Terry on doing impressions:
“It’s always a good idea to do the shortest impersonation possible and get the hell out of there. Don’t start at the beginning of Richard III.”
For those who missed the first series, explain a little bit about what The Mimic is all about?
It’s a story that follows Martin Hurdle around. It’s basically an ordinary life, he’s a bit stuck in a rut, I suppose. He does impressions, and some of those around him want him to take it further and become famous, but he’s very much conditioned to shy away from the limelight. A lot of people are like that. Every now and again you’ll see them on Britain’s Got Talent or The X-Factor, and they’ve really been pushed into it, and you think “Why haven’t you done this a long time ago?”
Certain people are really talented but don’t have the self-confidence to pursue success, and then there are people who aren’t talented who think they are, and are absolutely overflowing with confidence.
Did it feel different, filming the second series? Was it less intimidating? And did you feel like you knew the characters better?
The more time you spend on set, the more confident you get, because you’re just being exposed to it. I remember on the first day of the first series, my head nearly fell off, as we turned up and I saw all the trucks and the logistics and everybody involved. By the second series, we kind of knew what we were doing, and yes, you do know the characters better. This time, we knew what we wanted to do a little bit more. But in other ways it was a little bit tougher this year.
We started preparing for this in July 2013, working on some new impressions , working alongside Matt [Morgan, the writer and creator] working out what my impressions and humour could bring to the show. So it was a lot more work on the impersonations this year. Sometimes you try some, and you just can’t do them, and you have to abandon them. And others, that you thought you couldn’t do, you end up being able to do.
Matt wrote the script with you in mind. Did he base the character on a version of you?
We didn’t create Martin as a go-getter, he’s a fairly reluctant protagonist. We didn’t want him ringing up restaurants and booking tables under Christopher Walken… We wanted him to be some sort of wandering idiot. So there’s always going to be little bits of me that wander in there. And sometimes you can definitely spot snippets of conversations you’ve had with Matt appearing in the script. But I think in this series, Matt has found the basis of each character, and they’re very much his own creations. We want Martin to do some crap impersonations, just as I do some crap impersonations. We wanted him to be fallible. We never wanted him to be slick. So there are always remnants of me in there – that’s the way Matt and I work. But Matt has very much created his own universe here, and filled it with unconventional people.
You’ve alluded to that conflict in Martin, that he sort of wants to be successful with his voices, but he doesn’t really embrace the whole concept of fame. The same could be said about you, couldn’t it? You don’t really seem to yearn for fame.
No, I think you’re very right there. But I have to be very careful how I answer that, because I don’t want to seem reluctant. I love my job. There isn’t a day that goes past where I don’t think “My God, I’m on the set of a TV show, thank the Lord.” But I must admit, when I first did stand-up, I’d been on the waiting list for six months, then I ended up doing two seconds of dialogue and then running off into the night! I just lost my bottle. I’ve never really been all: “Everybody look at me!” I guess that comes from a working class upbringing where you’re told to get in line and shut up a little bit. I love the work, but the other stuff always makes me feel a bit awkward. Not because it feels beneath me at all, quite the opposite. I’d just rather be at home with a slice of Battenburg cake watching Antiques Roadshow than out being rock’n’roll. When I first joined John [Noel, his agent] he just kept slamming me in front of a camera until I eventually relaxed a little bit. I’d always thought I was going to work in cartoons, I’d just be a voice.
The show’s not a loud, knockabout comedy - it’s gentle, bittersweet and sad in places. Do you like that aspect ?
Yeah. I always want to point out that this is Matt’s creation. But yeah, we were given time to develop this, Channel 4 backed us all the way. We wanted it to be a comedy drama, it had to feel real. In the first series, with such an immense storyline – Dionne (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) dying - we wanted to do it justice, to paint shades of real life. We wanted to make something that was gentle and a little bit truthful.
In the first scene in series 2, Martin walks down the street and adopts the accents of everyone he speaks to. Do you go around analysing people’s voices and how they sound every time you meet them?
I wish I was cold-stone clever enough to do that. But my girlfriend says that if I come back from talking to Neil [Maskell] I’ll be a little bit “more London”. If I’ve been talking to Jo [Hartley] I’ll be a little bit more Lancashire. I sort of faintly adopt accents subconsciously everywhere I go.
In the pilot we did a scene where I pretended to be from Northern Ireland but loads of people we were filming with were southern Irish, and in the end we abandoned me trying to do Northern Irish because I was too affected by everybody that was around me.
You said after VIP that you weren’t recognised that much, because so much of it took place with you in prosthetics. Did that change after The Mimic?
Yes, but I have to say, I love my motorbikes, and I’ve usually got a crash helmet on, or I’m in a garage, tinkering away, so I don’t get spotted that much. When I was filming The Mimic, people in Bristol were coming up to me quoting VIP, so maybe I’d got that slightly wrong anyway. But The Mimic did take it to a whole new level.
I went to a festival the other day, and I was getting a bit drunk, and someone asked me to do Morgan Freeman, and I just couldn’t quite do it. And I had that awkward thing where people almost get a bit annoyed and go “Nah, do it again.” And I popped my hood up and put shades on, and thought I was sorted, but my grey hair just poked through and gave me away! This young girl came up with her mates and went “Are you the Mimic?” instantly. But her mate had no idea who I was, and kept quoting stuff from different shows at me. I think she thought I was from Derek...
I went to Debenhams the other day, and the lady behind the counter said “We love Derek. You’re very good. You play the guy with learning difficulties, don’t you?” I just said “Yeah, thank you very much.”
Do you get people asking you to do impressions everywhere you go? It must get irritating?
You should never make it awkward for yourself. Because we’re British, TV means a hell of a lot to us. I don’t like it when celebrities are a bit curt with their fans. You signed up to it, you’re going to get it. So I try and be really nice to people. You occasionally get people who are a bit tricky. I take it really seriously when people come up and say hello. I was a roadie before, and I worked for a couple of well-known bands, whose names I won’t say, but a couple of them really weren’t very nice to people. It just made me think “Oh my God, you don’t deserve what you’ve got. These people made you what you are today, and it’s so rude to treat them like that.” But it’s always a good idea to do the shortest impersonation possible and get the hell out of there. Don’t start at the beginning of Richard III.
Who do you tend to get asked to do the most?
I’d say Al Pacino. People just love the shouty Pacino. It’s often Morgan Freeman. Personally, I love doing Sir Ian McKellen or David Attenborough til the cows come home, but for some reason I don’t get asked to do them as much.
The Mimic serise 2 is due on Ch 4 in mid-July.