Red Dwarf Panel at MCM Midlands Comic Con

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With a brand new series currently in the making, some of the stars of classic sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf came to MCM Midlands Comic Con to talk to Telford about what the smeg is going on.

The actors opened the discussion with their own Telford-based anecdotes, Hattie Hayridge (Holly) remembering that the last time she’d visited the city had been while she was still at school, before it had been properly built. Said trip had ended in her party getting stranded after their car broke down. Danny John Jules (The Cat) shared in the happy memories:

“Last time I came to Telford, it was a mistake!”

But leaving off that, the first audience question did prompt some more enthusiastic answers: what had it been like for them to make the show?

“It was the best show I could possibly have been in,” said Hattie, claiming that, even now, if she could pick any series to be a part of, it would be that one.

“It was a once in a lifetime role,” Danny agreed, revealing that prior to doing Red Dwarf, he had been “languishing” in musical theatre. “It introduced me to a whole new genre of showbiz,” he said. “I’d never socialized with stand-up comedians before.”

Straying slightly off-topic, the next audience question referred to Danny John Jules’s role in light-hearted BBC One detective drama, Death in Paradise: had it been better working with Ben Miller or his successor to the show’s central role, Chris Marshall?

“They are both super professional, and both bring something different to the show,” he replied, comparing the change to when Norman Lovett‘s role as Holly had been handed over to Holly, or when Robert Llewellyn had replaced David Ross as Kryten in Red Dwarf.

“We were expecting the worst, but he surpassed all expectations. The viewing figures for Red Dwarf actually went up.”

Will there ever be another Holly, another audience member wondered?

“I don’t think so!” laughed Danny. “We’ve already got two!”

However, he did qualify this by saying that they couldn’t yet be absolutely certain either way: however much the cast enjoy speculating about the scripts, actually reading them is always a surprise. He also suggested that fans looking for hints about what might be coming up should take a look at the tweets of writer and director Doug Naylor, who is currently in the process of writing episode three.

The next question was about the most absurd things the actors had ever had to do on set. For Hattie, it had been a little odd to play a secretary in one episode, since at the time, she’d just left a real job as a secretary. Unlike the other cast members though, she’d missed out on a lot of the craziest antics, since she was rarely required to go out on location. Meanwhile, for Danny John Jules, there had been “hundreds of scenarios” that seemed almost too ridiculous to be true. He mentioned various instances of wading through mud, filming in Wales in the middle of the night, and riding motorbikes on sand and trying to do everything backwards, amongst others.

The panel were then asked which other Red Dwarf character they’d like to play, given the choice? It’s a question which, as Danny pointed out, often comes up in these kind of talks, including at the Red Dwarf panel discussion that took place at the MCM Birmingham Comic Con in October. While Danny chose Kryten, Hattie more vaguely suggested “someone glamorous….perhaps some sort of glamorous polymorph”.

red_dwarf_logo_by_lonmcgregor-d5f043xAsked how he felt when he found out he’d been cast as the Cat, Danny replied that he’d been “over the moon”, but still a little uncertain, saying that he could tell from the crazy script that Red Dwarf would either turn out to be “the most amazing show ever or the biggest pile of poo.” He described how, during his audition, he’d had to excel at talking to himself, which was strange enough without also having to act like a Cat!

“Will Lister ever get over Kochanski?” the actors were asked.

“Do you mean, will Lister ever get his leg over Kochanski?” asked Danny, raising a laugh from the audience. “I don’t know if he’ll ever get over Rimmer, to be honest. I think he’s probably come to terms with the fact that he’ll never get her now,” he went on, arguing that, to some extent, failure in love is what the show is all about. “It’s partly what’s kept the show going for so long, the feeling that someone’s got to get laid eventually!”

So, can we expect to see the whole cast returning for the next series? Well, according to Danny John Jules, there’s a kind of “unwritten agreement” that if any one of the main cast was left out, then none of them would come back at all. “I don’t think it would work,” he said. “It would be like the kiss of death for the show.”

Asked what had been their favourite episodes to film, Hattie chose Meltdown, since it was the only one where she got to go out on location, and Dimension Jump. Though she hadn’t gone very far for that episode, she did get to go outside the studio to watch the SFX guys throwing water over Craig Charles (Lister) and Chris Barrie (Rimmer).

“The water they used could have been tepid, but it was actually freezing,” she said, telling the audience that she had enjoyed “being a bit of a sadist” standing watching them in her coat.

Danny, meanwhile, chose Gunmen of the Apocalypse.

“Everyone wants to be in a cowboy film!” he said, describing their gun-slinging, horse-riding, Clint Eastwood-like antics.

Choosing their favourite episodes to watch, meanwhile, proved much more difficult, with both saying that they loved all of them too much to pick one. Danny did mention Back to Reality as being one of his favourites, particularly the initial shot when everyone steps out of the pods, which was “like something out of Back to the Future”. Hattie was even more torn, saying that she usually chooses Marooned when asked that question, but having only recently watched them all, she’d loved them too much to possibly make a decision. She spoke about how much she particularly enjoys listening to the DVD commentaries and adding to them as she goes along.

Asked about the inspiration for the Duane Dibbley character (the Cat’s geeky alter-ego), Danny John Jules said that he’d taken his cues from Jerry Lewis as the Nutty Professor for the voice, and Moe from The Three Stooges for the slapstick.

With the new series on its way, it was perhaps inevitable that the question of a movie adaptation should crop up eventually. The panel were dismissive, however, describing their many failed attempts to get a feature film off the ground in the past. While in the US a film version would have been a near-certainty by now, in the UK, it’s harder to get started:

“Something always goes wrong, and it’s usually to do with money,” said Danny.

One of the problems, he explained, was that of course, Doug Naylor would want to direct, but unfortunately, film studios weren’t generally willing to invest in people without prior movie experience.

Asked what was their favourite “smeg-up”, the actors had a hard time choosing again. Danny described Red Dwarf as having been like a completely different show for those on set, which you can’t get a proper sense of even by watching all the out-takes and commentaries. Hattie compared it to more recent blooper reels, which often contain deliberate mistakes for comedy effect, assuring the audience that all of theirs were genuine and done well before anyone had thought of intentionally messing up.

Asked whether their characters reflected their own personalities in any way, Danny explained that, while the characters had already been written before they were cast, Doug and Rob had been great at watching them work and tailoring the scripts to suit them better. Hattie recalled one example of this, when Craig had complained that they were always making him out to be a slob – right before drinking a plate of gravy.

Finally, asked about the Cat’s many colourful costumes, Danny told listeners that the original outfit was essentially a version of what he wore to his audition. The first designs he was shown were very simple, Blues Brothers-esque suits. On seeing them, he pointed out that his own suit would probably be better, so they made it salmon pink, and the costumes got gradually more outlandish from there on in, thanks to the imagination of designer Howard Burden. Making them was often a labour of love, it seems: Hattie remembered one particular yellow and black striped outfit that had ended up being coloured in with felt tip pens!

As the discussion came to a close, Danny John Jules announced that they were “both available for panto,” which Hattie was quick to contradict, and “book signings – not that we’ve written a book.” Their co-star, Robert Llewllyn, has written many, however, and they marvelled at how he finds the time to do it.

“There’s something dodgy going on there,” Danny said, suspiciously.

“Maybe he’s got a ghost writer,” Hattie suggested. “Or maybe it’s not him in the suit…”

An eleventh series of Red Dwarf is currently being written, though as yet, no date or channel for broadcast has been revealed.

Photo by John Shek (a.k.a. Papercube). Click here to see his Telford cosplay photographs on our Facebook page.

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