'Days of the Bagnold Summer': Simon Bird is 'doing something different' with his directing debut (exclusive)

Tom Beasley
Contributor
Simon Bird on set of his directorial debut 'Days of the Bagnold Summer'. (Credit: Altitude Films/Rob Baker Ashton)

Simon Bird, Monica Dolan and Earl Cave will be joining Yahoo Movies UK and host Edith Bowman for the Digital Premiere of Days Of The Bagnold Summer at 8:30pm on its release day: 8 June, 2020. Stay tuned for details.

Inbetweeners star Simon Bird says he “wanted to stake a claim to doing something different” with his directorial debut Days of the Bagnold Summer.

Known for his role in the foul-mouthed E4 comedy and its two movie sequels, as well as sitcom Friday Night Dinner, Bird is linked with broad comedic performances, but he has aimed to move away from that with his first foray behind the camera.

Adapted from a graphic novel and featuring a script by Bird’s wife, Lisa Owens, the movie follows a tense summer in the lives of librarian Sue (Monica Dolan) and her teenage heavy metal fan son Daniel (Earl Cave).

Read more: Bird interviewed at London Film Festival

“It’s not a cynical decision to distance myself from things I’m associated with” the 35-year-old filmmaker tells Yahoo Movies UK.

“It’s more that there’s naturally a difference between stuff that I’ve acted in that I haven’t written and I’m not creatively responsible for and my own taste and sensibility.“

The new UK poster for Simon Bird's Days Of The Bagnold Summer. (Altitude)

He adds: “I love The Inbetweeners and I love Friday Night Dinner and I’m really proud of them. If I wasn’t in them, I think I’d watch them and really enjoy them.

“But they’re not a representation necessarily of my own personal sense of humour or taste.”

Read more: Inbetweeners creators working on comedies with Film4

Bird says he has not shut the door on a return to the world of The Inbetweeners, but that he does not believe fans should get excited about the possibility of a third movie or a new series.

“I think it’s very unlikely that Inbetweeners 3 will come along,” he says.

Joe Thomas, Simon Bird, James Buckley and Blake Harrison in 'The Inbetweeners 2'. (Credit: EFD)

“But if it did, I’d have to have a long and hard think about it and it would just depend on the idea and how everyone else feels about it as well.”

Days of the Bagnold Summer premiered to strong reviews at the Locarno Film Festival last year and is poised to arrive on digital download in the UK as one of many movies bypassing cinemas during the coronavirus pandemic.

The supporting cast includes comedy A-listers including Rob Brydon, Tamsin Grieg, Alice Lowe and Tim Key.

Read the full interview with Simon Bird about the hardest parts of directing, his background in the illustrious Cambridge Footlights and the pros and cons of working with his wife...

Yahoo Movies UK: I wanted to start by asking whether directing has always been a big goal of yours?

Simon Bird: I think it probably has on some subconscious level. I could probably be described as a bit of a control freak and you don’t get much control when you’re acting. You do your bit and then you hand it over to the director and the editor and that’s your part of the process done.

With directing, it’s great because you get to put your fingers in lots of different pies and get your grubby mitts on every part of the process, whether that’s choosing locations or make-up design or script rewrites. You’re there from day one right up until the end. So you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.

Once you’d decided to direct, was there ever a prospect of you finding a role and acting in it too?

Monica Dolan and Earl Cave in 'Days of the Bagnold Summer'. (Credit: Altitude Films/Rob Baker Ashton)

Absolutely not, no. I already felt like I was biting off way more than I could chew. Because it was my first foray into directing feature films, I wanted to be able to dedicate myself wholly to that and not be worried about acting as well.

Read more: Ralph Fiennes on challenges of directing

And what did you find were the biggest challenges? Was there anything you weren’t expecting that turned out to be a big headache?

All the boring, non-creative stuff really. Primarily raising the money, which in the independent film world is just massively stressful and a real tightrope act. That bit was really hard, trying to continue developing the film when you still don’t know for certain whether it’s going to get made. You basically don’t know if it’s going to get made until the first day of shooting.

It’s weird having to force yourself to work on something without the certainty that it’s actually going to move forward.

You’ve obviously worked very closely with your wife, Lisa Owens, on this as she wrote the screenplay. Was that a harmonious working relationship or were there some problems?

Simon Bird and Lisa Owens attend 'Days of the Bagnold Summer' during the 72nd Locarno Film Festival on August 14, 2019. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Thankfully, it was very harmonious. I think everyone was a bit dubious about it to begin with and we came up with a lot of reasons why it was a terrible idea and we shouldn’t do it. But ultimately the benefits just outweighed the potential divorce proceedings.

I think, for so many reasons, it turned out to be the perfect choice. Primarily because Lisa is an amazing writer and she did a great job, as I knew she would. But also just because it avoids any of the formalities and stumbling blocks of working with a writer for hire. We could just talk it out over the dinner table, which made life a lot easier.

I want to talk a little bit about the casting process. You’ve got this amazing chemistry between your two leads and then this galaxy of comedy supporting stars in it. How did you go about putting that cast together?

Obviously it was just great fun. Casting the, as you said, galaxy of stars was just a dream come true. I could just pick my favourite people for each of those parts and, amazingly, they all said yes and seemed oddly up for working with a totally unproven first-time director. That was very generous of them.

Read more: Rob Brydon not keen on more Gavin and Stacey

It was just a joy being like: “Who would be the perfect person for this fudge demonstrator? Obviously Tim Key. Who is a slightly oily ladies’ man? That’ll be Rob Brydon.”

Casting Sue was easy. For whatever reason, when I read the book and we started writing the script, I couldn’t get Monica Dolan out of my head. I’d seen her in various things. I was about to say she was underrated, but obviously she’s a massively successful, BAFTA-winning TV actress, so that’s very unfair. She’s rated exactly as she should be — as one of the greatest actresses in the land.

Simon Bird and Monica Dolan on the set of 'Days of the Bagnold Summer'. (Credit: Altitude Films/Rob Baker Ashton)

I think I was aware that she hadn’t really yet had a main part in a film and was known more as a TV actress. It’s so rare to find actors who can move so fluidly between comedy and drama. I knew that would be the tone of the script and the film we wanted to make, so I wanted somebody who was equally confident in both of those genres. She seemed like the perfect choice.

Finding Daniel was much harder because there are just fewer experienced and excellent 16 or 17-year-old actors out there. We saw a lot of them. What we were looking for from Daniel was quite a specific thing. We had a lot of people come in and read the part purely as a moody, surly teenager and, while he definitely is that, there also needs to be a sweetness and a gentleness there, as well as a deeply buried sense of humour. Earl just seemed to get that instinctively.

I think that’s absolutely the core of his character. It’s not a straight arc where he starts surly and ends up not surly. There are moments throughout where you see the sweetness break through, his facade comes down and he becomes a normal teenager who loves his mum.

Yeah, exactly. It’s not really that he’s surly at all. He’s just a bit sad and vulnerable. Earl, from the moment he walked in, had a real soul to him. We got very lucky with him.

Definitely. And this is not a big, broad comedy. The laughs come from how well-observed the world is. One of the bits that made me laugh the most is when Daniel goes to meet the metal band he wants to join and it’s this detached house on a street called Hornchurch Drive. It’s the most middle class venue for a musical rebellion I have ever seen.

I sort of had to keep reminding myself of that idea throughout the process. When you get deep into the process, you forget about the more obvious jokes that are built into it.

There’s also the idea it’s set in summertime. These are two people who are the least suited to summer. He’s head to toe clad in black and she’s in her woolly cardigans. So I’m glad we remembered to include some of that stuff.

Earl Cave in 'Days of the Bagnold Summer'. (Credit: Altitude Films/Rob Baker Ashton)

Were you ever tempted to push the comedy broader and bigger?

Not really. Sort of the opposite actually, just because I personally am associated with quite broad comedy in my acting career. I wanted to stake a claim to doing something different. I was actually slightly annoyed that the project I decided to settle on was one that had so many similarities to my acting roles — set in the suburbs with a teenager in it.

I was trying to find other projects really and trying to convince myself that this was not the one to make my directing debut with. But I just couldn’t get it out of my head and, tonally, it’s exactly the area that I love. When I find films that are in this sort of mold, I usually love them, so I couldn’t get away from this one.

It’s interesting you say that. Do you think you’re at a point in your career where you feel you’re self-consciously pushing away from Inbetweeners and things like that?

Yeah, although I don’t think it’s about being at a certain point in my career. It’s not a cynical decision to distance myself from things I’m associated with. It’s more that there’s naturally a difference between stuff that I’ve acted in that I haven’t written and I’m not creatively responsible for and my own taste and sensibility. Naturally, projects that I’m coming up with myself or, in this case, working with a screenwriter on are going to be different from projects I’ve just happened to be cast in.

Read more: Shocking story of Inbetweeners stunt that almost went wrong

I love The Inbetweeners and I love Friday Night Dinner and I’m really proud of them. If I wasn’t in them, I think I’d watch them and really enjoy them. But they’re not a representation necessarily of my own personal sense of humour or taste. So I think this was always going to be very different to those things without it being, as I say, a cynical move.

Simon Bird as Will McKenzie in 'The Inbetweeners'. (Credit: E4)

I have to ask the obvious question at this point. Do you think this shuts the door on you going back to stuff like Inbetweeners or are you hoping to keep both plates spinning?

It definitely doesn’t shut the door. I’d love to be able to have a career where I can dip in and out of both worlds. I love acting and when projects come along that appeal to me, I’ll definitely be up for doing them. But directing has been really fulfilling, so I’d love to keep doing that as well. I want to have my cake and eat it.

So if Inbetweeners Movie 3 came along, would you do it?

It’s a leading question. [laughs] I think it’s very unlikely that Inbetweeners 3 will come along. But if it did, I’d have to have a long and hard think about it and it would just depend on the idea and how everyone else feels about it as well. But, as I say, I think it’s very unlikely.

You mentioned that you want to keep both plates spinning there. When you look ahead, do you have a new directorial project on the way or are you looking at acting work?

The short answer is: both. There’s a couple of things that I’m starting to think about in terms of developing another directing project, but I’m also aware that those are years in the making and the fact I’m only starting to think about them now means they probably won’t be ready until about 2025.

So I’m certainly up for doing some acting work in the meantime. But, having said that, I don’t have anything specific lined up at the moment.

It’s interesting given the situation we’re all in at the moment. A lot of people are finding they have the time to write things and look at developing stuff.

I think, in a previous life, that would definitely be the case. But at the moment, I’ve got a two-year-old and a four-year-old, so I haven’t had time to do a blessed thing.

Monica Dolan and Earl Cave in 'Days of the Bagnold Summer'. (Credit: Altitude Films/Rob Baker Ashton)

I wanted to ask a little bit about your background coming out of the Footlights at Cambridge University. That has such a legacy behind it. When you have that role as President, as you were, is there a pressure that comes with that given the incredible roster of names before and indeed since?

No, not really. You don’t view it in that way when you’re there. That feels like a totally alien experience. When I was there, it felt just like any other student club and we were just a bunch of a 18 and 19-year-olds making some quite bad student comedy.

The idea that any of us would follow in those footsteps and actually have a career in TV and film just felt totally ridiculous. We didn’t really feel that pressure, or I didn’t anyway.

Read more: Real lives of Inbetweeners stars

You mentioned the challenges of directing earlier. Is there a particular moment in Days of the Bagnold Summer that you’re really proud of and made you think “that’s it, I’m a director now”?

That’s a good question and a hard question because there’s no answer that doesn’t make me look a bit big-headed. There probably are a few of those moments, but they only ever last for about a second and then there’s something on screen and I’m like “oh, I should have thought about that” or “that music’s too loud”.

I’ve seen it so many times now that I can only see the flaws in it. That’s why directing is great in a way. Now, I’m just hungry to make another film and try to make it perfect, while also knowing that’s essentially impossible.

It’s a constant balance of being proud of it, but also knowing it was definitely possible to do it better.

Days Of The Bagnold Summer will be available Monday, 8 June on platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Sky Store, Virgin, BT, Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player.

Simon Bird, Monica Dolan and Earl Cave will be joining Yahoo Movies UK and host Edith Bowman for the Digital Premiere of Days Of The Bagnold Summer at 8:30pm on 8 June, 2020. Stay tuned for details.