I'm playing an undead killer clown. I wanted to make it believable

Ross Noble on his movie debut

Ross Noble has lived and breathed stand-up since he was smuggled into his local comedy club to perform at the age of 15. It seems to be in his blood, unlike so many comics who see the art merely as the first step to landing that job as a TV presenter, actor or author.

Yet even Cramlington’s favourite child is now branching out, starring in the new horror film Stitches as the title character: a morose children’s clown who is accidentally killed at a party, then six years later rises from the grave to wreak his bloody revenge.

‘Stand-up's what I do,’ he says when we meet in the Central London offices of the film marketing company. ‘That's my thing. I'm not one of those who does it in order to springboard off into all these other things.

‘With telly, I cherry-picked the stuff that is going to be fun, or that I quite fancied doing. And it’s the same with acting, I love the genre stuff. I love the horror, sci-fi, all of that...’

His branching out into acting started last year, when he appeared as ‘Socialist’ in the Comic Strip film The Hunt For Tony Blair.

‘Peter Richardson [the Comedy Strip’s guiding force] got in touch, and basically said, "I've written this part for you in the Comic Strip film. Do you want to do it?" It was a bit like, if you're a football fan, somebody ringing up going, "Oh yeah, one of our players is a bit ill, any chance of you doing a kickabout?’ So I did that, and really enjoyed it.’

Timing is everything in comedy adn Stitches came along just as Noble had decided to take his first time off stand-up after around 20 years of ‘touring relentlessly’ – and he was sold on the idea of making a film.

‘I've always said, with acting, I'm not interested in being a sort of broad, comic actor,’ he says. ‘I've got no desire to be in a sitcom. All that stuff which you're supposed to do. TV acting is all very well, and I like watching sitcoms, but movies are far more interesting to me.

‘The process of making movies is far more interesting. I read the script for Stitches, and it just had everything. 75 per cent of my bucket list was ticked off straight away. It's just full of special effects. There's blood and guts and there's CGI stuff and practical effects and heads exploding.’

Noble was also aware that he didn’t just want to transfer a version of his stand-up act to the stage.

‘When comedians decide that they want to be actors, it can go one of two ways,’ he notes. ‘They either play themselves or their stand-up persona – basically put themselves on stage. And the whole thing's built around them; they're the character. Even if the script's a bit shit, the idea is that the goodwill that they have [will see them through] and you end up with a vehicle for them.

‘Or you go the other way, and you do something which is serious, like Miranda Hart in that midwife thing. But the whole time, you just sit there going, "Well, this isn't very funny." Even though it’s not meant to be...’

So he was pleased to be able to play a sinister character, but with some degree of comedy.

‘Stitches is a scummy children's entertainer who gets killed, then gets brought back from the dead by these black magic clowns, then uses all his clown props and his clown skills to kill the kids now they're teenagers.

‘I know this sounds ridiculous considering it's an undead clown, but I tried to play it as believable as possible, and tried to make the whole thing as far away from me as possible, but still funny.

‘It's got some big laughs in it, but at the same time, but at the same time it's an out-and-out  horror film that’s got funny bits in it rather than a comic horror film.’

And Noble got to use some of the skills he learned before he went into comedy – as he used to entertain his peers from the age of 11 to 14 as a children’s entertainer himself.

‘I used to do kids' parties, and juggle and unicycle and all that,’ he said. ‘So when we came to to do it, all these stunts and tricks, I did them all myself. Stitches kills this girl with an umbrella, and I can flick an umbrella up off my foot, spin and catch it, do all the juggling stuff and all that; so I had some flashbacks. When I was doing this kid's party scene at the beginning, it was exactly like it used to be.’

Noble’s now back on the road after the filming and the rest of the year off – and admitted he approached his first gig back with some trepidation.

‘You see people that stop doing stand-up, and go off and do other stuff,  and then they come back, and they're a bit shit,’ he said. ‘I did think you have to be match fit - especially with an act like mine. But I went back, and it was just like stepping into a warm bath.

‘And actually having that time off means I'm probably on the best form I've been on for years, just because it feels fresher. When you play the same theatre ever year it seems like you were only there last week.’

But his venture into films has given him a taste for the medium, and he admitted: ‘I have started writing a film, yeah.’

‘The great thing about film is that it’s unlike telly where you have to run it by someone. You've still got to get the film funded, but it’s unlike telly where you can waste so much time, waiting for executives to make decisions. You can have to something in development for two years, it's ready to go and then somebody else goes, "Actually, we're going to give that slot to somebody else." Or that executive leaves, and you've just wasted all your time

‘At least with films, once you've got the money, you make it, and if people come and see it, you get to make another one and then it just goes on from there.’

He also admits he had a pleasant surprise in making the film, compared to stand-up. ‘With stand-up, you can just do whatever you want; you make the decisions, and it's out there,’ he said. ‘With films, I thought the idea of having to do take after take would be restrictive. But actually, because you haven't got an audience there, you can make your decision, and then you can try something else. So you can run with an idea, and it’s really good fun. Conor [ McMahon], who directed Stitches, was quite happy to let us all play around and try things.’

And the contacts he made with Stitches could help Noble get his own project off the ground.

He says: ‘You can be a massive film fan, and go, "I'd love to do films." But even thinking about getting a film vaguely made is such an enormous thing. And then once it's made, to get it into cinemas, too. In stand-up it would be the equivalent of starting out by going, "All right, I'll just book the Hammersmith Apollo...”

‘But seeing this film make it to get a proper release in cinemas, I just look at that and go, "You know what? Bollocks to it”’

And what better attitude do you need to launch an ambitious project?

  • Stitches is out on Friday. Click here for Chortle’s review.

Published: 23 Oct 2012

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