Film star Chris Addison tells Roz Laws how a miserable job on Aston Science Park helped to spur him on to a successful career.
Zooming down Constitution Avenue in Washington DC in a stretch limousine while police motorbike riders stopped the traffic, Chris Addison leaned out the window and took a photo of Capitol Hill.
The look on his face was one of childish excitement and glee. And, even though he was being filmed, there was no acting involved.
It was one of the more enjoyable days spent making his new movie, the critically-acclaimed political satire In The Loop. Others were not quite so pleasant and saw him being sworn at, vociferously, by Peter Capaldi and Sopranos star James Gandolfini.
Birmingham University graduate Chris plays hapless aide Toby, trying to keep a government minister out of trouble when they get caught up in US politics. His job is not helped by bullying spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi).
Among the repeatable insults hurled at Toby in the film are ‘Frodo’, ‘springer spaniel head’, ‘Ron Weasley’ and ‘foetus boy’.
Chris smiles wryly: “When they were looking for ideas, one of the writers rang my wife Jo and asked if there was anyone I was often compared to. She said ‘Apart from Mr Muscle?’, which he thought hilarious. They were personally hurtful names, but that’s fine!
“Now I’ve been called Frodo by James Gandolfini, I can retire happy. Actually my scene with him was going to be a lot longer, but when it came to shoot it, it seemed the funniest way of doing it was to have his character completely dismiss Toby.
“I realised I was robbing myself of more time with a great actor, but I did it for the greater good.”
Chris, 37, played the same character – albeit with the different name of Ollie – in two series of the award-winning BBC drama The Thick Of It and is about to start filming a third.
He says: “You’d think I’d get used to being sworn at by Peter Capaldi, but it’s still terrifying. There’s a scene early on in the film when he’s in a lift, screaming at someone on the phone, and I’m standing behind him. In an enclosed space, it’s bone-shaking.”
So the time spent whizzing about Washington in a motorcade came as light relief – although it wasn’t straightforward to film.
Chris reveals: “You have to have genuine police outriders because it’s illegal to impersonate them, apparently.
“In New York, they have a particular department of the police whose job it is to help film crews, but that doesn’t apply in Washington. So we were at the mercy of whatever the officers had to do elsewhere.
“Former Vice President Dick Cheney wanted a motorcade every time he popped out, which was a nightmare, so we had to wait around.
“When the police finally turned up and we got to scream down Constitution Avenue four or five times, we kept stopping the same people in traffic. They must have been thinking ‘Damn Dick Cheney!’”
Chris is a regular on TV panel shows like Have I Got News For You and 8 Out Of 10 Cats. He’s also currently hosting the Radio 4 series 4 Stands Up, introducing listeners to three comedians every Thursday night.
He studied English Literature at Birmingham, graduating in 1994. He directed student plays but the seed for a comedy career was sown by a trip to the Glee Club in the city.
“It was the first time I’d seen club comedy, as opposed to someone like Ben Elton in a theatre. On the bill was Mackenzie Crook, performing as Charlie Cheese. It was great to be back there last year and on stage myself.
“Birmingham galvanised me into sorting out my life, because after I graduated I had a really terrible job.
“I was living in Moseley and working for this awful market research company on Aston Science Park. It was full of really depressed graduates, ringing people up to say ‘I’d like to talk to you about double glazing’.
“I realised I couldn’t stay there any longer, so I moved back home to Manchester, which was going through a mini comedy boom with people like Caroline Aherne as Mrs Merton.
“It wasn’t Birmingham’s fault that I went through that depressing period. I have nothing but positive feelings towards the city, which is deeply maligned and misunderstood. I’ve always found Birmingham to have tons of life and be really friendly.”
Father-of-two Chris is good friends with Birmingham-born comedienne Jo Enright, who he cast in his BBC2 sitcom Lab Rats as a ditzy scientist.
“I got a bit of stick for giving a ‘stupid’ character a Brummie accent, but Jo wouldn’t have stood for that – her character was bright, just in her own world.
“Lab Rats isn’t coming back, sadly. They didn’t recommission it. I get e-mails from people who love it and I feel terrible telling them it’s over!”