In Cockroaches, Daniel Lawrence Taylor and Esther Smith play Tom and Suze, friends who have sex just as the apocalypse hits. Awkwardly for them, they survive. They are now attemping to bring up their child together in what is left of Essex. Other regular cast members include Tom Davis as Felix, Jack Whitehall as Oscar, Robert Bathurst as the Prime Minister and Nigel Planer as Stevie...
Can you set the series up for us, please?
Daniel: Yes. It starts nine years after the Apocalypse. The characters have accepted their situation and realise this is their life now. People are now not in panic, but in survival mode. They're just dealing with it. Tom and Suze are the most sane people there. They're the voice of the viewers. They're seeing all these weird and wonderful people just as the audience would see them.
What drew you to Cockroaches?
Esther: The post-apocalyptic setting and the sheer weirdness of it appealed. How would one survive in that world? All these characters keep popping up who have been mentally affected by the disaster. Remarkably, our family are some of the sanest people in the show - which tells you how mad the others are!
Jack: It appealed because it's such a different project. I've never seen anything like it. It's always fun to do things that are bold and different. Oscar is a complete git. It's fun playing someone that unsympathetic. All sorts of crazy things happen to him but whatever he does, he's always excruciatingly annoying. He's particularly irritating with his ex, Suze. Anyone who's ever dealt with an insufferable ex before will sympathise with Suze. Oscar is there to try and drive Suze and Tom apart, but what he actually does is force them together.
Tom: It's so different from everything else. I'd never read anything like it. It's weird, dark stuff, but it's also a lot of fun and full of laughter. It's great to take risks like this and push the boat out. It's such an original idea, and a uniquely British and amusing way of looking at the Apocalypse. I'm a massive fan of those big, high-concept American shows. We're doing an English version of that here. It's like a comic version of Lost.
Do you think the post-apocalyptic setting works in comedy?
Daniel: Definitely. It's a level playing field that brings out one's true nature. You can also go to places you can't usually go to in comedy. We've got free rein. It's dark and dangerous. You don't know what is going to happen next. There is a very Game of Thrones feel to it. Anybody could die at any moment. It's about survival of the fittest.
Jack: It brings out the extreme aspects of the characters. In desperate situations, comedy is highlighted. There are no distractions. They simply have to interact with each other. That creates conflict, which creates comedy.
Robert: The bleak setting is very bold for a sitcom. Some of the finest comedies have the least promising premises. What is very good is that this is a comedy which comes out of real desperation. A lot of the best comedy emerges from desperation. Look at Steptoe And Son or It Ain't Half Hot Mum - those comedies are making light of a terrible situation. The characters have a lot to push against. In Cockroaches, the desperation is all too real. After all, they're trying desperately to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. There is a spookiness to Cockroaches, and the characters are rather mysterious. The ordinary ways of going about life have been completely destroyed because after the Apocalypse your primary function is now animalistic. The only aim is purely to get by in life. Normal human morals don't apply any more. Once you have grabbed the viewers' interest with something very different like that, the show really flies.
Nigel: It frees the characters up. It's like Lord Of The Flies. You can see the power and the relationships being fought over. People have to be very direct in that environment. It also gives the wardrobe department a field day creating a Madcap Max type of look. I'm dressed in this 1980s children's entertainer's outfit which looks ridiculous but amazing. Everyone else gets leather jackets, tattoos and thongs, and I'm in a clown outfit with a helicopter on my hat. Great!
Some of the humour is quite near the knuckle, isn't it?
Nigel: Yes, but off-colour humour works very well. It appeals to a younger audience. There was some of that gross-out humour in The Young Ones, and that was highly successful. The clue is in the title, Cockroaches. This is occasionally sick and shocking, but it's also really funny. At some of the darkest moments, all you can do is laugh. A bit of blood and gore for comedy purposes can be very effective.
Does Tom cope well in the post-apocalyptic universe?
Daniel: No. He's not a survivor. Without Suze, he would have been eaten or died of starvation in the house he was too afraid to leave. He would have tried to eat the furniture and wasted away through lack of nutrition.
Suze is very sorted though?
Esther: She is, but perhaps she is not as secure as she thinks she is. There are moments where her vulnerability is revealed. That is particularly true when the threat of being separated from her family emerges. All they have is each other, and Laura is what is keeping them going. Suze and Tom are essentially surviving for the sake of their daughter.
Would Suze and Tom be together if they didn't have Laura?
Esther: That's a good question. They were friends before, and then they slept together as the end of the world approached - as you would. But I think they're a good match. They have a shared sense of humour. They bicker, but they never take each other too seriously.
Daniel, Do you think Tom and Suze make a good couple?
Daniel: Yes, they like to have a laugh together. Suze looks after Tom. He's silly, and he likes to be mothered. But Tom also possesses qualities that Suze loves. Laura is the glue in their relationship. Tom doesn't express much feeling, but he would clearly be lost without Suze and Laura. He'd never want to let them go - he'd be devastated. So in that sense, it feels like a loving relationship. Suze was always Tom's first love. Even though he is always moaning, he still sees that she is lovely and that he's very lucky to have her. He just doesn't show it.
Meanwhile, Jack, your character is a bit of a nightmare?
Jack: Everything about him - his voice, his demeanour - builds into creating a complete social monster. He's the worst person you'd ever want to get stuck with at a party. Is he drawn from real life? Yes, he is based on a few people I've met in east London! He's just borrowed from real life, and that makes him a lot easier to play.
Tom, your character is very cheerful?
Tom: This part is a gift. Felix is a sort of character where anything can happen. He's a big idiot giant who bumbles around saying inappropriate things. Nothing seems to affect him. He has got a dark past. It is hinted that he has been in prison, but maybe he was just mixed up. Anyway, he is having the time of his life in the post-apocalyptic world. He has wiped the slate clean now and goes from group to group looking for new opportunities. By the end, he can literally do anything.
What's up with the Prime Minister?
Robert: He's gone mad after spending eight years in a bunker with his personal assistant. She has kept him on a lead all that time. He has become feral and now just throws rubbish at people. He is still Prime Minister and makes political pronouncements, but he is also a figure of fun who has gone bonkers. If you're born to rule, then sitting in a bunker for eight years where you're not able to get your hair cut will certainly drive you insane. It's a great story about how the mighty are fallen.
Who do you play Nigel?
Nigel: Stevie is an old-school comedian and children's entertainer who was one half of a children's TV double act called The Giggle Twins. He's also a racist and a cannibal - he ticks all the boxes! His catchphrase is, "It was a different time in the 1980s." I didn't base him on anyone in particular. Dear departed Rik [Mayall] and I used to do a routine about old-school comedians doing racist jokes. Stevie is just like that.
It's a great cast...
Jack: Absolutely. The leads are very strong, and their chemistry is brilliant. There are also excellent cameos from actors of the calibre of Caroline Quentin and Alexander Armstrong. It's really exciting to work with such comedy legends.
Tom, you had to work very closely with Nigel at one point!
Tom: Yes. Felix embarks on a romance with Stevie. At moments like that, you have to pinch yourself. It's my first ever screen kiss. At the read-through, they said we had to kiss each other. There were no tongues - I was fighting for that, but he didn't fancy it! We played it is quite tender and sweet, and it comes across as a good-natured romance.
Did you learn a lot from working with Nigel?
Tom: Definitely. It was great performing with him. He's a real hero of mine. He gave me an education about how to conduct yourself as an actor. I learnt a lot from him about professionalism. He's still questioning his choices as an actor. That level of professionalism is amazing. He's a legend of British comedy. It's amazing to have your first screen kiss with a legend of British comedy!
Not only did I work with Nigel, but I also collaborated with Alexander Armstrong, Caroline Quentin and Robert Bathurst. As a young cast working on our first big thing, we were so lucky to be performing with these amazing people and to be able to pick their brains. They were all so lovely. You sometimes hear negative things about our industry, but it was a sheer pleasure to work with these great actors. I'm already missing being on set!
How would you do in a post-apocalyptic world?
Daniel: I don't know if I would do very well. My first day would be spent crying. Then I'd look for friends because I'm not a very good cook. But you'd have to be very cautious about whom you befriended - the wrong person could drive you crazy. You'd also have to be very careful not to eat too many sweets as there would be no dentists!
Esther: I would survive in two ways: either by crying or running away! Or perhaps I would surprise myself by fighting. You really have to fight to survive in that world. Anyway, I'm sure I'd find a way! What would be incredible would be if you emerged from the disaster and there was no one else around. You could do anything. You could go to the supermarket and you wouldn't have to queue! Wouldn't that be incredible?
What impact do you think Cockroaches will have?
Tom: The setting is very dark and bleak, but also very silly. I'm a fan of stuff like this that's really different. You're lucky if you can work on something where you think, "I'd watch this", and I'd definitely watch Cockroaches!
What you hope that viewers will take away from Cockroaches?
Jack: The series is very out there. Sometimes this sort of show divides opinion, but I hope it gains a large following because it's very original and different. It deserves to get a big audience. Hopefully we'll get another series. The characters have already been through the end of the world - if they can survive that, they can survive anything. That bodes well for the longevity of the show!
Would you be on for a second series too Esther and Nigel?
Esther: Absolutely. It would be amazing to see where we could go next. What's great is that there is no limit to what they can do. You never get tired because the characters are constantly challenged by new events. That's what keeps viewers interested. There are always knew survivors and new challenges to meet. By the second series, I reckon they'd be in IKEA kitting out their campsite!
Nigel: Absolutely. The only danger is that you kill off the main characters. You can't tell who's going to live and who's going to die - it's very Game Of Thrones! But all in all Cockroaches is completely bonkers and great fun. What's not to like?
Cockroaches is on ITV2 on Tuesdays.