Mr Flibble Talks To... Parallel Universe
In the far reaches of a quite, quite different reality - which is to say, Los Angeles - a version of Red Dwarf was made for US TV. Chris Eigeman was first choice for the American Rimmer. Small wonder, given his impressive work in independent cinema. Mr Flibble stopped by to swap on-set anecdotes.
8 December, 2000
Chris Eigeman
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble offered his flipper to Chris and asked Andrew to forward his first question. How did you become an ACTOR?

In the States in the mid-seventies all the schools had to have an arts program. You either had to draw, or you had to sing, or you had to be in The Wizard of Oz or something - and I was always in The Wizard of Oz. I think I did the Tin Man like three times in my lower and middle-school career. So I really am a product of the marginally forward-thinking mid-seventies educational systems in the States.

Mr Flibble was spotted while he was doing street theatre - although he was initially mistaken for one half of a ventriloquist act. How did you get your first professional job?

I got out of college, and then I went to one London, actually. That lasted maybe six weeks, until it became apparent that it was not a good situation at all. So I ended up working in a pub in Camden Town, and my then-girlfriend - later to be my wife - got this great job working for magazines in London. She was making a fortune! And I was drawing beers. I was working in another little pub, the little bar at the Hampstead Theatre. I was making no money and I was really unhappy.

So I convinced my wife to leave a really good, paying gig and come back to the States. I was auditioning around and I think the first real job I had was up in the Pokanose, which is a sort of summer retreat 45 minutes out of New York City. It's not known for it's...high-brow taste. (Laughs) I did a production of Biloxi Blues that, truly, only a mother could love. (Laughs) Then I came back to New York and did my first film, which I guess was Metropolitan.

Mr Flibble's star-status means he never has to audition, but how did you get involved with the RED DWARF USA PILOT?

After Metropolitan came out, I came to LA - because it's sort of the traditional thing that you do. You go to LA after you have a movie out. And I was staying in a miserable little apartment, and the roles that people were interested in seeing me for would be, again, roles where I would be very well-dressed - perhaps even in a tuxedo, perhaps even a gin and tonic in my hand - and cracking wise every now and again. This is not really a career plan, you know. You don't want to do the exact same thing again.

I somehow came across the script for Red Dwarf, and I went in and met Linwood and we talked a lot about it. I sort of knew some of the people he was interested in. I kind of knew of Craig Beirko. I remember meeting Jane Leeves at one of the meetings, and Jane seemed great.

Then I started watching the third season of your guys' [show], and I remember thinking, 'God, this is really funny.' I also knew Robert was coming over, and I thought Robert was amazing in it. So I signed on pretty quickly.

In Robert Llewellyn's 'The Man in the Rubber Mask' he talks about the SCRIPT for the US pilot being put to a cast vote - Rob and Doug's one or the original one...

There was a cast vote, which was just the weirdest [experience]. Robert may have known whose was whose, we didn't know. We just knew that there were these two different scripts. There were just tonnes of people around - we didn't know who any of them were! And God only knew what they did - but they seemed to have sway. So we had to vote. I'm not even sure our vote had any bearing. There's absolutely no place for a democracy in television. (Laughs)

We started out with the script, which I thought was really funny. The script was consistently funny, but then on the day you had all these network people running around looking nervous, and it started to sort of bleed into everything.

Suddenly the things that we knew were funny, others thought maybe weren't funny. That dilemma would constantly crop up. We should have stuck to our guns and said, 'Look, I know this is funny - leave us alone!' I think that's exactly what Linwood has done in the show he's got right now.

I understand Red Dwarf USA producer LINWOOD BOOMER actually saw you in Metropolitan.

Linwood Boomer! He is now the toast of Los Angeles. He developed this show called Malcolm in the Middle. It was a mid-season replacement, no-one knew anything about it, but people who were involved with it really, really loved it and stood by it. When it hit the schedules on Fox, it became this incredible runaway hit. He's sitting on top of the world!

Linwood called me three weeks after we shot [the pilot], and said, 'I have terrible news for you. The head of the network has called me to tell you that you're fired.' 'That's too bad.' I guess I could kinda see it coming. He said, 'Well, I also have to fire a couple of other people.' Then he hangs up.

The phone rings about 20 minute later, and it's Linwood again, and Linwood says, 'I fired the other people, and then I called the head of the network to say I'd fired all of these people - and then the head of the network fired me.' So we were all out of a job! Everybody got fired! It was a bloodletting!

How did you feel when you were FIRED?

All actors should be fired - it's not a bad thing. It isn't exactly the most pleasant week of your life when it happens, but it's not the worst. You get over it. I remember when I got fired thinking, 'Well, they're probably right to fire me,' because I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Shooting a television show is radically different from shooting a movie.

It became really obvious to everyone involved with the show that I had never worked on a multi-camera show. I remember the casting director coming up to me in the middle of the show, going, 'How you doing?' I said, 'I'm fine, yeah, I'm having fun. Why what's it look like?' 'Well, you look terrified.' (Laughs)

I bought a little Triumph with the money I made and drove around California for a while. And I didn't do television for years after that - 'no way, I ain't going near it!' [But] I always look back on the Red Dwarf thing as a pretty cool experience. Meeting Robert was great - and having Doug and Rob over was fantastic. That was just great.

Was that the first time you'd worn a STRAIGHTJACKET for a role?

It's the only time! It's the only time I've ever worn a straightjacket. And I suppose it's fitting - because it's the only time I've been fired, too. So I think maybe one has something to do with the other. I now have a 'no straightjacket' clause in my contract. (Laughs)

I remember Elizabeth Morehead [who played Kochanski] put on the straightjacket and went behind a curtain and came out with it undone! I was stunned for three days. Until I found out that she had help - I think Robert undid it for her.

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Chris Eigeman, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross.