Sir Derek Jacobi tells What's On TV about his deep friendship with fellow thespian Sir Ian McKellen, the great times they're having on their new comedy Vicious (ITV, Mondays, 9pm) and his first reaction to a live studio audience...
You and Ian are such good friends aren't you?
"We go back a long way, as we first met in 1958 as undergraduates at Cambridge. I'd been there a year when Ian came up. At the time I certainly knew that I wanted to be an actor. I don't remember our first meeting, but we obviously met within a theatrical context and we kind of took to each other; it was a mutual liking. There's a picture of us together back then in 1958, and they use it on the set, in Freddie and Stuart's flat. Because we know each other so well, there's a great deal of affection and trust."
Have you also worked with Frances De Le Tour, who plays sex-mad Violet?
"I'd worked with Frances once before too, when we both performed at a WRP event! That's the Workers' Revolutionary Party. When I got a phone call from Vanessa Redgrave asking if I'd help the WRP, I didn't know what the WRP was. I thought it was a women's organisation or something."
How would you describe Freddie and Stuart's bickering relationship?
"Well it's 48-year-old marriage, isn't it? The reason it's called Vicious is they naturally have a modus vivendi based on great love and great affection and a mutual send-up. They expect it from each other. It hurts Stuart sometimes a little more than it does Freddie. He's a little more raw-nerved than Freddie. In a sense, both are disappointed. Freddie, because he's not a star, and Stuart because he's never had a career. Stuart's done odds and sods, but he's never found his passion. Freddie has found his passion, but it hasn't totally worked out for him. So both are on edge as far as what life has done for them, and it comes out in the bickering."
Is Vicious more than just a 'gay' comedy?
"Some of the jokes are based upon a gay lifestyle, obviously they have to be, but they don't exclude anyone, do they? In something like Are You Being Served with John Inman, a gay man was there for camp laughs, but there was no intellect."
What was it like acting alongside Iwan Rheon as Ash?
"He's a very good young actor, I think if I was absolutely honest when I read about that character my immediate thought was a big hunk was going to be there standing outside the door, which he certainly isn't. They've cast it in a much more interesting way than just a big sexy guy. He has many more layers to him."
How did you find filming a TV comedy in front of a live audience? Had you experienced that before?
"I'd done it on two occasions, once for a guest slot on Frasier many years ago - it won the Emmy - I also did a pilot with Rupert Everett in LA which died 10,000 deaths, thank God, so they didn't take it up. But they were my only two experiences of this sort of thing and I was very frightened to start with this time because you have those five cameras and then you have 400 people sitting behind the cameras. It's knowing who to play to and you kind of sort that out for yourself and you have to realise it's really for the camera. When things go wrong, people forget lines that sort of thing, the audience love it and often we found that the adlib can get bigger laughs. There was a wonderful moment where Ian bumped into the furniture. The live audience loved that!"
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