Turning over a new leaf | Tamsin Greig on Black Books' return

Turning over a new leaf

Tamsin Greig on Black Books' return

For Black Books star Tamsin Greig, there's only one thing better than working with Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey and that's when Simon Pegg joined the cast.

The Spaced star plays a borderline-psychotic bookstore owner, a rival of Moran's character Bernard, in the first episode of the third series, which starts on Channel 4 next month.

Greig says: "I was in the presence of greatness that week. Being there with Dylan and Bill [Bailey], who are unbearably funny, and then Simon Pegg as well, on top of it - it was overwhelming.

"I'm very bad at keeping a straight face. And that's my job, really, to be near very funny men and not laugh, and basically I'm very, very bad at my job. It's unbearable, and no matter what I do, I can't disguise it. Whereas the other two are very good at disguising it."

Other cameos in the new series include The Office's Lucy Davis and Annette Crosbie and Sam Kelly, who play the parents of Bailey's character Manny.

"They are just a class act," Greig says. "I don't think they knew quite what had hit them when they came into rehearsals. It's not quite One Foot in the Grave or 'Allo, 'Allo.

"There are no fixed words until about half an hour before we go in front of an audience. Nothing is finalised for a very long time.

"The general story of it is all planned out, but people who come in on the first day having learned every word realise very early on that it may have been a wasted effort. Stuff is always being changed, because they're always ready to have better gags and better words.

"But Annette and Sam adapted absolutely brilliantly, they were amazing. I wondered whether it might all be a bit bemusing for them, but not at all.

"There was one scene - I don't know whether it's in the final cut of the episode - where they go to bed at the end of the day, and it's the most tender scene I've ever seen in a sitcom. It's just beautiful, and you realise you're watching class."

Greig plays Fran Katzenjammer, the selfish, confused and needy friend of Bernard and Manny. She's hardly the most sympathetic of characters. "What do you mean, she's not sympathetic?" says Greig in mock indignation. "She wears nice dresses, she makes an effort for the world, doesn't she? She travels, she likes to go into bookshops - though admittedly she doesn't buy anything."

"Well, she's a bit of an oddball," Greig admits finally. "In a way, she's more dysfunctional than Bernard and Manny. They both have jobs and solid homes and an ongoing, albeit destructive, relationship.

"She doesn't have any of that. She doesn't have a job, we don't know what her home is like, she doesn't have any connection with friends, so in society's eyes, she's totally dysfunctional."

So why does Greig think the show has been such a success?

"It's so hard to analyse these things. It's very well-constructed, it's got great words, it's got really beautiful visual gags, and it's about three people who - I was going to say love, but perhaps not that - who depend upon each other. It's absolutely relational."

"In their stand-up, Bill and Dylan are so different, that's the amazing thing. If you saw their solo comedy, you'd never put them together in the same show."

First published:February 26, 2004

Published: 22 Mar 2009

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