In an exclusive interview, The Mighty Boosh director Paul King takes us into the surreal world of his quirky road movie Bunny and the Bull, out now on DVD & Blu-ray
How did you first pitch Bunny and the Bull?
I think I pitched it as a road movie set in a flat, which I think is quite a pompous way of saying it’s about somebody remembering a road trip they went on with a dipsomaniac, womanising, gambling-addicted friend round Europe and the crazy mess they got in, but it’s all set in a flat because it’s somebody who hasn’t gone outside since this trip, and as the story unfolds you learn why. And the landscapes are all made out of objects within the flat, invoking memories, so it’s a kind of strange-looking road tragi-comedy.
You directed cult TV hit The Mighty Boosh which has a similar surreal quality. Did working on that influence your style or was the look of the film a personal preference?
I don’t think the look of the Boosh per se influenced me very much. A lot of the techniques that I use, like back projection, I’ve used quite a lot on the Boosh and used on the film. But all of our worlds in the film are made of different objects, which is not something we ever did in the Boosh. In the Boosh we’d occasionally back-project views out of windows and things like that, but this is much more objects coming to life, things like newspaper and clock parts; a lot more art installation, I suppose. We used lots of models on this, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, miniatures and putting people in miniature landscapes.
It seems a somewhat retro way of working in these modern CG-obsessed days.
Definitely. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t use a computer every now and then if it was the preferred weapon of choice. It’s like people recording their albums on analogue; it gives it a nice kind of retro feel, but at the same time it wasn’t a very high budget film and it was a way of achieving the things we wanted to do. If we tried to do our bull fight in 3-D and have a bull made of household implements, that would have cost forty grand to get the character and then another hundred grand to work out how it should run properly. If you do it with stop-frame animation you can do the whole thing for about £5000 with a lot of goodwill from very talented people. I think there’s a slight art convention to the film; we got a lot of creative people giving us a lot for very little.
Do you take ideas from the art world?
I think from everywhere. Bull sculptures, that’s much more art world than film and TV. I think you go around thieving from anything you think might be useful to steal from!
You have a very distinct visual style; do you intend to stick with it on future projects?
I felt it was right for this film. I’ve done things in other styles and will again, and I suppose with my background in theatre I do like a quite theatrical stylised world. Flashbacks in films, they’re very literal; you remember Paris and you just go and shoot it in Paris; but you probably don’t really remember Paris like that, you probably remember Paris either like it was raining all the time, or like it was boiling hot or like it was a great touristy time you had or like it was all tiny bistros. How you remember and what the feel of those things is can be a weapon of storytelling, which I don’t think has been done much, and it felt like it’d be really good for this film. But no, I don’t see myself for the next 40 years obsessively back-projecting and making models out of china clay!
Bunny and the Bull has been compared to Withnail and I. Are you pleased by that?
Oh, absolutely. Probably not visually, but in terms of a pair of British losers on the road there’s definitely that as a touchstone. And it’s a great movie, so I’m not too offended by that. I don’t think there’s too much similar – they’re both quite boozy. As long as it’s not a terrible comparison: ‘Compared with Withnail and I, it’s dog shit!’ It probably is because that’s one of the greatest comedies ever made!
Turning to The Mighty Boosh, what was the extent of your input into the show? Was it all Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett’s vision or was it partially yours?
Obviously they wrote it, so absolutely all the fundamental building blocks are theirs and really it’s coming and trying to work out how to realise it and what it might look like. The visual style has altered over the series and I suppose that’s probably me getting to grips with the technology and what can be achieved and building relationships with designers. But in terms of ‘they want a monster made out of Betamax tape’, that’s all absolutely them. How you then achieve that is probably more my department. But that was a huge difference on this film, for me. It was my script and not having them to fall back on and talk things through with, I definitely felt the absence. But it was nice when they came to set and did their little bits; it felt like home again.
Did you go to them for ideas?
I didn’t really go to them because I didn’t want to get too Booshy; I didn’t want to do a Boosh rip-off. It’s not like I’m washing my hands of that and going ‘I went and did a gritty drama’ – it’s still a strange film – but I suppose that’s because that’s what I’m interested in doing. I didn’t want to just make it feel like all of their jokes and why aren’t they the lead characters and why isn’t it about them. I did go to other people but I tended to go more to Richard Ayoade, who’s a good friend and was a good script editor, and Simon Farnaby [who plays Bunny], whose life I was largely plagiarising and pilfering from to make it, and try to get some influences from them and some advice. But Noel and Julian, I first sent them the script when it was finished and we were greenlit and ready to go – they knew I was working on it. It was then, ‘Would you like to be in it? It would be an honour,’ and they very kindly said yes.
At what point did Simon Farnaby get involved?
He was involved pretty early; he wasn’t definitely cast because I didn’t know what the casting process was going to be. I think had someone said, ‘Look, to get this financed we really need X to be in it’ then I’d have tried to make that work because it was more important to make the film. But Simon was always in the back of my mind and he was reading drafts from draft one, because I’ve written with Simon a lot; we’ve written a play together. And we put him on tape and showed him to the backers and they all just loved him and it was a doddle; I didn’t really have to fight for him at all, which was a huge relief.
He has a really likeable Everyman quality.
I think Simon’s a great performer. He’s doing really exciting things now, and he seems to be off to Hollywood a little bit, which is great, and, I think, hugely deserved. He’s really funny and he’s really charming and nice. There’s a big heritage in Britain of our comic performers playing hateful people and I think Simon doesn’t do that. Bunny’s quite a difficult character to like; he’s very selfish and you could watch it and think, ‘What a complete prick!’ and I wanted somebody who you’d go, ‘Well, he is a bit of a prick but I can see why you might like him and I can see he’s good to hang out with and his heart’s probably in the right place’ and I think Simon added all that.
On the writing front, was there anything you didn’t think you’d manage, or had to cut?
There was quite a lot that wasn’t realised and didn’t make it to screen! There were bits we just couldn’t really do on the budget, but you find other ways round them and I think if you get given a billion pounds for your budget, there’s still things that you can’t do because your desire expands to fill the budget. But there’s five talking characters in the whole film, which for a road movie is fairly astonishing. There were some big sacrifices that we made along the way but hopefully you don’t really notice them.
How difficult was the writing process?
I think everyone finds it difficult to write! I haven’t met anyone who has a great time doing it because it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do and it’s incredibly difficult to do well. But I enjoyed it enough to do it again; I’ve been employed on another couple of things. Hopefully I’m learning and getting better all the time but it’s a tough, very public, thing that you have to learn how to do.
And next on your slate is the movie version of Paddington Bear.
Yes, which is very exciting and that’s what I’m doing right now. Well, not right now obviously, I’m talking to you, but once we’ve finished talking I will go back and wrestle with that bear. And that’s great; that was a big influence. The first remembered chunk of Bunny was all actually inspired by the Islewood animation, so Paddington’s been a big love of mine for a long time and it’s very exciting to have a crack at writing the script and hopefully that’ll come out well. Bunny is basically a low budget effects movie whereas Paddington will hopefully be a high budget effects movie! I’m slightly nervous talking about it because there are many, many potential hurdles so I don’t want to jinx it by talking too confidently about it!
What style of animation will you be using for it?
That’s all massively dependent on what budget we get. I think it’s too early to really know, and also, one of the things I did on Bunny was always try to not think about the effects and the look while I was writing and try and get the story right. You’ve got to find a story and then go, ‘What’s the best way of telling this and what’s the easiest way?’ There’s a lot to discover and learn.
What else do you have coming up?
I’m developing a few little things. I’m working with The Pyjama Men, who are great comedy actors who’ve had a massive run at Soho Theatre, much lauded, so hopefully they might get something going. And I’m developing another fantasy script of my own, and I’ve still got a play in the pipeline. It’s one of those weird things because you’re not sure what’s going to happen first and you need to develop far more than you could ever actually do. But hopefully, if all goes well, Paddington will be the next thing.
And where are things on the Boosh front?
They’re hard at it writing their film script at the moment. The problem is, writing a film script could be two years or it could be two months; it’s one of those things, it’ll come out when it comes out. But I know they’re hard at work and I’m sure it will be brilliant. I can’t wait to read it!