How easy a decision was it to make Series 3?
Rob: Very easy. No arms needed to be twisted. I like the fact that there's a decent length of time in between each series so that we look older and perhaps a little more battered. I think that on its own is interesting.
Steve: Rob and I already have a modus operandi. We've done it twice before, we all enjoyed doing it and we knew how to do it so it was a very easy decision.
How impressed are you with the way Michael Winterbottom makes the series look?
Rob: I am very impressed. We come in and do our thing but it's very much his baby. He's the one who decides where we're going, which restaurants we go to and the broad themes that we're going to talk about. But then we invent the majority of the dialogue, with the exception of the plot, which is needed to move the story on. But the bulk of the dialogue we improvise.
Steve: It's always more than the sum of its parts. Michael manages to make some sense out of our mad ramblings. It's always hugely impressive because he makes it seem to have more scope and gives it a depth that goes beyond just the funny voices, barbs and exchanges. It has a more universal, expansive feel to it that makes it look wonderful, with a sense of the geography and where we are that plays a huge part in the series and stops it just being talking heads.
Do you prepare a few impressions before filming the series?
Rob: Every time we've done The Trip I've thought ahead a bit, done some research and learned a few new voices. I thought it would be quite funny to do Andy Murray talking about the meal he's just eaten in the same way he talks about the match he's just played. "It wasn't easy but I had the starter and I did really well with it because I finished it..." The same way these solo sports people speak as if they are their own biggest fan. I think they have to be for the psychology.
Steve: In between takes we might discuss doing a new impersonation or throw in a new one, but I don't stand in front of the mirror practising impressions. Rob does a good Barry Gibb which made me laugh a lot between takes so I said to him that he should do that on camera. We were doing Tom Courtenay impressions for some reason which made us laugh. So we'll do those and coach each other in between takes to try to perfect them. In terms of preparation, we might learn quotes from books that we're supposed to be referencing, like Laurie Lee, that we can throw into conversation the next day. So occasionally we'll do a bit of prep.
Rob: I did stumble upon Barry Gibb and that made Steve laugh a lot, so I did a lot of him. I've been listening recently to Donald Trump's voice and thinking to myself how it's an impressionist's dream because there are so many quirks in it. It's full of identifiable traits that are easy to copy. But I loathe the man so I can't bring myself to do him. Most of my impressions are of people I admire or have affection for. Barry Gibb is somebody I have massive reservoirs of affection for and have had for a hell of a long time, and I think he has a fascinating voice.
Rob, do you get a lot of satisfaction from making Steve laugh?
It's nice when it happens. Generally speaking people always ask me what the food was like but to be honest that is the last thing on my mind during a scene. I'm thinking about what I'm going to say and asking myself if I am going to be funny. If I am going to come up with anything. Because very often we start a scene and have no idea how we are going to fill it. But usually stuff comes along. It's always nice if you make someone laugh, especially someone like Steve who I have so much respect for.
Steve, how easy is it to make Rob laugh?
Rob probably makes me laugh more than I make him laugh but I don't start out by thinking, 'I want to make Rob laugh'. I do sometimes but he's probably more naturally funny than I am. I think it's more like we try to get under each other's skin a bit. To cause friction - and the friction can lead to comedy. But we didn't want it all to be like that. We wanted to be able to agree with each other and have moments of cordiality and balance.
So it wasn't just bickering as it were. We play it more like a married couple. We have moments where we agree about things and moments where we're a bit tetchy, so we just try to give it some colour with light and shade, and sometimes I make Rob laugh. But I'm the more cantankerous one and he's more flippant - although we exaggerate these things quite a lot.
Do you enjoy being given a licence to improvise in this way, compared to having to stick to a precise script?
Steve: It's very enjoyable. You have way more scope than you'd have in a normal scripted film where you really have to stick to what you're doing. Rob and I really trust each other and if he goes off on a tangent, I will follow him, or he will follow me, so it's a lot of fun. But I wouldn't like to work like that all the time. It suits that project, whereas when I'm doing a film where there's a script, or something I've written, then I like to stick very closely to that. It's just a different way of doing things. It's a nice change.
Is it easy to switch from your character back to your normal self?
Steve: When the cameras aren't rolling we just have proper conversations that are actually quite dull. Sometimes we eat with each other in the evening and we end up having much more civilised conversations. When the cameras are rolling it's almost like we're sparring. You put your gloves on and your gum shield in and we have a little round of sparring. It's quite frenetic, the pace of the whole thing, but it's also very enjoyable and we got to see a lot of Spain, so what's not to like?
Is the series as enjoyable to make as it looks?
Steve: Yes it is. I mean, you have to apply yourself. One part of you is shooting the breeze and thinking of things to say, but the other is planning things all the time. You have to be on your toes and realise what will be a fruitful area, because you're improvising within the structure. So Rob and I will sometimes talk between takes about what we should speak about and also plan ways to react. Rob will sometimes suggest lines for me to say and I will sometimes suggest lines for him to say and ways to create funny barbed exchanges.
So it's a very organic process. It isn't just me and Rob eating food and talking. All three of us - Michael, Rob and me - put our heads together and talk about what's most fruitful. Michael always makes sure we stick to a kind of approximate narrative but we have a lot of free rein. We're much more cooperative behind the scenes than it seems on camera.
Rob: It's probably harder work than it looks. I imagine that it looks like a jolly and on many levels, of course, it is, but equally there is pressure. You're not just learning lines. Normally, in most acting jobs, even if you're the lead in something, there are scenes in which you are not the main thing. But in this it's basically us all the time. So there's no sitting in your trailer for a whole day waiting, which in some ways is lovely, but in other ways, now and again, it'd be nice to have a break from it.
You're constantly in a state of trying to invent some fiction. Or a half truth, or find a truth and bend it a little bit to make it interesting. It was quite full-on. Physically we covered more distance than we did on either of the other two Trips. The Lake District was a very small area and Series 2 branched out to Italy, but with this one we literally went from Santander all the way down to Málaga.
Were there any locations on this Spanish trip that stood out?
Rob: We visited a city called Cuenca, which is built up on a ridge. It was quite stunning. The thing about Spain that struck me was the topography. I'm looking forward to seeing how it comes across on the screen.
Steve: Andalusia was pretty spectacular. We went to lots of medieval towns that had their history in Moorish Spain. We visited lots of historic places and areas that I wasn't overly familiar with. It was a revelation to be in such spectacular scenery. You had to remind yourself that you were in Europe. It seemed far more exotic, like parts of Africa.
What does the series say about aging and being middle-aged?
Rob: I think that's what it's all about - "the dying of the light", as Dylan Thomas said, because it is two men who are now in their early 50s. In Series 1, we were in our mid-40s and I would say that is perhaps when the decline begins. Somebody of 70 may scoff at this but I think Steve and I both feel that. We both feel the passing of the years and that is something we talk about. And even when we're not talking about it I think it's in the background.
I think you'll see it in subconscious ways. I wonder whether when we sit down there's more of a sigh, or more of an appreciation of the chair. But there are lots of little things. That's one of the main things that I've always loved about it - it's that we've been doing this series at the ages that we are and the fact that time has passed in between doing them. Because if you look at the first series, we now look older and there's not much you can do about that.
Steve: There are a lot of universal issues [in the show]. If it were just about Rob and me it wouldn't be as strong. It has to mean something to other people, so yes it's about middle age and getting older, life and family life, love and unrequited love. For me, my character is a bit more settled and trying to rekindle an old relationship and bring it back to life. I'm more lost in this series. Rob is more settled, so we make sure there's a little emotional journey and an arc throughout the series.