Casting Director: Sophie North
Directors: Los Pérez
Ten days in Manchester may not sound too glamorous, but the filming of a series of commercials for supermarket Asda has been a highlight – not least because my days were spent with both Los Pérez (“The clients want a little less, Tim, thanks.”) and my two newly-acquired “granddaughters”, Brooke Haynes and her stand-in, Betsy. (The things I now know about dolls!)
Constructed at Space Studios was Asda’s Christmassy factory (or Imaginarium) containing, amongst many other excitements for an old boy like me, a reindeer in a hamster-wheel (powering the machine to stir Christmas pudding mix, obvs.), a conveyor belt of toys (inspected by children), cakes being smashed by musclemen, a gin/chocolate room, a sleigh ride and a flume (down which I was obliged to slide, risking life and limb). We spent an afternoon in a frozen forest (actually one of the hottest places I have ever been) with snow shaken from a sieve overhead by the excellent and talented Dave from Quicksilver. There were relaxing opportunities to practise my waking-up-in-a-bed-being-towed-by-a-train acting, a glass lift that didn’t move, and much exploration down back alleys of north-west Manchester reminiscent of Coronation Street.
At night-time, more importantly, I roosted in the delightfully eccentric Gotham Hotel whose pink icing shortbread pigs, faux-bearskin rug and Intimacy Pack (mine for £14.95) have wrought havoc with my imagination and – potentially – my family life.
Casting Director: Belinda Norcliffe
A delightful Ferrero Kinder Egg commercial filmed in a Viennese garden last year has recently hit the screens in Europe. There are children, carrots, the ears of an Easter bunny (oryctolagus cuniculus) and, at the very end, an old git doing septuagenarian granddad-acting with his lovely “wife” for the day, Carole Goodman. All this in the heat of summer sunshine boosted by some monster arc lamps. Although there were no chocolate freebies (even melted ones) available, I did come away with that natty, beige jersey in exchange for wearing my own shoes.
On the strength of my growing reputation for being children- and animal-friendly, I was invited to bond with a dog (an oversized Corgi with a red neckerchief, as I recall) for a currently unreleased ident for an unnamed company. Suffice it to say that when I bent to show said canine some affection, the creature’s loving and lingual attentions (coupled with extreme dog-breath) necessitated calling Make-up for a wet-wipe before the next take. Tight-lipped was I for the rest of the shoot.
In February, care of Emily Tilelli Casting, I was married for a day to Maggie MacLeod (she who spent the previous night in the Bartholomew residence – with the knowledge and consent of his current, actual and indeed real wife, Julie) before filming a Valentine’s Day piece for Morrisons. This time, we were destined to be upstaged by a bleeding heart sponge-cake, a characterful little confection which got its own Winnebago, all the attention and a stand-in. Both cakes were later consumed by the crew, so who has the last laugh?
Most recently, I might have been spotted walking another dog called Bertie in Tooley Street. Again, I am not yet able to divulge any details, but I can say that despite it being a glorious May afternoon, the rain was pouring down courtesy of a machine supplied by the London Fire service. In other news, one of my fellow pedestrians (a five-year old from Pimlico) now firmly believes that I am the real Father Christmas earning a spot of cash during his low season. Who am I to deny these things?
Casting Director: Dan Hubbard
Having been contractually gagged until the commercial’s release, I can now offer grateful thanks to Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper, Janet McTeer (my “wife” Mrs Claus for the two days’ filming), casting director Dan Hubbard and to Molly and all the gang from Smuggler who made the occasion such a delight for me. (The crew were constantly suggesting I take off my costume, but I knew better: this was the hot-and-sweatiest job since Baloo the Bear in 1995; I learnt then that there’s nothing worse than putting back on a clammy, damp, heavy cozzie after a lunch break.)
There was a real chalet, log fire and – outside in the blizzard – a sleigh with real reindeer to stroke. As a seasoned traveler, I expected to feel the cooling blast of the polar gale as I stepped out of our house and into its teeth; and yet it was warmer outside than in. I had never before been to Pinewood Studios – and certainly not in July – nor been collected from Kent in such a luxurious limo. It even had on-board Wi-Fi. How do they even do that?
Oh, did I mention that the job was immensely sweaty? So much so that they sent out for a fresh pair of boxer shorts and socks. M&S, of course.
Casting Directors: Crocodile Casting
Can’t believe it: I’m off to Moscow again, this time in the company of fellow actor Ashley Cook. We meet on the plane where we have been upgraded. Our task is to film a commercial for Russian tea with ebullient and leonine director Alessandro. Ashley is the King; I am his butler. Neither moustache nor whiskers are required this time. You can watch it in the Showreel.
More importantly, during our march around Moscow, I take Ashley to a café I frequented last November. The waiter (I remembered his name: Alexander) immediately bustles up to me and welcomes me like a long lost chum. Which I am.
At the wrap dinner, Alessandro and the Big Richard Tea Man encourage us to drink double shots of Beluga vodka. I rarely drink alcohol, but because the clients are happy, the director is happy and I am happy, I think “in for a rouble” and woof down four glasses. I must have been thirsty … and, d’you know what?– I like vodka. I like the taste. The Russians are making a man of me. During the night, however, I am overcome with a certain abdominal disquiet, an unwonted ickiness. I must have eaten something. That lamb kebab was probably off.
Curiously, neither a quiet twenty minutes upon the porcelain pedestal nor a hot bath improve my bilious state. Nor does the sweet, Russian porridge at breakfast. Not until I have consumed four cups of coffee and three or four hunks of bread and butter with honey do I begin to feel better. Ashley is kind enough not to be judgmental.
According to my more experienced son and stepson, I have been suffering from a “beeriod”, my very first hangover.
Casting director: Jon Levene
View Commercial: Irish Life Commercial
Excellent News Update: I have been taken on by the extraordinarily adept and energetic Agent L (for Lawrence) from Wintersons Talent Management (and, lordie-lord, my talent needs all the management it can get.)
Within hours – minutes, in fact – Agent L sends me to a first casting. Apparently, they want a long-faced moustachioed man (I currently have the face but not the tash) and so I nip into the toilets to append the hirsute upper lip decoration I carry with me at all times. It evidently works a treat (nobody spotted it was glued on) because now I’m off to Majorca with Amber Doyle and Nigel Boyle. (Thinking of changing my name to Timothy Moyle out of solidarity.)
I am to arse around in a slice of cardboard aeroplane, squeezing the excellent Nigel’s knee (or Nigel’s excellent knee, if you prefer) until the Irish clients are satisfied.
In a spare moment, whilst Nige lurks in a café watching his team lose, Amber and I take to hired bikes and wobble along the coast to the west of Palma. Nice work if you can get it.
Casting Directors: Crocodile Casting
View Commercial: Twix Commercial
Off to Moscow with Graham Vick and Tim Berrington. Tim and I (who are, although not twins, reasonably alike in the dusk with the light behind us) play the Left and Right Twix factory managers. Graham plays the corrupt, two-timing Twix judge. He wears snazzy glass cufflinks made by Julie, my wife.
The director is Ben Whitehouse. It is he who eggs me on to do my teacup and Twix-biting shot in only nineteen nibbles. I am grateful to a smallish Russian gentleman for providing virgin Twix bars for each take.
Plus, while Tim and Graham were shooting the Left Twix version, I have a whole day mooching around downtown Moscow. An absolute treat. Bought the T-shirt.
Casting Directors: Crocodile Casting
Question: How long does it take to travel to just east of Amsterdam from Hawkhurst? (Before beginning your answer, please bear in mind that the itinerary includes three trains to Luton airport, a flight with Not-Particularly-EasyJet (who mislaid my plane in Belfast), the Schiphol Airport computer which sealed all its own terminal’s doors … and a desolate, Dutch railway station whose tall glass barriers declined to let me out.)
Answer: Nine and half hours. I could have paddled there in a bloody coracle in less time. (And I can.)
And then a day running about a deserted factory being run over, falling down stairs and plummeting from high balconies onto concrete. Actually the stunt man did all that whilst I did the talking. The good news is that a) I was attended and buffed up by a delightful and understanding crew and b) I could wear a green hard hat, bowtie and goggles. (My own bow-tie purchased in Tenterden, please note.)
Casting director: Jane Frisby
View Commercial: AIDS Alliance: Coming Together
One of my more unusual castings, reported in full in Chapter 3 of Lessons in Humiliation, during which Jane invites me to come in and have an orgasm at The Spotlight Casting Rooms. I said I would, of course, but declined the two bar stools offered because I’m an old-fashioned boy and like to perform horizontally.
Needless to say, my perfectly timed and auto-induced mock climax hit the spot and a week later I turn up at the crack of dawn in Newington Green knowing nothing except that there is breakfast laid on. The excellent Sylvie Francis from Toast TV leads me upstairs to costume and make-up where I rashly admit I’ve just done a student film in drag. Costume pops downstairs to director Gregg Masuak who commands that I do my scene for this Valentine’s Day AIDS commercial in drag – wig, corset and fishnets being readily procurable, even at this early hour.
Seventy-five minutes in make-up and then downstairs to the bedroom set. It transpires also that I am to be taken from behind by another woman, possibly my ‘wife’, played today by Helen Watson. This is a first for me. A quick run-through for sound and Gregg declares that we have certainly turned him on and ‘so we’ll go for a take’. After three minutes of heaving and ho-ing, slapping, tickling and squawking, we hear the instruction ‘OK, bring it up … a bit more … go for it! … and … CUT!’
Someone shouts that it’s lunch-time.
‘Don’t you want any close-ups?’ I enquire.
‘No need, mate,’ says Gregg, still perspiring. ‘We’ve got plenty. It’s comedy gold.’