Swimming with Men star talks synchronised swimming and mid-life crises
'When we did The Trip to Italy, I always remember Steve [Coogan] would go, "Stop here, I'm getting out", and he'd dive from the top of the boat and then he'd go on a rock and he'd want you to film him. I could never do that', laments Rob Brydon. 'I was always confident in the water but with no real technique'. That clearly had to change in time for Brydon's latest film, Swimming with Men, a comedy drama about a man called Eric who suffers a mid-life crisis and finds unlikely solace among a group of all-male amateur synchronised swimmers.
'They meet because he notices them having a problem with one of their formations', explains Brydon. 'Eric, being an accountant and great with numbers, can figure it out. And he says, "Well actually it's because you need to be one less", and the chaps in this group have a think about it and they realise they don't have to be one less, they could be one more'.
Happily, Eric's mid-life crisis is not an experience that Brydon can directly relate to. 'Perhaps in an existential sense, as in you get to a certain age and you think you can see the end in sight, hopefully a long way away. But when you're younger you can't even envisage it. You think other people have made a mistake! But no, not, "Oh god, where am I? I'm not where I want to be". I mean, I had that when I was a lot younger, career-wise, in my early to late 30s. I think the difference is, with Eric, he doesn't really know where he wants to be whereas I always knew, I could always see what the prize was. I just couldn't figure out how to get to it'.
In person, Brydon is as affable and funny as you'd hope. He's a supremely engaging storyteller and, pleasingly, he embellishes his tales with the kind of spot-on impersonations he's renowned for. One of his earliest creations is the sublimely naive Keith Barret from Brydon's one-man mockumentary series, Marion and Geoff. Barret, a painfully wistful character who delivers monologues from his taxi about his failing marriage, is one of TV's great creations and it's a shame we'll likely never see him on screen again. 'I kind of feel, as I do with Gavin and Stacey, that it's done. It's lovely, let's not spoil it'. Brydon briefly resurrected the character for a spoof chat show on stage and TV before leaving him behind, probably for good. 'Some years went by and I toured but when I started to do stand-up as myself I remember thinking, "This can't be anything like Keith". And so I went too far the other way, trying to make it a little bit cool, and it really wasn't me. And I realised that a lot of what I did as Keith was just my comic persona anyway, so I let a lot of that back in'.
The Trip series, in which he and Coogan play fictionalised versions of themselves as they sample haute cuisine across the north of England, Italy and Spain, has given Brydon the opportunity to play around further still with his persona. And it's something he's done before in the somewhat overlooked Rob Brydon's Annually Retentive, a panel show parody in which he played an exaggeratedly nasty version of himself. But it seems he's no longer interested in exploring his dark side. 'Not any more. I think I was, but not so much now. I sort of feel Annually Retentive was a poor man's Larry Sanders Show, ultimately; however, there's some great stuff in it. In fact it was doing that that made me want to then present a panel show because I really enjoyed that part of it, so in a way that sort of lead to Would I Lie to You because, although it was some years later, it gave me a taste for it, definitely'.
He thinks it's inevitable that there will be a fourth Trip. And he has some unusual and perhaps not entirely serious ideas about how they could resolve the most recent one's unlikely cliffhanger. 'I'm hoping [Coogan's character has] died because I think it would be lovely if it was just me travelling around'. Assuming Coogan's character survives, Brydon's enthused by the suggestion of a trip around Scotland; but also: 'I like the idea of me abseiling in to rescue him, like Rambo, and I put him over my shoulder and climb back out with him'. He considers the idea more earnestly for a moment. 'I sort of fluctuate between thinking, "Let's leave it now as a trilogy", which is appealing, but it's also appealing to think of us just carrying on and getting older because we already look a lot older in the Spanish one than we did in the first one'.
Cast: Rob Brydon, Rupert Graves, Adeel Akhtar, Jim Carter, Jane Horrocks, Thomas Turgoose, Daniel Mays, Charlotte Riley
UK release: 6 July 2018
Eric (Brydon) is a melancholy accountant in middle life who joins a synchronised swim team at his local pool. This ultra-low-budget offering has a game ensemble who work terrifically well as wisecracking comrades, and Riley as good as their tough coach. It may be The Full Monty with nose clips and goggles but it keeps…