'The Foreign Office have got plans for a superhero...' | Brett Goldstein on his new movie, Superbob

'The Foreign Office have got plans for a superhero...'

Brett Goldstein on his new movie, Superbob

◼ BY JAY RICHARDSON

Stand-up Brett Goldstein has become a familiar face on television, having recently appeared in Derek, Uncle, Undercover, Drifters and Hoff the Record. And now he stars in Superbob, a very British superhero film, co-written with director Jon Drever and Will Bridges and co-starring Catherine Tate as his MI5 handler, David Harewood and Game of Thrones' Natalia Tena. Set on Bob's day off from saving the world, he's arranged a date with June (Laura Haddock) but things don't quite go to plan …

You perform stand-up most nights of the week. Is Superbob channelling the comedian's difficulty of sustaining a love life?

Is Superbob a metaphor for stand-up? I don't know if that's what I meant. But that doesn't mean that reading's incorrect. Although that suggests I'm saying you're a superhero if you're a stand-up. Which I definitely don't agree with.

Your stand-up visits some dark places. But Superbob is a sweet romantic comedy.

He felt like an unusual character. And it's challenging to make something funny when your characters are nice. It's a lot easier if they're mean or ridiculously stupid, it's quite easy to do jokes with that. Stand-up is where you have to be very honest and look at the ugly person within yourself. Superbob is a different mode of presentation. I couldn't do stand-up that was sweet, I don't think that's interesting.

Was it helpful being both the writer and lead actor?

As a control freak stand-up? Well, yes. The beauty of stand-up is that you don't have to discuss it with anyone, you can just do it and find out if you're on to something in front of an audience. But making a good film is a miracle because no matter how much planning you do, you're dependent on 200 other people. One of the wonderful things about Superbob was having the crew believe in it, because I've since discovered, that isn't the norm. On day two, Catherine Tate and I were doing a scene together and out of the corner of my eye I could see the crews' shoulders shaking trying not to laugh. That was magic.

Superbob features the likes of Ricky Grover, Hattie Hayridge, Zoe Lyons, Joe Wilkinson and Rachel Stubbings in supporting roles. Why cast from the stand-up circuit?

If you look at American Werewolf In London, one of my favourite films, all the little parts are funny, every single character. That's unusual. Something I'm proud of in Superbob is that all the supporting characters are funny. Luckily, I know these people, it's a wonderful resource to have. Maybe not all stand-ups are good actors but they've got instincts, they're instinctively good writers and performers.

Particularly if there's room for a lot of improv like here, because stand-ups are used to thinking on their feet and adapting. Zoe Lyons is a fucking genius. Rachel Stubbings should have her own film. You've got all these little pockets of gold that aren't utilised enough in the industry.

Are more British comedians aspiring to make films now?

I feel so pretentious using this word but within the community, I think they are. We're in an age where anyone can make films and a lot of comedians are. But I don't know if the film industry has caught up with that yet, it's still quite a dated model that exists in terms of distribution. There are a lot of risk-averse people at the top end. But creatively, it feels like people are getting on board.

Is it frustrating that the film has attracted strong reviews and won awards but can't get a full release in British cinemas?

Very frustrating, yeah. Transformers spend something like $200million on the film and $300million promoting it so they get all the screens and people go to see it, because they're battered into it. I appreciate the fear with Superbob, that it doesn't have any big names in it. I'm not unsympathetic to that risk, we're an unknown quantity. But whenever we've screened it, the reaction has been wonderful.

If there are villains in Superbob, it's the Americans. Were you having a pop at Hollywood bombast?

I love American culture and I like big Hollywood blockbusters as much as the next guy. But there were a couple of rules we started with for Superbob, and one was that this was the real world and he's the only superhero in it. A meteor struck a man and gave him superpowers. Other than that, everything is real.

I really like Iron Man but he's a very arrogant, cocky man, so when he gets powers, it's great for him. If you're a shy, awkward person who suddenly gets powers, just because you're strong, it doesn't mean you suddenly have the balls to kick down a door.

We went for a meeting with the Foreign Office, off-the-record. And it was fascinating. Basically, we asked them what would happen if such a thing occurred and a man developed superpowers. Not only have they already got plans but a lot of it ends up in the film.

It was all very political, essentially 'we would want to own them, obviously, and then we would use them as a political pawn'. If Iran needed help, they might ask 'can you send Superbob over?' And the UK government would say 'Yes. On a couple of conditions.'

Part of me thought, my God, have we got one they've not told us about?

Brett Goldstein Superbob

As a British take on a popular American genre, Superbob recalls Shaun of the Dead. Bearing in mind that Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish's script for Ant Man was reportedly rejected because their hero was too self-deprecating, how do you think this film will play in the US?

We thought 'have we fucked ourselves because the bad guy is an American senator and there's a lot of America stuff in it?' But we've done a few festivals there and won at them and watched it with American audiences. And they love it. Again, you have this fear that the people at the top won't allow it. But of course they have a sense of humour about themselves and they're actually pleased to see someone make fun of them. Currently, we've got a few options in terms of distribution in the States.

You've been cagey about the film's budget. But while most of the film is Bob wandering around Peckham, did you still want the special effects to impress?

Setting it on his day off was clever, so we wouldn't have to do much fancy shit. But joking aside, another of the rules we had is based on what Mark Kermode says about superhero films – they're great, until act three, which is just robots hitting each other. So whatever happened, we wanted to build to something that wasn't that.

Obviously, we still wanted flying and action stuff. We didn't have a huge studio but a guy called Tiny who's a genius. A lot of what he achieves is through being creative.

A lot of people's favourite scene, including mine - I'll never say how we did it but it was free. Obviously we can't make Transformers. But we didn't want to make Transformers.

There are moving scenes as well, it's more than a spoof.

I don't think it's a spoof at all. It's quite sincere. At some level, a part of me is a big softie. In the last Avengers film, my favourite bit is when the Hulk and Black Widow have a walk in the woods. I'd like to see a whole film of that, I'm more into the love story than the robot fighting stuff.

Our film has got funny stuff, it's got set pieces but it also has serious bits and hopefully some moving moments. Part of the reason the edit took such a long time was because the balance really affects it. We had a version with lots of silly stuff that was very funny but when it came to the moving bit you're not invested enough to care, you haven't bought into it. Then we had a version that was heavier on the moving stuff but then you don't laugh. It's a fine balance.

Superbob is where you first collaborated with Catherine Tate. Why do you work so well together?

Another amazing thing about the film is that we got out first choice of everyone we wanted, which you're always told is never going to happen. Without being a dick, if you write a script people like, as long as you can get them to read it, then most people are interested. Jon and I met her for a coffee and we hit it off immediately. We had such a laugh doing it. When you're improvising, you either really click with someone or you don't. And I felt we really did.

Then at the end, she asked if I wanted to write Nan with her, because they were doing the first Christmas special. It was such a different tone to anything I've done, it's her big character and primetime, such a different beast to stand-up or Superbob. I sent her a text saying 'What if I killed Nan?' And she wrote back 'Just kill Nan.'

And I'm really proud of that Christmas special, it's very funny. The number of storylines, having a joke every two lines. Then they asked for more and I was like 'Oh God'. Because they're such a lot of work, cramming so much into half an hour. Me, Catherine and Dan Swimer, the three of us are a hell of a writing team. They're coming out Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

You reckon the original Superbob short got you cast in Derek, surely an endorsement for creating your own projects.

Whoever you are and whatever you think you're capable of, no one else necessarily knows that. Speaking as an actor and comic, someone will put you in a box based on what you look like. If you make your own stuff, you're showing this is what I'm interested in. It's nice not to rely on strangers. And it's a lottery unless you're making it yourself.

You're a good-looking guy …

Hey, come on …

So what's it like being the eye-candy in Drifters, a rare example of a sitcom in which women get to play the clowns?

Yes, it's a really funny and interesting show. Jess [Knappett] writes such funny scripts. And Scott is almost a parody of a good guy who lives next door and they're all being crazy and idiots around him, which actually is the inverse of an awful lot of shows. It shouldn't feel as subversive as it does really.

But as is noted in Superbob, you're blessed with 'terrorist eyebrows'…

This is what I mean. Before I started making my own stuff, all I got put forward for as an actor was as a terrorist, in The Bill and things like that. Ethnic terrorist and I couldn't even do the accents. Then I realised this is what they think you look like and you have to show them you can do other things.

You've improvised a lot in Superbob and in Hoff The Record. What benefits do you get from that?

You still need to write a good script and then do it. But once that's set, why wouldn't you mess around? Sometimes you get gold and sometimes you don't. Jon on Superbob would have us improvising three minutes before and after the scene, which wouldn't be used but would make the performances much more natural There's a real intimacy to it and that comes from him and the atmosphere he created.

You subscribe to the idea that a stand-up needs ten years to find their voice. Having been a comic for eight years, have you almost found yours?

Every time you feel you've got it, you'll have a gig which tells you no, you haven't. Stand-up is endless, you're never really safe. Every time you think you've pinned it down, it changes. Or you change, particularly with the sort of personal stand-up that I do. You get older, stuff happens, bits you thought were gold, a couple of years later, you don't feel that way, you don't believe that thing. There are different ways of doing it. But I do it like therapy.

Is it true you became a stand-up because it was the thing that most scared you?

I sometimes wonder if there's a level of masochism to it. But the practical thing about stand-up is that it really keeps you grounded because you're constantly humbled. You're rarely the king in stand-up.

I love acting, it's a treat and a privilege. But you're spoiled. A car picks you up, you're given tea and coffee all day, you're looked after. But when you do stand-up, it's a grubby cellar somewhere, there's not even an area you can hide in before you go on. And that's great because it doesn't allow you to be a dickhead.

Actors get a reputation for being difficult because they get used to a level of treatment. If you ever think that's normal, you've gone mad.

And Sara Pascoe told you to talk more about yourself?

Sara certainly had a big influence. In the beginning with stand-up, the first year or so, it's so scary and you're just trying to survive. I had good jokes and I could do a sort of set. But I wasn't really saying anything. I had to build up my armour. To be vulnerable, to go ok, this stuff might be embarrassing, you have to be comfortable on stage first. I did anyway.

Are you still planning to adapt your stand-up show Brett Goldstein Grew Up In A Strip Club for television?

Yes, that's something I'm working on.

And most superhero films get a sequel. Can we expect more Superbob?

Yes. Though obviously these things are completely dependent on demand. We're also potentially talking about a TV series of it. I very much like the character, we like the world we've created and it feels like there's more in it.

Jon has suggested something along the lines of Daredevil meets The Office …

Yes. That will be our tagline.

• SuperBob is in cinemas from Friday:

Published: 14 Oct 2015

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