'There's something glorious about the mundane' | Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond on their new sci-fi comedy We Are Not Alone © UKTV

'There's something glorious about the mundane'

Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond on their new sci-fi comedy We Are Not Alone

In the new feature-length sci-fi comedy We Are Not Alone, coming to Dave next week, alien invaders have conquered earth and now must figure out how to govern it. It stars Declan Baxter as a human trying to  coach his alien bosses – inept politician Trater (Vicki Pepperdine), tightly-wound soldier Gordan (Mike Wozniak) and clumsy underling Greggs (Joe Thomas) – about the ways of humanity.

Here creators Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond – who also co-write and star in Ghosts, and here play alien security guards, talk about the genesis of the film…

We are not alone - three blue-haired aliens and a human stare down into the camera

Laurence Rickard

What is the starting point of We Are Not Alone?

There's something fun in the fact our story starts where alien films normally end. Usually, aliens have tried to invade and we have found a way of fighting them off. But our story begins with, ‘OK, they have won. None of our attempts to stop them in any way succeeded.  The aliens are going: ‘OK, we now run this place.’

Rather than it being about Earth trying to fight off the aliens, this is about the aliens going, ‘We are now in charge."’And it turns out that it's a nightmare. Which it would be.

If you were to come here from another planet, you would just go, ‘Why do you do anything you do?’ That was our approach. If you were an alien landing here on day one and looking at what we do day to day, you'd go, ‘Hang on, there must be a better way of doing this.’

They are able to underline the idiocy of human beings, aren’t they?

Absolutely. We tried to be even-handed with it. The aliens miss out on a lot of things as well. They don't see the point of things which are quite correct, and they don't understand why we get so emotional about things. And they're slightly dismissive of us.

But at the same time, we do have numerous flaws. It's similar to when a toddler will sometimes say something to you, and you will go, ‘Yeah, that's actually a really good point. Why do we do that?’ That is where Greggs [the alien character played by Joe Thomas, below] came from.

We Are Not Alone blue-haired alien Greggs

t is useful to have a character who has that toddler outlook. He’s quite a handy cipher. He can ask, ‘Guys, why do you do that?’ and it makes the human character stand back and go, ‘I have no idea.’

Does this show have something to say about war and peace?

Yes. We were always quite keen to have running underneath the story this idea of a constant search for peace, despite war - which is kind of the human condition.

With the possible exception of Putin, if you asked people, ‘Do you want war?’, they’d go, ‘No.’ But there's always a war going on somewhere. In We Are Not Alone, both the resistance and the aliens are both saying, ‘We just want to live peacefully alongside them.’ But they are still both at war with each other the whole time. So we're making that point.

What other points are you making?

It just felt like over the last 10 years, everything that you would think is hugely unlikely has actually happened, right the way from Trump becoming President to the overturning of Roe v Wade. So we thought, 'You know what? If aliens landed tomorrow, I think a lot of people would just go ‘Yeah. And?’"

Did you and Ben have fun playing the aliens guards?

Yes. I think one of the things we both really enjoy about our jobs is the fact that we get to wear both hats - or in this case, helmets. Once we've spent six months in our studies, poring over scripts, it's really nice to go to set and mess around. I've not been scared of a little bit of make-up over the years. And equally, once we’ve been shooting for a few weeks, it's really nice to go and sit back in your study and do some script work. So I think we're really lucky that we're able to flip between the two.

What do you think the takeaway from We Are Not Alone might be?

I hope viewers will take it as entertainment and have fun with it. But also if on some level, it leaves you thinking about how silly we can be every day, that would be great. It's so easy to take everything too seriously.

So it can be really useful to take that step back and ask, ‘If someone out there was watching me do this right now, does it matter? Does it even make sense?’ There's something fun about looking at ourselves through a Hall of Mirrors and seeing ourselves in a slightly different way. So I hope it does make people think, even if it only makes them think about how ridiculous we are!

Ben Willbond

What was the genesis of We Are Not Alone?

I spent a large portion of my youth in Lincolnshire, and six or seven years ago I was getting a train back there to see my parents. The train called at Peterborough. It was a really grey day. I just thought to myself, ‘If aliens invaded, they would probably end up governing from somewhere central like Peterborough, and it would just be really dull.’

The idea just stuck with me. I pitched it to Larry, and we had a real laugh about it. And then of course, we were just so busy doing other stuff that we left it. But some ideas just keep knocking on the door. So eventually Larry and I sat down and worked up this idea. And here we are.

How did you develop the concept of the show?

Working in British television, we knew that we wouldn't have Hollywood scale. But there's something really joyous about that. There's something glorious about the mundane. I'd always loved working with the team on The Thick Of It which was about the mundanity of government. Politicians are working in an office and are just like you and me, but the stakes are really high.

We Are Not Alone aliens at a desk

How do the aliens view human beings?

They are just utterly baffled by humanity. In this day and age, you can't really do satire because it's just right in front of you on the news every day. So how do you approach it? Well, you just go to the lowest common denominator, which is essentially an alien going, ‘Why?’And suddenly it all made sense.

The approach was, just ask the question, ‘Why?’ or ‘Why don't you?’’Why are there homeless people?’ Because the minute you ask anybody involved in politics that question, they say, ‘Well, what you've got to understand is that …’ And you've lost

Whereas if you're an alien, you say, ‘Hang on, there's people over there with a massive house. Can't they just have people living in there with them?’ So that's basically the thrust of the whole show. Let's have a good laugh at ourselves because we all need a bit of a laugh at the moment.

Did you and Laurence enjoy playing the alien guards?

Our job here was to produce it and create the show. So we deliberately cast ourselves in relatively small parts as the guards on the front door. We spent a lot of time on the script and on casting and producing it. So by the time that we got to play our scenes, we thought, "Who are these guys?" Suddenly we found ourselves painted blue in a wetsuit with some skateboard armour on it. So that's how we played it!

Does We Are Not Alone have a message?

I suppose in a very small, very silly way it's trying to get people to go, ‘Hang on, we need to think a bit more about each other because we're just consuming things too quickly and not thinking enough about community.’ It’s a huge topic to take on, but I guess we're taking it on in the way that we know how to.

We have very silly aliens who've come and taken over. So they can be the mouthpiece for all these ideas.

What else do you hope the audience will take away from We Are Not Alone?
I hope it's escapism, but I also hope it just makes people pause and ask the broadest, simplest questions about what's important.

Is there one question above all that you really want people to ask?

Do I really need to buy a massive diesel 4x4 to drive around the narrow streets of London?

• We Are Not Alone airs on Dave at 9pm on Monday

Published: 22 Nov 2022

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