Fresh from the stage of the Gate Theatre, David Walliams reveals himself as more than just the class clown, writes Zelda Cunningham.
Speaking in the Astra Hall, David Walliams glided fluidly through the crowds, camply flailing from side-to-side, caressing unsuspecting students in the audience. Tall, with an almost exaggerated refinement and a sharp wry-wit, Walliams was engaging throughout the interview.
Walliams is most famous for his creative partnership with Matt Lucas, a relationship that spawned their TV series Little Britain.
Characters such as Vicky Pollard and Lou and Andy became household names. For worse or for better, catchphrases such as “yeahr-but-no-but…” and “I wan’ tha’ one” took on a life of their own.
The success of Little Britain was unprecedented. Unexpectedly, Walliams talks about the show with enthusiasm, surprising considering that for the last few years, he has probably spoken of little else.
“I mean if you look at Lou and Andy, although it is meant to be funny, there is a sadness there. Lou is someone who feels bad about working for someone who doesn’t appreciate him”
The show consists of a myriad of surreal, ludicrous characters, borne from the minds that Walliams describes as being “fantastically immature”. With an unflinching honestly, the actor reveals that he and Matt Lucas “will do anything for a laugh”.
“If you see what we do, I mean look at Matt dressed up as Daffyd (The only gay in the village). We clearly don’t care about looking cool.”
The complexity and intricacies of characters such as the urinating granny, the geriophile teenager, Lou and Andy (originally based on a hypothetical vision of sixties icons Lou Reed and Andy Warhol cohabiting) have won the favour of the masses in both Britain and Europe.
“People respond better to original characters than a spoof of the X Factor.” Walliams explains, “There is a certain reality about it. I mean if you look at Lou and Andy, although it is meant to be funny, there is a sadness there. Lou is someone who feels bad about working for someone who doesn’t appreciate him.”
And as for Gran’s scurrilous affair with her grandson’s friend, Jason? “Well that is just a beautiful
story about intergenerational love.”
The voice over for the series is orated by Tom Baker, the Golden Globe Winning former Dr Who. Walliams admits that he is a massive fan of the actor, but laughingly comments how Baker has never actually seen the show.
“He lives in France and would often say, ‘Who is this Vicky Pollard?’, “What is this ‘Gissel’?’ and we would explain that it actually means sperm. Then in his very posh accent he would continue to say ‘So I was drenched in gissel…”
With Little Britain earning such notoriety in its native land, it was inevitable that there would be an attempt to launch the series in America, as has been the case with The Office and Deal or No Deal.
Walliams explains that Simon Fuller, the manager of the Spice Girls and David Beckham approached
them about translating the show for American audience. The series will debut on the 28th September on HBO.
With programmes such as The Office, the esoteric wit of the British had to made palatable for the coveted American masses. However, Walliams describes being pleasantly surprised with his meeting with the executives of HBO.
“We were expecting the potential producers to thank us for the idea and recast the show with Americans in it, but they decided not to do that.”
Fans or foes of Little Britain will be familiar with the crass, crude and puerile antics, which have astounded
viewers. The outrage and shock caused by Little Britain is undoubtedly a huge attraction of the show.
Luckily for Walliams and Lucas, the usually more conservative American studios will not infringe their creative right to toilet humour.
“HBO has some edgy stuff on it, such as The Sopranos, so we didn’t have to sensor ourselves, which was really great.”
As well as having free reign in terms of content, Little Britain’s debut in America will be boosted by the appearances of celebrities, such as Friends star and Seth Rogan cohort, Paul Rudd, Rosie O’Donnell and Sting- with whom Walliams shares a passionate embrace in the show.
Although Little Britain has, in the past, incorporated the talents of celebrities such as Kate Moss, Russell Brand and Dawn French, Walliams emphasises that the American version will not be exhausted
with countless, pointless cameos.
“We also don’t feel we have earned the right to use celebrities in the States. In Britain, by the time we worked with different celebrities, we were successful. In America, we don’t have that success yet, so we didn’t want to have too many celebrities. We want people to focus on the actual characters of the show”.
Being quintessentially British is quite obviously the ethos of the programme, yet Walliams is confident that the humour of the show will not be lost in translation. He explains that they explored the idea of using American characters, like a southern-trailer trash Vicky Pollard, however, this felt dishonest to them.
“We didn’t have any real experience with those characters. We decided it would be better to adapt the circumstances of the characters to suit America and to see how they interact. So Vicky Pollard is a kid in Brat Camp, for example.”
Yet Walliams assures that fans can look forward to new, American characters.
Invariably, Walliams and Lucas will be paired together.
However, Walliams’ personal and public life has been the subject of individual media attention. Rumours about his sexual conquests and indeed his sexual orientation, have harassed the actor, rendering him mere-tabloid fodder for gossip-starved paparazzi.
However, the media does provide Walliams with an outlet to highlight his more salubrious ventures. The comedian recently completed penning a children’s book, titled The Boy in the Dress, inspired by his sister’s passion for dressing him in drag.
He was also hailed as ‘The Pride of Britain’ when he raised over a £1 million for Sport Relief by swimming the channel between Britain and France.
Training for the gruelling feat was undertaken during the strenuous Little Britain Live tour, the stage debut of the TV series.
The transition from the confines of the TV to the stage was a challenge for Walliams and Lucas. Frequent and speedy changes of elaborate costumes maintained a frantic pace that exhilarated punters. Walliams described the production “a lesson in technical ingenuity”, but a challenge that duo delighted in.
However, Walliams notes that with such complexities, the opportunity for errors is greatly increased. “You only have one chance to get things right on stage. You have to deal with things not working- for example, the vomit machine malfunctioning,” Walliams remembers with a shudder.
“Things will go wrong, but I actually think the audience enjoy it when something gets messed up. It all depends on how you handle it on stage.”
Cutting his teeth with the Little Britain Live tour proved to be a helpful experience for the more serious project that the comedian is currently undertaking.
Walliams is expanding his theatrical résumé with his involvement in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land. With the adaptation of the critically acclaimed work he has cracked the boards in the Gate Theatre in Dublin and will later play in London’s Duke of York’s Theatre.
No Man’s Land is an existential piece, which Walliams describes as an “abstract play that is a cross between T.S Eliot’s Wasteland and a Pablo Picasso painting. It’s really about loneliness and isolation. ”
Working with legendary figures such as Michael Gambon and playwright, Harold Pinter was a hugely valuable experience for the actor.
he comedian recently completed penning a children’s book, titled The Boy in the Dress, inspired by his sister’s passion for dressing him in drag
“Pinter will inevitably end up being seen as on par with Yeats, Keats, Eliot… It is just such an honour to perform a play of the greats while he is still alive.”
Walliams admits that working with such a celebrated artist as Pinter presents challenges of it’s own. “[Pinter] is quite intense and very serious. He doesn’t do small talk. You might turn to him and say, ‘How are you?’ and he would respond by saying, “I’m fucking ill.”
However, if you ask him an interesting question he will engage with you and extend his wisdom.” Altering his persona from being a comedic actor to a serious stage performer was a transition which Walliams seemed to find effortless.
He humbly suggests that actor Michael Gambon guided him through the process; however, Walliams’ presence in No Man’s Land is as menacing as Little Britain is comedic. One can easily visualise him as an actor beyond slapstick humour.
Perhaps No Man’s Land and the exposure Little Britain’s American venture will bring will see Walliams
remove his clown-shoes and hang up his rainbow wig in favour of elusive Hollywood fame…
Not bad for a laydeee!
David Walliams was the recipient of both an honorary fellowship to Dramsoc and the James Joyce Award, presented by the Literary and Historical Society on September 18th.