Mackenzie Crook Interview – Detectorists, Scriptwriting, Directing and The Office

DetectoristsIntroduction and Interview by Arran Dutton – He may be best known for his roles as Gareth Keenan in The Office and later Ragetti in Pirates of the Caribbean, but actor Mackenzie Crook will surely put the fantastic Detectorists up there with those experiences after the first series, which he wrote and directed as well as starred in, gripped viewers and critics alike with its warmth, depth and humour. The six part series came to an end on BBC Four last week and one would think that they’d be foolish to not commission a second series of what has been described by many as a sweet and heartwarming comedy drama. To Mackenzie Crook’s credit, he has produced a gorgeous programme which has loveable characters, complex relationships and strong story arcs running throughout whilst exploring the hobby of metal detecting, which is relatively unknown to many. This provides an interesting premise where two men’s obsession and intrigue with finding a huge slice of history and the acclaim that comes with it consequently has an impact on the present day life of Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and provides the perfect escape for Lance (Toby Jones). In each other’s presence they find the perfect companion to help them through their problems. I got the opportunity to speak with Mackenzie Crook in an interview that is featured in The Fix‘s very first podcast if you can’t be bothered to read! If not, find a full transcript where I ask about Detectorists, The Office and some more technical questions around scriptwriting and directing right here: Arran: Firstly, what inspired the premise for Detectorists? Mackenzie: It came from a Time Team special episode I saw a couple of years ago and it featured a couple of detectorists and they struck me, well they were quite odd characters, very secretive and protective of their hobby and it just fascinated me so I started looking into the hobby a bit more and discovered that it attracts really quirky people and it is quite a fascinating hobby. A: Did you spend time with any detectorists when you were writing this series? M: No, I actually deliberately stayed away from that. I didn’t want to get too closely involved incase I start parodying real people or something like that. I wanted it to be independent really, but I did an awful lot of research on the Internet, which has just got everything on it. Just go on to YouTube and you see videos that these guys have made and you get a feel for the hobby. detectorists2A: In Detectorists Toby Jones plays Lance, who’s your best friend and sidekick Lance, but how did he become involved in the project and what was he like to work with? M: I’ve known Toby for years, just to sort of say hello to, I think we’ve been in about half a dozen of the same movies but never actually shared screen time until about 18 months ago when we did The Muppets Movie and just had a very brief cameo where we were together. That’s when I pitched the idea to him and he sounded interested. When we got him, when he phoned and said he wanted to do it so it was quite a scoop. He’s one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met and he’s done very little comedy so it was brilliant to have him on board because he’s been wary of comedy for years. A: It’s fantastic, his comic timing is wonderful as well so that surprises me he hasn’t done and awful lot… M: Absolutely, but he trained in Paris in a school that specialised in clowns and he’s got all that physical comedy. He’s bringing that element to all of his roles, including the serious ones, but it was good to see him let loose on some comedy. A: Detectorists is not only the first series you’ve written but also the first you’ve directed! How did you even start preparing for production? M: That was being in at the deep end, I’d never been on that side of things before. It was an awful lot to do and it was quite daunting but at the same very exciting to see it all actually happening after 18 months ago having this idea and now seeing it made into a reality. A: One of the things I noticed within the first minute of the pilot was how beautifully it was shot and especially the scenic shots of the Suffolk countryside, so I wanted to know when you created a shot list how much influence your director of photography have and how did you decide over certain shots and what was eventually going to be captured? M: Jamie Cairney was my director of photography and I interviewed him early on and told him that I was going to have to lean very heavily on him because it was my first time and I didn’t think I had the technical knowledge that I needed. I had a very clear idea in my head how I wanted it to look and feel but he found some amazing shots and it was a collaboration. A: Did you have a favourite moment within Detectorists? M: The Red Arrows scene in episode two. I was particularly pleased with that because I wrote that not imaging it would ever happen and thought that was something I’d probably have to cut out at some point, like the executives of the BBC would just baulk at that idea, but we got the shot and I think it’s a great visual gag. A: You must have had an amazing producer to get that one lined up! M: (Chuckles) Yeah. A: My favourite bit was when Lance and Andy are looking at the Google maps… M: I lost sight when I was writing it whether anyone would even get that because that’s a mistake I actually made myself. It came from real life and I wondered if other people would have realised that, so I got a few compliments about that so I’m glad people got it. mackenzie_crook_the_office_ricky_gervaisA: Moving away from Detectorists I’d like to speak about The Office where you famously played Gareth Keenan. Could you have ever imagined how successful the series would be? M: No. I knew from the outset that it was something very special and I wasn’t surprised that it was successful, but of course I couldn’t have predicted just how successful it was. I imagined it was gonna be a cult hit and would have some fans but the fact that it went so massive was quite a surprise. A: All of these years later what does the programme actually mean to you now? M: It means I’m doing loads of different stuff – spending my time writing, directing, TV and theatre and film, I can trace it all back to The Office obviously. That’s what got me known and yes I can thank The Office for all of that. A: On The Office you had Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant who were writing, directing, producing and in Ricky’s case acting, was there anything from that you took because you had to do a similar thing on Detectorists and did it give you a newfound appreciation with how they performed with every aspect of that production? M: Absolutely. I told Ricky a couple of years ago that I’d got this idea that seemed to be going places and he asked me if I was going to direct it and that was the first time I’d even contemplated it. For them the idea of someone taking over there work and putting their own spin on it is not a good thing and it’s the same for me, I can’t imagine handing over my writing to another director and saying, “Interpret this for me”. A: I have to ask, do you have a favourite Gareth Keenan quote? M: Two lesbians, sisters, I’m just watching. A: Gareth famously pondered whether there would be a boy born who could swim faster than a shark, do you ever think that will be a possibility? M: (Laughs) No, I don’t think it will. That’s the most quoted line to me. It’s strange how people latched on to that complete and utter nonsense. detectorists_crook_jones_1A: Back to Detectorists, in between shooting you’ve become a detectorist yourself, have you found anything interesting? M: Well, I found things that are interesting to me, but I don’t know how many people they’ll be interesting to. Things like a musket ball and a tiny little Georgian buckle that wouldn’t get many people’s hearts racing, but for me it’s a direct physical link to the past and whoever dropped them many years ago. A: Thinking about what they were doing and trying to figure out who they were, it’s bizarre… M: Absolutely, especially this musket ball I found, I’ll never know. Some tale of tragedy or heartbreak? A: Are you working on anything else other than Detectorists? M: Yeah, I’m shooting a BBC drama at the moment in Manchester called Ordinary Lives. It’s a drama set in a car showroom and we’re all employees with each episode focussing on a different character and a lie they’ve told and how that impacts their lives, other people’s lives and all the ramifications. A: If you had to pitch Detectorists to readers of The Fix in one short sentence what would you say? M: Oh boy, it’s tough because so many people have been describing it as gentle comedy and I hate that word because it just sounds whimsical and unfunny, but it’s difficult to know what other word to use. It’s a low-key comedy drama rom-com! A: I do love the comedy drama aspect to it. I’ve heard it described as a sitcom, but for me the start and the end point of a sitcom should always being the same, but you’ve got such beautiful progression with the Andy and Becky storyline and Lance and Maggie, so to call it just a sitcom wouldn’t do it justice. M: Yes, for me a sitcom means a laugh every eight seconds and that certainly isn’t the case. There’s big gaps between my jokes and purposefully so. A: Do you have any ideas should there be a second series of Detectorists ordered? M: I have got lots of ideas swimming around to be honest. There’s lots of stuff I wrote into the first series that eventually had to be cut out, so I’ve got all those things ready to go. I haven’t heard from anyone whether they do want another six episodes but if they do I’m very keen to get writing because I’m very much in that headspace at the moment. mackenzie_crook_pirates_of_the_caribbeanA: I’ve got one last question, it’s kind of a whacky one, we tend to ask a hypothetical question, which we call a hyposer, so, given the choice of living the rest of your life as Gareth Keenan or Ragetti from Pirates of the Caribbean, which would you choose and why? M: Oh my god! Okay— Oh boy. I think I’d have to choose the pirate to be honest. I couldn’t live the life of Gareth Keenan, at least the pirate character of Ragetti is stupid so at least he has that comfort. A: He’s more simple, I suppose Gareth is asking bizarre questions all the time… M: Yeah, Gareth is pretty stupid but thinks he’s clever and that must be torture. If you’re stupid and you know you’re stupid that must be a comfort. Detectorists is released on DVD today (acorndvd.com) An extended audio version of this interview is available here, but please be warned it does contain spoilers. The Fix also looks to support new comedy. Why not check out this independent production?

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