Continuing the story of the four geeky high school friends from the record-breaking and award-winning British cult comedy TV series The Inbetweeners, this big-screen version finds them traveling to a notorious Mediterranean getaway determined to break their lifelong losing streak with the ladies. Will McKenzie (Simon Bird), Jay Cartwright (James Buckley), Simon Cooper (Joe Thomas) and Neil Sutherland (Blake Harrison) think the unchaperoned island holiday will be a two-week getaway where they can join in the legendary party scene, but instead quickly find themselves in outrageous escapades with humiliating results.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, series co-creator Iain Morris, who is the writer and executive producer of the film, along with Damon Beesley, talked about how the original idea for the TV show developed, when and how he realized what a hit it had become, the most surprising aspect of its success, why he thinks so many people can identify with these characters, the challenges of expanding the story and character arcs for a 90-minute movie, and maintaining the balance between sweetness and crude humor. He also talked about having recently thought of an idea for a movie sequel, the end of the TV show, and being in discussions with Paramount for an American film about guys going on a senior trip abroad, that will be an American story with an American cast, but not a remake. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: When the series originally came to be, was it an idea you’d been thinking about for awhile?
IAIN MORRIS: Both Damon [Beesley] and I were working as producers in TV and we thought to ourselves, “We should write something. We’re getting older. We might not be very good at it, but it would be better if we wrote something and it failed, then just die never knowing.” We were very dramatic about it. We lived together and often talked about things that made us laugh and our friends that made us laugh, when we were younger. A lot of that came from our teenage years. And yet, it honestly took about two years to put two and two together and go, “We should write something about all that stuff we found funny about our friends when we were teenagers, and us as teenagers.” So, it was something we’d wanted to do for a long time. We wanted to write something, and we wanted to do something with teenagers. We’re basically just so dumb that it took us quite a long time to work out that we should do that thing.
At what point did you realize just how big of a hit and what a phenomenon this show and these characters have become?
MORRIS: It only hit us when we weren’t really doing it anymore. At Christmas time, last year, was when the DVD came out in the UK and it sold two million copies in two weeks. That was the first time I thought, “Oh, it is quite popular! It is quite a big thing!” You don’t assume that anything you do can be that popular, in the UK particularly. Having that distance was the first time that we really thought, “Oh, yeah, we did that thing that seemed to be quite successful.”
You’ve gotten awards and recognition for the show, and then the opportunity to do a big screen film and an American version of the TV series. What has most surprised you, as far as all the things that have come with the success?
MORRIS: I think the film was the thing that was the most surprising. We wanted to make the film and we decided to do it on the basis that, if one-third of the people that bought the DVD, which was quite a lot, at that point, went to see the film, we’d probably get our money back and have a chance to do something different, and would be quite a nice way to close out the story. And then, seeing lines around the block and sold-out cinemas and people screening it all through the night in the UK was the most amazing thing about it, really. We went, “Wow, we did that thing.” That was the most exciting and interesting thing. People really wanted to go to the film, and enjoyed it enough to go back and see it again. Damon and I went to one of the screenings in the first week, on a really big screen. We actually sat in the front row and looked backwards and just watched everyone laughing. It’s a quite cheesy thing to say, but it was an amazing and emotional moment for us to sit there and watch the direct effect. If you went around to people’s houses, when you make a TV show, and watched them laughing, that would be quite creepy. So, getting to go to the cinema and watch them laugh was a really nice thing.
What do you think it is about these four guys that people have so responded to and identified with?
MORRIS: Well, the actors are totally brilliant. I think they’re four of the best comedy performers of their generation, to be honest with you. But, what they’ve done with those characters and how we wrote the characters is that they are everyman. I think everybody knows at least one of those characters, so they’re very relatable. Everything they do is so outlandish that people can’t believe it and, combined with their relatability, that is what’s made people really identify with the characters and enjoy the series.
Was there anything you had been dying to have the characters do, but had to hold out on for a possible film?
MORRIS: Yeah, the whole holiday thing. In the UK particularly, you take that first holiday without your parents to a terrible Mediterranean resort when you’re 18, 19, 20 or 21. It’s your lad’s holiday, every year. I did four or five, and Damon did four or five. Everyone does it. It’s a rites of passage, classic teenage thing. And yet, we knew that we couldn’t do that in the TV series because we thought half an hour wasn’t enough time to do justice to it. Also, in terms of budget and scale, we knew we couldn’t really do it in the sitcom format. So, it was great to have a definite thing to do for the film, and really embrace that.
Once you decided to do that and you wrote this big story, where they end up on a big party boat, one guy jumps in the ocean and you have a helicopter, did you every wonder, “What on earth were we thinking by doing all of this?”?
MORRIS: Yeah, I think I thought that from moment one. There are moments when you’re looking around and there’s a helicopter, a whole safety crew, a boat and a great big crane arm, and you’re like, “We did this. We wrote that thing down.” There were about 200 extras on a boat, going crazy. You have to be quite removed from the process to not think, at some point, “This is all a big strange, isn’t it?” I’ve seen people getting rescued by helicopters on those holidays. Although it was pretty grim to shoot the party boat, they do happen in those places. It really was terrifyingly true to our holidays and our friend’s holidays. I don’t think we felt, at any point, that we’d taken it too far. I think we just thought, “This is a pretty fair representation of these holidays.”
What were the biggest challenges in expanding the story from a typical half-hour episode to a 90-minute story?
MORRIS: I think we just wanted to make it worthwhile to go and watch it at the cinema. We wanted to give it scale, both in the story and location, and also in the emotional depth. With the series, we were always conscious that we’re writing a comedy, rather than a comedy-drama, a drama or a soap opera. In the show, we tried to make it as funny as we could in 24 minutes. With this, we had a bit more space to explore a bit more of the characters highs and lows, so we just tried to push that more and make the story a bit more epic. That was the idea with the boat, at the end. It felt like the kind of ending you’d have in a film, where the hero jumps off a boat and swims to shore to be with the woman he loves. We tried to take that cliche, and then twist it and do something different with it and make it comedic. So, we did try to push the scale of the story and the characters and emotions and everything, in every way that we could.
Were there things you did to make sure that people who had never seen the series could still enjoy the film?
MORRIS: Yeah, we did. I think the opening 10 or 15 minutes of the film is an attempt to introduce the characters as quickly and economically as possible. We show you their families, where they’ve come from and their social standing, and then we get into the story. I hope that first bit of the film does that. The trick, really, was trying to introduce the characters, their families, the world and their relationship with each other while, at the same time, knowing that lots of people who knew all that already wouldn’t get bored by watching us recap, effectively, who they are and what their position in the world is. So, it was challenging, but it was really good fun. It was nice to be able to think, “Okay, imagine you’re introducing them for the first time, but let’s pare it down to what we think the key characteristics of each of them are, and then let’s try to write that in the funniest possible way, so that if you know that already, you’re not getting bored.
The show was edgy already, so in doing a big screen version of it, did you feel obligated to add more profanity and nudity, or did you want to make sure that was all still very organic?
MORRIS: It’s always come from the story, really. It’s never been one of those things where we try to just push it for the sake of it. Funnily enough, on Channel 4, where the TV show went out, they almost encouraged us to push it more and more, just for the TV show. There was never anything where anyone said to us, “You can’t do that.” By Season 3, it was one of the rudest shows that’s ever been on British television, in terms of profanity, but no one batted an eyelid and we didn’t even get complaints. When Season 1 went out, we suddenly had a moment where we went, “Oh, my god, have we made a mistake here? Are people going to get it? Are we going to get lots of complaints?” And actually, we didn’t. It’s been a great thing to really trust our audience, and it’s been exciting to see how people get the swearing and some of the other stuff, when it’s in context, as opposed to just gratuitous.
Have you ever written something for one of the characters that was just so outrageous that you felt horrible put one of your actors through it?
MORRIS: The actors that tend to get the rawest deal are the supporting cast. The boys say such terrible things about each other’s mothers and about the girls that they’re seeing, and things like that. When you’re shooting it, often the people aren’t there because the boys would never be brave enough to say it to their faces. But, when you sit around and do the table read, there are moments where you’re just looking at your feet and apologizing. In one of the [seasons], there was a bit where Jay (James Buckley) talked about Simon’s (Joe Thomas) mum having a mustache, and the actress doesn’t have a mustache, so it was just one of those things where, suddenly being read out loud, we were like, “Oh, god, this is awful!” So, we are human and we do feel a bit bad for putting people through the ringer. And there was an episode in Season 3, where Will (Simon Bird) was dating quite a tall, large girl, and it was essentially just a load of jokes about her. The actress who played her was just utterly brilliant, to get it and understand what we were trying to do.
How challenging is it to maintain the balance of sweetness and crude humor?
MORRIS: We don’t find it too difficult because we’ve got fairly set rules in our heads about the characters. I’m sure everyone says this, but we genuinely really like those characters. Because we sort of were those boys, we know those characters. We know that, for example, they would never be brave enough to say the terrible and crude things they say to a girl’s face, unless they were drunk. And even if they were drunk, they might not do it. They’re actually quite well-behaved and polite boys, really. That really helps. They’re really not hooligans. They’re really not doing terrible things, all the time. It’s just that, amongst themselves, that’s how they talk. I think that adds the sweetness. You can see that they’re basically nice boys ‘cause I think that’s what we were. We try to apply our own logic to the guys.
Since this was supposed to be the final adventure these guys got to have with each other before they went their separate ways, have you given any thought to where these guys headed, once this film ended?
MORRIS: We did, actually. Weirdly, before we even wrote the first story, we’d worked on where they would be and who they were and how their lives would end up. We’ve always had an idea of where they’d end up. Actually, only a couple days ago, Damon and I started to think about a sequel. That’s how unprofessional we are. We’ve got an idea that we feel fits into that timeline and the world that we’ve created. So, we are thinking about hopefully doing a sequel. But, if we were professional, we would have thought about that before the first film went out and had it ready to go, so it would be coming out in cinemas in the UK this summer. Unfortunately, we’re not as professional enough or bright enough to have done that. But, I think we know where they’re going and what’s going to happen to them.
And are you done with it as a TV show now?
MORRIS: Yeah, we’re done with that. That’s done.
Are you also going to be doing an American feature film?
MORRIS: Yeah, we’re in discussions with Paramount about doing a film. It’s not a remake, but it’s the idea that we would be making a film about guys going on a senior trip abroad. It’s loosely based on the idea, but it’s not a remake. It would be an American story and an American cast. That’s the idea.
Is that something you’re looking to direct yourself?
MORRIS: Yeah, I’d like to direct that.
THE INBETWEENERS opens in theaters on September 7th.