Mark Heap ('Friday Night Dinner')

Published Mar 25 2011, 12:05 GMT  |  By

Mark Heap in Friday Night Dinner

© Channel 4

If you haven't got around to watching Channel 4's Friday Night Dinner yet, then you have been missing out. The Robert Popper-penned sitcom is deliciously funny and, thanks to the legendary Mark Heap, who plays oddball neighbour Jim, it has a lovely dark and surreal edge. We caught up with Heap, whose credits include Brass Eye, Green Wing and Spaced, to chat about the show.

Have you been pleased with the response to Friday Night Dinner?
"I think so. I'm not sure I'm entirely aware of what the response is. But people around me and friends seem to quite like it. My wife and daughter quite like it and that's always a good sign for me. I don't normally watch my stuff but if it's something that can be watched with the whole family then I do. I think it's alright. I like it. I like all Robert Popper's stuff."

How do you get into character for Jim, he's an unusual bloke?
"I had about two days before the pilot so it was all pretty last minute. I don't know really. A lot of what I do is instinct rather than sucking my thumb and procrastinating about it. A lot of people are thinking that Jim is quite creepy but that wasn't my intention. He's just very nice! He's very smiley and he's in a sort of parallel universe, but he's not nasty. He doesn't have a nasty bone in his body. And he's also terrified of his own dog, which is a good character note. But overall, I think he's quite nice."

I actually think they're a bit a mean to him...
"He doesn't pick up hints, which I think is the problem. He tends to ring the bell at the wrong time and not go when he should. He's obviously a sociopath and he has no idea how to behave. That's where the comedy comes from I guess."

What's Wilson the dog like to work with? He's amazingly well trained...
"He is and I have to be careful here, because I don't want to cast aspersions. He is very well trained. Don't quote me as saying anything bad about that dog! He is super-trained. He is so clever that it is sometimes hard work to get him to sit still. He can do this, he can do that and he is bursting to do things, you know like rolling over. He's brilliant and the owner's brilliant. I should probably have spent a bit more time with him, because by the end of the series I think he was warming to me a little bit."

I presume he'll be making demands for more money and better dog food on the second series?
"He has his own van already! He doesn't drive it, but he has his name on the side of the van. He's a Belgian Shepherd... for those who care. He's not a German Shepherd. He's bloody Belgian! I think that means he reads Tintin."

Will Jim ever get an invite from dinner?
"I'm not at liberty to say really. No. I can't tell you it's a secret, but no he doesn't. He'd love to. And I think it would be a good one for the second series. I don't think it would be anything like a normal dinner."

Can you shed any light on what was wrong with Jim's toilet earlier in the series?
"I think it's best to leave it to the imagination of the viewer. I don't think it was anything perverted. I was hoping that the look in my eye was more, 'It's a bit of a long story, it's slightly embarrassing and it involves lots of time and effort... and mess.' That was it, I think. I don't think it was anything like has he buried the remain of a 40-year-old woman underneath the cistern or flushed something bad down the loo."

It's a great ensemble cast. What was the atmosphere like on set?
"Well I felt a bit left out really. I would just pop in and out really. Those main people didn't talk to me a lot. No, I'd pop in and out and it was an easy vibe. I've worked with Tamsin [Greig] a million times before now and she's great, I've worked with Paul a few times as well and they were all good fun. There was no ego stuff going on. The only thing I would have liked is to have joined in the table tennis. The cast and crew had a table tennis tournament, but I wasn't there regular enough to take part."

You've done lots of weird, dark roles down the years. Do you enjoy doing them or do you just keep getting offers?
"I don't really pick and choose them, so much as people might imagine. I've done a bit more straight stuff in recent years with Single Father and Lark Rise, so I'm always up for anything. It's just that this business sort of nudges you in directions and trends. I had a phase of Germans at one point. I did a Crimewatch thing where I had to pretend to be German and I got a little flurry of jobs as Germans after that. It's the way it goes. I have no plan. I have no masterplan like Eddie Izzard. I think he wants to be the King of England, that's his plan."

When you're in shows like Green Wing and Spaced, do you get frustrated when the shows come to an end after only a couple of series?
"It varies really. I would have liked more Green Wing, but it went so fast to the extremities. I think I had a bit more in me for that, even though the storylines had gone quite crazy by the end. I was thinking during this actually, 'why only six episodes?' It seems crazy these days when you compare it to the Americans. I suppose the difference is that there's only Robert writing this and it's a long old slog for one writer. And I guess sometimes the American stuff goes on and on a bit."

What else have you got coming up this year?
"There's a few vague things in the fire. Some guys in Australia have written something for me, which is very flattering. They've got funding for it in Australia and it's a dark, black comedy thing, which I'm hoping we can start working on at the end of the year. There's some other things as well, but they may or may not happen. There's no great pile of things, but all these things will probably come together and happen on Wednesday, August 3 at exactly the same time."

Friday Night Dinner continues tonight at 10pm on Channel 4. The DVD of the series is coming soon.

> Jim pops around on Friday Night Dinner