Bill Bailey interview: No Man’s Sky, Bond villains, gaming

From Edge Of Tomorrow to Commodore 64s and Bond villains - we chat to Mr Bill Bailey about No Man's Sky...

The mighty Bill Bailey is always a busy man, and right now, he’s finishing off his latest tour. But he’s also been working with Sony, on the launch of the colossal new videogame, No Man’s Sky. What’s more, Sony arranged for us to have a little chat with the man himself. And every now and then, we remembered to talk about No Man’s Sky as part of it.

Take heed at the part at the bottom of this interview, too. Bill Bailey for Mayor of Den Of Geek, anyone?…

I’ve just been watching the promotional video for No Man’s Sky [it’s down at the bottom if you’ve not seen it]. And I know I’m supposed to start off talking about that, but the video brought to mind the moment where Manny assimilated The Little Book Of Calm. Is this your cunning way of bringing Black Books back?

It’s like he’s swallowed some sort of cosmic device!

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The huge Black Books fan in me wants to know if all of this is a cunning ruse to sneak that show back?

Well, would that it was! No, sadly! That’s not the case. It’s down to whether Dylan is keen. It was great fun, we recorded a lot of shows, but we moved on to do other things.

There are many things we love about you, not least that I don’t know of too many people who have a fanbase of people so fervently trying to get them into things. Fans have campaigned for you to be in The Hobbit, to be in Star Trek

I know! I’m slightly nervous about these things now, as I think they may have a negative effect. What happens is there’s a film, maybe a fantasy film, and then there’s an online petition: ‘Bill Bailey must be a wizard in this film’. And the online petition gets signatures, and I don’t know what happens. If it goes to the director, who goes, oh no, it’s the petition guy again!

Why can’t he go through the proper channels? He just keeps coming in with a big pile of signatures. ‘These people want him to be in it!’

Go leftfield instead. Go for a Bond villain.

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Actually, I’d be up for that. I think that’d be great.

Would you like me to start a petition?

Maybe not a petition! Maybe I’d go for a natural history angle: a lizard expert? We really think that the Bond villain should be stroking a bearded dragon or something! Not a cat.

That is a thing though: an expert on something specific would be a great Bond villain, rather than a more general megalomaniac.

Yeah! I think so. They’ve missed a trick. I didn’t really think the last villain was very good. Christoph Waltz in Spectre. He was good with gadgets that poke in your ear, but that was it. He was like a slightly odd dentist.

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Maybe that was the plan. That’s the Batman villain that never was: The Dentist.

Oh! Yeah, yeah! The Dentist! He’d strike fear into everyone! Not since Marathon Man has there been a decent dentist in the movies.

Little Shop Of Horrors?

Yeah, I suppose. But Marathon Man is the one. Maybe it should be something like a chiropodist. A really evil foot specialist. [Laughs]

For Bond or Batman?

Either! Someone who’s really good at doing your toes, and sorting out your cracked heel. And actually evil.

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Were you always a computer-y person? Were you a Spectrum or a Commodore 64 person?

Yes! I did have the Commodore, certainly. It was great fun, because it was just me. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, so I did a lot of stuff where I entertained myself playing games, reading a lot, a lot of fantasy novel stuff. Absolutely. It’s been fascinating to see how games have developed. How it’s gone from this niche thing to a huge blockbuster entertainment world, where films are being derived from games.

I think gaming has influenced popular culture in a huge way. It’s worked its way into novels, and blockbuster movies. One of my favourite films of recent times was Edge Of Tomorrow, which is basically a game. It’s a videogame. Live, die, repeat: that’s the essence of all those Call Of Duty, first person shooter games. It’s why it’s so pleasing as a film. Films and gaming are blurring together, and it makes for brilliant popcorn entertainment.

It was brilliant. There was also a subtle subtext to it. Maybe not even conscious: Tom Cruise doesn’t play an action hero in it. He’s an action-shy media monkey. He’s there to sell the war with shiny teeth and a nice smile. And you almost think that’s what film stars are. They sell the idea of action heroes to us. The sort of aspirational characters. But actually it’s artifice. It plays nicely: how he evolves from being a useless, helpless PR guy, into the ultimate warrior. Just because he’s been through it hundreds of times.

It summed up to me that this is exactly the gaming experience, but in a film context. I was talking to my son, who’s 12, and he said ‘I bet there’s going to be a computer game of it’!

You know there’s talk of Edge Of Tomorrow 2?

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There is?!

I’m thinking of another petition here.

Ah, right! Okay. [Laughs]

I think you’re the villain. An alien dentist?

An alien reflexologist, who manipulates people’s feet, but actually imbues evil thoughts by the sole of their feet! And gets them to do their bidding!

In Cornwall?

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Yeah! Pasty Of Tomorrow! [Laughs]

We can work on that. I should ask about No Man’s Sky, though. It’s a game with 18 million squillion planets, or something like that. Even though many of us will only see a smaller number of them! How do you feel when you see something like this? You as someone endlessly fascinated with the world, and who’s tried to communicate that through your work?

I was fascinated by it. I saw the trailers for it, and I thought this is genuinely a genre-bending game. There have been procedurally-generated games before, and games that randomly generate. But nothing on this scale or ambition. There’s something utterly mind-boggling, what you’re experiencing. Flying over planets, and planets just appear. Creatures appear. Because it’s generated, none of this exists! It’s not like the artwork that you see in a game like Fallout: that’s there, that exists somewhere in your console. But this is entirely virtual and it’s never been seen before.

It appeals to me on that deeper level: this is in some way replicating an experience of early explorers. They would never know what they were going to see. The world had never been stepped on before, creatures had never been seen before. And there’s a wistfulness about it. The loneliness of space, yet the beauty of it. It’s not designed in that ultra-realistic, gritty sci-fi way. It’s got a vintage, retro feel to it. I thought it was extraordinary. I’d already seen the trailer for it, and then they asked me if I wanted to do a promo for it. I said yeah! This is right up my street!

Only a game can do this. On the big screen, Interstellar was a very long film, but they still only got to a few planets.

That’s right. And I think this opens a door on many other possibilities. There are a lot of games that I love, and of course, it gives huge scope to designers and artists and people who think up plots of ideas. It’s tremendously creative. But this opens up a door to ultimate possibility, infinite possibility. It’s almost infinite: there are a billion billion planets. I can’t think of much bigger than that.

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But that can apply to other things as well. In a practical way, simulation of all manner of scenarios. It frees up the idea of following pre-ordained paths, which so many games have. The gang here were playing Until Dawn the other night: you could go this way, that way, and… great. A great, really cute idea. But they are still pre-ordained. No Man’s Sky is completely off the scale. As close as you can get to space travel, whereby the possibilities are endless.

We’ve interviewed you a few times for Den Of Geek, and the first time, you mentioned you were trying to get a children’s TV series off the ground that explained sound. Whenever we talk to you, you appear to have edged forward a little more, but never quite enough. Is that still the case?

Still very much a possibility! I’m still fascinated by it, and we’re still…. relatively recently we had another meeting about it. We went into partnership with a different production company. But I’ve been commissioned by the BBC to make a sitcom, about me running a wildlife park, which should be quite fun. That’s taken over a little bit. The fact that we have a bit more scope to make different things, I haven’t abandoned the idea at all. It’s one of those ideas that gets put on the bench, and will get its turn.

I will donate £5 now to the crowdfunding appeal to make it.

[Laughs] [A lot]

I’m from the Midlands – £5 is a little of money!

Yeah!

Also, we’ve never asked you your favourite Jason Statham movie before?

The original The Transporter I think, was so brutally effective.

You and Sir Kenneth Branagh chose that.

There you go, good company. I haven’t seen Spy yet, so can’t comment on that! That looks brilliant as well.

What next for you now? Finishing the tour, and your new sitcom?

Yeah, basically. Tying up the tour, which is going to be recorded for something or other at the end of the month. DVD, Netflix, Amazon, one of those kind of things. And then I’m writing a book – I’m on deadline – on British birds.

You did a TV show for Sky about that?

That’s right. It’s a personal account of encounters in British birds. To encourage people to know all the birds around them. When you’re a birder, you have all sorts of reference books, and you know about migratory patterns and technical stuff. Most people just look out the window, and say ‘is that a pigeon?’ That’s what this is aimed at, trying to net in people who don’t know the name of all the birds around us. My aim is for people to look out the window, anywhere in Britain, and every single bird you see will be in this book, and identified. There are some more exotic and rarer ones in there too, and the idea is once you get going, to be encouraged to get out there and have a look.

I’ve illustrated it myself too. I’ve discovered this knack I never knew I had!

I look forward to that. It’s always a pleasure, Bill Bailey. If we’d ever have a Mayor of Den Of Geek, it’s you.

I will wear a big, blingy chain of office. I would love that.

Be careful what you say. Someone reading this may well make this chain. You’d be perfect for the job, though. You’d treat it with the perfect pithy disdain the office deserves!

[Laughs]

Alright!

That’s it then, Bill Bailey. You’re the Mayor Of Den Of Geek.

I want an open top bus parade around the office.

Office? LOL. Again, be careful what you wish for! Bill Bailey, thank you very much!

Here’s the promotional video for No Man’s Sky