Lee and Dean: Interview with Camille Ucan (Nikki)

Category: Interview

For anyone unfamiliar with the show, explain a bit about Lee and Dean.

It’s a comedy, almost a comedy drama, about two builders who are also best mates, and their lives and their friends and family. It’s a very warm watch, but it’s also quite dark and risqué.

You play Nikki. How would you describe her?

In the first series, Nikki is introduced as Lee’s new girlfriend. Up until that point, it’s quite unusual for him to have a long-term relationship. But she comes bounding onto the scene, and is quite popular with his friends, which is partly why she stays around. She seems to fit in to their world quite nicely. She’s very bubbly, very well-meaning, fun to be around. She’s very warm and friendly, but also sometimes very coarse.

Crucially, she’s very tolerant of Lee’s relationship with Dean, isn’t she?

Very much so. She can see how close their friendship is. And she has a real soft spot for Dean. I think at times she feels sorry for him and she does genuinely really like him.

What attracted you to the role?

I think it was when I met Mark and Miles. I actually got involved because I was filming a taster with my comedy sketch group Birthday Girls, and we needed someone in it to play a part. The producer asked Mark, and he came along and did it, and spoke to me then about this part that they were trying to find someone for, and would I go and meet with Miles. I met them, and we did some stuff in character. I just really liked them. They’re quite unusual TV people, they’re not showbizzy at all. They’re very down-to-earth, and that really attracted me to it. Then when I found out that the show was going to be improvised as well, and that they’d cast all their mates in it, loads of non-actors who would fit the part, I just thought it would make it really naturalistic and different from anything I’d ever worked on. So the main pull was them. I just got on with them really well, and found them naturally very funny. So I thought the show was bound to be good.

Does the improv element of the show make it a lot more erratic, and does that take longer to film?

I don’t think it necessarily takes longer. I think we do the same amount of takes as if it was fully scripted. I have a little Nikki notepad, and whenever I’m going on set, I look at what the scenes are, and I have to make myself map out the timeline of it, and remember what would have come before, and what’s about to happen after, because when you’re filming it’s not in chronological order. I find that makes it a bit tricky when you’re improvising, because sometimes stuff comes out that you hadn’t planned. But that all makes it exciting.

And, presumably, it also makes corpsing more of a problem?

Oh yeah. Sometimes, when someone says something you completely weren’t expecting! You can even do it to yourself! Sometimes I would say something and then you think “where did that come from?” And things make me corpse when it’s something that’s really taken me by surprise, rather than it being obviously funny. So there is a bit of corpsing. It’s a very lively, chatty set, it’s not like the cast and crew are separate. Everyone is having a laugh together, it’s a really fun set.

The last series ended in absolute chaos in Great Yarmouth. Where did we leave Nikki?

We left Nikki in Great Yarmouth, crying by the beach, because she has just found out that her new friend, Pippa, who she’s been getting much closer to over the series, had previously had some kind of relationship with Lee, and she finds this out on her hen party, and there’s a huge fall out from it. And she doesn’t quite know what’s going to happen or where they’re going to end up. And it all happened in front of her family, which really upset her. So she’s not feeling great at the end of series one.

What was it like filming that tumultuous scene where you confront Pippa and Lee? It’s sort of the pivotal climax to the whole series…

It was a bit scary, because I knew how important that scene was. I knew it was the climax. And people would say “Ooh, you’ve got the big scene coming up!” It’s quite unusual, in a comedy, to have this emotional monologue in front of everybody, so it was scary. But once I was doing it – I think I did it twice in two takes – it seemed to come quite easily. That scene we did film at the very end of the series, which was useful, having had all of the emotional ups and downs leading up to it. I think it would have been a lot harder if I’d had to do it at the start. So it was scary, but when I was actually getting to do it, I loved it.

Where do we pick things up?

For Nikki it’s really different in series two. In series one it’s the start of a relationship and it’s really fun, and there’s lots of joyous scenes where everyone’s having a great time. Series two there’s all the fallout of what happened at the end of series one. Nikki, for quite a big chunk, is figuring out what she wants and what she thinks about things, and how she feels about Lee. It’s all really confused in her mind. I think she has a tough time for quite a lot of the series.

Your dad is played by Ricky Grover – does he come back in series 2?

Yeah, he does! It’s so funny, I love his character. He normally plays really scary characters, but he’s so good at playing the softie in this. He’s brilliant. Him and Kim [Benson] who plays my mum, together they’re just lovely. I love doing scenes with them. They make me really laugh. I could just sit and watch them. His character is a real hypochondriac, and a really emotional dad and Kim’s character is a bit stricter.

You’re also part of a comedy trio – what kind of stuff do you guys do?

We do sketches – we’re a sketch group. We do quite surreal characters, we create an energetic party feel at most of our gigs. We use loud music and dancing in between our sketches. And the sketches themselves are a real mixed bag. Because there’s three of us, there’s three different voices, so that hopefully comes across. We do quite a lot of TV parodies, and odd, dark, surreal characters. We’re quite silly as well.

Do you think the live comedy has helped you with all the improv and thinking on your feet that Lee and Dean involves?

Yeah, definitely. And I’ve done an improv course – I think most comedians have done an improv course at some point. When you’re performing live, things can go wrong, and when things go wrong you have to be able to think of something quickly. And especially when you’re in a sketch group, you have to be able to bounce off other people, and know when to jump in and when to back off. So I definitely think that helps you slot into an ensemble cast and improvise.