Taking the plunge: Swimming with Men star Rob Brydon talks life, ageing – and synchronised swimming

Comedian Rob Brydon opens up about his new film and his relationship with Steve Coogan


Rob Brydon is worried about midlife crisis. Not his, mine. “Do you take care of yourself?” the star of Swimming with Men asks. “Do you work out?” I tell him I manage the odd run. “Well that’s something!” he says, immensely pleased. He then recommends transcendental meditation. “I find it very grounding, very helpful. It’s about being calm. It’s about being still.”


Brydon is so nice that at first I think he is taking the mickey. But when I ring his Swimming with Men fellow actors they all say the same: “lovely man”, “absolute pleasure to work with”. In the new film (in cinemas from Friday 6 July), Brydon plays a despondent accountant who joins a group of male synchronised-swimming enthusiasts, described by one of them as “a bunch of middle-aged men who met up in trunks that are too small and make funny little patterns in a pool.”

“They are dependent on each other physically,” says Brydon. “They have to reach out and touch another man. I don’t have a problem with that, but Eric [his character] is an accountant – it’s a different thing for him to reach out and touch.”

All this is attempted in nothing more than nose plugs and Speedos. “I wasn’t embarrassed at all,” says Brydon. “I don’t think anybody is expecting Jean-Claude Van Damme. I am what I am.”

The film is based on a group of Swedish men, seen in the 2010 documentary Men Who Swim, who took a novel approach to midlife crisis, entering the World Synchronised Swimming Championships. “You can get to the halfway point in life, and you ask yourself: ‘Is this it?’” says Brydon. “It’s very natural to have drunk half the glass and think, ‘Oh, that’s a shame, there’s not as much left.’ Or you can say, ‘I’m really going to enjoy the rest of the drink.’ That’s what I’m trying to do – really enjoy the rest of the drink.”

Brydon was born in South Wales in 1965. His mother Joy was a teacher, his father Howard sold cars. For most of his 20s he was a radio presenter in Wales and, latterly, on Five Live before TV success came late with Marion and Geoff when Brydon was 35. Did he ever think he wouldn’t make it? “Yes. I’d never really lost faith through all the years of knockbacks and rejections. But just before it did come off, I began to think, ‘Maybe I’ll be a local radio DJ.’ Then suddenly I was winning the best newcomer at the British Comedy Awards.”


Brydon’s life took off just as other men’s start to wane. In effect he jumped over his own midlife crisis. “I’m not the same as Eric because he was doing what he wanted to do – he wanted to be an accountant – and he’s just lost. But I was never lost, I knew where I was only too well, but I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be somewhere else.”

In the film, Eric’s crisis is brought on, in part, by the fear that his wife doesn’t love him any more. In reality, Brydon is married to Claire Holland, mother of his two young sons. He has three grown-up children from his first marriage, which ended in 2001 (“my oldest is 23, the youngest six”). He has spoken
 before about how painful 
divorce is. Does he think we
 get better at making people 
happy as we grow older?

“Hopefully you do,” he says. “But you have to keep reminding yourself. I think it’s always a good idea to try and put yourself last. I don’t claim for a second I achieve it, but I try and remind myself of that.”

Does he worry about being elderly when his kids are at university? “I’m trying to be practical. It depends on how much you look after yourself and if you have good luck in terms of illness.” Is he scared of dying? “Oh, God, I’m as scared as the next man,” he says. “But what can you do?”

Brydon says he has cut back on booze. “I’m becoming a little weary of it,” he says. “I’ve never been a big drinker, but in summer I do like a glass of rosé in the evening.” Perhaps, but he admits he and Steve Coogan drank a lot when they were making The Trip. “In the Rosello episode of The Trip to Italy we’re drunk,” he says. “And on the first Trip, when we’re at a place called Hipping Hall, I was drunk. And in the Spanish one, I think I got a bit drunk when we were in Malaga. I start shouting something, I can’t remember what I even said, and you can see the look on Steve’s face, which is like a James Bond villain. I think he sat there going, ‘Ha, ha, ha. You get as drunk as you like, Mr Brydon.’ And he was sober as a judge. You’ve got to be careful of that.”

He says the real difference between the two men is their domestic arrangements. “Steve is someone who is always striving. Steve is still very, very driven. I have young children, I really just want to get home at the end of the day.”

Programme Name: The Trip - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. Episode 4) - Picture Shows: (L-R) Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan - (C) Revolution Films - Photographer: Ciro Meggiolaro

In The Trip, Coogan appears insecure and troubled by the loss of youth, while Brydon seems well adjusted. “Do you think so?” he says. “That’s interesting because I think it depends on how you are as a person. Some see Steve as this dreadful narcissist, and me as this lovely, sweet guy. Others see me as this irritating, annoying friend.” I say most people see him as a very nice man with a sunny disposition. “That’s not true,” Brydon says after some thought. “I think anybody who talks as much about the ways to stay buoyant as I do, is doing it for a reason. You do those things to stay buoyant.”

Then he turns the conversation back to me. “Now I hope you’re not going to go jumping off a tall building after this.”


Swimming with Men is released in UK cinemas on Friday 6th July