Stephen Mangan interview: Postman Pat, Statham, Dirk Gently

Interview Simon Brew 20 May 2014 - 06:03

The new Postman Pat, Stephen Mangan, chats to us about the film, about children's telly, and on a darker sequel...

The new Postman Pat (as heard in Postman Pat: The Movie, due in cinemas this Friday) has two voices. When he's singing, he magically switched to Ronan Keating. When he's not? He's Stephen Mangan. And the day after the film's premiere, we had a chat with the man himself...

You're Postman Pat.

I know! Can you believe it?

It's a surreal thing to have that claim. There are fewer Postman Pats in the world than there are James Bonds.

That's true, I hadn't thought of that. You make a very good point!

Ken Barrie was the original Postman Pat of course.

That's right.

A friend of mine met him outside a pub once, and in everyday conversation he sounded nothing like him. But in a second, he switched that famous voice on. It sounded like the most amazing pub trick ever. So, looking ahead, what's going to be your Postman Pat party trick in ten to 15 years time? To embarrass the kids a bit?

Well, I already started doing it last night after we went to the premiere. And at the premiere, children would come up to me and their mums would say 'that's Postman Pat', so I felt I had to do the voice. Then that's probably even more weird though. This bloke with curly hair who's got that voice! It's a weird one. It's not really sunk in yet how I'm going to cope with the legacy of being Pat!

Tom Hanks did an interview a while back where he talked about how magical it was for him, to switch on the voice of Woody for kids, and see the look on their face. You got a flavour of that at the premiere then?

I did, I did. I got little awe-inspired and slightly scared kids coming up to me. I sat there watching the film, and it's quite weird to hear your voice coming out of a cartoon character anyway, let alone children seeing you and trying to work out how that's possible.

I've always wanted to let my kids know what I do for a living, and I'm not sure them seeing the film helped. I think it confused the issue a bit more!

I talked to Rupert Grint about children's television of his era a few days' back, and he's depressingly young. We had little crossover. Am I on safer ground with yourself? Where do you stand on, say, Jossy's Giants?

You've lost me.

Really? The football one?

I don't know it.

What about The Family Ness?

What?!

You're not a Family Ness man?

I've never heard of it.

What, really?

What was it? When was it on?

In the 80s and 90s. What were you watching? What were your kids' TV programmes?

I was reading Dostoyevsky! [Laughs]

Surely you saw Mysterious Cities Of Gold?

Er...

Did you have a telly?

We did, we did! We did have a telly!

Did it work?

[Laughs] We were only allowed to watch the test card!

You did a film ages ago called Supertex - that's one letter out from kids' TV at least.

Unfortunately, it's not like Superted!

No, it wasn't!

Watership Down, I did three series of that for ITV. Which was interesting, because we ran out of the book within about three episodes. So there were lots of 'dad, I'm gay' kind of storylines. And I've done Bromwell High, a Channel 4 cartoon series, although it's more adult. But yeah, this is my first venture into five year old's icons territory. And it's a delight really, because most of the stuff I do is frankly filth. Most of my output, I won't allow my children to see until they're 30, let alone 18 or 21.

One or two of the reactions to Postman Pat: The Movie have been about suitability for the five year old. You've got killer robots in there, for instance. Plus an anti-capitalism thread! But I've got kids, and I'm not convinced that a five year old is going to be too terrified about that.

I showed my three year old Superman II on Saturday. You think he's worried about killer robots? You're kidding me! I tell you what's interesting... when my eldest was four, he'd watched Jurassic Park on telly. But I took him to see Matilda The Musical, and we had to take him out half way through. What was scary wasn't just the man playing Miss Trunchball, but the fact that he's just over there. I think kids are well aware when watching the screen that they're not in the same room as the dinosaur or the dragon or the man. But when the man is in the same room as you, that's a whole different deal. I had to take him out. He said "daddy, you should not have taken me to see that!". And then we went home and watched Jurassic Park!

I'd better get back to the film. There was a year-long delay in the production of Postman Pat: The Movie. You were one of the first signed up to it. What was the cause of the hold-up?

I don't really know! They had a couple of rewrites on the script, but then that's standard procedure for a movie. And I think it was more the animation just took a lot longer than they thought. Being part of an animated film is unlike any other acting experience I've had. Normally, acting is a team sport. I went into a basement in Soho on my own here, for two days, two years ago. I recorded my entire part on my own.

I only met Rupert Grint for the first time yesterday! And I met the woman who plays my wife for the first time yesterday. So you're doing all your part of the conversation, and then you come back two years later and you watch the film!

So did you have any interaction at all in those two years with any of the other cast?

No.

Did you not have to come back and re-record dialogue?

I came back once more to do a bit of ADR. A few extra noises, perhaps a speech had been rewritten. But there was very little, actually. Most of what you see is what I did, in isolation, two years' ago. I know some of the cast. David Tennant is a friend, and I've seen him many times since. But we didn't actually get together and work on it. It shows what an amazing job the director does. It's all in his head. He knows how it's all going to look, and we didn't really have an idea. They showed me a drawing of how Pat would look. But we didn't know how scenes were going to work. It's very hard to do one part of the conversation!

Can I back up a second - you said they showed you a picture of how Pat was going to look. Tell me there was a draft of two of a more radical Pat? That'd be amazing.

It could have been quite cool, couldn't it? If he'd got a tattoo on his forehead or something. And a ponytail.

He's such a fundamentally nice character though. That's both an advantage and a problem!

It's a problem if you're writing a 90 minute film! You can't have someone being nice for 90 minutes, that's not interesting.

So Postman Pat 2: The Bastard then?

[Laughs] Postman Pat: The Arsehole!

But it is the challenge. You don't want him turning into something he's not. I think what they've done is very clever in this film. He never loses that niceness, he just can't see what's happening around him.

[We're told by the publicist that we have to wrap things up. We realise we have spent too long talking about Jossy's Giants. We are undeterred]

Is there any hope at all of a Dirk Gently revival, or is that gone now do you think?

I would love to do more Dirk Gently. I thought they were four really unique and interesting episodes, exactly the kind of thing that the BBC should be doing. But unfortunately, it was on BBC Four, they don't have any money, and a continuing drama series like that costs quite a lot. I think a financial decision was made. I've not given up hope, but people don't like taking in orphans.

Would you crowdfund it?

That would be good.

Finally, your favourite Jason Statham movie?

I don't think I've ever seen a Jason Statham movie.

So you've never seen Jossy's Giants, or a Jason Statham movie?

I think that gives me quite a lot of Brownie points, doesn't it?

It gives you quite the contrary! I'm going to go and sob now.

[Laughs]

Stephen Mangan, thank you very much.

Postman Pat is released in the UK on 23 May.

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