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I TALK TO Rufus Jones

Most recently, he was seen on the big screen alongside Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly in Stan & Ollie but now Rufus Jones is returning to the small screen for Home, a Channel 4 sitcom he's penned.

"When you're dealing with this subject matter you have to make sure that the jokes travel in the right direction."

You come back from holiday, open your car boot and find a Syrian asylum-seeker hiding in amongst the luggage. What would you do?

That's the dilemma one family faces in Rufus Jones' new comedy for Channel 4, Home. When Peter, his new partner Katy and her son John return from their first holiday together. And the consequences of their unexpected discovery which will change their lives forever.

Rufus Jones has a long history of starring in great television comedies such as Hunderby, Camping and W1A, but it's Home which is bound to turn him into the household name he deserves to be.

First of all, what is Home?

Home is about a very middle class, slightly dull English family who come back from a family holiday in France in their car and they drive through the channel tunnel and they get home, hope the boot to unpack and there's a Syrian refugee in the back.

After the initial panic of that, the woman of the house, Katy - played by Rebekah Staton - decides to allow the Syrian refugee to stay. I play her boyfriend Peter who's quite new on the scene. I am appalled quite frankly at the prospect of sharing space with him. Partly because my attitudes towards immigration aren't as developed as they might be, but also because I'm relatively new on the scene as well. So I'm feeling edged out by this much more exotic, interesting, charismatic person.

The battle lines are drawn between Peter and Sami. So not only is there this domestic situation going through the series but also Sami is applying for refugee status. He has to go through the Home Office procedures which are quite dramatic in their own right.

Where did the idea come from for the series?

It came in late 2015 when the Syrian refugee crisis was at its height and I wanted to talk about our attitudes towards international aid. David Cameron had just announced that 20,000 refugees from Syria would be allowed into the country by 2020 and that didn't sound like a lot to me or indeed a lot of other people.

I guess I wanted to ask "What's changed?" because for me one of the most patriotic moments growing up was Live Aid, but more recently our attitudes towards charity has changed. I wanted to write about one person’s story, reaching this country. I wanted to say something about how we treat refugees as well as the refugee experience, and what that says about us.

But that doesn't sound like a comedy... (Laughs)

How did you then inject the comedy?

The comedy aspect came from a series of articles I was reading at the time about 'Refugees at Home' - the project where people here were opening their doors to refugees who had made it over and let them live with then while they applied for refugee status.

A lot of these interviews, whilst very emotional, had these little funny details, the different culture clashes of living with someone who had been through what they'd been through. So I wanted to try and talk about our expectations on what a refugee should be like and how they should behave as well as what a refugee might think of Britain today.

How did you find balancing the jokes with the subject matter?

The jokes are very important. If I'm honest, the jokes are always the hardest thing to write. The themes of the show aren't necessarily funny but I think when you're dealing with this subject matter you have to make sure that the jokes travel in the right direction.

Make sure you're punching up and not punching down. Or if you are punching down, you're doing it for a sufficient provocative reason. Getting the tone right was really important. I did quite a lot research which meant I was ethically match fit to take on this subject matter.

I interviewed a number of Syrians who were refreshingly irreverent about this country and their expectations. It sounds counter-intuitive but there was a lot of laughter because being a refugee and entering a new country is such a high-stakes situation that sometimes you have to throw your hands up and laugh at yourself and laugh at the new environment you're trying to be member of.

Home started off as a pilot which many people had watched. What was the biggest thing you learnt by going through that process?

Ah! That's a good question. The good thing about Channel 4 is that more often than not they have development funds to make a pilot which doesn't always happen these days.

The biggest thing I learnt was to not give myself too much dialogue when I'm driving a car! The opening scene ended up with me driving for about a day-and-a-half trying to remember lines which is something I struggled with.

Less facetiously? I realised that we had got our cast bang on. When you film TV these days it's very quick. It has to be. But we had our core group of actors who had really found the tone themselves and that was important. The pilot gave us that road test. So by the time we went to series, everyone knew the tone, how much they could push things and when to rein things in.

This is the first series you've written for television isn't it?

Yes. I've written for sketch shows and I've always had a pilot on the go. I got commissioned by Sky for a transmitted pilot but this is certainly the first thing of this size and stature that I've written.

Were you always going to be in it?

Hell yeah! In previous incarnations I've given up the main role to fill it with someone starrier in the hope that it might get it away but it never quite works like that. I made sure that the character was appalling enough that no one else would want to play him.

There's a joke made in the first episode (and the pilot) about it being set in Dorking. Why did you choose to set it there?

(Laughs) I don't know... I think genuinely it's because we filmed the pilot in Dorking and it suddenly made a lot more sense. We did think about maybe South East London. We thought about Camberwell for a bit, then we thought about Brighton and then Dorking came up and it just felt kind of perfect.

It's so suburban - it's actually a very affluent area now - but it has a cultural memory of being slightly adrift on the Metropolitan line and safe. Where the world is relatively privileged and white. It was interesting to drop a refugee into that area as opposed to Piccadilly Circus.

From watching it, I got a sense that Peter and Sami are actually quite similar. Would you agree?

Yes. And that's something I really wanted to explore. The broad brushstroke is that Peter is a refugee in that family almost as much as Sami is. He's finding it hard to be accepted by John, the son, who I guess would be his sort of de facto stepson - except he's getting on dreadfully with him. And as a result his relationship with Katy is struggling.

He is a little adrift in the family himself and isn't helping himself by feeling threatened by Sami. That points to a wider idea that came out in research that a lot of the Syrian refugees who come over here are middle class. Frankly you need a lot of money to pay the smugglers, to get out and make it across Europe. Buying a fake passport is really easy to do.

Ironically, Peter only realises rather late into the series that Sami if anything, has an even great socio-economic standing comparatively than he does! Whatever we think a refugee is can be markedly different to the reality. Just because this person arrives with a backpack and knackered sandals, it doesn't mean he's been begging on the streets his whole life. Quite the opposite!

Any favourite scenes we should look out for?

There's a scene in episode two where Sami is confronted by a very unpleasant racist in a Post Office and the way that all unfolds was something I was very proud of at the writing stage. But you never quite know how these things play, but our actors delivered much more than we could ever have hoped for. I think that scene is a real microcosm of the series.

Any big guest stars?

Well yes... for the final episode we thought to ourselves, who would be the worst person at the Home Office for Sami to come into contact with? And he's a very well-known actor and I think we've found him! We put Sami through hell at the hands of this extraordinary actor delivering one hell of a cameo. But I can't say who, I'm sorry!

Home is produced by Adam Tandy who produces Inside No.9. How did he get involved?

I did a show with Julia Davis called Hunderby which to some extent was the making of me, and afterwards I got an unsolicited email from Adam saying "Loved Hunderby, really enjoy your work. Do you write?" and I said "Yes, but I don't really have any ideas." and he very gently just said "Well look, if you have any ideas let me know. I'm always on the lookout."

Three years later I had an idea, so I wrote it and sent it to Adam having not spoken to him in three years and he just called me back within half-an-hour and said "Great. Let's make it!" and we did.

It sounds preposterously simple and it was in the long run. Adam comes with an unimprovable CV when it comes to producers and he very flatteringly took an interest in my work and just attached himself with a real enthusiasm.

He's a brilliant script editor, he knows everyone in the industry and he kind of left me alone to write it. He was very trusting which you don't always get with producers.

How precious were you of your script on set?

I'd like to think that I was very unprecious. You'd have to ask the other actors. Whenever I go on set, I like to have a bit of freedom to muck about and find new ways of doing a scene so little things would change and I think that's really important. Actors should be able to do that if they want to.

They can't go changing entire scenes, but if a better line makes itself available then you always go for that. Everyone came with bundles of ideas and sometimes scenes don't change in word but they can change in tone. So a scene that you thought was very light can suddenly become very meaningful and emotional. You have to let actors do that, even if you didn't necessarily see it the first time.

What are you hoping viewers will take away from the series?

I want them to laugh. I want it to feel like quite a complete show. Something that might be their favourite comedy or their favourite drama. This is all rather lofty stuff but the shows I like are often American shows which attempt to do a bit of everything.

A show like Transparent had a big affect on me. It was a show that was my favourite comedy and my favourite drama and my favourite everything really.

And I love to think that we might just get a bunch of people watching for whom Home is their go to show. There's always a danger of being too lofty and wanting to change the world. There's a danger in writing a state of the nation piece because I think audiences can often smell that a mile off - I just want this to be a story about a central group of four people.

Do you have ambitions for a second series?

Absolutely! We're storyboarding the second series at the moment which is something you always do before you get the green light anyway. As with all these things, you have to wait and see how it plays. But Channel 4 have been really supportive and enthusiastic so far so we hope to do more of it.

What's next for you?

I've just signed on to The Barking Murders, a BBC One drama which is a very different project for me. It deals with a tragic, rather recent, real-life case of a killer in East London called Stephen Port who killed a number of gay men.

This is the story of the victims and also the families that fought for justice and the Police incompetence that surrounded it. It's an incredibly affecting and enraging show hopefully. We start filming that in March and it's produced by Jeff Pope who wrote Stan & Ollie.

Home starts Tuesday 5th March at 9:45pm on Channel 4


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