Mighty Boosh and Flowers star Julian Barratt: ‘There’s nothing wrong with being a shy performer’

The star of new Channel 4 comedy Flowers joins writer Will Sharpe to discuss their dark new series – and why now's the time to reunite with collaborator Noel Fielding


Flowers are blooming on Channel 4 tonight.


Stripped across the schedules this week is Will Sharpe’s tender and troubling dissection of the Flowers clan – depressed Dad Maurice, played by Julian Barratt, his exasperated wife Deborah (Olivia Colman) and two eccentric twins.

Writer Will Sharpe (far left in main picture) plays Shun, a Japanese factotum who has a strong and mysterious bond with Maurice. Are they in love?

We caught up with Will and Julian to talk about the show and tell us about their hopes for it.

Flowers is really interesting because it’s kind of wild. But actually, it’s quite relatable. Because every family is a bit screwed up, isn’t it?

Will: I think you’re right; hopefully there is relatability in that to people. It’s for people to think, ‘My family is really normal’. I think that’s a fair observation.

Was it based on your family?

Will: No, it was not based on my family… I genuinely don’t know. But I knew they were going to be a family, to look at their problems.

Julian, what did you like about your character Maurice?

Julian: Well, I knew Will’s work from a film he made, Black Pond, so I was aware of Will. And then I heard he had written something so I was very intrigued. And it was great, the script, so that was it really.

Maurice is kind of the emotional core of it, isn’t he?

Julian: Maybe he’s the black hole, sucking people into his orbit… He’s in a depression basically. I suppose you do draw people around you when you’re in that sort of mode. As much as you want to avoid people, everyone gets in your bloody orbit.

What was it like working with Olivia Colman?

Julian: Really good. It was amazing and inspiring and surprisingly funny. I mean I’ve known her on and off for years, just met her here and there in places, but never worked with her. So I was absolutely chuffed to bits when I knew she was going to be in it.

For me, I didn’t go to drama college or anything. So the way she can access all the different emotions, again and again, I just find that incredible. So I was just watching her, it was more of a kind of learning thing.

Do they love each other, Deborah and Maurice?

Will: The worst thing you can have is hatred. The series literally begins in Maurice’s point of view. But I think you’re right; we need to understand his state of mind but we also need to understand the relationship. And as the series goes on I think we start to see Deborah’s point of view a bit more and it changes a little bit.

Julian, you seem quite a shy sort of person, is that fair enough? Withdrawn…

Julian: Yeah. A little bit.

So were there any aspects that you shared with Maurice then?

Julian: Oh yeah.

Which ones?

Julian: All those, I suppose. Unable to connect, worried about what you’re going to say, am I making mistakes, what do you do in this situation, all that stuff. 

If you’re shy, how can you go on stage with Mighty Boosh in front of all those people? Don’t you find that a problem?

Julian: Well that’s a performance…

It’s got to take balls though?

Julian: Balls, yeah, mainly. Or stupidity. For me there’s no dichotomy between being shy or a performer, because I think it’s more a way of slightly presenting a version of things to the world. So you get it together and you make it work and you do it.

In real life, I’m not like that. Performers often can be quite socially inept, you know? And even great comedians are like that. Woody Allen for example…

You wouldn’t describe yourself as socially inept? Or would you?

Julian: Fairly. But I don’t like interviews, particularly…

What don’t you like – you don’t like talking about yourself?

Julian: I don’t like talking about myself; I’m not good at analysing myself. I don’t want to analyse myself.

Do you feel interviews are a bit of a performance?

Julian: A little bit. And also, yeah, I’m not sure of the rules of it somehow. I’m never quite sure.

Will, what type of people do you imagine will like Flowers?

Will: I don’t know!

Is there a love affair between you two – Maurice and Shun?

Will: That’s the point. You need to watch it to find out. What you got from it, is legit.

Julian, would you like Maurice if you met him?

Julian: Yeah he’s alright, I think he’s okay. He’s just not so good for his family. He’s pretty useless to them it seems. But he’s probably okay if you met him in a dark pub somewhere one night. He’s not much help in his own home somehow. I think there’s plenty of people like him around who you end up sort of bumping into in places.

Your Wikipedia entry says that you are somebody who has said you don’t like doing panel shows and that you’d rather be home reading a book. Is that true?

Julian: I don’t have time to read, with kids, twins! I’d love to read more, and I try desperately to do a lot of reading, I really do, but it’s hard. I watch people like Noel [Fielding] and people who do panel shows and I just, I wish I could do that. I have a tendency to implode. I did This Morning and it was just like that. And I just find it difficult…

Is it the shyness?

Julian: Well, whatever it is, I’ve become very aware of the situation and I can’t speak. I think with performing, initially I was terrified on stage, absolutely terrified. And I did it again and again and again and I learned sort of how it works and then I was able to do it. I have that on set as well sometimes: the first time I get on set, I’m often extremely worried and scared. What are they expecting of me, and what are the rules of this encounter… and I can quite easily get lost.

Did you draw on that for the character?

Julian: Well, it worked for the character initially. He is slightly trapped in this neurotic sort of world.

Do you have quite low confidence somehow?

Julian: Possibly, yeah. I mean, is that surprising to you? You know, you do this stuff, and it doesn’t necessarily fill up the thing that makes you want to do it, if you know what I mean.

So you think, ‘Oh, I need to get some oldies laughing’ and then you think that’s going to make you happy in some way, but essentially you’re driven to do things often out of a lot of stuff you’re trying to overcome or to deal with. So I don’t think it’s a contradiction of that at all.

So you’re working with Noel Fielding again…

Julian:  Possibly, yeah. We’ve talked about having tea together and doing some work. We’re talking about doing something else together now, something with a longer arc really.

We live very close to each other but because we live in separate ‘time zones’ – I had kids – we wanted to do other things on our own, so that’s we’ve done.

But you know, we’re always in contact. We do the odd gig here and there and quite a bit of music together and things. A lot of side projects and stuff along the way but we’re just doing our own thing, you know. So that was it.

When was the light bulb when you decided you wanted to come back together again? 

Julian: If anything, it could have been that I was starting to watch the Boosh again with my kids. I don’t really watch my own stuff because why would you? You just feel a bit weird. And I don’t enjoy particularly watching my own stuff; it takes a bit of time before I can.

But I decided to show them it. They were really enjoying it and I was enjoying it. And I was going, ‘Yeah, this is really good.’ Well I knew it was good, but I sort of didn’t know why it was good, in a way. And suddenly it became really clear to me…

But they found it funny? Because there’s silliness, isn’t there?

Julian: Yeah, the silliness and also, the heart and the journey. It was partly that that made me think, I’d really like to do some more stuff with this. We always have good chemistry when we get back together. It’s like [Noel’s] a brother, basically. So you may have times when you fall out but he’s always there.

And would you imagine a Flowers 2? Or is it something you imagine just being a one-off?

Will: In theory, yeah. I guess I haven’t got that far yet. Haven’t even finished the first one yet…

Julian: I think there should be a spin-off where they’re superheroes.

If you were a regular viewer, what would you like about this? 

Julian: I think I would really be interested in it if I wasn’t in it. Because I’d be thinking, it’s everything I like. It looks like a kind of movie, there’s a level of visual attention to detail.

It’s funny, it’s got hard emotional stuff, it’s got a lot of stuff that I love in it I suppose. And it reminds me a little bit of some shows back in the day that I used to watch when I was growing up. Like Butterflies and things like that that had an emotional sort of edge that was not strictly comedy.


Flowers begins on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm