'Around The World In 80 Days' star David Tennant: "We funked the story up and shook it about a bit!"

Around The World In 80 Days
David Tennant leads a cast including Ibrahim Koma and Leonie Benesch. (Image credit: BBC)

Around The World In 80 Days star David Tennant will be taking us on the trip of a lifetime in a spectacular adaption of Jules Verne’s classic adventure which promises to be a Christmas TV highlight. 

Set in 1872, the eight-part series opens with London gentleman Phileas Fogg beginning his attempt to circumnavigate the globe faster than anyone in history, after making an outrageous wager with his friends.

Accompanying Fogg on his adventure are his French valet Passepartout and aspiring journalist Abigail ‘Fix’ Fortescue. Together, their epic journey will take them from the French Alps to the deserts of Africa and beyond as they travel by train, hot air balloon, and camel. 

Here David tells us all about the eight-part series, which kicks off with a double bill on Boxing Day... 

David Tennant on playing Phileas Fogg in 'Around The World In 80 Days'... 

"In the novel, he’s a rather remote character who has an almost supernatural ability to remain calm and to solve problems as he goes, whereas our version of Fogg is very much not that! He’s never really left his comfort zone, so he has to find a way of stepping outside his front door at the start. 

"Passepartout and Fix are the heroes of the story in many ways because they’re the ones driving things forward, while he hides in the background. But as well as traveling around the world, Fogg goes on his own personal journey during the series and the man who sets out at the start is not the one who may - or may not - get back to London by the end." 

"That was the version of Phileas Fogg that Ashley Pharoah had written. There's no point in me deciding I want to play Phileas Fogg as a belligerent buffoon, as what's in the script is what takes you on the story. 

"Reading that first script that made me want to do it because it was exciting because you wanted to know what happened next. And of course, that's why this story has endured because it has that. It's got a wonderful built-in ticking clock tension, hasn't it? But unless you populate that with characters you can identify with and that you want to know more about, then that's not really enough.

"What I got from that first script was this extraordinary character with a bit of mystery about him, but also he had an enormous mountain to climb. This was not a natural traveler, not a natural adventurer and suddenly, he was finding himself getting farther and farther out of his comfort zone with every step he took. And a fish out of water is always an intriguing prospect dramatically."

David on bringing the story to a new audience... 

"The story is still very much of its time and set in the Victorian period, but at the same time, there’s a freshness to it. Fogg is sort of locked in his moment in time, whereas Fix and Passepartout are of a new generation and see the world is changing. But one of my favorite additions is Fix, who’s not in the book. She’s determined to prove herself and really is the one who brings this trio together.

"When I came to get ready for filming, I realized I'd never read the book and when I eventually did there were things about the novel that really surprised me. It’s one of those stories you feel you've always known, but not necessarily from the original source material. It’s almost more famous for its adaptations, of which there have been many. 

"I remember there was a cartoon when I was a kid, there was the famous David Niven one and the series with Pierce Brosnan. What we actually did with the story is kind of yank it by the neck and shake it about a bit and modernize it and funky it up and make it a story that's relevant and exciting for now."

'Around the World in 80 Days' stars Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma), Phileas Fogg (David Tennant), and Abigail 'Fix' Fortescue (Leonie Benesch), L-R.

The trio catch a train across Italy in the second episode (Image credit: BBC / Slim 80 Days)

David on filming a global series during a pandemic...

"You couldn't imagine a worse series to film during a global pandemic and when we got shut down there was a sense that production might never start again. But our industry was quite good at finding ways to get going again and while it was on a shaky nail for a while, I'm so glad we got to finish it. 

"We rejigged what we were going to do and filmed everything in the UK, Bucharest and Romania, so the crew had to be a bit creative, but they did a wonderful job."

David on what makes the series so perfect for Christmas...

"It’s an exciting romp, but it’s got real heart to it as well. It feels like a genuine piece of family entertainment, something where everyone can grab a mince pie and enjoy it together. It’ll work for your five-year-old, it’ll work for your 85-year-old! I think it’s got a genuine kind of cross-generational appeal, which is how it should be at this time of year. 

"In a world where we haven’t been able to travel much, it makes you quite giddy to think of people going on this journey around the world, all from the comfort of your living room."

David on filming with camels in South Africa... 

"That was a fun day, although I did have a much nicer camel than then one Ibrahim, who plays Passepartout, had! He seemed to have been given the only camel in the world who didn’t like sand and it was very lively, so that was great fun for him!" 

Around the World In 80 Days begins with a double bill on BBC1 on Boxing Day Sunday Dec. 26 on BBC1 at 5.50pm and 6.40pm. 

In the US, it will be shown on PBS Masterpiece from Jan. 2, 2022, at 8 p.m. ET.

Sean Marland
Feature writer for TV Times, What's On TV, TV & Satellite Week and whattowatch.com

Sean has been writing about all things telly for over 10 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are The Great British Bake-Off, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.