Tom’s Magic!

In a year strangely linked by big Doctor Who-related events (the new series, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Movie), the first of these is the release of the Magic Roundabout film.

Officially titled “Sprung! The Magic Roundabout”, the film mixes CGI animation with the vocal talents of Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Sir Ian McKellen, Kylie Minogue, Bill Nighy and Robbie Williams (there is also a French version, such is the series’ origin, which features Vanessa Paradis).

On February 5th, Tom Baker featured in The Times, speaking to Anita James. in his typical larger-than-life, ebullient manner, he chats about his role in “Little Britain”, Sir Ian McKellen, the Magic Roundabout movie and his desire to appear in Coronation Street. Frankly it’s one of Tom’s best interviews for years!

The article is reprinted below, the original version can be found here.

Tom Baker’s cookin’

Best remembered as the fourth Doctor Who with the mad mop of hair, tombstone teeth and ever-growing multicoloured scarf, Tom Baker has moved on to entertain the grown-ups in the years since he left the BBC’s hugely successful sci-fi teatime show. In the 1990s, sans scarf, he played another doctor, the surgeon Geoffrey Hoyt in ITV’s Medics. More recently he took on the role of Donald MacDonald, the reprobate brother of the late Hector, in Monarch of the Glen. But he has received most acclaim as the narrator of the hit BBC comedy Little Britain.

“They are very funny together, aren’t they?” he says of the show’s stars, David Walliams and Matt Lucas. “They’re quite outrageous, but they are very nice to people. My job is to be so silly and overemphatic that anyone who is offended is revealed to have no sense of humour.”

This is not an accusation that anyone could level against Baker, who at the ripe age of 71, is now back to amuse a new generation of little Britons in the CGI film version of the 1960s television classic The Magic Roundabout, as the voice of Zebedee’s nemesis, ZeBadDee.

“Of course, there wasn’t a baddie in the original,” he explains from the Gallic retreat in Toulouse that he shares with his third wife, the TV director Sue Gerrard, and numerous cats. “It wouldn’t really have worked. There was a kind of sweetness about the television series that engaged everybody. It was a wonderful quality that can be attributed totally to its translator and narrator, Eric Thompson. I met him once and he had the most wonderful, wonderful voice. Completely devoid of malice.”

Which is a lot more than can be said of ZeBadDee who, with the help of his sidekick Soldier Sam (voiced by Ray Winstone), plans to use his evil powers to freeze the sun and turn the magic garden into a barren wasteland, killing off Dougal (Robbie Williams), Florence (Kylie Minogue), Brian (Jim Broadbent), Ermintrude (Joanna Lumley), Dylan (Bill Nighy) and Zebedee (Ian McKellen) in the process.

“When I first saw the script, they had written me in as being very bad,” Baker booms in a voice honed at the bars of Soho with Jeffrey Bernard and the artist Francis Bacon. “But I’m not really capable of being evil, which is probably what has attracted me to all these over-the-top parts. I’m actually quite a jovial old party and would quite like to go round giving soup to the poor. Instead, I give beggars money on the assumption that they’re either Guardian journalists researching an article or National Theatre actors researching a play by Gaultier.”

True to form, Baker as ZeBadDee is suitably overthetop, his signature growl stealing the film as a frustrated villain. But there was nothing old-style about the production.

“I’ve never seen anything so technically complicated in my life,” Baker says. “There must have been 25 technicians in the huge movie studio, and there were people photographing my lips so that they got the lip sync for the artists, and lots of directors telling me what to do. I was called back several times and asked to tone it down a bit. But asking me to tone it down is a waste of breath.”

It’s a wonderful performance, boosted by a cast of voices familiar to us all. But it was the faces that Baker missed during production. “When I saw the names of people I’ve met, such as Ray Winstone (now he’s a great villain; evil but with a marvellous streak of humanity. You know that his villains are good to their mothers, which is important), Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent and Joanna Lumley, I was very impressed. But I didn’t get to meet any of them. They kept us all apart. So I am very much looking forward to hearing Widow Twanky, sorry, Ian McKellen, as Zebedee. I haven’t seen him in Aladdin in the West End but I bet he is a wonderful Twanky. I saw him as Richard III and that was fantastic, that was Widow Twanky as well. And I remember seeing his Hamlet and thinking: ‘There’s a Twanky in that boy.’ I can’t wait to see his Lear.”

Ebullient and enthusiastic as ever, does Baker ever let his serious side take over?

“I’ll tell you something. When you get near death, you read plays and the Bible in quite a different light. When I read King Lear now, or Macbeth, I fall around laughing. It really does throw me. I mean at one time I used to look at beautiful things and burst into tears, and now I just laugh.”

Does he ever plan to slow down? Perhaps a little.

“I’ve always fancied being in Coronation Street,” he says. “But it’s not really on to propose yourself, is it? I’ve always wanted to play someone who adopts a gin and tonic in the Rover’s Return. He would have a little office somewhere and the women in the street would keep going up to see him and people such as Mike would say: ‘What does he do up there?’, and the women say: ‘Never you mind! He’s just very nice to us’, and I’d be just saying, ‘Large gin and tonic please.’ And I’d love to appear in Last of the Summer Wine. All the characters are wonderfully exaggerated and the cast and crew have a sleep in the afternoon. I’d rather like that.”

Perhaps behind the larger-than-life personality, he is more Zebedee than ZeBadDee. “Boing! Time for bed!”

Sprung! The Magic Roundabout is on general release from Friday


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