The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman has opened up about how “intimating” it was taking on the same role in Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads that was originated by the series creator.
In the BBC’s revival of the iconic monologue series, Freeman plays Graham in “A Chip In The Sugar” – a role that Bennett previously played in the original TV version.
The character Graham is an unemployed, middle-aged man with undisclosed mental health issues, and who quickly becomes enraged when his 70-something mother – upon whom he dotes – begins dating a man she knew as a young woman.
“Doing Alan’s monologue was a little intimidating, and also a huge honour that I was being trusted with it,” Freeman said. “To be approved of by Alan, who I don’t know, is something I wish I could have told my mum.”
He continued, “I knew some of the monologues better than others; I remembered snippets of Alan’s but not too much, I’m glad to say!
“The first thing I said to Jeremy [Herrin, the director] was, ‘Well, I’m not going to outdo Alan Bennett, am I?’ We knew we had to treat it as a new piece of writing, and not be swayed by the folk memory of the original performance.”
Freeman filmed the monologue on the empty EastEnders set in Dot Cotton’s bedroom – which he described as “one thing ticked off the bucket list”.
Asked about his experience rehearsing remotely, he said, “Jeremy and I did laptop rehearsals probably five times. He’s very good at picking up little details that I miss, gently suggesting a different colour here and there.
“On the day of shooting it was very weird to keep distance from people; my world is normally quite tactile, as people probably guess! So not even shaking hands with people was odd. I brought in a load of clothes and was presented with some other choices in the morning. Doing my own makeup was alright, though I’m hardly an expert; luckily, for Graham, ‘less is more’.”
The BBC One revival has been well-received by critics and audiences alike – with RadioTimes.com’s Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads review calling it a “treat” – and also features the likes of Jodie Comer, Harriet Walter, and Sarah Lancashire.
Martin Freeman’s monologue for Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads airs tonight at 9pm on BBC One. You can also catch up with the series on BBC iPlayer. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV guide.