Films

Julian Barratt on jazz, memes, and the Chuckle Brothers

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Ralph Jones
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ShortList sat down with comedian, writer and actor Julian Barratt to have a quiet chinwag.

A great deal of Mindhorn was filmed on the Isle of Man. How was the isle?

Yeah, weird. Windswept and isolated. Like a lot of English resorts, it has that flavour of sadness. Behind the eyes there’s a howling emptiness.

Reminiscent of Howard Moon.

Sad. Delusional. There’s a pattern emerging.

Are you much more at home playing deluded men?

I just haven’t got a plan with acting at all. I just know that I’m quite good at something and I can be terrible at other things. For comedy I think that’s quite good: someone who thinks they’re better than they are or has a lot of thwarted dreams – which we all do. We wrote it [Mindhorn] and initially I was thinking, “Oh I don’t necessarily want to be in this.”

It’s hard to imagine the character not being played by you.

I was thinking we could find a big actor to send themselves up. David Suchet. Ben Kingsley.

Suchet’s a curveball.

Some of his stuff was inspiration [for the TV detective Richard Thorncroft in Mindhorn]. There’s one Desert Island Discs he did which I thought was quite brilliant. A lot of talking about the process, that’s what I found quite funny.

Was it intentionally funny?

Er, no. One of the inspirations was something Suchet said about forgetting who he was after a play; not remembering where he lived or what his wife’s name was. He had to have a psychotherapist talk him out of character because he was so deep in. It’s hard to talk about acting without sounding like a pretentious fool or pretending not to be pretentious – like “It’s just a job of work. Plumbers go to work, they fix pipes. I fix characters.”

Have you had any particularly bad auditions?

I’m terrible at them. Having to ride a horse – pretend to ride a horse – that was pretty bad. I remember one where I had to play a rapist. I thought, this is gonna be good, it’s a bit of a departure. And then the person I was doing it to was a really sweet old lady behind the camera. So I was having to say all these horrific abusive things to a really sweet old lady. It was awful. 

If Channel 4 had come to you to present Bake Off, what would you have said?

I don’t know what it is. I got The Daily Mail and Noel was on the front of it; I thought, “Oh no, what’s he done?” I think they called him a drug-taking comedian.

What do you think your prefix would be?

Er…“miserable, slightly pretentious”.

And if you were presenting, who would you like to have had as a partner?

I would host it with one of the Chuckle Brothers, probably.

Paul Chuckle has an astonishing Twitter presence. I’d recommend it.

Does he? Who’s the other one?

Barry.

Berry Chuckle?

Barry.

Barry Chuckle.

Strictly speaking, Paul and Barry Elliott.

Oh wow, you know a lot about the Chuckle Brothers.

Has anyone spoken to you about…

Bond?

Yes. That’s why I’m here. No, Howard Moon and the La La Land connection.

No, what’s that?

There are memes comparing Howard Moon and Ryan Gosling’s La La Land character, both of them forcing people to like jazz.

I love that film. I thought it was great fun. I have friends who hate it, and same with Whiplash: “No one plays like that. You can’t do that. It’s not possible.” They bring in all their jazz theories.

You’re not a jazz purist, then?

No, not at all. I sort of romanticise that era of jazz – the 40s and 50s, when it was the modern music. No one had heard anything like it. You can’t really make it like that now. I think jazz is a shortcut, isn’t it, for a certain type of person who’s a little bit lost or a bit deluded. I remember taking it to school and playing it on a tape and just seeing almost hatred coming off people as to why I was playing them this utter noise.

In an interview recently you mentioned pitching to HBO a show in which you and Noel drove around in a haunted car. Can you elaborate?

We were feeling pretty good; we were sort of known by some of the good people over there. So we went to this HBO meeting slightly cocky. We wanted to travel around a bit in a car. We thought, let’s get Jim Jarmusch to film it, black and white. Noel’s face looks good in black and white. I’d be in colour, obviously. The car would be haunted. We went in like, “Do you want a piece of us? This is who we are. We’ve got this car idea; haven’t really thought it through, but do we need to?” And it was just silence – like some of the early gigs we’d done, where you go into a room and you just get it wrong at the beginning. It’s a bit like going into a room underneath the carpet. Then you’re under the carpet, and you can’t get out. You’re just a lump moving around. After, we were like, “Ha! Idiots. What do they know.”

“Who’s heard of HBO?”

Exactly. What have they ever done.

Mindhorn will be released in cinemas from 5 May.