Ahead of Gavin and Stacey’s big Christmas return, Mathew Horne tells Sophie Goddard how it feels to be joining the Shipman family once again, and why working with on-screen ‘mum’ Alison Steadman was especially emotional this time around…
Put the mince pies down and grab your remotes, people – we’re going back to Barry. This Christmas Day, Gavin and Stacey creators Ruth Jones and James Corden have gifted fans what they’ve always wanted – a one-off Christmas special. Nearly 10 years after we last caught up with the award-winning cast – that’s Mathew Horne, Joanna Page, James Corden, Ruth Jones, Rob Brydon, Larry Lamb, Melanie Walters and Alison Steadman – they’re back on our screens and it’s like they’ve never been gone. Here, Mathew Horne discusses the show’s big return…
Gavin and Stacey is back! Can you tell us how you found out it was happening?
It was a preliminary WhatsApp message from Ruth in February. It said ‘I’ve spoken to Jo [Joanna Page who plays Stacey], we have a script and we’re looking to shoot in the summer for a Christmas special. Would you be interested?’ I didn’t see it coming, in fact I didn’t believe it would happen because it’s such a big ensemble of very successful people and I just didn’t think we’d be able to get everybody back together. But we did. And it’s absolutely extraordinary.
It’s a massive secret to keep…
Yeah, I had to keep it quiet for several months until James’ rather surprisingly informal announcement on social media. But as I said, I didn’t really believe it and Ruth was quite breezy so that further fuelled my suspicion it wouldn’t happen. Then as soon as the announcement was made, it snowballed and we shot it in the summer.
Did that mean Christmas jumpers during the heat wave?
Yes, it was so hot! We filmed most of it in Cardiff, Wales, but a lot of the show was in Barry Island itself and we were in the actual houses, it wasn’t a built studio. They’re quite small houses and we had Christmas lights, filming lights, hats and tinsel. But then you walk out and see people on the beach, it was very odd! We had to film late into the night as during that time of year it doesn’t get dark until 10.30pm. But they were very warm nights, so we had to do a lot of ‘cold’ acting. The only giveaway is you can’t see our breath, but I think if the audience are worried about that, we’ve really done something wrong…
Did you feel any pressure, returning after such a long time?
I was excited, but of course it comes with some trepidation because it’s been a long time. Ruth and James have always said we would only do it again if we had a story to tell, instead of just bowing to pressure. So I felt pretty confident what they’d done would be great but I didn’t realise how great.
The public have held Gavin and Stacey in their hearts for so long, why do you think that is?
Because as a group of characters, you want to be in the pub or sat around the dinner table with them at Christmas, because there’s so much love and support there. It resonates with people because they recognise themselves in those characters – there’s such a huge mix of people across the nine core ensemble, there’s something there for everybody across every age demographic.
Sadly there was one cast member missing – the brilliant Doris, played by Margaret John [who passed away in 2011]…
Yes, the show is dedicated to her at the end of the credits. She was sorely missed and the character is mentioned in the show, so there’s a nod to Margaret.
You’ve spoken about your reunion with Alison Steadman, who plays your mum, Pam. Why was that so emotional?
Well I see Alison quite regularly, but she’s like a mother to me. My own mother sadly passed away in early January this year, so seeing Alison again was really quite emotional. She always signs her texts to me as ‘Mum’ and says, ‘Hi my little prince’ and all that kind of stuff. But I have seen her a hell of a lot, so what was most exciting was working with Jo [Page] again, because she will forever be known as my ‘onscreen wife’, and I’ll be her ‘onscreen husband’. That’s the way it’s been for 13 years, and the way it will be probably for the rest of our careers! She moved out of London and lives in the countryside, and I haven’t had any personal contact with her for many years. So working with her again was just joyous.
Were you worried about playing Gavin again, did it all come back to you?
It’s been such a big part of my career so far that playing him is ingrained in me. It was like putting on an old pair of slippers – we just slipped back into it. Obviously the first day was quite nerve-wracking but then it became one of the most joyous jobs I’ve ever done.
How was returning to Mick and Pam’s?
It was very strange going back somewhere I know very well and have seen on the TV, but I’ve never been back there. And seeing the couple that own the house in Cardiff was very strange because we never thought we’d see them again. Being back in Gav’s house – and the bed and kitchen – was very strange! But nothing had changed – it felt like 10 years hadn’t gone by.
Knowing it was a one-off special – and really being up against it time-wise – did everybody bring their A-game?
I think ‘we’ve got to nail this’ is everyone’s default on Gavin and Stacey. Our standard and bar is set very high, and everybody gave it their all. There are some exceptional performances, particularly from Alison who was really struggling at the time as she was simultaneously doing four jobs. It was like that old adage of ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’ – she absolutely nailed it and her performance is really exceptional.
Gavin and Stacey returns at 8.30pm on Christmas Day, on BBC One