Nina Conti: how I almost wrote myself out of Family Tree

Ventriloquist jokes that watching Chris O’Dowd in the improvised Christopher Guest comedy meant she left herself with no lines

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Joining Chris O’Dowd in improvised BBC2 comedy Family Tree proved problematic for ventriloquist Nina Conti: not wanting to interrupt her illustrious co-stars meant she almost wrote herself out of the show.

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“In the scene at the dinner table, I just ate,” Conti told RadioTimes.com. “At the end of the scene Chris [director Christopher Guest] came up and said, ‘I don’t think you spoke’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know how.’ I was just thinking, well Chris O’Dowd is talking and Michael McKean’s talking, I’ll just wait. Then I thought oh s**t, I’m going to write myself out of the show.”

Conti, best known for her ventriloquist act with a monkey puppet, stars as Bea Chadwick. Her brother Tom (O’Dowd) is getting over a recent break-up by looking into his family’s past.

Of starring with her monkey puppet, Conti admitted she found it really weird “inflicting” him on other people. And although Guest himself boasts a great-grandfather who performed a similar act to royalty, Conti joked she’s not even sure why she’s interested in ventriloquism.

“I suppose [Guest] enjoys perverse things as well.”

But Conti soon got to grips with the role. She added: “I always thought, who would this woman be who has a monkey with her all of the time, she must be disturbed – I have to play her differently, I have to play her as a character, and then I thought, no, no, it’s just me.”

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Family Tree starts on 16 July on BBC2.