Sirens - Rhys Thomas interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
RHYS Thomas talks exclusively to IndieLondon about playing Stuart Bayldon in the first series of Channel 4 medical comedy-drama Sirens (out now on DVD) and how an evening spent with real-life paramedics proved highly insightful.
He also discusses the possibility of a second series and a new comedy he is now writing that’s described, loosely, as a kind of Last of The Summer Wine for this generation, which reflects what’s going on in Britain now.
Q. I guess the first question on any fans’ lips is whether there’ll be a second series?
Rhys Thomas: At the moment, no, although that could change… but at the moment, it’s not happening. It might happen later but we’re all up in the air slightly. One minute it’s not and then the next minute it might. It’s one of those things. But it doesn’t bother me so much. It would be good but then the second series might have to focus more on another of the characters, instead of me, so that wouldn’t be as good [laughs].
Q. You must have been pleased with Stuart’s story arc in particular when you first read the script?
Rhys Thomas: Oh yeah, definitely, but coming back to what we’ve just been talking about, in all honesty a lot of these things don’t go according to plan. The truth is Sirens did really well, it got good viewing figures, did well online and the fans loved it. It’s not been [officially] cancelled. Channel 4 just don’t want to make it now. The new head of drama is keen to bring it back but it’s just these days you can’t just go out and spend money. Sirens was quite an expensive series to make and I don’t think Channel 4 can afford to make a second series in this calendar year. But I’m writing something now and Kayvan Novak [who played Rachid] will be in it. It’s a new comedy.
Q. So, what was the biggest challenge of playing Stuart, apart from the nudity?
Rhys Thomas: Oh, the sex scene was horrible. I couldn’t stand that. I guess the biggest challenge was making him convincing and not unlikeable. In the script, he wasn’t likeable… he was written as a very miserable man. In the first episode, there were certain lines he says that I cringed at but I wasn’t in a position where I could complain or offer any input. I had to say them. But as the series went on… what happened was, when we started shooting episodes 5 and 6 weren’t written. All we had when we started were episodes one and two and a bit of three. So, the [the writers] would see what we’d done at the read-throughs and use that to shape what happened next, which I think benefitted the characters and the storylines, especially in Stuart’s case.
Q. How are you with the medical stuff? I read that you’re squeamish…
Rhys Thomas: I am. But I was fine seeing the fake blood. It was a bit different, though, when I went out with some real paramedics one night. I saw a baby being born. We all went out with real crews as part of our training. So, Kayvan went out and had to attend the aftermath of some street brawl in Leeds on a Friday night and Richard Madden turned up at the home of a suicide victim and had to lend a hand carrying that person down the stairs because when you’re there, in the thick of it, you have to help. They need an extra pair of hands. So, I had a happy night compared with what I could have experienced.
Q. When you say lend a hand, did you get involved with the birth?
Rhys Thomas: My hand didn’t go anywhere near the vagina [laughs].
Q. But you’ve experienced the miracle of childbirth first-hand with your wife, so I guess you were kind of prepared?
Rhys Thomas: [Laughs] Yeah, I was there at the birth of mine. But this wasn’t in the hospital but in a grim part of Leeds. We were in a council estate where the dad wouldn’t put the heating on and wanted his wife to give birth on their wipe clean sofa as opposed to in bed. And he kept going to have a drink and a smoke with the people downstairs and telling them he was having a baby when he should have been upstairs with his wife.
Q. I guess all your experiences served you well for the darker nature of the comedy in the series?
Rhys Thomas: It was a good taster, yes. But then everything on the show is based on reality… or at least the emotional impact of what was happening. But that’s another thing about Sirens, it’s a grown up programme, which surprised a lot of people I think. Although it was aimed at 16 to 34-year-olds, I get more people coming up to me who are a lot older to talk about it because it split the difference. It’s not like Skins, which is clearly for young people… it crossed the boundaries really, which again is a shame that it’s not coming back at this stage. It was also marketed as a comedy – when you watched all the adverts, it was like Green Wing, mark 2. And I think people were surprised at just how much of a drama it was when they actually watched it. But that’s all to do with the marketing people at Channel 4 and it got a lot of people watching. But it mis-sold what the programme was. It’s more of a drama than a comedy, which was much more fulfilling to be a part of.
Q. I read that you wanted to flex those dramatic muscles, too, after having just come out of Bellamy’s People?
Rhys Thomas: Well, I’d had another bad experience with that because we did one series of Bellamy’s People and had a lot of the second series filmed but it didn’t come back either. The trouble is, nothing is given a chance to grow these days. I know it’s a dull thing to say, but most good programmes take a while to get going. So, with something like Sirens, if it gets one, you’d be able to build upon that first fan-base. I know there are certain things that should never have been made in the first place and certainly things that should never come back, we all know what they are, but you’ve got to give something a chance if it has potential. If you’re not instantly a hit, then you’re finished in this climate. And yet the weird thing with Sirens is that it did really well, especially online. So, the viewing figures were high overall but people are still fixated on the overnight figures.
Q. I suppose because of the advertising potential of watching it live…
Rhys Thomas: Exactly! But Channel 4 is a business, so I can kind of understand it. If you’re going to get more viewers from commissioning more series of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding then…
Q. Well, maybe not. Reality TV is rubbish…
Rhys Thomas: [laughs] Thank you.
Q. How did you go about bonding with Kayvan and Richard?
Rhys Thomas: Well, we all did a bit of training with the real paramedics. And we’d go out for a drink and played pool – I can’t play pool. We also had our own flat, which had a lounge downstairs where we’d sit having a drink. We called it the ‘honesty bar’ and we’d sit there and read our lines together for the next day and swap DVDs and show each other bad comedies. I was trying to show them bad Michael Winner films, and old Doctor Who episodes. I got Kayvan into Wings, which I’m really proud of.
Q. And Queen?
Rhys Thomas: He liked Queen already. But funnily enough, I was also having to oversee the documentary I made on Queen at the same time as doing Sirens, so it was a busy year. The documentary was a huge success and it’s the thing I think I’m most proud of from that year because it was very well received. Ironically, it’s not always acting and being on TV that makes you happiest… sometimes it’s doing things you care about. Sirens was great and I’m glad it’s out on DVD. But I’m now looking forward to doing the next thing too.
Q. What can we expect from the comedy you’re writing?
Rhys Thomas: At the moment, it’s called Double Dippers, or Double Dipsticks, and it’s about… well, if you remember, Last of The Summer Wine was about three bored, retired old people and what they did with their lives. Well, I know so many people who are now unemployed and have no money as a result of what’s going on in Britain right now. So, it’s about these three younger men who have recently been made redundant. It’s kind of a Last of The Summer Wine for this generation of younger people. They’re all working class people who have had jobs but have seen it all go wrong. Fresh Meat and The Inbetweeners are, to me, sort of middle class sitcoms. But these people never went to sixth form… they went out into the world and got jobs and now they’ve lost them. So, it’s me, Kayvan and one other bloke who hasn’t been cast yet. And there’s a girl who’ll be like the Norah Batty character, who we all fancy. It sounds like we’re copying Last of The Summer Wine but we’re not. There’s more to it. But I also love Only Fools & Horses and that style of comedy. It’s the sort of thing my family would like.
Q. And it’s about time there was a comedy that reflected what’s going on at the moment because I think we’re in a place where we can begin to laugh or we’d cry…
Rhys Thomas: Right, because there’s nothing on at the moment that reflects what’s going on in the world right now. Only Fools & Horses and comedies like The Young Ones reflected what was happening then. Now on TV all you have are remakes or nostalgia shows that are set in the ‘60s, like Call The Midwife, but they’re not really about reflecting what’s going on now… even the soaps don’t really reflect that. There are some programmes, such as Top Boy, but it’s only a few things, and certainly not any comedies. All we’ve got are stand-ups performing live at the Apollo earning lots of money telling jokes about toothpaste! I want to do something we’ll look back on and say it reflected a time in our lives.
Q. Will that be for Channel 4 as well?
Rhys Thomas: Yeah. The head of comedy has commissioned the script. We’re just doing a pilot at this stage. So, who knows… It’s also good to be doing a half hour comedy again where you don’t have to think so much and do all the emotional stuff [laughs]. Hopefully, it will be a success. Channel 4 is still the best place to make TV programmes. At the BBC, it’s difficult because they are scared and you can’t do the things with comedy that you can with Channel 4. It has a much more open mind.
Sirens is now available on DVD/