Mr Flibble Talks To... Parallel Rimmer
It was a time when Lister fell pregnant and the Cat danced to Tongue Tied. It was a time when Rimmer found himself being chatted up by his female self. It was the time, in short, of Arlene Rimmer herself, Suzanne Bertish.
25 May, 2001
Suzanne Bertish
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble whispered his first question, which Andrew dutifully passed on, about THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL...

Mine was the third [story] of the first lot. I played this character who disguised herself - successfully, so it had to be plausible - as a man. I was this villain who was a brilliant sword fighter. One part of me was this sort of 'diva' French actress, and then I would disguise myself and be this man, kicking doors down and swordfighting. It was great.

How did you find Richard E Grant?

He's hilarious. Very, very, very good company - he's a riot. He keeps the energy up. That episode had a particularly good director called Ed Bennett.

The costume's for the Pimpernel series were made by the man who once ran up a tie for Mr Flibble, Red Dwarf's own Howard Burden...

He's great - he's fantastic, Howard. I just had endless fittings, because I had these beautiful frocks to be made, and a wig - well, a piece, actually; I always like using the front of my own hair. Then I had to have this beautiful [suit]. It was tailored for me by a proper tailor. They were beautiful tails. Actually, I asked the producer if I could have those tails, and he said I could! And I've never got in touch with Howard to say, 'Where are they? I'd love them!' (Laughs) They must be in the BBC storeroom somewhere - he'd never find them!

How did you get involved with RED DWARF?

I was asked to do it by Ed Bye, and I didn't know much about Red Dwarf - when you're working very hard, you don't get the chance to watch television! It was basically out of my admiration for Ed Bye that I thought, 'This would be interesting to do'. You get so pigeonholed, and it's difficult to break into comedy - the type of series that Red Dwarf is, although Red Dwarf is unique unto itself. If you've been doing the classics, you don't get the opportunity. I'd done The Lenny Henry Show, and I'd worked with Ed on Girls on Top. I was very impressed with him, so when he asked me to do it I just jumped.

It was unlike any other telly I'd done, because of the live audience. We did pre-record some scenes, but he'd say, 'We're also going to do them live.' And I'd go, 'Why? Why? It's so pressured, and you don't know who to act to - to the camera, to the audience.' He said, 'It just gives it an energy.' And he was right.

Of course, I had to copy Chris, as his female counterpart. I had to try to get a few mannerisms of his. I think I managed that. I thought they might do something more with it - it was something they could have returned to. They could hit the parallel universe again.

What was the atmosphere like on set?

It's relaxed when you're just recording it. We rehearsed it in London. Ed is such an expert, he handles everything so well that you don't get too nervous. But one's theatre instincts kick in and it's quite nice, actually. I remember being up in Manchester, we all had fun up there; [there was] a really good atmosphere in the hotel.

When you're rehearsing for the BBC, you'd go up to the canteen on the fifth floor - and the amount of people that you'd meet! You didn't know, 'Do I know this person? Or don't I? Do I know them from television or do I know them?' You would bump into people you knew, but it was confusing. When members of the public go, 'Oh, don't I know you?' 'No you've seen me on television' - actors suffer from that, too! I've had that: 'I know that person - Hi!...Oh, no of course I don't. I know their face from the television...' (Laughs)

Mr Flibble became very sulky, because Suzanne has done Hollywood movies and he hasn't - for example, THE 13TH WARRIOR...

Very unusually, I didn't ever have to audition for that. I'd learnt these lines and I was going to go to the casting director's office and put it on tape, and meanwhile she had sent a tape of me over to Vancouver where they were shooting - and they just offered me the part. I got on the plane and went over there, had to have all these make-up tests and stuff. Then I met [director John McTeirnan].

He came up and said, 'Do you think she has a birthmark?' Because I was playing this old witch. I said, 'I don't know, I defer to you.' He said, 'Do you think it's too theatrical?' I said, 'Really, you have to decide that.' He said, 'Come on! You've been in the theatre!'

He loves the theatre. He shoots everything...on [13th Warrior] it was all hand-held. No big master shots, all hand-held. I liked him a lot. He was really hands on - he'd pick up a spade and start digging, he really joined in. I like him. He was witty - he rewrote some of the lines. He said, 'I got this new line for you. You say, "Wars are won in the will".' 'That's a good line, I'll say that...'

He wanted me to do something else [in another film], but he never ended up doing it. He said, 'I'd like to see you in something contemporary.' I said, 'So would I!' (Laughs) I'm always in period costume...He said, 'I'm doing this book, read it. I'm not going to tell you the role. She's the fairy godmother.' But he never did it.

You were also in Tony Scott's vampire flick, THE HUNGER...

I had no idea what it was about! (Laughs) I enjoyed being in it, Susan [Sarandon] is a friend. It was good to play someone American. There was a time when I thought I was only acting with rock stars. I had a little scene with David Bowie, and then I did one of those BBC Shakespeares - A Comedy of Errors - and I was acting with Roger Daltry. I thought, 'This is my rock star year.' Then I did a movie called hearts of fire with the biggest of them all, Bob Dillon! That was a trip... Those were my three rock stars.

What do you have coming up?

I've got to go to Morocco to do an ABC, American television, movie of the week. It's called Judas and Jesus - it's another take on all of that, really. I went to Israel for five weeks on Love Hurts, and that was great fun. I think it was July [when] we were out there. Very hot.

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