Eating lunch on the set of Red Dwarf is a surreal experience, a collision of the everyday and the fantastical that feels disorientating for visitors. Not for the cast though it seems.
“You get back into it fairly quickly. The years just seem to roll away,” says Chris Barrie as he puts a copy of Motorcycle News on the table in front of him. I try not to fix my eyes Rimmer’s holographic H, which is still stuck to his forehead.
Robert Llewellyn is even more unrecognizable, his Kryten mask too tricky to remove for something as fleeting as a one-hour break. It means he can’t eat solid food and must drink energy shakes through a straw.
“Don’t get him started on the mask,” warns Craig Charles, the only one of the quartet who could just about pass for a regular guy were he to step out on the street in costume.
“I never get used to looking at him in that thing,” says Danny John-Jules. “Sometimes I just end up staring at it. Even 23 years later, it’s bizarre.”
Phew – perhaps John-Jules won’t feel so bad then about people checking out his towering Cat wig or those feline teeth.
I’m here on Stage K at Shepperton Studios, having received an invite after speaking to Charles. He’d been on the Coronation Street set at the time, filming for the last time before taking a half-year break from his role as cabbie Lloyd. Red Dwarf was beckoning for a tenth series (it airs from October 4 on Dave) and the actor was keen to share the enthusiasm he felt for this reunion:
“Come over and spend the day with us,” he’d said. “You’ll have a real laugh. The fact that the four of us, who are all so diametrically opposed on so many levels, can be best friends and make a coherent unit is a wonder to behold.”
I’d heard reports that, during the early years of Red Dwarf, there’d been ill feeling between Charles and his co-star Chris Barrie. So his reference to them all being “best friends” came as a surprise.
But during my morning at Shepperton, a few months after that initial conversation, there was no sign of any residual animosity as the cast rehearsed their scenes.
Charles has spent the entire time in an illuminated explosive codpiece (referred to in the script as a “ballbuster”), while guest performer Peter Elliott – the film industry’s go-to ape actor – has bounded around Barrie and the Red Dwarf bunkroom in full primate costume.
At one point, Llewellyn, having goofed over his delivery of some technical dialogue, gave himself a stern telling off (“Get it right, you f***ing metal piece of s***!”), something that in turn gave John-Jules a fit of hysterics.
“We’re all great mates because we’ve grown up together. We had difficult days when we first started out because of all the egos,” admits Charles. “But now, we’ve all got children and nice lives and we love comedy. And we’re so thankful that Red Dwarf is in our lives.”