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Interview: Actor and comedian Simon Farnaby talks creating Mindhorn

May 5, 2017

Film + EntertainmentInterview | by Cormac O'Brien


When actor Richard Thorncroft receives a phone call from the Isle of Mann police, it’s one gig that the down-on-his-luck thespian can’t turn down. We caught up with Mindhorn’s Clive, co-writer Simon Farnaby, to ask what happens when the Six Million Dollar Man meets Bergerac on the Isle of Mann.

How did Mindhorn come about?

Well, Julian and I were friends and we discovered a shared love for these 1980s shows like Bergerac. I was a big fan of Bergerac when I was a kid, I just loved it when I was only about 8 or 9 years old and Julian loved The Six Million Dollar Man. And there were other shows like Magnum PI and Knightrider or The Sweeney and Inspector Morse.

You always remember the actors that played these roles. They’re defined by them and we thought that it would be funny to do something about an actor and his relationship with this type of character. But we didn’t really know how to do it until I had this vision about a phone call to the police where a suspect asked to speak to a fictional detective. It’s a bit like the police on Jersey being receiving a call and someone saying “I’ll hand myself over but I’ll only speak to detective Jim Bergerac!” And they say “Don’t you mean John Nettles?” and they go “No, I want to speak to Bergerac!”

And Mindhorn has this great backstory? 

We thought what if he had something slightly sci-fi about him like The Six Million Dollar Man? What if he had a bionic eye that could see the truth? These shows always had great title sequences, in The Six Million Dollar Man the title sequence was about five minutes long and explains his whole background and how he became a bionic man. So we had a lot of fun with that sort of thing, how Mindhorn was a secret operative behind The Iron Curtain but they captured him and did a secret experiment on him but before they had a chance to kill him he escaped and went home to the Isle of Mann.

But you don’t really rely on the parodying Mindhorn for the narrative.

We realised quite quickly that Mindhorn is a story about the actor Richard Thorncroft rather than the fictional detective. You see little flashes of Mindhorn though. But what Richard is doing is really a despicable thing. He takes a murder case and he tries to relaunch his career out of it in a very selfish, vain way. But he sort of learns the truth about himself. The great irony is that there’s a huge gulf between the fictional character and the actor. While the fictional character can see the truth, the actor can see anything but that. He’s all blindspot.

It’s a very British take on character comedy rather than American?

We love those sort of comedies like Zoolander and Anchorman but really we’re slightly more grounded than those. So we were influenced by that and we found that sort of stuff very funny but we knew we were going to be more like the Mickey Rourke film The Wrestler which was quite big for us. It’s about a guy who used to be this amazing, famous wrestler and now works on a supermarket meat counter. Although that’s sort of a tragic film, it’s also really funny. There’s a scene in The Wrestler where he’s in a village hall with a lot of other wrestlers and they’re all selling dvds. We had that kind of image for a while with ex fictional detectives at conventions selling memorabilia from different tv shows at little stalls.

Can you tell us about your role as Richard’s nemesis, Clive?

When Richard left the Isle of Mann to go to Hollywood and he thought he’d never go back. He left a girlfriend behind, Patricia (played by Essie Davis) and when he goes back to the island, the woman who was the love of his life has shacked up with his stuntman, Clive. He’s been replaced by his stand-in. Clive is really the opposite to Richard and even in the way he parades about with his top off. He’s very Dutch and the Dutch accent is very louche, very relaxed, very laid back, like nothing bothers him. While Richard’s very anxious and worries a lot about his status.

But Clive’s very relaxed demeanour belies a more ruthless side.

You also have an amazing cast of theatre and tv greats.

Actors quite like to send themselves up, it’s quite nice to be able to play themselves and Sean Foley actually knew Kenneth Brannagh. We wrote in Kenneth Brannagh, the scene where Richard Thorncroft goes to an audtion with him, was almost the first thing we wrote in the script. But we never thought we’d get him we thought we’d have to replace him with someone less theatrically famous, but thankfully we did! A lot of it is about success or failure really, you have that threat, we’re all only two steps away from being Richard Thorncroft!

What’s next for Mindhorn?

If people go to the cinema and there’s a demand for it we will do more. But we don’t want to do any more than a few rough ideas so if people don’t go to the cinema to see we’d just have to shred our notebooks anyway. But we’d love to do more!

Simon Farnaby and Julian Barratt’s ink black but oh so funny fictional detective Mindhorn comes to cinemas on May 5.

To read our full review click here.