INTERVIEW | Red Dwarf’s Chris Barrie talks The Promised Land, Friendships and Legacy
Only a few more days until Red Dwarf: The Promised Land is released (Thursday, April 9th 9 pm, on Dave.) It’s an action-packed and exciting special that manages to be funny as well as emotional without losing any of the essence that makes it Red Dwarf.
The core of the episode centres on the heart of the show: the Rimmer and Lister relationship.
Here Chris Barrie (Arnold Rimmer) tells us more:
This special has been a long time coming…
Yes, it has. I suppose when we were talking about a Red Dwarf special way back in the noughties and then we did Back to Earth and that kind of satisfied the muscle of doing a longer piece. But I think it was always looked upon as a three-parter and it was looked upon as reasonably experimental so then we went back to doing 10, 11 and 12 in the normal way as a series.
Did it feel quite different making it?
In a sense, it did because in a shorter half-hour episode you kind of know after one read-through of the script where you are when you’re shooting it. Whereas when you’re doing a film piece it’s an hour and a half so you think hang on when does this bit happen? Does it happen before that bit or have we done that bit yet? It was a little bit more of studying the script to find out where we were with the piece. Although the audience scenes were very similar to what we do when we do the half-hour episodes, it was quite weird just doing little clumps of the piece in front of an audience. But it’s going to be unique in the sense that it’s going to be an hour and a half piece in front of a studio audience.
What can people expect from it?
I think people can expect a solid storyline involving the Cat people, which in itself is a strong story given that our own Cat has got to meet his makers and find out who they are. All the characters have their own storylines; we’re not breaking from the tradition of the Red Dwarf posse.
The interaction between the characters is as it’s always been, and it’s more of the same within the framework of a fantastic story.
Your character becomes a superhero wearing an incredible suit!
You always know when you put on a costume, as soon as you’ve been to wardrobe and makeup and start walking into the studio, you can immediately tell by people’s reactions what it’s going to be like. I think both Vanessa and Howard in the makeup and wardrobe departments respectively did an absolutely A1 job and gave me the base to really enjoy the moment in that outfit and perform this uber Rimmer as it were. I wanted to be in the costume longer!
Things get quite deep and emotional for Rimmer at points, don’t they?
Well yes, there’s a scene with Lister where Rimmer does really feel lower than maybe he’s ever felt in the last 33 years. You can’t really tell whether Lister’s taking the mick or if he’s actually boosting Rimmsy but I think there’s a lot of good in Lister. At some point you think is he doing this for his own purposes or is he really helping Rimmer along here? But however, that may be in the subconscious of Lister it turned out to be a pretty good scene and very exciting to do.
Did you feel quite reflective once you were all back together? You have a very special relationship…
Oh yes. It’s always very easy to switch into character on Red Dwarf because as soon as we get the costumes on and the dialogue going it’s like we’ve never been away. And every time we’re there we’re always reflecting on the old shows and obviously, we can go way back now to 1987 so there’s a lot to talk about and recall! And all the characters and people we’ve met along the way. In this piece we met and worked with another great batch of people. The three cat clerics Tom Bennett, Mandeep Dhillon and Lucy Pearman were great performers. Ray Fearon – what a top performance as the feral king. And Al Roberts his apologetic flunky was brilliant as well. So many great performances and it was fun to see them add another dimension to the show.
Holly is back too and got a very big cheer!
Oh, how could I forget! Norman (Lovett) is back, what a great guy and a proper comic with proper timing and delivery. Cynical as ever but brilliant to see him back, and the audience absolutely go nuts when they see him.
Who corpses the most?
Oh, I think we all corpse occasionally. I look back on the shows and there are only a few times in 33 years that I’ve managed not to be able to stifle a corpse. Obviously, Doug would always try and go for a take that doesn’t have us corpsing in the background but it is a comedy and you like to play it for real. We all love playing in front of an audience and thinking we’re going to get a big laugh.
Are your working relationships the easiest you’ve had with anyone?
It’s been my main working relationship in my career. I was 27 when we started doing this and now I’m 60 so all my life I’ve worked with Craig, Danny, Norm and a year or two later Robert. Doug and Rob (Grant) I worked with right from the outset of my career. I’ve known Doug for 37 years so it is the backbone of my working life. Having said that we had a lovely company on The Brittas Empire for a lovely eight years. I worked on Spitting Image back in the 80s and we had a lovely company on the voice and puppeteering side, so I’ve been very happy and lucky to have some great working relationships over the years. But obviously Red Dwarf stands in the middle as the longest and probably most successful show in terms of my career. When we all started as youngsters we were different young men; we were ‘I must get on, I want more lines’ blah blah. But as the years go on you realise that we’re a team and we’ve come through so much from young single men to getting married and having children. And now we’re passing through the middle age era and I think we appreciate each other as much as we’ve ever done, if not more.
How does it feel to have a documentation of you over all those years?
Yeah, it’s interesting. Obviously, when series three crops up every now and then you see yourself as a 30-year-old, you tend to go my God! Or as my son said, ‘Dad what happened to you!’ But I think it’s been a real privilege to be around to do a show for so long. And the fans still love it I hope.
Especially as there was a long period of time when they didn’t think you’d come back…
Well yes, the ‘will there, won’t there, who’s going to be involved’, usually on the other side of the camera, that’s always been a soap opera in itself at Red Dwarf! There have always been interesting times on that admin side. But when we’ve got to the studio, got the script and hit our marks and said our lines, that’s when it all comes to life and when everyone says isn’t it good that we’ve waded through the – to use a Red Dwarf phrase – smeg to get where we are now.
Technology has obviously changed a lot – you have a laugh with that…
Oh yes. To think that back in the old days we had the old flapping sets and some fairly ropey kind of stuff. We used models more and I loved using models, we still use them a little bit these days and of course, the quality of those have gone up but we’re always making comments on various topical things when we do Red Dwarf – the tech ban in M-Corp in series 12 for example. Technology and the use of it and comment on it is never going to be far away from Red Dwarf.
Are you recognised all the time?
Not these days because I now look myself and quite different from Rimmer. Mainly due to the disappearing barnet but you know, that’s life and in many ways, it’s quite good. But a lot of people do still recognise me and go ‘You’re that bloke aren’t you?’ Then they ask where they’ve seen you and it all falls into place. You get recognised just enough to know you’ve done a reasonable job.
It does have a fan base….
We do and we know that from going to conventions. Even when we’ve been off with no new product insight we’ve always packed in a good crowd at the conventions. I don’t know when we’ll next be doing that but we’ll see.
Will there be more specials like this?
Just as things stand right at the moment given the global circumstances with you know what, COVID 19, I don’t know when there’s going to be more of anything and what form that might take. We just have to ride out this storm and go from there. I know that’s a very depressing answer but it’s the way everything is – it’s not just Red Dwarf. We’ll see what happens but later this year or early next year if someone asked if we’re going to do another one, I think we’d discuss it and there’d be a strong possibility it would go forward given the health and desire of cast, and especially Doug of course and his son Richard. In the meantime, I think we’ll give the fans a good opportunity to sit at home and watch this latest Red Dwarf, which I’m confident they’ll enjoy.
Red Dwarf returns on the 9th April on Dave