"You couldn’t have made this ten years ago": Hang Ups star Stephen Mangan explains his new therapy sitcom
The actor joins his Channel 4 comedy co-creator – and brother-in-law – Robert Delamere to talk through mental health and why they've never argued
How would you feel about working with your brother-in-law? Actor Stephen Mangan and theatre director Robert Delamere know all about it – Mangan is married to Delamere’s actress sister Louise.
Together, they’ve created a sitcom called Hang Ups, based on a US series by Friends star Lisa Kudrow, about a therapist (played by Mangan) who starts giving online counselling sessions from home when his business fails.
But does the show reflect their own lives? And why have they never fallen out? We sat down with the pair to talk it out...
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Do you remember when you first met?
Stephen Mangan: It was in a pub in Maida Vale, west London in 2005 – your two brothers were there and your sister-in-law. I met you all in one hit. You seemed like a very fun, funny family, who all got on. It’s weird that our paths hadn’t crossed before because you were a theatre director for a long time. I was in a lot of theatre – you never gave me a job.
Robert Delamere: I remember kicking Louise out of the house to go on a date with you.
SM: She didn’t want to go on the date?
RD: I was like, “Louise, just go.”
SM: I was waiting in Shepherd’s Bush all nervous, I had no idea that she was being forced to go out by her brother. Liverpool were playing in the final of the Champions League that night, I think… So I’m very grateful to you, thank you for making her get out of the house.
Who does Louise side with if you fall out when you’re writing?
RD: We’ve never fallen out.
SM: I think because we know we have to be brothers-in-law for ever one of us is not going to just punch the other one in the face and walk out.
Why did you want to remake Lisa Kudrow’s Web Therapy?
SM: It basically offered a way to use improvisation, which I love… using the basic premise of a therapist giving therapy online. We weren’t interested in making a pale imitation of Lisa’s show or even a particularly straight adaptation of it, because she’d done it so brilliantly first time round, so we reworked it into a very different show.
RD: We literally said, this is the character’s name, he’s a therapist. Let’s go from there.
SM: We liked the idea of a good therapist. Lisa’s therapist is an awful therapist, totally driven by self-interest.
Do you think there has been a shift in attitudes towards therapy in the UK?
SM: Definitely. I think you couldn’t have made this show here even ten years ago. Therapy was always seen slightly as, “Oh, haven’t you got a friend to talk to?” or a very American thing, self-indulgent. But I think people now appreciate that the “stiff upper lip, pull yourself together” approach is not always helpful.
RD: Mental health has become a much bigger issue; male mental health in particular, because of the suicide rate [it’s the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK]. We’ve been forced as a nation to look at ourselves.
SM: If you look at a programme like Desert Island Discs… you listen to the Roy Plomley ones, it’s very much, “So, Sir Brian, you became chairman of the company in 1958, you were made a widower in 1959…” “Yes.” “What’s the next record?” You listen to it now with Kirsty Young and people talk about how they felt in those moments. People are really honest and open about their lives and themselves in a way that we weren’t before.
Have you both had therapy?
SM: I’ve had a bit of therapy, yeah.
SM: We also sat down with a therapist and we went through every single client in the show. I would tell her what the client’s issues were and why they were coming to therapy and she would give me strategies for dealing with their therapy
In the show, digital technology invades daily life at every turn. Do you embrace it or does it drive you mad?
RD: We live our lives through screens, on screens, by screens. Social media is like a digital god that comes along and judges everybody, but doesn’t have any moral system.
SM: I think social media throws up a huge amount of issues for parents. You want to provide children with a safe haven away from the pressures of school and their peers. Now, of course, with social media and phones, there’s no escape and that must be really difficult for kids. Louise and I have resisted so far with our children, who are ten, seven and two – there are no phones, but I know that day will come. I sort of dread it.
Have you ever recognised your own experiences or neuroses on screen?
SM: As an actor you’re partly always acting your own neuroses… the cocky, arrogant and yet inside devastatingly insecure Guy Secretan in Green Wing, there’s a bit of me that’s like that. And the geeky Adrian Mole, who doesn’t feel he’s getting his proper dues in life.
RD: The first time I saw the [Michael Keaton] film Birdman, it was something I deeply recognised, the insane desire for artistic expression.
SM: In Woody Allen’s great comedies, you recognise all the neuroses and anxieties in yourself.
RD: Nobody’s intention is to be unhappy or poor or heartbroken or single, but there’s something very human and heartbreaking and funny about people trying really hard to live well and falling foul of their own idiosyncrasies or their own personality and not seeing that.
Did any of the Hang Ups actors improvise in a way that astonished you?
SM: Every day, every session, because you had no idea where they were going to go.
RD: Richard E Grant was brilliant at that. And when Paul Ritter came in, we had to stop the cameras rolling because the crew were on the floor laughing.
SM: Sarah Hadland in our first episode, where she started off about the cats. [She unleashes a tirade about her Bengals that definitely wouldn’t make it onto Miranda.] I had no idea that was coming, not a clue. If ever I put my hand up to my face and look as if I’m appalled, it’s because I’m trying desperately not to laugh.
Interviews by Chris Harvey
Hang Ups is on Wednesdays at 10pm on Channel 4