Don’t tell anyone under the age of nine, but Richard Ridings is the man who gives voice to Peppa’s very own Daddy Pig. That’s right, he’s not a real pig.
Ridings’ is a beautifully well-judged performance; just one of a number on his varied resume. I was delighted to chat with him recently about the new Peppa Pig cinematic experience, while also making time to speak a little about Who Framed Roger Rabbit, his motion capture work with Andy Serkis and Ninja Theory and, best of all, the after-dinner exorcism of Terry Gilliam.
How much of a time commitment has it been for you, so far, for all of the Peppa Pig to date?
Wow. Probably not as much as you think. We tend to do the recording separately – some of the children might go in together but we tend to record by ourselves – and the style of the programme, with the narrator, lends to it being broken down into chunks. We’re on series five now so, I suppose, maybe 60 hours…? That’s over a period of time since 2006.
The first series was a hoot. Phil and Mark and Nev [the show’s creators] decided they wanted me but I was due to go out filming a couple of days later so they said “Let’s do as much as we can on the first day” and we did the whole first series in that one day, started at about 8 in the morning and finished at 8 at night. What a hoot, all those years ago.
How well do you remember that day? Can you recall any of the initial guidance they were giving you?
It was mostly to do with keeping it very simple and clean. Some things you do, you’ll do a read where you might throw in the odd sound, whatever, but because of the clarity of style in this cartoon, you’re looking for an audio style that matches it. Everything is very placed. Indeed, the scripts are written like that. Beautiful little scripts. That was the major note, if I remember, all those years ago.
Has your approach developed at all? Years and years have passed by and yet, to a viewer, it all seems very cogent still.
They’ve found this… I would call it a formula but that does it a disservice really. A wonderful mixture that makes up a five minute Peppa story and they’ve kept to it. They’ve got a wonderful sense of humour, Mark and Neville who write them and oversee their other writers. Very wise. Why tamper with something that isn’t broken? I remember seeing early tests and thought “This is lovely,” was very keen to be part of it, but even so, nobody had any idea it was going to be so wildly successful.
It’s gone beyond everyone’s favourite dreams, in terms of reach as well.
A bonafide phenomena.
They got a lot of things right and they stuck with them.
Other than the clarity and crispness, what else do you bring to Daddy Pig? What’s your sense of who he is? I can’t imagine I’m being so pretentious about it.
When you read the scripts, you get the character right away. He’s a warm and supportive daddy who will have a go at most things. And as a dad, we don’t always get things right but at the end, he has the ability to laugh at this. They do take that dynamic a little bit further, setting him up and using him as the fall guy but I think that’s why he’s so successful. There’s something reassuring about this big comfortable sofa of a presence, and kindly. In an age where, maybe, that isn’t always to the fore too much.
My mum passed away last year but she always used to say she loved watching it because it was so gentle and kind, and a lot of people have said that same thing.
I think him being reassuring and also being the fall guy for the plots, it’s the chemistry of those two things that makes him work. It walks the line and isn’t mean spirited while they do also have a character who can fail a bit.
Absolutely. And the important thing, I think, is children see him having a go, and sometimes go right and sometimes it doesn’t.
It was very popular in series one, then series two maybe not so much, when a problem would present itself, he would say “Oh, I’m a bit of an expert at this” and then he’d suffer his calamitous fall. Classic comedy, that. “I know what I’m doing,” then falling over on a banana skin.
A quintessentially British type, I think. We’ve had so many of those.
My dad passed away last year too, actually. When he was in the hospice we had a bunch of different pyjamas for him, and he had some with Animal from The Muppets, some with Homer Simpson and some with… well, with you on there. You would not believe how popular they were with the nurses and care staff. Even doctors. It hammered home how much of an impact Peppa Pig has made.
It’s crazy. I sometimes forget, then I run into somebody who has young children and they go nuts. They all want to take video, but I tell them “No, no, no, don’t do that. I’ll do you a voice, but don’t take a video of a 55 year-old bloke, your children don’t want to see me, they want to hear a voice message.” It has engendered such warmth and has such an amazing following, which keeps replenishing itself as more young children come along.
I suppose it’s a brand, isn’t it? I know it’s gone well in America, but now I’ve just heard it’s starting to big in Russia and China.
Well, then there’s really no limit to it. A little pig that’s genuinely crossing boundaries.
We all come from families and we all try to get along.
We have this new cinema release which, while it has new material, it isn’t long form, it isn’t feature length, it’s still episodes. I was discussing this and we were wondering what the attention span of the target audience actually is. I wonder if they’d even get away with something longer.
I think they’re right to keep it within the five minute format. I think I’m right to say that as part of this cinema release they’ve got the Australia tour, which are five related episodes, and I think that’s okay. I think a continuing theme is okay, but I think they’re quite right to keep the format. My only worry is that a lot of parents use Peppa Pig as a kind of pacifier, leaving them in front of the DVDs for hours on end. I don’t think there’s any worry about attention span. I trust those chaps [the showmakers] with their instincts; they’ve been very on-the-money before.
Ben And Holly is a slightly longer format, which allows for a slightly longer story.
And I was thinking The Big Knights is longer again.
You know The Big Knights? I think it’s fabulous.
I don’t think they’ve ever made something that isn’t wonderful.
When The Big Knights played in some London cinemas a year or two ago it didn’t really make any waves. A terrible shame. They seem to have just caught lightning in a bottle with Peppa Pig. As good as all of these shows are, something somehow just pushed Peppa over the line.
A mum was telling me that her little girl, maybe thirteen, fourteen months old, in a pushchair, was in a shop with a DVD display with a big Peppa and she was going nuts. There’s something – in the shape, in the colour, of Peppa and the family – but it’s impossible to pin down what. That baby, ever since she first saw Peppa she wanted to touch it, she wanted to see her.
All of the Astley Baker Davies characters are very appealing, very graphic, all very communicative. I wonder if it’s because Peppa is an identification character? I wonder if it’s not that?
Yes. Yes, I’m sure that’s a huge part of it.
You’ve done an awful lot of voiceover work, even stuff I had no idea of until I saw your resume. So brilliantly prolific. Voiceover is obviously very efficient – you can do a lot quickly – but what are the other pleasures of it?
I love creating characters on mic, but you’re right, it’s efficient. Right at the moment my wife is not at all well and I’ve had to turn down recording work to look after her, so just at the moment, voiceover is great, great that I’ve got that available.
I did some great work with Andy Serkis, with the motion capture stuff. We did some games for Ninja Theory, a company based in Cambridge, and that was great because there, it’s more like doing physical theatre. The technology is such that you can see the character you are playing on a screen as you’re moving, to help you evolve the gestures.
I got paid a lovely compliment by Nick Butterworth, the children’s author. We were doing Q-Pootle 5 and he said “I love watching you in the booth. It’s like watching a great blues player” and I thought “Whoah! So kind.” He said “You’re always trying to find the right tone for the moment.” I read the script and I try to get the writers’ intentions, and I guess I might have been lucky with that. And I’m lucky that I’ve got this deep, resonant voice.
You have been blessed.
It’s beautiful, Q-Pootle 5. The rendering. It’s almost too good for TV, that wonderful rendering by Blue Zoo.
Almost like a feature film.
So, what happens next with you and Peppa? Do you have a date to go back in?
I’ve heard rumours… I think I’ve finished this series, though there might be pick-ups, but I have heard rumours that they might be doing more. Watch this space, as they say, but I don’t have bookings on the calendar. We will see! It’s quite amazing that they get to the end of a series and say “That’s it, that’s the last one ever!” like they did before series five, then all of a sudden, series five came along. Also, eOne have a huge merchandising operation attached so, I’d imagine, to a certain extent, that might impact on their desire to keep it going, keep the fresh episodes coming.
I love doing them. I love being in there, and I’m very sad I’m not in there recording them more.
Not too long ago, I was watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a niece and… well, I almost told her [that man is Daddy Pig] but I didn’t. That would have confused her too much. But what an amazingly memorable character Angelo is, responsible for a great turning point in a dramatic scene, and he does that riff on the Harvey thing. Do you ever get recognised for that?
Now and again. It’s amazing what I get recognised for. People do have amazing memories. And I love talking to people about things I have done. I’m lucky to have done things I really like, so I never mind talking about them. Did you ever see a show called Common As Muck?
I’m very aware of it but never saw it.
Oh, the people who come up and talk about that one. The writing was beautiful, and the characters are very reflective of things that people felt they were going through – it caught the mood as privitisation started to get hold of this country. The reaction to that show is great. I played this character, Bernard, who was like a five or six year old in a grown up body, who bound the group together as they went through these privations. A brilliant bit of writing from William Ivory.
In my mind, the shoot for The Brothers Grimm must have been a war zone with Terry Gilliam on one side and Weinstein on the other. Was it like that?
I was far removed from it if it was, but I think there were a few tensions.
I can’t imagine those two guys seeing eye to eye.
I think I’m right in saying the Weinsteins brought in a lighting cameraman and Terry had to lose his lovely lighting cameraman at some point because they [the Weinsteins] were looking at the shots and it was too dark for them. That’s really all I can remember.
The only time Newtwon Thomas Siegel shot for Gilliam so it was conspicuous just from the names on the poster. Gilliam is my favourite, I won’t lie to you.
He’s wonderful! One night we were all out having dinner, getting a bit merry and Peter Stormare started a mock exorcism on Terry. “Get the demons out, get the demons out!” I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Prague but there’s huge Catholic iconography everywhere, bishops hurling bolts of lightning, stuff like that. The exorcism of Gilliam, we were having a right old laugh, but then we realised “What’s the point of Terry Gilliam without his demons?”
“Quick! Put them back in!”
[Both laugh again]
Richard, thank you once again.
Peppa Pig: My First Cinema Experience is in UK cinemas from today.