By now, sitting in a room full of bits of tree and adorable monsters has come to seem completely normal. I might even get some bark to scatter on my living room floor. (N.B. No I won’t, not after hearing from Larry Rickard and Ben Willbond how much rats loved their woodland studio.)
Dan Renton-Skinner is the one member of the core Yonderland cast who isn’t part of the Horrible Histories crew. He’s done a lot of TV comedy in the past, but the character he’s best known for is Angelos Epithemiou, a featured character from Shooting Stars. It’s unlikely you’d immediately recognise him, though; in Yonderland (and in real life) he looks completely different, somehow, like the planes of his face have subtly rearranged themselves (or, more likely, like he’s stopped jutting his jaw out). Here’s what he had to say about his Yonderland experience…
How do you fit into Yonderland?
DRS: I play one character. Martha plays Debbie and I play Debbie’s husband, Peter. I don’t go into the world [of Yonderland], I just stay in the kitchen and look after the kids and make sure the house is running smoothly while Debbie is off saving Yonderland.
So you’re in the dark about her antics.
DRS: I’m in the dark. And I’ll come into the house while goblins and dwarves are being pushed into cupboards. I play a nice, family husband. Bit of an idiot, but that’s my area! No, he’s not an idiot, he’s a nice guy.
Has he got too much on his plate to notice anything’s going on?
DRS: Yeah, he’s got a busy job – he’s an estate agent – and he’s got two kids to look after, they’ve just started school so he’s coming to terms with all of that. They’ve got quite a busy family life that they’re trying to balance, although I don’t know it, with saving this world beyond the pantry.
What appealed to you about the role?
DRS: Well, for me, I’ve played some pretty extreme characters and the chance to play somebody who just puts a suit on every morning and goes to work at an estate agents and is just a nice, normal fella, is very appealing. A lot of other actors might want to go and put the makeup on and do strange things, but I’ve made my mark with that. It’s nice to play someone that everybody can relate to. That’s what I wanted to do and they let me.
Are you envious you don’t get to work with the puppets? Do you get to?
DRS: No, I get a tiny connection with them though I don’t know it. I’ve got a cold and I lean into the cupboard to get some orange juice and it’s handed to me by a little fella. So I did work with him very briefly but my stuff is all with Debbie, Martha. We got on great and, because it’s an extraordinary story with all these fantastic big characters, we wanted to make our bit as believable as possible. So our relationship is believable, there’s some sort of normality to it while all this stuff is going on.
Martha said that Debbie likes going to Yonderland because she feels appreciated there where she doesn’t at home. Would you agree with that?
DRS: That’s charming, isn’t it?! I would imagine, I can see why she would think that, I’m busy at work and I’ve got things to occupy my time and I’m part of the local drama club and all of that sort of thing and I think she feels a little bit put upon. So when she goes to Yonderland she’s got purpose, she’s got to save a world. Whereas at home she’s just got to bring up two kids.
DRS: You know what I mean.
It seems like it’s quite a happy relationship though, maybe they just don’t have enough time for each other…
DRS: Yeah, I think so. You know, the romance can go, can’t it? When you’ve got two kids and you’re knackered and you’ve got jobs to do you can forget about each other sometimes, and there’s a little of that going on too so that’s why she takes quite a bit of pleasure going through the cupboard and going into the other world, And also she gets to go into another world and muck around with puppets.
But she always comes back.
DRS: Yeah, she always comes back. So there must be a reason. I’m the reason. And maybe the kids.
You’ve mentioned the larger-than-life characters you’ve played. Everyone loves Angelos. You must be happy with the success of that character but do you want people to see you as you?
DRS: I don’t mind. I want to be able to do other things, do other acting jobs and writing jobs and it’s nice, it really is nice to play a conventional character. Everyone’s challenged in their own way and you have to find that in what you do but it’s nice to go from playing weirdoes to playing people who aren’t so weird.
Which comes easiest to you?
DRS: [puts on Angelos voice] Angelos. It’s simple. [normal voice] I mean, Angelos is easy, you just turn the censor off and say what you like. It is easy to do that but it’s more rewarding and fulfilling for me to do something like this that I find slightly tougher. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly.
Would you like to see Pete go into Yonderland?
DRS: Of course.
The rest of the cast seem pretty close, coming from Horrible Histories. What was it like coming into that?
DRS: I’ve mostly worked with Martha but I know them all anyway from the comedy circuit. We’ve all grown up together, you know, doing Edinburgh and doing shows so we’ve hung around for a long time. It’s not like I’ve come into their world not knowing them or knowing what they do. We’re all friends so it wasn’t intimidating, it was just great to work with people you know are good. We did all this work in Edinburgh trying to get people to come and see us do stuff and now everyone’s getting their turn at making their own TV shows and it’s nice to be a part of it.
Are you looking forward to being recognised in the street by a new audience?
DRS: Um… I hadn’t even thought of that. I don’t think it’s anything you really look forward to. It’s a by-product but it’s not something you expect. When it does happen it’s really weird to have someone come up to you in the street with their camera… you always think “what are you doing?” And then you go, “oh, yeah, I’m on the telly, they probably recognised me.” It just seems weird. But everyone’s lovely, it’s fine. We’ll see what happens.
Do people expect you to be in character when they recognise you?
DRS: You get all sorts of people, and everyone’s really nice – because if you didn’t’ like something you wouldn’t go up to someone. A lot of people are like “you… you’re that bloke” and a lot of people don’t want to ask me in case they’ve made a mistake and they’ve accused me of being him, because who would look like that in real life?
Have you ever been in Sainsbury’s and had someone shout “What’s in the bag Angelos?”
DRS: Yeah, I get that. And I get photos on the tube… Your senses become quite heightened to that sort of thing and when someone’s on the tube texting and you’re 100 feet underground you know the text isn’t gonna go, you know what they’re doing!
What else are you working on, what’s next for you?
DRS: I’m doing another thing for Sky, with Chris Addison, called Trying Again for Sky Living, and I’m about to do Vic and Bob’s new sitcom.
Is it nice to work with them again?
DRS: I’m never far away! Yeah. But I’m not playing Angelos, I’m playing someone else.
Is Trying Again a comedy show?
DRS: Yeah, it is.
You don’t want to do high drama?
DRS: Oh, well, I’d love to but who’s gonna give me a job doing that?
We could see you on Downton. Don’t fancy yourself as a valet?
DRS: [puts on posh voice] “Who burnt the shirt?” That goes on for an hour, doesn’t it?
Yonderland starts on Sky1 on Sunday 10 November.
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