Tag Archives: Mackenzie Crook

The word on Worzel

Iconic literary scarecrow Worzel Gummidge is returning to television in a pair of hour-long episodes written and directed by and starring Mackenzie Crook. The Office and Detectorists star tells DQ about becoming Worzel and adapting Barbara Euphan Todd’s novels.

One of the UK’s best-known comedy actors, Mackenzie Crook made his name in Ricky Gervais’s seminal workplace mockumentary The Office before taking on roles in Skins, Game of Thrones and Britannia, as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

More recently, the Bafta-winning writer has become equally known for his work behind the scenes, writing and directing acclaimed comedy Detectorists, in which he and Toby Jones starred as a pair of eccentric metal detectorists.

Crook is now once again combining writing, directing and acting in his latest project, a modern-day adaptation of Barbara Euphan Todd’s classic Worzel Gummidge novels, which first introduced the walking, talking scarecrow that was previously brought to life by Jon Pertwee between 1979 and 1981.

Mackenzie Crook

Commissioned by BBC1 in the UK, Crook’s adaptation comprises two episodes, each an hour long. The first, The Scarecrow of Scatterbrook, sees Susan and John, new arrivals to the town, first encounter Worzel Gummidge, the scarecrow of Ten Acre Field. In the second episode, The Green Man, the titular character arrives in Scatterbrook and is unhappy to discover Worzel has been mixing with humans.

Worzel Gummidge is a Leopard Pictures production in association with Treasure Trove, Lola Entertainment and Pidgeon Entertainment, with Kew Media Distribution handling international sales. Kristian Smith (Detectorists), Lisa Thomas, Patrick D Pidgeon and Eric S Rollman executive produce.

Here, Crook tells DQ about his approach to adapting the novels, juggling writing and directing duties and getting into character.

What is your relationship with the Worzel Gummidge novels?
Before being approached by Leopard Pictures, I hadn’t read the novels or seen any of the earlier Worzel Gummidge TV series. As children, my sisters and I were discouraged from watching commercial TV so I missed out on a lot of my friends’ favourite shows. I read the cartoon strip in Look-in Magazine, but that was as far as my relationship with Worzel went.

Why did you want to adapt them?
It felt like an evolution from Detectorists: stories connected to the landscape and the myth and lore of the countryside but with a whole new layer of magic realism.

How was the project developed with Leopard Pictures and the BBC?
Kristian Smith, MD of Leopard Pictures, came to me when Leopard secured the rights to the novels and asked if I was interested in getting involved. Soon after I began to read the books, an idea of a new interpretation began to occur and I could picture the world and the tone almost immediately. Even before the books, Barbara Euphan Todd wrote Worzel Gummidge radio scripts for BBC Children’s Hour, and the first television adaptation was on the BBC in 1953. So it felt right to bring it home.

Crook was in the make-up chair at 05.00 every day to transform into Worzel Gummidge

Were you always keen to write and direct the films, as well as star in them?
Yes, I had a very clear idea of how everything should look and the rhythm of the dialogue and jokes, so directing as well was a natural choice.

What has been your writing process in adapting two novels for the films?
Our films take their themes and characters from several of the books, rather than being direct adaptations. There are 10 Worzel Gummidge books, which I read, noting down the appealing storylines and developing our plots from there.

How do we first meet Worzel in the series and how would you describe him as a character?
We first meet Worzel in his beloved Ten Acre Field doing what he does best. I stuck quite closely to the beginning of the first novel. Worzel is kind and funny, prone to mood swings, naive in some ways and wise in others. He’s concerned about the plight of the countryside around him and feels a responsibility to help.

What was your experience of directing yourself?
I’m usually uncomfortable watching myself on screen but with Gummidge it’s somehow easier because I’m very fond of him and he’s so much fun to play. I asked our producer, Georgie Fallon, to keep an eye on my performance and give me notes.

How did writing, directing and acting for Worzel Gummidge compare with your similar roles on Detectorists?
This was a bit more gruelling, as I was on screen for so much of it. Added to which, the lengthy prosthetics application meant starting three hours before everyone else.

The actor, writer and director rose to prominence as Gareth Keenan in The Office

What challenges did you face in the writing or production stage?
The scripts are set 90% outdoors in a blazing hot summer. It rained for the first nine days of the shoot, including on the days we shot the big village fete scene. That was disheartening at the time but, through the magic of lighting, editing, grading and so on, it all looks as though it was shot in glorious weather.

How involved were you in Worzel’s look and what considerations were involved?
It was his look that came to me first. Before I even began writing, I started sketching his costume and turnip head. I knew I wanted him in an old military redcoat that I imagined he found in a long-forgotten soldier’s trunk at the back of a barn. I didn’t want his clothes to be stuffed but rather just hung on his wooden frame, so that when his coat blows open you can see right through.
He needed to be the right balance of scary and appealing. His job is to scare, so he had to appear alarming at first, but we very quickly warm to him when we hear him speak and see his smile.

Describe the make-up and costume process you faced every day to get into character.
I was usually in the make-up chair by 5am, ready to start shooting at 8.30am. The prosthetic came in six separate pieces that were glued directly onto the skin and then painted with spirit-based dyes. The ‘rooty’ strands of the beard were added individually with every application. The costume, by comparison, was simple to put on and comfortable to wear. Underneath the coat and trousers, I wore a blue suit that was painted out in postproduction to create the hollow effect.

How might viewers compare this modern Worzel Gummidge with the Jon Pertwee series many will remember? 
Both series are very different interpretations of the books and, as such, I think they can happily co-exist without needing too much comparison.

Why do you think this character and his stories have stood the test of time? 
It’s a timeless and very simple premise for a story: lonely kids, away from home, find a secret – a magical friend who leads them into fun and adventures. Worzel’s charming mix of kindness, mischief, naivety and wisdom make him a scarecrow you want as your friend.

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Tribes and tribulations

Hair, make-up and prosthetics designer Davina Lamont discusses her work on epic Sky and Amazon historical drama Britannia, in which a Roman army faces up to Druids and Celts in 43AD.

When Davina Lamont received a last-minute call asking her if she wanted to come and work on a “nice little Roman job,” there’s little chance she realised the scale of what was to come.

In fact, the hair, make-up and prosthetics designer could not have joined a more ambitious and visually striking series than Britannia, the Roman Empire-set drama coming to Sky Atlantic and Amazon.

But having worked on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and series such as Sons of Liberty, Legends and two seasons of National Geographic’s Genius, she had the experience needed to bring to life the three vastly different tribes that feature in the story.

“They told me for Genius season one that they had this little project and it’s going to be a nice little script – and then it turned into a monster,” Lamont recalls. “Britannia was the same. I got called in at the last minute and was told, ‘It’ll be really cool.’ Then it just went crazy. But I’m happy for those jobs.

Britannia stars David Morrissey as Aulus

“Producers are starting to like the fact they have one designer who does all three, instead of splitting up the team and having a hair designer, prosthetic designer and make-up designer. They like the fact, budget-wise, they pay one person to do all three, and I enjoy it too. I love the fact I can go from one job to the next and it’s really different – and creatively different. I do prefer to take on those sorts of jobs – the big and difficult ones.”

In television, they don’t come much bigger than Britannia, which is set in 43AD and follows the Roman army as it sets out to crush the Celtic heart of the mysterious titular land, one led by warrior women and powerful Druids who claim to channel the forces of the underworld.

The nine-part historical drama stars Kelly Reilly as fearless Celtic princess Kerra, David Morrissey as Aulus, the head of the invading Roman army, Nikolaj Lie Kaas as rogue Druid Divis and Zoë Wanamaker as Celtic queen Antedia.

All episodes of the series, produced by Vertigo Films in association with Neal Street Productions and distributed by Sky Vision, are available to view from Thursday on Sky Atlantic and Now TV.

With just five weeks of pre-production to put her ideas together, Lamont worked with costume designer Ann Maskrey and production designer Tom Burton to create this unknown world and decide how they would represent the different tribes.

It took over three hours to complete Mackenzie Crook’s look, which included hooks in his nails

“Then from that point, we all went into this exploratory period,” Lamont says. “Five weeks was all we had to put it together. It was tough to try to figure out what the Druids were going to look like. I know they wanted a lot of tattoos and wanted some Vikings-cum-Game of Thrones elements involved. We just had to work it out and work out how it transcends into each and every tribe.”

That exploration process included plenty of trial and error. Lamont says she even questioned whether they should be putting tattoos on the Celtic king (Star Wars’ Ian McDiarmid, as Pellenor) and queen.

“It looked ridiculous,” she jokes. “There were times when I thought, “Oh my God, this is my last job.’ But then you put everybody else into the same world on the same set and you go, ‘Actually it looks phenomenal.’ It was scary to start with, especially with Veran.”

Veran is the leader of the Druids, a character feared and respected in equal measure and who claims to speak directly from the Gods. Portraying him on screen is Mackenzie Crook, known for turns in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise and TV series such as The Office and Detectorists. In Britannia, however, the star is unrecognisable, sporting a shaved head and  several layers of prosthetics and make-up that give him a skeletal appearance, with dark sunken eyes and numerous facial tattoos and scars.

“Basically I woke up one morning and wanted to change him completely,” Lamont says of creating Crook’s appearance. “That’s how he came about. I designed the look and then I sent it off to the producers and told them to sit down because this was what I wanted to do with him. But they loved it and said go for it.

“When I rang up Mackenzie for the first time and we chatted over the phone, he said it was brilliant and was exactly what he wanted to have. So it was great, it worked out perfectly. He was brilliant, and then I said I had to shave his head – he was all for it.”

At that point, however, the scripts were still being pulled together by lead writers Jez Butterworth, Tom Butterworth and Richard McBrien so it was unclear how many days Crook would be required to get into costume. But thanks to Crook’s startling look and impressive performances, his screen time grew and grew.

“I don’t remember how many prosthetics we did on him in the end, it was massive,” Lamont says. “We made it to three to three-and-a-half hours for him [to get ready]. It’s a long time.”

Crook also came in with his own ideas for Veran’s image, in particular the little round hooks we see on the end of his finger nails.

“On the very first day we did his make-up, he came in with these hooks and started drilling into his nails,” Lamont remembers. “I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’ve got something to show you – I really want to do this.’ He drilled into his own nails with a drill and put these rings on. It was brilliant. So he’s fantastic to work with, he’s down for anything. He’s a brilliant actor.”

The show debuts on Sky Atlantic this Thursday

Speaking about his transformation, Crook says: “I found it brilliant. I loved every minute of it. From the design to going and having a cast made, and the daily ritual of putting it on, we started off at five hours and then they got it down to three-and-a-half – it was a brilliant process. Watching the skill of the make-up team and seeing myself slowly transformed in front of the mirror helped me get into and form the character.”

Another actor who spent plenty of time in make-up was Gershwyn Eustache Jr, who plays Vitus. Also a Druid and part of Veran’s gang, he needed to have a similar look, calling for more tattoos and scarification on his face. Lamont continues: “We also had Divis (Lie Kaas). We really didn’t know what we were going to do with him. At one point he was also going to have a shaved head, and then the producers really loved the fact we etched runes into his forehead and made them like scarification. Everybody had tattoos, prosthetics, contact lenses, big battle wounds. Every single character had something.”

With the amount of money washing through television drama these days, you might expect the design teams get to play with a bigger budget, especially on a show such as Britannia. Yet Lamont says the figures she has worked with over the last few years haven’t seen the same upward trend as overall series budgets.

“They like to start off by giving me a budget that’s really small,” she explains. “But then the scripts don’t portray the budget I have. Nearly every job over the last 10 years, especially in TV now, I get a budget and it’s nowhere near close enough to what [we need for what] we have to do. My budgets do end up getting a lot bigger. Especially on Britannia, the scripts were still being developed as we were going along so we really didn’t know what would come up in the mix or all the new characters coming through. It was a big guessing game.

“When you don’t know what’s coming up, it gets really expensive because you have to have a number of wigs on hire or made and prosthetics that have to come with it. That’s what happened with Veran’s lot. We didn’t know there were going to be three other actors involved so they became big elements for us. It’s definitely changed from what TV used to be, even 10 years ago, when you could pretty much picture the budget. Now we’re basically doing five feature films in one TV show.”

Unsurprisingly, bigger budgets are demanded by dramas at the fantasy end of the spectrum, as opposed real-world stories on which Lamont has worked on like Top of the Lake. The designer admits she doesn’t know why she continues to be drawn back to genre shows, but says part of the fun is getting to create new worlds for each job.

“I feel like I’m probably meant to be in the fantasy world but I love the fact I can go from a job like Britannia and then go and do a job like Genius,” she adds. “They’re hugely different. With Genius, I have to make people look like they were from the 1900s, like Picasso [season two] and Einstein [season one] – actual people from the past. I love recreating people in that way. I’ve never really been into fantasy but I always get pushed into that genre, so I’ll run with it for now.”

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