You were born in the early 80s, so you remember a time …
Before the internet?
Yes, when Plasticine…
…Was a massive deal! And that Blue Peter here’s-one-I-made-earlier, saving your loo rolls. There was something so imaginative about that. Now, if you’re on the Tube or waiting in a restaurant, you’re straight onto your phone. I am that person. Whereas there used to be a time when you’d daydream and that’s when you have interesting thoughts.
Quite often if there were three people in the scene, it would be Nick Park and one of the model makers filling in the other parts. As a director, Nick absolutely knows what he wants. I always wish on film sets that I could do 8,000 takes, but your job is to find the performance and allow it out of your mouth. It was amazing because I’m a deeply unfunny human being.
How would you cope if you were dropped into the Stone Age?
I would love to not to have to deal with the… ah… um… issues of the internet? The addictions that come with phones? Having grown up in the 80s, I yearn quite a lot. My wife [PR executive Hannah Bagshawe] and I often talk about it: we are dinosaurs! Realistically, would I survive? No. I’m skinny, I’m neither quick nor massively athletic, I’d probably get eaten! Maybe a fatter person would get taken first. I’m really crap at outdoors stuff, lighting a fire. No, I’d be a goner. I quite enjoy painting, and someone has to do the cave paintings.
In a more primitive world, would you be able to kill something for food?
I’d be useless at catching fish. I remember once going fishing when I was around 15 in a really rough river and I was in waders up to my chest and I remember thinking, “Oh my God, if I caught something I’d be pulled down the river and I might die.” So, I did everything in my power not to catch a fish. My favourite creature in Early Man is the rabbit.
What with Early Man, voicing Thomas & Friends and signing up for the Fantastic Beasts franchise, you seem to have moved into family films?
Some people have asked what am I doing going off to do family films? Is it because I’ve had a child [Mary, born in June 2016]? Honestly, it’s not a choice. I was offered Fantastic Beasts, it was a wonderful world, it was JK Rowling and it was just a no-brainer. It was a dream to dive into that world; similarly here, to work with Nick Park. As someone who has a shoddy imagination, it has been great to work with two of the great imaginations!
What’s the message of the film?
Optimism, aspiration and lack of cynicism. Nick’s work takes you back to being a kid. In every home, it’s important to have a creative place where you have Play-Doh and crayons, so that a kid’s boredom catalyses imagination.