SFX Issue 121

September 2004


Chris Barrie

Rimmer, Red Dwarf

It’s the red light for the Red Dwarf movie, at least for the time being...

This time last year, Chris Barrie didn’t think he’d be sitting here talking to SFX in an overpriced and tastelessly carpeted London hotel. He thought he’d be in Australia, learning his lines while overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge, reciting things like “You smeghead!” while bikini-clad Antipodeans fanned his hot legs with copies of Red Dwarf Smegazine.

But, in the words of Jazzie B and Doug Naylor, back to reality. The Red Dwarf movie – due to film down under – didn’t happen this year, despite the high hopes of all involved and during that year, most of us gave up hope. It’s now five years since Red Dwarf gasped its TV last and each year that passes means the likelihood of a properly budgeted movie being made becomes more remote. But things are still going on, as Barrie can testify, his agent being one of the producers of the film.

“I’m not told every sentence from every meeting with the money men,” Barrie tells SFX, “but I’ve got a pretty good idea about what sort of reactions are going on, what sort of thoughts are there from people who are about to sign a cheque for a large amount of cash. Originally – and understandably – they’ve been saying, ‘Well, these guys aren’t even big names now in British television, let alone in the movie world, so why don’t we make it with…?’ I dunno, at the time it was Brad Pitt. There’s a new generation coming along all the time.”

Barrie is cautiously optimistic that a Red Dwarf movie will eventually happen, but in what form he’s more reluctant to admit. Red Dwarf’s charm has always been its somewhat punky irreverence and he knows that if they secured a large budget the men in suits would wield a little too much power.

“The Red Dwarf fans, some of them even like the flapping sets of the first series,” he says, “and anything CGIish, they say, ‘Forget it. Keep it to the bunkbed and the dialogue!’ That’s really the heart and soul of Red Dwarf. We can’t start competing with The Matrix and X-Men and all that. I think the film, if and when, will have the same kind of balance between dialogue-driven plot and FX as the early to mid TV series. Obviously it’ll be filmic, with the big screen in mind. It won’t be like the Cannon and Ball movie!”

So, does the fact that the talk is only over a new Dwarf movie mean that any new TV project is dead? Barrie claims a new TV series simply isn’t being talked about.

“At the moment, we’re in a period where something like Red Dwarf is just too expensive to put on,” he says. “For one series of Red Dwarf they can have ten series of Have I Got News For You, or something like that. But more and more people are getting fed up with gardening programmes and DIY programmes and reality programmes, so I think maybe we’re coming out of that now. What we need is someone to come into the BBC and say, ‘Hey, let’s do a Red Dwarf special!’ You’ve got a guaranteed audience and a team that are gagging to make the show!”

The future of both of Barrie’s SF franchises looks decidedly dodgy with the performance of last year’s – deep breath now – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life being unimpressive. Barrie’s role as Lady C’s stiff-lipped butler could have been his pension plan had first Simon West and then Jan de Bont not ballsed up the franchise so expertly. Barrie says the producers of the Tomb Raider films want a new one but the money men, unsurprisingly, aren’t too keen.

“The second film didn’t do that well,” he says, with nary a hint of sadness about it. “Even the DVDs didn’t do quite as well as they were hoping. And of course there’s Angelina Jolie’s situation herself; no-one knows what her next move is movie-wise. But the vibe coming from her was that she was wanting to wind down her movie career and concentrate on family life.”

What did he think of the second film?

“I thought the second film was better. It had more of a James Bond-y feel to it. I thought the first one was too one-level. It was too much clinical action with not enough light and shade. I think they could have had a bit more humour in it, and developed the spin-off stories a little more. It had some good sequences in it. But it was always going to be difficult to do a movie based on a high-profile computer game like that and, to be honest, I don’t think it hit the mark. I think I can say, though, at the moment there’s nothing in my diary with the words Tomb Raider on it.”

One thing Barrie claims to know little of is the mooted return of Spitting Image. Created in 1984, the brutally satiric puppet show reinvigorated a long-moribund satire scene and gave the 24 year-old Barrie his big break. Rested in 1996, its talked-about revival seems timely. He claims that he still does mimicry (“I do William Hague and Tony Blair,” he says), but thinks that his days of making a living doing it may be behind him.

“As a mimic, you’re probably strongest in your twenties up until your late thirties,” he says. “Beyond there, something happens. I mean, you still have the talent to mimic people, but I’m not hungry about it like Alastair McGowan might be. I don’t know if I’d be right. Some of these young guys who are quite hot to trot would probably be more useful in that area. It’ll be interesting to see what the new puppets and the new caricatures are like, though!”