You’ve worked with director Debbie Isitt before on the improvised comedy Confetti. Was Nativity! improvised too?
Yes, but it was more locked down. You’re given plot points and a lot of direction. You have to get from A to Z but how you get there is down to you. I liked the pitch – a nativity play, a bit of a love story, a bit of hope and joy for the children. And without a script!
Now you’ve played a school teacher, could you be one?
I’ve always had respect for anyone who wants to get in a room with thirty children and not kill them. I’m a dad in real life and I definitely drew on my own abilities or otherwise to corral children. I’d appeal to the older kids to be an example, to get the job done. Which worked sometimes. Then they’d do what children do and arse about.
Do you mind them stealing the show?
No – the star of the film is the children. I’m more than happy to have the scene stolen by them. There’s something genuinely charming about watching children try their best. There’ll be some people in bits when they watch this.
Were you into drama at school?
I wasn’t in many school plays. When I was I had my mates asking why I wasn’t playing football. I loved it but was embarrassed by it too. The kids in Nativity! have the sense not to be embarrassed. I had a music teacher and a drama teacher who were very encouraging though.
Is acting something you’d recommend to your own kids?
I wouldn’t actively encourage or discourage them. My other half’s an actor too and if you’re the children of actors you’ve got a bit of that in you. But it’s a good life and I’m thankful for it every day.
Are you tempted to work in LA – like your friends Ashley Jensen and Ricky Gervais?
No. I’ve been for focused meetings but I never wanted to go there and wait around. You can do that here. And you do. I’ve worked in the States a couple of times. But I’ve got a family - and a responsibility not to do that to them. What you might like about LA, they might not.
Is any of the character of Mr. Maddens really you?
The bit where my character is all grumpy, not in love with the world and hates Christmas – that wasn’t all acting!
Do you think the tradition of performing nativity plays is still relevant today?
It’s great it carries on. I’m surprised there’s so little filmic nativity action too. I really do think it’s the greatest story ever told. I’m a sucker for the whole story. I’m fascinated by the myth and the truth. Great things happening to the least likely child. If that’s not a parable for a good way to think about life I don’t know what is.