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Cemetery Junction - Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan interview

Tom Hughes in Cemetery Junction

Interview by Rob Carnevale

TOM Hughes and Jack Doolan talk about appearing in Cemetery Junction and why working with co-directors Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais proved so enlightening.

Tom also reveals what it was like to have to perform a ‘70s Northern Soul dance routine, while Jack recalls getting tattooed and giving it his best Slade…

Q. Was the script what you expected from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant when you first read it?
Jack Doolan: I don’t know. I remember reading it for the first time and I was enjoying reading it so much that all pre-conceptions of what it could or should have been sort of went out of my head. I was furiously turning the pages trying to get to the end.

Q. The synopsis is about three guys being trapped in a small town [Reading] and wanting to escape. Is that something you can relate to personally?
Jack Doolan: Well, I grew up in London, so not as much. But they are pretty universal themes, aren’t they? I think everyone wants a bit more.

Q. But do you want to travel?
Jack Doolan: Oh yeah, I want to travel and see the world. Travel enriches the soul, as they say. So, of course, I’d love to go and see different places.

Q. Stephen and Ricky have a reputation for being very meticulous when it comes to directing. Did that surprise you?
Tom Hughes: I was very impressed, to be honest. The detail that was being built into the script, and then the way they work, and the nuances and energy between them is phenomenal. The notes that they give too… I remember when we were doing a dance sequence in the club there was one line and a dynamic between the four of us – including Felicity Jones – and Ricky came over and gave a note. We still didn’t get it, so he stood there and thought for a bit and it was the most enlightening note you could ever have.

Jack Doolan: You could almost see the cogs whirring round in his head. The same goes for Stephen as well. They were very clear and concise.

Q. How collaborative were they with you. Could you bring your own ideas or did you have to stick to the script?
Tom Hughes: Once it was cast, and once we got it, there was definitely an element of us bringing things to the table. They wanted us to play, and they wanted us to develop the characters ourselves. But it’s interesting because invariably when you try and throw lines in you invariably end up going back to the ones that were written because they are just brilliant.

Jack Doolan: A lot of the time… when you do have a bit of improvisation it dawned on me a couple of times that what, actually, is the likelihood of me coming up with something funnier than those two. They’re behind arguably two of the greatest TV comedy shows there’s ever been. But they’re definitely not precious with their script.

Cemetery Junction

Tom Hughes: I had this incredible moment where I have this exchange with Jack where he’s trying to tell me an anecdote and I’m trying to explain what a good anecdote really is. I think the line is: “If you see a T-Rex raping a Dodo give me a call…” When I first did it, I thought the idea of a Dodo raping a T-Rex was funnier in my mind… the imagery was funnier. So, I said it that way and Ricky burst out laughing and said: “You just swapped them round? That’s funny, it’s funny.” He walked away but then froze and came back to say: “You can’t do that…”

When I asked why, he listed about eight reasons – like people would be more concerned with the imagery rather than the joke, the punch-line doesn’t work, the rhythm of the language doesn’t work, Dodo is a funnier word that Tyrannosaurus Rex… I was just like “wow” – it’s not just a funny joke, it’s a million different layers and that’s in everything. It’s instinct and their instincts are incredible. Put together with their technique, it’s just mind-blowing. I learned so much about comedy from those two.

Q. How daunting was the audition process?
Tom Hughes: Well, the one thing that they were incredible at was that they instantly made you feel comfortable. I remember the first time I walked into their office, Ricky leapt up and introduced himself by shaking my hand and it made me feel good about myself. I felt like I could show them the best I could do. They weren’t afraid to laugh either.

Jack Doolan: We had Ricky on the floor at one stage….

Tom Hughes: [Laughs] He drew on a Hitler ‘tache while Christian was trying to do his audition… we just burst out laughing. But they want to see you can play and they want to see that you have personality outside of the character, I think. But it was a lot of fun. They were loads of fun. There was a lot more improvisation there than on set because it was about showing what you can bring. Once you get on set, you’re down to making the film. But it made the atmosphere somehow empowering. You felt you could do anything and I know I felt like a much better actor.

Q. How does it feel to be in a movie when you’re basically going out on the piss, on the pull and fighting. How easy was that lifestyle to relate to?
Tom Hughes: Well, I’ve never had a fight in my life. So, that was a baptism of fire… beating up four bouncers.

Jack Doolan: But we know how to enjoy ourselves. Hopefully, I’m the least like my character [Snork].

Q. Did you find yourselves taking your characters home with you?
Jack Doolan: The longer the shoot went on, I’d find myself in the pub on a Friday night with all my friends I’ve grown up with and I’d slip more and more into Snork. All of a sudden, I’d be this weird little kid and my friends would go: “What is wrong with you?” So, in that sense it was a bit weird.

Tom Hughes: I found Bruce really hard to shake off. When we were filming it, I’d used to home and be like: “I can’t handle it, I’m not as cool as Bruce. I want to be that guy.” So, when we finished I kind of clung onto it for as long as I could. I went out every night for two months and tried to give it the big one.

Q. Tom, how about your character’s dance scenes?
Tom Hughes: I tried! But God, the dance scenes for me were hard work. I did four weeks of rehearsal. But I was filming another film right before I came to Cemetery Junction. I was in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, the Ian Dury flick, so I didn’t have much time [to prepare], and I got this dance, which turned into a two and a half minute scene. I was like: “How am I going to fill two and a half minutes… I can’t even do the granny side-step, let alone pull out a full on Northern Soul routine!” But I had a great teacher and we did four weeks of training. I remember when we first showed it to Ricky and Stephen, Ricky was full of optimism. But Stephen said: “Yeah, when you spin, you’re not going to fall over are you?” But once we got into the club, it somehow just fell into place.

Jack Doolan in Cemetery Junction.

Q. Was your Slade scene as fun as it looked to perform, Jack?
Jack Doolan: It was and it wasn’t. I had a few singing lessons before I did it and went into a proper recording studio to record it so that I didn’t have to sing it live. That made it a bit easier. But there was a dance to go with it… I know it doesn’t look like it, but that whole dance was choreographed. I spent five weeks learning that as well. So, it was quite daunting because there were 300 extras, about 100 crew, Ricky, Stephen, Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson all staring intently at this stage waiting for me to give it my best Slade. I’ve literally never been as nervous.

Q. How about the tattoo…
Jack Doolan: On the camera test day, which was like two days before we started shooting, they brought us all in and I’m quite a hairy guy, so I had to be shaved.

Q. Did you go Steve Carell and have it waxed?
Jack Doolan: No, they shaved me and Ricky and Stephen filmed it! It was a really emasculating experience. Then the make-up artist brought out this design, which was supposed to be the tattoo, and it was this really artistic, cartoony sort of beautiful thing. Ricky just went: “No, you can’t do that. It’s got to look like Snork’s drawn it in crayon.” So, he got a napkin and a biro and he drew the design and that’s what the tattoo ended up being. Even worse, at the start, she didn’t even have hair – he drew her as bald, which was just horrific. So, there’s probably a camera test photo somewhere of me with a bald vampire on my chest. It was a nightmare to get off in the evening as well…

Tom Hughes: And the itching… he was constantly complaining about the itching!

Jack Doolan: It was really weird getting in bed as well because I’ve had a hairy chest since I was 12 and all of a sudden I’m getting in and sliding around in my bed [laughs].

Q. Jack, you were the first to be cast…
Jack Doolan: Yeah, they cast me on the same day that Christian, Tom and I read together for the first time. I’d already been into read before at a workshop with five Freddies and five Bruces. There were a couple of big names there as well, which I won’t say, and then they brought me back a month later to meet Christian and Tom. We read together and it really felt right. We really, really bounced off each other. We then left, and all went down the pub to get drunk, and then I got the phone call saying I’d got it. That was amazing, so we all went out and celebrated, which was really nice of those two because they hadn’t heard. But they joined in on the celebration.

A month later, they brought us back again – but we’d been hanging out during that time anyway. I think I enjoyed reading with them so much on that first one that not only did I want to hang around with them because we got on, but I really wanted those two to get the parts. But the day before the last meeting, we went round Tom’s and went over the scenes together and the next morning we met up before the meeting and walked into the office together. It was a bit like we’d come as a package. So, we had that final meeting and then went out for lunch together and I was playing referee in a way, because I’d already got the part and those two were a mess. They were sitting there having a lunch and Tom would be going every five minutes: “I’ve definitely got it… there’s no way they can’t not give it to us.” But then five minutes later he’d be like: “We haven’t got it, have we? They haven’t phoned.” And this went on for about two hours! And then they both got their calls from their agents simultaneously. Christian’s agent told him and he dropped down to his knees on the street and was screaming, but Tom’s agent told him he hadn’t got it! So, I’m hearing this out of both ears and trying to play referee again [laughs].

Tom Hughes: I have to defend her at this point, because she’s great. There was another film that I was maybe going to do but it clashed with this and I’d rather have done this – although she was trying to see if we could make both work as it was only a few days on the other. So, she was talking about details of the work and she could also hear Christian was excited in the background. She then asked me if he knew, I said he did, and she said: “Yeah, Tom they said you did really well but they’re going to look elsewhere.” My heart just sank. But about five seconds later, she said: “Oh f**k it, I’m only joking!” But she’s the best agent ever and I absolutely adore her, so she could get away with anything in my eyes [laughs].

Read our interview with Christian Cooke