As series two of hugely popular BBC One comedy series ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ comes to DVD, we caught up with the show’s BAFTA-winning creator and star Brendan O’Carroll for a chat…
Congratulations on the BAFTA
Thanks - we’re still walking on air.
How did it feel to win?
It was an unbelievable moment. When they said ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ we all got sucked out of our chairs. My wife said I looked like I’d been shot. With all these milestones I’ve felt like a horse in the Grand National. You’re told you’re up for a pilot and that’s a fence and then the pilot’s going to get made into a series and that’s another fence, then you have to write the series and that’s another fence and then you’re making the series and that’s another fence. But for the first time when they said ‘the BAFTA goes to Mrs Brown’ it felt like the finishing line.
What was the reaction like from your contemporaries?
Tremendous contragulations. In the UK circuit I‘m not in the business that long as I didn’t do the stand-up circuit. But Michael McIntyre and Ricky Gervais both went out of their way to find me and congratulate me and I felt very honoured by that.
Why do you think it’s so successful?
I have no idea. Honest to God, if I knew I’d do it again in some other form. There’s no secret to it. If you’re a writer, write what you know about – that’s what people say to you. I grew up on comedy in the 70s and 80s and that’s what I know. That’s what makes me laugh and I wanted to do something that was reflective of that. Write what makes me laugh and hope the audience agree and buy in. But I knew from a long way back because the novels of Mrs Brown had been very successful – they’re in 11 languages and were in the Top 10 in 22 different countries around the world. I knew from that that the story itself was not Irish. I learned very early that the story of Mrs Brown is not a unique story, she’s not a unique character because I get letters from Mexico, letters from Japan, that Mrs Brown lives just down the road or they have a granny like Mrs Brown. I think the story is just Charlie Chaplin set in a Dublin house and I think there’s nothing more international than Charlie Chaplin.
Where did she come from then?
My mam was in politics when I was very young. She went on to buy a couple of houses, knock them into one and started a shelter for battered wives and homeless children. There were 11 of us and whether we liked or not we volunteered to work in the home. So we’d be running errands and cooking breakfast from the earliest of age. When I used to finish school I would stuff my school bag under a stall in Moore’s Street, a market street in Dublin, where all the stall holders are women. Tough, hard-bitten women and I used to run errands for them. They were so funny, so quick-witted, so tough – they were tough old broads. And a couple of things they had in common – number one, they all adored their children. Their children were the centre of their lives and number two, even though they weren’t rich, they still believed that their ship was over the horizon and was just about to come in. And it takes a lot to believe that your dreams will come true when your world is collapsing around you. So I picked it up from them.
In the show, Mrs Brown gives you a chance to say things that you could never normally say – do you think you ever go too far?
Oh God, I’m sure I did; I never consciously did. Age brings amazing freedom with it. You get to a particular age where you don’t give a s**t what anyone thinks about what you say. You just express your opinion. You get to a point where you get truth Tourette’s. They’re going to put you in a home anyway, no matter what you say. I think Agnes has that. There’s also a sweet innocence about her. They forgive her a lot that they wouldn’t forgive me. There’s a freedom about a mid-60-year-old woman that you wouldn’t get as a man.
Do you ever find yourself slipping into her in real life situations?
Never! Ever. The truth of it is when you analyse her she’s an aul bitch but she has a heart of gold and she loves her kids. She has that uncanny ability that mothers have to say back to you exactly what you said but make you sound like a b*****d. So she’d say ‘so you’re saying…’ and she’d say exactly what you said but make you sound like a b*****d. She has this manipulative way with her family that is able to turn everything around to her situation. But she also this uncanny art of things working out for her. She has this ethos ‘everything works out the way it’s supposed to, it always does’ and for her it does.
Could you live with her?
No. God no, I’d kill her. I’d emigrate. I’d do what most of the Irish boys do when they realise that mammy has a complete hold on them and just emigrate. Go to America. The thing that Irish mothers have is a four and a half thousand mile umbilical cord – you might go away but you’ll never leave.
The show’s a real family affair for you. Does that ever cause any problems?Surprisingly not. Even if we have disagreements or spats it’s as if we’re having them with workmates rather than family. I’m probably harder on family than I would be on any of the other actors or members of the crew because I expect them to work harder than everyone else. But on top of that I also had this fear that they had to be better than anyone else because I didn’t want anyone thinking they had the gig just because they are family. They have the gig because they can do the gig. I can’t have somebody in there just because I like them. They’ve got to fulfil their role otherwise the whole thing falls down.
How does the live show differ?
You have much more freedom in the theatre. I’m lucky the BBC allowed me to do exactly what we’re doing with them. When I first told them I wanted to leave mistakes in there they were like ‘WHAT?’ I want the audience to feel that they know what’s going on.
Do you have any celebrity fans who want to be guest stars?
Not that I’m aware of. I’m not a celebrity head in that I don’t know that many people who are celebrities. I tend to stick to the family. We haven’t booked a table at The Ivy yet.
Is there anyone you’d like to have come on the show?
We thought about that and we went ‘you know what, let’s not’ because if we were to do that it takes away. You couldn’t have Bono on being anything but Bono. You couldn’t have him as the paper guy because the gag is that Bono is the newspaper guy and then how do you get him off and what do you do with him now? So we’ve never really thought about putting celebrities in there.
We’d like to see what Mrs Brown would make of Jedward
I did a video with them for Eurovision. Mrs Brown played their granny and it was like making a video with two Mexican beans. In the first 20 minutes I thought ‘I’m going to kill these f*****s’ but you just warm to them and they are such a bundle of innocent energy and positivity and in a country that needed a lift, by God they are full of optimism. You look at them and think ‘that is what we need right now’. They are a lovely pair of kids. Once the first 20 minutes were over I’d have done anything for them – they are fantastic. I’d love to work with them again if I could keep up the energy.
Is the movie going to happen?
I think so. I think the success of ‘The Inbetweeners Movie’ has opened the door for a lot of us. The good thing is that there is lots of material there to pick from. I’ve set aside the dates for shooting in September to November next year for release in 2014 so it has to happen or otherwise that’s three months when I have no work!
Any hints on the plot? Will it see you leaving Ireland?
No, I didn’t want to go down the line of Mrs Brown goes to Marbella or Mrs Brown goes to Cannes, the usual idea of a movie from a TV series taking them out of the context. I want to take on the challenge of writing a movie within the context of the TV series. Film and shoot it in Dublin and its surroundings. Make it a nice meaty story with plenty of comedy. If I could make it ‘The Hangover’ starring Mrs Brown. Now there’s a thought.
When are you back on TV?
I’m currently writing the third series. Also, BBC wanted a one-hour Christmas special but we’ve ended up with two half-hour specials which is great. The BBC and I have agreed that if the third series is the last they do want to commission Christmas specials up until 2016. Series three starts on Christmas Day.