'This sitcom is not just about being gay' | Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi talk Vicious

'This sitcom is not just about being gay'

Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi talk Vicious

Ian McKellan plays Freddie

Was it easy to say yes to a second series?

Yes, although I can’t remember how it happened, really! There was talk about it and you wonder, ‘Oh, do I want to get on with something else?’, but then the moment arrives and it was so obvious that we had to do it. No question. If there was a third series, I expect we’d be ready to say ‘yes’ again. It’s a very fun show to do.

What difference does it make to film in front of a live studio audience

With the live audience, and all the actors acting out to the audience a little bit, there’s something rather theatrical about it.

How would you describe the tone of Vicious?

It’s deliberately old-fashioned as part of the joke. It reminds you very much of sitcoms like I Love Lucy.

Our writer Gary Janetti knows the tradition of sitcoms very well. He has been involved in Will & Grace, which is one of the later versions of that. So yes, it’s old-fashioned and it’s meant to be.

It’s about some old people for a start, so isn’t that rather suitable? But on the other hand, the fun of it is that the characters you’ve got in this are not characters you normally see in a standard sitcom.

Two of them are gay, there is a woman whose juices are still flowing, and a young man who loves hanging around with gay men, although he’s straight himself. These are original ideas, so in that sense it’s actually not old-fashioned at all.

What reaction did you have from the first series?

Very good and in my experience, I think the audience is quite young, but also middle aged and older people – gay and straight people too. I think it’s quite wide ranging and it’s a family show. There are people who absolutely adore it with a passion.

Do you think Vicious can change homophonic stereotypes?

For Freddie and Stuart to say, ‘I love you’ to each other, which they do quite seriously is a complete breakthrough. But I don’t think you know at the time if something’s really breaking through. It’s only years later and you look back and say ‘That broke though the walls’.

It’s not the prime function of Vicious to change the world. Our first duty is to make people chuckle, giggle and laugh out loud. And tune in because they’ve enjoyed it and want more next week.

But there are those of us to whom it’s important that we know there’s something a bit subversive going on that is perhaps changing people’s attitudes a little bit. Or at least recognising that attitudes are changing around the world.

Derek Jacobi plays Stuart

What difference does it make to you as an actor, to film in front of a live studio audience?

Well, it’s the first time Ian and I have done it, and I think at first we weren’t sure who to play to: the audience, or the camera? But I think we have solved that now, and the answer is a bit of both.

It’s lovely to have the audience there. We are aware that they have to sit there for three hours. It’s a bit of a marathon for the studio audience but they have been very, very good and stayed and responded wonderfully, we’ve been very lucky.

Is that an extra pressure, to keep them entertained as well as making a show?

Yes, it is really. It’s a combination of that fear that you get at the theatre, as well as the thought of millions who are watching at home through the camera.

Fortunately, though, we are allowed to make mistakes, and sometimes the mistakes are better than the show.

The audience feels part of the creativity of the evening when we say, ‘You know how you laughed the first time? We have to do it again, so please laugh again’. And thankfully they do.

Was it an easy decision to come back for a second series?

D: Oh yes, completely easy, I loved doing the first series. Right from the moment they first phoned me to tell me the idea for the sitcom a few years ago I loved it.

Neither Ian or I had done sitcom before and nobody had to talk us into it. We both wanted to do it. And this is one step beyond comedy; this is farcical.

Are there any funny scenes that stand out for you from this series?

Well, there is one where we go to the gym and look absolutely ridiculous. And another scene in the ballroom where we are even more so.

I had this beautiful sequinned waistcoat, it was very lovely, and Ian comes on in a costume from Cats with a huge tail and looks wonderful.

We leave the house a little more often in this series also.

Do you think Freddie and Stuart will ever marry?

D: That will certainly be an option for them now that the law has changed. We’ll have to see!

Certainly there is talk of weddings in this series but I won’t say anymore than that. Whether anything actually takes place you’ll have to wait and see.

Funnily enough when the series goes out in America on the PBS channel, it goes out on a Sunday night, the same night that Last Tango In Halifax goes out. So at 8pm I am married to Anne Reid, and at 10pm I am nearly married to Ian McKellen, which is nice.

Would you like a wedding to happen between them, to normalise gay marriage on television?

Yes, it would be a very potent symbol. Marriage is not for all couples, and I’m not married, but for Freddie and Stuart I think that could potentially be very important, and it would also be a symbol of progress made.

The immediate image that comes to mind when you talk about a wedding is, dare, I say, not a suit but a dress. That is getting better because homosexuality is now so much part of everybody’s lives.

But this sitcom is not just about being gay, it’s about age, it’s about relationships It’s about friendship and it is about acceptance and devotion. So whether they do or don’t, there is still a good message at its heart.

• Vicious returns to ITV next Monday (June 1) at 9pm..

Published: 26 May 2015

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