Stephen Mangan: 'At least our kids didn't suffer when we filmed the show'
Not only does Stephen Mangan have the lead role in new comedy Hang Ups, he also co-wrote it, Georgia Humphreys discovers
Stephen Mangan knows full well that remaking a TV show has its risks. After all, the London-born actor spent seven years starring in Episodes, about a British husband-and-wife comedy writing team who take their successful British series to Hollywood, with disastrous results.
But that didn't put him off using the premise of Lisa Kudrow's 2009 comedy Web Therapy to create new (and heavily improvised) Channel 4 sitcom Hang Ups, which he also stars in.
"This is very far from the show they did in the States - not to diss that, it was very successful," reasons Mangan, who turned 50 in May. "Time has moved on and we felt that technology now - the fact we all live on our phones and laptops and devices and there are cameras everywhere - meant things had changed."
Of the inspiration behind the show, he continues thoughtfully: "Also, this country has only recently got to the point where therapy is a thing that people do.
"Everyone doesn't go, 'Oh, why don't you just talk to your best friend?' anymore. Therapy is a more commonplace thing now."
Mangan plays Dr Richard Pitt, who, after the collapse of his previous group therapy practice, has switched to doing weekly quick-fire sessions with his patients over webcam.
From neuroses and phobias to anxieties, there are certainly a lot of issues to deal with when it comes to the few clients on his list, leading to some outrageously funny scenes.
And while his loving wife (played by Katherine Parkinson) is supportive of his new and unconventional approach to therapy, he has the added stress of demanding relatives, errant teenagers and a trouble-filled past while trying to make his practice a success.
As Mangan puts it: "We wanted to show someone whose job is to be there, to be empathetic and listen and be honest with his clients, but who can't seem to do that in his private life."
Creating Hang Ups was a family affair - Mangan co-wrote the six episodes with his brother-in-law Robert Delamere, who also served as director.
Mangan's wife Louise Delamere is the show's producer. The pair, who married in 2007, live in north London with their two sons, aged seven and 10.
"The problem we had was you get obsessed with a job anyway and, if you're both working on it, it's very hard not to talk about it from the minute you wake up until the minute you go to sleep at night," he quips of creating the series as a married couple. "At least the kids didn't suffer."
But working so closely together as a team definitely paid off.
"It was a huge process, because you're not just editing the script that was written, you're trying to make the best version," he elaborates.
"You could literally rewrite the entire thing. We had to take huge chunks out, huge storylines, whole characters had to go. It was like a 1,000-piece jigsaw, but we all chipped in."
Mangan has had many memorable roles over the years, including hit comedies I'm Alan Partridge and Green Wing.
But as well as being his first writing venture, Hang Ups was a chance to challenge himself as an actor, thanks to so many scenes being improvised.
"Sometimes, you get scripts and go, 'Yeah, I can imagine how I'm going to play that, I'm sure it will be fine'. But with this, just before you start rolling, you're thinking, 'Is this going to work? What is everyone thinking?' But it always worked."
Flashing one of his warm, toothy smiles, he adds: "David Tennant does an impersonation of Jerry Hall during one improvisation - the world has to see it."
Tennant is just one in a long list of incredible guest stars in Hang Ups - other patients are played by the likes of Jessica Hynes (W1A), Sarah Hadland (Miranda) and Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones).
Meanwhile, Hollywood star Richard E Grant is Dr Pitt's own therapist, Charles Dance is his dad and Celia Imrie his mum.
And it was a joy giving such an acclaimed cast the chance to ad lib - even if it did mean having to cut 19 hours of material into six 23-minute episodes.
"Sometimes, you can feel as an actor that everything's been decided before you get there - 'Here are the lines, stand there, this is how you're going to play it'," admits Mangan.
"I think it's a shame, because actors are incredibly creative and can come up with stuff you'd never imagine yourself in a million years.
"We wanted them to own it and bring whatever they could to it."
- Hang Ups, Channel 4, Wednesday, 10pm