Simon Bird: 'Danger with The Inbetweeners is that it will no longer be believable that we are under the age of 30'

Actor tells Gerard Gilbert about his new sitcoms and reveals his mother's real ambition for him

Simon Bird has just returned, suitably jet-lagged and reassuringly speccy, from promoting The Inbetweeners Movie in America. Already phenomenally successful in the UK, where it recorded the biggest ever opening weekend for a comedy film before going on to gross over £45m, the E4 sitcom big-screen spinoff is now showing in 80 cinemas across the US. "They split us [the cast] up", says Bird. "I got San Francisco and LA – Blake [Harrison, who plays dim-witted Neil] got Columbus, Ohio. Actually the fact that it's in America at all is a massive bonus. It's not really designed for America."

That latter fact is reflected by the pallid MTV remake of the show, which has been likened to The Wonder Years rather than the raucous, potty-mouthed British original. Bird's next appearance on British TV will be in the second series of Friday Night Dinner, the sitcom about a north London Jewish family and their weekly Sabbath meal-time gatherings. Channel 4 rate the show so highly it has scheduled it to follow the new series of Homeland on Sunday evenings.

"Six more episodes of silliness and fun", promises Bird cheerfully. "There's no character development or growth". In the show, filmed in a real suburban semi in Mill Hill, a north London neighbourhood with a large Jewish community, Bird plays Adam, a twenty-something music-jingle writer who reverts to being a puerile teenager whenever he returns home to see his parents – straight-talking Jackie (Tamsin Greig) and eccentric Martin (Paul Ritter). In the meantime he fights with his younger brother, Jonny, an estate agent played by Tom Rosenthal, son of sports presenter Jim Rosenthal and the only actual Jew among the cast members.

"Robert [Popper] didn't set out to write a Jewish sitcom, he set out to write an autobiographical sitcom and his family just happened to be Jewish", says Bird, who was born into a solidly professional middle-class, gentile family in Guildford 28 years ago. Both his parents are academics, as is one brother. The other two brothers are doctors.

He read English literature at Cambridge, and became president of Footlights, where he met future fellow "Inbetweener" Joe Thomas (Simon Cooper), as well as Jonny Sweet. The trio went on to write and perform sketches at the Edinburgh Fringe – which is where Bird was discovered by Iain Morris, who was then casting his new E4 sitcom. "We decided to go and watch the Footlights", Morris recalled last year, "because, hatefully smug as those shows can often be, they invariably contain at least one or two brilliantly talented performers".

Bird's own estimation of his performing ability is more equivocal, and he has no trouble with critics who say that Adam from Friday Night Dinner and Will from The Inbetweeners are virtually indistinguishable.

"I don't really view myself as an actor", he says. "I'm under no illusions – I'm not Philip Seymour-Hoffman – but I think the other way is perfectly valid as well. Somebody I love is Michael Cera, who was in Arrested Development and Superbad, who I don't think is very different in the things that he's in, but he's always funny".

Bird's mother – an economics lecturer – would have preferred her son to have chosen a different career path. "When I finished filming the first series of The Inbetweeners she said: 'Good, Simon, you can go back to your PhD now'. My parents get annoyed when I imply in interviews that they weren't 100 per cent behind it, but I think that is a fair reflection. My mum came to the premier of the film, but I think she just finds it all a bit rude. They much prefer Friday Night Dinner."

But if Mr and Mrs Bird worried about their son settling down, they needn't have. This summer he married his girlfriend since university, Lisa Owens, who works in publishing, and he now has a mortgage on a house in London. Perhaps he wouldn't need a bank loan, I suggest, if there was to be a sequel to The Inbetweeners Movie – £10m shared between the four cast members being one figure that has been reported.

"I know that Iain and Damon are talking about ideas for a sequel, but that's as far as it's gone", he says. "The two dangers are that it will no longer be believable that we are under the age of 30, and the other one is that we won't want to do it any more. The first film felt like a natural ending to The Inbetweeners, so I think as far as we're concerned we're happy to leave it there. We all really want to do other things."

One of those things – for Bird and Thomas at least – is Chickens, their First World War sitcom about three men (their old Footlights confrere, Sweet, makes up the trio) who, for one reason or another, are failing to do their duty on the Western Front. The pilot episode was aired last summer by Channel 4, but the full series – due out next year – will be on Sky. "Channel 4 turned it down", says Bird.

"We were surprised because it was very supportive throughout the whole thing and obviously Joe and I have a history of working for Channel 4. But I think that was probably the reason, in that Fresh Meat (which stars Thomas) and Friday Night Dinner are both on-going and The Inbetweeners is constantly being re-run, so it probably thought 'enough is enough'".

Chickens, he says, is more "terrifying" than previous projects because, instead of performing other people's material, this is their own baby. "Joe and I, having been in The Inbetweeners, have got this level of fame and recognition that we don't necessarily deserve", he says. "The Inbetweeners would have been a success with a totally different cast because the scripts are good – so while we were fortunate enough to be cast in it, we feel we still have a lot to prove. I guess this is our opportunity."

'Friday Night Dinner' returns on Sunday at 10pm on Channel 4

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor