As part of our Mongrels Takeover week in November 2011, TVO talked to some of the team behind the award-winning cult smash.
One of our regular faces and a firm friend of The Velvet Onion – the legendary Tony Way, plays Gary in the show – and he told us all about his job as the resident ‘human’ and more below!
Hi Tony, welcome to The Velvet Onion. As well as being a cult performer of note for many years now, you’ve been on our radar thanks to various projects with our regular subjects: making you part of our ‘family’. How did you first get involved with the TVO crowd?
It’s hard to place really. It depends on who you mean. I first met Tom Meeten and Simon Farnaby properly on the pilot of Blunder, but I had met them both here and there before. The same goes for Alice Lowe, Steve Oram and James Bachman. Lucy Montgomery I met on Tittybangbang. There is a large group of people who all came out of Ealing Live. I wasn’t part of that, but am lucky enough to be friends with and work with lots of them. The world of comedy in general is pretty small and incestuous and I really enjoy meeting and working with as many people in that world as possible.
Of course, we’re here to talk about Mongrels – which is back for a second series! What can we expect from series two?
More of the same, only even funnier, I think.
What were you most proud of about series one, and was there anything about the first series you felt has been improved upon a second time around?
The scripts. They were excellent in the first series and in my opinion they have got even better for the second. The gag rate is really high on Mongrels, but they are all well crafted, not just throw away rubbish. They work very hard on the scripts – much harder than I have to work! I probably have the easiest job on the show. Actually no, the actors who do the voices have the easiest job: just popping into a recording studio for a few hours a week. No 5am starts for them the lucky sods, I hate them all! I’m joking… (I’m not)…
Your role on the show has been very much as the ‘straight man’, letting the Mongrels get most of the laughs. As a comic yourself, how do you approach the straight-man role?
I’ve always been quite happy to play it straight. I’ve been involved in quite a lot of drama recently and I enjoy it. But I do get some laughs in Mongrels, falling over, screaming like a little girl, that sort of thing. But they’re puppets, it’s quite unlikely that they are going to be cast in the straight role. I’m sure this is the sort of thing Syd Little says about Eddie Large through gritted teeth.
How do you find interacting with the puppets?
After a few days filming it feels weirdly quite natural to talk and act with the puppets. It’s fun to work out how a scene will work with the director and the puppeteers. The strangest thing is that the puppet voice is pre-recorded, so there is not really any room for ad-libs, but as I said, the scripts are funny, so the last thing they need is me blabbing on making shit up. When I first worked with the Destiny puppet, it was very odd that Lucy Montgomery’s voice was coming out of its mouth. I’m used to it now though. I might prefer the puppet to the real Lucy!
Every now and then you get some human co-stars. Who has been most fun to work with?
I don’t get to work with many of the special guests, really. I worked with a couple on the second series, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to say who they are. My favourites from the first series as a viewer were Clive Anderson and Paul Ross. I thought they were really game to laugh at themselves and to let us laugh at them.
How did you get involved with the series?
I went in for a casting to do a voice on the pilot. So many people were seen for voices… I had a go at Vince, I think. I didn’t get it, but some weeks later I was asked if I would come in and play Destiny’s owner, Gary. I was in one short scene and I had a wife, who died at some point between the pilot and the first series. It was fun, and I’m glad I’ve got to do more and more as it’s gone on.
Were you a fan of the rest of the cast before you started working with them?
Erm, yeah, pretty much all of them, I was either an fan, friend or both of all cast members. I mean, Paul Kaye is a proper comedy hero of mine. Don’t tell any of them any of that though.
Some of the humour in the show is quite close to the bone. Has there ever been a point where you’ve felt a joke has crossed the line?
Maybe once or twice. In the first series there is a scene where I knelt by my wife’s grave as Destiny mocked me, that seemed harsh, but watching it back… I laughed. You’d have to go pretty far to cross my taste line. I’m not sure I’ve even got a line. As long as it’s not exploitative or bullying, I’m game.
Away from Mongrels, you’ve been very busy of late… with roles in two of the biggest films of the Autumn, both shrouded in a bit of secrecy. What are you allowed to tell us about them?
I’m afraid they may have to stay shrouded for a bit longer, but I can tell you that they were very exciting to work on. Anonymous and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are both huge films… much bigger than anything else I have worked on before, and from what I’ve seen they are going to be really good. I just hope I don’t ruin them!
We’re sure you won’t! Now, you’ve also been unleashing excerpts from your sketch pilot with Steve Burge – will we be seeing more from you both?
I hope so, yes. The sketches that are on YouTube are from a taster that we made that was lying around gathering dust, so I thought we should put it out there for people to see. All of the sketches from that are online now, so it may be a while before you see anything new, but I’m sure we will do something at some point. We are both very busy at the moment… Steve is writing all sorts of great stuff for all sorts of people and I’m off galavanting being an actor, but watch this space.
What’s next for you?
Well I’ve been very busy this past year or so and a lot of the things I’ve been working on are coming out. Anonymous has just come out, and …Dragon Tattoo is out in cinemas this Christmas. I’ve also done a nice little scene in Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant’s Life’s Too Short with Warrick Davies which is on TV soon. And I’ve been working on quite a big TV show which I can’t really talk much about, but it’s very exciting. Anything else? Oh yeah, I did one line in Sherlock. Oh, and Mongrels! Watch Mongrels!
Tony Way, thank you very much.