Psychoville returns! | Q&A with Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton

Psychoville returns!

Q&A with Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton

Did you already have an idea what the story of the second series would be after the end of the first series?

Reece: Well we didn’t know if we would get a second series but we had to dare to think that we might, so at the end of the first series we put something in that we thought could work as a springboard for a story in the second series.

Happily we did get the second series and so the thing which infuriated a lot of people at the end of the first series, which was Nurse Kenchington coming back from the dead looking for this mysterious locket, becomes the driving force for the second series.

At the beginning of the second series you have an investigation into who died and what was happening at Ravenhill Hospital before the explosion. And there is the new mysterious figure of Andrews, played by Imelda Staunton, who is after the locket. We don’t find out why she wants it but she obviously has a link to Eileen Atkins’ Nurse Kenchington character. And we introduce new characters into that, and you don’t know if they will be part of the story or if they will be self-contained characters with their own stories.

Steve: We built the second series up episode by episode, finding a way to keep the characters together. In the first series the characters weren’t aware of each other but they were all being blackmailed in their own separate houses, so it was finding another device where you could keep going back to characters and they would all end up being part of the same plot. We do work very hard on storylines and plotting but sometimes the idea you have in the room is far stronger than the story that you might have thought of several months ago.

Were you pleased with the reaction to series one?

Reece: League of Gentlemen was such a success and then we came back together to do something similar playing various characters with Psychoville, so we were quite nervous to see what the reaction would be like. The comparisons were favourable and Psychoville is its own thing and it has been embraced by people which is great.

Steve: One of the big differences between now and when we were doing League is that now you get an instant response from viewers while the show is still on. When the first episode went out a friend rang me up and said, ‘You’re trending on Twitter’. I couldn’t believe it - I didn’t know what it meant that’s why I couldn’t believe it! There were lots of messages, the vast majority in support of the programme and it made me very cheerful actually because we had spent such a long time working on the show and it meant such a lot to us and people were just saying how amazing it was.

While all the characters have a grotesque or ridiculous element, you seem to balance this with a sense of pathos…

Reece: Yes it’s very deliberate. The characters might initially start out being in a scene or a situation where they could be in a sketch show, but then I think the thing which starts to bloom within our characters is the way which we take them from that initial situation and develop their story. That can be harder to do, but if you do it, you start to have a real person, however mad they might be.

Steve: The depth of the characters is something which develops as you are writing them. Take Joy as an example. You are not on her side at the start of the first series. She treats her husband very badly, she is very horrible to the people in her class and then we decided that some tragedy had happened to her in her past which we alluded to.

Then at the end of the first series when she drains the blood out of Nicola, she opens up about the child that she lost and by that time you feel like you’ve earned the opportunity to have this moment with the audience to find out a little bit more about her and perhaps understand why she is like she is.

Do you ever worry about going too far?

Steve: We are aware of it but I don’t think we had many of those discussions on series two. You have to be careful with language, I think very often it is language which gets you into trouble and you know what those words are to avoid.

Can you tell us about some of the new characters in series two?

Reece: I play a new character called Jeremy Goode, who is a librarian who becomes very pedantic about a book not being returned to the library, which is a funny situation at the beginning because of how exacting he is about it. The lengths he goes to to get the book back become more and more extreme.

And there is also another character the Silent Singer, again played by me, which is Jeremy’s alter-ego. He is kind of this ghostly apparition which he sees when he is under great stress and the book not being returned triggers his first visit from the Silent Singer. It is very ‘us’ to do this quite ordinary situation which becomes very skewed and very dark and more and more extreme. But there is great humour in it, in the absurdity of it all.

Steve: And then we have the character of Hattie, who is a make up artist who becomes embroiled in a fake wedding to keep her gay friend’s Iranian boyfriend in the country. She seems all very sweetness and light as if she is happy to participate in the wedding but she takes it rather too seriously even though it is a sham wedding. I don’t think she has many redeeming features, I think we forgot to do that with her!

There is a new online experience for fans once again – what can people expect this time round?

Reece: Yes, we’ve done the same if not more websites for the second series in a similar vein to what we did for the first series, which you can discover at The second series is very much an investigation so we very much ran with that online. There is a new web page to go with a character or part of the mystery to unravel each week and there are questions to be answer and along the way you get a lot of content - exclusive videos and other things. For the first week there is a website for FOCCE - the Federation of Clowns and Children’s Entertainers.

Psychoville returns to to BBC Two on Thursday May 5.

Published: 20 Apr 2011

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