"It's truth time!" Part spoof and part action film, new comedy Mindhorn is now in cinemas. We sat down with the writers, Julian Barratt, who also stars as actor Richard 'Mindhorn' Thorncroft, and Simon Farnaby, who plays Thorncroft's love rival and former stunt-man, Clive Parnevik, to reveal all about the new comedy and how it could be just the first of many.
Mindhorn has a slightly complex premise: how would you explain it?
Julian: The film is about an actor, Richard Thorncroft, who used to be in a TV detective show in the 80s called Mindhorn. He played the titular detective, with a bionic eye that could see the truth, and it was set on the Isle of Man. But the film itself starts 25 years later, present day. The Isle of Man police get a phone call from a murder suspect who says he'll hand himself in if he can speak to Detective Mindhorn. They realise that's this old fictional character, and they think 'what if we get the actor over to take the phone call?' Cut to the washed-up actor, played by myself, and hilarity ensues!
The idea is obviously that you then you bring in a guy who has got a lot to learn into a very serious situation and he doesn't take it seriously. We put him through various trials and tortures until he learns a couple of lessons. That's it.
[Laughs] You in to that idea? You bought it? That's the reaction we had a lot of times during the pitching process. Just sort of a little bit like 'hmm... ok'
Have you seen Galaxy Quest? It's a similar idea. Three Amigos. Similar idea. Tropic of Thunder... where a fictional hero is sort of mistaken for a real hero by an innocent party. But we've done it in a peculiarly British type of way.
What was the genesis of the idea?
Simon: We sort of wanted to do something with the genre; that sort of genre of TV detectives, but we didn't quite know what to do. We knocked a few ideas about and then I had the idea of the phone call from the murder suspect, which is the engine of the film I suppose, and...
Julian: Simon built the engine and I built the chassis.
Simon: Yeah, Julian built the chassis and put the wheels on... I went to sleep after I built the engine.
Julian: I lined it in suede. And beige leather.
Simon: Yeah, that's how it all started and then we wrote it together. I had to persuade Julian. I was going 'you have got to play this part' and Julian was going 'well, yeah, we'll see'. He thought he was too young. But then it took us 10 years so he has aged well into it.
Julian: We were ready to go, but I thought I'm not old enough. I need to age a bit. I need to have experience.
Simon: And, while he was ageing, we improved the script no end.
Julian: I took up all sort of things, and did all sorts of things to get into the character in that 10 year period. Did a load of really bad auditions to get into that part of the role.
Simon: Yes, you did, didn't you!
Julian: Did a lot of stuff that was never seen, much like Richard. This was all just research....
Simon: Went for walks in the park. Stared into the lake.
Julian: Drank too much.
And going back to that sort of period, genre-pastiche, you did Zimbani.
Julian: Zimbani! Oh my gosh, yeah! That was something I did: a sort of fake...
Simon: Was that the one with Colin Hoult?
Julian: Yeah! Gosh. Was that a series... No, just a pilot. That was pretty funny, yeah.
You mentioned the film has been 10 years in gestation. What was that process like?
Simon: Well, we wrote a first draft fairly quickly and we had interest, but partly it takes a long time to get the finance in order, so while we were waiting for that we would keep working on it. We had children, that gets in the way of writing.
Julian: It does seem like a long time.
Simon: We were doing other things as well. It doesn't actually feel like that long!
Julian: It's like anything: there's loads of films that we're writing now that are on the back-burner. Going forwards, when they get made - if they get made - you go 'I had this idea 20 years ago', or 10 years ago or what have you. You're sort of moving loads of stuff forwards bit by bit and then suddenly the forces align and the weather comes out and it's time to make that one. So they're all alongside each other taking time to evolve I think. It can happen that you have an idea and then you're making it immediately, and that's great, but a lot of ideas aren't like that, and a lot of films are a long time gestating I think. I don't think it's particularly unusual.
Simon: Maybe people just think we were actually writing it for ten years solid. But we'd do a bit, stop for a year, do a bit more...
Julian: It's become a big part of every interview we do. Whereas we should probably have just said we wrote it really quickly and then we'll get more work as writers. 'Don't hire those guys, it takes them ten years to write a film. Two of them as well, it should have been five years.'
Then you got out to film on the beautiful Isle of Man back in Summer 2015?
Julian: Yeah, then there's the edit and finding a window to launch it, and the window to throw it out of... Gosh, is it two years? Yeah - the rest isn't our fault!
You mention other films, what else are you working on? It feels like you could do a lot more in the Mindhorn world?
Julian: Well, that's nice to hear you say that. We'd like to do more of that. We like the characters. It would just be finding a different adventure for the character and trying to figure out a new thing to put him through. You can't do another like that; the idea of a fictional character being mistaken for a real one, but we could certainly do another thing with him. So we'll just wait to see if the audience has got an appetite for it.
Simon: Yeah, we're going to be led by that really, because we don't want to go 'Yeah, we've got loads of ideas, we've got 10 sequels!' and then they go 'Yeah, no one went to see it' and then we'll go 'Ah, ok, they'll just stay in the bottom drawer then.' So we'll see. It would be great if we could, and I'm sure we'd turn it around quicker.
Julian: Nine years!
You've just released a single in the guise of Thorncroft to promote the film. Did you imagine that as an actual release?
Simon: You wrote that song when we were filming.
Julian: Yeah, when we were filming it. I was hoping to get it in at the end but we didn't have time. But it's in over the closing credits. I liked the song and I've been writing other tunes in character - I tend to write music in character, whether it's on The Mighty Boosh as a sort of ape, the song of a monster or a transsexual merman or something. I like the idea of having a character who you write through. I can't really write stuff from my own self like a meaningful songwriter. I just can't do it. So I much prefer writing stuff one removed and try and keep it not too funny but believable as well.
Julian (continued): Yeah, and then I made a video recently for it, so it was just fun to try and have something that went alongside the career of Richard as the actor and the idea that he stepped into music is just part of the universe of this guy. It seems like you could go into his different endeavours. They're all sort of embarrassing but I like the idea of the actor who goes into singing, I quite like that, it feels as though...
Simon: ...he can conquer music.
A bit like David Hasselhoff?
Julian: Yeah, Hasselhoff is interesting because he's sort of done the ironic backflip and landed on his feet, in a way, brilliantly. He's done all sorts of stuff. He's embraced it ... he's done something that no other artist has done.
Maybe that's the next route for Mindhorn, that Thorncroft realises how ridiculous he is?
Julian: Well, maybe! Maybe he does a song that actually makes the world weep in unison. I think he sort of sees himself as ... well, I like the idea of him, like Bob Dylan going electric, imagining that 'When I moved out of acting, people were angry. They thought how dare you, you're a traitor because of what you've done in acting, but I feel I'm not bound to those people I'm shackled to the muse. She's taking me where she wants to go. And I don't argue with lady music. She takes me where she wants to take me, and I go willingly.' He talks about himself in those terms. It's fun to write music with a sort of ego like that.
You mentioned the Boosh there: there's been talk recently about a possible Mighty Boosh reunion?
Julian: Yeah, I mean, I don't know. I don't think... we're not actively talking about it. We're too busy at the moment. But it's not like we've said no. I don't want to get rumours going that we're sort of working on something because we're not really but we see each other quite a bit. We talk about it. He's got a lot of cakes to bake and judge! Cake density, cake depth, cake...
Simon: Does he judge the cakes then?
Julian: I don't know what he does! I've never seen the show. Does he make them or eat them or taste them? I've never seen it, I don't know what it is. I should watch it. I will definitely watch it with Noel in... so he's definitely got one viewer!
Simon: I'll watch it.
Julian: He's got a couple of viewers here! Two secure viewers! He's already two ahead of the game. He's bringing them in. He's got his mates watching.
Julian, what's next for you?
Julian: Well I've got Flowers Series 2. That's filming at the end of August, yeah.
Simon: Yes! There is going to be a TV project, that we're developing. It's in its very very early stages. I can't really say anything about it, other than that. But, yes, we really love working together and we're good mates and it's good fun so we'll keep doing it. Another film? I'm not sure but certainly TV projects, yeah.
And you're working on The Phantom Of The Open, the third of a trilogy about golfing?
Simon: Yeah! Trilogy... [Chuckles] That is happening. Well, the script is happening anyway, with the BFI we're developing that. So that's fairly advanced-ish, but you know...