Henry Normal, co-founder of Baby Cow Productions with Steve Coogan; writer of hit comedy series’ such as ‘Gavin & Stacey’ and ‘The Royle Family’; producer of the upcoming Alan Partridge film; and a prominent figure in the production of Chris O’Dowd’s ‘Moone Boy’, spends Five Minutes with IFTN in Boyle, Co Roscommon, where the first episode of the upcoming Sky series was screened for residents of Boyle.
Normal discussed how Chris O’Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy’s scripts got Baby Cow on board, how he’s planning on asking Irish director Declan Lowney to work with him again, and why ‘Moone Boy’ is just like cheese…
Henry, this is your first time working in television in Ireland. How are you finding Boyle and its residents?
It’s great. Steve Coogan and I started in comedy about 14 years ago and Steve’s always wanted to do something in Ireland because a lot of his family are from Ireland. So we’ve been looking for a way of doing something and Sky was very keen to do some work in Ireland, and luckily Chris O’Dowd wrote a fantastic script with Nick Vincent Murphy, and it just gave us the excuse to come and do it.
What made Baby Cow Productions back ‘Moone Boy’?
I think it’s down to the writing. I think it’s down to Chris and Nick’s vision of the world, but also, the casting in this is so excellent, sometimes when you have an ensemble piece you sometimes feel like you want to be with one character and not with another and you sort of feel like you’re in the wrong room at the party. But with this, you’re always in the right room, because each of the characters you want to be with and you want to know their story.
In a way you want [the episodes] to be more than 22 minutes because you want to know more. Even the side characters, not only are they well written, but they’re so well cast that they’re really embodied by the people. I remember when I saw the scripts the first time I said to Chris ‘Why do we need three sisters, do two sisters, save a bit of money’. But the way you see the three actresses playing the three sisters, they bring so much difference to those three sisters you could never do it without them. So we were either very clever or very lucky with the casting!
You’re executive producer of ‘Moone Boy’. How hands-on were you in the production?
I went over to Dublin (for ‘Moone Boy’), I have a great producer called Ted Dowd, and because we do about seven shows at the same time, I have to dot around and look at each of them. What I tend to do is spend time with the writers on the scripts and get involved in that, and when they shoot, I let Ted do it, who is absolutely brilliant, sort it out, and I come along once and say ‘Is everything alright?’
Then in the edit I always sit in, I get to cast a fresh eye in the edit, and I find that great fun. The edit is a bit like having a huge jigsaw puzzle that you’re able to change around and enjoy. I get to sit with Chris & Nick in the edit and have some fun with them. I get all the best bits. We shot in a studio in Wicklow (Ardmore). We do have co-producers in Ireland, Grand Pictures, who help us with all that, which we’re very grateful for. That works very well. It’s very attractive to film in, I can’t think of a downside at all, apart from maybe having to get a plane…
Steve appears in episode two, you couldn’t stop him, he was gagging to be in episode two, and we’ve got a second series already. I’ve worked in television for about 25 years and I’ve never known a programme to get a second series before the first series has actually hit the screen. In fact, we got the second series after we sent in episode one of the first series, they thought it was so good they asked for a second series at that point, we hadn’t even delivered the other episodes!
‘Moone Boy’ is set in Ireland, is based on Irish themes and has a very Irish sense of humour. Do you think British audiences will get it?
I think it will fare all around the world because I think the flavour of the Irishness and the fact that it’s particular and it has a truth about it, is part of its strength. We made ‘Gavin & Stacey’, which had a Welsh and a London flavour to it. I wrote the first series of the ‘Royle Family’ which had a very much Manchester flavour, and what they all seem to have, and I think ‘Moone Boy’ has, is a truth of our own character. I think you could equate it to poetry, or cheese. If you think of Wordsworth, you think of the lakes. If you think of Cheddar, you think of Cheddar, and yet, Wordsworth and Cheddar are known all over the world, and we sort of know what they are whenever we see them. I think it’s the same when you get something that’s really well set, so I think although it’s set in Boyle, I think the flavour of that, people will understand it around the world.
Declan Lowney, the director of 'Father Ted', has directed the first series of ‘Moone Boy’. Does ‘Moone Boy’ have the same recipe for success as ‘Father Ted’?
It’s very different from ‘Father Ted’, in that I think the sense of reality to it is such that it’s almost real. The actors act it real, and it’s only through the writing that the attitude and the comedy comes. ‘Father Ted’ was a brilliant series, but there was sort of a surreal element to it, whereas I think there’s a lot of heart in [‘Moone Boy’]. I think they will take to it beyond the comedy, as a family drama. I’d say it’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in 25 years.
The reason why I think it’s so funny is because all the characters are so well defined, you don’t get a situation where somebody says a line and you’re waiting for that character to say another line. As every character says their line, you get a different attitude so it’s very rich with the comedy.
You are working with Declan again on the Alan Partridge movie. What can you tell us about that production?
We’re making Alan Partridge The Movie, it probably won’t be called that though! Declan would have loved to have done the second series [of ‘Moone Boy’] but the dates wouldn’t work. It’s being filmed in Norwich and within the M25, the insides will be filmed within the M25, and there’s a chase scene at the end.
We worked with Declan before, Declan did a programme for us called ‘Cruise of the Gods’, which Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, David Walliams, Russell Brand and James Corden were all in. So that was quite an amazing, one hour show, written by Tim Furth who wrote ‘Calendar Girls’. I’ve got my eye on Declan to direct another film once he’s finished with Alan Partridge, I can’t tell you anymore because I need to speak to Declan first. It will be another comedy.
Will Baby Cow ever stray away from comedy?
I was very lucky in that I have the ability to write a joke and I’ve managed to stretch that ability into making over 300 television shows, so I’m very grateful to have that ability. Without that I’d have been very poor!
‘Moone Boy’ will air on Sky One HD On Friday September 14 at 9.30pm. It stars David Rawle, Chris O’Dowd, Deirdre O’Kane, Peter McDonald, Aoife Duffin, Clare Monnelly, Sarah White and Simon Delaney in episode one. Series two is currently in production at Ardmore Studios in Wicklow.