At long last, zero hour is here. Lead Balloon IV premieres tonight at 10pm for those lucky enough to be within range of BBC Two. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the first three seasons of what has already become in my mind a classic British comedy will be seen on public television stations in the United States. Stay tuned for an update as soon as I know anything. But I digress. Tonight, everyone’s favorite failed stand-up comedian and serial liar, Rick Spleen (Jack Dee) returns only to see his career at an all-time low.
Tellyspotting caught up with the great Sean Power, Rick’s American co-writer and part-time conspirator who, quietly, longs to drive Rick crazy. Besides his role as Marty, Power is a well-known playwright and stage director with an extensive career in the theatre. Thanks, Sean, for both the time today and the laughs over the years.
Tellyspotting: You have a fairly extensive theatre background dating back to an early Toronto high school performance as Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. Are there things from your theatre background that can help you when approaching a small screen role that’s not in front of a live audience?
Sean Power: I think the fundamentals are the same whether there is an audience or not. Those fundamentals involve perception of a character, creating a character and making bold choices, for comedy specifically choices that actually make you laugh. I work in the same preparatory way rehearsing up to an opening as a shoot day. after all you dont know how the audience reacts until opeining anyway. In doing classic plays like the odd couple at an early age exposes one to classic structure and good comic timing, and the more you practice something the better you get so…
TS: You’ve done both comedy and drama. Easier for a dramatic actor to do comedy or a comedic actor to do drama?
SP: I’d say each has its own challenges/enjoyment. I’ve always believed if you’re to be a good actor you need to good at both. Although a slightly different skill set is used for each, they are both again based on ones instinctive ability to perceive and recreate through ones own narrative. Comedy tends to be external / drama comes from deep inside. but this rule of thumb can switch around and suprise you as a performer. There is a golden rule a famous director once taught me. Always find tragedy in comedy and comedy in tragedy.
TS: You spent a fair amount of time in Dublin over the years in various productions. Have a favorite pub? Any suggestions for first-time visitors?
SP: Are there pubs in dublin?? yes. I… actually knew of a few. Off Grafton Street, there is Neary’s pub which is an infamous haunt for most of the undead actors famous and no so in dublin. There is some great theatre at the Abbey, of course, however I would warn people off of the Gate Theatre. It’s geared to rip off tourists, and artistically..they wouldn’t know a hawk from a handsaw. hacks, however.. they are quite familiar with hacks of all kinds. My advice would be to avoid Dublin for culture and the craic and rent a car go to Cork, Sligo, Waterford and Galway.
TS: Lead Balloon started out on BBC4 which seemed to give it a chance to grow as opposed to it having to succumb to today’s reality of needing to be an overnight success or face not being commissioned for another season. How has the series, and your character Marty, grown since the beginning?
SP: Only in height really. No, he has become better friends with Rick even though Rick’s ability to irritate him has grown. He has also been gradually becoming less successful as Rick and although has other projects going is kind of stuck on the Rick’s island more and more. There’s another good American series comparison — it’s like LOST if you wanna look at it that way… and Rick is the alien tiger or whatever. Or no Rick is the fat guy and Marty is the good looking guy who can’t act very well.
TS: As Rick Spleen’s writing partner, what on Earth keeps Marty coming back daily for his next cup of coffee/argument to work with someone that just never ceases to amaze you with his view on life rather than getting to a point where you begin to write material for yourself on the stage?
SP: Marty was a comedian, as a lot of comedy writers are. Now being fairly successful in the club scene in New York doesn’t necessarily pay the bills, so comedians travel, Marty tried the comedy scene in london — was ok but– so writing for other people is always an easier gig basically.More options and less limelight. Marty enjoys sending Rick out into the world and watching from the sidelines… also Rick amuses him to no end. He is the source of Marty’s biggest laughs-in-life-forever. Not in a cruel way, of course. Marty knows that he couldn’t write a character as funny as Rick and the stuff that happens to him is the funniest stuff ever. Marty often recounts the stories to his dog who also finds it terribly funny.
TS: Much has always been said about how much the writing in British comedy sets it apart from its counterparts. Is there an opportunity for you, as an actor, to work with both Jack and Pete Sinclair to suggest or shape the character of Marty over the course of the series?
SP: I dont know, they don’t tweet me anymore. it would depend on how popular Marty is really. I’m not sure the British public would want to see him without Rick yet…..
TS: What is it about a character like Rick Spleen, while rooted in lies, misguided intentions and an overall depressing nature, cause viewers to have empathy time after time for a man that sinks deeper and deeper into almost any situation he faces as he continues to open his mouth?
SP: I think the audiences relate to Rick the way Marty does. Yes he’s annoying and petty and lies and is selfish and I could go on… but he has a good heart and no matter what, when it comes down to it, he’s a good guy. I think we can all relate to that. We all have a bit of Rick in us, it’s human nature alot of it…albeit the misguided side of….
TS: Another strong suit of British situation comedy is the importance placed on a strong supporting cast. LB is no exception with you, Raquel Cassidy, Anna Crilly, Tony Gardner, Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Rasmus Hardiker. Looks like there is a genuine chemistry between everyone on the set. One can only imagine what goes on when the camera isn’t rolling during rehearsal.
SP: Ras is great fun and is always making me laugh…and Tony too and, well, everyone is great and supportive and there are no big egos, which makes for a team mentality.
TS: What can long-time fans of Lead Balloon look forward to in the upcoming series 4?
SP: It’s honestly the funniest series yet. It’s also by far the boldest. The bad things that happen to Rick are epic.. and very funny. Robbie Coltrane stars in a very special episode. Rick might finally change his ways….
TS: What makes you laugh today?
SP: Seth MacFarlane and his half brother Johanne
TS: What’s up next for Sean Power? this year?
SP: Tracking down some of my many illegitimate children. I hear there are some in Sweden..? Just kidding. I’m not into swedes. No, two potential new series as well as hopefully a theatrcial release for A KISS AND A PROMISE, which is not a comedy. A film by Mick Rossi, as well as producing a new radio sitcom.
Lead Balloon IV – tonight at 10:00pm on BBC Two. Be there and for those this side of the pond, stay tuned for LBIV news in the coming months.