Stephen Merchant and the cast of BBC’s The Outlaws talk about the upcoming series, filming during Covid and Christopher Walken.
The talk followed an exclusive preview of the second series of the hit comedy-drama The Outlaws at BFI & Radio Times Television Festival in Waterloo’s BFI IMAX.
Alongside writer-director Merchant, were director John Butler and cast Eleanor Tomlinson, Gamba Cole, Darren Boyd, Clare Perkins and Jessica Gunning.
The Outlaws was BBC’s biggest comedy launch of 2021 with 11 million streams on iPlayer and is back for a second series on June 5.
Following on directly from the first series, The Outlaws still have time to serve on community service in Bristol and must suffer the consequences of their actions as the mysterious drug kingpin, played by Claes Bang, comes to get back his money.
The making of the comedy-drama was unique as the cast and crew were set to film the first series but the pandemic halted plans.
Then during the hiatus Merchant wrote the entire second series and once restrictions were lifted they filmed both back-to-back.
Merchant said: “Well it turns out that shooting two series of a show under a pandemic is a nightmare, and I would suggest no one ever does it.”
“Particularly if one of your key cast members is 79-year-old Oscar winner Christopher Walken, because every day you’re on a knife-edge hoping he doesn’t get Covid.
“If anyone even looks like they’re going to sneeze near him, you jump in front of him like you’re taking a bullet for the president. You are always on a knife-edge that one of your cast might die, it is like being in a real-life Squid Game.”
A huge coup for The Outlaws was the unlikely casting of Hollywood legend Christopher Walken in a major role, playing the nifty con man Frank Sheldon.
On working with Christopher Walken, Merchant joked: “He wrote me a letter, ‘Dear Steve, I’d love to do anything you’ve got coming up.’
They all do that, I’ve got a big pile of letters. It’s embarrassing.”
He added: “I went out to see him in Connecticut where he made me an omelette, no big deal. We sat there and asked each other questions, he is a very thoughtful man, very quiet and meditative. It was like having a Zoom conversation in person, you are never entirely sure if he was thinking or buffering. He seemed to like me and we got on pretty well so next thing I knew he was in Bristol, which is pretty insane.”
The series, written by Merchant, is masterful in the way that it toes the line between comedy and drama.
Merchant talked about how the tragic and comedic can sit side by side in real life as much as in TV and used the anecdote of his grandmother’s funeral as an example of this.
He said: “We were in the hearse on the way to the graveyard and I was in the back with my family and the coffin. There was a driver and the vicar who was taking the event and I could hear them talking through the glass.
“The driver said: ‘Hey Vicar, do you drive?’ and the Vicar said: ‘No, I had to choose between drinking and driving. I chose drinking.’
They were chuckling away and I was sat there listening to this through the glass and thinking, my dead granny is back here.”
The Outlaws season 2 will be broadcast on BBC One on June 5, with all episodes arriving on BBC iPlayer.
Pictured: The cast of The Outlaws. Pictures: Yves Salmon- BFI & Radio Times Television Festival