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JUN
28
1 month

'Vicious' Co-Creator on Ian McKellen's New Sitcom and Why Age Trumps Gay (Q&A)

Gary Janetti tells THR the fact that McKellen and Derek Jacobi's characters are in their 70s is more revolutionary than them being gay: "You don't get to see that frequently on TV."

MIPTV Vicious Portrait - P 2013
ITV

Beginning Sunday, Ian McKellen is taking a break from big-screen blockbusters and heads for TV when he and Derek Jacobi's British sitcom, Vicious, premieres on PBS.

The show, from former Family Guy and Will & Grace executive producer Gary Janetti, centers on a gay couple living in London who have been together for five decades. Janetti says in the current TV landscape, it's the characters' ages, not their sexual orientation, that make them unique.

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"There is not even that much talk in the series about them being gay. To me, it's much more interesting that they are a couple who have been together for 50 years, and they get to be at the center," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "For them to get the lead, I think, is something that is more revolutionary than them being a gay couple."

Where did this idea come from?

I heard Ian and Derek wanted to do a project together. The idea basically came out of that — they are two of my favorite actors. I had dinner with them, and I pitched the idea for this show about a gay couple who has been together in London for 50 years. They are very co-dependent and horrible to each other but ultimately very much in love.

Ian is certainly considered very hip, but is there any worry if this project will appeal to younger audiences given that the leads are both in their 70s?

It never came up. In the U.K. it has had a very young appeal — even among teenagers, who very much respond to these characters. There's something refreshing about a show that centers on people of a certain age that we don't often see. There are ideally relatable qualities about them, so everyone can find something they can relate to them.

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Did you know Ian and Derek would be funny?

They've done comedy onstage and Shakespeare and all of those things, but neither of them had done a sitcom, other than Derek doing a guest spot on Frasier. I believed they would do it very well, and they did.

What sorts of things did they talk to you about with their characters?

We wanted them to play real people. They might appear to be one thing at first, but as you spend time with them, more and more is revealed. It was a lot of "Why am I saying this?" You don't have the luxury of much of the backstory, so we have to talk about what's been going on — and you're saying it through one joke.

What's it like going from a big writers room on shows like Will & Grace to being the only one?

It was exhausting. I like the writers room, but they don't do it like that in the U.K. There are fewer episodes, so it's more manageable for one person to write them all. But if a joke doesn't work, there's nobody to make eye contact with and go "oh well."

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Did you ever consider making this in the U.S.?

It felt like a show that should be British. It fits in that world very well. We also have Ian and Derek, and you're never going to get a cast that can compare with that, so why bother?

Compared to your time on Will & Grace, is the fact that these characters are a gay couple part of the conversation, or is it pretty much accepted that seeing a gay couple on TV is fairly common now?

It is much more accepted now. There is not even that much talk in the series about them being gay. To me, it's much more interesting that they are a couple who have been together for 50 years, and they get to be at the center. You don't get to see that frequently on TV. For them to get the lead, I think, is something that is more revolutionary than them being a gay couple. But the fact that they are gay does make them more interesting to me. That's another thing that we haven't seen — a gay couple who grew up in that era several generations before this one and what that means about where we are now. It makes them even more a fish out of water in some ways.

What was it like being an American making this British show?

My producer would check the script for "Americanisms." By the last episode, I think I had only one Americanism. Ian and Derek would let me know if I got a word wrong. When it aired there, I don't think there was a tremendous awareness that it had been written by an American.

What was your favorite part of doing this series?

Working with Ian and Derek was amazing. They have an extraordinary kind of professionalism and work ethic that I learned so much from.