Flowers: Interview with Julian Barratt

❉ The critically acclaimed Flowers unfurls for a second series, on Channel 4 this week.

“When I did The Mighty Boosh back in the day, it was such a sort of family thing and we were all mates. I’m always searching for that kind of thing, which is hard. With Flowers as well it’s really sort of a bunch of friends and family. It’s really nice to get that kind of thing happening.”

Will Sharpe’s Flowers sees the return of the well-meaning Deborah (Olivia Colman), her depressive husband Maurice (Julian Barratt), their maladjusted adult twin children Amy and Donald and the rest of this dysfunctional ensemble, including the eternally optimistic Shun (played by Sharpe), the Japanese illustrator of Maurice’s children’s books who lodges with the family. Joining the cast is Harriet Walter as Hylda (former addict, now Amy’s girlfriend and slightly unconventional priest).

In this visually ambitious second series, set a couple of years after series one, Maurice is now on medication and seemingly in a better place, while Deborah is on the brink of becoming the published author of “Living with the Devil”, a self-help book about coping with her husband’s depression. The bombastic Donald (Daniel Rigby) has started an independent plumbing business and is desperate to fall in love and become a man. The chaotic and imaginative Amy, meanwhile, has invited her all-female music group “The Pink Cuttlefish Orchestra” to stay at the ramshackle Flowers’ house and becomes increasingly obsessed with a book full of strange Baroque paintings, which once belonged to Felix Flower (her grandfather who ran away when Maurice was a little boy).

As the subject of depression was foregrounded in series one, the wild and colourful second series focuses more on manic depression and how a dynasty of mental illness can bleed down through generations of a family.

Image © Channel 4.

The first series of Flowers was incredibly well received. How did you feel about its reception?

I don’t read any press for things I’m doing really, but I got a lot of response from people in the street, which was really nice. It’s interesting because it deals with mental health. A lot of people were quite vocal about that when they came up to me and said, “Oh it really helped me.” I think because it’s dealing with that issue, it hit home with a lot of people and they were grateful that people were talking about it in the way that it was. I think people were just grateful we were talking about it in a funny, measured sort of relatable way. Will, he’s a good writer. He knows whereof he speaks, you know. I think it’s just good to get it out and talk about it and have it be part of the fabric of entertainment and conversation and comedy and whatever else we’re doing. It seems like it’s been a bit hidden, especially in this country.

Where do we find Maurice in series two?

Things have happened and his life has changed. He’s trying to be a different type of person, and trying to show, that he’s changed. There’s quite a lot of humour in people who are pretending that they’re really healed and really strong again and that they’ve found themselves when in fact they haven’t. He’s trying to attack it, trying to deal with things, and use the language of self-help or emotional health. But it’s a bit too soon really, so there’s quite a lot of comedy in that. But he’s just trying to keep his head above water as usual. He’s in the midst of it. In the second series he’s very tumultuous and it focuses on his daughter.

What can you say about his relationship with Debra?

It’s good. We’re not in a rom-com, it’s a bit more real. They’re together and they love each other and they’re trying to be free with each other and try to give each other the freedom they think the other needs and trying to be grown up about it. But they’re obviously not, especially Maurice. They’re struggling to grow up in a strange way and let go of each other. They don’t want to throw away something that could work but they don’t want to hang on to something that could be futile. Debra’s got more of a resolve to change things and to go about with a different kind of life and move on, and he wants to try and get to grips with it and change and show her he’s changed. The outcome I won’t give away. They’re struggling to know what the next phase of the relationship is. They’ve got so much shared history and so much that links them. It’s quite bittersweet as these things are, as the series is I suppose. It’s got quite an interesting terminus. People respond to that aspect of it. I loved the scripts when I got them. Will’s a great writer. I’m lucky to have gotten involved.

What were the things that attracted you to the role?

I would have done it anyway, just from the scripts. I met Will and he was such a nice chap and funny and he has all sorts of influences, things I was interested in, things he was interested in. And then of course as a testament to the scripts really, the people involved are so good. The second series was great fun because we all had this shared experience. It’s really good fun to come back and meet a group of people again and carry on the story. When I did The Mighty Boosh back in the day, it was such a sort of family thing and we were all mates. I’m always searching for that kind of thing, which is hard. With Flowers as well it’s really sort of a bunch of friends and family. It’s really nice to get that kind of thing happening.

The other cast members have talked about how everyone feels so supported on set and it enables you to give your best performance. Would you agree with that?

Yeah, I think so. It was always clear the tone was somewhere between comedy and drama. That’s partly why I was so excited by it. It was so tonally different from stuff I’d done before. I was really intrigued to see… and was quite happy to let [Will] guide me in that way and tell me stuff he wanted me to do because I trust him as a director. Everyone’s trying to help Will make this thing and serve his vision and have fun and do our own stuff. But he was fine for us to throw in stuff and bring our ideas to the table. He’s very happy to accept ideas and if he likes them he’ll take them on board. That’s always a good thing because you feel like you’re participating in the world of it. You feel invested. It was great. It has a good crew.

Do you enjoy doing shows like Flowers?

Yeah, I do. I just want to do good stuff. I do like the idea of doing stuff that isn’t totally comedy, but maybe that’s just a midlife thing and I want to do some more serious things. I’ve got kids and we just watch really silly comedies all the time.

What else are you working on that you can talk about?

I’m actually acting in a show my other half Julia (Davis) has written and is directing. I’m doing a bit of acting and writing music for various things I’m doing. I write music for TV and myself and various things. So I’m working on that and maybe some sort of live show involving music. I’m also writing scripts, trying to get them away. It’s an ongoing process. But essentially I’m just, I don’t really have any particular thing I can say other than acting in Julia’s (Davis) new show. Sometimes I think I don’t want to do anything. Happy to just fade away now and just read a lot of books. Got quite a backlog of books I haven’t read. I’m not quite as ambitious as I used to be. I quite enjoy the ebbing of a certain amount of ambition. It’s strange you end up getting quite… sometimes the less you try you end up stumbling into these really interesting jobs. Flowers for instance, that was only because I bumped into Will. I’m not gunning for parts. I’m not doing that anymore. I’m really bad at auditions, I’ve come to terms with that now. It’s just a weird thing as an actor. I’m more into music at the moment.

❉ Flowers returns to Channel 4 on Monday 11th June at 10pm.

❉ News source: Channel 4 Press.

❉ We Are Cult is not responsible for the content of this news release.

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