'I can take apart and put together a 9mm pistol in under seven seconds' | Mel and Sue on their new Sky comedy, Hitmen

'I can take apart and put together a 9mm pistol in under seven seconds'

Mel and Sue on their new Sky comedy, Hitmen

In Sky’s new comedy, Hitmen, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc play misfits Fran and Jamie who accidentally stumbled into a career in contract killing. Here they speak about the show…

What appealed to you about Hitmen?

Sue: However mad and crazy and stunty and shooty it gets, it’s predicated on friendship. That’s what drives the narrative. It’s also what drove us to want to do it because we’ve been able to slip our time-worn shtick into a sitcom. I think that’s a quote! Because Mel and I have been friends for 30 years, it feels like an easy sideways transition into these characters. Because they have known each other since they were kids. 

Does a lot of it draw on your innate chemistry, then? 

Mel: Yes. The writers have been extremely generous. They’ve come to an established relationship and friendship, and we’ve been allowed to tinker and busk and  add things in. So hopefully there will be a real flavour of a proper friendship because that’s really what this is about. There’s a lot of us chatting in our rusty old van, which is like our office, our haven and our HQ. 

Sue: It feels very natural. Some lines we improvise, some lines we slightly change and some lines remain the same. We’ve been associate-scripting for a year, off and on. Certainly, we had a big hand in the back stories, and there are lots of lines that we might have contributed to, but the stories, which are so strong, are all from the writers, Joe Parham and Joe Markham. I don’t want to take anything away from them, they are brilliant. The precinct is just so well drawn, that you can then just add on bits. 

How did Fran and Jamie get into the assassination game?

 Sue: Well, it’s never expressly stated, but we had a notional back story that we were cleaners. We were cleaning in a very big, smart office block. A heavy had come on to me in a none too savoury fashion, and after a tussle, Mel had saved the day and killed him., But the heavy was connected to a gangland boss who gave us a choice: either he just killed us or, as he quite liked her style, we could go and work for him. So we are in bonded labour really. 

Are Fran and Jamie efficient killers?

Sue: I’m much more clinical at killing, and Mel is a little grubbier. I dispatch quite a few. Mel does quite a lot of stunts, though. She’s a grabber. She’s a bit more thuggy actually. 

Mel: Yes, we are proficient at the job. I don’t think we’re rubbish – ‘Oh, I can’t load the gun.’ We can do all that stuff. I suppose the humour comes from the fact that we’re doing this rather grim job, but we’re our friendship is bumbling alongside that. 

Sue: So we could kill somebody whilst having an argument about something that happened at school. There’s that contrast. And even when we’re doing it, we are still arguing. It’s like, ‘What are you doing that for?’ ‘Well, what are you doing that for?’ Then bong: we kill someone. 

Mel: We didn’t want to revel in the violence. We didn’t want it to be overly gory or sick or cartoony. 

Sue: We talked long and hard about the violence. It has to fit between those two worlds. As Mel said, if we were terribly incompetent assassins, you would see tussles and struggles and you would start to empathise with the targets. Then the death itself would be uncomfortable and not funny. So we had quite a hard line on the fact that all of the people we kill are mob-related. They are people who deserve it. 

Mel: They’re quite murky characters. 

Sue: They sell drugs to kids, for instance. It’s fair to say they are morally very questionable, so you don’t actually miss them when they’re gone, although they are really funny. 

Can you describe your characters?

Sue: Fran is an overly responsible eldest child. In that mode, she can be a little condescending, whilst failing to realise her own life is a chaotic mess. 

She also has a sham marriage to a gay Brazilian man who she helped get a visa. At the same time, Fran is hopelessly in love with her nemesis, Liz, and is a fumbling embarrassed wreck whenever the two of them are in proximity. But underneath all the bravado she’s the really sensitive one out of the two. She’s got a big heart.

Mel: Jamie is well-meaning and loyal. Fran is my absolute best friend and as long as she’s alright, I’m alright. I’m in this job because it means we get to hang out, more than anything. Although underneath the slightly Labrador fluffiness, I could be quite brutal. 

Hitmen

Do you do a lot of your own stunts?

Mel: Yes. The most terrifying was quite a long wrestle which involved kicking a gun out of somebody’s hand. Yup, that, and wrestling on a forest floor. Quite a few biting ants. I find getting up off the floor increasingly hard these days. Oh my God, it’s embarrassing. It takes about five minutes. 

Also, I almost got my leg bitten by a very angry dog. And I had to fight somebody on the top of a caravan. We had wires and everything. That was really good fun. 

HitmenSue: We have also been hung from a tree. It’s an amazing rig because you’re hung really by a harness which is steel-wired. They cut that out when they do post-production. There’s a very loose sort of choke chain around your neck which takes the pressure off your neck, and just have your tiptoes on the floor. I really enjoyed it. The idea was that I had to be really livid with a baddie – and I was genuinely furious because I felt, ‘I can’t breathe. I’m really annoyed with you!’

Mel; There’s a good set piece per episode really. It’s neatly done that way – each one has its own bit of action. There are also some nice little nods to action movies, you know pastiche stuff. 

Sue: I love action films, so it’s a secret delight to be running around carrying guns. I’ve got quite good at handling guns. I can take apart and put together a 9mm pistol in under seven seconds. 

Why have you never done a sitcom together before?

 Sue: There have been a couple of things that came close in the past. But this feels like a perfect storm because Sky make very classy action-based shows. They also take risks. They put their money on screen. They have seriously invested in these scripts and given them a chance to really flourish visually and populated them with great actors. 

What do you hope the viewers will take away from watching Hitmen?
Mel:
I hope they will want more actually. I hope they will go, "Oh my God, I really enjoyed those six stories. What’s going to happen next?" 

Will your fans be surprised to see you playing hitmen?

Sue: I hope that they will see that at its core there is the same momentum as with all our stuff, which is that it’s borne out of love and affection and a central friendship.

• Hitmen is coming to Sky on March 25.

Published: 17 Mar 2020

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