August 22nd 2010
Lost Interviews: IT Crowd
Interview with comedy siren Katherine Parkinson
Written by Dan Collacott & Imran Mirza
Most know actress Katherine Parkinson as the glue that binds the nerds together in Graham Linehan's hit sitcom The IT Crowd which recently completed its fourth series. In fact the sheer genius in her hilarious portrayal of Jen Barber recently earnt her the award of Best TV Comedy Actress 2009. Katherine also stars as Amber in the Jesse Armstrong Sam Bain helmed sitcom The Old Guys which recently finished its second series. The flame haired beauty has also starred in the hit Richard Curtis comedy 'The Boat that Rocked' as well as Doc Martin, Jonathan Creek and numerous other, TV, films and theatre work. While she got her famous red hair salon clipped, I got the chance to talk to the charming and charismatic actress about her career, working with the likes of Graham Linehan, Richard Curtis and Phillp Seymour Hoffman as well as all things IT Crowd!
So how did you end up playing the part of Jen Barber in the IT Crowd?
It was because Chris O’Dowd, who plays Roy, was a friend of mine from drama school, and he told me he was doing this Channel 4 comedy and that they needed to cast for the woman and he thought I’d be quite good, then I went in and got it. So there’s always been a begrudging gratitude towards Chris because I wouldn’t be doing it if he hadn’t told me, so that’s how I ended up doing it.
You’re quite good friends aren’t you, you and Chris?
Yes, well, we were friends before we became colleagues, and we’ve been colleagues quite a few times recently, coincidentally, so we know each other very well.
So being friends, does that make the job harder, presumably you make each other laugh on set?
Yeah that was always the thing, he always makes me laugh.
Who’s actually the worst at corpsing on the IT Crowd set?
Richard (Ayoade), without a doubt. He’s very bad at that. He’s very infectious, when he goes, you can tell he doesn’t want to, it looks like he’s being sick or something, so he’s quite a corpser, Richard.
What was one of the funniest things that happened on the IT Crowd set?
It’s quite a frantic filming process, the scripts change quite a lot so the whole thing is so chaotic, there’s not a single moment when something funny happens, the whole thing is a bit like … frantic, chaotic in general.
What is it like working with Graham Linehan on set? You already said he changes the scripts a lot, I know he acts in it every now and then, but does he direct? Does he get involved?
Graham has such a clever and idiosyncratic brain but there’s something quite chaotic about it, but everyone loves it, the crew love it, they’re all very behind him, because the results are always worth it, and he’s such a nice guy, such a decent man. He’s very well loved and all the rest of it.
I know he’s kinda like your on screen stalker, but do you have an interesting relationship with Matt Berry, because he’s constantly being very sleazy and coming on to you?
(Laughs) I know, I think his character is so funny, Matt’s such a gentleman, he’s lovely but he’s very good at playing that sort of character. I do think he’s very good at it, he does exactly what Graham likes and it’s a great marriage of performance and writing.
Ok, so here’s a controversial one – they were both equally brilliant, but who do you prefer working with, Chris Morris or Matt Berry?
I think they’re both so brilliant. Chris as well, completely got the tone of Graham’s writing and it’s quite different to the stuff he’s famous for, so I think it’s really game of him to come in and do something completely different because he certainly doesn’t have to, he has so many things going on, and again Chris is very much a gentleman. I have to say I was very star struck when I first met him because I was such a fan of his, so it was easier to meet Matt, but then he gave me a copy of his ‘Snuff Box’ so I was very star struck with him as well.
I love ‘Snuff Box’.
I do also. Love it.
I wish they’d repeat it because it went out so late, and I think they only repeated it once.
It seems like such a waste. How long ago did he make it?
It’s quite a while ago now, it must have been 2002 or something like that. It was definitely before ‘Dark Place’ – have you seen that?
Yes, yes, yes.
That was another great comedy which has a massive cult following but got squirreled away at some obscure time. So Chris left the show because he was too busy, is that the same with Noel Fielding? (who did return briefly at the end of the fourth series)
I think people get so busy with touring, it’s difficult to get the timing right.
This is very much my opinion, but I felt the way the media took to The IT Crowd was quite slowly and cautiously, but the series has got better and better. Did you feel the press reacted to the third series better?
Yeah, I think very few sitcoms seem to hit the ground running, so I think it’s fairly reasonable for a sitcom to take a bit of time to get going, and I think that’s probably what happened. I think there can also be a harsh reception to sitcoms, it has to make you laugh, and there’s no in between is there?
No, that’s very true, and IT Crowd was the first significant sitcom for Graham since Father Ted…
I think ‘we’ making it, as well as the audience, found it difficult to work out immediately what we were trying to do, but I think what prevailed is Graham’s brilliant cartoonish and silly writing that we see in Father Ted, and I think that’s now the stamp on the show, and now we all know and we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Are you anything like the characters of Jen and Amber [in ‘Old Guys’] in real life?
I’m not very good with computers. I said to someone the other day that I shouldn’t mention that too much because it just sounds like I’m trying to pander to [fans]. I don’t even have a laptop yet and I think that’s almost unheard of in this day and age. I think what used to be charming has just become annoying when people are saying [they don't know] about technology so I’m trying to get with the programme. But, I wouldn’t say I am like Amber, I think Amber’s extremely impressionable and is liable to join a cult which is not me.
You went to Oxford with Katy Brand, and I know you’ve been heavily involved with her and starred in her sketch show, are you good friends, and are you planning on doing anything else together?
Yeah, Katy and I are best friends so our work together is more a consequence of our friendship. It’s always a pleasure, y’know if your best friend has a show, for you to go on it and put a wig on, it’s not really work.
What’s it like working with Martin Clunes?
Oh, he’s really terrific – if I weren’t married and he weren’t married (laughs), no that’s not true, but he’s wonderful, he’s extremely funny, I mean really funny, he really makes me laugh.
Would you ever do stand up, is that something you think you could do?
I’m an actress, and I think it’s good to be quite clear with what you want to do. The trouble with something like that, apart from it being very difficult, I don’t think that I would be able to do it, and it could become quite limiting when it comes to casting.
You starred in The Boat That Rocks – it’s such a great cast, what was the whole thing like? What was it like working with Richard Curtis for a start?
He’s wonderful. There wasn’t a single person [on set] that I didn’t relish the company of – Bill Nighy, Rhys Darby being my particular favourite.
Rhys Darby’s lovely isn’t he?
Yes, again, he’s just so funny. We were doing a lot of night shoots, where we went out to sea, and it was very memorable, quite magical.
I saw an interview with Chris O’Dowd who was joking saying that Philip Seymour Hoffman had his Oscar with him and was dressing it up in little clothes?
No, no, he was so interested in everyone, and seemingly very unaffected by his colourful reputation, you’d think it would go to your head, but with him it really hasn’t.
What’s one thing about you that no one else knows?
I think I once said I was 47, thinking it would be funny and that’s what’s out there as my age, but for something that no one else knows, is that I’m actually 52.