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.
“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.”
Family Tree starts on 16 July on BBC2.