Mathew Baynton interview
Spy and The Wrong Mans star Mathew Baynton plays various roles in Yonderland, including Chief Elder Choop, Bombero, Ninny Dave and Gallant...
Hi Mat. What made the Horrible Histories gang decide to make this show?
Our desire to work together again as an ensemble. We needed something that would enable us to play lots of parts and be quite silly and anarchic. Ben Willbond and I had been kicking around a film idea about an elf that drags someone into a fantasy world and we all developed Yonderland from there.
Our pitch was that it would be us playing lots of characters in a silly fantasy world. So it would be as full of jokes as a sketch show but with the added bonus of a story to tease you along.
How did the puppets come about?
We had always wanted puppets to be involved. It broadens the world to be able to have all kinds of creatures wandering around, not just humans. You can write a lot of jokes around them, too. It keeps the world surprising to feel that a tree could suddenly open its mouth and talk. Anything is possible.
In showbusiness they say you should never work with animals or children. What about puppets?
There is a lot of setting up to do with puppets. It is time consuming and, logistically, a nightmare. But we had some of the best puppeteers in the business and when they're that good, playing a scene with a puppet feels no different to playing a scene with an actor. There just happens to also be a bearded middle-aged man lying on the floor underneath them with their hand up its backside.
Did you have to use lots of special effects?
We wanted to do as much as possible with the camera, old school - so puppets, not CGI characters. When we needed a crowd of Parvuli for example, we did the old-fashioned thing of filming the same three puppets again and again in different positions on the set, like Buster Keaton did in The Playhouse nearly 100 years ago. There is the odd bit of CGI for the portal and a couple of other moments but that's it really.
What influences and inspirations came into play when you were creating Yonderland?
The biggest and most obvious inspiration is Labyrinth. It is still one of my favourite films and manages to be imaginative, magical and funny too. If we've come even close in terms of balancing those things, I'd be very, very happy. But as a group, the six of us bring our own tastes and influences to everything we do. I think that makes for a good sense of range in the writing.
How much fun was it to play and voice so many characters?
It's a dream job as a comic actor. You can get your teeth into a couple of major characters but you also have this huge variety of small, funny roles to keep things interesting. A huge amount of what we do comes from trying to make each other giggle.
Like Horrible Histories, the show will appeal to all ages. How tricky is it to get that formula right?
Personally, I don't think trying to create something with an audience in mind is a good idea. We wrote something that was funny and interesting to us. We tried not to put any jokes or references in that would exclude loads of people but that is the extent of our efforts to make it accessible or family friendly.
What was the toughest part to shoot?
We shot all of the Elders' chamber scenes in one stretch and it was unbearably hot and itchy with all that hair stuck to my face.
And the most rewarding bit?
The most rewarding thing was getting it made at all. I'll never forget visiting John Schoonraad's workshop to see the demon puppets. When you've written something and you find yourselves surrounded by experts making every aspect of it come to life, it is a thrilling experience.
The show is about an ordinary mum in a strange land. When was the last time you found yourself in a fish-out-of-water scenario?
I was talked into going to a club recently. I stayed for about ten minutes. The loud music, the flashing lights, the over-crowding. I don't think I will ever understand why people enjoy that.
Portals aside, what is the most surprising thing in your kitchen cupboard?
I'm a grown man and I still eat Coco Pops.
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