Hitmen. Image shows from L to R: Fran (Sue Perkins), Jamie (Mel Giedroyc). Copyright: Tiger Aspect Productions.

Hitmen

Sky Comedy and Sky One sitcom starring Mel & Sue. 12 episodes (2 series), 2020 - 2021. Stars Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc, Katherine Parkinson, Asim Chaudhry and Tonya Cornelisse.

Hitmen. Image shows from L to R: Jamie (Mel Giedroyc), Fran (Sue Perkins). Copyright: Tiger Aspect Productions.

Mel & Sue interview

With Hitmen returning to our screens, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins talk about Series 2 of their sitcom.

How's filming been going?

Sue: We've been in a coffin all afternoon. Literally.

Mel: Five hours.

Sue: We've been doing some deep coffin acting.

Mel: The two of us, snuggled up, in a six-foot-long, three foot wide underground cavity. We started to lose oxygen and hysteria was starting to kick in.

Sue: It didn't help that Mel had the cauliflower option for lunch. It added a real sense of danger to the incarceration.

So social distancing is going well, then?

Mel: We are so bubbled.

Sue: I've shared so much genetic material with Melanie over the last three and a half weeks that frankly it's beyond bubbling.

Mel: Frankly the exchange of DNA material has been going on for thirty-three years, so that's nothing new.

How does it feel to be back and working on Hitmen?

Sue: Amazing. It's so fun.

Mel: It's weird because we haven't actually filmed Hitmen for two years. The second series kept getting pushed back because of you know what. There was a lot of anticipation and excitement, but also we felt quite nervous as well. I think a lot of performers feel that way, because we've all had a year plus of not actually doing that much, and now it's all come back with a full crew of people and expectations.

Sue: We've basically been given the chance to come back out of lockdown and play, albeit in a careful way. Being back at work adds that extra kind of responsibility. You really take care outside of filming because the crew is your family and you want to make sure everyone is safe. We felt incredibly protected in this environment and we've been able to do everything we would normally do. All the stunts, all the hanging about, all the messing around.

Mel: We feel very lucky to be working, as there's a lot of people in our profession out there who aren't and haven't had a chance to do anything like this.

Hitmen. Image shows from L to R: Jamie (Mel Giedroyc), Fran (Sue Perkins). Copyright: Tiger Aspect Productions.

So the safety restrictions haven't gotten in the way of the fun?

Sue: Not at all. We had a lot of good weather which allowed us to film outside, which helps. And this may come as a surprise, but we didn't have any intimate scenes so we didn't have to resort to glass, Perspex or cling film to, you know, stop the exchange of bodily fluids.

Mel: I had to snog somebody - or I was supposed to in the script. We go to a school reunion in the first episode and there's a bit of slow dancing. But we got round it quite cunningly...

Sue: By having sex.

Mel: No! By doing a really sinister... if you can imagine an upright spooning position. So he was behind me and we got round the whole intimate snogging.

Sounds like your average school disco.

Mel: Exactly.

Sue: It was basically a 1980s grind.

Mel: It was really sweet. For that day we had this party all set up, and we had supporting artists who were actual couples in their own bubbles. Just so we could get shots of people slow dancing and smooching. Everyone was having a thoroughly good time.

Smooches aside, what other scrapes can we expect to see this series?

Sue: Lots of fighting. We started the first week doing some heavy stuntage, which at my age is a bit of an ask, I won't lie. In my head I'm Carrie-Anne Moss from The Matrix. In reality I'm Bella Emberg as Blunder Woman. The difference between me and a real assassin is that my hip flexors really twang the next day. We've done a bit of close combat, we've done a bit of heavy petting at a disco...

Mel: We had to bog wash one of our major guest artistes...

Sue: I've driven a hearse at 80 miles per hour... and I have to say it's a real goer.

Mel: It's got a lot of poke, that has.

Sue: Good torque on that. And we've become part of a psychosexual love triangle.

Mel: That's the overarching storyline for this series.

Hitmen. Image shows from L to R: Fran (Sue Perkins), Jamie (Mel Giedroyc), Kat (Katherine Parkinson). Copyright: Tiger Aspect Productions.

And the third party of that triangle is of course the amazing Katherine Parkinson.

Mel: Yes! She filmed with us for three full weeks which was an absolute treat and a joy. Mainly because she's trained so she's a really good, funny actress. We immediately felt like we had to raise our game.

Sue: She's phenomenal. The triangular dynamic is so fun to play. It felt like we were still at school with those silly tensions that you have, particularly amongst girls. She's so brilliant and the character is so repulsive. I think people are going to really love her.

Mel: She does some very, very dastardly things. We've finished our scenes with her now and I think we'll miss her. But we have some amazing new guest stars lined up for the rest of the filming.

Sue: Last series structure was basically based around one featured guest artist each episode, whereas this series we still have those, but they're slightly overshadowed by the bigger narrative of their being this interloper trying to split us up.

When we last saw Fran and Jamie at the end of Series 1, you were striking out on your own and hitting the road as free agents. As we go into Series 2, it seems like things are on the up and you're moving up in the world - you've even got a brand-new van?

Sue: Mercedes V Class. It's an absolute belter. Yeah, they've slightly smartened up. They're still idiots but they've got a new boss now. And there's the possibility of some international assassinry beckoning. Everything's gotten a slight upgrade - the clothes are cooler, the van is nicer...

Mel: I'm in a boiler suit this series.

Sue: I'm wearing a double t-shirt, which for me is a real elevation.

But is Jamie still rocking the trademark woolly hat?

Mel: Yes! The Benny from Crossroads woolly hat. Can't change perfection.

Sue: And I've got slightly less Lego hair, which is a real relief.

Mel: We're really, really excited by this series. Any first series that you do, particularly comedy, is trying to work out what everything is. Who are the characters? Why are they funny? What are their relationships? What are the scenarios? The second series is a joy because it feels much more like it knows what it is.

Sue: There's less of that explanatory stuff that needs to happen. We felt really unfettered with the removal of exposition.

Hitmen. Image shows from L to R: Jamie (Mel Giedroyc), Fran (Sue Perkins). Copyright: Tiger Aspect Productions.

Do you see anything of yourselves in your respective characters?

Sue: I think Mel is actually way more competent than I am. I talk quite a good game, but the reality is I have no transferrable skills in anything whatsoever. If chat is a thing, I've got that nailed.

Mel: That's her superpower.

Sue: But you wouldn't find me, for example, in any of the Marvel films, because the chat will only take you so far with Thanos before you're completely obliterated. Mel's superpower is list-making and farting.

Mel: I do make a bloody good list. I am actually very, very organised. So what we're saying is we're really acting. We're playing characters.

Speaking of secret superpowers, Sue was unmasked as Dragon in The Masked Singer and surprised us all by having a lovely voice. Now that it's out in the open and we all know, can we expect a few more van-based singalongs?

Mel: It's in her contract now. She's really changed.

Sue: Yes, I'm like Mariah Carey.

Mel: Since The Masked Singer she has to sing for four minutes in every episode.

Sue: No I changed that/ The whole of episode five is now a musical featuring me.

Mel: We all go along with it but it's getting a bit embarrassing.

Sue: She loves it. We don't get to do much singing in this series sadly. But the singing we did back in episode one was so fun. We did it in a studio at the arse end of the day and we weren't really sure at that point how it was going to work. It's one of those things where you just have to go for it.

Mel: I think Fran should sing more.

Sue: I think she'd have a quavering operatic voice.

Mel: I'd love a musical episode. Like one of those big Bollywood numbers.

Sue: I'm not sure that wouldn't be offensive, if we were to try and recreate a Bollywood scene. Now's not the time.

Dressing up as dragons aside, there's a fair bit of dressing up that goes on in Hitmen. In Series 1 Fran and Jamie disguised themselves as Simon and Garfunkel to infiltrate a wedding...

Sue: Yes! I have that as my screensaver actually, as we look genuinely insane. It looks like something out of Broadmoor.

Hitmen. Image shows from L to R: Jamie (Mel Giedroyc), Fran (Sue Perkins). Copyright: Tiger Aspect Productions.

Can we expect any more fancy dress this series?

Mel: Yes. We spend the first episode harking back to our glory days as teenagers in the 1980s, and that was a ruddy joy. It just felt normal! Perks was donning a sort of ruffled, New Romantic Adam Ant style fare...

Sue: Totally normal for me.

Mel: And I have these fishnets and tights and netting and belts... it just felt brilliant. I think that episode is going to look really lovely. And it's quite sweet as it's basically a bunch of people in their early fifties dancing along...

Sue: Trying to tragically relive their glory days. Which is basically what our double act is based on. There's a couple of other more sinister outfits that we're sporting...

Mel: Yes! There's a whole episode where we're set in a hotel and we have a very fetching pair of outfits, including a mulberry coloured waistcoat, some straight black trousers and a bow tie.

Sue: We're in neon crocs at one point as well.

Mel: But Katherine gets the best clothes. She's a very successful life coach and she brings some quite high fashion stakes to the tables.

Hitmen. Image shows from L to R: Fran (Sue Perkins), Jamie (Mel Giedroyc), Kat (Katherine Parkinson). Copyright: Tiger Aspect Productions.

One of the running gags from Series 1 was that Fran was crushing on rival assassin Liz, who was played by Tonya Cornelisse and accompanied by her partner Charles, played by Asim Chaudhry. Is Fran still thirsting?

Sue: No. Fran has gone back to her default setting of single and focussed on the job. She's quite obsessive, and this series she's got her sights set on getting to Japan. She wants to be big in Japan. Romance has taken a back seat.

Mel: Liz and Charles have sort of been put to bed. There was talk of them coming back for an appearance in one of the episodes, but unfortunately the logistics and conflicting schedules just made it impossible.

Sue: We'd love to have them back given the opportunity.

Can you give us a preview of any other guest stars?

Mel: We were delighted to have Sanjeev Bhaskar joining us for episode one. He plays a charismatic photocopy salesman who attends the reunion and there's a "Is he a baddie? Is he a goodie?" thing going on. The guy is just superb.

Sue: The range! Obviously, he's come hot off Unforgotten, which is one of the hottest police procedurals around now, and then he effortlessly goes into super funny comedy.

Mel: And such a nice guy. He was with us for a week and we were just howling with laughter the whole time. I've
got to say we get some brilliant guest artists booked for this show.

Did you have a favourite of all the guests that you generally end up murdering?

Mel: Oh that's so difficult because they were all so amazing. Nick Mohammed, Jason Watkins, Sian Clifford...

Sue: And Andy Brooke who played Nikhil was fab. They're all such different characters and bring such a different energy. We've got Mat Baynton coming on, he has his Horrible Histories fan club here. What's nice about this series is we can be much more ambivalent with the characters - it's up in the air as to why they end up on Fran and Jamie's list, whereas it was a bit more flagged in Series 1.

Hitmen. Copyright: Tiger Aspect Productions.

Mel: It's lovely when they come on and say that they really wanted to do this just because they'd read the script and laughed out loud. Full props to our writers - "The Joes", as they're known. And this series we had Oriane and Faye, who are an amazing writing double act, and Jessica Knappett. They are so good and so on it, we feel extremely lucky.

Being contract killers is just the latest project in a partnership that's been going since 1993. That's getting close to 30 years on screen. Do you ever think about how big an achievement that is? To put it in perspective, if you can hack it out for another four years your on-screen career will have spanned longer than Cannon & Ball's...

Mel: [Gasps]

Sue: Don't put that out there! That is such a carrot. They were the gold standard.

Mel: That is really something to aspire to.

How do you feel about having such career longevity? Is there a secret to working together and also staying friends? Not everyone can manage it.

Mel: Just keep hanging on,

Sue: Stay on the bus. Stay on there until somebody forces you off it.

Mel: Refuse to go. You are the person on the tube who is sleeping at the terminus.

Sue: Or on the Circle Line, just going round and round and round. Sometimes you get to the right stop, and people really enjoy it. Sometimes you miss all the stops. It's been chequered, really. Some things have worked brilliantly beyond our wildest dreams. Some things have failed worse than we can ever imagine. But the thing that keeps it going in continuum, is that...

Mel: We're friends.

Sue: We love each other. We have a laugh. Sometimes people buy into that and sometimes they don't. I'd be very happy to be doing it well into my eighties because it would mean we'll just get to keep dicking about.

Mel: It's so much fun, honestly. The hours are long and so on, but you're essentially being paid to just tit about with your best mate. It's ridiculous. You wear fun costumes and get given funny things to say. It's the friendship that keeps it going. If we stop having a laugh it's time to very graciously put the bag of props and costumes away, but while it's still good fun and we're laughing we'll keep going for as long as we're upright.

Sue: An Armorer will give you a Glock and tell you the last person to handle it was Jason Statham. That's when you know you're living the dream.

Mel: Mine was Vin Diesel's, mate.

Sue: Was it?

Mel: No.

Published: Monday 27th September 2021