Truth Seekers is a new supernatural comedy from the pens of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, featuring screen legend Malcolm McDowell. Both writers play Gus and Dave respectively in this subtle character study of loneliness, companionship and internet engineers. Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh and Mindhorn, joins them bringing his own brand of eccentricity to bear. Finally Samson Kayo adds a little heart and soul to proceedings as Elton John, looking for resolution amongst the broadband installations of middle England.
In conversation with Martin Carr all four principle actors from veteran Malcolm McDowell down all proved to be pragmatic yet passionate about the project. Without exception each was genuinely engaging and good company whilst remaining refreshingly realistic about the business of show.
Samson what attracted you to the role of Elton John?
Samson Kayo: For me as an actor it’s a character I haven’t really played before. It was also exciting to find out this was a project from Simon and Nick, who I have been fans of for a long time. To work with them and learn from them, not only in terms of comedy but also as a human being. We had time to gel and we shared conversations on set you wouldn’t necessarily have with someone you had just met, which I found quite comforting. Playing Elton was also quite emotional and turned into a good test for me as it proved quite challenging. However, things were made a little easier though as this was such a good script.
What made Samson such a perfect fit for the role?
Nick Frost: It’s exactly what Samson said, but I think the older I get as a person the more I get to cherish that connection, however small that connection might be. When you meet someone and right away you know he gets it. You don’t have to explain, we don’t have to talk and it helped that we were both kind of non-actors. We are normal human beings who happen to be actors, but I also understand this from the perspective of someone who has worked to get to this point. Samson is a generous actor and that is something I want to be around and create this stuff for. It’s very selfish on my part really.
Do film references suggest themselves organically during the writing process?
Nick Frost: Unlike Paul which was a love letter to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, we didn’t look at Truth Seekers and say ‘hey we need something here’. That just happens to be our palette and what we were brought up on. Some of these tropes are fun to use because we get pleasure from watching it, so I think that’s where it comes from rather than a need to shoehorn things in.
Were there any films in particular you were asked to watch in preparation for this role?
Samson Kayo: I was never told to watch stuff but took the initiative and saw some really seriously scary horror films like Scooby Doo. I never grew up on The X-Files but took the time to take a look and could see where some of the inspiration came from. Other than that I watched The Ring, Child’s Play and all of those types of films. I do find some horrors quite funny like The Blair Witch Project, where they are running around with boogies hanging from their nose. But that is what you do, you watch a bunch of these films and steal little nuggets you can use in your own work.
You’re on screen comedic chemistry with Nick can best be described as very dry. Is it something you worked on together or was it already in the script?
Malcolm McDowell: It was in the script to a degree but essentially that’s who we are. That is our relationship on and off screen. We had only just met and it was instant. Nick is a lovely person and what you see is what you get. He is a really good writer and gifted comedian and I think Nick had a big input into a lot of these scripts. The banter was always nice and Richard might not be a huge part, but he does get to have a journey in Truth Seekers. His relationship with Helen is unexpected and charming, as it explores the challenges lonely people face in a very compassionate way. Nick is a very charismatic guy and of course I spoke to both himself and Simon about scripts beforehand.
This world exists within the realm of comic book conventions and cult movie buffs. How much do you think your iconography as an actor, plays into your presence within the show?
Malcolm McDowell: I met one of the producers James Serafinowicz when the BFI invited me to talk about either A Clockwork Orange, If or Lucky Man. We met afterwards and he asked me if I would be interested in working together on a series if one became available. If I liked it and thought the script was good then of course I said I would be keen. For me it doesn’t matter where it gets shot, or what the delivery system is whether we are talking theatre, television or movies. When the scripts arrived and I read them I thought they were really clever. You always try to work with people you admire or that you like and both Nick and Simon are so smart. It was such an easy decision for me to go to England and do it, plus of course it was wonderful to be back.
Landing in London which used to be my town all those years ago. Of course it is a very different city now but that doesn’t matter, because London is still this beautiful old town that I remember. To see people I hadn’t seen in forty years or friends I had at school, then getting them all together pre-COVID, which is impossible now with the whole world on lockdown.
With regards to Peter Toynbee and the character itself. How do you get under the skin of a middle management cult leader?
Julian Barratt: I like someone who has a high opinion of themselves and then is found to be sorely lacking, which in itself is essentially comical. To my mind if cult leaders weren’t so tragic then they would be inherently comedic. They need a lot of people around who believe in them and they don’t have any power without it, which is sort of sad in a way. I find them fascinating because their charisma is quite contingent on everyone loving them. And when things fall through it’s just so joyous watching people plummet, because it’s brilliantly hypocritical justice.
There are definitely shades of David Icke about him.
Julian Barratt: David Icke, exactly. I did watch a little David Icke and Graham Hancock, who isn’t a cult leader but has lots of weird beliefs and gets angry with people who don’t understand his point of view. I don’t know if you know his stuff but he talks about astronauts and I just love to believe that. Occasionally I will wake up in the night and shout ‘why isn’t it true’. Of course it’s not but I like to have that little bit of hope. On the other hand David Icke’s ideas are totally unbelievable to me.
Having known Simon for years where would you say Truth Seekers sits tonally within their body of work?
Julian Barratt: If you look at in terms of their body of work it’s hard to determine, as they are doing lots of different things both individually and otherwise. I guess it is unusual in that they are not the stereotypical double act, as they are always playing different characters which is interesting. Within that you have the characters of Simon and Nick who are friends, which is one sort of dynamic from that body of work, then you have them playing different people As I worked in a lot of double acts I have always wondered what it would be like to play people who don’t know each other. I think they just like doing different things and in terms of Truth Seekers, which is an episodic horror comedy this is perfect for them. For me the pleasure came in working with them and spending time in their company.
Both Simon and I started out in stand up and we would be on the same bill at various gigs around the country. I would see him go up and do his material before going up myself back in the day. I remember thinking he was very good especially when he acted out the characters in his stand up set. I can’t remember much about the material apart from it involving an Action Man. Then we got to work on this thing earlier on called Asylum and I realised he had this massive encyclopaedic knowledge of film. I got to know Nick a bit later, but they lived very close to me in London around Kentish Town and they would always have parties. They lived with a guy called Michael Smiley who was a DJ and have house parties. So we got to know each other in that sort of fashion and we all went off to do our own things, then came back together for Truth Seekers.
Flickering Myth would like to thank Samson Kayo, Nick Frost, Malcolm McDowell, and Julian Barratt for taking the time for this interview.
Truth Seekers is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from October 30th