No bottom jokes? Pull the other one

Think of Rik Mayall and you see a grinning maniac spouting bad- taste jokes about bodily malfunctions in a succession of hectic TV sitcoms. Now he is starring in a slightly more grown-up role in the film `Bring me the Head of Mavis Davis'. But, he tells James Rampton, it is a part that still has him feeling like a misfit.

Rik Mayall is still defiant about his Bottom, the BBC2 sitcom which he and his long-term partner Adrian Edmondson wrote and performed together.

"We've got to the stage now where we realise the critics have got it in for us," he sighs. "In order to enjoy Bottom, you have to completely let go and swim in it. If you don't let go, it just looks like a collection of fart jokes - like jazz might look like a collection of notes. But if you immerse yourself in it and just go with the rhythm of it, it's there for your pleasure.

"I understand that the metropolitan, middle-class media have a problem enjoying it, but that doesn't trouble me because of my audience figures. The punters like it. It's an age-old argument, but it's a valid one."

As he makes his return to the big screen in Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis, Mayall is bracing himself for yet more criticism. His last two cinematic outings, Drop Dead Fred and Remember Me?, were by his own admission "not received well".

In person, Mayall betrays no hints of nervousness. Resplendent in ripped jeans and a blue V-neck jumper over a white T-shirt, he is a man brimming with infectious self-confidence - he puts his feet up on the chintzy sofa in an upscale central London hotel to indicate as much. As he fixes you with his magnetic eyes and his winning smile, it is easy to see why fans - particularly female ones - ignore the critics and enjoy his work.

In Mavis Davis, a broad, black comedy thriller, he plays Marty Starr, a fading, bleach-blond record producer who hits on the idea of boosting the sales of his biggest act, Mavis Davis (Jane Horrocks), by bumping her off. It develops along the lines of The Pink Panther Strikes Again, as innocent bystanders keep getting topped by his bungled murder attempts.

Marty gives Mayall, 40 this year, the chance to re-visit one of his most cherished roles: the misfit. "There is a sense of loneliness about him," Mayall agrees, "he's a man on his own who doesn't have a confidant. Maybe the audience becomes that. Alan B'Stard [from The New Statesman], Rik [from The Young Ones] and Richie [from Bottom] are all like that, people who have things that can't be communicated. Those roles attract me."

The part in Mavis Davis also shows Mayall capable of more emotional subtlety than the "cartoon" exploits of Bottom allow. John Henderson, the director of the film, explains: "When people first read the script, they expected Rik to play a similar character to those he has before, such as the oddball role of Richie from Bottom... He's still very funny, but he's also playing a real character that you can believe in and relate to. As you know, all comedy is much funnier when it's believable and played straight."

Mayall's one concern about this approach was that it might alienate the aficionados of his more slapstick style. "There is this nagging thought that the audience will be saying to themselves, `why isn't he being funny? Why has he gone all Steve Martin on us?' But playing a straight part, there's a seduction thing even when you're reading the script. It's like starting a new relationship. You get entirely consumed by playing this new instrument. Perhaps I'm going through a Heavy Metal phase of straight acting, like David Bowie with Tin Machine - `here's three chords, now go out and form a band'. Maybe later I'll learn to be more delicate and have an Unplugged phase."

Adding a straight string to his acting bow - as he did successfully as a compulsive gambler on The Bill just before Christmas - will certainly prolong Mayall's career expectancy. "Acting is a life sentence for me," he muses. "That's a bravado way of saying it, but I want to be doing this till the day I drop."

With the film on release, he is reviving his partnership with Edmondson. They are developing a movie together in which their Bottom characters Richie and Eddie run a hotel that makes Fawlty Towers look like the Ritz. "We're keen to go from telly, to live, to film." What next? Bottom - The Opera? But just why has the spectacle of two grown men fighting and farting a lot proved so enduringly popular?

"We only try to do what we think is funny, not what we think we can get away with. Ade and I feed each other. Combined with all of that is this `us against the world' thing, which is why any criticism is good for us. It inspires us. Anyone who slags us off gets mentioned in the next show." Oo-er.

Most importantly, though, Mayall observes that he and Edmondson still "make each other laugh". That came in especially handy after what he calls the "Cell Mates crisis," when Simon Gray's play folded soon after Mayall's co-star Stephen Fry walked out.

Mayalls aid: "When I walked into our office, Ade said, `I told you not to muck about with those Cambridge bastards. Come back here, be a good boy and shut up'."

`Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis' is released on Friday

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

    £17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

    SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

    £450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

    Project Manager - Pensions

    £32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone