Mark Benton interview

Ratburger. Image shows from L to R: Gary (Mark Benton), Zoe (Talia Barnett). Copyright: King Bert Productions

Mark Benton talks about how it was great to work with David Walliams and Sheridan Smith on this project.

What appealed to you about Ratburger?

I didn't even have to read the script. I knew the book already because my daughter loves it. It's my favourite David Walliams book. It's darker than some, and has a macabre element that I really like. It's David all over. So I was delighted to be offered the part. I said, "Yes, please" straight away. I thought, "I can't miss out on this!" And my daughter is thrilled, too!

How would you describe your character?

Gary is married to this horrible woman, Sheila, who throws crisps all over him to humiliate him. She's a real bully. He's downtrodden and just trying to make ends meet. He will take on any job to help his daughter Zoe.

Why did he marry Sheila?

She was the first person who came along after Zoe's mother died. Gary was desperate. He said OK, and then realised that he'd made a terrible mistake. The whole way through, you're saying to him, "Please, stand up for yourself!"

How have you found it working with Sheridan?

I've worked with her before in the drama Panto!, and she's lovely. We get on like a house on fire. She's a great actress because she's not vain. No matter what the character is, she's happy to play her. When she is asked to play this very obnoxious, leopard-skin clad woman, she doesn't blink. She simply inhabits the character.

Ratburger. Image shows from L to R: Burt (David Walliams), Sheila (Sheridan Smith), Zoe (Talia Barnett), Gary (Mark Benton). Copyright: King Bert Productions

Have you enjoyed your scenes together?

Absolutely. She's a terrific lass and is great fun on set. The first scene we did together was on the sofa. At the end of it, she had to break wind. We were laughing so much that we had to do quite a few takes. But eventually we got it in the bag!

Has it been fun working with David, too?

Absolutely. I was thrilled when he told me he was very happy to have me on board. He's lovely and very, very funny. It's really nice to be on set with him. He is very mischievous. He doesn't have to try very hard to make me corpse. I'm useless - I just start laughing. David is very naughty. He's so talented, but great to be around. He sets a really relaxed tone. That's the nice thing about Ratburger - there are no egos on set.

Did you also have fun filming your scenes with Talia Barnett, who plays your screen daughter Zoe?

Yes, she's fantastic. She has loads of ideas. She's very normal - there is not a hint of stage school about her. Bless her, she was in all day, every day, and at the end of each day, she was still as bright as she was at the start. We had a meeting before the shoot to read through the scripts. We got on from day one. It was very important to have a good relationship because that's what our characters have in Ratburger.

Ratburger. Image shows from L to R: Zoe (Talia Barnett), Gary (Mark Benton). Copyright: King Bert Productions

What makes David such a wonderful children's writer?

He's in the vein of Roald Dahl. Like Dahl, his writing can get dark, but kids love that in stories. It's like horror films - we have to watch them, even though we're frightened by them. We like a bit of scary stuff.

Children really connect with David's writing. He never condescends to them. He writes stories that just happen to be books that children like. They're not specifically written for children - I enjoy them just as much as my daughter. He never talks down to children. He goes to places that some other children's authors wouldn't go. When you're reading it, you think, "What? You can't do that!" Like David himself, his stories are outrageous, but they work because they are so engaging.

Do you admire David's work ethic?

Absolutely. When on earth does he have time to write novels? He can't sleep much. He's so prolific. I don't know how he does it - it's amazing.

Do you have any anecdotes from the shoot?

It's a great cast. It also stars Sophie Thompson, Sarah Hadland and Nigel Planer. I was constantly trying to get cooking tips off Sophie. She won Celebrity MasterChef, and I love that show. So I tried to get the juice off her and kept asking her, "What is Gregg Wallace like?"

Published: Friday 22nd December 2017

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