'Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie' Duo Talk Brexit, Donald Trump, Making Idris Elba "Flee" to U.S.
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley sat down with THR ahead of the big-screen return of champagne-guzzling PR disasters Eddy and Patsy.
More than two decades after the champagne-addled duo of Edina "Eddy" Monsoon and Patsy Stone first stumbled drunkenly into the public consciousness, Ab Fab is back, darling, and this time on the big screen.
In Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, creator and screenwriter Jennifer Saunders returns as the mostly terrible fashion PR Monsoon with Joanna Lumley tottering alongside in high heels as her perma-smoking sidekick. The story sees the pair flee to Cannes after accidentally murdering Kate Moss — naturally — and features one of the most impressive assortment of cameos ever assembled: a 60-star-strong list including the likes of Jon Hamm, Rebel Wilson, Joan Collins, Perez Hilton, Gwendoline Christie, Jerry Hall, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Harry Styles and, of course, Moss herself (although the Ab Fab team only asked her at the last minute).
Ahead of the BBC Films/Fox Searchlight comedy's release in the U.K. on July 1 (and on July 22 in the U.S.), The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Saunders and Lumley to talk about the cameos they narrowly missed out on (Benedict Cumberbatch), launching the career, almost, of one of the U.K.'s biggest stars (Idris Elba), how Patsy and Eddy would react to the recent Brexit vote and Lumley's "bizarre" reception with Donald Trump.
Did you set out with some sort of attempt to break the world record for number of cameos?
Jennifer Saunders: I never thought about it like that. The truth is, we needed people for party scenes and red carpet and even for the news reporters. Actually, one of my favorites is [veteran BBC news correspondent] Orla Guerin, because you just think, it’s Orla Guerin!
Joanna Lumley: She had flown in from the Middle East.
JS: I think something had just happened over there and she didn’t know if she could make it because they might want her to cover the story. But she insisted on coming over. I literally had to pinch myself that it was actually Orla Guerin. It’s so funny. I loved it, because you write them in, like "newscaster" and they go, "who do you want?" and I went "wouldn’t it be funny if it was Orla Guerin" and they went "do you want Orla Guerin?" It was so extraordinary.
You've also got Hollywood names like Jon Hamm in there. What did they — or even their agents say — when they found out they had about 10 seconds of screen time?
JS: Actually people are very happy if you don’t want them for too long. Because often if you’re coming over for a small part, the last thing you want to do is to have to be there for a week. But if you actually say, come over for one day, you’ll be in the movie and have a great time, we’ll fly you over and fly you back, a weekend in London to do whatever you want. It’s easier to say "just do three lines." They love it.
Didn't the producers have a heart attack when you showed them the list of celebrity cameo targets?
JL: Did you actually ever make a list?
JS: Not really.
JL: There was this kind of sense that Stella McCartney thought Kate (Moss) would do it. Unfortunately we hadn’t asked Kate.
JS: I was so nervous about asking her in case she said no. I had got everything ready, literally the cameras were turning and I said, "Oh I should probably go and ask her, 'Er, will you be in the film?'" Phew!
JL: And with Kate comes the entourage of Lily Cole and Lara Stone, Suki (Waterhouse) and Alexa (Chung) all those gorgeous girls. And then they get a smell of who’s in it and who’s mucking in. There were people like Jerry Hall, who’s just a shoo-in. She’s divine.
What’s the joke you have with Jerry Hall being really boring on the red carpet talking about her clothes?
JS: The joke I like is when journalists ask you "so what are you wearing?" And you go, "oh, I’m just wearing a bit of this," and you move on. But she’s like "no, I’m going to tell you in the tiniest detail what I’m wearing, I’m wearing this and this is beautiful, and so comfy," and he just wants her to go...
JL: "Did I tell you about my necklace? It's so beautifully crafted." And the whole thing happens while she's talking, Kate’s pushed in the river...
Did anyone say they wouldn't be in the film?
JS: I don’t think so. Lots of people weren’t available. People we wanted … Ben Cumberbatch we wanted.
JL: We didn’t try to get him. I went to see Hamlet, went backstage to see Ben and he said, “I’m gonna be in the movie, fantastic!" And this was after Hamlet, and I was going, “I thought you did these things now." But then he couldn’t do it because he had to do something else, and it broke his heart. So rather than people not wanting to do it, people couldn’t fit it in, or were waiting, going, "Isn’t there room for me?"
So who else might we have seen?
JL: Now’s the time to just make up names.
JL. Ben Affleck
JS: Dolly Parton
JL: Matt Damon
JL: Leo DiCaprio, obvs.
JS: Idris Elba, there you go.
Well, you did basically launch Idris’ career. (One of Elba's first roles was as a gigolo in a 1995 episode of Absolutely Fabulous)
JL: He doesn’t like to say that. It’s never on his list of things he’s done.
JS: He fled to America after, he fled!
How do feel about first bringing the Luther, Wire and possibly 007 star that is Elba to the world?
JS: I’m so happy that we launched him. Because one of my favorite lines of Patsy’s is when she sits on Idris’ knee and goes [puts on voice]: "Can I talk to you like Sean Connery?" And he goes, "no."
So, did you have the script, with Kate Moss as the key storyline, before you’d even approached her?
JS: Yes. Of course. Hahaha!
And when you did approach her, how did she react when she found out that not only would she be killed off but would be the butt of several jokes throughout whole film?
JS: I didn’t approach really, I just said, "Will you be in the film?" She said, "Send me the script," and then said, "Yeah, that’s fine." She’s so cool, she’s really no-fuss. It’s quite a lesson really. What she has is that she knows what she’s best at, which is doing the stuff quite naturally on the day — don’t over-complicate it, just let me do it. She just wants to make you happy.
We've heard that the script came about when [long-term comedy partner] Dawn French dared you £10,000 in 2013 that you couldn't finish it within the year. So do you owe her?
JS: No, I did it.
JL: Jennifer, own up, what did you do?
JS: Well, because we had a New Year’s radio show, she said by the end of next year, by next Christmas’ show, I had to have written it and to give it to her live on air. And I hadn’t written it. But what I knew was that it wasn’t actually New Year. It was Christmas. And I had another two weeks of grace to write it.
JL: It’s not really two weeks between Christmas and New Year, Jennifer.
JS: Ok, a week, a few days, ha! So I gave her a big script and it was literally just two pages of dialogue and the rest just said "blah blah blah blah blah." She didn’t say it had to have dialogue in it, she just said it had to be a script! Actually it was really good because I had that year spent a long time thinking about it and then by Feb 2015 had the basic script.
Did you have a full script before you went into production? It was implied at the press screening that maybe this wasn't the case.
JS: There might not have been a proper ending. What’s the hardest thing about writing a film? The hardest thing about writing anything is how to end it. It’s really hard. There are basically a lot of endings. And they’re all in the film. We could have ended there or there or there.
There are obviously a lot of British jokes in the film — people laying Hunter boots at the shrine to Kate Moss, for example. With Fox Searchlight on board were there any attempts to open the humor up to an American audience?
JS: There were a few. We’d have little missives coming over going "we don’t understand what this means" and you’d go, "I don’t care, we understand what it means and people will understand what it means." Actually you can’t make everything for everybody. I wanted to make so that people who knew and loved the show wouldn’t think it had been too watered down.
JL: Jennifer thinks if they don’t know, they don’t deserve to know.
There were a couple of transgender jokes in there. Did you try to recruit Caitlyn Jenner for a cameo?
JS: No, I think she’s very, very busy. I just thought it was because it’s about fads. Not that being transgender is a fad, but it’s in a lot of people’s consciousness at the moment and there’s a lot of TV and articles about it.
For Mo Gaffney and Chris Ryan's characters, they’ve always just jumped on the next thing and I just love the fact that they’ve been everything — she’s been a rabbi, Scientologist, Muslim, fundamental Christian and I just thought, what would be the next thing? Oh, she’d be black, which was sort of half-inspired by that woman in America who told everyone that she was black and she wasn’t at all. Her parents said "this is her as a child" and she’s blonde and blue-eyed.
JL: I was rather touched by her, I don’t know why everyone was so cross about it.
JS: I thought that’d be funny, and she’d be persuading Chris that he’s a woman, because that makes life a lot easier for her.
With the U.K. entering some a rather uncertain period of history, how do you think Patsy and Eddy would have reacted to the Brexit?
JS: We decided that they wouldn’t know we were in [the European Union]. They didn’t know we came out!
JL: They’d haven’t the smallest idea or interest in politics at all.
JS: I think it would confuse Patsy quite a bit.
JL: It would just be [puts on Patsy voice]: "Can you still get down to France?"
JS: They don’t watch TV you see, they don’t see the news much.
JL: Patsy was disgraced with a politician once I think.
And did I hear Patsy also had a Trump experience?
JL: This was years ago, this must have been in the first series when Patsy admitted that she admired Ivana Trump.
[Patsy voice] "I think Ivana’s rather marvelous actually."
Donald Trump heard of this, although he’d never heard of the show, never heard of us, but at a party thrown for him it was decided that I should be brought along so he could have a look at the person who admired Ivana, to whom he was no longer married. He’d now married Marla, but he wanted to have a look at me. It was the most bizarre thing.
Did you go as Patsy?
JL: Well I put on some high heels, red lipstick and put my hair up. I went "Hello, Mr. Trump." But I couldn’t do it as Patsy because he didn’t know who Patsy was! So I just did my gushing Joanna “hello." It was a shocking moment.