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Stephen Merchant talks frozen turkey, Samuel L. Jackson's love for The Office and A Boy Called Christmas

Stephen voices Miika the mouse in A Boy Called Christmas

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James King
Film Columnist
December 13, 2021
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Stephen Merchant has melted hearts recently for his voice portrayal of Miika the mouse in A Boy Called Christmas, and the fairy tale festive film is just one of The Office star's many projects, having recently celebrated the success of his BBC series, The Outlaws. But how was it providing the voice work for Miika, and more importantly, just how is Stephen spending Christmas?

HELLO! DIGITAL COVER STORY: Martine McCutcheon's secret to feeling better than ever and the other Christmas film she was almost cast in

As part of our Christmas Digital Issue guest-edited by Martine McCutcheon, our favourite film critic James King chatted to Stephen about this season's most festive film…

WATCH: Stephen Merchant talks all things Christmas in HELLO! exclusive

James: Let's talk about A Boy Called Christmas! What I loved about it is that it has that traditional feel. It's not trying to be kind of tongue in cheek or anything like that. It is a big traditional family Christmas film. How long does it take you to work on a film like that?

I'm voicing Miika the mouse and like you say, yes, it's quite a classic fairy tale. It's the origin story of Santa, which I'm sure has been done before, but I couldn't think of an obvious example of it. People will say to me, 'Any funny stories from the set?' Never went to set. 'What were the other actors like?' Never met them! I'm just in a recording booth, I'm just recording the voice. And that goes on for months and months and months because they can kind of keep calling you back.

a boy called chrsitmas

Stephen plays Nikolas' mouse pal Miika

If a little plot point doesn't quite make sense, they get you to explain it. And then they can animate the mouse later. You end up being one of the last people to finish I think, but what's great about it like this is that I can show up like... I've just got boxers underneath this shot, I'm getting a pedicure. That's the great thing about a voiceover is that no one can see you! You can show up unshaven, unwashed, and in your pyjamas and off you go.

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The downside is that you don't perhaps have that camaraderie that you would have if you were on an actual set with other actual actors. So, there are benefits, but also perhaps it feels a little lonely. Sometimes it does feel lonely. And I think the difficult thing is that you're trying to make a connection. In this case, I'm the mouse friend of young Nicholas, who's the main character, and you must try and establish a relationship with that person who has already filmed all their material that you're seeing for the first time.

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How adorable is his character?!

So, you're trying to connect with this person on screen so it feels like there's some real-world dynamic between you, and I think if I had just gone in and read the script very religiously and just done each line one by one, it might have felt a bit cold. But I think because Gail the director let me play around and improvise a bit and try and ad lib and have a conversation with the actor on screen. Then hopefully it feels a bit more organic.

Have you got many Christmas traditions in the Merchant household? Is there a movie you always watch or something you always do?

We always like to put on a family Christmas film like Die Hard or American Psycho. [Laughs] Some of the work I've done before films and TV, they can sometimes be a bit more adult than perhaps family friendly. So it's quite nice to have family-friendly films or TV stuff that you can watch comfortably with the family at Christmas, particularly my younger niece and nephew.

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Stephen with his partner, Mircea Monroe

And so yes, I like that I like the tradition of Christmas, they will all come round, and I will force them to watch the film. I'll probably give an actor's commentary as we go. Then it's all very traditional, it's Turkey and all the trimmings. Although last year, I got all that planned and then Boris cancelled Christmas. I ended up with an eight-person turkey for just me and my girlfriend, and she doesn't eat turkey. I'm still working through it. I've still got some in the freezer, I might just reheat it this year.

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I don't know if you're going down back to Bristol, but obviously you spent a lot of time there this year making The Outlaws. How was it spending that much time back in your home city?

One of the appealing things about doing the show in Bristol was that thought that I could go back to my hometown. Obviously, in my mind, there'll be a parade when I arrived. And I guess because we were there during COVID I assume that's why it didn't happen. [Laughs]

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Stephen wrote and starred in The Outlaws

I was hoping that I'd spend a lot of time with my family, and reconnect with some old friends. But like I said, because we were there during COVID, I ended up having to isolate myself in this little flat that I'd rented. So instead of it being a kind of family affair, it was my parents coming by and dropping off a roast dinner on a Sunday and then running away.

Did you fight for the chance with The Outlaws to film in some of your favourite places as a teenager?

I made a couple of short films when I lived there. And some of those locations reappeared, particularly down by the dockside. I remember once being down there, trying to make a little film, probably in my teens, and we had these black water pistols that look very much like guns. And we're running around filming and the police pulled up and pulled us over and jumped out the car and said, 'Drop the guns!'

outlaws filming

The show was filmed in Stephen's hometown of Bristol

It was all quite intimidating. I mean, we had a camera and water pistols, so we weren't any real threat. But some of those locations that we've done, we filmed there. We got to use this time for real with proper people filming it. So that was quite nice. I also felt like I knew where the characters would live. I knew what jobs they would be doing. I felt like I still understood the city although it's changed a lot. I understood where the characters came from. And that was quite nice.

There's been lots of celebrity praise about the show. Richard Osmond, Gary Barlow's a big fan as well, which is good to see.

I think he's finally paying me back for using 'Back for Good' in The Office Christmas special.

I was trying to think back to the first bit of celebrity fandom you would have had, because, I guess it would have been for The Office. Do you remember who the first famous person came up to you and said, 'Oh, I love your show'?

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I think it tended to happen more for Ricky because he was the face of the show, whereas I was one of the backroom boys, so I don't think they necessarily would recognise me. But I would occasionally be with him. We ran into Steve Coogan once and he was very complimentary. And we started going to award ceremonies and people would come up, again, people that we admired.

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Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant co-wrote The Office

People that we were big fans of and then Ricky started meeting even bigger names. So, one of the reasons we managed to do Extras and put all these big names for Extras was because Ricky had run into Kate Winslet in an airport or Simon L Jackson on a talk show and said, 'Would you do this show we're doing?'

MORE: Martine McCutcheon's top 10 festive film and TV recommendations

When we heard Samuel L Jackson had seen The Office, I mean, it blew our mind, the idea that he watched the DVD. Sam Jackson in his house, in his slippers, peeling the cellophane off The Office DVD and putting it in the machine just seemed so bizarre to us. And then, of course, David Bowie being the most extraordinary, and again, the idea that those superstars just do something as trivial as watching TV. But of course, they do. What else are they doing? They've got a lot of downtime as well. So, it was a bit of a slow burn.

Gary will be thrilled that there's a series two of The Outlaws already done. It's not just commissioned, it's already made. It's already filmed.

We filmed two series back-to-back because we got shut down like so many other productions because of the COVID pandemic. And then I basically said to the BBC, 'Look, I'm twiddling my thumbs, can I write another series?' We came out and shot two series back-to-back, which, on the page on paper seems lovely and a great vote of confidence, but proved to be an absolute nightmare, as you can imagine, because that was 12 hours of TV. It was relentless and exhausting for everybody.

outlaws cast

The series is returning for season two

But what was good about that is it allowed us to address anything we needed to fix in the scripts for series one that we could resolve in series two, we were able to go back and make changes. So I like to think that the two series really connect together. The second picks up exactly where the first one ended.

So series two is done. You've got time on your hands now so what are you up to now?

I'm so exhausted from having done two series of the show back-to-back. I don't want to complain. It's a very privileged position to be in. I know it does sound like, 'Oh, no, my diamonds are too heavy,' as my girlfriend would say. But I am exhausted. I will just be putting my feet up watching some Christmas films, drinking some eggnog and just relaxing until the new year.

A Boy Called Christmas is available to watch on Sky Cinema and NOW. 

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