■ The actor and DJ, 55, on why the Red Dwarf crew are like family, eating curry for five months and Lister’s haircut
How are you doing?
The lockdown situation is a bit weird. My summer has been cancelled because I’m a DJ – my work is public gatherings! But at least I’m in a better situation than many. You just have to carry on, don’t you?
At least we have a Red Dwarf special to look forward to…
It’s quite true. Do you know what’s really weird? Me and the family watched two old Red Dwarf episodes last night, Quarantine and Epideme, which is about a virus, just to get things in perspective. A lot of what we’ve done already is so prescient to what’s going on in the world today. It was weird seeing myself so young too! I don’t think I’ve seen those episodes in 20 years. My kids were looking at me going, ‘God, Dad, you look like me!’
This special’s been a long time coming for fans…
Yeah. It’s something slightly different and breaking new ground in many ways because it’s like a feature-length special but it’s filmed in front of a live audience and staying true to the traditions of situation comedy.
Did it feel different making it?
Robert Llewellyn [who plays Kryten] got ill, the old bastard, so we were stood down for a few weeks. It was really strange not having him in the company because you realise how much you miss him – and what a lovely bloke and talented individual he is.
That’s kind of reflected in the storyline because things do get quite emotional…
Yeah, the way I play Lister is he’s quite dissolute at the moment. He’s hoarding and drinking copious amounts of booze and eating wrong, which I play for real. Basically, I just got p***ed for five months and ate curry, so no hardship for me! He’s got to the stage where he’s been alone in space for all that time with no lover but a group of characters who you wouldn’t choose! He’s struggling – emotionally he’s a bit on edge and he’s having a midlife crisis.
There’s a moment where you look like you’re about to lose it. Is there a lot of corpsing?
Completely. I’m normally more together than the rest of the lads but on this one there was a sense of ‘is this the last time we’re all going to be in a room together?’ How long does Robert want to get in that mask? And I don’t think Lister’s haircut is very age appropriate! So I enjoyed the company and they are three very funny men. They crack me up on so many levels and there’s a lot of camaraderie. In a very intense shoot we found time to smell the roses and just enjoy it. It’s not a bad job, is it?
Are your working relationships the easiest you’ve had with anyone else on set?
I’ve known this group of people longer than I’ve known my family. My mum and dad are dead, my older brother is dead – these are the longest human relationships I’ve ever had with anyone. And they’ve been with me through thick and thin, and stood by me in good times and bad times. I’ve hung on to their coat-tails and let them be funny while I bask in their reflected glory!
Do you fall into your characters very naturally?
Chris [Barrie] will hate me for saying this but we’re kind of caricatures of our own personalities in many ways. So there’s an awful lot of Dave Lister about me and there’s an awful lot of Arnold Rimmer about Chris. Robert is full of that middle-class guilt and Danny (John-Jules) is the vainest man I’ve ever met without any reason to be!
Who’s changed the most since your first outing 32 years ago?
I suppose I have. I was 23 when I started playing Lister and I’m 55 now. I came from absolutely nothing, a council estate in Liverpool, and I live a completely different life now. So it’s probably me but hopefully for the best! No one comes in there giving it Charlie Big Potato or anything like that — they’re all very decent human beings.
You’ve done so many things. Does this feel like home for you?
I’ve come to realise, and it’s been a tough realisation, that Dave Lister is my career-defining role. You’re going to get typecast and I don’t mind being typecast as him, he’s such a pleasure to play. I did ten years of Coronation Street, Robot Wars for years, as well as Takeshi’s Castle and all these things that have been iconic, but people still call me ‘smeghead’ in the street.
What’s the craziest thing a fan has done?
My face has been tattooed on some very strange places — that’s all I’m going to say!
Will there be more Red Dwarf after this?
I don’t know. Robert is so old and decrepit, I’m the only one with hair now! It’s one of those things you don’t want to let go but you don’t want to outstay your welcome. I think we’re on our game and I’m certainly willing.
■ Red Dwarf: The Promised Land airs tomorrow at 9pm on Dave and is available for catch-up on UKTV Play