Richard Coyle has a history with telefantasy, with the short run of STRANGE on BBC 1, now he talks about his turn playing Terry Pratchett’s protagonist Moist Von Lipwig from Going Postal
How?s it been filming in the leather suit?
Really hot. It has a nylon lining so it?s like being wrapped in clingfilm, like having a condom all over your body. I?ve been drinking lots of ice cold water to help cool me down and they?ve set up lots of fans for me. But Marnix [Van Den Broeke] is in the Mr Pump suit and I always look at him and think ?Actually, I?ve got it quite easy?. Plus I did a film last summer in Morocco and that was twice as bad so I swore I?d never complain. The main problem, though, is I feel a right penis in it. I think of myself as Elvis in his gold lame suit – that helps.
How is it playing Moist Von Lipwig?
It?s really fun because I get to play and create and I haven?t done anything comic since Coupling. Moist is very inventive and things just come to him, he?ll go into confidence trick mode and create a character or he likes to put on a show. One of the best things is I have a lot of public pronouncements outside the post office to the people, and it?s all a show for Moist. I wanted to treat them as commercials, like TV commercials, so they have a beginning and an end. Every time I make a pronouncement to the public it?s a bit of a show, a bit of pizzazz.
How would you describe the character?
Lipwig is a notorious conman who has pulled off a number of scams. He pulled off a very audacious scam called ?the fake bond scam? which brings down a number of banks. He gets caught for it and is hanged to within an inch of his life, but they give him another chance and he has to redeem himself by reviving and running the decrepit post office in Ankh-Morpork. It?s a story of redemption, I guess, a man learning to be normal and conventional. But there?s always an angle with Moist and he secretly thinks he can play Vetinari, even though he can?t.
It?s a very topical story?
I was surprised at how topical it is, how Terry Pratchett satirises emails and mobile phones and the way we don?t write letters anymore. He?s very clever.
Are you a letter writer?
[Laughs] What should I say? I haven?t written a letter for about two years. I used to like writing letters but you know what it?s like ? it?s hard to find the time in your busy lives, so you write emails because it?s easier or you text.
Were you a fan of Pratchett?s work?
I read a couple of his books when I was a teenager so I knew about Discworld and what it was, but I hadn?t read Going Postal. But it?s right up my street ? slightly out of left field. When I read the script I was in America and had just done Prince Of Persia. I?d been in LA for weeks and weeks reading all these great American scripts, very slick and well put-together and very cool, then I was sent Going Postal and it was full of magic and chaos and invention and I was really blown away by it compared to what I?d been reading out there, which was all very controlled. I just thought ?I?ve got to do this?. It appealed to me right from the start, slightly weird and slightly skewed but really charming.
Did you have a chat with Terry?
I spoke to him at length about the role and the first thing he did was berate me for not calling him Sir Terry. He said ?I haven?t had a Sir out of you, young man?. Now I call him Sir, I?m a terrible ass-kisser. To be fair to Terry, when I first met him I was with Charles Dance, who plays Vetinari, and I think Terry was more interested in him than in me. But we?ve since had dinner and it was really nice to chat to him. He signed my book for me, which is quite cool.
Are you anything like the character?
Well, Moist isn?t one for introspection whereas I am more as an actor. You have to make a choice not to go there. Where I would naturally, instinctively go ?Hmm, I?d think here? I have to not to do that. Moist will say something outrageous, just to see the look on someone?s face, and when you realise that you can approach a scene and not get bogged down in ?Why am I saying this?? because sometimes he just says things for the reaction.
How does the scale of this compare to Prince Of Persia?
This is massive but Prince Of Persia is $350 million, 400 stuntmen, and I?m leading the Persian army into battle and I have 600 men on horseback and another 600 men on foot behind me. No acting required, you just go ?Wow?. But Going Postal is still pretty huge and the sets are extraordinary, they?re massive and even when we?re in the studio it doesn?t look like we?re in a studio because the scale of it is so big. Plus because we?re not in Britain it doesn?t look like we?re filming in Shepperton or on a sound stage somewhere. You don?t go ?Oh that?s that location, I saw it on Cranford?. We?ve got a very distinct look.
Would you make a good conman?
I don?t think I?d have the balls. I?d probably lose my nerve halfway through trying to con somebody.
How was it filming the hanging scene?
It was weird when I first put the noose round my neck but I?ve done it so many times now it?s like ?Here we go again?. But the extras have been amazing. Normally they have to be told ?Come on, he?s gonna die, make some noise? but these people, who are true Pratchett fans, were cheering right from the start. I?m trying to reference my favourite films wherever I can ? there?s a bit of The Matrix, we?ve got a bit of Gone With The Wind – and I looked at it as my Han Solo moment like where he goes off to be frozen in The Empire Strikes Back.