Mr Flibble Talks To... Sleepy Holo
As commander of the Holoship, Matthew Marsh confronted mind-patching, sex and...well, Rimmer. This sometime comedian is about to appear all over the silver screen. But is he ready for a drowsy Mr Flibble?
9 November, 2001
Matthew Marsh
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Suffering from a slight cough, Mr Flibble spluttered a question into Andrew's ear, which he dutifully passed on to Matthew: How did you start out as an ACTOR?

I started acting because I wanted to be a cricketer - until I was 15 and I gave up and became a public school hippy and grew my hair. Then I was going to be an academic, I went to university and I got into doing comedy. I wrote a couple of shows for student television, and then I went to the Edinburgh festival a couple of times.

We were going to take the world by storm. We brought a show to London in 1976, when we all left university, and hired what is now Stringfellows, but what was then The Little Theatre Club in Covent Garden. There was no comedy circuit then, so very few people came to see it. But some people from the BBC asked me and another guy from the show to go along and have meetings and stuff - but it didn't come to anything.

Then we all went off and did different things. I went off to America and just wandered around getting very lonely and miserable, then I answered an ad in Time Out. I got the job - it was nine months acting work - and I haven't really stopped since.

What was the job?

It was a company that toured the canals of England doing shows in pubs - singing, telling stories about the wonderful world of canals. Performing in a little public bar to eighty slavering canal enthusiasts who want to tell you, 'how this black plastic bag got caught around me prop t'other day.' After performing to them, very little makes you nervous. (Laughs)

Your CV has a lot a variety...

I thought I'd better become a serious actor first, so I went on a ten-year detour playing things like Hamlet and Stanley Kowalski, stuff like that. [But] in the last ten years it's been a nice mix.

Mr Flibble took some cough mixture while Andrew asked if Matthew was still doing some COMEDY on the circuit?

I went back to do some stand up about five years ago. It had been about seventeen years, and I'd always hankered after doing comedy (again), so I wrote some stuff. I did about twelve gigs on the North London open mike circuit. I got to the semi-final in one of the competitions, but then got a brilliant job at the National, so I packed that in.

I carry a dictaphone around with me. If you see anyone wandering around London talking into a dictaphone and making himself laugh, that's me. (Laughs)

How did your involvement with RED DWARF - and Captain Hercules Platini - come about?

I'd actually met Rob and Doug in Manchester in about 1983, when they were writing Son of Cliché. A friend of mine was in the cast, and I got together a comedy tape where I did something like 53 funny voices in about ten minutes. They said they were impressed, but I didn't get the job... I think they gave it to Chris Barrie. (Laughs)

So, had you got the job, you could have gone on to play Rimmer!

Yes, exactly - so [as Holoship captain] it gave me enormous pleasure to be able to reject him! (Laughs) Just out of the blue, I got a call. It was a show that my kids were heavily into, so it gave me lots of brownie points as a father to go and do [it]. I find it very funny. I like it because the humour is very clever - as well as being crude and disgusting.

Did you enjoy the filming?

I don't actually remember very much, other than [that] it was one of those jobs which was great fun from the word go. It was just a week - three or four days rehearsal, then technical runs, then doing it with the audience. It was a really good time. We made each other laugh in rehearsals, then made the audience laugh - in different places! - with the actual take.

As is often the case in Red Dwarf, the Holoship uniform was pretty fabulous...

I asked if I could buy mine afterwards for sexual reasons, but they didn't let me buy it. (Laughs) The thing I had most problems with was getting the salute right - the fingers down in the middle. That took a few hours practice.

How was JANE HORROCKS to work with?

I had a brilliant time with Jane Horrocks. I don't go to the cinema or the theatre as much as I should do, and I had no idea who she was! So I found myself travelling back on the train from Shepperton with Jane, and I just thought she was some young girl from Burnley who'd come straight out of drama school! I was asking her all sorts of naff, condescending questions - [with] no idea that she was a multi-award-winning performer. (Laughs)

A couple of weeks after the job I kind of realised, and then felt like a complete twat. I thought she was very good - I just did not know who she was.

At this point Mr Flibble began to slur his words, having completely ignored the 'may cause drowsiness' warning on the medicine bottle. Andrew finally managed to make out that he was asking Matthew about his forthcoming MOVIES.

This last year has been fantastic - I've done five movies since last December. I've played a Croatian terrorist, a French policeman, an American CIA specialist and an English lawyer. It's back to doing funny voices - which I love!

None of them have come out yet, but I got to work with Michael Caine and Michael Keaton on one, Brad Pitt and Robert Redford on another, Christina Ricci, John Hurt and Kyle McLaughlin on another, and Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock on another.

Mr Flibble muttered something about how he'd once shared a lift with Eric Idle - but passed out before he could finish. Andrew asked about Bad Company, where Matthew worked with director Joel Schumacher...

That one I did with Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock. [It's] possibly a casualty of September 11th. There's a very close storyline, and I don't know if the film will get shelved or not. I was playing the main baddie in a Hollywood movie - so I hope it comes out.

[Joel Schumacher]'s done some really quirky films in the last three or four years, and this one is, I suppose, more orthodox; it's a comedy thriller. He's an interesting guy. He's very, very loopy - in the nicest possible way. He creates a lovely atmosphere on set.

Tell me about doing Spy Game for Tony Scott...

Tony Scott - who always seems to wear shorts on-set. [I did] 16 days around a table in 'CIA headquarters' with Robert Redford. Tony Scott is another guy who just creates a great, jokey atmosphere on-set, even though he endlessly, endlessly shoots - sometimes with up to three cameras.

Then there was a movie called Quicksand, directed by John Mackenzie. That's the one with Michael Keaton and Michael Caine. For some reason they decided that they couldn't get a French actor to play a corrupt French detective, so they came to me. I shat myself the first time I had to open my mouth in France with half the crew being French, the actresses being French... Desperately not trying to sound like Inspector Clouseau.

Carrying the snoozing Mr Flibble away, Andrew noticed that all the films seemed to be very much 'Bloke Movies'...

The one with Christine Ricci [Miranda] is not so blokey. It's more a romantic, rather perverse, sex-comic-thriller kind of thing. I'm playing another corrupt person. He's the lawyer to Kyle McLaughlin's character. [Christina]'s extraordinary, she just lights up when the camera hits her; she's got an extraordinarily expressive face.

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Matthew Marsh, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble's very cross.