Interview: Paul Kaye and Jonathan Glazer

Photos: Debbie Whitmore
Interview: Jared Wilson
Thursday 08 November 2007
reading time: min, words

"We just had the time of our lives. Studying art here was amazing in every respect, creatively, sexually and alcoholically"


The Art and Design department at Nottingham Trent Uni has a history of famous graduates. Over the last decade it has handed degree certificates to musicians Scout Niblett and Simon from The Klaxons, as well as Turner Prize winning artist Simon Starling. But this is no new trend. Twenty years ago both Paul Kaye, actor famed for his role as TV’s Dennis Pennis, and Jonathan Glazer, hot British film director of Sexy Beast and many cool music videos, both chucked their mortar boards in the air on Shakespeare Street and went for a beer. The duo have only worked together professionally briefly (in scenes for Glazer’s Work of the Director compilation), but they’re old mates and two decades on they came back to open up the degree show for their old school. We caught up with them for a chat…

So you two were mates when you studied together in Nottingham?
Kaye: From before actually…
Glazer: Yeah. We knew each other in London when we were about fifteen and then we lived together when we came to Uni. We lived in a little place on Forest Road West. I understand that road has become quite notorious for something else since.

What do you remember most fondly about your time in Nottingham?
Kaye: Well, we just had the time of our lives. Studying art here was amazing in every respect, creatively, sexually and alcoholically.
Glazer: Those were our formative years…

Where did you used to go out?
The Garage, which was in the Lace Market (now the Lizard Lounge).
Kaye: We used to frequent The Hippo on Bridlesmith Gate too (which later became The Bomb).

Jonathon, let’s talk a bit about your music videos. Being part of the Work Of The Director series must have been an honour… 
Glazer: It was great. I know a couple of the other guys involved in that series and I think we were part of what was a key time in terms of music video. It was a period which allowed you to be fully creative. There was a lot of opportunity for artists to take risks and that gives you the chance to try a lot of things out. Music video seems to be much more business-orientated these days.

Sexy Beast was named the fifteenth best British film of alltime by Total Film magazine...
Glazer: Has someone seen them all then? There must be at least fifty thousand! It’s more like fifteenth out of the ones they could remember on that day. Polls schmolls.

Your next film was Birth. That was considered a bit more of an arthouse effort…
Glazer: Yeah. It was definitely more personal. That was a whole new set of experiences for me and the reaction from audiences was certainly different. I’m not one to find something and keep on doing it forever.

When you were doing cool music videos for people like Radiohead and Massive Attack did you pick them or did they pick you?
Glazer: It’s a bit of both really. You kind of find each other. Sometimes you meet someone in a bar and get chatting, other times you get sent a track by a record label and asked to do
something. It’s never the same way really…

So what are you working on at the moment?
Glazer: A science fiction film set in Scotland called Under The Skin. It’s based on a book by Michael Faber, but as a starting point really. The film should be very different. We’ve been
working on the script for the last two years and I’m just about to go into the prep stage.

Paul, do you get sick of people asking you about Dennis Pennis?
Kaye: No, not really. It was my foot in the door and I’ll always be proud of it. At the time I was doing it I had no plans to forge an acting career so I didn’t care who I pissed off. That was kind of useful as everyone who has tried a similar thing since has got a bit cosy with the celebs and are essentially paying guests to take the piss out of them.

So who do you think are the others that have done it since? Ali G? Dom Joly?
Kaye: I think they would certainly have been influenced by it. I do know them both a bit too. I really liked Dom’s stuff particularly. He put poetry back into comedy by doing all that slowed down stuff, which was something I hadn’t seen in a long time. I also really liked his record collection. Sasha is doing particularly well. I don’t think there has been a global comedy
phenomenon like Borat ever, so good luck to him!

What are your favourite moments of being Dennis Pennis?
Kaye: There was loads of hanging about. I was pissed most of the time I was doing it. The hip flask and the microphone were my two main accessories. Because it was shown on a Sunday morning there was a whole different set of regulations. It was only ten years ago, but you weren’t even allowed to use the word ‘twat’ back then. My favourite one ever was probably the astrologer Russell Grant. I asked him if he could read palms. He said ‘Of course I can,’ so I said ‘What does that say then?’ and I had ‘Fuck off you fat cunt’ written on my hand. Sadly they never used the footage.

I read that you regret doing the Steve Martin stunt (Pennis asked Steve Martin at a film launch why he ‘wasn’t funny anymore’)?
Kaye: I said that at the time, but to be honest I think I was right after all. Any comedian who rates his chances of improving on The Pink Panther or Bilko is a knob.

Since then you went on to more serious roles such as the TV series Two Thousand Acres Of Skye.
Kaye: I didn’t know what to do with myself after Pennis. I was unemployable as I’d pissed off a lot of potential employers. So I got offered a part in this Sunday night drama, which the last thing I expected to do. That was like my own acting school for two years. I also had loads of fun and made a lot of new friends. It put my career in a direction which was nothing like I’d imagined. It got me into film…

You went on to do Blackball and It’s All Gone Pete Tong
Kaye: Yeah. Blackball bombed bad at the box office! I think Pete Tong was a decent film and was definitely worth doing, but I wouldn’t have got that part if I hadn’t done Blackball. So it all worked out in the end I suppose.

What are you up to nowadays?
Kaye: The Strutter show that I’ve been doing on MTV has been fun. I’ve just finished filming the second series and he’s a really interesting, yet horrible character. I’ve written a film called Born, which is going to be made this autumn. I wrote it with myself in mind to play the main part, but they couldn’t raise any money with me attached so Paul Bettany has been cast. I’m in the next series of Pulling on BBC2 and I’m also going to be in a Channel
4 sitcom set in a recording studio. But this is probably the first time in twelve years that I know what I’m doing next. Usually I finish a job and the phone doesn’t ring for two months and I think my career is over.

Any chance that you’ll ever resurrect Mr Pennis?
Kaye: No. There was talk of it a few years ago, but I think it was probably because I didn’t have anything else to say. It had a real spontaneity about it as it wasn’t planned and was probably successful because of that. But for me there’s no way I’m going to be standing in the rain in Leicester Square again, waiting around to piss people off.


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