Fattest Man: Timothy Spall Extras

Tim Spall and Bobby Ball
IT’S no secret that I’m a huge fan of Caroline Aherne’s work.

She knows what the important things in life are.

Including family, laughter and love.

Her latest comedy drama is ITV1’s The Fattest Man In Britain.

Last month I spoke to cast members, including Timothy Spall, and co-author / producer Jeff Pope.

You can read today’s MEN feature here.

With a photo gallery here.

For those who want to know ever more, read on:

Georgie Godwin (Spall) eats truck loads of Vienetta ice cream

But aspires to what he calls Haagen-Dazzy.

Starting the day in his Rochdale semi with a huge bowl of Coco Pops.

“Do you want a Mars Bar,” asked Tim at the start of the Q&A in London, after we had watched the film on a big screen.

Acting in a fat suit on a hot TV set, did he actually shed pounds during filming?

“Unfortunately I didn’t lose weight because I didn’t move around very much,” he replied.

“Funnily enough, I’d be around this food all the time, munching, Quavering, Quavering. Vienetta was a challenge. I think I had to eat three of those.

Keep smiling: Georgie Godwin

“But, no, as soon as lunch came I’d get my padding off and I’d run to have a look at the catering wagon and I really couldn’t eat anything.

“So it put me off my grub,”

Keeping cool?

“I had water pumped all through me, and a little touch of Chablis in the afternoon.
“We did laugh a lot, mainly because of Bobby Ball. He was fantastic from day one.”

The two real life doubles for Georgie’s close-ups?

“There’s very clever moments in it with the cuts, where you see real flesh and so on. We had two guys who were lovely and determined. And they were prepared to do it.

“There was a real sense that we were doing something that was unusual and about somebody with an affliction, but it wasn’t like we were doing something in isolation because there were big people around.”

Has playing the role changed his attitude towards obese people?

“There are a few moments in it where Georgie says, ‘If it wasn’t for Morris, I’d still just be a big, fat, horrible man. Morris has given me dignity. Morris had given me a celebrity. I give people joy.’

“It’s delusional because the story tells you that fundamentally his almost pathetic attempts at delusional celebrity are increasing his demise. They’re all involved in something that they don’t really get. It’s this young girl who comes up and sees it with the purity of innocence and says, ‘You’re killing yourself.’

“This is a tragic-comedy. But so many people in the modern world do live a delusion and we’re encourage to live a delusion and an illusion. This easy buy-in, because you’re a freak or you’re something, you don’t have any particular talent…I think Georgie thinks he has a talent. I think he believes he’s actually entertaining.

Frances Barber as Janice
“He wants the big time. Frankie (Frances Barber) bought in an article about a woman who was bulking her two daughters up. ‘Hopefully, I’ll get the youngest up to 20 stone by the time she’s 18.’ And you think…

“It’s risible, it’s laughable and it’s amusing, because they’re fat – there’s nothing funnier than fat. But in reality there is always that double thing. We like to laugh at fat – ‘I’m a joke’ – but underneath there’s a self-loathing there.

“It’s a story, it’s not attempting to be a tract on delusion. But I think it is about how we can all mystify ourselves with our own stupidity, really.”

Everyone over-indulges over Christmas, so will this be a warning to people?

“No, because I think people will go, ‘At least I’m not as fat as that.’”

Is the UK catching up with America or even passing it in the obesity stakes?

“Well let’s hope so, we don’t want to lag behind them,” joked Tim.

“I don’t know how many people have been to Disneyworld? You do see the most huge families of people in America trundling down to the various rides, munching on things.

“Obesity is a real problem, isn’t it? It becomes a real problem when we have a National Health Service, because the NHS is paid for by our taxpayers and our National Insurance. We might have a more heightened view of obesity here than we do in America because Americans have insurance, in which case you can eat yourself to death. Here we all have a collective idea about who deserves various cures from the NHS.

“This film tries to tell the story poetically, as well. Georgie’s language is poetic as well as received and as well as misguided and delusional. But there is a poetry within it that we understand and we have a history of this working class world that we live in.

“Right way, way back, from Dickens, earlier Shakespeare and right up to Alan Bennett, this wonderful sense of language that we have in this country will always, always be something that explains and makes people more noble.”

Bobby Ball told us about playing the role of Morris:

“Caroline and Jeff had me in mind when they wrote it. It made me feel very special. It’s just a big honour. It blew my socks off, really.

“I met them in a hotel in Manchester – and they said, ‘Would you like some lunch?’ And I said, ‘No, I’ve just had two boiled eggs,’ which I have every morning with my wife Yvonne. Caroline can’t believe I said that.”

Although he had acted before in Last Of The Summer Wine, Heartbeat and The Royal, Bobby admits he was nervous working alongside the likes of Tim and Frances.

Bobby Ball: Turning Japanese
“My bottle went, to tell you the truth. I needed help more than anybody else because I wasn’t an actor. But I am now.”

Frances also helped him through his first ever screen sex scene.

“I said to her, ‘I’m really nervous about this. What do I do?’ And she went, ‘Get in, and get on with it.’ It was fantastic.”

Frances recalled: “One of our first scenes was a bed scene and he was such a gentleman. He didn’t want to lean on me so he was holding his arms like an Olympic gymnast. I said to him, ‘Just lean on me, I’m a cushion, it’s fine.’”

Bobby spoke about one scene which he just couldn’t get right.

“I couldn’t remember my wife’s name, Valerie, and I was getting more annoyed with myself. I felt not worthy because I’ve got Timothy Spall and Frances and Aisling there. I couldn’t do it.

“I did it about five times and I just kept missing my wife’s name, so they had to re-take it. And we were shooting from over Tim’s back and I just looked at him, his eyes made me look down and on his leg he had a note printed which said, ‘The ******** wife’s name is Valerie.’ So I was fine then.”

Frances was asked about obesity, having spoken to real life gentle giants on set.

“It’s an addiction. It’s like alcoholism, it’s like any form of addiction. I can’t imagine how awful it must be when you’re trapped in this cycle of simply not being able to do anything about it.

“Every woman that I know on Earth who’s been a bit overweight and a bit not, it’s a cycle that we all hate. When your clothes don’t fit properly you feel miserable and uncomfortable and ugly. So what it must be like for those poor, afflicted people?”

Jeff Pope explained how he and Caroline had created the script:

“It was all written in her kitchen of her house in Timperley. It was a labour of love. Lots of arguments, lots of furious rows. I think I met possibly the only person more stubborn than me, was Caroline. But we got there in the end. I’m very proud of the finished piece.

“I worked with Tim on a film called Pierrepoint and we started talking about this then. That was two years ago.

“This was a very interesting project because Caroline didn’t direct it, which is, I think, apart from Mrs Merton and Malcolm, the only piece that she’s been associated with that she’s not directed herself. And even then in Mrs Merton and Malcolm, she obviously was Mrs Merton.

“So she deliberately played quite a hands off role on set because I think she wanted to create the space for David Blair to be able to direct it without her on his shoulder, which was very difficult for her.

“I think we were all very grateful to her for the way that she worked out that was the only way this was really going to work. So she was quite hands off on set. She met everybody and obviously we’d slaved away at the script for a couple of years.”

I asked Jeff – apart from producing a piece of entertainment, what was it that he and Caroline wanted to say in this piece?

“Almost the first line that we settled on – I don’t know if it’s just us or just me or maybe a lot of writers do this…you find a point and work towards it and away from it. And that point was, ‘If I’m not the fattest man in Britain, then what am I? I’m just a fat man.’ That was what really interested us. That’s what got us excited.”

*The Fattest Man In Britain is on ITV1 at 9pm this Sunday (Dec 20)

The Fattest Man In Britain

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