Simon Bird on the Christian cult sitcom and the mixed legacy of The Inbetweeners

Simon Bird: 'I'm not much of a professional player, it seems' #x002019;  (Dave J Hogan/Getty)

Simon Bird: “I’m not much of a professional actor, apparently” (Dave J Hogan/Getty)

That’s why I don’t do interviews,” says Simon Bird. “I regret everything I’ve said.” I just asked the 38-year-old star. in between and Friday Night Dinner About Rishi Altar. At the mid-2021 pandemic stand-up show To informBird suggested that Sunak, who was then Finance Minister, “personally responsible for grossly negligent manslaughter”, branding the Eat Out to Help Out plan an “act of terrorism”. “There was definitely an element of funny exaggeration there,” he said somewhat pragmatically. “I don’t really think it’s my place to get into politics. Still, I mean, the reason you brought this up is because I literally got into politics… I totally contradicted myself. But how do I feel about him becoming prime minister? I don’t think I will vote for him. And I’ll probably just leave that here.”

While video calling Bird from her East London home, much of our conversation follows this kind of sarcastic, self-inquiring rhythm. With a short, unkempt beard and glasses, he has a vaguely ‘between-project’ air, as if one of the extremely nervous characters he portrays onscreen has just relaxed a bit. A little. It’s been more than eight years since Bird last played the smug teenager Will McKenzie in the second episode. in between movie, but still a role he had a hard time escaping.

No matter how many projects he’s after – he’s directing a feature film (2019s) Bagnold Summer Days), hosting a comedy panel show (unfortunate the king is dead) and acting in the West End – always preceded by Will McKenzie and the accompanying nickname “briefcase idiot”. The nickname dates back to the show’s first episode, which aired for three series late in the Noughties, but has since become common slang for someone cool, arrogant, and/or socially awkward.

Bird’s latest project, the Channel 4 sitcom Everyone Else Is Burning, that may not change the fact, but it’s as good as any opportunity. Written by Dillon Mapletoft and Oliver Taylor, the series is about a Mancunian family belonging to an extreme Christian sect. Bird plays the head of the family, David, a petty, controlling buffoon with a truly ridiculous bowl cut hairstyle. “My first reaction [upon seeing the wig] It was an annoying laugh that was the reaction of almost everyone. And that meant we had to go with it,” he complains. “I have hope that if the show is successful, the character’s look will become somewhat iconic. So I had to admit that the hairstyle can help on that front.

Everyone Else Is Burning An immensely entertaining sitcom, filled with sharply funny dialogue and surprisingly subtle performances by Bird and her co-stars, especially Kate O’Flynn, who plays David’s wife Fiona, and Amy James-Kelly, who plays her sheltered daughter Rachel. . “It’s not a show about religion,” Bird explains. “I guess religion in the show is a metaphor for a lot of other things, it’s some kind of non-quote-quote ‘family values’ or small-c conservatism.”

I ask what kind of preparation was done for the role (apart from the ugly wig). “Oh, you know, a lot of preparation and research,” he says. “I went on many different pilgrimages. I learned the Bible.” He grins. “I really didn’t. I just read my lines. It seems that I am not a very professional actor.”

Channel 4, which ordered the six-episode series, was also in charge. Friday Night Dinner, in betweenand Bird’s stand-up show. Bird praises the publisher’s output – admiring: Derry Girls several times – and celebrates the fact that the customization plans seem to have been abandoned. “Obviously I’m really glad because they’re the only channel that gives me a job,” he laughs. “This is not the main reason why he was allowed to continue working. Although…”

Simon Bird and Kadiff Kirwan, 'Everyone Else Burns' (Channel 4)

Simon Bird and Kadiff Kirwan on “Everyone Else Burns” (Channel 4)

Bird stumbled upon acting almost by accident, cutting her teeth in sketch comedy at Cambridge University. “I hate myself,” he grumbles, after referring to his character’s “journey” at one point. Everyone Else Is Burning. “I am not a trained actor,” he says. “I am not a very good spokesperson for the industry. But I think comedy is a slightly different skill set. The most important thing for comedy is to feel comfortable enough to follow your own impulses in front of the camera. I’m trying to get out of character in many ways [on screen]just be myself as much as possible.

Anyone familiar with Bird’s career will probably already know this, of course. There is one distinct “type” he tends to play in most screen performances: a braggart; a regimental figure; a balloon to burst. “As you’ll learn in this talk, I couldn’t be more of a beta male,” he says. “What’s under beta? I am in such a situation too. So I understand why I wasn’t offered alpha male roles.”

Beside in betweenWill, Bird’s other best-known role came on the sitcom. Friday Night DinnerIt lasted from 2011 to 2020. In it, Bird played Adam, the eldest son of a dysfunctional Jewish family. Bird isn’t Jewish, he’s not even “the least bit religious,” he says. In the years since the show’s debut, the casting of non-Jewish actors in prominent Jewish roles has become a hot topic in the film and TV industries: Rachel Brosnahan, Gorgeous Miss MaiselRachel Sennott in the acclaimed independent film Shiva Babyand Felicity Jones, who played Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the biopic Based on Gender are just a few of the casting decisions that have attracted attention recently.

I don’t turn down a lot of active work – they don’t knock on the door!

simon bird

“I think this is a really valuable and important discussion,” Bird says. “And that’s something I didn’t really consider when I was offered the role. But if I had time again, or if this is happening now, it’s something I should think about and seek advice on.”

One of the “mitigating factors” for Bird was the enthusiastic blessing of series writer and producer Robert Popper. “He personally asked me to play him,” Bird explains. “You know, the character Adam is literally Robert. He felt that I was the person who would best represent him on screen, so that’s very important to me. If he’s happy, I’m happy too. But I totally understand why the talk is being held.

Throughout our interview, Bird makes a series of brash remarks about “career struggles” (“I don’t turn down a lot of active jobs – they don’t knock on the door!”). ask him in betweenand reluctant to give an opinion: “I’m not watching. I never want to see him again. I watched through my fingers at the performance, I was startled by my performance, and then I tried to forget it.”

Four friends: Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas, James Buckley and Simon Bird in 'The Inbetweeners 2';  (Channel 4)

Four cheerleaders: Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas, James Buckley and Simon Bird on ‘The Inbetweeners 2’ (Channel 4)

But when the subject is pressed, he sees positive things in the legacy of the series. “I think something like Derry Girls is a direct continuation of what really works in between, that’s right, appropriate, and necessary to show people who they are on screen. There couldn’t be a more universal experience, the experience of being a schoolboy. Everyone has a Jay in their friend group. Everyone has a Neil. It feels important.”

He continues: “To be honest, I had just graduated from college and had played a lot of student comedies that were pretty flamboyant and avant-garde. And I snobbishly despise comedies that try to be broad and relatable. and i think in between taught me that it’s actually worth doing something universal. And it’s really hard to get it right.”

The bird shakes its head. “That’s a terrible answer,” he muttered. I’m not so sure.

‘Everyone Else Burns’ premieres on Monday, January 23 at 22:00 on Channel 4

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