The Rebel Interviews: Bill Paterson

Interview with Bill Paterson who plays Charles in The Rebel.

Bill Paterson as Charles

What attracted you to this project?

I loved the idea of working with my great friend Simon Callow. I've known him for 40 years now. I was around when he made his stage debut in Edinburgh at the Traverse Theatre. I'm very fond of him as a man, as an actor and as a writer.

What else pulled you towards The Rebel?

I've always loved Andrew Birch's cartoon strip in The Oldie. I also love the idea of a 70-year-old tearaway still living like a 17-year-old. Henry is 17/70. So the offer of playing his friend Charles was quite irresistible.

Could you please outline the character of Charles for us?

He's the same age as Henry, three score and 10. He had a vaguely sorted life, probably as an art teacher. But since then he's drifted and ended up in Brighton, where a lot of people end up. It's a nice, easy going city, and Charles doesn't seem out of place there.

How would you characterise Charles's relationship with Henry?

Charles and Henry have not been friends for half their lives, as Simon and I have. They gravitated towards each other when they both wound up in Brighton. Charles is the balance to Henry's aggressive and confrontational approach. For Henry, everything has to be met head on with the full blast. Laid-back old Charles thinks, "Let it happen. Nothing is going to change now." Margaret, played by Anita Dobson, is the moderator between the two.

Have you encountered many people like Henry?

No, I'm lucky enough not to have met too many Henrys in my time! Most of the ones like that have sadly passed away now. But Henry is a very good mouthpiece for his generation. He is more proactive than Victor Meldrew. He acts on his anger.

What drives Henry's fury, then?

Henry is not just an angry old man - he is angry for a reason. He is angry about the way our generation have let things happen to them. Now he wants to kick the shackles away as he did in the 60s when he was a Mod.

Why is Simon Callow so right for the role of Henry?

He seems fantastically Establishment. He's Middle England in the most glorious way, and yet he's completely his own man. He is the perfect guy for this part.

Can comedy change people's minds?

This could certainly open people's eyes. That's what good comedy should do. The Rebel is very much in the great tradition of Hancock. Henry is an outsider who ploughs his own furrow and is ill at ease in the world he finds around him.

What is the most rebellious thing you did as a young man?

I gave up being a quantity surveyor in the 1960s. It was not easy to wrench myself away from the cosy path of being a quantity surveyor, but I was desperate to be an actor. That was as near as I got to rebelling!

Anything else?

I never liked joining clubs. I was always a loner who never liked to be identified with any particular group. The idea of being a hippie or a Mod or a rocker never appealed to me. That was the closest I got to rebelling - by not joining any clubs.

What gets your goat about modern life?

We've all been able to benefit from the Internet. It gives us greater access to information. I find myself looking up things I've always wanted to know, like, "Where do eucalyptus trees grow?" I can do that at the click of a button. But I find the reliance on instant summing up on the Internet very irritating. In the same way that I don't join clubs, I don't do Twitter or Facebook. I don't want to be part of the Twitter-sphere. I don't want to be hemmed in by having to have an attitude about every visit to the toilet. That is one aspect of modern life that I really don't like.

Finally, do you think viewers will connect with Henry?

Absolutely. This show will really strike a chord with audiences. It takes a Victor Meldrew-type character to new areas where he is willing to confront authority. You don't have to agree with Henry, indeed you may find him over the top. But we can all identify with him and, like him, feel the germ of a nagging doubt that we have given too much power to people in high-viz jackets.