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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
As told to Rich Pelley

Simon Bird: ‘All my favourite directors specialised in bleak, sad comedy – right up my street’

Simon Bird
Simon Bird … ‘If we did a TV version of Days of Bagnold Summer, there would need to be story, action, emotional climaxes – all the things we were keen to avoid.’ Photograph: Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Hey Simon, I saw Days of the Bagnold Summer when it premiered at the Glasgow film festival. I loved it! I’m curious if Wes Anderson was an inspiration? A lot of the film brought him to mind, from the colours to the staging. Theocapa

Well, I’m a huge fan of Rushmore, so I guess he probably was an inspiration on some level. But the directors I spent the most time watching, analysing – and plagiarising – were the film-makers from the 60s and 70s – the generation before Wes Anderson – people such as Hal Ashby, Peter Bogdanovich and Elaine May, who specialised in bleak, sad comedy – right up my street.

How did you get Earl Cave involved, and what was it like working with your wife, Lisa Owens? TurangaLeela2

Earl walked into the audition and knocked it out the park. His is a tricky role because, on the page, it reads as pretty moody and morose, but he managed to infuse Daniel with a real sweetness and vulnerability. What was it like working with my wife? In retrospect, that feels like a pretty spicy decision, with potentially catastrophic ramifications. But I guess on some level we must have an unshakable confidence or faith in each other. I certainly had no doubt that she would produce a brilliant script, so as soon as she hinted that she might be interested in writing the adaptation, I snapped her up.

Earl Cave (right)as Daniel in Days of the Bagnold Summer with Monica Dolan as Sue.
‘He knocked it out the park’ … Earl Cave (right)as Daniel in Days of the Bagnold Summer with Monica Dolan as Sue. Photograph: Rob Baker Ashton

Does Bagnold Summer have a TV series in it? It seems a shame that we only got to spend an hour and a half with such fantastic characters. timetoshine

It’s a lovely idea, but I’m not sure we’d get away with Bagnold Summer on TV given that the film is – let’s not beat around the bush – an almost plotless tone piece. On TV there would need to be story, action, emotional climaxes – all the things we were very keen to avoid. If you do want more Daniel and Sue, may I direct you to the original graphic novel by Joff Winterhart, on which the film is based?

I would like to see you in a movie where you play a young 90s David Baddiel and he plays you in the year 2050. Perhaps it could be a kind of Timeslip thing, with the 2050 Simon Bird tired of being unfavourably compared to Baddiel, and using a time machine (which will of course exist in 2050) to return to the 90s and sabotage Baddiel’s career so he never becomes famous. robotdoggy

What a specific and unusual premise, robotdoggy! That’s not to say I’m not interested, if the money’s right. I’d need to see a script, but … why don’t you put me down as a heavy pencil? Have I ever been compared – favourably or unfavourably – to Baddiel? No, it hasn’t come up. Am I a big Baddiel fan? Absolutely. I grew up in the 90s, a Fantasy Football obsessive. I feel you’re trying to start some sort of beef between me and Baddiel, which I have no interest in. I’ve got nothing but respect for David Baddiel and his illustrious career.

If a production company offered a blank cheque, what film would you direct and/or star in? flyforfun

Can I refer you to the previous question? I’m all in on the Baddiel Timeslip vehicle. But if for some inconceivable reason that falls through, I guess my ambition is to make the two films I am developing with my wife. Unfortunately, it’s far too early to give any details about either.

Piano-playing Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou
Nun better … Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou at her piano. Photograph: Gali Tibbon

Thank you for recommending the 98-year-old Ethiopian piano-playing nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou in a previous Guardian interview. Any more musical recommendations please? Mirren54

Oh, big time. Judee Sill is a recent discovery, an American singer from the 70s who writes these incredible songs that sit somewhere between teen pop anthems and hymns. I’ve also been listening to a lot of shoegaze, so Slowdive and Mazzy Star. Cate Le Bon’s new album is amazing as well.

Would you consider taking over an episode of the Cautionary Tales podcast to see if anyone notices that it’s not being done by [economist and journalist] Tim Harford? The joke I’m getting at here is that your voices sound quite similar. SirAnthonyHopkins

I’ve never heard of the podcast, but I do have an A-level in economics, so I could be up for some sort of job swap, if Tim Harford can be talked into a flagging acting career with a sideline in directing low-budget indie films that don’t perform at the box office. It’s a big if, admittedly.

Simon Bird at work on the set of Days of the Bagnold Summer
Bird at work on the set of Days of the Bagnold Summer. Photograph: Rob Baker Ashton

Would you have followed a comedy/acting career if you hadn’t got into Cambridge and Footlights? Criticulated

I like to think I would, but Footlights definitely gave me a leg up. Not really for the reasons people assume – nepotism and the old boys network, neither of which I experienced. It’s more about the infrastructure that allows 18- and 19-year-old kids to perform live comedy for the first time in a supportive environment. It’s a boot camp for wannabe comedians, with a relentless schedule of gigs that forces you to generate material and hone your craft.

After being on telly for the first time, how hard was it getting used to always having to be nice to people who want pictures and stuff when you’re just trying to do normal things? MaliciousA

I really don’t mind it. I mean – let’s not be disingenuous – there are times when it can be annoying, but that usually directly correlates with how drunk the person is. But, in general, it’s lovely. I got into this business hoping – but never really believing – that I could be involved in shows that mean as much to people as my favourite comedies meant to me when I was growing up. Shows such as The Office, Look Around You and Big Train. To be reminded that I’ve actually done that is really humbling. A politician’s answer if ever I’ve heard one.

Do people still shout “briefcase wanker” at you in the street? davidabsalom

“Briefcase wanker.” “Bus wanker.” Just as long as it’s got wanker in it, that seems to be the crucial component.

Simon Bird (left) as Adam in Friday Night Dinner, with, Tom Rosenthal as Jonny, Paul Ritter as Martin and Tamsin Greig as Jackie
Simon Bird (left) as Adam in Friday Night Dinner, with, Tom Rosenthal as Jonny, Paul Ritter as Martin and Tamsin Greig as Jackie. Photograph: Mark Johnson/Channel 4

Give us your best Paul Ritter anecdote, as we miss him greatly. fareastman

I don’t really have a defining anecdote. It wasn’t really Paul’s style to ruin takes by laughing or go off on wild improvisations. That would have been far too egotistical. What you got with Paul was a gradual accumulation of wisdom and generosity from one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. He was a father figure and remains a huge role model, professionally and personally. When writer Robert Popper pitched the show to me, he said it was based on two universal truths. No matter how old you are, when you go home, you immediately revert to behaving like a child. And that all dads, when they hit 50, just go a bit weird. I think that is probably true. I’m only a decade and a bit off.

If you could go back and reshoot one episode of Inbetweeners and Friday Night Dinner, which episode would it be? NintheO

Well, it would be almost criminal of me not to take this opportunity to redo Series 2 Episode 1 of Friday Night Dinner, in which I accidentally broke Tom Rosenthal’s leg, leading to multiple surgeries and months of physiotherapy. So the Field Trip episode of Inbetweeners it is. A beautiful location, fish and chips on the beach, watching one of my closest friends, Joe Thomas, almost dying of hypothermia. What could be better?

Liam Gallagher, Ian Brown and Richard Ashcroft are famous for their stylistically different walking style. Yet Will in The Inbetweeners gets mocked. How come? Ben Fitzgerald

I guess the obvious difference is those guy are literally rock stars, whereas Will is a fastidious virgin. Will would probably have got away with his weird walk if he’d also written I Am the Resurrection. Also – let’s be clear – Will’s walking style is just my walking style. That’s literally how I walk. It’s not a comedic choice. To this day, I do not understand what’s funny about it.

The Inbetweeners Movie (left to right): Bird, Blake Harrison, James Buckley and Joe Thomas
The Inbetweeners Movie (left to right): Bird, Blake Harrison, James Buckley and Joe Thomas. Photograph: Bwark Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock

Do you fancy Will’s mum too? Hectormandarin

I think that’s got to be “no comment”, hasn’t it?

What’s your favourite brand of powdered custard? vammyp

This feels like a trap. As I imagine vammyp is well aware, the market leader in the powdered custard field is Bird’s Custard Powder. It seems obvious that vammyp wants me to, at the very least, acknowledge that I share my surname with the founder of a powdered custard brand. I just can’t tell whether that’s supposed to be a source of embarrassment or of pride. Anyway, long story short, I’m more of a creme fraiche guy.

How about more Inbetweeners, but this time you’re the embarrassing parents? TurangaLeela2

It’s a hard no, I’m afraid. It just wouldn’t be the show people want or remember. Much better to leave it as a happy memory. Cut to us all doing a third film for Netflix next year … Anything’s possible. Honestly, you can’t trust a single word I’ve said in this interview. It’s all filler, no killer.

• Days of the Bagnold Summer is released as a special edition DVD & Blu-ray by ANTI-WORLDS on 25 April

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