Actor and musician, Matt Berry gives us the lowdown on his new C4 comedy, Year Of The Rabbit and reveals the fun he had working alongside a host of famous faces including Keeley Hawes and Jill Halfpenny....
BAFTA -winning actor, comedian and musician Matt Berry is best known for roles in C4 sitcoms The IT Crowd and Toast Of London and also for his distinctive voice which has been put to good use on countless voice-overs.
His latest role, set in the dark heart of Victorian London, sees him play Detective Inspector Rabbit, a hardened booze-hound who spends his days investigating murders along with his fresh-faced protogee, Strauss (Freddie Fox) and ambitious Mabel (Susan Wokoma).
The six-part series, written by Emmy Award-winners Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil, the team behind Veep, has a star-studded cast including Keeley Hawes, Paul Kaye, Alun Armstrong, Jill Halfpenny and Sally Phillips.
Here in an exclusive interview with What’s On TV, Matt Berry gives us the lowdown on the new comedy, the fun he had working with a host of famous faces, and reveals which classic TV shows inspired him....
What's On TV speaks to Matt Berry about new C4 series Year of the Rabbit
WOTV: Where did the idea for the show come from?
Matt Berry: "This whole thing came about because the director, Ben Taylor (who directed C4 series Catastrophe) and I, have known eachother for years and Ben reminded me of the fact that we both love the 70s police show, The Sweeney. We thought it would be good if we could do something like that but as a comedy and then came the idea to set it in Victorian times. At first we thought it would be too expensive and no-one would want to do it. We nearly talked ourselves out of it but then we went, ‘F**k it, let’s see what happens!’ We made a pilot and things went from there."
WOTV: How would you describe Rabbit?
MB: "He’s a senior policeman who’s working with his new colleague Strauss (Freddie Fox) and Mabel (Susan Wokoma), who is his boss’s daughter. Mabel is desperate to join the police force and quickly proves that she’s very capable. So the three of us end up as a team. They're an unlikely group but that’s what I hope will it make it interesting."
WOTV: What are the dynamics like between the three of them?
MB: "They’re really tight-knit. It's them against the rest of the world. Right from the start I wanted them to be like Del Boy and his family in Only Fools And Horses, or kind of like The Sweeney because John Thaw (who played DI Jack Regan) was always very caring of Dennis Waterman (DS George Carter) and I think that’s why you kept watching them. I didn’t want there to be a lot of arguing and shouting at eachother because that’s boring. You see their bond develop as the series goes along."
WOTV: In terms of his Rabbit’s character traits, he’s a heavy drinker and also seems to have some health issues…
MB: "Yes he’s pretty unhealthy as you would be back then. Nobody in the show looks great apart from Strauss and Mabel. Everyone else looks like a strong curry would kill them! I think that’s how a lot of people did look in Victorian times. He’s also got a few heart problems. It packs up at the most inopportune times, either when he’s running about in the middle of a case or later in the series, during sex. A couple of swift punches to his chest usually sorts him out."
WOTV: The real life character of John Merrick, best known as The Elephant Man is played by David Dawson (Ripper Street, Luther). Tell us about him…
MB: "In the show he’s a very powerful influence in the criminal underworld and he’s an informer for Rabbit. Normally in detective dramas you see a sergeant speaking to an informer on a football field or whatever, we’ve seen it a million times before and so we thought wouldn’t it be different if it was John Merrick. As one of our writers said, ‘He’s like a Victorian version of Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch’ because Huggy Bear was an informer too."
WOTV: Paul Kaye plays, DI Tanner. He’s Rabbits adversary isn’t he
MB: "Yes, they’re bitter rivals. We find out later in the series why they hate eachother so much. Paul is great to work with, he’s born for this kind of stuff. I knew he’d relish this role and he is amazing as Tanner."
WOTV: Tell us about some of the other guest stars…
MB: "Keeley Hawes plays Lydia who's got a hidden agenda, she’s up to something but you’re not sure what in the first couple of episodes. You see her befriending Mabel. Jill Halfpenny plays Flora who is an ex of Rabbit's and she comes back on the scene. She’s in the series later on and is a killer on a rooftop. Rabbit’s not sure whether he should be protecting her or not."
WOTV: So do Rabbit and Flora get back together? Is she the one who makes his heart stop during sex?
MB: "Er yes…quite possibly (Laughing) Jill was brilliant. We’ve known eachother a long time and she was great fun to work with, as was everybody. We are lucky to have such an amazing cast."
WOTV: Are we going to find out more about Rabbit’s past as the series progresses?
MB: "Well we learn early on that his mother drowned. His name is Rabbit because that was what was written on his forehead when he was found left outside a church. That’s his whole name. He’s got a sister called Weasel because that’s what was written on her head and a brother called Leopard. That’s pretty much all you know about his childhood!"
What was filming like? There is so much action packed in, it must have been quite intense?
MB: "Yes, there was a lot to fit in, we filmed in early January, a lot of it at at Luton Hoo Estate where they film a lot of Victorian period dramas. It was absolutely freezing and was starting to get dark every day at about 3pm but actually that was perfect for us. The fact that there was a lot of half light and everyone had frozen breath made it all the more atmospheric. It wouldn’t have worked as well if we’d done it in August".
Year of The Rabbit, starring Matt Berry, begins on Monday 10th June on C4 at 10pm.
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Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.