'Everything in life is hard if you want to be good at it' | Interview with Martin Freeman as his comedy Breeders returns to Sky © Sky UK

'Everything in life is hard if you want to be good at it'

Interview with Martin Freeman as his comedy Breeders returns to Sky

Parenting comedy Breeders returns to Sky One later this month with the timeline advanced so the young children of series one, Luke and Ava, are now much older. Here star and co-creator Martin Freeman talks about the programme and the travails of bringing up children…

Tell us what we can expect to see in series two …

The children are 10 and 12 (Luke turns 13 in Episode 1) now, so they’re played by different actors. Getting older versions of Luke and Ava was really tough, but moving the series on a few years was one of the good ideas we had. You can do more with kids who are a bit older, and the issues that are presented when they’re that age are very different.

What sorts of issues?

Access to social media, phones, personal safety, bullying, who you’re hanging out with, and whether they’re good people or bad people. Kids have much more of a mind of their own at that age, so you have to balance how independent you allow your children to be with how much you’re wanting to not let go.

A lot has been said about how our generation is much more fearful for our kids at a time where they have literally never been safer. We know we mollycoddle our children, I don’t know anyone who would argue with that, and in a way that we weren’t mollycoddled when we were young ourselves. But everyone’s struggling to find a way to do it. We’re all scrabbling around trying to do our best, so it’s not surprising that it goes astray sometimes.

There’s no manual for parenting and everyone’s just trying their best, but we all mess up in different ways, and often in a different way to how our own parents messed up. Although having said that, there are things that I say to my kids that are purely my mum’s voice coming out of my mouth!

It’s difficult for every generation of parents, like whoever had the first transistor radio or record player. I certainly was very resistant to the idea of mobile phones, but then after a while you think ‘I can’t pretend shit hasn’t happened.’ I can’t pretend that my kids live in a world of just playing with wooden toys in the forest. If they’re the only ones who can’t communicate with their friends, that becomes a thing, so it’s about making those little negotiations constantly.

There’s ‘normal’ independence, which is healthy, but also the kind that’s fed by having their own screen, which feels less healthy. As a parent, the older your kids get, you do have a romantic memory of some things that you did together that have gone.  Once that phase is passed, you can’t help but mourn it a little bit.

We’re not making the series for people who are somehow pretending that they live in Instagram. When people at dinner parties are going on about how great parenthood is, we all know there’s a lie of omission there. Of course it’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing. But it shouldn’t be that brave to go" ‘It’s really hard as well.’

Everything in life is hard if you want to be good at it. God knows I really want to be a good parent, and I know that’s a life’s work, so you’ve got to keep going back to the drawing board, you know?

Do any of the ideas come from your own experience?

I wasn’t ringing up people going, ‘Can we put this in’  but inevitably it comes out through the wash. There’s a lot of me in it because I’m doing it, I suppose, and whatever script notes and changes I have to offer are going to be slanted towards me and my experience.… but it’s not as explicit as me going, ‘Oh, can we make sure we get that in?’ I’m happy to leave it to the writers.

Do you still have to be careful with the swearing on set now that the child actors are older?

Legally, we definitely do. There are some words that are verboten, but there are some words that are a handshake with the parents, which is helpful. They sometimes go, ‘You can say that, it’s fine’ Or, ‘We say that in our house, so it’d be crazy for you to pretend not to say it now.’

So if I’m having a really good dialogue with Luke, then it’s easier if I can swear for real, and he can hear it for real. Swearing is many things. It can be funny, but it can also be aggressive, obviously, in those situations. So just saying, ‘Gosh, darn it’ isn’t going to have the same effect. It’s just not.

Do you like the tone of between pathos and gags, comedy and drama, rather than it being out-and-out gags?

Yes, I do. If out-and-out gags are done brilliantly, then there’s nothing better. But there’s comedy in this country that is almost as dramatic as it is comedic,  and I love all those things. I’ve always liked stuff where you recognise truth in it, where some bits are genuinely touching.

There’s nothing nicer than almost crying at The Simpsons in the same way that you can laugh your head off at parts of The Sopranos, you know?

Daisy and I talked about this a lot following her show Back to Life, which I think has a really great tone. If we don’t think of it as a comedy or a drama, it can be whatever it wants to be.

Are you much of a corpser, laughing during the dramatic moments?

Not much…  I did all my corpsing for my career in the space of 14 episodes of The Office. Now, it’s quite hard to make me laugh, and generally speaking, we don’t. We’re quite boring, really. The blooper reel of this would be rubbish!

Especially post-Covid, time is severely of the essence. You can have fun, of course, and occasionally people do laugh, and occasionally everyone messes up and makes mistakes, but there’s not a whole lot of out-and-out corpsing on the show.

What challenges did you face because of Covid?

Everything went pear-shaped! We were supposed to be doing it in April, but it was the last day of August by the time we were able to start filming. Alex, who plays Luke, definitely looked more like a 12-year-old when he was cast, but by the time we started recording he was as tall as me! We had to be mindful when we were filming the flashbacks because they were growing at a rate of knots.

There were definitely challenges on set too. It’s weird at first, then it becomes less weird, and it becomes normal. It’s just more time-consuming because you have to clean everything.

The stuff that you took so much for granted before, in normal life, you just can’t do it without checks and balances.  But it’s still very doable, and I think this country is doing it quite well, because lots of productions are coming here.

• Breeders returns to Sky One and streaming service Now on Thursday May 27, with all 10 episodes being made available on demand.

Comments extracted from an interview supplied by Sky’s press office

Published: 13 May 2021

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