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'The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse' In Cinemas
02 Jun 2005 :

'The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse', filmed in Ireland during 2004, opens in cinemas nationwide this weekend. IFTN chatted with stars Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss about their debut film and their time spent acting in the Irish mud...

In comedy circles, you’d be forgiven for admitting you’ve never heard of the League of Gentlemen or Royston Vasey, but not very well respected. Since 1999, The League of Gentlemen’s BBC2 television series has enjoyed ample success securing a cult status, a handful of awards and reams of fans across Britain, Ireland and the US.

With the release of ‘The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse’ this weekend, old timers and newcomers are invited to experience the League’s first feature film adventure.

With an impending apocalypse underway in the town of Royston Vasey, three of the townsfolk; escaped convict Hilary Briss and his two hostages, Herr Lipp and Geoff Tipps; escape through a portal into the ‘real world’. There they are met by some of the more bizarre Royston Vasey natives Tubbs, Edward and Papa Lazarou , who explain their position as mere figments of imagination, the brainchild of four writers called the League of Gentlemen who have abandoned their Royston Vasey writing in favour of a new sketch series based in 17 th Century England. Setting out to meet their makers, the trio attempt to save their world from total destruction.

Tubbs and Edward (top) & Papa Lazarou

The League of Gentlemen - otherwise known as Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith – wrote and starred in the film with their BBC series director Steve Bendelack (Spitting Image, The Royale Family) behind the lens.

What’s the Irish connection to this decidedly British comedy I hear you ask? Well, the €4million production took advantage of Ireland’s favourable Section 481 tax incentives, shooting on Irish locations in Dublin and Wicklow over six weeks during the winter months of 2004. Add an Irish crew into the mix with Irish filmmakers Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe carrying producer & executive producer credits respectively and IFTN has got more than enough to talk about.

Returning to Ireland for the first time since wrapping the film, League member Steve Pemberton fondly remembers the Irish shoot: “The people here were great, the crews were great, we had a lot of good fun but we worked hard.”

His co-writer Mark Gatiss adds “Everyone was lovely and we were really made very welcome, there were a lot of new Irish crew who didn’t know the series but they became very loyal to it afterwards. They were a delight to work with and everybody just put themselves out 110%. It was great and Ireland was a really good choice (pauses), to think it could have been the Isle of Man!”(laughs)

With camera and lenses provided by Arri, Kodak & Dolby the film was shot on High Def. With a budget of just €4million, the ambitious feature crams CG effects, varied locations and big name actors onto the screen. With the stops well and truly pulled out, the film was delivered on budget and on time.

“We wrote the script on spec so we didn’t take any money up front, we weren’t affiliated to anyone and we wanted to do that so we could get the best script we could. At one point it looked like it was falling through and we actually had to halve our fees…This could have been a £20million film because it has that ambition. It’s got the end of the world, it’s got monsters and the way we wrote it we didn’t think about money. But when it came down to it, every last penny or cent was up there on the screen. We’ve always been like that, even since the first series…they say ‘right, you can have a nice hotel or you can have a monkey for that scene’ and we always choose the monkey,” says Pemberton with a chuckle.

What of the working conditions on set, surely there must have been some VIP treatment for the actor/writers/producers? On the contrary “you get so tired and wet!” exclaims Gatiss, “I’ve got a very ambivalent relationship with that kinda stuff because I always think, as my dad would say, ‘it’s not picking up bricks!’…The weird thing is though, sometimes you’re very molly coddled and then other times you are totally abandoned. I remember on the series where we were trying to cross a river and the raft collapses; because of the law we had to have wet suits and be immediately driven to a dry room for hot showers and soup and all these things. Now I’m not kidding you, we were just in a reservoir, it was too hot because the wet suits were boiling and the water was up to there (indicates his waist), it was like paddling (he laughs).

Oh the glamour! Mark Gatiss & David Warner on set in Co. Wicklow.

Then shooting the film I had raging tonsillitis and a very high temperature, Reece was almost dying with the flu and I had to lie in the freezing mud doing one of my death scenes. It was pissing down and there wasn’t a blanket to be had, they were like ‘he’ll be alright’ (laughs) and I was genuinely thinking ‘I’d really like somebody to bring me some oxtail soup right now’ but there was nothing going on at all. So it’s just a feast or famine.”

The League of Gentlemen have a sense of humour that is infectious and quite distinctly bizarre. Together for ten years, they have formed an enviable working relationship producing hours of side splitting sketches for the stage and television, but inescapably sights were always set on the big screen. “Rather than being fans of TV or comedy, I think first and foremost we are fans of film,” says Pemberton . “The first discussions we had when we met were about films. The films we loved and that passion is in there. You can’t just come in and make a film though, you have to build up a body of work and so I don’t think we ever really genuinely believed it was possible but as soon as the series seemed to take off we probably thought it was possible then.”

However, writing the script was not an easy task for the team, taking almost a year to complete. “The first idea was not anything to do with the Royston Vasey characters, it was to create something historical,” adds Pemberton. “We thought it would be good fun to go between different periods but we just didn’t know what the story was. We thought the historical aspect gave a richness and a cinematic scale but when you’ve got these characters that are really fully formed in the back of your mind, it’s very hard to let go. When you’re writing a new character you’re thinking ‘well this is just a pale imitation of this character or that character’ and there was this key moment when I said to Reece, ‘what if I saw Pauline in the supermarket and she followed me home and started asking why we weren’t working with them anymore’. So we took that idea and kept the historical idea as the fictional film we were working on. So, in effect, art imitated life. We took the experiences we were going through and made it into a story…”

With an epic ‘end of the world’ narrative, the development / humanising of Royston Vasey characters and the use of a number of filmic devices, hard core fans will notice the feature is slightly lighter in tone when compared to the demented sketches of the original series and terrifying Christmas Special. Naturally this allows for wider audience appeal but is there any danger of Royston Vasey losing its cult cred? Gatiss isn’t worried:

“The story is quite friendly in the sense that you are rooting for the characters but definitely part of the appeal is that it’s still very weird. I actually don’t think we realise how odd it is until we look back at it, because we just do what we think is funny.

Dr. Erasmus Pea gets to work...

In terms of losing a cult base, I think hopefully they’ll just like it for what it is. Also, it’s mostly to do with the fact that in the film narrative you’ve got to go somewhere, you can’t just stop it to do a sketch about cannibalism or something, it has to mean more…It’s a very ambitious film but it’s still very odd and quite curious. There are moments like the eye gouging which are genuinely horrible, so we haven’t sold out. (laughs)”

However, favouring the characters of Lipp, Briss and Geoff as the main protagonists instead of the more popular and more wacky characters of Tubbs, Edward and Papa Lazarou was something the League of Gentlemen were aware might upset their devoted fanbase, so they wrote a scene explaining their train of thought. Pemberton says: “ There are some people who would have wanted to see a whole film with Edward and Papa Lazarou, and that line where he says ‘we are too bizarre’, it means ‘we can’t carry out this mission because we’re frightening people off’. We decided very early on that it would have made it more spinoffy to use them even though, in terms of publicity, these are the characters most people know. It would have felt a little bit lazy when we do have over 100 characters between the three of us and you don’t want to just pin it all on a small handful.”

In addition to the League, Pemberton has acted in a number of straight roles including parts in ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers’ and Woody Allen’s ‘Match Point’ so bringing his character, German pederast teacher Herr Lipp, through an emotional journey in the film was very satisfying for him both as a writer and a performer. “I had this idea that I wanted one of my characters to walk into my house and live my life. I thought of all the different characters and I settled on him because I thought ‘he’s a real sketch show character in his heart’. When we were writing it we upped the double entendres in the earlier part of the film so he could come to a point when he realizes, that’s all he has. A big influence was ToyStory, when Buzz Lightyear realizes he’s a toy. I’ve got two

Royston Vasey residents Herr Lipp, Geoff Tipps & Hilary Briss

small kids and I’ve seen that film endless times and I think that scene is fantastic. It’s that kind of feeling I was looking for in the writing where you sympathise with this character because they are seeing their limitations, they are seeing what they didn’t know they were. I really wanted a moment like that, a Buzz Lightyear moment for Herr Lipp. By the end, I hope, people are really rooting for him which is quite bizarre given what he’s done in the past."

In addition to Steve, Mark and Reece, the cast of the film also includes horror legend David Warner (The Omen, Time After Time, Titanic), comedian Victoria Wood, Bernard Hill (The Lord of the Rings) and Michael Sheen (Dead Long Enough, Heartlands). The League also called in a few favours from friends with Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), comedian Peter Kaye and even Irish actor Liam Cunningham taking cameo parts in the film.

“They’re all different and we wanted to supplement our roles in a way too. People like David Warner, who plays Doctor Pea, he was always going to be in it (pauses), well he hadn’t accepted it yet (laughs), but that part was written for him. Then we had the king and queen and we thought it would be fun to get some faces in, so

Victoria Wood and Bernard Hill, whose work I’ve always admired, came on board….You just take a risk and ask people, they did us favours because they weren’t paid very well. Simon (Pegg) and Peter (Kaye) have only got one line each, but they get one of the biggest laughs! It’s annoying really. We’ve put in all that work as five different characters, they come in stick their bum through a wall and, hey presto, the biggest laugh in the film.”

Peter Kaye, Simon Pegg, Mark Gatiss & Steve Pemberton

From conception to final delivery, the League are unsurprisingly protective over their work and ‘The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse’ carries their name and their final seal of approval on all aspects of the production. Gatiss explains: “It’s the League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, it’s nobody else’s. We have a great team, a lot of people we’ve worked with since the very beginning, like Steve Bendelack the director… We would not be interested in doing it if we just turned it over to other people because nobody knows that script better than we do, in fact, if I may be frank, occasional frustrations during the shoot were to do with people imagining they knew what we wanted when they didn’t even ask us!”

This being the debut feature for director Bendelack, did the League have much opposition to his choice? “The thing is, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Obviously we wanted Steve but it’s a different thing for a movie. Our TV producer couldn’t produce the film because we went through different production companies. Steve was always uppermost in our minds but there is that weird thing with movies where even if you’ve directed a shit film, you’ve directed a film. At one stage I think some production company wanted to see Steve’s show reel and he was like ‘the show is my show reel!’ But in the end it was just logical and natural for Steve to do it.”

With their ten year anniversary coming up and an already critically successful movie in the can, there is a certain sense of the end of an era for the four writers. Individually they have successfully worked on solo projects, Gatiss, a successful scriptwriter and novelist, most recently writing an episode of BBC’s ‘Dr. Who’, Dyson writing the new BBC3 series ‘Funland’, Shearsmith soon to be appearing on the London stage alongside Sienna Miller in ‘As You Like It’ and Steve Pemberton returns to Ireland to shoot another Guiney film ‘Lassie’ alongside Samantha Morton and Peter O’Toole…does this mean it’s curtains for their Royston Vasey characters?

“What we’d really like to do is to avoid the inevitable split for as long as possible by keeping ourselves fresh,” says Gatiss. “We’d love to do another movie and we are doing a tour in the Autumn but its very nice to go away and come back. Having said that, its ten years since we did our first show as the League of Gentlemen on stage and getting to do a film at the 10 year point is a big landmark, so I think we will be taking stock of what to do next.”

Pemberton agrees: “It’s great to do other jobs as well. It’s not like a holiday because you do work hard at the job in hand, but you’re not worrying about it all the time and you can really enjoy the experience of acting. I’m here doing Lassie at the moment and I think I’m going to really enjoy it. I’m playing a character called Edward Hines who is the Duke’s (Peter O’Toole) kennel man. I’m very cruel to the dogs and when Lassie runs away I’m beating her, so I could become the hate figure to a whole generation of kids (laughs). He’s sort of a bumbling pompus character with a cruel streak, it’s great fun…In a way it’s not that far removed from a League of Gentlemen character placed in a family film but at least my kids will be able to watch it without fear of warping their minds too much. (laughs)

I certainly don’t feel the need to get rid of it and even if we did do a couple of projects where we did move away, I think that would be very healthy. But I think, like the sign says ‘you’ll never leave’ we’ve just worked on it too hard, it’s too much in our blood to say ‘that’s it, we’re never going back there again’.”

The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse is released nationwide this weekend

View The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse trailer in the IFTN Preview Theatre.

‘The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse’ is a Universal Studios and Film Four presentation of a Tiger Aspect Pictures production in association with Hell’s Kitchen International. ‘ The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse’ is directed by Steve Bendelack and produced by Greg Brenman and Ed Guiney. Executive Producers are Peter Bennett-Jones, Andrew Lowe and The League of Gentlemen.

Visit the Official Website http://www.uip.co.uk/leagueofgentlemen/

Directed by Steve Bendelack
Written by Jeremy Dyson
  Mark Gatiss
  Steve Pemberton
  Reece Shearsmith
Produced by Greg Brenman
  Ed Guiney
Co Producer Rachel Salter
Executive Producers Peter Bennett-Jones
  Andrew Lowe
  The League of Gentlemen
Director Of Photography Rob Kitzmann
Film Editor Tony Cranstoun
Production Designer Richard Bridgland
Original Score By Joby Talbot
Costume Designer Yves Barre
Make Up & Hair Design Daniel Phillips
Line Producer Séamus McInerney
Casting Director Kate Rhodes James
Matthew Chinnery  
Hilary Briss  
Sir Nicholas Sheet-Lightning Mark Gatiss
Herr Lipp  
Lemuel Blizzard Steve Pemberton
Papa Lazarou  
Father Halfhearte  
Red Devil Reece Shearsmith
Jeremy Michael Sheen
Dahlia Danielle Tilley
Damon Bruno Langley
Claire Liana O’Cleirigh
Vicar Philip O’Sullivan
Asian Dad Jeff Mirza
Receptionist Angel Coulby
Minnie Lucy Miller
Director Liam Cunningham
Casting Director Kate O’Toole
Lindsay Emily Woof
Joel Tito Long
Billy Jack Long
King William III Bernard Hill
Queen Mary II Victoria Wood
Liveried Servant Mark Doherty
Dr Erasmus Pea David Warner
Simon Pig Peter Kay
Peter Cow Simon Pegg
Tom Tit David Ryall
Little Boy Kevin Maher
Nurse One Mary O’Driscoll
Nurse Two Melanie Clark Pullen
Reece Shearsmith Double Sean Murphy
Mark Gatiss Double Jeffery Lowe
Steve Pemberton Double Enda Kilroy
Consultant Jeremy Dyson
1 st Assistant Director Karen Richards
Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Duncan
Set Decorator Gemma Ryan
Make Up Artists Tapio Salmi
  Linda Mooney
Costume Supervisor Sue Wain
Additional Casting (Ireland) Amy Rowan
Casting Assistant (UK) Andy Morgan
Production Accountant Karen McSwiney
2 nd Assistant Director Raymond Kirk
3 rd Assistant Directors Enda Doherty
  Nessa Linnane
Production Co-Ordinator Maria Collins
Script Supervisor Catherine Morris
Camera Operator Ciaran Kavanagh
Focus Puller Keith Durham
Clapper Loader Donata Ferrario
Video Assist Louise McEllin
Grip Joe Martin
Sound Recordist Mervyn Moore
Boom Operator Andrew Felton
Location Managers Dougal Cousins
  Clodagh Tierney
For Tiger Aspect Pictures  
Business Affairs Tara Buckwell
Script Executives Roanna Benn
  Mat Chaplin
Assistant to Greg Brenman Wendy Broom
Assistant to Rachel Salter & Tara Buckwell Milly Rust
For Hell’s Kitchen International  
Production Executive Jane Roche
Business Affairs Louise Cornally
Art Director David Doran
Stand By Art Director Carmel Nugent
Draughtsman Brendan Rankin
Storyboard Artist Tony Chance
Special Effects Team FX
  Brendan Byrne
  Pat Redmond
Construction Manager Colm Bassett
Assistant Construction Manager Dermot Butler
Master Painter Neil Fetherston
Painters Tony Dixon
  James Dunleavy
  Neville Gaynor
  Darren Kearney
Master Plasterer Frank Matthews
Plasterers Larry Byrne
  Patrick Hickey
  Francis Matthews
  Fenton O’Brien
Master Rigger Danny O’Reilly
  Charles McKenna
Master Stagehand Anthony Walsh
Stagehands Willie Fitzpatrick
  Martin Gray
  Jason Kelly
  John Purdy
Master Carpenters Greg Demery
  Colm Murphy
Carpenters Alex Bassett
  Thomas Burke
  James Butler
  Mick Coyne
  Michael Finglas
  Edward Humphries
  Martin Hunter
  Matthew Kirwan
  Brian Molloy
  Gavin Walsh
Standby Carpenter Colm Murnane
Standby Painter Tommy Lundy
Standby Stagehand Mark Bassett
Standby Rigger Noel McKenna
Production Buyer Jenny Oman
Property Master Gerard Lanigan
Chargehand Storeperson Bob Pritchard
Dressing Props Anthony Boston
  Marc Dowds
  Alan Harvey
Stand By Props William Ayres
  Dermot Blighe
Graphics Sharon Bruton
Prop Makers Graeme Bird
  Bob Clarke
Armourer John McKenna
Stunt Co-ordinator Donal O’Farrell
Stunt Performers Giedrius Nagys
  Dominic Hewitt
Gaffer Con Dempsey
Best Boy Niall Mannion
Electricians Con Dempsey Jnr
  Padraic O’Fatharta
Genny Operator Eugene O’Sullivan

By Tanya Warren

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