By Karen Gilleland © 2015
I had a short telephone interview with Ian McNeice when he attended the American Public Television Fall Marketplace in Atlanta in November. He’s the type of person you wish you could sit down with and talk to for hours. I’d describe him as an interesting, gracious, humorous, lovely man.
At the 2013 Fall Marketplace in Boston, you described Season 6 as “quite dark.” How would you characterize Season 7?
What’s come out of Season 7 is how much everyone enjoyed making it. Philippa [producer] regards it as one of the best series we’ve ever done. I hope they don’t rest on their laurels and say, “We’ve done it now; we don’t need to do any more.” I think they should take it as a springboard and say, “Let’s do it even better next time.” That’s what we’re all hoping for — the chance to do it again.
Given that the show has become an international phenomenon, and you an international celebrity, what do you find most surprising?
What’s been surprising over the years, in going to Port Isaac, is the interaction with the fans. I am really touched by their interest and love. They adore the show and the characters. You have to keep your feet on the ground. It’s a terrific honor to appear in a show that has touched so many people. When we go to the village, we see people from all over Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Japan, America, everywhere.
They want to come and see where the show is made. And they can’t believe we’re there filming. You hear them saying: “Oh my goodness, they’re here. This is fantastic.” It’s a real joy and honor to appear in such a show.
Where do you live during filming?
All the main actors are given a choice. We can have a cottage in the village itself or stay at a hotel. Some people opt for a cottage, some for a hotel. I’ve been fortunate. Every summer, I’ve managed to stay in the same house. It’s in the village, has an incredible view of the harbor below and is beautifully equipped inside.
You might say I run a bed & breakfast. The entire period we’re down there we have friends who come and stay. There’s a cushion in the house that says: “You never know how many friends you have until you have a house in Cornwall.” It’s true. Again, it’s like running a bed & breakfast. You wake up in the morning and come upstairs and say, “Do you want two eggs with that or one?”
It’s a joy to be in the village. We are now part of the culture. I know the locals. In fact, I’m going down in December for a wedding of friends I’ve made there.
What attributes do you share with your character, Bert Large?
The thing I share with Bert is his great sense of humor and his optimism. There’s a lovely scene in this last series between Bert and Al on the top of a cliff. Al says, “I didn’t know you could be so optimistic all the time. You lost your fiancé. You lost your business. You’re in a camper van.” Bert looks at the sunset and says: “You’ve just got to see it through my eyes, boy. Tain’t all bad.” That’s what Bert’s about. He is a total optimist. He believes something will always turn up. And it does.
Like Bert, I’m an optimist. You have to be an optimist if you’re an actor. At the start of January, you have no idea how much work will come in. You don’t know how much you’re going to make that year, as opposed to people who have regular jobs. You have to be optimistic and pray something will turn up. Thankfully, it usually does.
Do you enjoy playing other roles?
Yes, the great thing is that I’ve never been type cast. I’ve been in movies, on TV and on the stage. I’ve played everything from the Prime Minister Winston Churchill to villains and Nazis – all of which were great fun. I like the variety and working with other fantastic actors.
[See information on Ian’s roles at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_McNeice]
How would you describe your working relationship with Joe Absolom (Al Large)?
I adore Joe. He’s a terrific actor and a joy to work with. From Day 1 we bonded. We had an instinctive link with each other. We have a shorthand. We know exactly how our characters work together. We also see quite a lot of each other outside the filming. He looks on me as his dad, which is really sweet. He calls me “Pops.” When we’re filming, we have our families there. He has three small kids, and we see quite a lot of them.
Any comment on Martin Clunes?
On the other hand, Martin Clunes is a nightmare. No, that’s a joke. I have nothing but admiration for Martin. He has the hardest job. He is the heart of the show and is in virtually every scene. He is nothing but effervescent. Nothing but sunny. He is one of the nicest people you could possibly meet. He is charming, good with the public, and extremely good with the technicians and actors. He has it all. His humor permeates through the show. People come in and can’t believe what a great show it is to work on. They all go away glowing, thinking it’s the best show in the world.
My admiration for Martin also has to do with all those extremely long, complicated medical terms he has to speak. I saw the special, “Seven Grumpy Seasons” [due to air on American Public Television stations over Thanksgiving week-end], and it’s a terrific show. There is a clip of Martin doing all this incredible dialog. He is also so adept at the medical stuff, injections, putting on bandages — it’s second nature to him now.
Season 7 has topped the ratings in the UK for all eight episodes. How confident are you that there will be a Season 8?
I had an email from Philippa yesterday [November 10] to say that they saw the final ratings figures for the show. It reached an average of 7.8 million for Monday night, which is amazing. ITV was so thrilled with what we’ve done that they want to take everyone out to dinner at the end of the month, which is lovely. When I told my partner, Cindy, about the invitation, she immediately said, “Well, it’s all over, isn’t it. They’re saying, ‘We’ve had a great time. Thank you very much for what you’ve done and good-by.’” I’m hoping they turn around and say, “Thank you very much for what you’ve done, and let’s keep going.” We’ll see. I’m encouraged by the fact that after all this time, the viewing figures are still so strong.
Typically, when are you notified that there will be a new season?
When filming finishes in July, no one knows if they’re going to make another series. We have to wait to see what the ratings are like and if Philippa and Martin and Mark Crowdy [executive producer] can come up with good plot suggestions. That’s the big one. I think it’s a no brainer that ITV will want to do another series because the ratings are so good. The real problem is coming up with something fresh for Martin and Louisa.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Around about January, Martin and Philippa have to decide if they are going to rent the farm building they use for the interiors of the show. That warehouse contains all the interior sets – the doctor’s surgery, waiting room, kitchen, sitting room, bedroom. We can go there in wet weather and keep on filming. The rent isn’t cheap, so in January they ring the farmer and tell him whether or not they are going to rent it for another two years. That’s when I ring the farmer. Where else would you find an actor ringing a farmer to find out if he has another season of work? Philippa knows I do this, and it’s become a bit of a joke between us.
How can fans help to ensure a Season 8?
Please keep watching. It’s you who watch who give us the great ratings. We value your support, the fact that you love the show as much as you do. In Port Isaac, nothing gives me more pleasure than to say hello to all the fans. If it weren’t for you fans, we wouldn’t have a show. You play a significant role in our success, and we’re all grateful for your support.
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