Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Exclusive Interview with Doc Brown - Derek's Deon

Derek Episode 5 comes to Channel 4 tomorrow night and there is a new arrival at Broadhill Retirement Home – Community Service worker, Deon. He arrives just in time for cabaret night and, without teasing you too much, he may well steal the show thanks to the multi-talented actor who plays him - Doc Brown aka Ben Bailey Smith.

Doc Brown aka Ben Bailey Smith comes to Derek Episode 5

So who is Doc Brown? If you don’t know, you certainly should that's for sure. He began his career in 2000 as a battle rapper, competing in live events and becoming a recurring battle champion on the scene. Through his hard work and dedication, battling led to some fantastic opportunities and Doc rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in the industry. He has worked with Mark Ronson and has also performed alongside the likes of Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen.

2007 was a turning point for the rapper as he switched his attention to comedy. In both writing and performing, he is as unique an act as he is entertaining – original British comedy at its very best. I know this first hand after watching him only recently at Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival. Doc is celebrated in comedy circles and has performed at some of the industry's biggest events including the prestigious Tartan Ribbon at the Edinburgh Festival.

Doc Brown in action

But Doc’s comedy isn't just stand up as he has graced our screens in the acclaimed BBC series ‘Rev’ and ‘Miranda,’ and you’ll no doubt remember him as the drug dealer in Channel 4’s ‘The Inbetweeners.’ Doc has also voiced characters in CBBC series ‘Big Babies’ and he co-created, co-wrote and co-starred in the BAFTA-award winning comedy-drama “The Four O’clock Club.’ Moving onto film, Doc was in Ben Miller’s ‘Huge’ and co-starred in the thriller ‘Other Side of the Game.’

So for a married man with two kids who raps, writes, acts, performs, produces and even runs his own production company (Bust-A-Gut Ltd), there is certainly never a dull moment in the life of Doc Brown. He’s worked hard to get to the position he is in and now that he is about to star in the latest installment of Derek, I couldn't wait to speak to him.

Can you introduce Deon for our audience?
Deon is a young, slightly paranoid guy who’s recently been sentenced to community service for shoplifting. He has reluctantly arrived at Broadhill as part of his penance. Underneath the hard man exterior, we sense there may be a sensitive soul lurking and Derek is determined to coax it out!

Deon makes his entrance into Broadhill Residential Home

How did you get the part in Derek?
I have a promoter friend I work with who knows Ricky and had been trying to get him to watch my stand up on YouTube. He gave Ricky my number, Ricky called my phone directly, asked if I was a “real Doctor”. Initially I thought it was some kind of prank cos he was doing voices and stuff, then he was like “no seriously, it’s Ricky Gervais.” I said to myself, okay- whatever this dude asks next, just say yes. He could've asked me to play the arse of a pantomime horse in his next movie, I would've been like, “where do I sign?” Instead he asked me point blank did I wanna go on tour with him. When he first sat in the wings at his show, watching me live, I think something just clicked in his brain and he knew he wanted to work with me on other stuff. So we were in Oslo- he told me about the TV show he was working on and thought he might've just worked out a way to crowbar me into it…

Is this the first time you've worked with Ricky? What was he like as a Director?
If you count the tour, it’s the second time I’ve worked with him. As a director the guy is like a big kid- he just wants to play and improvise as much as possible and enjoy the time on set. So he would just encourage me to make stuff up on the spot. He’d give you so much confidence that by the end, I was just trying to see if I could ruin the takes by making him laugh. If you watch the talking heads towards the end of my ep, the viewer wouldn’t know this but it’s literally Ricky sat on one side of the camera as if he’s the interviewer I’m looking at, and I’m just making the shit up on the spot. I actually had a speech prepared and totally forgot it coz I was nervous. Ricky was like “just tell me how you feel about working at Broadhill,” so I just waxed lyrical on camera until I had him snorting to mask the laughter. I think because he’s such a joyful comedian and actor himself, as a director he knows what performers need in order to deliver with confidence. With Ricky the whole vibe is like- if it’s not fun, why bother?

Ricky has said, and I quote, that you’re “amazing in Episode 5” - are you proud of such compliments?
I was at the Montreal Comedy Festival writing ideas for the ep to email to Ricky, I figured maybe the producers would be like “thanks for your email” or whatever, but Ricky hollered straight back at me direct like “this stuff is incredible.” I showed the email to my brother, my best friend and my wife and I was just overawed. I felt like, this is what you do it for- for the enjoyment and the respect of your peers or in this case, heroes. I mean the dude was literally a game-changing hero of comedy to me for over a decade, now he’s complimenting me- it’s difficult to fully describe the sense of pride.

You left the world of music to concentrate on acting and comedy, can I ask why?
I hit rock bottom. When I was at my most productive in Rap- 2005ish- the scene was nowhere near as big as it is today. We have bonafied, international UK Rap superstars now. There was no proper industry back then, and quality artists suffered. I remember doing gigs in ramshackle pubs and venues with people like Estelle, Roots Manuva, Foreign Beggars… No one really believed UK Rap could ever be a “thing”. I remember performing to about 25 people in a pub in Kensal Rise with Ed Sheeran and Maverick Sabre! It just wasn't something that the wider music industry took seriously. After I got a taste of the big time as the rapper in Mark Ronson’s band, I just couldn't bring myself to go back to underground Rap so I just drifted into nothingness- the dark recesses of the soul. I didn't quit to concentrate on acting or comedy. I felt I had no future in entertainment full stop. I achieved nothing but depression for nine months. Comedy was a complete and utter accident, acting followed.

What are your goals for your future career?
I want to be involved in classic television, which is already happening to some extent. The kids show I created [4 o’clock Club] won a BAFTA, I’ve been in the Inbetweeners, Rev and Derek- only quality comedy, and Hunted [Cinemax HBO/BBC] was a proper high brow drama. Next I wanna make movies, also my company, Bust-A-Gut Productions, places music in TV and Film, as well as developing young screenwriting talent, particularly from the black community- it’s a tiny business I run with my wife so I’d love to see that grow.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?
There’s a big three I think and they’re all live related: Performing with Amy Winehouse on the Ronson tour is something I think I’ll always cherish. At her best she was the greatest talent I've ever seen, plus she was always so nice to me on a personal level- those are memories I’ll always hold dear. Performing at the Royal Albert Hall with the 90-piece BBC philharmonic Orchestra recreating one of my rap tracks at the Proms was something that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck- I’ll never forget that feeling. Lastly, the moment I walked out on stage in front of Ricky for the first time- I had all this material prepared and there was a 20-person argument in the front row over tickets and seats. I had to scrap the material and deal with this seating issue, but there was something spontaneous and hilarious about it- I could see Ricky cracking up in the wings. I gave a big sigh, and told the audience from the heart, “This is the biggest night of my comedy life, I’m performing in front of one of my heroes, Ricky Gervais, the undisputed King of Comedy… and I’m fucking ushering.” The roof came off and the next 20 minutes were sublime.

Who is your hero in the entertainment world?
I’m honestly not saying this coz it’s a Derek-related interview but Ricky is right up there and always was, 10 years before I met him. It’s not just because of his talent, it’s because of his work ethic and the way he insists on ownership and the rights to all his work. He’s a true auteur and renaissance man which is all I ever wanted to be. Jay-Z is another I've always looked up to for a lot of the same reasons as Ricky. My sister, the novelist Zadie Smith, is probably my biggest hero in the business though. She was the first to show me that anything is possible.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to be where you are now?
You need a little bit of talent and a hell of a lot of patience and hard work. When I blow up, people will be like “oh, who’s this overnight celebrity?” Nah mate, I've been working on this since the first rhymes I wrote as a 13 year old. That’s two decades man- I've put the hours in, trust me!

Can you tell us something about Doc Brown people wouldn't already know?
I wrote all the raps for the movie Attack the Block… Oh yeah- I've got an NVCQ Level 3 in Youth Management which means if this show business thing dies on it’s arse, I can legally open my own Youth Club.

With so many strings to your bow, you always seem to be busy. What do you do to relax?
I am always busy- I don’t sleep much! My downtime is spread across three things: My kids, football (playing Sunday league and watching Crystal Palace) and raving to my favourite DJs. Those three things keep me young, I swear!

And finally, after seeing the teaser for this week's Derek - Will Smith or 2Pac?
Hahaha. Pac all day yo! “Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell records/But I do. So fuck him and fuck you too!”

And for those that haven't seen the teaser for tomorrow's episode, here it is:

A huge thank you to Doc Brown for taking the time to talk to tadpolehitler.com. If you haven’t seen him live, I would personally recommend you do - visit www.docbrown.co.uk for the latest tour dates. You can also catch him in the next series of ITV1’s Law and Order and for those who like to tweet, follow him at @docbrown88.

But obviously you can catch Doc, as Deon, tomorrow night in Derek at 10pm on Channel 4. Straight after the episode Channel 4 are showing 'The Making of Derek' so fans are in for an hour-long treat this week!

© M. A. Sibson
Twitter: @tadpole_hitler

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