Mr Flibble Talks To... Jeff Kay
The Dwarfers inadvertently saved his life - ultimately getting him to go back in time and assassinate himself. But Michael J. Shannon's time as the late president only began when he accepted a Tikka to Ride...
11 May, 2001
Michael J Shannon
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble was overjoyed to talk to a fellow actor, and opened with, 'Hail, fellow, well met'. Andrew cuffed him one about the beak and asked Michael how he became an ACTOR.

It was a leap of faith. A jump into the unknown. I had no business even considering it. But I studied theatre at Northwestern University outside Chicago in a kind of tentative exploratory way, did summer theatre professionally, directed and acted during my stint in the army before I was sent to Vietnam, then just went to New York and hung out my shingle like so many others. I waited tables for a few months, then landed a job touring with a play that subsequently went to Broadway, did a soap, and generally one thing led to another.

Muttering something about calling the RSPB to arrest Andrew, Mr Flibble asked: Can you remember your first professional job?

It was in Palm Beach in a comedy called Impossible Years with the veteran actor David Wayne. I spent two weeks down there - a week's rehearsal and a week playing. [It was a] great gig as I had come from freezing Chicago. Also I was about to be drafted into the army so Palm Beach has great memories.

In the 70's and 80's you were in some very fondly remembered TV SHOWS - Wonder Woman, Charlie's Angels and The A-Team. What are your memories of each of those?

Wonder Woman was a big blue eyed southern gal. A friend of mine who also did the show called her 'awesome' - don't think he was referring to her smile. Farrah Fawcett had left Charlie's Angels when I did the show - I did work with her in Morocco years later, however, in Poor Little Rich Girl about the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. I seem to remember having a scene where she slapped my face for turning down her amorous advances. Now that was real acting on my part!

The A Team wasn't a happy set when I did the show. George Peppard and Mr. T weren't getting along too well. I knew a couple of the other regulars on the show so got all the dirt. Hilarious that people can be making all that money and still be unhappy. I always remember Mr. T had a Rolls Royce with his own personalised license plate MR T. Go baby!

Just picking out some MOVIE genre pieces, how did you find Superman II and Little Shop of Horrors?

Superman II was just a spit and a cough kind of gig for me - I think I was a presidential aide worried about Superman's disappearance. Little Shop was great fun; just to see the puppet crew operate that plant was worth the price of a ticket. The director, Frank Oz (also 'Miss Piggy' for the Muppet fans) was great. I think he was a couple of months behind on the shooting schedule so I was impressed by his cool dude approach. I blame that hungry plant for any delays.

Incidentally, Red Dwarf's 'Cat' Danny John-Jules had a backing singer part in Little Shop!

No kidding! Great gig Danny!

How did you become involved with RED DWARF?

I think I may have looked a bit like JFK so that may have been what prompted the producers to ask me to come along. I'd also done a series called A Very Peculiar Practice playing the American Vice Chancellor of a UK University who styled himself on JFK. Andrew Davies wrote it with a lot of comic edge so that may have been a factor as well.

What did you make of the script?

Wild. Very daring. And funny.

Mr Flibble returned making a surreptitious phone call and asked if the location was suitably Dallas-esque?

I think they went to a lot of trouble to make it all look as accurate as possible - right down to the period limousine, then shot it on a long lens. It was all done with great care and done very cleverly.

The assassination scene must have felt extraordinary...

Yes, very strange. Surreal. But then that was the point.

How did you find the van scene with Craig Charles?

The men were rocking the van, which was on a sound stage I seem to recall. Craig was cool - we both played it very straight which I think gave it a real authenticity and made it wonderfully bizarre.

You've actually become rather associated with JFK since Red Dwarf thanks to the play that you're starring in - JFK ON JFK - which you also wrote...

I'm not sure where these ideas come from. I was reading a few biographies of presidents for some reason - as one does. (Laughs) I'd also been reading around the JFK assassination, investigations, etc., I don't think there was a direct correlation with Red Dwarf but I'm sure it was subliminal. At any rate I spent a couple of years researching and writing it, then re-writing it. Then I just bit the bullet and put it out there. It's a kind of retrospective on JFK's presidency and his life, taking place really in his own mind, between Dallas gunshots. There's lots of light and sound so I don't feel too lonely and so I don't get tired of the sound of my own voice.

Mr Flibble wondered if Michael was aware of JFK's penchant for pet penguins... and got another slap. What are the benefits - and drawbacks - of performing your own material?

Well, this is the first time I've done something like this. It's terrifying in some ways, because you have no one else to blame if things don't work out. On the other hand this was a piece that really had to go through a process and I don't know if anyone else would have put up with it. I continued to edit the play even after I started to perform it in public, which was an advantage. And I re-did some of the sound and voiceovers. The whole thing is a bit of a high wire act. It's a delicate mix of the personal and the political, evocative, seductive almost. What's different is that you're getting JFK's thinking, and that gives it an kind of intimacy. Just as the van scene with Craig Charles had an intimacy. It's eventually kind of startling and revealing, and it's not just JFK, it's history - and he was such a world figure that it's everyone's history as well.

Which do you prefer doing your stuff or other people's?

Oh, I prefer sharing the load and the responsibility. I've written other plays but never performed in them, or even written parts for myself in them. I like the separation. But this was different. I looked a bit like Kennedy, grew up outside of Boston, could do his voice etc. So I took the plunge.

What are your plans for the play after California?

I'm hoping to bring it East, probably Boston to begin with and then we'll see what happens. Eventually, I'd like to do it in the UK as well.

A crack squad from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds kicked down the door and carted Andrew away, having received an anonymous tip-off. Mr Flibble - suddenly without an assistant to translate, wrote down: What else have you got coming up?

I've got a couple of film projects that I wrote or co-wrote that there seems to be some interest in, so I'll follow those up. And I've also been doing some acting work on an American series called JAG.

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Michael J. Shannon, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross.