The press conference for Alien Autopsy has just wrapped up. Nice pastries, damn fine tea and the usual ‘they were a pleasure to work with’ kind of fare was thrown from the floor. One crucial difference that stuck out like a fat kid on The OC – Ant and Dec, those cheeky japesters from Saturday night telly, were sitting front and centre.
“I know, it’s weird isn’t it, it’s still weird for us,” Dec says, now safely tucked away in a plush London hotel suite - trademark glint and schoolboy grin in place. “Today is amazing to be honest, our first junket and premiere and for all we know, it’s our last, so we’re enjoying every minute of it.”
Hang on, hold up, take a step back – how the hell did Geordieland’s favourite nephews end up on the big screen? Step forward Twins scribbler Will Davies and Shameless helmer Jonny Campbell. “I’d gotten a call asking if I’d be interested in this amazing story and when I got there, I had to sign a confidentiality agreement before I could even hear the plot,” Davies tells TF.
Having signed on the line, Davies met Ray Santilli and Gary Shoefield and listened to their outlandish tale of how two men from North London fooled the world with faked footage of an alien autopsy. “It was such an incredible story, so I called Jonny and told him he had to hear it.” Jonny Campbell is the Manchester-born director, behind the lens for modern classics such the aforementioned Shameless and Peter Kay’s keynote contribution to comedy, Phoenix Nights. Campbell was equally intrigued and with script written, set about trying to find the right pair to play Santilli and Shoefield.
“We looked at comedians, we looked at everybody. Then I’m sitting there watching I’m A Celebrity… one night and my wife said ‘What about Ant and Dec?’ I went into a production meeting the next day and gingerly put it to them and it turns out Will’s girlfriend had said the same thing to him but he didn’t want to be the first to suggest it.”
So Campbell contacted the dynamic duo, who, lest we forget, had an acting career once before.
“Ah yes, Byker Grove,” Ant McPartlin says with a slow nod of the head, “that was literally the first and last thing we did. So we had to re-learn how to act. We’re so used to hosting that we found ourselves talking through the script like presenters at that first read-through. To Jonny’s credit, he was such a massive help to us every step of the way on this project.”
“Except he made us audition!” Donnelly almost leaps from his seat in mock disgust. “It was like, ‘Great, you’re interested, come along and screen test.’ Oh dear god. But at least it made it real, it’s what we’d been looking for. So we went through a kind of acting boot camp because we didn’t want this to be ‘The Ant & Dec Movie’.”
“I remember thinking ‘this is the Ant & Dec Movie,” says comic and cult movie star Omid Djalili. “I didn’t realise they’d audtioned and everything but then I hadn’t even read the script because I was on tour and putting my Edinburgh show together.”
TF looks Omid square in the eyes and goes for broke. So what were the boys really like? Come on, you can tell us, we won’t share it with (hardly) anyone.
“Yeah, okay. They’re all cunts! Every last one of ‘em!” He bursts into a robust guffaw. “Honestly? I’ve never worked with two such professional people. They were on set early, they knew all their lines. I mean the first read through was shit, they’ll tell you that, really shit but the hard work paid off, they’re really good.”
Djalili is carving out a sweet little niche for himself as a character actor having shamelessly pinched scenes from under the noses of Hollywood’s finest in flicks such as The Mummy, Gladiator and Mean Machine. So how do Ant and Dec shape up in the finished product?
“Dec does some really excellent stuff, really subtle. I worked with Robert Redford and he’d be talking to you right up to the point he hears ‘action!’ Then he snaps into character. Dec is the only other actor who’s done that with me, chatting away about how he’s played football with Peter Beardsley and then snap, we’re into the scene. Amazing.”
Donnelly wafts his hand through the air and feigns modesty. “But I bet Robert bloody Redford hasn’t played football with Peter Beardsley, eh?” The room erupts with cannons of laughter. “I actually know Alan Shearer. Redford can’t say that, can he?”
Despite some shallow hopes that in reality the compact comedy pair aren’t the nice guys they seem to be, they truly are effortlessly likeable in person and you can’t help but wish them success. As Djalili observes, “It’s Ant and Dec for Christ’s sake. I had to do it. I love them. Everybody loves these guys.”
Alien Autopsy hits cinemas on 7 April.