The boys from the Dwarf returned to our screens after an almost three year absence with the spectacular feature-length special Red Dwarf: The Promised Land, with the TV movie – which saw the posse come up against a band of feral cats evolved from Lister’s original litter – earning a warm reception from critics and long-time fans.
With the special now available to enjoy all over again on DVD and Blu-ray, RadioTimes.com caught up with the legendary Chris Barrie, who’s played Arnold Judas Rimmer for over three decades, to talk about the experience of reuniting with Craig Charles (Lister), Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) and Danny John-Jules (Cat), finally going feature-length, getting to play a superhero and Rimmer’s redemption.
There’s been rumblings about a Red Dwarf movie in some form or other for years. How was the experience of finally getting to shoot a feature-length special?It was good. I suppose in 2009 we did Back to Earth, which I know was a three-parter, but that was in some ways a bit like shooting [a movie]. The main difference, for me, anyway, between shooting a sort of sitcom length [episode] – 24 minutes, 25 minutes or something like that – and something which is a much longer piece, is you’ve got to keep reminding yourself whereabouts you are in the story! And you usually have a good producer or director or associate producer who’s across that anyway, but that was the thing, you know, we’re jumping back in time here to shoot this or we’re doing that, because you shoot stuff out of order. So that becomes the thing. And you know, to pace the storyline over the length of the time it is. But it was good fun.
It must be challenging filming a 90-minute special in front of an audience, but are you glad that the live audience aspect was kept intact? Do you think Red Dwarf needs that? Do you know what, I’m kind of 50-50 on this. I know a lot of the other guys, probably Craig, Robert and Danny and Doug [Naylor, series co-creator and Promised Land writer/director] himself, will probably be all guns blazing for an audience. But I’m a bit 50-50.
Some of me wants to not have an audience there because I think it interrupts the rhythm of the action. But that’s only part of me. The vast majority of me enjoys being in front of an audience, particularly obviously for Red Dwarf where the audience are sort of lapping it up, they just love it so much. Sometimes can be a problem because you’re doing something and then there’s this enormous great woof and round of applause and you’ve got to ride that until the next line or whatever. So that can be a bit of a funny old thing.
But you know, there’s no better feeling – that’s why I stayed in the business when I came into it in 1981. There’s no drug better than the sound of laughter, you know? And that’s what it’s all about. So yes, I think overall it’s great to have the audience. Strange, as you imply in your question, to have it in a feature-length thing, but you know, I kind of think it works. There are some particularly touching moments in Promised Land – especially the scene where Rimmer and Lister are talking about the sun and the moon, and how they reflect on each other. Do you think that longer running time gave the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the characters?
Yes, it does, because you can’t have a laugh every 15 seconds for an hour and 25 minutes, can you, really? You’ve got to have a little bit of mood change in a longer story like that – it just needs to have that. And I think that scene particularly was obviously a case in point and it was a beautifully written scene. I’ve always said Craig is absolutely brilliant at doing those scenes. He’s just got so much behind his eyes, you know, that it’s great fun – it’s so good to do them with him. And he makes me work that bit better, I suppose, in scenes like that. And yeah, we’ve done scenes like that of course back over the decades together, so it’s always fun to have one of those moments.