+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ All rights reserved. This may not be reproduced in any shape or form without my prior consent.
THE CHRISTOPHER RYAN INTERVIEW ==============================
ON THE LEDGE
AW. How did you get the part of Martin ? (ON THE LEDGE)
Well, Alan Bleasdale asked me to do it. so did Robin Lefevre who directed it. I did a play for Robin about 3 years ago at Hampstead. I knew Alan Bleasdale - I met him in the late 7Os when I was working at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre. He's asked me to do a couple of things over the years. So they said was I around and did I fancy it ? Did you see it last night?
AW. I did. I thought it was brilliant. You had the smallest part in it though.
Yeah - well he sort of comes on at the end of the first act having been summoned by Mal on the telephone then gets to work in the second act.
AW. Did they actually swing you back and forth at the end ? Isn't it
a bit scary ?
Yeah. I thought I might get used to that but I haven't. I've got a harness on underneath, and a second pair of trousers with a vent at the back to let the harness through. You probably saw the string. But I'm not attached to anything, oh no. I've got the harness just for them to grab hold of. So if they let go, I fly and die.
AW. I thought you'd need to be rehearsing all the time whilst the play was
No. We rehearsed for 5 weeks solid to start with, from the 11th January. Then we went to Nottingham and the first week at Nottingham was the production week where we were technically rehearsing it and getting it ready and open for previews. All through pr eviews we were adjusting it, a little bit of re-writing here and there, changing things but now we're on.
AW. So you know all the lines by now.
Oh yes. We had to get those off fairly soon because it's such a technical piece. Being up there, you don't have a little book in your hand. We did have the set from the first day of rehearsal - it was already built in the rehearsal rooms of the National Theatre. We had to have that, because of the nature of the play - and that's a great luxury in a play to have the set. Usually, we have tape markings for doors, stairs and everything else. It was necessary for us though.
AW. Have you enjoyed working on the play ?
Yes, but it's not over yet. After this, we're in Newcastle. Before that we were in Glasgow, Norwich and spent 5 weeks at the Nottingham Playhouse. After Newcastle, we go back to the National Theatre in repetoire until August and there's talk we might be going to Liverpool for a week sometime in September. There's also an option for us to carry on till December at the National depending on how it's received, but again nothing's official.
AW. How did you get the part of Nik ?
I was doing a play called CAN'T PAY, WON'T PAY at the Criterion Theatre, London. Andy De La Tour was - for want of a better term - one of the early "alternative" comedians. He was an actor and writer as well as the brother of Frances De La Tour the actress. He was around, and he was in the alternative comedy set. I wasn't, I was just an actor. They were looking for someone to play this character, and he suggested me to Paul Jackson, who directed and produced the Young Ones. He went along to CAN'T PAY, WON'T PAY. I read and did some improvisations and they asked me to do it.
AW. There's been talk that Peter Richardson was originally down to do it,
and for some reason he couldn't do it and you stepped in.
I heard that rumour, though I've only heard it within the last 5 years. I didn't know anything about it at the time - I didn't know any of them at the time. I should imagine it's true because Peter Richardson and Nigel Planer were a double act called The Outer Limits. Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson were 20th Century Coyotes so I think that was the idea. I'm sure that was right. At the time I didn't know - it was just another job for me.
AW. Did you have any personal input into Mike's character ?
Yeah I did. We all did. In a way, Mike was the least defined character. I think the other characters were extensions of what Rik, Ade and Nigel had been doing in their stand-up routines, extensions of the characters they'd developed. Whether Peter Richardson had done something like Mike I don't know. I felt a bit unseen in the pilot show.
AW. There was a pilot then ?
The pilot show was the first episode. We did the pilot show to see if they wanted to make a series, and that went out as the first episode. We did that in February 1981, and it was six months before we found out they wanted a series.
AW. Is there anything specific you put into Mike's character ?
I thought of the dark glasses. Nothing had been written about what he looked like or anything. Again, in the pilot show, I was desperately trying to find something. I said that maybe Mike should be all in black and they said No, Rik's wearing black because he's an anarchist. I thought if I wore black, it would be that cool thing - black clothes and all that. Eventually I thought maybe he's a sports fanatic and I ended up in that first episode wearing golfing gear - which is quite ironic because that's what I'm wearing in this play ! I knew at the time that was wrong but as soon as I found a suit then I began to feel a bit better, that I was on the right lines. So I had a series of different suits, shirts and ties whereas the other characters had their own uniforms. In a way, I wish I had had my own uniform. In retrospect, I could have had a leather jacket - but your ideas always come afterwards. But him having those changes all the time made him what he was in a way. My hair was different because of the play I was doing at the time, and in retrospect I wish I had a wig. Nigel had a wig, Rik had a funny haircut, Ade had his hair coloured. That was good for them because you knew where you could go with something. But it was all a long time ago.
AW. Do you still get royalty payments from all the videos and repeats ?
Yes, but I have to say in all honesty it's not a great deal of money. Apparently it's been shown over the years quite a lot on MTV in America, and I think the series has been sold to UK Gold so we don't get any repeat fees from that. I think it's on cable TV in America as well. We get a couple of hundred pounds and that is it. What the writers get I don't know but it certainly hasn't made my fortune !
AW. Were you a student ?
Yes, I was a drama student. Never at university. From 1968-1971 at the East 17 Acting School just outside London. It was an extension of Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop at Stratford East. Historically it was quite important in British theatre, like the Whirlpool would be today. It was certainly important in the 1960s. Margaret Berry, who worked at Joan Littlewood's began a drama school in the early 60s and I was there in 1968. There was a lot of drinking and parties - it was the time of Hair, just after Sergeant Pepper so it was a strange time and, well I was 18. There was a lot of sleeping on floors, under army coats and all that sort of stuff.
AW. Did you use a lot of that in The Young Ones ?
Funnily enough, I really didn't think about that at all. My character didn't really go to the extremes of the others in a way.
AW. He was the "coolest" one though.
Well, the straight man, or the anchor man for them to come back and bounce off.
AW. Well, l'vebeen watching it and I thought you were supposed to be the
"cool, trendy" type of person at the university....
Oh really, I don't know. Drama school's different to university. I think. I mean, I haven't been to university. Certainly at East 15, it was very much to do with acting. There was a degree of academic stuff but there weren't exams as such. If people were into the posing side of things, if any of that went on - a couple of people came in with bands around their head a la Hair but they were soon sorted out.
AW. Did you enjoy doing The Young Ones ?
Yes I did. Although I was doing CAN'T PAY WON'T PAY during the first series so I learnt a lesson there not to do too many things at once. But of course at the time I was offered the thing, took it and it was a very good entrance for me into television. But I was also doing 8 shows a week of a farce, which required a lot of energy. When we did the second series I wasn't doing anything else and I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it better the second time because the ground had been broken, the character had been established towards the end of the first series so I felt more relaxed going into the second series. As it went on, I enjoyed it more. I must confess to start with, I though what am I involved with here, what have I done but I often feel that with jobs anyway early on. It's a process you go through when you think Oh, have I done the right thing, have I taken the right track with this character, whatever.
AW. Did you like any of the music bands that were on The Young Ones ?
Yeah, I like Madness a lot. They're very good musicians and very original. Yes, I liked their stuff.
AW. Trading on their nostalgia value a bit now….
Are they ? I don't know, I'm not really up on what's going on now, though. At the time, they were just. … You know, I can't remember much about who else was on because I saw the episodes when they came out for the first time on TV, and I've probably seen them once since. I don't sit down and watch them. Of course, so much else has happened since then so I can't really remember but I do remember Madness.
AW. Were any of you infuluenced by any comedy acts whilst doing the snow ?
No, I don't think so. I think that they (they meaning Rik, Ade, Nigel and thevarious other people who came into it) were very much of that time and creating some new thing. I suppose unconsciously they were influenced by the likes of Monty Python. But as much as by Tom & Jerry, if you look at all the things Rik & Ade did to each other - the huge explosions, gas and yet in the next scene they're perfectly all right. I think that's probably the biggest influence if anything because it was fantastic in the real sense of the word. Like in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when they went into Fantasy, and into Medeival times. I suppose it was Pythonesque in a sense there but not with the literary references that Python often had because it was very very clear that Python came from Oxbridge and I think that ours was more to do with farts and going to the toilet.
AW. Which bits of The Young Ones did you like in particular ?
I think the University Challenge one was very good. And the sequence with Rik & Nigel on the train - Crop rotation in the fourteenth century, I thought that was a beautifully written and beautifully played sequence.
AW. How do you feel about the fact that while everyone has gone on into
relative superstardom, you've stayed in the theatres and television ?
Well, that's fine. I'm quite happy with that. To me it was another job. I didn't want to, or attempt to capitalise on that character because I like to be quite anonymous. l like to be able to go to Marks & Spencers alone. This comes back to the fact I wish I had a wig at the time and was more disguised because I am recognised and there's nothing I can do about that. People say "Hello Mike" and "You're off The Young Ones" and all that. They're always very nice about it but I don't like it all the time to be honest with you. So I'm qutte happy playing different parts which is why I became an actor - to play different people. The thought of being a "star" doesn't appeal to me either because I do like my private life and value it. Although I would like to have enough money to do certain things I don't feel desperate to be a millionaire or extremely wealthy. As long as I can pay my bills and nip down to Cornwall every year, if I can, I'll be happy.
AW. Why didn't you appear in FILTHY. RICH AND CATFLAP or the Comic Strip ?
The simple answer to that is because I wasn't asked to. That's fine, because I wasn't at the Comedy Store or the Comic Strip. I wasn't a stand-up comedian. The Comic Strip films used a repetory team of people who were involved in that, and quite rightly. I wasn't part of that. All I did was to come in and play Mike in The Young Ones. So that's the reason - because I wasn't part of that set-up. FILTHY, RICH AND CATFLAP was written as something with Rik, Adrian and Nigel in mind anyway and I'd never asked. Certainly I don't feel bad about it - in fact I was quite happy. It left me to be alone to do other things - a couple of Bottom, Absolutely Fabulous but as different characters.
AW. When you were first contacted to play a part in Bottom, was this
because of your role in The Young Ones ?
No, I don't think so. I think it was a different character. If that was the case, they would have asked Nigel to play Stoky. But they thought of me, and asked me if I'd be interested to play this character who comes in as a friend and I said yeah, and I hope that I've found another character who's a gentler sort of person and quite innocent. I enjoyed that. But I also did Waiting For Godot in the Queen's Theatre in the West End. Again, they asked me if I wanted to do it. It was great, again another character, another dimension. I like working with them, they make me laugh. We have fun when we work together and that's important. In life, you've got to laugh. You've got to have fun.
AW. Were you "having fun" when doing The Young Ones, or was it all very
Oh, we had fun. But at the same time certainly the "dangerous" sequences had to be very orchestrated and there were special FX people there who know what they're doing and explain everything at least once. I wasn't really involved in some of the dangerous things but saw what was going on so those sequences had to be really clear and well rehearsed, and safe. There were lots of explosions, fires, decapitations, head through walls and all that.
AW. And nails through knees.
Oh yes, that's right. I had the nails through the knees.
AW. How was that done ?
With false legs. My legs were tied up behind me under the chair and there were a set of false legs that were under the chair. Something like that. They weren't my legs otherwise I wouldn't be here !
AW. You also appeared in an epiaode of Dr. Who
Oh yes, it was a story of.four-episodes - MINDWARP. I was Lord Kiv, a Reptilian King. Again, that was totally a different character, and totally disguised.
AW. I don't remember you in that at all….
Well, I hope that means that the character was true….I think I had a double in that. They had to take a cast of my head, and I had to be transferred to the other body. Nabil Shaban was the other actor.
AW. You also appeared in Santa Claus - The Movie….
Yes, one of several hundred elves. Four of us were Dudley Moore's mates, with him all the time. We all had names, we did have lines. I did have a couple of lines but I was finding something for the character, like a mute. I said to the director "Give the line to someone else" and didn't speak at all. So in the end I didn't have any lines !
AW. Santa Claus has got a reputation for being a bit of a flop…
Oh yes, the film cost $50m apparently or something like that.
AW. Was there the feeling "on set" that the film would be a flop ?
I don't know what the other people thought. We had good fun there because there were people there we'd worked with before over the years, people we hadn't seen etc. Several people that I knew. We were only on it for two months, the film probably took several months. It was just another job. Every day I'd turn up at Pinewood with all these other elves having their lunch in the canteen with pointed hats and reading their newspapers, complaining about their cars breaking down.
AW. You're in Dirty Weekend, the new Michael Winner film. What are you
in that ?
Oh, yes, very violent film. Again I only play a small part. I've got one scene, I play one of three thugs who get shot by a woman who's avenging a death.
AW. What's next for you ?
I might be doing a little bit in an Alan Bleasdale film for television. He's asked me if I want to do it. Again, it's only a little bit. A barman, I think, in a club or something. But to me it'll be another character.
AW. Has Alan Bleasdale written it or… ?
No, he's producing it. To be honest, I'm not quite sure because it's all erm…..
AW. Up in the air ?
No, it's on. But I haven't really had a chance to look at it and go any further. It's just "Would you want to play a little part in something ?". But I'm not sure whether it's one he's produced or one he's written.
AW. Would you consider yourself a TV or theatre actor ?
Well, anything really. But in the theatre, the actor has more control whereas in television or film, you're at the mercy of whoever edits, produces or directs. When you're on stage, it's just you and the audience there. So in a way, the theatre is probably the most satisfying thing because you feel the immediate response, good or bad and-can change accordingly.
AW. Have you done anything embarassing because you needed the money ?
Nothing embarassing… I did do a commercial in Spain in 1986 because it was very good money. I was there for four days, working all the time so I didn't really see much of Spain. I've done things and regretted them afterwards, having gone into them with good heart. You do learn from each experience.
AW. Are you married ?
No I don't know if I ever will be carried. I suppose I'm very independent. I like being on my own, I like feeling able to go anywhere at short notice as the manner takes me, if I've got the time. I like that sense of freedom. Also, this job is not the most secure of professions, and the thought of having a family or trying to make ends meet …. a lot of actors have to do other things, some awful things or rubbish and I do find that because I'm on my own I have the luxury of being able to choose a bit more.
AW. Have you done anything extraordinarily naughty ?
Nope, I don't think I have. I hope I haven't hurt anybody in my life.
Thanks go to Jenny Mann from the National Theatre for arranging the interview. If you ever get the chance to see ON THE LEDGE, it's brilliant !
<C> Andrew Wong 1993. All rights reserved. This document may not be reproduced in any shape or form without my permission, not even electronically. Any requests for publication must be sent to :
ANDREW WONG 10 GERLLAN TYWYN GWYNEDD LL36 9DE U.K.
E-mail : email@example.com
ADDENDUM - Authors' own notes…
He's gotten a little older - grey hair now.
He was in the Only Fools & Horses Xmas Special as Tony Driscoll of the Driscoll Brothers, with Roy Marsden. Worked with him at Glasgow in 1974-75.
From reading this interview, he comes across as a bit of a "luvvvy" but in reality, he seemed like a normal guy who bought me a coffee !!!!
The biography will be placed on the Nets at some stage in my life…
I am currently residing in the US for a year, and will be travelling *EVERYWHERE* within the US from May 1994, so if you want to meet a genuine British person, E-mail me !
Also, I'll be popping home for Christmas, so if you want me to bring back some British goodies, E-mail me again….