Campus - Jonathan Bailey interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
JONATHAN Bailey talks exclusively to us about playing Flatpack in Channel 4 comedy Campus, the latest creation from Green Wing creator Victoria Pile.
He also talks about getting into shape for the role, preparing for (and suffering anxiety about) love scenes and playing Leonardo Da Vinci in CBBC action-adventure Leonardo.
Q. What was the initial appeal of Flatpack?
Jonathan Bailey: He’s impulsive, isn’t he? He has no sense of logic or rational thought! He goes for what he wants and life is easy when you treat it like a happy meal. He’s eternally optimistic about everything. So, I liked taking that enthusiasm and playing with it, as well as getting some great storylines to develop. I mean, the relationship between him and [Professor] Matt Beer [Joseph Milson) somehow represents going through life and how, as you get older, it can make you a bit jaded and cynical, which Matt as a character most certainly is. I think it’s a wonderful juxtaposition opposite Flatpack’s youthful optimism. I also liked the physical aspect of being able to cart-wheel and get my legs out [laughs]!
Q. Did you have to get into shape for that element of it?
Jonathan Bailey: Do you know what? I did go for gold and said to myself: “I’ll get a six-pack.” This was the first time I’ve really considered putting on a few guns for a project. I don’t know if I was doing it wrong, but I found muscles popped up in places I never had much on… though not necessarily where I expected! My biceps are still a bit limp but I’ve got a couple of massive lumps on the top of arms. I think I would need to seek guidance if I needed to get fit again [laughs]. But I also set myself the challenge of doing the Great North Run in September, before we started filming, when I found out I’d got the part. I then did the run on the Sunday and we started filming on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, so that was very tricky!
Q. Have you kept it up?
Jonathan Bailey: I have kept it up! I’m going to do another half marathon in a couple of months. It’s funny, I got to a stage where I’d be having a tin of tuna for breakfast and doing 1,600 press-ups. I didn’t follow any one particular recommendation, but managed to find my own groove, which is a run every day where possible, as well as a bit of aerobics, some tennis or swimming. But l intend to keep it going…
Q. So, you’ll probably be in shape for any future action roles…
Jonathan Bailey: It’s definitely easier to be halfway there…
Q. The way life works out, though, you’ll probably be asked to play someone who’s totally unfit soon!
Jonathan Bailey: [Laughs] I’d love to do that… to play the fattest man in Britain! Actually, I think the technique is to have two packets of crisps before you go to bed each night and after a month you will put on a stone. Don’t ask me how I know that! Maybe I read that’s what Renee Zellweger did before playing Bridget Jones.
Q. How was working with someone like Victoria Pile on Campus?
Jonathan Bailey: It was absolutely brilliant working with her. It’s one of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve had. And I felt like I was in the safest pair of hands in terms of the comedy and dealing with the material. I loved Green Wing, so I was aware of the surrealism and heightened aspect that comes with her stuff. But even so, when you read some of those lines, they’re definitely pushing boundaries but they come with the charm and intelligence of Victoria and her wicked team of writers, so you know they’ll sit well within the context of the show. But the parts are basically tailor-made.
I remember meeting Victoria for the first time on Brick Lane… in fact, I had been on a lads’ holiday to Malaga and I got a call from my agent saying that Campus was on offer, so I had an excruciating afternoon of negotiating with my friends to let me go back, which they thankfully did, and within 24 hours of being constantly pissed in Malaga I found myself sat in front of Victoria and her husband, Rob, at one of the most bizarre auditions I can remember.
Q. How so?
Jonathan Bailey: I remember being sat in front of them and looking down to see that I had one leg wrapped around my other leg, and one arm underneath my groin, and had kind of managed to tangle myself up in some weird knot of anxiety. Victoria said: “I wonder what Freud would say about that?” And then there was some joke about having a small willy. It was bizarre! But then I did a bit of acting and I just knew it would be so much fun making Campus with her. If anything, that first meeting informed the rest of the shoot because she’s taken things that we talked about at those initial meetings and workshops, as well as anecdotes you might mention or things about your past, and put them in the script at different moments. And for that reason, it makes it so much easier to be able to go off-road mid-scene and improvise.
It makes it feel so collaborative and I’m very grateful to have been able to experience that process, especially with comedy. Comedy can sometimes be about a specific framework, or scene or episode… or it can be about the comic timing or the pulse and pauses, and it can become formulaic. But to be able to say: “I don’t know if I want to say that line…” Or: “I think you should give that one to someone else…” It felt more organic and you feel so free to be able to explore and experiment.
Q. How did you take to the improvising? Did it come naturally? Or were you nervous at first?
Jonathan Bailey: Of course there’s some anxiety. In fact, the week before I started, I went to see something at The National with my flat-mate and his mate and Stephen Mangan was in the audience. I’m such a big fan of his anyway, but I just felt I needed to go up to him and have him reassure me that everything would be OK. So, I asked him what I could expect and he told me not to worry. Even though it was a fleeting conversation, it put me at ease because he basically told me that it was such a good opportunity, so not to worry about it. And within about 10 minutes of going in and meeting Joe [Milson] we were arm wrestling and being silly.
Q. Is it hard to always keep a straight face? I’m thinking of something like your love scene with Lisa Jackson in episode four…
Jonathan Bailey: It can be… I remember that day very well and, in particular, the scene where she’s jumping on my back and we have the snog in the middle of the [athletics] field. It was filmed later on in the shoot and we’d been getting on really well. But you sort of formulate a friendship based on just being friends, so it felt a bit weird. It was a beautiful day and Victoria had this idea where she wanted to get the sun in between our faces as we kissed, so we had 20 minutes of just looking at each other and making small talk… stuff like: “I can tell you had tuna salad for lunch…” It sort of felt like kissing a family member, which was very odd… but obviously not in sexual way!
But yes, when it comes to that type of stuff you regress back to being a 10-year-old. I also remember the scene when we get back to her flat and the build up to it… I’d never done a sex scene before and it was also Lisa’s first saucy scene and you become aware of so many diff things. Do I wear my own pants? She was popping a Wonderbra, so maybe I should put some toilet paper down my pants! It’s the unknown and as soon as you get into it you become self aware. But Lisa was brilliant and totally up for it, so that made it easier in the end.
Q. And how was building your chemistry with Joseph [Matt Beer]?
Jonathan Bailey: It was sort of a natural thing… there was no sort of conscious effort made. We get on really well. He’s such a nice guy, really great to be around and really helpful. If I had queries initially, he’d be my go to man. Along the way, our relationship just sort of felt natural. It would be bish, bash bong, get the lines down and then play around a bit. It was a privilege and I learned quite a few nuggets from him to take forward.
Q. Such as?
Jonathan Bailey: His attitude towards doing the work. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this but when the sound people come up to you and ask for more volume, he would say ‘just ignore them’. And that may sound horrible, but when it comes down to being semi-improvised, it’s all about the idea of being in the moment and just listening. If you have any other things to think about, it’s best to try and pop them under the map while you’re actually shooting and hopefully you’ll be able to work it out afterwards, or other people will work around that. And that was very helpful to me. But he also has a brilliant attitude, is very efficient, always knows his lines and is really good fun.
Q. Dom Joly is among the show’s fans. He described it as, “one of the funniest things I’ve seen in three or four years. It made me laugh so much, so quickly’. How does that make you feel?
Jonathan Bailey: He did? That’s so nice. I love Dom Joly. I mean, I would always argue that there’s something in the show for everyone. But at the same time, some people can definitely get offended and put off by it. But I also think it’s an investment thing. It’s accumulative and it builds and builds on character. So, once you’ve got to grips with the world and can relate to it, even though it can be very surreal, it also becomes more satisfying. And touch wood, I’d like to imagine that people would like to watch it back over and over again.
Q. Will there be a second season?
Jonathan Bailey: Fingers crossed… I think there’s so much scope for it. But I think it’s a wait and see thing at this stage. There are so many factors involved and it’s down to the creatives and the people at Channel 4.
Q. You’ve also just been seen in Leonardo for CBBC… That’s like going from the ridiculous to the highly intelligent…
Jonathan Bailey: They are polar opposites. The first couple of weeks on the Leonardo shoot were tricky because I was still trying to shake off Flatpack! Leonardo was so different in every way – and also target audience wise! Hopefully, there are no children watching Leonardo who see that I’m on another channel and so persuade their parents to let them tune in [laughs]! But it’s another amazing part to be able to play. In fact, I got the part for Leonardo during a two week break of filming for Campus. And it’s also the first time I’ve had the privilege of working and know that I’ve got stuff to go to after it. I think those few months were very fulfilling.
Q. Didn’t you go to Florence as part of your research for Leonardo?
Jonathan Bailey: I did. I went the week before. I have a lady friend who was staying in Naples, and so I thought it was a prime opportunity to go and see her and then also visit Florence. I spent two days there and it was one of those things where you want to equip yourself with as much knowledge and understanding and feel for the place as possible. Florence is one of favourite cities anyway but obviously now there’s more weight to it for me emotionally. Ironically, we shot Leonardo in South Africa, in a disused factory, so having had the experience of being in Florence definitely helped… seeing the realisation of Leonardo’s designs in the Da Vinci Museum, which is actually quite hard to find in Florence. But I’d recommend it to anyone. It puts it all into perspective when you can see it. I was really lucky to have been able to make the trip.
Q. What’s next for you?
Jonathan Bailey: I’ve been doing something for Disney for the past year, which could be really good. It’s an animated series and it’s been brilliant getting to explore voice recording because you can go so over the top. There’s also a bit of singing and dancing. So, I’ll be doing more of that. And there’s something in the pipeline… a comedy for BBC1. I’ll be spending a couple of days on that. I’ve also met some other people and if all goes to plan, I might be shooting that soon. But even at this stage, you don’t always know. There are a couple of hurdles to jump on some of those things.
Q. Will you also be returning to theatre whenever opportunity permits?
Jonathan Bailey: Yeah, I think so. At the moment I’m just waiting for the right part. But theatre is definitely my favourite medium. It’s where I learned as much as I have and I can’t wait to get back on stage. So, again, it’s wait and see. But I only came back from south Africa about a month ago and theatre casting is generally a little in advance of a production, so I’ll give it a few months of perusing what’s about… as if I can go around and decide what I want to do, not at all [laughs]! But it’s an exciting time and I’d certainly like to think I can do some more theatre soon.
Campus is on Channel 4 on Tuesday nights from 10pm.