Playing a David Walliams villain comes naturally, says Jennifer Saunders
Walliams’s fun family tale will also share an important message about dementia.
Actress Jennifer Saunders has joked that playing a villain “comes naturally” to her as she takes on a role as the evil manager of an old people’s home.
She will portray Miss Dandy in a festive television adaptation of David Walliams’s 2015 novel Grandpa’s Great Escape, alongside Sir Tom Courtenay as a Second World War flying ace with Alzheimer’s disease.
He and his devoted grandson Jack (Kit Connor) embark on a mission to escape Miss Dandy’s clutches at the Twilight Towers home and reunite grandpa with his beloved Spitfire.
Speaking of the BBC one-off special, airing on New Year’s Day, Saunders said: “I love playing villains – they’re so much more interesting than nice people. It’s so easy, it comes naturally.
“Miss Dandy is the sort of person you’d hope would never be in charge of an old people’s home, but great fun because of that.
“She’s a self-serving psychopath with very few redeeming features … I think the fact that her tool of choice is a cattle-prod says a lot about her mentality.”
The role will mark a contrast to her other key Christmas television appearance, reliving her hit comedy sketch series with Dawn French in their 30th anniversary clip spectacular, 300 Years Of French And Saunders.
Commenting on a role that touches on a sensitive and hard-hitting subject, Sir Tom said: “I had to do my best to imagine what it may be like to live with Alzheimer’s.
“I took some inspiration from Pauline Collins’s role in Quartet, and I also know many families who have been touched by Alzheimer’s – it’s increasingly difficult these days to find someone who hasn’t been affected by it in some way.”
Walliams, who steps in as Jack’s father Barry, said he was thrilled by the casting of Bafta-winning Sir Tom in his leading role.
Describing himself as a long-time fan of the Dad’s Army star, 80, Walliams said: “We’ve been chatting for a long time, and sending each other pictures of our dogs.
“I’ve loved him forever, and it’s very special when you meet someone who’s a bit of a hero of yours and it turns out they want to get to know you too.
“It’s been really good fun, and we leave each other little presents in one another’s dressing rooms. I’ll leave him some chocolates and he’ll leave me a book of poetry – because it turns out I’m a feeder and he wants me to be a little bit more intellectual.”
As well as the comical entertainment, Walliams added his hopes that the story will also have an emotional impact.
“I hope that people might be more sympathetic to those with Alzheimer’s or similar conditions,” he said.
“I hope they might think a little more about the incredible sacrifice people made during the Second World War.
“I hope they’re entertained, I hope they’re moved and I hope they ultimately treasure their grandparents a little bit more, because I think time spent with your grandparents is a very precious time.”
:: Grandpa’s Great Escape will air on BBC One at 6.55pm on January 1.