primary and Secondary School. For this I am very grateful.” 

Being a quiz host is a new role for you. Have you ever turned down a role that you regretted?

“Yes. Well that’s one reason I couldn’t turn this opportunity down. Years ago I was offered a role in the very first episode of Game of Thrones. I read the script and thought ‘This makes no sense’. All I had to do was go in and have a meeting, and I didn’t. It slipped my mind. Probably because I was convinced there was no point and nothing would come of it. I still haven’t watched it in case I love it. Because then I’d have to lock myself in a room and primal scream into a pillow for a week.”

If you could host Winning Combination as one of your film and TV characters, who would you pick and why?

“It would be entertaining having my Greek passport control guy from Mamma Mia 2 host a quiz. One half of the show would be him asking questions with bitchy disdain and the other half would be criticising everyone’s looks and receding hairlines.”

Picture: ITV

Interview supplied by ITV.



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