Friday Night Dinner stars Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal are nice Jewish boys in Friday Night Dinner. But what was life at home really like?
Simon Bird, 29, plays Adam Goodman
It is not the first time I’ve falsely traded on my Jewishness. Before joining the cast of Friday Night Dinner, I was on the Jewish martial-arts mailing list for the entirety of my time at university. I never signed up to it. They must have added me on the – incorrect assumption – that I was Jewish and would therefore want to defend myself. I never went but it was nice to be kept up-to-date on that subsection of the martial-arts scene.
I grew up in a solidly middle-class family in Guildford, Surrey. My parents could not be less showbiz: they’re academics who lecture in economics. My dad thinks he’s funny, but doesn’t every dad? Recently he took me to one side to complain about the way I’ve portrayed them in the press: I exaggerate for comic effect that they were against my career choice and that I had to keep it a secret. Still, it’s fair to say that my mum was not best pleased when I swapped a PhD in philosophy for The Inbetweeners. She made me suspend it rather than quit completely so I could go back. I’m slowly winning her round. It’s taken a while. I wonder if that suspension has expired by now?
I’m sorry to disappoint, but the Birds are not a raucous family. The only extraordinary thing about us was our ketchup consumption: we got through a lot. My sister and I used to have ketchup sandwiches, which I thought was normal. It turns out it definitely isn’t. We always had a big Sunday lunch as opposed to a Friday night dinner but these days we have to do it via Skype, because my parents are living in California, my sister is in New York and my younger brother is in the Solomon Islands. It’s a good excuse for a holiday.
The boys in Friday Night dinner are fractious but there’s love under that. That’s certainly the same with me and my three siblings… I think!
I’m third in terms of age and parental affection (only joking, Mum!). My siblings are all upstanding members of society: a deputy headteacher, a doctor and a doctor in training. They take the mickey out of me because I don’t have a proper job. Growing up I wasn’t much of a rebel. I know that probably comes as a surprise. I mean, obviously I got my nipples pierced, but other than that…
In this series, my character Adam brings a girl home for the first time. I did everything I could to avoid that situation in real life. I did invite my family to my wedding, though, and they were very well behaved. My wife Lisa’s family less so: they’re Irish.
In real life I like to spend Friday nights with my wife because I’ll get in trouble if I don’t say that. There’s nothing better than a glass of wine (again, it may come as a surprise but I’m not an ale drinker), a nice dinner and a bit of TV. I’ll be on washing-up duty as it wouldn’t be a very nice night if I were cooking. We’ve just started watching an HBO series with Kate Winslet called Mildred Pierce, which is so far quite boring. Each episode is over an hour long and feels longer. We’re sticking with it.
Tom Rosenthal, 26, plays Jonny Goodman
What I love about Friday Night Dinner is that it’s much more like the traditional family experience – two parents, two kids – that most people gripe about. I don’t really have that: it’s just me, Mum and Dad.
Growing up I was one of those weird, solitary kids who was quite happy in the company of adults or playing on their own. My parents used to put me in a room for what they’d call “thinking time”, which was literally just sitting by myself for an hour – a pretty Victorian approach to playtime.
I recently read that I’m the only Jewish member of the cast – which came as news to me! It’s true that my dad [sports presenter Jim Rosenthal] is Jewish in that his parents were, but they weren’t practising. Personally I don’t think it matters, because Friday Night Dinner is a comedy about a family, not Judaism. Not that I’m complaining: a job’s a job and this is the second time I’ve slunk into a Jewish production [he was part of an acclaimed production of Arnold Wesker’s Chicken Soupwith Barley at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2011].
Unlike my screen dad, I don’t think mine has any real eccentricities. He does walk around naked a fair bit, but don’t all dads do that? My mum has an almost pathological need to do up rooms–as soon as she finishes one she’ll start on another, even if it’s perfectly nice.
My mum’s other minor obsession is cars: she’ll set her heart on a 4×4, trade it in a month later for “a nippy little thing”, and a month after that she’ll trade back because the nippy little thing’s short on boot space.
At home my biggest act of rebellion was tearing off a piece of my bedroom wallpaper when I was three. Any deliberate rocking of the boat I left for the schoolyard. I was always writing petitions and putting up posters: anti-establishment, anti-the-other-houses, semi-porno- graphic. “Take it down, Rosenthal! You can’t be pinning FHM to the school noticeboards!” Once I got a Saturday detention for aggressive sledging on the cricket field.
There’s definitely part of me that is Jonny; I never mean to be malicious but I can be playful to the point of cruelty.
I faked my A-Level results so for half an hour my parents thought I hadn’t got into university. Mum was crying and Dad was storming round the house, cursing my teachers. When I came clean they were furious, but only for a couple of minutes. Also, on my dad’s 60th birthday I mocked up a letter from the charity Age Concern asking him to be a figurehead for their new campaign. He completely bought it.
And like Jonny I’m a massive mummy’s boy – even if I do look more like my screen mum [Tamsin Greig] than my real mum. Mine was a little upset the first time someone pointed that out. On set we find ourselves keeping up the family dynamic even when the cameras are off. If I’m being a bit annoying, or Simon’s being a bit distant, we will get – not a telling-off exactly, a gentle reminder from Tamsin and Paul [Ritter, their on-screen dad] that we’re supposed to be working. In real life I bet they’re both fantastic but slightly scary parents.