Comprising Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith, and Jeremy Dyson, comedy troupe The League Of Gentlemen have enjoyed remarkable cult success in the last 10 years. Former winners of the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival, the quartet introduced the terrifying village of Royston Vasey to the wider world in a radio series in 1997 before making the transition to TV. Now, with The League Of Gentlemen's Apocalypse, their weird collection of "locals" hit the big screen when they realise that they are, in fact, characters in a TV comedy programme. Confused? Then read on.
Was it difficult knowing what to leave out from the TV series when you came to make the film?
Steve Pemberton: It was. Between the three of us we've done 100 characters in the life of League Of Gentlemen. We decided we had to have a small group of characters to carry the story, and they chose themselves really. The more extreme characters didn't seem able to exist in the real world and do what we wanted them to do. We wanted to integrate them into the world of 'us', as well as some of the characters that we knew a little bit less about. That gave us the option to explore them a bit further and it felt less like a spin-off.
Was it tricky to play yourselves in the film?
Pemberton: That was the hardest to write, certainly. We experimented with different ways of writing ourselves. We suggested giving ourselves different names so it wouldn't be so difficult - but at the back of your mind you know that 'Kevin' is really you. So yeah, we struggled with that.
Reese Shearsmith: It was the thing we took out most in the script stage. When people read it, the one comment that most came back to us was that it was too self referential, that there was too much of us in it. But we realised that the right way round to do it would be that the characters experience seeing us, we are the more shadowy figures that they encounter. It's through their journey and their peril that they experience us.
How does the film pull off the impressive feat of having each of you on screen with your characters?
Pemberton: All of our doubles had to go through everything with us. They had to have our costumes and our paddings and have their noses up even though we see very little of them apart from the back of a head or a shoulder.
Shearsmith: They're in it a lot but you hardly see them - it's seamless. It's one of the galling things, you spend so much time and energy on that and yet you don't even question it when you see it. We had to point it out to people. It's great that you don't notice it, but sometimes you want to go "Look, there's me with me!"
Mark Gatiss: There was a funny moment when we were filming by the sea and the doubles for Tubbs and Edward and Papa Lazarou were all having a fag. Actually, I filmed it because it was really quite creepy.
Pemberton: There was one bit at the end when all our characters had to be there and they came in one at a time. It was really freaky. It was like the film had come to life.
Have you approached the film with a view to engaging your existing fans or appealing to a whole new audience?
Gatiss: We've had some responses from people who know the series and are worried they'd get it but no one else will. But a lot of people who haven't seen it have no problem. There's a sort of sketch show introduction where we meet the characters, and then the principle of the film is established, that there is a TV series and these characters have discovered that they're actually fictional creations.
Shearsmith: We wanted it to be a comedy film in its own right. The idea that some characters realise that they're characters in a comedy programme was a gettable conceit regardless of whether the programme in question pre-existed.
Pemberton: I think it's more gettable than if we'd carried on the story of Royston Vasey and we'd picked up where we left off because then people who hadn't seen it wouldn't have had a hope. By taking the characters out of Royston Vasey on this journey which ends up back there again, the fans and the non-fans are in the same position. No-one can predict what's going to happen.
How widely have The League Of Gentlemen programmes been screened?
Pemberton: Everywhere. Poland, Finland, Germany and Eastern Europe particularly. In France it's called Le Club Du Gentlemen.
Gatiss: In Japan the series is called Psychoville.
Have you ever been told that you're going too far?
Gatiss: No. I sometimes think that the episodes have gone out and the only person who's actually checked them is the engineer to make sure there isn't a scratch on it.
Pemberton: It's atmospheric and it's creepy and it's dark, which is the word we always get saddled with. I think we know where the line is, even if we go close to it sometimes - or dip our toe over it.
Shearsmith: I think we're really responsible. Since our first series we've always been very aware of how powerful it is to be in people's homes. Between the four of us we're very rigorous in what we allow to filter through.
The League Of Gentlemen's Apocalypse is released in UK cinemas on Friday 3rd June 2005.