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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Darren Boyd plays John Cleese

Darren Boyd

Darren Boyd has appeared in many of the most acclaimed comedies of the last decade including Green Wing, Rev, Whites and the BBC's recent adaptation of Dirk Gently. Earlier this year he took a straight starring role in Case Sensitive for ITV1, a detective drama with Olivia Williams. Later this year he will again take the lead in Sky's new MI5 comedy Spy.

What's your John Cleese like?

Well there was a line in the script that I shamelessly clung to which is a little comedic vox-pop after a particularly confrontational scene. We cut to a shot of John Cleese addressing the camera and in this little monologue he says, "I'd just like to point out that this is a fictional representation of me based loosely on my Basil Fawlty persona and in real life I'm really a lovely, lovely fellow."

I decided that because this isn't a biography and is very much an ensemble piece it would be folly not to try and appropriate the most recognisable elements of Cleese. And I think that of all of them, Cleese, in the way he sounds and particularly with the Basil Fawlty thing, is the one you picture in your mind immediately. So I thought, if I tried to play it too subtle it wouldn't really serve me. I watched all of the Python stuff but a lot of it's quite extreme. So to keep him recognisable, I did focus on Fawlty Towers and that very easily recognisable tone and sound. And then tried to use it more in some places and not worry too much about the impression side of things in other places. Otherwise it would become a bit repetitive in a way and we needed to focus on these amazing scenes that Tony [Roche] has written.

How did you feel about playing your comedy idol?

Initially I just panicked about the obvious thing, which is that I'm not Rory Bremner and I couldn't just do an impression. And I had very little time to get it right. On the other hand it has been said in the past – or at least there have been forums posted online apparently where people have said: "Darren Boyd reminds me of John Cleese."

How much did you know about this story beforehand?

Not a lot really. I'd heard about the infamous Tim Rice show [the interview with Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood on Friday Night, Saturday Morning] but I'd certainly never seen it in its entirety. So getting to watch it was absolutely fascinating. It's like a short film in itself in terms of capturing what these guys were facing and the levels of bias – all to try and argue a point that hadn't even been made yet. Tony's [Roche, writer] taken this situation and used it to explore things that are as relevant today as they were then. Things like censorship, freedom of speech and a certain level of religious bias; what's deemed acceptable and not acceptable by society.

Yet Life Of Brian all seems so quaint now. It's one of the nation's best-loved comedies...

It's quaint in terms of the fact that it's a film from the late Seventies and it looks as much, but what it's asking you to think about and where it's challenging you couldn't be more relevant. It's asking that people think things through for themselves. Just because we are told something, be it from the church or whatever, it says that we mustn't ever take these things at face value. Just because someone in a position of authority tells us something, we still have the right to think it through for ourselves. That's really important.

What did Monty Python mean to you before this film and what have you learned about it?

I'll be honest with you – my knowledge of Python before this was minimal, or at least much less than the other cast members. When I was growing up Python was always very... punk. I was quite square so Python always seemed slightly intimidating, really avant garde. If I'm honest I gravitated more towards safer stuff, the stuff of the mainstream in a way. But through researching for Holy Flying Circus, and watching the original Flying Circus I sort of fell in love with it – for the first time really. I appreciated where they were coming from and how bold they were to allow jokes or sketches to go wherever they pleased and not feel they had to conform to any structure. I love that anarchy now. Whereas I think when I was younger I didn't quite get it.

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