Curb Your Enthusiasm director Bob Weide was in a car on the LA freeway a few years back when he saw a man with short hair, a chubby face and glasses and realised he looked like someone he knew: Nick Frost, the British star of classic films like Hit Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead.
And because the traffic was so bad Weide got to formulate an idea for a drama which premieres tonight – the very promising Sky Atlantic six-parter Mr Sloane.
And Nick Frost HAD to play the part, of course.
Mr Sloane is a man whose wife left him and who lost his job, and whose best friend Ross (Peter Serafinowicz) has just been awarded the promotion he's always dreamed of.
It’s 1969 and it’s time for old Sloaney to get his life back on track – and that may mean not going to the pub with Ross and his other two old childhood friends every night, where they sometimes toast the hopes and expectations offered by the bright new dawning decade of the, er, 1970s. (Yes, if only they knew the flares, kipper collars and industrial unrest awaiting them). And who is the sexy woman Sloane meets in the grocery store...?
It's a pitch perfect piece of TV, telling its bittersweet story with wit and warmth and deft psychological insight. Starting as it does with Mr Sloane’s failure to even get his own suicide right, this slightly conventional opening gives way to a nuanced picture of a man whose heart seems to be in the right place – even if his life isn't.
You kind of love Mr Sloane but you feel exasperated by him and it’s not hard to see why his wife Kate (played in the first instance in flashbacks by Olivia Colman) scarpered. (Weide also wrote the part for Colman and she was only able to do it because her schedule happened to open up).
Why do things always keep going wrong? Why can't Jeremy Sloane quite get it together? Partly his expectations are so high…maybe he is too nice. Whatever, he seems as flesh and blood as the man Weide saw on the highway in that fortuitous traffic jam he described.
Frost is “not just a funny guy but a really good actor. You can imagine him doing these things that Mr Sloane does,” says Weide, a man who first came to the UK in 2006 when he was in his late 40s but still seems to have very accurately captured the rhythms, patois and feel of British male camaraderie and affection.
“Because he is such a good actor I knew as I was chuckling not because the writing was so good but because I could imagine Nick saying these words. All the dramatic moments I gave him, all the heartache I gave him and all the melancholy and the budding romance, I just knew he could nail it.”
And nail it he did.
Sky Atlantic’s six-part drama Mr Sloane airs on Friday 23 May at 9pm. See the trailer here