Gap Year: The cast and creator on their real-life misadventures while filming in Asia

Tim Key, Anders Hayward and Tom Basden on the fraught process of shooting the comedy – and their own gap year experiences

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New E4 comedy Gap Year follows the trials and tribulations of a group of friends backpacking across Asia as they eat terrible food, track down ex-girlfriends and meet weird and wonderful people at every turn.

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The series was actually shot across Asia, from the Great Wall of China and the smog of Beijing to the jungles of Malaysia and a Full Moon party in Thailand, lending an authenticity to the travel not usually seen on TV.

We caught up with Gap Year creator Tom Basden and stars Tim Key and Anders Hayward to find out exactly what it was like to walk in their characters’ footsteps across Asia – and how it compared to their own embarrassing Gap Year experiences. 


Where did you shoot?

Anders Hayward: So we were in Malaysia for quite a bit, and then we went to Nepal, Vietnam, China. Tim went to Thailand but I didn’t get to go. You actually shot at the Full Moon party which was pretty spectacular.

Tim Key: That was good fun. After shooting I was quite keen to stay and just enjoy the Full Moon Party, and so was someone from makeup and someone from production. And so we were left there and Jay the director took me to one side like a boxing cornerman: “Will you be directable?” And I said – slurred – “I’ll be directable.”

And then went off into this soup of jizz-hounds and enjoyed buckets of lychee and vodka. I then fell asleep on the beach…

AH: And WHAT happened when you fell asleep on the beach?

Tim Key as hanger-on Greg in Gap Year

TK: I got pickpocketed. I felt it go. And then Jay came back at 5.30am with the crew and I walked up to Jay, a bit like Rocky but in one of Rocky’s more smashed-up scenes. He said “Are you directable?” And I said “I’m directable.”

And then we walked back down to where I’d just woken up on the beach, and I had to lie down to shoot a scene where I had to wake up after an enormous night. And at that point I thought “I don’t know what’s real.”

How long were you out there?

AH: Four and a half months! We left on May the 13th, and came back what – September 27th? So a long time.

TK: We were counting down the days because we wanted to have a Pret. Other than people, all I desired was a takeaway Indian and a Pret. A Swedish meatball wrap and a sparkling water. There were some countries we went to, and I’m not having a go at these countries, but there was no sparkling water.

I’ve heard there were some difficulties shooting in China – what were they?

AH: There was a bit where we were shooting down a pretty tight Hutong street. We had our permits but a shopkeeper didn’t really like it and obviously knew a guy in the government, and was going to shut our whole show down!

So we had to leave. Everyone was like: “OK we’ll shoot it if we can, if we get it that’s great, and if not we’ll have to try and get it in Kuala Lumpur. Which won’t look as spectacular, but it’s what we’ll have to do.”

Tom Basden: If someone wanted to stop us, then it got quite problematic. So on the first day of shooting in Beijing we had a guy close us down, and we had people turn up and we thought it might be curtains. You get these forms, and you don’t know if they’re going to be valid. The main thing was getting the permits, which took months. And for a while it looked like it wouldn’t happen, and we’d have to relocate to Japan or Taiwan, maybe.

There was a point with about 2 weeks to go where I was rewriting it for Taiwan. So that didn’t feel great.

TK: It was a case of doing everything the right way, getting all the certificates, and getting loads of rubber stamps for everything, and then also knowing that you might have to be a little bit… flexible.

Did you get time off to look around for yourselves?

AH: We did! We had a few great trips. On our weekends off we didn’t really want to stay in Kuala Lumpur, because that was our base and we’d been there quite a while. So we decided to go to Malacca for example, lovely little town just two hours away.

Anders Hayward as Dylan

We had a great time there and stayed in the Hello Kitty hostel, which I would advise any readers of this publication to try. The owner is great – he’s a sort of Igor character in this very pink place.

We went to the Cameron Highlands as well, which was really great.

TK: We went on a hike, we went to a strawberry farm, a butterfly farm…

Was there anywhere you particularly enjoyed filming?

TB: There were loads.  I really loved the jungle in episode five, which is a place called Taman Negara in Malaysia. It’s the world’s oldest rainforest and we shot there for five days. I loved it there but I think the cast hated it. We’d been mainly staying in fairly deluxe apartments in Kuala Lumpur, and then going there was a completely different thing. But it is genuinely amazing – you’ve got monkeys, hornbills and warthogs around you – but they didn’t all see it like that.

The best places to shoot are places where people don’t really know what’s going on or don’t care. Like in Kathmandu where there’s no interest in a film crew. Weirdly, somewhere like a full moon party there’s not much interest in a film crew either. Somewhere like the Great Wall we had to be isolated a bit, because it’s very easy to start attracting attention. 

Does the series echo any similar experiences in your own lives? Did you go on Gap Years?

TK: I went to Kiev. That’s legit! I was teaching English as a foreign language and exploring Kiev and its environs. I loved it – amazing place, great people. Very green! I think I read somewhere that it’s the second-greenest capital city in the world, after Paris.

TB: Bits of this are based on real life. I went on a gap year with a guy who went specifically to find his ex. And actually Jamie T the director did something a lot like this, where he went to Thailand to surprise his ex and then ended up meeting a girl on the plane. So there were things like that that were inspirations.

Me and my wife lived in China for a year and a half, so being there and meeting a lot of young people who were travelling was useful for that bit.

AH: This was my Gap Year, but the difference was I was able to work and have it organised for me. It was great! But I’ve never had any experiences like this ever before in my life. And I don’t think I ever will and I don’t think I ever want to!

And finally – if Gap Year got another series, where would you go?

TB: I think we’d have to go to a different part of the world. I would love to set a series in Africa, but then I’d love to set a series in South America as well. Even Europe is the sort of thing that, even though it’s a bit close to home for UK audiences, is still pretty weird and wonderful in places.

There are a lot of places in the world to take on. You could set a whole series in India, to be honest. I feel like there’s still a lot of the world to hone in on, so we’re not sort of options. It’s not a bad problem to have!

Gap Year continues on E4 on Thursdays at 9.00pm


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