New Interview: Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton

Steve Pemberton

Be still my beating heart. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith return to our screens with Inside No 9, six self-contained comedies with some delicious shocks and surprises. They talk about the series, their other plans and the inevitable prospect of a League of Gentlemen reunion.

BD: Six one-off comedy chillers? How exciting. Does it feel like a departure for you?

RS: It was born out of our enjoyment of the episode of Psychoville which was a self-contained story with Mark (Gatiss) in it. That was so enjoyable to do with the restrictions of it being in that house we wondered would would it be possible to do a Play For Today-type series with the constraint of the claustrophobia. It is a single room each week but it was also all about the writing.

SP: In terms of structure you couldn't get further away from Psychoville. It's about the writing. The humour is often the same but it was also the notion of us not having to play these multiple characters in the same show. 

BD: You're not in all the episodes and not always the stars are you?

SP: That was one of the earliest decisions. I remember a few of these anthology series where it was all about what character is this same famous person playing this week? It was more of a star turn and about it being this person. I didn't want this to be like that. It's more Tales Of The Unexpected.

RS: Some shockers you go, is that it? Is that the twist? In terms of structure it was all about the writing and all about doing something new or "regenerate" if we can use that word. We've always felt the League of Gentlemen was "that thing then" - you've got to try new stuff otherwise you are forever doing another sketch show etc. We wrote the stories first then thought, could we be in them? It was more how do we get the best out of the characters? We feel you are enjoying a good cast each week. 

BD: If they are all different is there a theme? Is there a better way of describing Inside No 9 than the cliche about "your trademark dark humour"?

SP: It's always been so hard to categorise, it's a mash up. I always say we've done the hard work writing the scripts, you've got to say what it is. 

RS: Some are like The Chuckle Brothers with a little bit of a scare, others turn quite horrible. One is like a dark sitcom, there is a theme of trapped people if you are trying to pull out a kind of tone. We are never happy when the normal happens, we've tried to write that, but you feel you never get into it until something a bit left field happens. We strive for an "oh my god" moment. 

BD: You do push things very far by XXXXXXXX (rest of question and some of their answer redacted as it contains spoilers)

SP: In the second episode (which has no dialogue) we had to keep it interesting, we did not have a clue what was happening as we wrote it. I can't remember which one of us said it but when XXXXXXX we both fell about laughing. In the first episode Sardines the first draft was different. We talked about various ideas of why they were in a wardrobe, but we were certainly not working out our Freudian psychobabble...

RS: It all just makes it a more interesting ride…it makes things richer.

BD: Any cameos from Mark Gatiss?

SP: No. That was a special treat in Psychoville. Once you've done it you can't do it again. We did that episode in two takes and thought of that again but what's the point? So we decided to do a silent one as a challenge instead. I'm sure there will be other little surprise, there's always that desire to wrong foot the audience, but these are all different in tone.

BD: Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter Oona is in the silent episode - was that a tribute?

RS: It was almost an accident but maybe a little nod, We had to be quiet because we were robbing a house then had to maintain a reason to be quiet. 

BD: Are you Chaplin fans?

RS: It's nice to do more physical stuff, something we don't usually do, we are more dialogue-based. There was no need to learn lines, which was nice.

SP: There was that children's series Brum - we always wanted to be a couple of robbers in that, so that might be where the idea came from.

BD: You don't get a XXXXXX in children's TV show. Was it easier or much harder doing six one-offs rather than the pressures of continuous narrative?

SP: Both really. Harder than Psychoville because we were starting from scratch, but easier because there was no narrative. In a narrative a returning character means the work is done for you, but the downside is that you are required to follow it, that's what the BBC will tell you. With this anthology a new thing each week they will say "where is the commitment, the continuity of character?" It's a new world each week. 

RS: As soon as we were hooked into the idea some we wrote in a week. One set in a dressing room with a Macbeth understudy tells the story of Macbeth backstage in an am dram group. We knew the idea was good. With Sardines we wrote a list of people in a family and every three pages one comes in. The placing of the terrible reveal is barely there.

BD: How do you write?

SP: Together sat in a room. 

BD: You were a bit disappointed that the BBC ended Psychoville though weren't you?

SP: We were disappointed with the viewing figures so felt the writing was on the wall. We set up a meeting where we went in and planned that if the meeting goes this way we will write a third series and if not we will pitch Inside No 9. We didn't want Psychoville to be a show that was cancelled though. The first series was open-ended, but with the second series it felt quite wrapped up so we were quite happy to say that's that then.

RS: The scheduling was very poor though. The last episode was moved around because Mock The Week came back and was "deemed more important…"

BD: Lucky you had this idea in your back pocket…

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