On the eve of a sequel they said would never happen, The Inbetweeners tell Hamish MacBain the secret to still playing young...
Has there ever been a summer of 23 sequels before?” asked last week’s Hollywood Reporter. “Doesn’t Hollywood’s ever-increasing devotion to remaking, rebooting and otherwise leeching off popular and once-fresh properties bespeak a prevailing corporate timidity and poverty of imagination? Do we really just want to see the same old characters enact variations on the same rituals time and time again?”
To which the answers, respectively, are: “No”, “Yes” and “No, except when it’s The Inbetweeners.”
Really, at this point, who doesn’t want more of The Inbetweeners?
By now, like you, I have seen all the episodes dozens of times and yet I still find it impossible to resist the lure of the (constant) late night re-runs on E4. If I’m flicking through channels and one comes on I’m staying put, and normally, as with all great repeat-viewing comedies, spluttering out my corn flakes with laughter at some tiny, previously-overlooked bit or other. Just by way of example and to get us in the mood, recently it was this exchange from ‘The Duke Of Edinburgh Awards’ that got me.
Neil: “Who is this ‘Duke Of Edinburgh’? Does he teach it?”
Jay: “No, ’course he doesn’t teach it, you f*cking idiot. The Duke Of Edinburgh is Prince Charles.”
Will: “Um… no he isn’t. It’s his dad.”
Neil: “King Philip?”
Simon: “No! Well, that is the Duke Of Edinburgh you’re thinking of, but he’s not the King.”
Neil: “He f*cks the Queen, though.”
Jay: “Probably up the arse.”
I’m sure I, like you, still have many more moments like this from the original series to re-discover. And then there’s the first film, which effortlessly transferred this joyously, deliciously puerile magic to big-screen storytelling.
In short, as you know, it was brilliant, destroyed the box office, surpassed all expectations – the figures are of the preposterous sort that Jay might lay claim to – and, most importantly, left everyone wanting more.
And wanting more a lot.
If you speak to either cast members, or writers (and now directors) Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, they will all insist that the emphasis for a second film came from this: from the fans’ appetite. But, of course, maybe because of the numerous other sequels out this summer, this seems a bit too pure to be true. Surely, you imagine, they must have had the studio, or the ‘money men’, on at them non-stop for the past three years?
“Honestly we didn’t. We really didn’t,” says Morris, sat – slightly worryingly, given that when we meet, the film is out in exactly three weeks – in front of an edit station, on which the final cut is still being tweaked. “The first one was a genuinely independent film. Film 4 put the cash in, which it doesn't do really. But no one there was saying: ‘Do it again.’”
“We weren't part of the machine,” continues Beesley. “So it wasn’t like, ‘If this is successful, we have to push the button on another one immediately.’ As Iain says, it was an independent film really, and made very much as kind of a swansong of The Inbetweeners. There was a weird hiatus because we told everyone we weren’t doing it again, and we convinced ourselves that we weren't doing it again, and that was mainly for creative reasons. But then you would meet so many people who were just baffled when you gave that response.”
Morris: “It was after having had two or three months of people, friends and strangers, saying to you: ‘Are you doing another one?’ You’re going: ‘No, no, no.’ And they go, ‘Why not?’ And you go, ‘Um… I don’t know. I actually don’t know. I don’t have an answer.’ And we didn’t have an answer.”
Beesley: “They’d be like, ‘What, so you don’t get on with them?’ or ‘You haven’t got any more ideas?’ You’d be like: ‘Er, not really… I don’t know!’ Maybe there is somewhere else we could go with them.”
Morris: “We love working with those four idiots. We really love working with each other. We love the characters. We enjoy it. But more than that, people seem to want more of it.”
LADS ON TOUR
Spend just one morning with those four idiots in a room together, bouncing off (read: ripping the p*ss out of) one another, exhibiting an unfakeable affection for each other, and you find it hard to believe that anyone is here just for a payday. One of them is now a father (James Buckley/Jay), one is 30 (Joe Thomas/Simon), but otherwise, when together, even suited and booted for today’s shoot, they still just are The Inbetweeners.
To say they are buzzing with enthusiasm for the sequel would be an understatement. They are professional enough to not give away any spoilers – would you really want any? – but collectively grin when recalling all the rumours about special guests (Buckley: “My brother actually texted me and asked me if Emile Heskey was going to be in it. Someone put it in the Wikipedia page”); or the fact that, as returning big stars of a hit film, they were asked if they wanted anything specific in their respective trailers (Thomas: “We didn’t really know what to say. Heating? Loo roll?”); or all the sh*t they gave their writers-turned-directors (Simon Bird/Will: “We would cross off Iain’s name on the clapperboard and put [the first film’s director] Ben Palmer’s name. Then it just became various fat people through history, because he’d put on a bit of weight.” Thomas: “I think that went on for… probably a bit too long.”)
Or most of all, their days off together in Australia, playing mini golf, doing steak eating challenges (Blake Harrison/Neil: “A kilogram steak, a whole rack of ribs, chips, salad… I was six chips away”), visiting arcades (Thomas: “I cut my hand on the Hammer Of Strength and had to go and ask for a plaster”), mistaking real crocodiles for plastic ones and generally having a ball in a very ‘British boys on holiday’ kind of way.
Harrison: “People just thought that we were The Inbetweeners lads on holiday together. Guys would come up and say, ‘We’re really sorry to disturb you on your holiday but can I have a photo please?’ And we were like: ‘We’re working! I mean it definitely doesn’t look like we’re working but honestly: we’re here doing a job.’”
Strange then, to consider that, even more so than Morris and Beesley, the four boys, having all quashed the idea of a sequel, were sceptical about a second film. Or at least a good second film.
Bird: “When we went into the meeting to read the script, the four of us met beforehand and said there’s no need for us to do another film. We were all so proud of the first one. But then we read the script and we thought that it was the funniest Inbetweeners script we’ve ever read.”
Thomas: “And actually, just getting everyone back in the room and seeing Iain and Damon again, it was like we remembered that they were really funny. And it actually felt right when we had the first read-through. It felt like, ‘This is that energy we have together, and if that’s still there, then there’s no reason not to do another one. Also because it’s slightly different… there’s this gap-year student-y thing, its opened up another world for them to be in.”
GROWING DOWN IN PUBLIC
The fact that it is set in a gap year places the film about half a year or so after the first film ended. And you can’t help but wonder: youthful-looking as the four may still be, does it get harder to inhabit characters who are teenagers when you’ve grown up so much?
Buckley: “In a way, it’s sort of even easier. We all behave similarly when we’re away from the set. Whereas when we’re on set and we’re The Inbetweeners, it’s completely justified and acceptable for us to… smash stuff.”
Thomas: “I think when it’s the four of us together, that tends to kick us back into that frame of mind. We’re just very childish with each other. And because we all met each other when we hadn’t yet taken ourselves seriously, there aren’t too many inhibitions.”
Bird: “There isn’t, is there? There are none. There should be more, really. We should put up some walls.”
Surely there must, though, be some changes, even small ones, now that they’re all so famous?
Buckley: “But no one really knows who we are. No one calls me James Buckley. No one knows my name’s James Buckley. Everyone calls me Jay. You know, we’re not even really stars.”
Do you really not feel like stars?
Thomas: “The show is a star. And we’re part of that, but no one person has total authorship. Iain and Damon have it, most of all, but then they would say, ‘Oh no, it’s the characters and performances.’ But I don’t agree with that. It really is just the show.”
THIRD TIME LUCKY?
And so to a question that must have crossed everyone involved in The Inbetweeners 2’s minds: what happens if this one comes out and – as is likely – is another gigantic success, and then people approach them to ask, ‘So… when is the next one coming out?’
Bird: “There’s not gonna be a third film. We can say that categorically.”
Which is of course what they said last time…
Buckley: “We’re quite stubborn. And we all feel that it wouldn’t be right to do a third film. And we’d said that we wouldn’t want to do a second, and it was nice that the fans said: ‘Please do a second one.’ But it wasn’t until we saw the idea that we were like: ‘Yeah, we can do this and it will be funny and we won’t be letting anyone down and we won’t be ruining the success.’ But the likelihood of having an idea better than this one is… impossible. It’s such a great idea. It’s such a great story, and it’s such a big ambitious film. So this is it. This has to be it.”
The Inbetweeners 2 is at cinemas nationwide from 6 August