Rufus Jones talks about starring on new comedy series Camping alongside Julia Davis who also wrote the series. The show can be seen on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday evenings at 10pm from April 5th.
Tell us about Camping.
It’s about three couples who, every year, go on a camping trip. They’re very polite, suburban, middle-class couples who bring their kids out into the countryside and have a lovely sedate, quiet holiday. Except this year, my character, Tom, has an enormous mid-life crisis and he has left his wife and kids and brought along his new squeeze, Fay, who is played by Julia. This kind of blows a hole in the polite, middle-class atmosphere and by the end of it we’re all completely screwed up.
What do you think the show says about middle class holiday-making habits?
It’s about how middle class English couples interact and exist, and there are these long-standing frustrations and difficulties within marriages, which often become a lot worse on holiday and they’re often a lot worse on camping holidays as well. Never let it be said that camping holidays are relaxing – the Primus stove is designed to destroy marriages.
How would you describe your character?
At heart Tom is actually a very polite, very straight guy, but he’s had a cataclysmic mid-life crisis. He’s left his wife and children in a moment of misguided abandon and he’s fallen into bed with Fay, who is everything that his ex-wife wasn’t. She’s sexy, she’s a bit of a hippy and she introduces Tom to all of these things that his polite life has never involved, like healing crystals and past-life regression and enormous amounts of oral sex. Tom thinks that all his boats have come in at once, except, like all mid-life crises, they are often hiding something more fundamental, and Tom can’t really run away from his past. Tom’s my age – he’s late 30s – and like a lot of men in their late 30s having a mid-life crisis, he’s doing a lot of shopping in Topshop and Zara, and the problem with wearing Topshop clothes in your late 30s is you look like quite a significant sex offender. Tom thinks he’s reborn and Fay is the beautiful midwife to his rebirth, but his friends are looking on in horror, really.
What was the shooting experience like overall?
I’m pretty sure you have to get into lederhosen at one point. Not at one point, it was my default costume! When you sign on to a Julia Davis comedy, you know that there will be exercises in ritual humiliation and you’d be a fool to think it won’t happen. I’ve worked with Julia a few times now, and she very kindly wrote this part for me, so I knew what I was getting in to. Though even by Julia’s standards she pushed me to breaking point – I’ve been in cognitive behavioural therapy ever since. Some of the scenes she writes can get quite near the knuckle.
Do you ever get nervous about that?
No, I don’t, and actually I’m the sort of person who would. But because Julia’s so good and so funny, you want to do it more than you don’t want to do it, because it will be really rewarding. And also she’s a very gentle, lovely person. I know some people might think she’s a sort of arch, dark manipulator, but everyone who works with her will tell you she’s sort of the nicest person in the world. So the atmosphere on set is always very gentle and very positive and very trusting, which sounds a bit pretentious, doesn’t it? But it means you can do all this stuff, and not really worry what people think. As long as it’s funny that’s all that matters really.
Have you ever been on any horrendous camping trips yourself ?
I went on a four-day camel trek in the desert, in Rajasthan in India, when I was 18 and my friend and I got severe diarrhoea. It was Lawrence of Arabia mixed with, well, diarrhoea, really. It ruined what could have been an absolutely beautiful life experience and turned it into a Carry On movie. I’m not really a camper.
Are you more of a ‘glamper’?
Yes – A few years ago I went to a music festival with my girlfriend and she took to it a lot better than I did. I was a hopeless metrosexual idiot, in the middle of all these seasoned campers, just trying to blow up an air bed.
What is your one camping essential?
An enormous volume of toilet roll. I think if you bring one thing let it be a toilet roll the size of Damascus... and no lederhosen.
And your tip for surviving the camping trip from hell?
Don’t go camping with Julia Davis.
Have you ever suffered through a holiday with any characters like the ones on this trip?
I hope not, but I suppose we all remember holidays with our parents like that, where they weren’t getting on very well. Even as a child you have memories of snippy comments over a paella. But this is extraordinary, they’re different level this bunch, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.
You appeared in Hunderby as well. What is it that draws you to Julia’s writing?
Hunderby was very written, it was a very literary exercise in some ways, but the interesting thing about Camping is that it was very improvised. It was flying by the seat of its pants, but Julia knew exactly what she was doing, she’d write you a scene that was marvellous and very, very funny and you’d film it and then she’d say let’s do something completely different. And you would – you’d explore the characters and what else might happen. So every day, you’d start with one scene and end with another and that’s a very bold way of working. That’s very rare in TV, but Julia is the sort of person who gently insists on her method and it means that Sky and Baby Cow trust her one hundred per cent, and as an actor you get to do stuff you’d never normally do. I’ve done a lot of TV in the past that claims to have an element of improvisation and I can guarantee you it really doesn’t, but Camping was a genuinely extraordinary exercise, and I think you may be able to feel that atmosphere coming through. It was a very exciting, exhausting, rewarding experience and I’m sort of more proud of it than virtually anything else. I’m very lucky, I’ve done some great stuff, but Camping was an extraordinary, extraordinary experience.