Dark Floral Notes: Julian Barratt On Flowers

Flowers is a new sitcom from Channel 4, which stars Julian Barratt and Olivia Coleman. The show will be hitting our TV screens on 25th April – here’s what Julian had to say about his latest TV outing…

© Channel 4

Can you explain the concept of Flowers, the series?

It’s about a dysfunctional family who are all in separate worlds, almost. It’s about their journey through various events, including some fairly dark ones. It’s about their journey through that into connectedness, I suppose. That’s a fairly non-comic, quite academic explanation! One of the things I really liked about it is a real attention to visual detail. It’s all written in the script – it sort of felt to me more like an indie movie – not quite Wes Anderson, but it had a visual quality that you don’t get much when you’re reading TV scripts. So it was that, and the comedy and the darkness that drew me to it. Usually in scripts it’s wall-to-wall dialogue. But quite a lot of sections of this had no dialogue. I don’t know how Will (Sharpe, the creator, writer and director) pitched the idea to Channel 4!

You play Maurice – what’s his story?

He’s a children’s author who’s hit a brick wall. He’s quite a broken, stuck person, and he’s become suicidal. He’s frozen. He has a very grey, almost monochromatic feel to him. He’s surrounded by these quite colourful characters – his wife, his children, Shun his illustrator – and he’s much darker, a bit blurred and unfocussed and not there somehow.

© Channel 4

Maurice’s wife, Deborah, is played by Olivia Colman. What was it like working with her?

It was great. I knew her a little bit beforehand – bumped into her at a few things, but I’d never worked with her. It was quite nerve-wracking to work with her. She’s not a frightening person in any way, but just having seen her do so much good stuff, it made me feel like I really had to make sure I “did something” next to her. She really spans all the stuff I’d like to do as an actor – she does comedy, drama; serious stuff, and that’s quite intimidating – but she’s very much as you see her. She’s very funny and puts you at ease, and, very quickly, it was fine. She’s amazing to watch, I must say. I was pretty mesmerised by all the stuff she could do again and again.

© Channel 4

© Channel 4

You signed up to a show that was basically being written and directed by a first-timer. That’s quite a leap of faith. Is that testimony to Will’s talent?

I knew straightaway who he was. I really liked his indie film Black Pond, so it was an immediate yes. It was such an interesting film. I knew he was the co-creator of that. And then, having met him and read the script – which was great and sure-of-foot – you could tell that this was someone who knew what they were doing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s someone’s first series or not, if it’s a good script, and you’ve got an example of their work, and you like it, that’s all you need in a way.

Does it feel different performing someone else’s work than something you’ve written yourself?

Yeah it does, because I don’t really have so much reverence for my own work when I’m doing it. I filmed Flowers back-to-back with a film that I’ve written. And doing that, I could say to myself “I know when I wrote this line, it was when I was quite tired one night and I couldn’t find a better one,” so I’m quite happy to find a better line on the day. With someone’s else’s work, you don’t really know. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to Will on the first day and started saying “I think I might try this instead.” So it takes a while to get to a point where you feel you can do that, which isn’t the case with your own work.

As well as being very funny and very dark, Flowers is very moving and tender. Is the emotional depth of the series important to you?

Oh yeah, that is the point of it; It’s a mixture of that plus comedy. The stuff I’ve written is more like The Mighty Boosh, I suppose – it’s more silly, you don’t go to those [darker] areas at all. But I tend to watch serious films. Comedy is great, but I tend to be more into straight, serious drama. I love it, but I don’t write it. And so it’s really exciting to be part of something that’s a little bit of both. At the audition, he made me do stuff that was a little more straight. This isn’t a totally straight piece, of course, but there are bits of this where I’m not doing anything funny, where it’s just real.

Dave Brown

© Dave Brown

It’s a very bleak subject matter, yet it’s also a comedy. Was that appealing?

I think comedy is the way we deal with dark times and depression. Some of the best comedy comes from that sort of area – certainly some of my favourite comedy. The Apartment [1960] has got an attempted suicide in it. The Odd Couple [1968] starts with an attempted suicide with Jack Lemmon, who puts his back out while trying to throw himself out of a window. I don’t have a problem with that. But if you want a fun, warm watch, this might not be for you!

But you can’t cater for everyone. When I used to do stand-up ‘Boosh tours, we’d do a show and people would come up in the interval and go “could you stop doing this stuff, because we find it offensive.” We’ve written a show, we’re not going to stop doing it because one person has some issues with it. And what we’re dealing with in Flowers, it’s nothing that hasn’t been dealt with before, and in a comic fashion.

Flowers starts on Channel 4 with a back-to-back double bill at 10pm on Monday 25th April, then an episode a night until the finale airs on Friday, 29th at 10pm. In the meantime, take a sneak peak at the trailer below:

Keep peeling to read our non-spoilery preview of the series, coming soon!


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