Johnny Vegas, stand up comedian and actor, has landed a role in Chris O’Dowd’s Roscommon-based series ‘Moone Boy’. Playing an English wrestler who is the imaginary friend of a 10 year-old boy from Boyle, Vegas seems weirdly more at home with this part than any of his previous comic roles.
With credits such as ‘Ideal’, ‘Benidorm’ and a number of slots on comedy panel shows like ‘Shooting Stars’, ‘QI’ and ‘8 Out of 10 Cats’, Vegas takes it all in his stride when some local Boyle boys only recognise him from the PG Tips adverts as he attends the premiere of 'Moone Boy' in Roscommon.
IFTN spends five minutes with the Lancashire-born actor to discuss everything from imaginary friends to living, working and being accepted in Ireland.
Johnny, you filmed your scenes for ‘Moone Boy’ in Boyle, Co Roscommon. How did you find the town?The people are the same as my hometown St Helen's. I only did one day and then we had a wrap party. I'm a big advocate of that, coming back and shooting it where it's based, where it's settled. As far as Chris (O’Dowd) is concerned he's obviously not losing the run of himself, but he's gone global and he's still coming back here and doing this.
Speaking to others from the UK and elsewhere who come to Ireland to film always mention how accommodating Irish people are. How have you found working in Ireland in general?It's that idea that a lot of people have when it's not in certain areas, like London and that. ‘Oh do you have people here that can do that?' That's really condescending, we have it in the north of England, 'Oh you have a camera man, oh you have that and you have this? Eh yeah, we've some of the best you cheeky so and so.’
There's a nice approach [in Ireland] where you just like to get on with it, not make a song and dance about it, the focus should be what's going on in front of the camera, not any dramas behind it. I think folk are happy to be actually working, and have that joy in what they're doing and remembering why they got into it as opposed to what they won't do. So yeah it's great. It's nice just to get out and film in places where you get to see it, rather than being stuck in the studio. In Ireland I'm not problematic, I'm a character! That's nice, it's different. They don't keep trying to tick me in The Priory over here!
You play the imaginary friend of 10 year-old boy is that right?My character is Crunchie, Paudric’s (Ian O’Reilly) my imaginary friend. I didn’t have to do an Irish accent because I think it's a proper Northern wrestler from the 80s world of sport, like Giant Haystacks.
Did you have an imaginary friend growing up?I've never had an imaginary friend. What I did have was an absolute belief that I had the force, like a Jedi Knight. Yeah, for hours and hours and hours I used to hear Obi-Wan Kenobi talking to me in moments of stress. In every exam, all the answers he gave me were wrong!
’Moone Boy’ is set in the late 80s. What do you remember fondly of the 80s?In 1989 I was leaving for art school, to do pottery. Then I finished art school and I was leaving for London. It was a very traumatic time for me, I was throwing caution to the wind, believing that ceramics provided a future and financial stability for me and my family. How wrong I was!
I do remember it fondly, I think the 80s for me was also a difficult time with Thatcher and everything, a turbulent time for us, where we lived, financially, there were difficult times. But they are the making of you. I don't like going back and revisiting the fashion of the times. My sister made me a huge pair of trackie bottoms, like MC Hammer, I had MC Hammer tracksuit bottoms! My sister did fashion design and [I had] this denim jacket, when you look back now, I looked like a homeless genie.
Is Crunchie returning for season two?Yeah, [my scenes in season two] are about double of what I' m doing in this one. There's some really good stuff, I'm building a raft… A lot of good stuff coming up, stuff I can't believe they're allowing us to do, health and safety wise.
‘Moone Boy’ is very Irish in its humour, and it’s airing on Sky One. How do you think English audiences will take to it?I used to get asked ‘How does your humour travel down south?’ [Moone Boy] has got a real charm to it, where it looks like we're just messing on camera. If anything is really funny, it travels. It's got an Irish charm to it, but as a comedy it's really got its own identity. There's nothing out there like this.
Your wife Maia Dunphy, (Irish broadcaster & writer of ‘Podge & Rodge’, ‘Wagon’s Den’) works a lot in Ireland. Are you based here now?My wife is based here so we're still sort of crossing the pond to see each other. I was hoping to base myself here, but with work commitments back in the UK [I can’t]. I'm still working on my book, I’m making good progress on that. We just finished a segment on Radio 4 and they've commissioned ‘This Sort of Life’, which we're producing. We've got a project with Sky Arts that I'm directing with Ricky Tomlinson, I’m keeping really busy to be honest.
There's a film of 'Ideal', which is with Dreamworks, so we're going to be making a movie of that, which was nice because it was kind of cut short so we get to wrap it all up and say goodbye properly.
Will you film any of ‘Ideal’ in Ireland?I would do, it's just a case of who do you cast? If you've written something that's Manchester-based it's obviously not practical to bring everybody over here. I'll be doing whatever I need to do to get the tax breaks! I married a wonderful Irish girl, I want a bit of that Bono love…
Series one of ‘Moone Boy’ airs on Sky One HD on Friday, September 14 at 9.30pm, with Chris O’Dowd, David Rawle, Peter McDonald, Deirdre O’Kane, Simon Delaney, Aoife Duffin, Clare Monnelly, and Sarah White all starring. Grand Pictures produced with Baby Cow Productions, with filming taking place in Roscommon, Ardmore Studios in Wicklow and Dublin. Declan Lowney directed the entire series, with Henry Normal of Baby Cow the executive producer and Ted Dowd producing.