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I TALK TO Rufus Jones

"Episode six takes us into very different territory, but it certainly isn't the end of the story."

Rufus Jones' superb comedy Home - about a Syrian immigrant who ends up living with an English family after hiding amongst the luggage in their car boot - debuted on Channel 4 towards the start of 2019 and is back for a second series just 10 months since series one ended.

Home stars Rufus Jones as Peter, Rebekah Staton as his new partner Katy and Oaklee Pendergast as her son John and the first series introduced Youssef Kerkour as Sami - who has since gone on to star in many a high-profile TV show including Dracula, Gavin & Stacey, Sex Education and will soon be seen in Channel 4 drama Baghdad Central.

Throughout the first series we watched Sami as he adapted to British life and as the series came to a close, he went for his interview with the Home Office for his right to remain in the UK. But with his case still under review six months on, series two sees Sami play the waiting game. All he can do is make himself useful to his hosts, however it's not long before his good-humoured patience begins to wear thin.

Launching in a year that was so strong for British comedy, Home was able to cut through and became one of my favourite new shows of 2019 so I caught up with writer and creator Rufus Jones once again to discuss the reaction to the first series, the virality of some of the clips from the show as well as what's in store for series two and why a US remake is looking likely.

Were you pleased with the reaction to the first series?

Very much so. 2019 was a crazy year for comedy, I don't think I can remember so many amazing shows being made - and equally being made in March. So amidst Fleabag, Alan Partridge and Back to Life and all sorts of shows that were coming out, it was amazing for our slightly more modest show to get the reception that it did.

What surprised you the most about the feedback you received?

That's a good question. The one response that I never quite bargained for was the amount of people who said that they watched it as a family. It became a family show and I think partly that was because we went out after Derry Girls - which is a multi-generational phenomenon. So I think a lot of people stuck around for Home afterwards and realised that it was a show they wanted to watch with their kids. And also a lot of kids found it and wanted to watch it with their folks.

The number of people I met who said "We actually watch it as a family" was massively encouraging because it wasn't necessarily something that occurred to me when I was writing it. You tend not to worry too much about who's going to watch, you just want to tell a story.

We had to wait a few months to find out that series two was happening, how long did you have to wait?

Not long... it was on my birthday, so May 17th. I can actually pin it down to the day. It was a very nice birthday present. We finished transmitting in April and Channel 4 didn't hang around which was massively encouraging.

I think between series one and series two you have a lot of momentum and I knew where I wanted the story to go - so to not have to wait too long was great.

Did you already have ideas for a second series?

I did and in my case, you put down the pen and then you film it and then I leave the editing to the grown ups generally because I'm probably lying down in a dark room after a stressful six months of writing and acting.

During that period, once it's being edited, your mind inevitably wanders to series two and what might happen. So by the time we got into discussions with Channel 4, I knew exactly where I wanted it to go.

Have you found the writing process any easier for series two?

It's never easy. It's always a stressful sweaty business but it came quickly if I'm honest. I've written both series in about three months each and there's something about the subject matter which means its timeliness is built into the story. So you can't hang around if that makes sense.

If I'd luxuriated in a nine months writing process, it would slightly lose its pointedness or its edge - I believe. So I sign up to a slightly stressful writing period which is actually over quite quickly, which I like.

Who's your favourite character to write for?

It changes actually. I think inevitably in the first series Sami was the one because he carried all the story. It's so much fun to write a character that avoids certain stereotypes, has charisma and inner doubt. Hopefully he was a complicated character.

This series I love writing for Rebekah Staton. Her character Katy has a story this series which throws her into more uncomfortable areas than she encountered in series one.

So what can we expect from series two?

It picks up around six months after episode six of series one where we left Sami hanging in the balance as to whether his refugee status would be accepted by the Home Office.

So it's six months later but he's still waiting - which is the sad nature of these things, you can't get a quick answer any more. And that waiting game is psychologically a very tough place to be for most asylum seekers.

I describe it in an incredibly middle class way like waiting for your A-level results, except no one knows what day they're going to be announced and instead of English, History and French it's your family, your freedom and the rest of your life.

Sami is trying to keep his nose out of trouble, he's waiting for hopefully good news, but it's very tough. It's like living in purgatory. He doesn't feel like he has a home. It's not Syria, it's not here - he's just floating and that is a stressful place for him to be.

My character Peter loses his job, Katy is facing a tribunal at her school - it's all gone a bit Hollyoaks I won't lie. Into all this, John's father and Katy's ex husband Elliot, swans in and forces Peter and Katy further apart than they already were.

All characters are being pushed into tighter corners than maybe they were in series one. There's also an international flavour to our series which I probably shouldn't say too much more about... but the European context of Sami's situation is explored.

And John's father is being played by Douglas Henshall?

Yes indeed. People will know him from Shetland. He joins us midway through the series and blows the show apart. He's fantastic. He plays a ridiculously intimidating idiot and does it fabulously.

On your earlier question, I enjoyed writing for him enormously. He's a sort of alpha idiot. He's my character Peter's worst nightmare basically.

What's Peter's relationship like with Sami this series?

Well in episode one it feels very positive and you get the impression that Peter has learnt and engaged with Sami in a way that we didn't necessarily see in most of series one.

But then a few things happen which push Peter backwards let's say, in his development. A lot of the old skeletons come out. And equally Sami is under a lot of pressure so we see that happy-go-lucky, charismatic mask that he wore in series one, begin to flip a little bit.

It's not all a bed of roses between Peter and Sami. Of course they have moments of togetherness but circumstances push them apart.

Do we see more of Sami's family this series?

We do see more of them. I think that's fair to say, but I don't want to say too much because episode one hinges on that question quite a lot.

Shall we talk about Youssef? Superbly cast in Home and now I can't switch on my telly without seeing him...

Well of course the ego now is just... you should see the size of his trailer! He basically commands Shepperton. (Laughs)

He is the most disgustingly modest and lovely actor I've had to work with. For me, he stole the show in episode two of Dracula, I thought he was just amazing. I said to him, this is the second character he's played in a year who's trying to cross the Channel.

And Gavin & Stacey, he lit up in that stuff with Ruth Jones. He's just the most gently charismatic, clever actor and we're very lucky to have him. On a personal note, it's been really satisfying to see his work acknowledged in other work. It's terrific.

Did you invite your refugee advisors back for series two?

Very much so, yes. We have our chief guy, Hassan Akkad, who's back and joins us on set a lot because you never know when you're going to need to ask him a question. He did a lot of dialect work with Youssef because speaking in Arabic has a particular twang so he was always on hand to modulate that and whenever there were other Arabic speakers in the show, which there's a lot more of in series two.

Because I know no Arabic, Hassan is a translator as well. So not only is he there on set but in post-production he's very important too because he writes our subtitles and is absolutely crucial.

Above and beyond all that, in preparation for the story-lining I would talk to him especially about what it was like for him waiting for a yes or no answer from the Home Office. The way he talked about the psychological aspect of waiting really helped what I wanted to talk about in series two.

Do you have any favourite scenes which we should look out for in this series?

Yes. There's a scene in episode two which we're calling 'the Brexit scene' or alternatively 'the yucca plant scene' - and when you reach it you'll probably know why. That was a scene I wrote for myself and then I thought "Why have I done this? I'm going to have to do it now."

It was towards the end of the schedule so every day it would creep closer and closer but we did it and I'm very pleased with how it came out. I think people will enjoy it but it's probably not my character in his finest light if you see what I mean.

There were a few scenes from the last series which racked up millions of views online and went viral. Was that all rather unexpected?

It was, yeah. There were a handful of scenes that picked up a following on Twitter and Facebook. We were told that the scene in the Post Office from episode two of the last series - where Sami sees off a racist in the queue - got 91 million views. It was crazy!

Obviously that doesn't singularly get you a second series but at the same time it's a great entrée for the show and I think a lot of people discovered the show through moments like that.

I think there are four or five little sexy scenes which we may see doing the rounds in weeks to come.

Ambitions for a third series?

Absolutely, I think I know where I want the story to go. The story is not over at the end of series two so hopefully Channel 4 want to continue the journey - but you never know.

Do you know what the ending to Home will be?

I think I do. But it's difficult because the story can change. On the one level it's the story of whether or not Sami gets refugee status and citizenship - and does he stay? But then there's an internal story which is not a refugee story, but a story of family and relationships which you can keep telling.

Series two certainly gives us some answers in the finale, episode six takes us into very different territory, but it certainly isn't the end of the story. It doesn't leave you hanging in the balance quite as much as the end of series one but there's certainly more story to tell.

When you're not working, what have you been enjoying on television?

Do you know what I've been getting in to recently? There's a show on BBC Two which is a US import called Better Things with Pamela Adlon which has just hit season three over here. I adore that show. Tonally, it's a little similar to Home actually in a funny old way. I just love Pamela Adlon and the whole setup there. I adore it.

Over Christmas I did what everyone else did, I watched Gavin & Stacey, I watched Dracula and I caught up on Happy Valley 2... that's how old I am. It's ridiculous. I suddenly thought where was I when this came out? And now I realise why it's so popular.

My TV experience these days is often catching up on stuff that I've missed the first time around.

What's next for you?

Just before the last series of Home I filmed a series called Four Lives for the BBC with Sheridan Smith and Stephen Merchant and that's coming out soon I believe on BBC One.

I'm also in the next series of Flack again which is coming out on W with Anna Paquin, we shot that over the summer - that was great fun.

And you're developing Home for America?

We are. We're developing Home in the States with Ben Stiller at the moment. I'm an executive producer on it which means you give a lot of notes and there are a lot of midnight calls to LA. It's all very exciting.

The whole process of development and pitching to a channel is all fairly busy but they've involved me in a really lovely way over the last couple of months.

Ben Stiller has been incredibly supportive and is heavily involved in the whole process. He's a UN envoy and a refugee spokesman so he's been out to Aleppo, he's extremely active in that space. It really is his main thing at the moment and I think when he found Home it became a crusade of his to get it made which is encouraging and obviously he's a bloody hero.

So it's in with a network at the moment and we're all waiting, so it's all under wraps, and the way the system works out there is if its's green-lit - great, if they don't want it you go across the road to someone else.

Home returns Wednesday 5th February at 10pm on Channel 4


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