Mr Flibble Talks To... Railway Child
When Kryten faced the onslaught of the Psirens, there was only one woman who could hold power over him: his creator, Professor Mamet. Mr Flibble hunts down the woman who forced her mechanoid into a crushing machine.
9 February, 2001
Jenny Agutter
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble began by waving some red underpants in the air in homage to The Railway Children. Andrew confiscated the pants, and asked Jenny about her many years of TRAVELLING around while working.

I just took travel as part of my life from early on and never thought twice about it. Some of the places I've been to have been extraordinarily glamorous and wonderful, other places have been really very difficult, and some have been very exciting,

Doing Walkabout at 16, travelling through the Australian outback, that was an amazing experience. If I had been older, perhaps [it would have been] frightening. I was just at an age where you just sort of thought that everything was fine. You didn't really think about the fact that they had what I thought were draft-excluders at the bottom of the doors in these strange hostels in the outback. But they weren't draft-excluders, they were actually things at the bottom of the door to keep the snakes from coming in! (Laughs)

Sleeping out under the stars - it was lovely. It was extraordinary. And then I worked on a film in the Fresian Islands and, you know, cold places... Frinton on Sea! (Laughs) All the glamorous spots! Dallas for when I did Logan's Run, and back to Los Angeles for the sewage plant there. [We were] deeply glamorous for the underground parts of Logan's Run.

You mentioned Walkabout there. What are your abiding memories of working with Nic Roeg... ?

I remember he is rather like a magician. He talks about things (whispers) 'Rather like this... ' He draws people in, but you never quite see what it is he's doing. Then when you see this film that he's created you understand what it was he was talking about. In retrospect one has a better understanding of what he's on about. It's his own magic that he puts into it somehow.

Did you notice a shift in the scripts as you moved from child to ADULT PARTS?

Yes, but it's always happened. I've been very lucky in the way it's worked for me, having done the film of The Railway Children. The film industry in England was in a pretty bad way, so there wasn't much in the way of film - so I wasn't offered a slew of young woman's roles in film.

I did a lot of classics on television - I did The Wild Duck, The Cherry Orchard. Lots of good, classical roles and modern roles. And then at 21, having spent a year at the National, I went to America. I did Logan's Run when I first arrived there - that's been the most difficult one to break in a way, because you want to establish yourself as a more mature person. I think those roles are particularly boring; the woman being run after! (Laughs)

Then An American Werewolf in London is another one I was very pleased to have done. Which was a good role, actually - it was a nice, young woman's role. Particularly with horror movies and sci-fi you can end up with the woman doing very little other than running and screaming. She was a good character, she just happened to be in love with the wrong person. But then a lot of women find that.

How do you feel about the SCIENCE FICTION genre?

Sci-fi can be great fun, it's just that it often doesn't give an awful lot of opportunity [for the actor]. But some things do, and I think American Werewolf is terrific, and think Red Dwarf is - because it's funny and it's well written, there's a spark in there. Something original happening.

Mr Flibble said, via Andrew, that he is famous for a SF role, but has actually done very little of the genre - very much like yourself...

One watches out for something that's good to do. When something comes up you look at who's directing it, what it's about, what sort of piece it is and whether the parts in it are good. And, in truth, it can be anything.

[There are] things that have broken ground - like Alien, which is an extraordinary movie, which Logan's Run was not really. Michael Anderson is a terrific director, but it was the last of the studio movies, really. It was MGM using all of its facilities. We were in the studio working with the studio's people, and it had that feeling about it - kind of weighted down with long set-ups for lighting and big sets and back-projection.

Very shortly after that, Star Wars was made! And that's completely different. It was very innovative, it was very modern, it was a gripping story - and shown in a completely different way. It's interesting to me that there's very, very little on television that's sci-fi. We used to have Dr Who and a number of things, I was brought up with all of that. But recently there hasn't been anything good at all.

People still talk about Logan's Run...

Frightening people with things that they put in the palm of their hand... (Laughs) Any woman who wants to dress up in one of those green outfits I really don't understand! (Laughs)

Do you get fan mail from that still?

Yes. There are these huge sci-fi conventions - which, to tell you the truth, I haven't been to - I do know that they get enormous amounts of people turning up to those. I get pictures to sign and things, lots of people are Logan's Run fans.

How were the scenes with Peter Ustiov?

Oh, he was wonderful. Very, very funny. To pass the days when all the lighting [set-ups] changed, he used to do cat drawings for me. 'Cat-tastrophe' with a cat squashed, and 'Cat-atonic' with a zombie cat. I had all these wonderful drawings from him.

He was wearing all these appliances to make him look 150. I remember when we were filming in Dallas and people came up us. Everyone sits around pretending that you're looking very ordinary, but you're not, you're in the middle of a busy street sitting in those chairs in silly costumes - and these people came up to us and said, 'Oh, hi, you're making a film?' We said yeah, and they looked a Peter Ustinov and said, 'SO. WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING?'

He just went into the role of being an old, deaf man! (Aged voice) 'Ooh... I've been an actor for [many years... ]' It was hysterically funny. 'It's not like it used to be... '

What do you make of American Werewolf's longevity?

Landis did something quite different with it, I think it was the first of that sort. Not just tongue in cheek, but that you laughed because you'd screamed the moment before. Instead of a grand opening in New York, Landis said, 'No, no, no we've got to go to this cinema on 42nd street.' We arrived at this place - the air conditioning had broken down, the crowd were really nasty, and they had cordoned off a row of seats for us which everybody was unhappy about because it wasn't a premiere. I though, 'God, we're going to be lynched!'

They were a pretty rowdy lot, and John said, 'Yeah, yeah, this is what it's about.' And it was great because people screamed at the screen, and shouted - right from the beginning they started to shout. Then they were hysterical with laughter, because they'd get caught in it!

You stayed in touch with Landis, and had small roles in his TV show Dream On and Amazon Women on the Moon...

And he got me involved with Darkman as well, in which I played a scientist. That was a two day job. It was a real kind of cameo, it was just one of those fun things.

You've done all kinds of things - stage, animation voices, TV, film...

I did American Werewolf for the radio and I played my role again! It's the nature of our business, one can go into all sorts of different areas. I'm always intrigued by different things. It's great fun to be asked to play a cartoon character. All of those things are exciting to me.

Since I came back to England 11 years ago with my family, I've adapted my work so I can spend more time at home. Which means that I probably have done more radio, and more cameo roles, and I've looked at different sorts of things to ensure that I'm busy, but that I'm not away a lot. I've always been terribly open to new suggestions - it's rather nice not to be pigeon-holed.

Mr Flibble was sent champagne by the Red Dwarf producers to persuade him to take his role. How did you get the part of PROFESSOR MAMET?

I have no idea! I don't know who thought of me to do it. [The script] turned up and I just thought it was terribly funny, a very good script. I hadn't been aware of it because I'd been in the States, although it already had a huge reputation. Everybody said, 'Oh, it's fantastic, you must do Red Dwarf.'

Would you like to play her again? She has been talked about in subsequent episodes...

Oh she'd better come back then! (Laughs) Definitely, that'd be great fun. I think that'd be terrific.

In fact, our costume designer [Colin Howard] on the television Railway Children I did recently was also on Red Dwarf. He's a wonderful designer. He said, 'Do you remember the last one we did?' Which of course was silver boots, up to my thighs... and Railway Children was somewhat different.

What do you have coming up?

I'm getting some work done on a script I'm having written about [Railway Children author] Nesbit. I've got to get on with that and get some money together for it. That's my project at the moment. It's a fascination with her story that makes me want to produce it.

You spend your whole life as an actor being the last thing that's thought of, the last bit of colour that goes into a picture; which means that you have very little control of you life, because things just come up. It's nice to create something, get involved with something from the beginning.

I don't know if I'd act in it or not, frankly. I'd like to, but at the same time with my producer's hat on, is there somebody hotter for this? (Laughs)

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