Breeders season 2 : interview with Martin Freeman

Breeders returns for season 2 to Sky One and streaming service NOW on Thursday 27 May.

All ten episodes will be available on demand

Martin, tell us what we can expect to see in series two …

The children are 10 and 12 (Luke turns 13 Ep1) now, so they’re played by different actors. Getting older versions of Luke and Ava was really tough, but moving the series on a few years was one of the good ideas we had. You can do more with kids who are a bit older, and the issues that are presented when they’re that age are very different.

Pictured: (l-r) Alex Eastwood as Luke, Martin Freeman as Paul. CR: Miya Mizuno/FX

What sorts of issues?

Access to social media, phones, personal safety, bullying, who you’re hanging out with, and whether they’re good people or bad people. Kids have much more of a mind of their own at that age, so you have to balance how independent you allow your children to be with how much you’re wanting to not let go.

Letting children make their own decisions is so difficult.

It is! A lot has been said about how our generation is much more fearful for our kids at a time where they have literally never been safer. We know we mollycoddle our children, I don’t know anyone who would argue with that, and in a way that we weren’t mollycoddled when we were young ourselves.

But everyone’s struggling to find a way to do it.

We’re all scrabbling around trying to do our best, so it’s not surprising that it goes astray sometimes.

There’s no manual for parenting and everyone’s just trying their best, but we all mess up in different ways, and often in a different way to how our own parents messed up. Although having said that, there are things that I say to my kids that are purely my mum’s voice coming out of my mouth!

martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard return to Breeders for season 2How do you navigate that?

It’s difficult, but it’s difficult for every generation of parents, like whoever had the first transistor radio or record player. I certainly was very resistant to the idea of mobile phones, but then after a while you think, “Okay, well, the printing presswas invented, I can’t pretend s**t hasn’t happened.” I can’t pretend that my kids live in a world of just playing with wooden toys in the forest. If they’re the only ones who can’t communicate with their friends, that becomes a thing, so it’s about making those little negotiations constantly. We see that a bit with Paul and Ally. Almost inevitably, there is a bit more of a bad cop most of the time: most of the time that’s Paul, though Ally can certainly give it out as well.

The fascinating thing about this age is it’s where they start to separate from you.

Yes, that’s very true. There’s “normal” independence, which is healthy, but also the kind that’s fed by having their own screen, which feels less healthy. As a parent, the older your kids get, you do have a romantic memory of some things that you did together that have sort of gone. Once that phase is passed, you can’t help but mourn it a little bit.

I love one scene where the family are all off on in their rooms or on their devices, including Ally, and Paul goes ballistic and says, “We’re going to watch telly together with a takeaway!” because it’s the sort of thing which wouldn’t be in the Good Parenting Guide, but I totally see what he means, because it’s a communal family thing. He’s the only one that wants to. Even Ally is like, “Well, Dancing on Ice is a bit naff.”

Do you think Paul is a good father?

He’s very aware that he has a temper that isn’t always going to serve him well when it comes to his kids’ therapy bills! He knows that he reacts negatively at times, but he’s also demonstrably a very loving, tactile father. Paul and Ally are tactile parents who also care for their kids, and anyone who’s ever been honest about what it is to be a parent can relate to that. We’re not making it for people who are somehow pretending that they live in Instagram.

When people at dinner parties are going on about how great parenthood is, we all know there’s a lie of omission happening there. Of course it’s amazing, it’s absolutely amazing. But it shouldn’t be that brave to also go, “It’s really hard as well.” Everything in life is hard if you want to be good at it. God knows I really want to be a good parent, and I know that’s a life’s work, so you’ve got to keep going back to the drawing board, you know?

How did you, Chris and Simon work together this time around?

Well, it starts with the writing, so we wait with bated breath for the writers and then we give feedback and notes on each draft of the episode. I go through each episode with my notes, Chris does the same, and the producers. There wasn’t really a writers’ room like there was for the first series, we just let people get on with it. We’ve got good new voices this series as well. Rebecca Callard has written two episodes, which are fantastic. I’ve known Rebecca for years, she’s an actor and also a really good writer. She’s got a very good, darkly comic voice.

Do any of the ideas come from your own experience?

I wasn’t kind of ringing up people going, “Can we put this in?” but inevitably it comes out through the wash. There’s a lot of me in it because I’m doing it, I suppose, and whatever script notes and changes I have to offer are going to be slanted towards me and my experience, and my opinions of whether things are truthful or not. But it’s not as explicit as me going, “Oh, can we make sure we get that in?”

I’m happy to leave it to the writers.

Where do we find Paul in this series? Is the therapy working for him?

No, the therapy hasn’t worked. He says it hasn’t really worked for him. That’s not the way he’s going to get through. I do think he’s less angry though. With the kids being older, it affords us more of an opportunity to see the parents in a wider variety of situations, rather than cleaning up after their kids –metaphorically and literally! The kids in the first series were lovely little people and characters, but now we have a Luke and Ava who can bite back a little bit.

Do you still have to be careful with the swearing on set now that the child actors are older?

Legally, we definitely do. There are some words that are verboten, but there are some words that are a handshake with the parents, which is helpful. They sometimes go, “You can say that, it’s fine.” Or, “We say that in our house, so it’d be crazy for you to pretend not to say it now.”

So if I’m having a really good dialogue with Luke, then it’s easier if I can swear for real, and he can hear it for real. Swearing is many things. It can be funny, but it can also be aggressive, obviously, in those situations. So just saying, “Gosh, darn it” isn’t going to have the same effect. It’s just not.

That balance between the pathos and gags, comedy and drama, is just perfect. Do you like that tone of it, rather than it being out-and-out gags?

Yes, I do. If out-and-out gags are done brilliantly, then there’s nothing better. I love out-and-out gags, I really enjoy it. But there’s comedy in this country that is almost as dramatic as it is comedic, and it’s not very gaggy or particularly physical or whatever, and I love all those things. I’ve always liked stuff where you recognise truth in it, where some bits are genuinely touching. There’s nothing nicer than almost crying at The Simpsons in the same way that you can laugh your head off at parts of The Sopranos, you know?

Me and Daisy talked about this a lot on the back of her show Back to Life,which I think has a really great tone. If we don’t think of it as a comedy or a drama, it can be whatever it wants to be. One minute you might be laughing and the next minute you might be horrified, and that’s just what it is.

I liked her show very much, and that’s the kind of thing that Daisy and I certainly love, as well as the writers and the directors of Breeders, and there’s no reason that you can’t be both. You can be saccharine with it, and you could be too maudlin with it, so you’ve got to watch out for that – but at its best, comedy can really move you. That in itself isn’t new, but I do like that strain of it for sure.

Do you enjoy filming the scenes featuring Paul’s parents?

Alun [Armstrong] and Joanna [Bacon] are absolutely brilliant. They’re fun and funny, and lovely people. Some of my favourite writing in the show is for them, and they deliver it beautifully as well. They’re both brilliant actors, obviously, but it’s also just fun. I love being on the receiving end of whatever funny or stupid, or frankly correct, stuff they might be saying, because sometimes they are a lot wiser than Paul, and sometimes they’re really thick, or just really ignorant about stuff. They just have a more honest take. I absolutely love Jim, he doesn’t give a shit. He’s got no one to please, he’s not trying to be ‘right on’, he’s not trying to be anything. He’s absolutely not changed since 1968. I really like that. As for Joanna, she plays ‘simple’ extremely well! She’s got a fantastic deadpan about her. We’re lucky to have them.

And what’s it like filming those scenes? Are you much of a corpser?

I’m actually not much of a corpser. I have to say, I did all my corpsing for my career in the space of 14 episodes of The Office. Now, it’s quite hard to make me laugh, and generally speaking, we don’t. We’re quite boring, really. The blooper reel of this would be rubbish! Especially post-Covid, time is severely of the essence. You can have fun, of course, and occasionally people do laugh, and occasionally everyone messes up and makes mistakes, but there’s not a whole lot of out-and-out corpsing on the show.

What sorts of challenges did you face because of Covid?

Everything went pear-shaped! We were supposed to be doing it in April, but it was the last day of August by the time we were able to start filming. Alex, who plays Luke, definitely looked more like a 12-year-old when he was cast, but by the time we started recording he was as tall as me! I mean, there are very big 12 and 13-year-olds, I’ve seen them at my son’s school, it can happen, but we had to be mindful when we were filming the flashbacks because they were growing at a rate of knots.

There were definitely challenges on set too. It’s weird at first, then it becomes less weird, and it becomes normal. It’s just more time-consuming because you have to clean everything. The stuff that you took so much for granted before, in normal life, you just can’t do it without checks and balances, so you’ve got to go through this procedure – that thing’s got to be cleaned, only that group can beon set, and then they’ve got to leave, and the other group can come on – all of that.

But it’s still very doable, and I think this country is doing it quite well, because lots of productions are coming here.

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