Arriving in cinemas this Friday is Bunny And The Bull, a film that’s being described – as we’ll see in a minute – as a Mighty Boosh movie. It’s not, and we got to sit down with Paul King, Simon Farnaby and Edward Hogg to find out more…
Everywhere the film’s mentioned, The Mighty Boosh is mentioned, with some places even referring to it as ‘Mighty Boosh: The Movie’. Do you feel frustrated by that?
Paul: It’s annoying that it’s wrong, but, obviously, at the same time lots of people like The Mighty Boosh, and hopefully people who like that might like this.
But yeah, it is a bit annoying if people go “Oh, it’s The Mighty Boosh movie”, because it really isn’t; it’s no more that than Shaun Of The Dead was ‘Spaced: The Movie’. Or even less so, because at least one of the writers of Spaced was writing that.
It’s a film that they happen to be in by their director, and that’s really it. I think people know what ‘From the director of…’ means, I think they go “Oh, okay, it might be a bit similar but it’s not the same project.” But, obviously, people are going to say it, because it’s not like I’m famous, so you’ve got to say “This is why you might be interested in reading about this film”, so I don’t mind…
It’s a nice thing to be attached to, and I’m really proud of it, but it is a bit odd, and some people are a bit angry that it’s not The Mighty Boosh film. “It wasn’t as strange as that!”, and you go “Alright, I’m sorry!” (laughs)
Has anyone said to you they’ve been disappointed that it’s not the same?
Paul: No human being, though I’ve read a couple of things. I think the problem is, it can make false expectations. The good side is that people who like it might come along, and the downside is people will expect men made out of bubblegum and videotape, and the more surreal angle.
This has really just got some strangely-visualled backdrops, as it’s a film set in someone’s memory, but it’s much more naturalistic story, and it’s not about wannabe pop stars living in Camden, it’s really different.
But I also think that because there probably aren’t that many things that look at all like this, in a way it gets lumped in with it in the same way people go “Ah, it’s a bit like Science Of Sleep” or Terry Gilliam, and you go “Which Terry Gilliam?”. I don’t think it’s like any of them!
So, it’s because you’re in the oddball gang… It’s the gang I want to be in! But, hopefully, it’s its own thing.
Where did the visual style come from?
Paul: I suppose it’s something I’ve sort of been trying to get to for a while; it’s really where it took off from the Boosh. On the Boosh, we got as far as back-projection, which was, literally, a practical response to the problem of ‘how could we shoot a scene on a boat in a studio’, and I had the discipline of shooting it only in a studio, and we weren’t going to flood the studio, so it was a way we could possibly get away with doing it. And I started to really like that, and built up from it…
But I’ve really wanted to do something with stop-frame animation and models, the more Ray Harryhausen school of special effects. This always sounds really wanky, because I feel like I’m one of those people who goes “I hate CGI”, but I f*cking love CGI! District 9 is probably my film of the year…
Used well, it’s great, but not many people sit around going “Oh, I love CGI!”, but you do go “I love stop-frame”; I like the lo-fi thing.
Like the bull…
Paul: Yeah! That’s my favourite bit of the film, definitely… I love the bull; he looks great, he’s made of cutlery and he’s got a steam iron for a nose, and I’m really pleased with that.
But I also like the idea that we’ve got the audience to the stage where they’re watching the bull fight, and then when you cut to the real bull they go “Argh! What? No!”. I really like the idea that you’ve got people in so far that reality seems odd, and I love that you can take them on that journey.
Some things you see can be a bit wilfully obscure, I think, and I really wanted it all to have a meaning. You see the things in the flat that inform why the landscapes are like they are; you know that he’s in a Happy Meal box, and it’s really simplistic, and it gets more weird and complicated and fragmented.
Hopefully, there’s a bit of discipline to it that makes it not just a “Hey, we made a Spaghetti World!” sort of thing.
Did you have an idea for the set design before you started on the story?
Paul: I started with boring postcards, and I was a big fan of the Martin Parr boring postcards. That and Paddington Bear were the only two real references, where I wanted it to look like them, so when we went out and took the photos of museums [for the film’s European tour montage], it was very much with that idea of making it as flat and boring as possible.
And I thought it’d be good, because you remember trips in anecdotes and mementos, and you can’t remember everything that happened on holiday.
I was in France last year, and you’d go “It was great weather, and we got a scooter and went into the mountains”, and you’ve got a few little stories, but that’s probably about two hours of the whole holiday…
You sort of make that anecdote, and so I got into the idea of making different bits of the world feel like different things. And then it was, weirdly, quite a lot of work trying to find things that hadn’t been done.
Every so often, I’d go “I really want to do that”, and then I’d realise that there’s that advert that looked a bit like that, or something… Normally really dodgy adverts, and I’d think “Is this just going to end up looking like an advert for some website?” Because that wasn’t where I was going visually!
So I was trying to find a bit more original things, and the designer was really helpful with that as well.
Did it take a long time to build it all?
Paul: Insanely long! The newspaper model was enormous, seven metres long, and they spent about six weeks building it.
The nicest thing about making the film – because, obviously, it was all stress and aggro, and I didn’t have a haircut for six months and stank and put on weight, and was going “I’m only thinking about myself and my pain!” – is that every so often you’d go “Fucking hell, look at what these people are doing”; we had these volunteers from the Nottingham Art School who were helping the art department, and they were so kind, because we had no money, and I asked if they wanted to come and help out, but they got really into building this model, quite obsessively…
There were about 15 of them working 15-hour days, and we didn’t even buy them lunch! You feel so shitty just going “Thanks for the seven hours you’ve done so far; could you go and buy yourself a sandwich and get back here in twenty minutes?” It’s the most exploitative thing!
It was so many thousands of hours… And stop-frame’s a beautiful thing to watch, because you go through every frame, and then when you see it at the end you feel like it’s an achievement.
Sometimes I think with things that come out of the computer, you don’t see the graft… Even though there’s just as much, you can’t see the thumbprints on it, and I like that.
Now, you’ve mentioned elsewhere that a lot of inspiration for Bunny came from Simon…
Paul: Well, Simon’s character is – and I’d better not say this in front of him – is basically a bit of a shitter. He’s really selfish, but the guy that he’s with hasn’t noticed yet.
Simon’s grandad was a massive gambler/alcoholic, and I sort of raided his life a lot… He hadn’t been allowed to drink in the last few years of his life, but he still got drunk, and nobody knew how he did it, they just assumed he had a little stash somewhere. And when he died, they were clearing out his room, and they found behind his wardrobe a fake panel – I swear this is true, reading people! – and he’d hollowed out a Shawshank-style tunnel to the pub next door. He had an agreement with the landlord that after lunch Grandad would go for his ‘little nap’, and wake up in his own boozy Narnia, just necking pints of ale, and then crawl back through! That’s an amazing story, and I just really loved that…
There’s a scene in the film when Simon’s character gets this guy to put a bet on a horse, and that’s also from his grandad. Simon’s dad was brought to his grandad’s deathbed, and he told him to come closer, and Simon’s dad thought he was going to say some profound life lesson, but he just went “There’s a horse running in the 3:10”, and he’d got a fiver, even though he hadn’t been out for ages, everyone thought he was broke… But he’d just kept this aside.
I said to Simon “What happened to the horse?”, and he went “Oh, he fell at the first fence.” I really like the idea of someone who sounds fun, you go “Oh, that sounds like a fun guy to hang out with”, but I bet if you did, you’d go “Where’s that 20 quid that was in my wallet, and why are you pissed, and actually your health and your kids are f*cked”, and it’s to try and get one of those people who sounds fun but is really deeply damaged.
It’s nice that it comes from somewhere that’s true to Simon as well, and it made the casting a bit easier, because if I hadn’t have asked him, he would’ve literally dismembered me. I was always saying to him “You know that story you told me, can I stick that in? And I’ve got another one, can I use that?”, and he was just going “Yeah, I’d better get cast in this…” He’ll claim it’s all on talent, but that’s not true!
Given The Mighty Boosh connection, was there ever any suggestion that Julian and Noel would play the two leads?
Paul: Not from us at all. I don’t think they’d have worked, really… I can see where people see the similarity, but would Julian play your (Simon’s) charismatic drunken character? Or Noel… Noel is never going to play the nerd! Noel couldn’t play the nerd with rucksacks and no luck with women, because he’s not that good an actor!
Ed: That comparison literally comes from the long hair, doesn’t it?
Paul: Yeah, I think it’s the long 70s hair, and I guess because it’s from the director of The Mighty Boosh that springs to mind, but I hope if you didn’t know that you wouldn’t think…
Simon: It is odd, because we’ve worked together loads before The Boosh.
Paul: I introduced Simon to them, and now people go “It’s Simon Farnaby from The Mighty Boosh“, and I’m thinking hang on, he’s from my back pocket! He’s my secret weapon!
Simon: We’ve done theatre shows and sketches, and that’s how the genesis started. But, y’know…
Paul: I mean, god, it’s flattering. I think it’s nice that people make that association.
Simon: Julian’s an incredible actor. He just doesn’t have my range!
Paul: And also, given that it’s based on your life, do you get a bit annoyed when people go “Couldn’t Julian have had your life?” “Yeah, but hang on, he didn’t, I’ve only got one to rake!”
Simon: He can’t have mine!
Paul: I’m using some of his in the next film. Julian was in a jazz funk band called Groove Solution; next time, let’s do a film and use his life, see how he likes it!
[To Simon] You can play the lead singer. It’s odd, isn’t it? But I think people will get over that… It’s because they’re famous, I guess, and you go ‘wouldn’t you put the famous ones in the lead parts?’. But also, on a purely practical point, they’re going to write their film; it’s going to be a proper Mighty Boosh movie, it’ll be amazing, and I hope to work on it, and I imagine you do, and it’d be great.
But this isn’t that, and in a way it’s probably quite good to distance it a little bit and well, you know, I don’t think they’d want to play a different double act in somebody else’s film. I think that’d be a bad decision for them. And they’d go “Why aren’t we writing this? We’re comedy writers” and I’d reply “You are right, get on with it!”
Is there a Boosh film in the pipeline, then?
Paul: Yeah, they’re writing, which is going to be great, but they’ve just got their second book out, and they’re recording an album, and I think they’re going to do more festivals next year maybe… It’s so hard to tell; they’ve got so many things that are really fun to do, I think it’s a bit hard for them to get down and graft away at it. Because it’s a big write… They say they’ve started already, though, so… I’ll believe it when I see it.
Simon: They’ve written some stuff down on some beermats.
Paul: Yeah, I’m always a bit suspicious. I’ve spent so much of the last five years going “Have you fellas written that episode yet?” “Yeah, it’s on the way, it’s coming, don’t worry.” “But where is it? Because we film it on Tuesday!”
Simon: And they present a load of sheets of…
Paul: …Toilet roll! “We came up with this picture of a man in a sheep’s head!” [laughs]
Simon: “Scene 4 got wet, and we’ve forgotten how it went, so we’ll improvise…”
How was it working with the film’s complicated scenery and model work?
Simon: It’s the same sort of acting as normal acting, I think. I think that, y’know, me and Ed have done theatre as well, and it’s the same sort of thing; you’re acting in a strange environment
Ed: We weren’t acting in front of a green screen, either… the sets were built, or you were acting in front of a projection screen, so you could see where you were meant to be.
Paul: Yeah, it’s just the floor wasn’t right, wasn’t it?
[To Ed] Is it harder to lose yourself? I suppose you’ve probably got a bit more of that…
Ed: The only tough thing I found, and it didn’t apply in the flat, is you could shoot off set so easily.
Paul: We could normally afford just the one wall; it wasn’t like we had a big lavish set.
Ed: So you’d be acting within a certain area…
Simon: You couldn’t move.
Ed: Don’t move your head! [laughs]
Paul: Isn’t it more off-putting just having a camera crew here, 12 of them all just staring round at you, big men in shorts… That’s more creepy than any background, isn’t it?
Simon: Yeah, that’s true, and that sort of happens normally on things. So yeah, it’s fine… It’s one of the good things about the film, I hope, that the acting or the story isn’t that surreal; it’s just about two friends.
Paul: We sort of had this idea that it’s how the memories work, that the more extreme scenes are when you kind of go “Oh, we met this mad dog tramp man!”, and that can be quite exaggerated, but the core of it, like with your friends, you probably think of in more real terms than the mad tramp who accosted you on the night bus, and so we tried to do that with the performance. You two are pretty naturalistic really, aren’t you? You let other people get more extreme.
Paul: I always wanted to know that, really…
Simon: Are you asking the questions now?
Paul: I am. [laughter] But I’m in Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace for all of 15 seconds, and I’m such a shit actor that I was just glancing at the camera, which is fine in that literal world, but do you lose yourself at all? Or are you thinking “I’ve got to remember this line”, or trying to be yourself?
Ed: How do you act? [laughs]
Simon: The head of an actor? I think you –
Paul: And is it different when you’re trying to be funny?
Simon: No… I’m not sure there is a ‘trying to be funny’ acting, is there? […] What do you think, Ed? What’s your technique?
Ed: I think you do lose yourself sometimes.
Paul: In the flat it felt like you did, a lot more, but when you’ve got other people you’ve slightly got to give them the right lines, but I guess if you’re on your own…
Ed: Yeah, you can kind of go… But I think it is harder being funny.
Paul: It’s just what you’re used to, isn’t it? There’s this scene where Ed has to cry at the end, and our First AD is really nice, but he’s like a Sergeant Major, they’re all quite big, shouty men generally, aren’t they? And it was really hard to light this scene, so we told Ed “We’ll be going in about ten minutes, so go and think about your puppy that died or whatever it is you do.”
So he was getting ready, and it was just about two hours of you thinking the most miserable thoughts, and you’ve got this big bloke shouting “Oi, can we get a f*cking move on? I’ve got an actor welling up over here!” He’s standing about three feet away from me, going “Well I’m not welling up now!”; that’s not helping anyone get into character!
Ed: That’s just what’s happening on a film set all the time; there’s plenty of distractions if you let yourself get distracted.
Paul: You’re trying to think of your granny, and someone’ll go “Do you want a cup of tea, Ed?”
Ed: I always think back to Matt… “Do you want a wee, Simon?” “I don’t know.” “Are you sure?”
Simon: God, yeah… He was a runner, bless him, who led us into the studio… I think I was in my bull-fighting outfit, and I think he thought, looking at it, that it was hard to go to the toilet, so we were racing onto the set, and as we come round the corner he goes “Would you like a wee wee?” Wee wee, as well! I went “No… I’m fine.” and we wandered on.
Was he right?
Simon: He was right, I needed a massive wee.
Ed: You wet yourself!
Simon: That was the scene where I wet myself, yeah…
Ed: One of many.
Ed, you often play characters who seem to be on the edge of sanity. Where does that inspiration come from?
Ed: I think a lot of it’s in the script.
Paul: Oh, come off it. A lot of it comes from you!
Ed: I think with Stephen maybe, yeah… I understand those basic emotions of being really angry, or really happy or upset, and I think that’s the basis of any character; if you know a way into those emotions, then you can play any character as long as they resemble you.
Paul: We pinched quite a few things from your own personal textbook of neuroses…
Ed: I am quite neurotic. I do things like… [Looks at plug socket on the wall] If that wasn’t plugged in, I would have to turn off the little plug things, as I’d be worried the electricity was escaping into the air…
Paul: I found the weirdest thing with casting was finding the ones who made the parts come to them.
Ed: That’s what they say; they say that parts pick the actor, rather than the actor picking the parts.
Simon: They’re the best people in the business!
Ed: I think it’s true, especially when you’re starting your career; you don’t get to pick and choose, you don’t get to go “That’s the part I’m going to hold out for”. You just have to hope that someone writes a part like this one and picks you because you’re quite similar to the character.
Paul: I think you both massively informed the characters; it’s not how I imagined it when I was writing it at all.
Simon: Bunny was quite a posh guy at one point, wasn’t he?
Paul: He was, and then I started raiding your life a lot more, and you just find that, don’t you? We did lots of the castings in pairs, and they were all good actors, but they were completely different movies! It’s the most important decision, bar everything else, and it’s quite weird […] We rewrote a lot after the casting; we did the rehearsals, and then did another draft of the script to make it fit.
Ed: And with Veronica, as well.
What was it like working with Veronica?
Paul: She was amazing! We loved Veronica; she was really late, and given I’ve got lots of people basically doing funny accents in the film, the one thing I got really prissy about was that we must have a real Spanish girl.
We met a lot of really funny British actresses, but I wanted it to be real. We got so much out of her, though, just being terrible at English. She’s actually quite good – we’d always try and make her worse than she actually was – but she did come out with a lot of terribly embarrassing things!
And all of her imaginary friend stuff came from her – that was probably the part that was most rewritten in the rehearsal room, wasn’t it? She was just extraordinary, and so funny in her second language, I mean properly funny, with insults, and…
Simon: I remember when she came up with “I hope your mother explodes with a terrible period!”; it was just one of the strangest moments.
Paul: That was one of the most awkward moments of my life!
Simon: What is this, is this a Spanish saying? And she’s going “Yes, it’s a thing! Have you never heard of this?” and I’m going “No, never!”
Paul: And all the things in the car, with the superstitions; we were saying, and this is really bad, “You must have some crazy good luck stories, you Spanish people”, like they were some sort of long-lost Amazonian tribe, and she was telling us “Well, if a cat comes by and you stand on him, you must spit on him or it is very bad luck.” What, so you’ve already trodden on the cat and you re-double your steps to gob on it? What is wrong with these people?
Simon: She thought that was really normal, and I was going “How many cats do people stand on in Spain?” “There’s a lot of stray cats in Spain.” And that’s true, but you don’t go around standing on them…
Ed: Let alone spitting!
Simon: I mean, they’re pretty agile, cats. They would get out of the way, wouldn’t they?
Paul: You can stand on a cat; I’ve trodden on my cats.
Simon: You’ve got a house full of them.
Paul: There’s only three, in my one-bedroom flat.
Simon: You’re going to stand on them more often.
Paul: They get spat on all the time…
And on that bombshell, our time was up and we had to bring the interview to a close. Many thanks to Paul, Simon and Ed.