Danny Wallace: The Yes Man
Danny Wallace is a man of many talents — writer, TV presenter, producer. He talks to Hannah Stephenson about his latest project
What happens to a man who says ‘yes’ to everything? In short, he becomes a best-selling author, finds the girl of his dreams, carves a career as a TV presenter and ends up on a Hollywood set with Jim Carrey.
This is what has happened to Danny Wallace, author of Yes Man, first published in 2005 but now repackaged in time for the release of the film of the same name, starring Jim Carrey in the title role.
Even now Dundee-born Danny, 32, about to embark on a promotional tour in America with Carrey, finds this whole episode of his life quite surreal.
He’s included a new chapter at the end of the latest edition of Yes Man about his experiences in Hollywood.
“Hollywood was great. I got to go on the set and meet all the people. It was surreal turning up and seeing a chair with your name on it,” he says.
“It was made from book to film very quickly. It was amazing seeing it gradually become this bigger, all-American thing.”
Meeting Jim Carrey was also great, he enthuses.
“There he was on the screen and when he left the screen he was suddenly by your side, which didn’t seem to make any sense. From the moment that he appeared, I was chatting away with him and it suddenly seemed very normal.
“Then part of your brain just goes, ‘Hang on, that’s Jim Carrey!’ and you must try not to give that away.”
“We talked about very normal stuff, like what he’d watched on TV, but what is extraordinary is when the cameras are on he turns into Jim Carrey the film star. He throws himself into it.”
In one scene Carrey had to turn around and knock someone’s drink over, Danny recalls.
“I watched him do the scene four or five times because he wasn’t happy with it. He did something quite special and pulled off a classic Jim Carrey moment, which ended up with him fracturing a couple of his ribs.
“The next time I saw him walking by he had
an ice pack and I said ‘It was worth it though’, and he agreed it was totally worth it.”
The original idea for Yes Man came from Danny’s own negative attitude, he admits.
“I was saying ‘no’ a lot and staying in a lot. I was quite happy just to watch TV. My friends would ask me out and I’d say, ‘I can’t, I’m doing something...’ and I would just be watching The Weakest Link. It was a habit I had to get out of.
“Someone said to me, ‘You should say ‘yes’ more and it struck a chord. That was the best thing in the world. It means you take a chance, grab an opportunity. If you say ‘yes’, everything can change. If you say ‘no’, nothing ever changes. Today, he is still saying ‘yes’ more than he used to, he reflects.
“I’ll end up going across town to see a very odd-named band who I would never in a million years have wanted to see and will probably never see again, but you’re as likely to meet the love of your life at a bad party as at a good one. That’s a good way to live your life. Excitement can be just around the corner, hiding in the littlest things.”
His life today is still pretty exciting, he reflects.
“Everyone should say ‘yes’ more, but not to everything or you might end up a broke, penniless alcoholic if you bought every round in the pub that you were asked to. But certainly say ‘yes’ more.”
Danny says the film remains true to the spirit of the book, though there are certain scenes that never happened to him.
“I didn’t ride around doing wheelies on a motorbike, I didn’t talk down a Hispanic man from jumping off a ledge, or play the guitar. But a lot of it comes straight out of the book.”
He was an associ
ate producer of the film and received scripts all the time, he recalls, which led to further ideas, trips to the set and even a cameo role as an extra in a bar scene.
More of his books, including Join Me, in which he started a cult, and Friends Like These, where he tracked down his childhood friends, are also to be made into films.
Danny seems to relish personal challenges, from finding 54 other people called Dave Gorman, in his first book Are You Dave Gorman? written in collaboration with his then flatmate, comedian Dave Gorman, to starting a cult, or rather a ‘collective’, in Join Me.
“It’s the sense that there may be something lacking or needs changing. When I started a cult, I was bored and listless and wanted to see what would happen. It snowballed and became exciting.”
He has also carved himself a successful TV career, as sometime roving reporter on Richard & Judy, presenting the BBC series How To Start Your Own Country, celebrity quiz show School’s Out and Test The Nation with Anne Robinson.
He grew up in Loughborough and Bath and at 18 started writing comedy, before becoming the youngest BBC producer at 22, contributing to Dead Ringers and The Mighty Boosh.
Despite the recent excitement of Tinseltown, he is happiest living in London with his wife, Australian publicist Greta McMahon, who he calls Lizzie in the book and who he met through his Yes Man adventures.
Married life hasn’t changed his outlook, he reflects, although it has brought a sense of stability.
“Things are pretty much the same except that you feel quite content and calm on top of it. It’s great but I still do my projects.”
They would like kids but he is keen to keep his private life private. “Those are the kind of things
we don’t really talk about in interviews. She likes to remain anonymous.”
Hitting 30 was another turning point for Danny and part of the impetus that drove him to seek out old friends for his recent book, Friends Like These.
“Suddenly I had all these trappings of being a grown-up. I had a mortgage and a wife and I was living in a different area of town and eating Brie and basil instead of Dairylea Dunkers and Stella.
“I thought I should look back at how life was, which might help me look forward.”
Later this month he’ll be presenting a Horizon documentary, Where’s My Robot? (it screens on BBC Two on Tuesday December 16) in which he travelled the world to meet roboticists.
Next year he will be doing a lot more writing. There’s a novel on the cards and he’ll be working on several film scripts. But Danny is impossible to pigeonhole.
“I try to find where the fun is and go there and then get asked if I want to have more fun. That’s the way I want my life to go. Follow the fun.”
Yes Man by Danny Wallace, Ebury, £7.99. The film of the book is out on Boxing Day