IF ever a role was made for an actor, it’s Mackenzie Crook as Worzel Gummidge.
The Bafta winner writes, stars and directs the new BBC1 adaptation of the classic children’s book which will be shown for the first time this Christmas.
And it wasn’t exactly tough for him to get into character as the loveable scarecrow.
Speaking to The Sun, Mackenzie says: “I’ve always played quirky roles and he’s the ultimate quirky character, so I was born to play him.
“Also, there’s a bit of a resemblance. You can’t play a scarecrow if you’re a portly gentleman, let’s say.”
With his slim physique, scruffy facial hair and strong West Country accent, it’s clear why Mackenzie was immediately sounded out for the project by Executive Producer Kristian Smith, who worked with the actor on his comedy Detectorists.
Kristian, who acquired the rights to the Worzel novels by Barbara Euphan Todd through production company Leopard Pictures, came up with Worzel’s new look himself, as he did with all the other scarecrow characters who feature in the project’s two hour-long episodes.
He then sketched his creations for the make-up and costume departments to bring to life — which was no mean feat.
Mackenzie says: “I was in make-up for three hours every morning, and that’s just the headpiece, but there’s also the cheeks, nose and brows which needed doing.
“So I had to do this 25 times, as that’s how many days I was filming. It was quite gruelling.”
The glorious countryside where filming took place was somewhat surprisingly on the outskirts of London, right under a flight path, which interrupted more than a few scenes on the fictional Scatterbrook Farm.
Unlike the previous TV adaptation, which starred Jon Pertwee as Worzel between 1979 and 1981, the reboot contains subtle environmental messages amid the humour.
Mackenzie insists it was unavoidable, given the rural setting and the very real concerns over climate change and single-use plastic.
He was keen to ensure the messages did not come across as preachy or annoying but he is still braced for accusations of wokeness.
He says: “I know that some people will get irritated with it so it was important to do it in a subtle way.
“People will say things before they’ve even seen it, and I guess I anticipate a bit of that. But I don’t know why — as soon as they see it, hopefully that sort of thing will be dispelled.”
However Mackenzie, who grew up in the Kent countryside, is not subtle when it comes to his views on litter.
Indeed, he tells me if he dropped rubbish outdoors “it would be on my mind for weeks” and he recalls a recent incident: “Last week I was leaving my house and there was a car parked on the road.
“He must have thought nobody was around, but as I was coming out of my gate he opened his car door, dropped some stuff, then closed it. So I scooped it up and knocked on his window and went, ‘Excuse me mate, but I think you’ve dropped this,’ — and he took it.”
It’s the type of reaction you could imagine coming from Gareth Keenan, his character in hit sitcom The Office.
The BBC show, starring Ricky Gervais as bumbling office manager David Brent, turned Mackenzie — previously a stand-up comedian — into a household name. He appeared in every episode from 2005 to 2013 and it’s a role he is hugely proud of.
Asked how he feels about Gareth now being regarded as a classic sitcom character, he says: “It’s incredible actually, I think about it a lot. To think that I’m a vintage character in a 20-year-old show is very odd but a great privilege. It’s a good feeling.
“If ever it’s on, I’ll watch it. It was a great time and an exciting time and we did know that we were involved in something great and new, but none of us predicted how enduring it would become, and that is why it’s special.”
Mackenzie admits he hasn’t seen Ricky, the show’s co-writer Stephen Merchant or co-star Martin Freeman for years, but gave no indication of any bad blood. However, he is adamant that The Office should never be brought back, apart from the Brent spin-offs, over fears that the original could be tarnished.
He says: “I honestly think it’s best to leave it where it is and I’m sure Ricky and Steve will be the same. They always said that they wouldn’t come back to it.
“I don’t think there’s any chance of it happening. It’s a bit different with Gavin & Stacey, as that didn’t finish that long ago, but with The Office you could risk ruining it by doing something sub-standard.”
Asked what Gareth would be doing now, he adds: “I think Gareth would still be there. I don’t think he’s going anywhere.”
Mackenzie says that Gareth and Ragetti, his one-eyed character in the Pirates Of The Caribbean films, are the roles he is most recognised for, despite his appearances in big-budget dramas such as Game Of Thrones and Britannia.
He appeared in the first three Pirates movies, The Curse Of The Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, before quitting to concentrate on Detectorists, which he felt was more fulfilling. On starring in such huge blockbusters, he says: “It was a brilliant thing for me in the early stages of my career and he was a great character.
“It wasn’t a hard decision not to carry on. It was a choice between doing that and a second series of Detectorists — which was no choice. I directed it, and it was my baby.”
Asked what it was like on set with superstars including Captain Jack Sparrow himself, Johnny Depp, he says: “It was extraordinary, the first one especially.
“I remember we turned up to St Vincent to film and they had put all the pirates in a hotel which was on the brink of closing, but they had gone to the owner and gave them thousands of dollars to keep it open for the duration of the filming for the pirates to stay there.
“And the owner had taken that money and went off and was never seen again. So we turned up to an abandoned hotel and had to run it by ourselves.
“We went down the town to find someone who would run the bar and somebody to do the cooking, so it was like a pirate ship and we were running it ourselves.”
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Mackenzie insists the Hollywood lifestyle is not for him and he never considered moving to LA to take on the infamous pilot season, where hundreds of Brit actors go every year to try out for auditions. That would be my worst nightmare,” he admits.
It seems he is far more comfortable standing in Ten Acre Field, scaring off crows.
- Worzel Gummidge is on BBC One on Boxing Day at 6.20pm and Friday, December 27 at 7pm.
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