It's ten years since The Inbetweeners first appeared on TV. How has it changed your life?
Simon: In lots of ways. I always wanted to perform comedy and be an actor. Before The Inbetweeners I assumed that was a pipe dream. As we were making The Inbetweeners I thought it was a pipe dream as well to be honest! We all thought it was such a tiny show and no one would watch it.
What had you done before The Inbetweeners?
James: I was in a TV show called 'Orrible with Johnny Vaughan; I did the last series of Teachers; I did two or three different characters on The Bill. Just stuff like that. The Inbetweeners was the first thing that really took off.
Simon: I'd done a lot of live comedy. I met Joe [Joe Thomas] at university and with him and some of my other friends we did lots of sketch shows and stand up. We did that at the Edinburgh Festival and in London. We had sort of odd jobs, me and Joe, writing sketches and jokes, including for Iain Morris and Damon Beesley (who wrote The Inbetweeners). That's how we got to know them and eventually how we got the part. So just pure nepotism! Old-school nepotism.
What do you remember of the audition process?
James: I remember it was quite long. It felt like pretty much everyone I knew who was my age and was also an actor read for it. I know that they were doing auditions in Edinburgh as well, up at the Fringe. It was just a really long process; I didn't know what was going on or what they were really looking for.
Simon: Well I remember not being allowed to audition for about a year because Iain and Damon said I was a) too old and b) too camp. They said there wasn't a part in the show for me or Joe. This was around the time when Skins had just come out and that was obviously a huge success. They'd cast fifteen and sixteen year-olds to play fifteen and sixteen year-olds which makes sense. So Iain and Damon were trying to do that. And Blake and James are slightly younger than me and Joe, so they sort of achieved that with them. But with Will and Simon, those are the characters that are based on them - Will is Iain and Simon is Damon. I think they were just very protective and didn't really like the idea of giving those parts up to anyone. But Joe and I hung on in there and eventually Iain and Damon ran out of time, as we knew they would. They realised about three days before filming that they had to cast someone. I think it was out of desperation really that me and Joe got cast.
We can't imagine anyone else playing them now.
Simon: Yeah it's weird isn't it?
How was it meeting your fellow cast mates for the first time? What were your first impressions of them?
James: It was really weird meeting the other boys for the first time. That was pretty much the last audition, where they had the four of us together, and we read, and it was just quite weird. The way we are now was exactly how we were the first time we met. We were just all very comfortable taking the piss out of each other straight away.
Was the show actually fun to film, or was it just a job with antisocial hours and lots of lines to learn?
James: It was the best fun. It was the best job you could ever have. It was just hanging out with your mates, mucking about, having fun, making each other laugh, and maybe we might film some stuff that could be put on television. It doesn't really get any better than that. To be paid to do that! I still, to this day, can't believe how lucky I was.
What sort of teenager were you?
Simon: I mean I was essentially Will, obviously, sad to say. I didn't have a briefcase but I had a pretty structured backpack.
James: I was still a teenager when we filmed this - I think I was 18 when we shot the pilot and 19 when we did the first full series. I think I was a pretty ordinary teenager, boring, just played video games with my mates and went to the pub, stuff like that. Just very normal.
Did you like Jay?
James: I liked playing Jay. I don't think I could be around someone like that for too long, for any extended period of time. I think I'd get wound up. It's good fun to play a character like that, to do stuff, to behave in a way that you'd probably feel too embarrassed or ashamed to in real life. It's like a purge. It was really great to be able to get away with the things I said and did. And Jay's a really funny character; he makes a lot of people laugh, so I loved playing him.
Did you have any input into how the character developed?
James: No. And this is another reason why the job was so good! I didn't have to think about anything. Iain and Damon had it all there. It just needed someone to read it, and I happened to be the lucky person to do that. It meant I could spend most of my energy just winding up Joe Thomas. It was all Iain and Damon.
When did you first realise the show was going to be a hit?
James: I can't really remember. It was a really slow process. It took a while to catch on, and there wasn't a time where I suddenly realised that the show was popular and people liked it. It just slowly happened, and more and more people were watching it on TV and stuff. I can't remember a time where we all sat down together and popped a bottle of champagne and patted each other on the back to say "It's a hit." That never really happened, it was just a real slow-burner before people started to get into it.
Simon: [I realised] really late, to be honest. Genuinely after Series 3 came out. The viewing figures for Series 1 were tiny and it got terribly reviewed so we assumed it was dead in the water. Then for some reason they commissioned a second series and we thought that was just foolhardy commissioners. The viewing figures for the second series were slightly better but not in any way noteworthy. It was really only after the third series when the viewing figures really took off and people were saying, "OK this is getting weird now."
Do you think the first film took it to a whole new level?
Simon: Yeah I think so. I admired the pure cojones of Iain and Damon to think we deserved to make a film. Lots of TV shows have done that since but at that time it wasn't a standard thing to do. Back then the idea of turning this pretty lo-fi low-budget sitcom about four underachieving losers into a film felt totally audacious. It felt like we were just taking the piss, to be honest.
James: It's in hindsight, really, that I appreciate what we did. No-one made TV shows into movies at that point, because that had a famous history of going badly - no-one had done it for 30 years or whatever. That was very much a possibility with doing the movie for The Inbetweeners. We didn't know if it was going to work or if people were going to like it. I think we all felt like if we just kept doing what people liked us doing, then maybe other people would get it, but there was still this stigma around TV shows adapted for movies, and we had to overcome that. And we did. I haven't really ever thought about it until now, but it was pretty good to have a couple of hit movies off the back of the show.
What do you get shouted at most by fans of the show?
Simon: Oh, all the ones you'd expect. 'Briefcase Wanker' is obviously a classic. 'Bumder' is a bit of a go-to. All the old favourites.
Fwends Reunited sees you reunited with the others - do you manage to get together a lot?
Simon: We do. Not as much as we'd all like to but we met up a couple of months ago and went out for dinner. I see Joe quite a lot. But Blake and James don't live in London anymore so it's a bit trickier to see them.
James: We mostly communicate through text or email. We've got a weird relationship, it's genuinely like family. You can have your brother move away and you don't see them for a year, but you have that bond and you pick up straight where you left off. We are like family, and any excuse to get together we'll take. That's why we're doing this show - it's just an excuse to meet up. It's difficult with kids and work and stuff like that, and we don't live near each other, so it's not like we can just pop round and see each other. So this is a nice excuse to spend a few days together.
Do you have any favourite scenes from the show?
James: I haven't really watched it. I would rather watch Blackadder thousands of times. I'm sure there are people who probably watch The Inbetweeners that much. It's probably, like, if I ask Rowan Atkinson what his favourite Blackadder episode was, and he's like "I can't really remember, because it was a while ago and I never really watched them back... ... and I spend all my time watching The Inbetweeners." [Laughs] That would be the greatest!