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I TALK TO Johnny Vegas

If you missed Geoff 'The Oracle' Maltby in last week's series opener of Benidorm, then you'll be pleased to hear he's back this week, and makes quite the entrance.

But he's not alone. Not only is he back in Benidorm with his mother, Noreen, but his sister Pauline, played by Selina Griffths is also back to enjoy the delights of the Solana resort. This is the first time in Benidorm history that viewers will see the three of them together.

Unfortunately, when I flew out to Benidorm Johnny Vegas, who plays The Oracle, wasn’t out there, but having interviewed him back in 2013, he was so lovely and got in touch to apologise for not being out there and to say that he was still keen to chat to me about Benidorm.

So the other week, straight after his appearance on the This Morning sofa, I had a spot of lunch with Johnny on London's Southbank to talk all things Benidorm,

So, you're back for another series, and this time you've got a sister?

Yeah, it was really nice this time, doing stuff with Selina (Griffiths). It was really funny finding out along with everybody else that I had a sister, because it's been such a tightly knit thing between myself and Elsie (Kelly), playing my mum.

Especially that lift scene in the last series, which for me is one of the best moments from all the series...

Oh thank you. It was a mad one to film that, because when we shot it, we had to shoot it in sequence from every angle so it wasn't like we did the first bit, moved on, moved on again.

We'd shoot it from one angle, go through all the emotional arc then go back to the beginning, find the comedy in it again and do that over and over. It was probably one of the most draining days I've had on Benidorm. That and the time that Elsie couldn't remember her lines as I was holding my breath underwater!

The reaction on Twitter to that lift scene was quite special, and rare for a comedy?

Yeah, it was really nice though. Obviously it is a comedy, but I think all the good comedies can mix that light and dark. When I got the scene it was one of those that I couldn't wait to play.

What was really moving on the day was just how Elsie played it. It was almost like being in her slipstream. I'm trying to find that emotion and she's already there! She made it that believable.

I think it's one of those scenes that really took people by surprise, it went in a direction nobody expected. They thought it would be calamitous, with us at each other's throats!

And of course at the end of the last series Geoff finally said that Noreen isn't his PA, but she's his mother. That was another big moment wasn't it?

Yeah that was massive. That became the big hashtag on Twitter for a while.

As a result, has their relationship changed at all this series?

It has... but they still have their moments. He's certainly more protective over his mother now, they've had this emotional breakthrough, but because he's so competitive with his sister there's he also thinks that he can look after his mum better than she can.

But then throughout the series, and without wanting to give anything away, there's another lovely moment. I can't wait for people to see that first scene, and the reaction Elsie is going to get when we make our appearance!

Do you think Geoff has changed much since series one?

He has, but I think there's still that need in Geoff to go completely OTT with strangers. But within the family dynamic, his mum might think he's changed, but to everyone else he's still just a bit of a wally, telling his tall tales and trying to ingratiate himself with others.

So what's it been like having Selina, who plays Pauline, as part of the Maltby family this series?

Selina came in and we just got on instantly. All the bickering really worked between us two and it was really good to see Elsie referee us two instead of the other way around.

It was lovely. She was someone who was really good to socialise with too, as are most of the cast. She's out in Albir as well so it was really nice to make pals off set as well as working with her.

What are your favourite scenes to film? Is it by the pool, in the hotel or in Neptune's?

If I'm really honest, I love being by the pool just because sometimes if you're not needed after lunch you can jump in and have a swim.

With Neptune's, the biggest thing I dread is having to get up and sing. Give me 10 pints and I'm all over the karaoke, but sober being up there and singing I'm incredibly self conscious.

And for me, there's always that guilt, which comes from stand-up, of standing there with a mic in your hand, a room full of people and not entertaining them.

Benidorm always attracts such great guest stars. Did you get to work with many this time around?

Yeah it does, and I was gutted that I didn't get another bit with Joan, but I missed them all this time. I didn't really get to work with any of them.

I was just saying earlier on This Morning, that it surprises me, the amount of people in the business who go to me "Oh get us in. You can get us in!" It's a bucket list show for many... to appear in Benidorm.

I think because it's got this large following, it looks like a great place to shoot, and a lot of fun to do. So I think everyone fancies that trip out there.

But I don't know really... I don't know if it's Derren (Litten) being really persuasive with people that he's friendly with, or people he's got in mind, or people that have approached him. I imagine he's changed his number a couple of times, it probably all goes through his agent now!

You took a few years out of Benidorm before coming back last series. Did you find it quite easy to slot back in?

Well it was a reorganisation of characters really. Without talking out of line, I never left. It was just a change of storylines.

Coming back in I was nervous, there were some regulars there, but as I was going in, Steve (Pemberton) and Siobhan (Finneran) were actually filming their final scenes as I arrived, so I was a little bit nervous.

But then with Perry (Benson) and the new people out there I got on with straight away. I'm so glad to have had scenes with Perry, I don't think I've corpsed as much on set as doing scenes with him. He would over emphasise stuff because he knew it would get to me... (At which point Johnny went into a brilliant impression of Perry).

I'm a big fan of a lot of his earlier work as well so I was really excited to meet him, but also to do scenes with him.

I think it would have been a lot tougher coming back had Elsie not been there, we were able to pick up right from where we left off years ago. For me, it had to be the two of us, or quite a drastic storyline for him to come back on his own.

I'm sure you already know this, but Elsie was meant to die in the first series. But it's worked out really well because we've all now seen what an amazing actress she is.

And sadly this is the first series since Kenny Ireland's passing, who played Donald...

It was kind of strange this year. I think we were all hoping that he might just recover and might be able to make an appearance but sadly he didn't.

Would you ever want to do a bit more stand-up?

I've been doing a bit in Leicester and Nottingham, but I keep moaning that I need to sit down and write a new show. A proper one hour and take it out on tour.

I really want to push this difference between Michael (Pennington) and Johnny.

I read your book, Becoming Johnny Vegas, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. An amazing book!

Oh thanks mate, I really appreciate that, it was a lot of hard work. It's genuinely the hardest thing I've ever done. I don't think it would have been the voyage of discovery it was had it been ghost written.

So at the minute I'm trying to put a narrative into a show that I am Michael, and not Johnny. I went up to the Edinburgh Fringe last year and did the Gilded Balloon's anniversary gig, a gig at Just The Tonic and I did a night at The Stand.

What else is next for you?

I'm very lucky at the minute, because Still Open All Hours is amazing. Such good fun. It's just so clever how they knitted the old cast and the new cast together, keeping hold of the original fans whilst bringing in new ones.

The one thing I did get to do when I was working on the book was directing, but I've done none since as I’ve been very fortunate to be really busy.

So for me, the focus this year is on the stand-up but also to get my foot back into directing. It's what I'd love to do full-time in the long run.

It's the most fulfilling thing I've done professionally in a long long time, the confidence I've never quite had in front of the camera, I've found behind the camera. I've really enjoyed working with other actors, but from the safety of not having to act.

It's very good for me having to be organised and having to make a lot of decisions on a day-to-day basis. It's a bit like family life really, you find that you actually thrive in domestic bliss, and the same with directing!

Benidorm continues Mondays at 9pm on ITV


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