■ The comedian and star of new Brit film Ghost Stories, 59, talks werewolves, novichok, Putin and other horrors
Tell us more about Ghost Stories…
It’s like a portmanteau film where there are three distinct stories all knitted together. But obviously there are many twists and turns. My character [Tony, a nightwatchman] is slightly bitter, a bit cynical. He’s quite a bright bloke who’s lost his way in life in a haze of alcohol. He’s ‘there but for the grace of God’ — not that I believe in a god.
Do you believe in ghosts?
No, I don’t believe in ghosts at all. To be honest, as far as I’m concerned the dead are fantastic — they’ve never bothered me ever at all. It’s the bloody living you want to worry about! I’ve never had any grief from the dead.
Ever had a supernatural experience?
Oh yeah, I’ve had those, obviously. The most terrifying supernatural experience I’ve ever had was when I was much younger, when I went sea trout fishing in Wales. You do that kind of fishing at night: it was about 2am and my torch had broken and I was walking back to this little caravan in the pitch black — it was very remote and rural. I got to the last field and I heard this primeval sort of raw, guttural ‘waaaah!’ Can’t describe it — a roar. And I genuinely thought, ‘Oh, it’s a werewolf.’ I thought I was going to be ripped to shreds. It was the most spine-chilling noise and experience I’ve ever had in my life.
So what was the noise?
It was a sheep with a cough.
Did you look at the Russian election differently having done The Death Of Stalin?
Ha ha! I don’t know. As we were filming The Death Of Stalin I did say, ‘We’re going to be on a list.’ But I think we’re pretty low down on a list, really.
So, if you still work on the principle that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisoning, you’re not worried about Putin bumping you off with novichok?
No, not in the slightest. I can’t wander around being worried about novichok. Though I saw a news piece about Cambridge Analytica recently and somebody was questioning some British government official. They said: ‘Do you think the Russians have been involved in this?’ I thought, this is an American/British government problem. It does make me laugh the way that immediately we were trying to bung that on to the Russians. I mean, hold on a minute!
You’re a Spurs fan. Do you reckon they’ll make the FA Cup final this year?
Well, you know, we’ve drawn Man United next. I don’t know! It seems a bit strange up there at the moment. You never know with Mourinho: is he having a breakdown or is he playing really clever mind games? I can’t tell.
That means we might get a new Chas & Dave song…
It’s always exciting to hear Chas & Dave, innit? Chas Hodges and I are in touch quite a lot about Spurs.
Which of your characters do you think people hold most affection for?
Stuff I’ve done with Harry [Enfield], like Smashie and Nicey, maybe Lee and Lance. For The Fast Show it would be Ted and Ralph. Oh, and Rowley Birkin, of course. He talks about f*** all and then he can go very sad. You can paint an extraordinary life with a few phrases.
Do you get recognised a lot?
Quite a bit. It’s funny being with Bob Mortimer. We’re doing a fishing programme, after the heart trauma we both had. He had a triple bypass and I’ve got three stents. I said, ‘I’ll take you fishing’, because he got quite down. It’s daunting: you come out and it’s very difficult to come to terms with the fact you came so close.
Do you ever see Johnny Depp?
I haven’t seen him for a while. I did a cameo in a film he did that bombed [Mortdecai]. It was a good taste of the film world: my character gets shot and they wanted me to stay to be a corpse. So I sat waiting in my little hutch for two hours, then went out and said, ‘Are you going to do this scene?’ And they said, ‘Oh, we’ve done it!’ That’s the film world.
How has comedy changed over the years?
The emphasis is more on stand-up and panel shows. But for people like Harry, Charlie Higson and me, we’re character-based comedy, which is expensive and budgets are being cut all the time. We have very fond memories of it — perhaps fonder now than when we were doing it, in a way. You look back and go ‘f***ing hell, we did that!’ Rachel Corcoran
■ Ghost Stories is in cinemas from Friday