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Casting Vexed

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David Thair | 14:40 UK time, Friday, 20 August 2010

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Director Matt Lipsey writes...

If you have a great script then the first thing you can do as a director to f**k it up is cast it badly. So here I was with a script where the two central characters are, at least in part (and in no particular order): dysfunctional, neurotic, sexist, quarrelsome, self righteous and paranoid. 

Couple these elements with a need for them to be sexy, bright and warm people you genuinely want spend time around. As you can see that this was going to be more than a little tricky to cast. Cast it wrong and they will just be irritating, but get it right and all the glorious flawed humanity will shine through and you will fall in love with our duo.

Jack was his own particular challenge since someone so self-absorbed and cocksure could easily end up grating. Also, this is a comedy drama and so we had to have someone who had funny bones. Enter what for me is a really refreshing and surprising choice: Toby Stephens.

Here's an actor largely known for his dramatic work, period pieces and theatre. Having had the pleasure of working with him on Vexed I can't think for the life of me why he has never before emerged as great comic talent. He manages to imbue Jack with a likeability by allowing just enough vulnerability to seep out, his arrogance is delivered with such charm that it's nearly impossible not to like him and he is, for my money, a very funny actor.

Kate and JackThen there is Kate - slightly neurotic, headstrong, somewhat stuck in the mud. As written she very much plays the straight guy to Jack. So we cast a consummate comedic performer Lucy Punch. It was a gamble that pays off, for she both found comedy where we hadn't seen it and humanity where it was crucial for gaining empathy. She sets Jack up beautifully, paving the way for full comic payoff.

As for chemistry, well I can only hope the rest of you will feel as I do. You can't cast for chemistry, I don't think. You can take an educated guess but I think most shows that have it just got lucky. Apparently Bruce and Cybil hated each other off the set of Moonlighting, so how can you possibly know? Time will tell but I think these two have it.

Vexed continues on Sunday 22nd August at 9pm on BBC Two.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Matt,
    Contrary to some reviewers I love the show. Please tell us a bit about how you actually went about casting it. How many actors did you see, what were the criteria, how sure were you about the acting style, etc.?

  • Comment number 2.

    I thought the first episode was brilliant. But the second wasn't. It is even better.

    My God this is funny. Just so superbly written; crisp, well-observed and funny.

    I get that some people don't like it, but for me, Vexed is the finest new creation I've seen on TV for quite some time.

    Toby I've seen once before, in 'that Bond film' and it is good to see his great out-going and comic skills in action.

    And the more I watch (episode 1 twice and now ep.2) I'm increasingly realising just how spectacular Lucy's performance is (I've not seen before). Just impeccable reactions, facial expressions, vulnerability and comic timing as well as a good anchor for Toby's exuberance.

    I'm looking forward to seeing ep.2 again and episode 3 next. And more of Toby, especially Lucy and ideally more Vexed in the future.

  • Comment number 3.

    Ditto! This show is as sharp as any of the US comedies, without their occasional smugness. Deserves to become a classic.

    Apart from the note-perfect acting, the script is strong enough to have many brilliant lines dropped in without fanfare, ie Jack believes he is having petrol poured onto him, and remonstrates-

    "Whoa, hold the phone, what have I done?"

    And none of this needing a laugh track!

  • Comment number 4.

    I have to agree, I read the reviewers in the Telegraph before watching the first episode and was worried.

    No need to have been. Both episodes have been great and I didn't stop laughing. What with this and Sherlock over the last few weeks, the BBC has been doing well.

  • Comment number 5.

    There has been a gaping hole in my world since the demise of Gene Hunt (he of Ashes to Ashes fame) – a hole I never though would be filled! But suddenly a new cop has arrived to fill the void who fits admirably into his shoes and makes me laugh twice as much!

    Who is this cop I here you ask – it is the wonderful Jack from Vexed.

  • Comment number 6.

    Genuinely the funniest thing I've seen on TV in pretty much forever! I lost count of the amount of times I laughed out loud!

    I was so disappointed to see that there are only 3 episodes. I really hope that the Powers That Be commission a longer series.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi JJ, in answer to your question re the casting process, it was quite complicated. Firstly there are lists, either written or unwritten of actors who are considered to be of a 'calibre' to hold down the lead in a new show. Any broadcaster will have these. So you can rarely cast a newbie. Secondly we had to try and get at least a sense of chemistry. Sometimes looking outside the list of usual suspects can bring surprises and that is what happened with Toby and to some extent with Lucy. We did see just about everyone on the list and although some were good - one good enough to be 'attached' to the project for some time before our exec at the beeb blew cold on him (another story). But Toby was a real breath of fresh air - basically a natural comedian who didn't know he was. Lucy was a new face to me, she spend a lot of her time over in the Sates. As far as chemistry goes I would lying if I didn't say this was a bit of a punt. I felt it was going to come but it wasn't obvious from the outset. However what i would say is that Toby is a natural charmer - not smarmy at all and so it would take a very cold fish not to come under his spell in some way or other. It was Lucy's quirkiness that really shone though as a great counterpoint to Toby. Hope this answers your question at least in part.

  • Comment number 8.

    The BBC has stunned me lately.. Rev, Sherlock Holmes, now Vexed. I'm not used to them spending our licence fee wisely. But then, they seem to have started doing this annoying three episode thing.

    So the premise is hardly original - Doris Day 9 if you want another old school cop to fill the void, try Bradley Whitford in The Good Guys - but the writing is good and the casting is perfect.

    Matt, I think you can be proud of how you have directed the programme as well. Congratulations on the show, now get in that exec's ear about a longer run next time around!

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with other posters: Sherlock and Vexed have made Sunday evenings a must-watch. I can't believe the bad reviews Vexed has got in some places. It actually makes me laugh out loud, and the plot is engaging. Good performances from the two leads. Long may it continue.

    Why does it say 'complain about this comment' after each post? What horrible language. It encourages people to find something to be offended by. I wish to complain.

  • Comment number 10.

    My husband and I love VEXED. It is very funny and not meant to be taken as a serious crime drama. I find the Telegraph reviewer to be an old jaded fogie, and we are glad we did not believe his review.

  • Comment number 11.

    thanks for your words of support Aaron. (and everyone else too!)It really is frustrating this half a series thing. I certainly hope that if we do get another crack at the whip they will let us do more. Three eps only really gives us enough time to get people on board (or not as the case may be). Sherlock was done in 3 because they were 90 mins each but 3 x60 mins is unusual. I hope we will be able to give those of you who are fans more to get your teeth into next time round, sadly its not up to me.

  • Comment number 12.

    I love Vexed. The badinage between Toby/Jack & Lucy/Kate is spot on. Her exasperation is that akin to a parent toward a naughty child who nevertheless can manage to charm. Jack is about as un PC as is possible to be. However, the whole thing is handled in such a way that only the most curmudgeonly could take offence. At last, a show which can laugh at and with itself - and isn't self consciously showing off. I've seen Toby onstage in Restoration comedy so had no doubt he could handle this type of role with aplomb.

    Well done Toby, Lucy, production team and of course the BBC. More please!!!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Really enjoy watching Vexed, will there be only 3 episodes?, I hope not!!! Please make more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 14.

    Well it just proves that critics know nothing. I love Vexed and am devastated there will only be 3 episodes. It's so non pc it's wonderful. Toby and Lucy are fabulous - Toby does comedy SO SO well. He deserves more air time!

    And it's got nothing to do with age....my 81 year old mum laughed her socks off! And loves it.

    I echo the support.....PLEASE PLEASE MAKE MORE.......

  • Comment number 15.

    And can I add.....I know exactly what you mean about coming under Toby's spell. Having met him on a number of occasions I understand that feeling!

  • Comment number 16.

    After 5 minutes I absolutely loved Jack and kate. And as for chemistry, Yes, I can certainly feel it! Beautifully written and great actors with fab. timing. and as jack's shameless behaviour more than once makes you curl up your toes you know this is good! you can feel Kate being swept out of her comfort zone repeatedly by this plonker but in the end you love this guy. And Kate...you already love her when she and Jack are quarreling in the car which is I believe the 3rd scene of ep 1.
    I was also pleasantly surprised by the mixture of genres. There is sooo much of the same old detective stuff on telly which makes Vexed like a breath of fresh air. Please don't let this bright, innovative idea for renewed dramady, die after 3 eps by listening to the ears of ignorant, old fashioned and misinterpreting television commentors, who just don't understand and recognize a diamond glowing in the grey world of average tv we get to see nowadays. In my opinion the BBC has a responsability to take up the role as an innovator, and a renewer and give formats like this a chance and even a preference, since commercial broadcasters certainly won't take the risk of making brilliant TV.

  • Comment number 17.

    I just want to join the ranks of supporters. From Episode One, Scene 1 I was rivetted and now await Episode Three with anticipation and sorrow..... come on the BeeB - give us more, more, more.

  • Comment number 18.

    Vexed - Absolutely brilliant, yet again the BBC have produced a diamond of a show! Could not stop laughing at the wonderful antics Toby Stephens got up to! Toby Stephens, along with Lucy Punch, have produced a wonderful on screen chemistry! Please, please BBC, commission another series!

  • Comment number 19.


    I was a little late starting but have now seen episodes 1 & 2 - fantastic stuff. Toby and Lucy spark brilliantly off each other and as a police officer of 28 years, some of what they do is painfully real! I hadn't seen any reviews of the series (and who in their right mind reads the Telegraph anyway) but I note that my proper newspaper (The Guardian) likes it - and so do I. Let's have a proper series of a lot more of it. Well done to all concerned.

  • Comment number 20.

    I am afraid that I found it a switch-off - in common with many reviewers I found it laboured and unfunny, though visually stimulating and tightly directed. Let down by the script and the characterisations.

  • Comment number 21.

    Fantastic series...fast paced and witty. Let's have some more.

  • Comment number 22.

    More from Vexed please... Loved the show.

  • Comment number 23.

    Just want to say what a great programme - writing, acting, casting and it's British but easily equal to the wonderful American equivalents out there. We must have more....and soon!

  • Comment number 24.

    My wife and I think that Vexed is one of the best series on TV at the moment! Toby Stephens is absolutely brilliant and the chemistry between the two main characters is wonderful.
    The MUST surely be a second series in the offing??

  • Comment number 25.

    Just seen episode 3. Absolutely brilliant. Consistent quality since it burst on to our screens. This is what I pay my licence fee for. Whoever decides these things please give us more. You know it makes sense! Toby Stephens and Lucy Punch What a fantastic double act.

  • Comment number 26.

    I stumbled across Vexed last week - I didn't know where I was in the series as any BBC publicity about it was lost on me. I just love it - it made me laugh out loud. I can see how Jack could be really irritating but Toby Stephens makes you want to like him. His attitude and comments are so non-PC; these are balanced by Kate's responses, verbal and non-verbal. Their professional ineptitude and self-absorbtion is just so funny. I really hope the Beeb commissions another series.

  • Comment number 27.

    This is one of the most original programs I have seen in ages, please recommission.

  • Comment number 28.

    Matt, I will be sparing in my praise for the show, you have enough already to go bed happy. I will admit I was very sceptical with the thought of 'Oh not another despairing cop show from the BBC'. But alas no! From the 1st episode it was refreshingly funny, the script was excellent, my merriment and mirth was obvious from the start, I watched it on my own(thank god) and truly loved it. The other character's on the periphery were also magnificent and Toby and Lucy were for me 'excellent casting choices'.If you had a hand in it I say well done Matt!! On a final ...please...please commission another series and this is what I pay my licence fee for. Good luck!

  • Comment number 29.

    Fantastic series, one of the very few television programmes to make me laugh out loud regularly. Head and shoulders above any comedy drama I have seen on British television for a long time. Was initially staggered to read some of the reviews in the newspapers, but then you have to realise that some tv reviewers are weary old-timers on a totally different wavelength to many of us.

    Acting of the very highest order from Toby and the gorgeous Lucy (who can put across more with a subtle facial expression than many actors can with 10 minutes of dialogue), is combined with a witty and well observed script. The chemistry between the two leads is absolutely perfect, and I sincerely hope you are given the chance to explore this with a longer second series. If you aren't, the BBC will be missing a golden opportunity.

  • Comment number 30.

    Funny, you got to be kidding me, really? I really wanted to like this show. I love Misfits also written by Howard Overman, but this fails in every way that Misfits succeeds. It's repetitive banal, and just plain boring. I tried watching episodes one and two, but both time had to turn over after ten minutes. The slating in the papers was well deserved, take it off!

  • Comment number 31.

    Well it may have got a mauling from some snotty critics but contrary to most of what's on tv I enjoyed it. Silly sure but it's not a documentary, funny, snappy very well acted
    British "Moonlighting?" - hey not a bad shot.
    A few more would be welcome
    David P

  • Comment number 32.

    I and my boyfriend really enjoyed vexed, it was a shame it was so short. The two characters have great chemistry and are witty. Funny script, great cast, please tell me you will be doing more????

  • Comment number 33.

    Brilliant series just sad it was so short PLEASE MAKE MORE of this kind of stuff rather than the endless reality shows that seem to dominate TV these days.

  • Comment number 34.

    In a word.BRILLIANT!!!!
    OH!! And please Do make more as 3 just ain't enough. :0)

  • Comment number 35.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the series and I'm gutted that there are only 3 episodes. For me it pushed the boundaries on comedy - the writing was very sharp and fast paced and also I think it was a very brave decision to cast Toby in a comedic role like this. But, I think it worked and he looked like he was having enormous fun!

    I think the chemistry between them was believable and building nicely during the 3 eps - so you have to write more so we can see it develop!

    Very clever, tight script... MORE PLEASE!

  • Comment number 36.

    PLEASE BRING BACK THIS PROGRAMME. 3 episodes weren't nearly enough. So so so funny. I want to explore Kate and Jack's relationship now that she has done the sensible thing and ditched her loser husband. Brilliantly written, brilliantly acted. Lucy Punch and Toby Stephens both excellent casting. PLEASE COMMISSION ANOTHER SERIES.

  • Comment number 37.

    Please do more Vexed. As it said here before - 3 episodes clearly wasnt enough.
    Brilliant acting.


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