Paul Mendelson Interview
My Hero
Page 1, 2, 3, 4

Ryan: What was the inspiration for My Hero?

Paul: I have a friend who is a major international lawyer. His clients are so powerful that they can make unrelenting demands on his time. Twenty-four/seven. This got me wondering about a relationship where the man's job is so all-consuming that his partner has to just like it or lump it. No middle-ground. Like a spy perhaps. Or the Prime Minister. Or a superhero!

In tandem with this, it had always tickled me to think how superheroes spend their off-time. What are their leisure activities, their social lives, their innermost thoughts? And what if circumstances forced them to move to a totally dull and incongruous suburb - because the mortal with whom they fell in love insisted on it? And, more interestingly, what if that mortal loved him for his alter-ego, not for his superpowers?

Ryan: Some wags would say it's just Father Dougal (Ardal O'Hanlon) playing an alien, though I give him more credit than that - George is naïve but not stupid. Was Ardal the first choice to play him?

Paul: You're quite right. Father Dougal would hardly be able to find the world, let alone save it. George only appears stupid to the outside world because he is a visitor from the planet Ultron, an innocent abroad. He simply takes things literally and has no guile or social skills. Why would he need them?

Our first choice for the role was an Australian actor, Craig McLaughlan, famous here for his roles in Neighbours and Bugs and for taking the lead on stage in Grease.

He played George as a naive American hunk and the pilot we made was very funny. Then research suggested that people were confused by having an Australian soap star playing an American in an English sit-com. The BBC Head of Comedy, who had produced Father Ted, suggested Ardal. I can only say I was thrilled when he agreed to take on the role (he had been offered countless sit-coms after Father Ted) and am even more thrilled now that he is actually playing it. It takes a brilliant actor to make you not just accept the George Sunday/ThermoMan character - but to care.

Ryan: What are we going to see in the second series of 'My Hero'?

Paul: Wilder stuff, I think. Combined with the domestic upsets, we have a couple of episodes that veer more into the realms of science fiction. (An angry fiancée from the Planet Ultron, who makes Xena the Warrior Princess look like Mother Theresa; an evil arch-enemy who takes over the body of Piers, the egocentric Health Centre G.P.)

On the romantic side we have a wedding and a baby, but not necessarily in that order. But it is an Ultron pregnancy - I won't say any more. And I guarantee the wedding isn't your typical English nuptial.

I think we've given our subsidiary characters more in this series. The appalling Mrs. Raven has come to symbolise doctors' receptionists everywhere. She really comes into her own this time round. And we've put the weird "spaced-out" Tyler in the health shop, to ensure that George never gets any customers to interfere with his work!

Ryan: How do you and your writing partner, Paul Mayhew-Archer, collaborate on scripts?

Paul: It was less planned than organic. I wrote the first series, then Paul came on board as script editor. He worked on the scripts then I worked on his pass and we decided it made sense to share the credits. He is a good friend and an excellent writer. For the second series I wrote three scripts, he wrote two and then we worked on each other's drafts. And so on. So although we had meetings, we never actually sat together and wrote. (We live miles away from each other)

The first time I actually did sit and work with another writer was in Los Angeles this January with Stan Daniels, and I loved every minute of it.

In America you are very used to the collaborative process - because of the number of episodes you have to do per year. And because the studios can afford to pay lots of writers. In the U.K. it still has aspects of a cottage industry and many of us write alone. This is possibly why I write almost entirely in cafes (except when I put it on the computer). After nearly twenty years in advertising, I miss the company. I get through a lot of tea in a week!

Ryan: As a writer, have you ever been frustrated trying to pitch a new show to the Beeb but instead got the reaction, "Well this My Hero is nice, but we'd rather have another series of May To December instead." Or is it all the same to you?

Paul: It certainly isn't all the same. There are shows I really want to write and others I would have to be dragged screaming to do. I think you have to have the series inside you or it's going to come out looking pretty strained. I remember after May To December had run its course that a new chap came along, someone well versed in alternative comedy. I thought I would try to pitch something a bit different to him, maybe more his style. So I wrote possibly the first Biblical sit-com - Moses, The Wilderness Years, which I felt was suitably offbeat. The production company who ended up making My Hero really wanted to do it. But the response was "it's pretty funny, but Paul should write things that are more May To December!" You can't win. But maybe after My Hero I can be accepted as a writer who doesn't just do suburban sofa sit-com. (Mind you, come to think of it, My Hero is suburban sofa. It just happens to have an alien sitting on it.) So any takers for Moses?

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