'No other writer has succeeded in creating such an amazing body of work'
David Walliams tells of his passion for all things Agatha Christie ahead of his role in BBC's new adaptation of Partners In Crime
Little Britain star David Walliams trades comic relief for Cold War peril in the BBC's upcoming adaptation of Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime. The 43-year-old plays bee-keeper turned amateur spy Tommy, whose relationship with his wife is as intriguing as the Soviet conspiracy itself. The dad-of-one talks about being a lifelong Christie fan, punching above his weight and James Bond fantasies.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN AN AGATHA CHRISTIE FAN?
Yes. I saw the movie of Murder On The Orient Express aged about eight, and was completely blown away by the story - I certainly didn't see the twist coming, I was really haunted by it for a long time afterwards. No other writer has succeeded in creating such an amazing body of work. I read Christie's biography recently, and you get the sense of a brave, lovely lady who could somehow dream up these terrible murders. These stories are always going to thrill people.
WHAT DOES THE ROLE OF EXECUTIVE PRODUCER ENTAIL?
The reason I am executive producer is because I came to the owners of Christie with the idea of bringing Tommy and Tuppence to a new TV audience. I said, 'Look, no-one is doing these stories and perhaps we can have a slightly different take on it than has been done before. We can have some humour and make a little bit more of Tommy and Tuppence's relationship.' I have been involved for the last couple of years, meeting writers, that sort of thing. It seems strange because I am used to being on the other side of it, to being rejected. I've really enjoyed it. It's something totally different for me and I love a new challenge.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO ADAPT PARTNERS IN CRIME IN PARTICULAR?
There was something that really appealed about the idea of a husband and wife detective duo. I thought there was something really delicious at the centre of it. There are Agatha Christie's brilliant plots, but there's also a human story. These were characters who are not geniuses; they're normal people.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT TOMMY AS A CHARACTER?
I like that he has to defer to Tuppence. A lot of viewers will recognise the situation of the woman being in charge; Tuppence is definitely running the show. She's more intelligent and heroic than Tommy is, just like women tend to be in real life. I think Tommy's punching above his weight with Tuppence. She's an incredible catch; very glamorous, intelligent and forthright.
DID YOU ENJOY PLAYING A MIX OF COMEDY AND DRAMA?
Early on we were thinking that the drama and the jeopardy had to be real; we didn't want to be parodying the Christie world. The bad guys really are bad and people really do get killed, but there's some humour within the relationship between married people trying to go on this adventure together.
WHY ARE DETECTIVE STORIES SO POPULAR?
You're a very active viewer when you're watching a detective story, because you're trying to piece it together too - you're trying to second guess the ending. People like gristly stories as well, they like murders.
ARE YOU UP FOR DOING A DAVID SUCHET AND PLAYING A CHRISTIE CHARACTER FOR 25 YEARS?
Yes, but there are only five Tommy and Tuppence novels, so we're going to have to invent a lot. If people still want to see them in 25 years, it would be wonderful.
WHAT WAS YOUR BEST DAY ON SET?
It was fun filming in Cromer in Norfolk, because we had a live audience - basically everyone who lived in Cromer came to watch. It was quite surreal; I'm very big in Cromer, but nowhere else.
HOW DID YOU FIND THE RESETTING OF THE TOMMY AND TUPPENCE NOVELS IN THE FIFTIES?
I've always liked the Fifties and I've always been quite obsessed with Hitchcock films whose golden period was around then. I believe there was a sudden explosion of positivity after the Second World War, so it's a good period to set these stories in. The problem with bringing Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence stories to screen is that she wrote them between the 1920s to the 1970s and the characters age within that time. The books however feel contemporary, so we decided to put the story somewhere in the middle and I think it works rather well.
HOW CHALLENGING IS IT TO FILM OUT OF SEQUENCE?
The challenge of filming these stories is that they are extremely complex. In every single scene there is a turn, something changes, something you thought was true isn't, or someone who was under suspicion isn't. It's constantly evolving, so you really need to keep on top of it. Basically you need to read the script thoroughly in advance and not all actors do that!
HAVE YOU HAD ANY MAJOR CHALLENGES WHILE FILMING?
The weather was the biggest challenge because we were filming through the autumn and winter with a lot of exterior locations and some days it just rained all day. It's odd having to still act like you're having fun. These things happen. I've never had to use a gun as a prop before or grapple with a 1950s Morris Minor or drive an antique motorbike. At the end of the day, you know all these challenges make it interesting.
DID YOU ENJOY DOING STUNTS?
The stunts were great because I've always loved the James Bond films, and I've never been in anything like that. We had to do a stunt outside the Ritz, so we filmed at about six o'clock on a Sunday morning. We had to stop the traffic for about a minute, and there were still angry cabbies yelling at us.
- Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime begins on Sunday, July 26 on BBC One