Interview with ‘Mindhorn’ director Sean Foley, and writer Simon Farnaby

This month, the new comedy from writers Julian Barratt – one of the minds behind ‘The Mighty Boosh’ and Simon Farnaby, ‘Mindhorn’, is released in Irish cinemas. The film follows actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt), whose role as TV detective Mindhorn was the high point of his career. Thorncroft has not played the role of Mindhorn for many years, but when there are a series of murders on the Isle of Man, and the suspect will only talk to Mindhorn, Thorncroft has to reprise the role that defined his career. caught up with director Sean Foley and co-writer Simon Farnaby on their recent trip to Dublin, more about ‘Mindhorn’ While we waited for Simon to join us, Sean Foley – who directed ‘The Walworth Farce’ at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin and has family in Ireland – gave us the inside scoop that Simon Farnaby had studied English Literature in Trinity College for six months! Dublin connections all around!

Welcome back to Dublin Simon! I hear you did some studying at Trinity College…
Simon Farnaby: That’s true, I did. I loved it.

Can you tell me where ‘Mindhorn’ came from?
Simon Farnaby: I had the initial idea; I was listening to a song – a CD that Julian [Barratt] had actually given to me – and I hear the name Mindhorn, and I wrote it down, and thought it sounded like a detective from one of the detective shows like ‘Bergerac’. Julian has a similar love of that genre, like ‘Bergerac’ and we just thought “how can we do that genre, and have fun with it but not just make a parody?”. Then we had the idea that Richard Thorncroft is an actor who used to be in a TV show, and form there it snowballed into the film you see, and Sean [Foley] came on board and helped us along with it.

It’s your first feature film Sean, how was it for you to step from theatre to the big screen?
Sean Foley: Well it was easy, wasn’t it?! It’s basically easy!
Simon Farnaby: Once he knew which way to point the camera!
Sean Foley: I don’t know what people are making such a fuss about! I kept shouting at the actors “Speak up! They can’t hear you at the back!” [laughs]
Simon Farnaby: We had lots of problems with Sean, and he didn’t like to use microphones…
Sean Foley: I was going to say it’s completely different; of course it’s completely different! There are so many things exactly the same in that your job is to get the best out of everyone, and particularly in comedy, to make sure that the script is funny, which was easy because the two people writing it were very adept at that, and knew what they were doing. There’s that and choosing the actors, then it’s the same thing in the theatre as it is in making a film; you have to keep going until it is funny! Don’t just assume that it is! It’s getting the audience’s focus in the right place. The technical things are all different, but in the end you can’t make any sort of comedy unless you have got a good script and great actors.

Simon, you mentioned ‘Bergerac’ as a jumping off point, but it feels as though the film also takes inspiration from ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, and obviously there are touches of ‘The Mighty Boosh’ in there, as well as ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’. Did you take inspiration from these places or did you just start with who Mindhorn/Richard Thorncroft was and go from there?
Simon Farnaby: We didn’t think about Partirdge, and ‘Garth Marenghi’ we know those guys, and we thought it was [a] very different character. We didn’t really think of that, I think the comparisons with those – like any British comedy characters – there are a lot of similarities. There’s a status anxiety with them I suppose, that’s the thing that runs through [the characters], but we didn’t actually even think of that. We just thought of the premise, and we thought the police are looking for the actor who used to play this character, [and] because he is washed up that was the funniest. That was our jumping off point for the character. If it is similar to some of the greats, then fine! [laughs] We just wrote what we both found funny about that sort of character.
Sean Foley: A lot of the things you mention, although of course there is a terrific ‘Alpha Papa’ film with Steve Coogan, they are genuinely more TV phenomenons. When the guys first sent me the script, the thing I really liked about it, in terms of it being an original British comedy, was the fact that it had this fantastic story, and it had characters that sustained you through the story, and it was a proper film story; no matter how farcical or daft or surreal it gets, you are watching a character. A man goes back to try and relive glories, but what is waiting there for him is just a descent into farcical hell. We put that awful character, a very arrogant person, through the mill for our amusement, and that’s what really appealed to me. I thought it was a great comic redemption of seeing this character realise he’s an arsehole! [laughs] That’s basically the story of the film. [laughs]

How did you go about assembling your wonderful cast, which includes Andrea Riseborough, Russell Tovey, Steve Coogan and some surprise cameos?
Sean Foley: Simon and Julian have worked with Steve Coogan before, and he wanted to play this other brilliant character; the nemesis of Julian’s character. Then, the script was good, so we could ask really good people. I’m always of the opinion – that famous old showbiz saying – let’s see if we can get Frank Sinatra, when Frank Sinatra was number one. They can only say “No”! Andrea Riseborough literally read the script and said “Can I be in it?” so we were lucky as well.
Simon Farnaby: Andrea was a fan of ‘The [Mighty] Boosh’ so she wanted to work with us, even though it was very different. I think she thought she was going on a magical, surreal adventure and ended up playing a cop.
Sean Foley: I think if you have got strong work, and you see that people behind it are authentic and know their onions, then you will get good people on board.

What’s next for you Simon? I hear you are writing ‘Paddington 2’?
Simon Farnaby: Yes ‘Paddington 2’ is written with Paul King, and it’s being edited as we speak! That’s very exciting. It’s going to be great, I think. It’s going to be a busy year this year.

And Sean, do you have plans other than ‘The Miser’, which is running in the West End until June?
Sean Foley: Hopefully I will be doing another film in LA.

Words: Brogen Hayes

‘Mindhorn’ is released in Irish cinemas on May 5th 2017. Watch the trailer below…