“I like putting the teeth in and being Mickey, playing the idiot. People are very fond of him.”
Hi Mark. You’re rehearsing for the League Of Gentlemen tour – what’s that going to be like?
We’re being kind to ourselves and the general public with a nice mixture of old favourites and new stuff, and old characters in new situations. We think it’s a good show, anyway. We’re just doing it to have a good time.
Do you have to approach arenas differently to smaller venues?
In theatres you can feel the rows of seats and the architecture, while an arena is a great big barn. You have to bite the bullet and see what happens. We were looking at the props and thinking the second row won’t be able to see them, let alone the back of the O2, and wondering if we should wear giant heads like on It’s A Knockout. But when we played New York we changed the lines to make them understandable to Americans and it didn’t work. If people like you, it’s for what you are – it would be folly to think that because we’re in the O2 we have to do tragicomic monologues from on top of a fire engine, or something.
Do you embrace the rock-star side of touring?
I’m doubting the veracity of this as I say it, but I think we had Britney Spears’ bus on one tour. We’ve always been notoriously quiet, though – we sit around watching afternoon telly and having microwave meals.
Who is your favourite League character to reinhabit?
I like putting the teeth in and being Mickey, playing the idiot. People are very fond of him. He’s a sort of holy fool. When we filmed the specials last year, people wanted to come up and pet him like a labrador.
You’ve got a lot of projects coming out at once: Christopher Robin, The Favourite, a documentary about the artist John Minton…
You make these things a long time before they come out. I did my few days on those films ages ago, and the Minton documentary took me most of last year to make. You do a few days on a few things and move on, and sometimes they all come out at once. There’s a story about a character actor, Don Henderson: in 1977 his son begged him to go to see Star Wars, and eventually he relented. They were watching the bit in the Death Star and suddenly he jabbed his son in the ribs and went, “Ooh, I’m in this!” It was one of nine films he’d made at Pinewood two summers before, where he’d shown up and done it without any idea what it was. That’s what I’m aiming towards.
You’re doing The Madness Of George III on stage later this year. It feels like you play a lot of kings.
I’m working my way through them. I think it must be an innate sense of madness and power-hunger. I’ve done Charles I on stage, and George IV in Taboo, and now I’m playing his father. I’ll be Queen Anne next.
Growing up as a fan of Sherlock Holmes, how was it being tasked with reinventing him?
I devoured all the Sherlock Holmes stories, and what Steven Moffat and I have is a healthy disrespect for it, which is exactly what Arthur Conan Doyle had. We love it but we don’t venerate it. Doyle himself was extraordinarily laissez-faire about the character; when William Gillette, the first actor to play Holmes, wanted to marry him off, he asked for permission and was told, “You may marry him, murder him, or do what you like to him.” Anyone who knows Sherlock Holmes knows we know the stories backwards, and if you want them as they were, the books are always there.
Will there ever be more Sherlock?
We’d like to do more, but it’s very tough to schedule because of everyone’s availability. It has to be the right time. We left it in a place where we could come back; Sherlock could knock on Watson’s door and say, “Do you want to come out and play?” They might be middle-aged men by that point, but I don’t think a little break would do anyone any harm.
Can you give us a needlessly obscure fact about Holmes?
Well, very few people seem to know that he first lived not on Baker Street but Montague Street, round the corner from the British Museum. I’ve often thought it’s a shame that Montague Street doesn’t get a bit more love. There should be a plaque somewhere. The house isn’t named but someone could make it up.
Do you survive the final season of Game Of Thrones?
I’m not in it, so I guess I survive. Although they might just mention offhand that I’ve had my head bitten off by a dragon off-screen or something.
The League Of Gentlemen Live Again! will tour the UK 6 August-29 September. For tickets, visit leagueofgentlemen.live
(Images: Getty/BBC/BBC Films/Eivind Hansen)