With Derek going global on September 12th with the Netflix release, we've managed to speak to one of the stars who features heavily in the pilot episode – Ruth Bratt, who plays Mary, granddaughter of one of the Broad Hill Care Home residents and also Derek’s admirer.
|Ruth as Mary in the Derek series one finale|
Ruth has appeared in several TV shows over the years including FAQ U on Channel 4, Rob Brydon’s Annually Retentive, The Ministry of Curious Stuff and she has played a number of different roles in BBC Three’s Mongrels. In 2012 she played a major part in the pilot episode of Derek and appeared in a number of episodes throughout series one, which screened in the UK earlier this year.
|Ruth Bratt (source: Gabrielle Motola)|
Ruth is a versatile character actress with an innate flair for comedy and can be seen on the comedy circuit, both doing improvisation and as part of double act Trodd en Bratt. Ruth is recording Trodd en Bratt Say Well Done You in October for BBC Radio 4 and you’ll be able to hear it on air next year.
|Trodd en Bratt (source: Idil Sukan)|
If you’re heading to Edinburgh for this year’s Fringe, don’t miss 'Showstopper! The Improvised Musical' at the Gilded Balloon at 10.30pm from August 2nd to 25th, where you care find out more about Ruth’s talent for impro. Showstopper! will be also be touring nationally in the autumn. Panthercannon is another improvised show starring Ruth, alongside David Armand, David Reed and Andrew Pugsley and can be seen in and around the London area.
Ruth is a huge talent and I couldn’t wait to talk to her:
How did you get the part in Derek?
Charlie Hanson, the producer, came and saw a character comedy night that I was doing, and two days later my agent rang to say I'd got an audition with Ricky Gervais, which was frankly terrifying. I was so early for the audition, I had to go and sit in Waterstones for half an hour. Then I went in, and sat next to a cardboard cut-out of Ricky in the Simpsons - getting silly excited and nervous. But once I met everyone in the room it was just a real giggle. We did the script and then improvised around the characters. I got a good feeling about it when I made Ricky laugh, and then left and put it out of my mind because that's what I try to do so that I don't obsess about things.
Then two weeks later I had a recall, which I was slightly less terrified about - and Kerry [Godliman] was there reading in too, so that was even nicer, because I've known her for years from the stand-up circuit. Again, we made each other laugh a lot and then had a long discussion about Katie Price as a role model for young women. And I left and put it out of my mind because otherwise you drive yourself bonkers while you wait to hear. My fella was much more positive I was going to get it than I was. And then I did. And that was a VERY exciting day.
What was it like on set with a huge array of acting and comedy talent?
It was intimidating at times, but also very comfortable, partly because I've known Kerry, David [Earl] and Brett [Goldstein] for years from doing the Edinburgh festival, and gigging, so that made it all a bit easier. And the atmosphere on set is really friendly - because all the crew have been working together for such a long time and know each other so well. I was up in Edinburgh for the first half of filming the series so missed two weeks (except for the funeral scenes which I flew down to film and then had to fly back up in time for my show - I arrived 20 mins before we were due to start. My comedy partner was being very cool about it, but had been secretly working out how to do a double act on her own) and came back for the second half.
|Ruth as Mary at Derek's birthday party|
What I loved most was nattering with all the old folk. Like Kay who played my nan - she's incredible, used to be a tap dancer and has a WICKED sense of humour; and Tim - he's a real foodie, and always gave me a wink during scenes. One of the most enduring memories I have is during the talent show, when one of the older actors got up to do some songs (as a filler while 'Duran Duran' got changed) and he was incredible. He had a beautiful voice, and a real twinkle, and it turned out (I found out from Margaret, who was a glorious gossip) that he was in the original West End production of Fiddler on the Roof in the 50s. That was just my favourite thing - hearing their stories about their careers and lives - endlessly fascinating, which I guess is one of the messages of the show as a whole. The sequence with them sleeping and then the old photos and footage of divers and the like, that really touched me when I saw it because talking to these older actors who'd been tap dancers and singers, and are still working, you learn so much, and we forget how much there is to learn from older generations sometimes. Sorry that got a bit deep - but I just loved coming into work to have a giggle with Kay!
What was it like being directed by Ricky Gervais?
It was incredibly interesting. Everyone has an opinion about Ricky, and they're not always informed opinions. People have asked me what he's like and when I say, they often don't quite believe me because it doesn't fit their preconception of him. He's a very generous director (although sometimes he's laughing so much off screen it's difficult to continue!) and he's thoughtful and funny (natch).
You played an enviable role in the pilot, how was the character described to you?
Child-like and uncomplicated but with that unerring way of getting to the root of an issue the way kids can. You know, they aren't fooled by the stuff that adults are fooled by, like religion and sex! I loved Mary. She was fun - though at times it was hard to shake off the vacant expression at the end of the day.
Would Ruth also choose Derek over Kev and Dougie?
I'm not sure I'd choose any of them! Derek's too nice for me - I need someone with a bit of edge! Otherwise I reckon I'd walk all over them and then feel bad about myself and end up in therapy. To be honest, you'd end up in therapy if you went out with Kev or Dougie as well...
What important lessons do you think Derek has taught us?
Well, it really taught me to listen to older people. I had such a great time hearing about their lives - that was very inspiring. And personally it taught me that actors don't ever retire!
Did you always want to work in comedy?
In my heart of hearts, yes. But I was all set up to become a human rights lawyer. As a child my favourite shows were comedies. I, of course, remember all the other shows that I had to watch because I had an older brother who always held the remote control (before we had a telly with a remote control he was simply faster at getting to the TV) - you know, Knight Rider, Manimal, CHiPs, Airwolf, The A Team, Dukes of Hazard - but what I loved most was the Kenny Everett Show, French and Saunders, The Young Ones (we had to sneak over to our friend's house to watch that because my mother thought it was rude), Spitting Image (ditto with the sneaking), Morecombe and Wise and Monty Python. They're the things that stick in my head. And I was always drawn to comedy. Even when I went to drama school to become a proper actor. My audition piece was a comedic one; every role I played I found the funny, even when I wasn't supposed to - like in the piece about a soldier and his wife splitting up due to some emotional nonsense, I can't really remember - we just wanted to do it in Marilyn Monroe wigs... Even when I try to be serious, it comes across as funny for some reason. Why fight it? I've stopped now. And as Derek shows, you can do comedy but with real heart. For me the joy of comedy is NOT playing comedy, but playing truth. Truth is the funniest and saddest thing.
Stand-up, impro, theatre or TV, where does your heart truly lie?
I think that's the equivalent of asking someone which child is their favourite! I enjoy stand-up but was aware quite early on that I was never going to work hard enough to be as good at it as I wanted to be - that said, doing character stand-up has been a real joy, and doing a character double act is fantastic. I'm not great at being alone on a stage! Theatre is wonderful for the immediacy, TV is great for the chance to try things differently a few times and then wait and see what the director/editor/producer choose, impro is brilliant for being the ultimate ephemera - it's there and then it's gone forever, never to be seen again. I guess if I were pushed, I would say impro - mostly for what it has brought into my life - my fella, my writing partner, some of my best friends, some of the biggest laughs I have ever laughed...
What are your hopes for your future career?
Just to keep working! I've never wanted fame - it's a poisoned chalice I think. I want to work and make a living out of performing, without having to have a "proper" day job ever again. I was really lucky to be able to give that up a couple of years ago and that's really what I want. I love working. I think you have to in this job because it does take over your life a little bit. Any self-employment does, but this has very anti-social hours. I wouldn't change it though. I don't think I could now. There's no way I could be a human rights lawyer now! At the moment most of my focus is on the Radio 4 show I'm writing and performing with my comedy partner - Trodd en Bratt say Well Done You. That's taking up time - we're recording in October - look out for the free tickets on the BBC website...!
You've appeared in a huge array of TV, radio, stage productions, what has been the highlight of your career to date?
God there are so many! The first TV job I ever got, the first Showstopper we did in a West End theatre, the first time I did Edinburgh, the first time I did stand-up, the first time I did impro... In the last year I have met and worked with some amazing people - some of whom made me want to do this job - like Ricky, and Vic Reeves, and Doon Mackichan. They say never meet your heroes, but all of them have been brilliant to work with. Actually, probably the highlight of my career was the very first day I walked into BBC TV Centre to work. Not just to look around, but to work in it. It's funny how blase I got about it after a few years, but that very first time was unbelievably exciting. It's sad it's gone. I think though you have to look at every job you do as a highlight - and it is. There's a lot of waiting and really hard graft in between the big jobs, so everything becomes exciting and full of possibility.
Who do you most admire and why?
In the world? The Dalai Lama - we'd just done a show in Manchester and were coming back through the station, when a man very nicely asked us to step aside, and then the Dalai Lama and his entourage walked through in front of us. There was a palpable sense of calm and happiness, and when I turned to the rest of the Showstopper cast, each and every one of them had a huge smile. It was quite a thing. Ken Campbell - he just did what he wanted and what he thought was interesting. Nelson Mandela. My mate Mitch - she's 84, she's had a tough, tough life and I have never once heard her say a negative thing, except about a politician who was trying to shut down the care home her disabled son is in - she had strong words about him! - but she remains the most positive, life-filled woman I have ever met. And gave me the best advice I have ever had. I'd been dumped, it was a bad one, and I was really low. She sent me the most wonderful letter saying, essentially, that as a young woman she had gone out with proper wrong 'uns, and had given up hope that she'd ever meet anyone, but then she met her future husband Bob, and realised that "I had found my wizard. And one day you will too." And she was right.
A huge thank you to Ruth for taking the time to answer my questions. You can follow her on Twitter at @ruthbratt and visit her website www.ruthbratt.com. To learn more about Showstopper!, visit www.showstopperthemusical.com.
© M. A. Sibson