Questions by Mr Feeble – http://www.reddwarf.co.uk/features/interviews/steven-wickham/
Mr Flibble began by asking how Steven started ACTING and performing. It’s a traditional question by now and he’d feel uncomfortable not asking it.
I started straight out of college, went into a theatre education group and, like a lot of young actors, worked for two years for no money at all. I got the equity card and took off from there. It’s a hard start – touring schools and getting screamed at! (Laughs)
[My] first proper job was a show called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, it’s currently on at the New London Theatre – and it’s the same production company, I think they changed it slightly, but it’s basically the same people, same musical director, same choreographer. So I toured with that for 18 months, playing the baker and one of the brothers and learnt an awful lot. How to perform in front of a huge theatre of people. It was a great training.
How did you get involved with RED DWARF?
I got a call from my agent saying that the casting director had rung up wanting to know if I was interested in a part in Red Dwarf. So I said, “Yes, of course, by all means,” and they said, “Well you start tomorrow” – because they had already cast somebody as the GELF bride, and on the first day of rehearsals on the Monday of that week, for some reason it wasn’t working or they weren’t getting on, or he wasn’t quite doing what they wanted. So, was I interested? ‘Yes, I was!’ “Fine, you’re at Shepperton Studios, be there tomorrow morning, off you go.”
Did they explain to you the… nature of the role?
I know I was told that I wouldn’t be speaking English, that I’d have to learn vast swathes of foreign, alien something-or-other – which was fine. It was written quite phonetically, so you could pick it up easily, although they were pretty strict about wanting it said as written, because it had been created to sound a certain way. ‘Don’t make it up or miss any of the haaaaaaaas out’ – it obviously makes all the difference!
Mr Flibble attempted some GELF speak – but as he’s mostly silent to everyone but Andrew, it was fairly unimpressive. Andrew left him hacking while asking about Steve’s first days FILMING on the set.
First few days were rehearsal down at Shepperton, actually on the set in one of the studios. The rehearsals were fun because they were a nice bunch of guys – very welcoming and friendly. I think [that] is very important, if you are just coming in for one episode you want to feel welcome. Nothing is worse than coming in and people ignoring you, or you have to sit on your own in the corner, knowing you’re only in for one week. But they were great fun – it was a job where I laughed all week!
Towards the end of the week, two days before the recording, we had an overnight OB [Outside Broadcast shoot] on the backlot, to do the GELF village. So that was a prosthetic job. It took about four hours to get made up, the face and all the hair on the arms applied first, and then the big rubber body suit and rather sheer brown tights. It was a long job. You have to have real patience for that.
There was still some kind of movement with the mouth, as the prosthetic finished above the mouth so that was free and open. Eating was fine, although there was hair everywhere!
The night of the outside broadcast in the GELF village was bitterly cold, so in between shots and during setups there were three GELFs sitting in the corner shivering with big cloaks on!
Sounds like quite a GELF-Bonding experience!
I remember Ainsley Harriet, who played my father, going on about his new restaurant and how wonderful his goat curry was! So he was obviously into the chef-ery at the time, but hadn’t quite got into the TV chef thing. He was lovely, a very friendly guy. There was a lot of GELF bonding going on!
Craig was fun during that OB. We got on very well, due to the number of times I had to pick him up and carry him off into the hut at the back – and he wasn’t light… although he was a very good kisser! I had to carry him quite a distance to get out of the shot and the hut was right in the back corner as if it was my bedroom, so I’d just drop him and we’d collapse with laughter. Craig complained about the kissing scene, “I don’t want to kiss this hairy thing” but he was into it. And in the bedroom, he was excited…(Laughs)
There did seem to be a lot of GELF flirting!
A lot of that just came on the night. You are pausing because there is audience laughing and you have to take it a touch, so you fill in and do a little wiggle or a flirt. There are moments in the outdoor village scene where the laugh can cut over some of the lines, because you are doing it without the audience. It took us a long time, because there was an awful lot of cracking up on the regular’s part. There were an awful lot of retakes.
Mr Flibble is known as The One-Take Penguin on the circuit and deplores any acting errors. On Red Dwarf he spent most of the week moaning. How did things go on the main STUDIO day with the audience?
Another four hours in makeup. You think, ‘I’ll go through it once and it’s finished, but then I had to do it again a day or so later!’ (Laughs) It’s always fun doing things in front of an audience. It changes the dynamic of what you’ve just rehearsed, you’ve really got to concentrate.
The GELF hut where all the bartering was going on was a set adjacent to where the audience were seated. So they couldn’t see that happening live, they had to watch that on a monitor. It worked very well, as far as I remember there were hardly any retakes. The only real hold-ups were for the guy doing the Emohawk. They had to stop and change that so that they could morph between [shots]. I think I remember being asked to do another close-up when he was talking about how beautiful I was, stroking my hair and all that business. That was an insert that got a big laugh.
I got a lovely letter afterwards just before it went out from the producer, Justin [Judd], saying, ‘Thank you very much for coming to play with us, we loved what you did and hope you had a good time. You’ll see that you’ve got the honour of being one of the only other characters in the show to appear in the titles sequence, because it’s usually the main regulars.’ And I thought that that is so nice, that’s an honour.
Mr Flibble smirked – he got into the title sequence, too. Are you comfortable watching yourself?
Well, I wasn’t watching myself was I? I was watching this big hairy thing covered in Latex. I have to say though, a lot of my friends did say when they watched it that they could tell it was me! You could tell by the eyes.
Are you a fan of SCIENCE FICTION?
I did end up as the National Co-ordinator of the Dr. Who Appreciation Society, for about two years. But then I kind of drifted away from working and all the rest of it. An awful lot of work was involved, not just running the society, but being a press liaison and all that kind of thing. So, Star Trek and all the big science fiction movies, I love them!
When I started out in my acting career, in the early eighties, I did do extra work in a couple of Dr. Whos, which was enormous fun because that was my show and to get to be in it and walk around the TARDIS was a big thrill. I played a soldier in Peter Davison’s, last story, and a giant slug in Colin Baker’s first. So that was another covered in costume job, covered in Vaseline! There was no dialogue at all, just slug walking across the background leaving a stench.
I’m still involved with Dr. Who occasionally because of the company Big Finish, who do the audio dramas. I’ve done three Dr. Whos and I’m kind of a regular character in the Bernie Sommerfield spin-offs, Joseph the porter, her little robot friend. He is semi-regular. I’ve done the odd Judge Dredd and other things. So I’m still sort of involved with that side as well, which is a lot of fun, because it’s the same gang and we all have a lot of laughs.
You’ve had parts in most of the main regular TV DRAMA – Doctors, The Bill, Casualty…
Doctors was in the first season, when it was still up at Pebble Mill. Again it was a very short notice job and required a Birmingham accent. It was very quick, just up there for one day and come home again, and the gang were so nice. It was the original crew, but they’ve all moved on. Not a lot of acting involved, it was an overweight man with the doctor telling him to lose weight! (Laughs)
Casualty was last year. It was a character who kept ringing up the ambulance pretending he was ill to get a lift to the hospital because he was going to the social club round the corner. Josh and Comfort turned up with lots of rubber tubes and threatened to give me an enema! (Laughs) It was a very serious episode and I was the light relief.
The Bill is great because it just chews up actors, spits them out and then uses them again! I’ve usually been disreputable characters one way or another. The first one was great because I had a really good interrogation scene with Chris Ellison, Burnside, but that got cut out, which was a shame.
The Bill is great to do because they really know their job down there. It seems chaotic because, likeCasualty, they have two or three units all working at the same time on different episodes. It’s very complicated but it works like clockwork.
What are you doing now?
Not a lot. It’s all very quiet at the moment. Since Red Dwarf I’ve been all over, theatre tours, lots of television, lots of commercials especially for overseas. I had a series last year called, ‘Orrible, for the BBC which didn’t do very well. It did get a DVD release but not a second series which is a shame. Various pilots I’ve done, some of which have worked and some which haven’t. I’m a jobbing actor who just potters along.
Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Steven Wickham, and now that it’s over… Mr Flibble is very cross.