EVEN during lockdown cabin fever, no parent wants to admit they lose their temper with their kids. But Martin Freeman’s comedy Breeders, which has been making its presence felt on Sky 1, dares to show the nitty gritty. Viewers were left shocked during the opening scene of the first episode when Freeman’s character, Paul, screams at his young children to be quiet before threatening, ‘I’ll f*****g leave, I don’t give a s***. Tell Mummy that Daddy has gone cos he couldn’t stand to be around the f*****g noise any more. Then you can watch her cry and you can cry and you’ll all be f*****g crying.’ Blimey. Outnumbered it ain’t.
But the next shock comes as a refreshingly candid Freeman, beloved for his roles as the happy-go-lucky everyman in The Office, Sherlock and The Hobbit, reveals he’s said all those things to his own children.
Breeders, then, feels as much a confessional piece as it is a sublimely funny comedy. ‘This part is as close to me as anything I’ll ever play. It’s very, very much a version of me,’ says Freeman, dressed dapperly in buttoned shirt and jacket. ‘It’s not literally me and I’m not exactly like Paul but there’s so much of me in him. It’s all the bits that make you feel ashamed of what you’ve done and the way you handled dealing with the people you love the most in the world.
‘I was not prepared for finding certain things out about myself when I became a parent. I thought I was a good bloke, a decent person, until I became a parent and I realised, actually, I’m quite selfish and impatient.’
Freeman, who has children Grace and Joe with ex-wife Amanda Abbington, is refreshingly candid about the realities of parenting and almost masochistically disparages his abilities as a father. ‘Everyone is trying to do their best but the interesting thing, in my experience, is that as much as you are trying, you’re failing quite a lot in ways that I’m conscious of now,’ he says. ‘Not things I’ll be aware of in 20 years’ time, no, I’m conscious of it now when I’m really messing up. There’ll probably be other things later on that I’m not conscious of now and then I’ll feel really bad!’ He pauses, then adds in his trademark deadpan style, ‘But then there are other times when you shout at your kids and it’s perfectly justified because they’re being little s***s.’
Modern parenting is undeniably hard — and that was even before the coronavirus-enforced world of home schooling kicked in. It’s a thought Freeman has sympathy with.
‘Being a parent is really, really easy unless you want to do it well,’ he says. ‘Like football, it’s easy, unless you want to be good at it. I want to be a good parent and sometimes I’m not. I think I could be a really good parent if I didn’t see my kids as much and if I was always at work and just came back to put them to bed. But a lot of men are trying not to do that now and want to be better parents.’
Would he be comfortable with his children following in his path and taking on some of his mannerisms? ‘I must think that something I’ve done over the past 48 years is right. I must do because I’ve done it,’ he laughs. ‘So, with some bits, yes, and with other bits, definitely not. I don’t want them to have all my stuff, I really don’t.’
Breeders signals Freeman’s return to British comedy after conquering Hollywood and taking on roles of a more serious dramatic bent. It constitutes something of a passion project and sees him listed as a co-creator alongside The Thick Of It alumni Simon Blackwell and Chris Addison. That’s something of a dream team by anyone’s standards, a thought Freeman freely agrees with.
‘I have to say that, at the risk of sounding arrogant, we were pitching it around and I was thinking, well, I’d be interested in this. It’s a pretty good gang and I felt very happy to be in their company.’
Shows about combustible families have been sitcom gold since the 1960s — so what is it that makes Breeders stand out from the rest? ‘I felt what I missed from domestic comedies was the times when you absolutely scream abuse and swear at your kids,’ says Freeman.
‘Now, not everyone does that, but I’ve done it. I’ve done it a lot and I know I ain’t alone. There’ll be a lot of people watching this going, yeah, I’ve called my baby a p***k as well.’
Daisy Haggard on getting it wrong
MARTIN FREEMAN isn’t going it alone as he looks to navigate the tricky waters of parenting.
Daisy Haggard, who had a breakout year in 2019 after co-creating and starring in the brilliant Back To Life on BBC, plays Freeman’s wife, Ally, a more measured influence on the family, but still every bit as combustible.
‘It’s a clear portrayal of those moments with children where you get it wrong or you get really frustrated because they don’t listen to anything you say,’ says Haggard. ‘We just allow that to be a bit funny, a little bit awful and more than anything else, truthful.’
Like Freeman, Haggard has two children of her own, meaning that many elements of the show feel true to life. ‘My children are younger, so they haven’t quite hit the high points of irritation yet,’ she laughs.
‘It felt really nice to do a job when you don’t need to do any research. I’ve lived this and am about to go home to it in ten minutes!’
For an actress who has just turned 42, Haggard is happy to find her career going from strength to strength. ‘It’s good being in your 40s, that’s what I’ll say! No, I feel very lucky and happy to be here,’ she says.
‘About five years ago, I thought, “Well, that’s me done, I’ll just be pushing a buggy around now”, so I feel very happy to not be done quite yet.’
■ Sky Original Breeders is on Sky1 and NOW TV