Daniel Rigby interview for Black Mirror
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Daniel Rigby is a star of stage and screen, and an award-winning stand-up comedian. In 2011, he won the best actor BAFTA for his role as Eric Morecambe in Eric and Ernie. Here, he discusses his career, and his latest project, an episode of Black Mirror, scripted by Charlie Brooker, for Channel 4.
You're in a new episode of Black Mirror, entitled The Waldo Moment. What's it about?
It's about a comedian who performs as a CGI character on a topical programme, and at the same time, his life is unravelling. The CGI puppet that he plays ends up going viral, and it all spirals out of control, much to his displeasure, because he doesn't like playing the character and isn't proud of it. The character lampoons politicians, so it's a bit of a comment on politics, through the medium of a blue bear.
And the blue bear ends up running for parliament?
Yeah, that's right, he stands to be an MP.
What was it that attracted you to the role?
The fact that the script was by Charlie Brooker. I've read his columns for years, and have long been an admirer of his. It was great to work with a comedy hero. It's a funny script, and I think it also expresses how a lot of people feel about politics, which is to say largely indifferent.
It strikes me that this is less about technology than other Black Mirrors. Would that be fair?
The technological aspect of it is in the technology that they use to bring Waldo to life. It's slightly more advanced than we have at the moment, in terms of puppetry, but that's about it. So I would say yes, it focuses less on advances in technology. It's all about the story and the satire.
And it's a satire of politics, as you say. But is it also a satire of television and popular culture?
Yeah, I think it's all of the above, really. It gives voice to the opinion of a lot of people, in that they don't really trust politicians and don't feel that engaged or involved in the process. There's also a love story in there, so there are themes in here that everyone will recognise, in terms of heartbreak and love.
You star alongside Jason Flemyng and Tobias Menzies. Did you enjoy working with them?
Yeah, they were great. I've known Tobias for a few years, and get on with him very well. Jason was great to work with. He was totally bonkers - it was brilliant.
Had you seen any of the last series of Black Mirror?
Yeah, I'd seen all of them. I was a particular fan of the one where the Prime Minister had to make love to a pig. That certainly stuck in my mind! I loved the whole series, I thought it was funny, and the most interesting thing on television for a long time.
You won the best actor BAFTA in 2011 for your portrayal of Eric Morecambe in Eric and Ernie. That must have been an extraordinary moment for you.
Yeah, it was very, very surreal. The whole evening passed in a blur, it was an adrenalized few hours. I didn't expect to win at all, genuinely, because of the calibre of people I was up against. To even be there felt like a very strange mistake on the part of the organisers. It was an amazing thing to happen, and it's still very surreal when I reflect on it.
Where do you keep your BAFTA?
I keep it in my bedroom, on a shelf. I think you're supposed to be very cool about it and say "I keep it in a box and I never get it out," or "I keep it in a wardrobe," but I don't do that. I do keep it out on a shelf!
Has it had a big effect on your career?
When I won the BAFTA I'd just started in the run of One Man, Two Guvnors at the National Theatre, which then went on to the West End and then to Broadway, so I ended up doing that for another year. So I didn't really get any sense of impact, other than what my agent had said the interest had been since it had happened. I was sort of in this One Man, Two Guvnors bubble for a year. But certainly Black Mirror happened quite soon after the run in New York ended, and it felt like the perfect job.
One Man, Two Guvnors was also massively well received on both sides of the Atlantic.
Yeah, it was amazing. None of us, when we were in rehearsals, had any sense of just how much of a success it would be. It was clear from the first preview that we'd got something quite special, because the level of hysteria that was cooked up in the audience was just something else. Being in rehearsals, working the material over and over again, you have no idea whether it will be funny or not. It turned out to astonish all of us.
You are not only a star of stage and screen, you are, rather nauseatingly, an award-winning comedian as well. Do you still find time to do your stand up?
To be honest, I've not had a chance to get back on the circuit recently. Doing TV projects is so full on. I've kind of had a run of them. I did a Miss Marple, then I did Black Mirror, now I'm doing another pilot, and there just hasn't been time to get myself back on the circuit. But it's definitely something that I miss an enormous amount, and is very important to me, so I'll definitely be getting back to it.
Do you get more nervous going on to do your stand-up than with acting?
Yes, acting is still nerve-racking, but there is an all-consuming shit-yourself moment before you get up and do a stand-up gig. It does get a little easier, but I think that's just you learning how to handle the experience rather than it actually being any easier. It is incredibly nerve-racking, but it's just something that I've always felt I had to do. The drive to do it is much stronger than the fear.
Where does the desire to perform come from?
Um... Parental indifference? [Laughs] I don't know, it's just something that has always been there, as far back as I can remember. There are photos of me as a kid, always dressed up, or with a fake moustache on, or doing some sort of dance. I don't know where it comes from. It's certainly not in the family. I think my granddad used to sing in working men's clubs in Stockport, but I think that was very occasional. We don't have any other performers in the family.
Your character in Black Mirror is a failed comedian. Did your knowledge of life on the comedy circuit help with the role?
It just helped me know the world, and recognise some of the feelings of frustration and discontent. I think, actually, it helped me more on Eric and Ernie, where we had to actually perform gigs. The feeling of actually gigging was very useful for Eric and Ernie, there wasn't so much cause for that in The Waldo Moment. It was just a familiarity with that world that was useful.