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I TALK TO Jim Howick

"I think that what Tom (Basden) does so well is interweaving these ridiculously goofy, almost National Lampoon set pieces with genuine heart and personal turmoil."

Created and written by Tom Basden, BBC One's hit sitcom Here We Go follows the Jessop family as they navigate life's everyday challenges and features a stellar cast including Alison Steadman, Katherine Parkinson and Jim Howick. It's probably one of television's most brilliant, yet underrated new sitcoms and now it's back for its second series which dare I say, is funnier than ever.

In the first episode, life is changing for the Jessops. Sue's downsizing and having a big clearout. Amy, played by Freya Parks, is back from Norway and missing the Fjords. And Rachel, played by Katherine Parkinson, has started her new university course.

When Paul’s old boat turns up in Sue’s garage, he decides to take the family out on the water; who knows, it might cheer Amy up a bit.

Meanwhile, Rachel is keen to convince her new classmates that, despite being literally twice their age, she’s one of them. She’s planning to do this via the traditional art of the student drinking game.

I recently caught up with Jim Howick who plays Paul Jessop to talk all things Here We Go, including working with Alison Steadman, reuniting with Simon Farnaby, how he really feels now that Ghosts is over and so much more.

For anyone who might have missed the first series, how would you best describe Here We Go?

Well, Here We Go is a family sitcom from the perspective of the youngest member of the family and it deals with the typical catastrophes, disruptions, and complications that many of us have in our families. All of those things are magnetised and exaggerated to make them entertaining, goofy, slapstick, and heartfelt in many ways.

I've always tried to do things that are a bit dark or wacky or a bit left field, but Here We Go is packaged in such a way, that people just see a family sitcom. And I'd like to appeal to the people that see a family sitcom and think "I'm not into sort of Outnumbered or 2point4 Children" and all those other classics. I would appeal to them and say "No! Try this out, because it's quirky and fun and very alternative." - which is why I love the script so much.

I think that what Tom (Basden) does so well is interweaving these ridiculously goofy, almost National Lampoon set pieces with genuine heart and personal turmoil. Amy is the hard hard-nosed daughter, and often the first person to undermine everyone in the entire family, but at the same time, she's the most vulnerable character, because she's having to deal with this epic personal struggle.

She's got loving parents behind her and obviously a loving grandma and she's just trying to make a relationship work and I just think it's deftly dealt with by Tom.

Where do we meet your character, Paul, in this series? And how do you see him?

At this point in time, Paul is training to be a police officer. He's trying to, I suppose, implicate his authority on the family at certain times or his newfound authority only to be undermined immediately. He's a sort of typical sitcom dad in that respect.

He's someone who feels like he was bullied at school. He's certainly over-mothered. Specifically at the moment, his ultimate goal is to pursue this dream to become a policeman. And I think that's been a dream of his for a very long time.

You talk about him being over-mothered. That mother happens to be played by Alison Steadman. What's it like working with her?

It's an absolute dream working with Alison. She's an incredible person to work with. This term is bandied around, probably too much, but she is a cast iron national treasure. So to be able to work with her every day and call her my mother is an absolute dream.

I can't believe it. I really do have to keep pinching myself. I was obsessed with Nuts in May and Abigail's party when I was quite young, too young really to be into those sorts of things in a way. It was quite strange. But I was really obsessed with Nuts in May.

It was the first time I saw British, slow, quite naturalistic characters in a comedy. Before then, I was watching what other kids were watching, cartoons and Indiana Jones and Star Wars and things like that. Things that operated in a hyperreality. So Nuts in May was my first kind of foray into that sort of slow, natural British humour, and I was kind of obsessed with it.

So, yeah, we quote it now on set, and she's very happy to do that. She's great fun. She's a lovely person and a very talented performer.

We find out in episode one of this series that Sue has sold her house and whilst she finds somewhere to live, is coming to move in with Paul and Rachel. How does that shift the dynamics in the house?

She immediately starts interrupting the flow of the house. All of the family have a shorthand and the members of the household have an understanding, a natural routine, and rota, like any household does. No matter how close you are with a relative,

I think once that's interrupted, it can become a problem. Certainly with Sue, she's a natural matriarch - and obviously, it's a kind of trope - but she comes head-to-head with Rachel and Paul, I think it's fair to say. She starts moving things around and starts not interfering, but making herself at home, which is what they've always kind of said to her, but they don't really mean it.

It's not just in the house either. We see in the series that she becomes a local busybody in the street and starts to wind them up as well. It's from a loving place, but that's just her sort of natural M.O.

You mention Rachel there, what's her and Paul's marriage like in this series?

It's a tricky one because Paul was largely useless last year. He had a hobby, I suppose. Archery had become a hobby for him. In the last series, he was unemployed and looking for the same jobs that Amy was looking for and she actually pipped him to one of them.

I think there was a certain sense of resentment in the last series, which perhaps isn't there in this series because they came to an understanding in the last series that they were both going to pursue their dreams.

And that was that Rachel was going to go back to university and Paul was going to try and become a policeman or certainly take part in the training. So I think that that is something that they have in common in this series.

I think this series finds them in each other's corner in many ways. Or they should be. The problems aren't against each other. They're sort of away from the house.

So, for example, Rachel is trying to escape the perceptions and tribulations that a mature student would suffer. I remember when I was a student, we had someone in our year who was 25 and we called him grandad. He was 25! It's crazy.

For Rachel to go back to university in her forties is an enormous step and I think she feels completely alien to the situation and to the Gen Z culture. It's an enormous learning curve for her socially. Paul is trying to climb the ladder and find a shortcut to becoming a C.I.D. detective before he's even graduated.

He's sort of a fantasist in this series and uses the friends he's already made in the police force to try and climb that ladder and impress them by throwing himself out of his comfort zone and playing football. And pretending to know about football. That's just one episode that we see in this series.

How much fun to play were those scenes in episode three, where as you say, Paul is pretending to know about football?

Playing a scene where you have to pretend like something you don't like or you loathe is really, really fun. It's like acting on top of acting.

It's a quite simple thing. It's a subtle thing. You would expect my favourite scenes to film to be those huge set pieces or the car journeys - which are fun. I do enjoy the car journey scenes - but that scene in particular in this series where we're all watching the England game and Paul has no choice but to get involved and throw whatever banter he's learned in the last 24 hours via Amy, I really enjoyed that.

He sort of had a crash course in football talk and he's throwing it out there, trying to make sense of it and is kind of getting away with it, because there are a number of people on his side in the room, like Robin and Amy.

But at the same time, Rachel is jealous because she believes - and Paul also believes - that one of the police officers that he's made friends with has sent him a Valentine's Day card. And so she's being extra possessive of Paul, sitting on his lap, trying to kiss him while he's eating crisps and doing all these things that she wouldn't normally do.

It was just a really fun scene. Tom (Basden) is so good at magnifying these, I suppose, commonplace problems and obstacles that people face, whether it's a drugs chat or a sex chat or a social dilemma, the way that we're seen in the street, a kind of keeping up appearances, Tom is very good at deftly dealing with those situations and making them very entertaining. Not just for an audience, but for us as well.

It has to entertain us, for us to entertain everyone else at home. We have to laugh first and I can honestly say that these scripts are, fresh off the bat, so funny to read. With Ghosts, we laugh in the room when we're thinking of ideas, but we're involved in the gears of that and the mechanics of making that show so it's slightly different.

Often, when you get a script, you're always thinking 'How am I going to make that funny?' - it's obviously funny, but what am I going to do to make that stand out? With these scripts, they're just laugh out loud straight away.

Does that mean there's a lot of corpsing on set?

Yeah, quite a lot. The blooper reel you saw at the screening is just evidence of me making mistakes, it's nothing more. That's all it is. Me messing up the lines, really.

The thing is, we work at such a furious pace, filming five-page scenes in one take, which means it's like doing a short film at times. Often with filming, you do one-eighth of a page then change the angle, do five or six setups, and relight in between them so it's quite a slow day. But this is fairly relentless filming, which is fun and exhausting at the same time.

The trouble is, when you do sort 11 or 12 takes of a really long and complicated scene with lots of people in the room, one of you is going to mess up. Out of all of those takes, you probably get two where everyone sort of said the right thing.

Usually in television, you’re told not to acknowledge the camera. Here you can, does that take some getting used to?

It doesn't really take much adjusting. When I did Peep Show, for four years, the hardest thing about that show was that the person you were talking to, the character, the actor, would be stood behind the cameraman which made it quite difficult not to direct the first few lines to him as a person rather than the lens.

That was tricky, but with Here We Go, it's sort of the same principle, but the only difficulty is, when Jude (Collie) who plays the son, is stood behind Jez, the cameraman and delivers his line, sometimes you deliver them straight to Jude and you should be delivering them down the lens.

But I really love the idea that we're breaking the fourth wall, so to speak, I love the idea that we're sharing the joke with the audience. It works so well when it's done really well. And there are plenty of examples of that. The Office is this. This Country does it as well.

The first thing I saw like that, was Spinal Tap. A look to camera can be very funny if it's done with the right timing and in the right way. Freya (Parks) who plays Amy, is so good at it. And she has to do it loads because it's her job in the show to undermine everyone in the family.

We have to talk about archery, because your character Pat in Ghosts was of course accidentally shot through the neck with an arrow and Paul in Here We Go is a former Olympic archer. Was that a coincidence? Or was that planned?

It was a total coincidence I think. I can't say when Tom had the idea for this show, I don't know when Tom started devising these characters. But no, it's a complete coincidence which is crazy really. I just think he (Tom) had to find the least athletic Olympic sport and I suppose darts aren't in the Olympics yet, or snooker, so it's archery all the way.

It was great fun, I didn't get to do this when I played Pat because you never saw me fire an arrow, but for Here We Go, I got to do some archery lessons, with Tim Key. We went down to South London and had an evening of an archery-off. We were taught how to fire a bow and arrow, it was really fun.

Sticking with Ghosts, your co-star, Simon Farnaby is guest-starring in Here We Go. What can you tell us about the character he plays? And is he wearing trousers?

Oh yeah, he's got trousers on! Which is really strange, because he didn't have trousers on at all in Ghosts, although to be fair he took his trousers off at the very last minute. There are actually some photos that were given to the press, from rehearsals, where he has his trousers on. He whips them off when we're ready to go which is fair enough. And Yonderland as well was the same. His elder was obsessed with getting naked so it's a common theme.

In Here We Go, he plays a relative, Rachel's brother-in-law. So he's married to Rachel's sister and they come to visit and it's fair to say he's a bit of an ass and a bit of a snob. Kind of a money douche. One of those guys who doesn't ask any questions and expects to be asked.

Speaking of guest stars, what was it like working with Harry Enfield?

Amazing. After working with Paul Whitehouse in the summer on The Change and now Harry, it's like I've completed the childhood set. I also got to meet Adrian Edmondson. I did this thing called Out To Lunch with Ade Edmondson and had lunch with him. So it's a lovely thing to get to meet your heroes and say that they're genuinely nice people.

I think that's one of the best things about doing comedy, in a way. Most of the people you meet are really nice, self-effacing and kind of humble and lovely.

I know this is usually the time of year when you'd be filming Ghosts. Sadly that's all over now. How does that feel?

It's not very nice, to be honest. I'm not enjoying it. I really really miss physically being there and making the show. We don't have any regrets about ending it when we did. We wanted to make sure that the show remained at a high standard. This series was a lot easier to write than the previous series because we had so much banked for this last series.

Kitty's death we wanted to save until the end because she was a really popular character. And the same with The Captain. We really felt like that character had evolved the most throughout the story.

The baby idea was the full series narrative and we had that idea a few years ago. A lot of the ideas we'd banked from a few years back which meant it was already written in some respect. Whereas the penultimate series, series four, was harder to write because we weren't ending it.

We found then, that it would be really hard to keep the standard up because unless it's a standalone ep, a series is like a three-and-a-half-hour film. It's like writing Ben Hur. It's a hard thing to do when your principal characters can't physically affect anything. Really, they're just reacting to whatever Alison's going through.

It's hard to keep Alison and Mike in the house. It's tricky to come up with ideas that the audience will buy. What we really didn't want, was people to go "Oh, Ghosts is really losing its buzz. They're scraping the barrel a little bit." - we didn't want any of that so we thought let's just end on a high. And five series on a high is a great amount.

What's next for you? We know there's a third series of Here We Go already confirmed.

Yes, more Here We Go, we start filming that in the autumn, I believe. Pretty much the same time that we filmed the last series. So there's that to look forward to. Also, there'll be more of The Change this year.

Besides that, we as a group will be getting together and working to work, as they say. It's nice to have a natural pause. We're like a band. We've always said, the reason we're still together is that we're a band that hasn't toured. We love each other dearly, but we have different friends and different lives, so it's quite nice to seek out individual adventures.

Mat (Baynton) is playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream in Stratford-upon-Avon, Simon (Farnaby) is busy taking over Hollywood and we've all got irons in the fire, creating things. It's nice to miss each other. It's important to miss them. That will only contribute to, hopefully, a frenzy of ideas when we do get back together.

It's often the way. We met up in October for a couple of days. Sat in a room and discussed a few ideas. There's a real closeness and shorthand between us and it won't be long before we're back working together again.

The reality is, of course, it'll all be in development until we're able to talk about it. The trouble is, when it's in development it can quite easily, not happen. But our stock's pretty high as a creative company so hopefully people will like what our next idea is.

Here We Go returns Fridays at 8pm on BBC One with all episodes available on BBC iPlayer


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