Five minutes with… Greg Davies

The Cleaner is a weird and wonderful comedy about an ordinary man with an extraordinary job. Georgia Humphreys meets writer and star, Greg Davies.

Greg Davies is adamant he doesn’t want to play any more “middle-aged fathers”. And rest assured, The Cleaner couldn’t be more different to the stand-up-star’s previous roles.

In the new six-part BBC comedy, the 53-year-old – who was born in Wales but grew up in Shropshire – takes on the lead character Paul ‘Wicky’ Wickstead: a crime scene cleaner whose job is to ensure all the gruesome mess is mopped up once CSI has done their detective work.

The former secondary school teacher – who is known for Taskmaster, The Inbetweeners and Cuckoo – also wrote the show, which is a remake of the immensely popular German comedy, Der Tatortreiniger (Crime Scene Cleaner).

Starring the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, David Mitchell and Ruth Madeley, “each episode is generally a two-hand ‘play'”, where Wicky is the only constant character – and he lands himself in all sorts of silly situations with neighbours, the victims’ relatives, and sometimes even the criminals.

Here, affable towering comic Davies – he’s 6 foot 8 – tells us more about making the new series.

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THIS PROJECT THAT APPEALED TO YOU?

Shane [Allen, the head of comedy at the BBC] rang me and said, ‘There’s this strange show in Germany that I think you’d like, and we could get the rights for to do an English adaptation of it’. There are seven series of the original, all written by one woman, and he sent me them and I just loved it straight away.

I met the wonderful writer, Mizzi Meyer, and she was happy to let it go. So we took the premise of it, and I took some of her brilliant storylines as a basis for this first series, and then it was largely a total rewrite, because there are cultural differences, especially in humour, that just didn’t translate across. I hoped it would be the laziest job I’ve ever done, where I would just steal everything, but in the end, it turned out to be quite a bit more root and branch than that.

DID YOU DRAW INSPIRATION FROM ANY OTHER SERIES?

I thought about a show called Mr Benn, from when I was a kid, where a character went to a costume shop, opened a cupboard, and then got lost in the world of whatever his costume was. There’s something old fashioned about a comedy-drama like this, where there’s only one constant character, and it’s my character, and he goes on a different adventure every week and it’s all wrapped up. So, there were comforting feelings from my youth that I felt watching it. But also, I think it lives in the modern world as well.

WHAT DID YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT THE CHARACTER OF WICKY?

He has had the same group of friends for 30 years, he goes to the same pub, and he has very simple needs, which I relate to; all of my best friends are friends I’ve had for a very long time. He’s quite a straightforward guy, but then he has this extraordinary job; each week, he turns up to a new horrible bloodbath, and then by chance, he gets to meet people who were either involved in the crime or affected by it. He’s also quite a moral man, and quite an opinionated man in many ways.

THERE MUST HAVE BEEN A LOT OF FAKE BLOOD USED ON SET. WHAT WAS IT LIKE FILMING WITH ALL THAT MESS?

Any of my friends will tell you the idea of me being thorough about cleaning is hilarious. It’s one of the few things my character takes pride in; he really thinks he’s good at his job. He says in one of the episodes that he sees it as doing a decent thing for the person who’s died, to put things back the way that they were before whatever awful thing happened.

The weird thing is that for him blood and gore is so normalised. He never walks in and is shocked by one of the bloodstains, and a lot of the humour comes from the fact that, to him, it’s just what he does every day.

AND HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THE GORY SCENES?

Across the series, I started to get desensitised to it. There was one scene where there was a severed finger on the floor, and you stop seeing it as being extraordinary, which is the journey that Wicky has been on. The blood just very quickly fades into the background and becomes a background character, and you concentrate on the people that he meets.

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU FOUND OUT HELENA BONHAM CARTER WOULD STAR IN THE FIRST EPISODE?

I thought it was a practical joke at first. She’s obviously a great actress, that’s well documented, but I just had such a great time with her. She’s such a fun person, and she’s great company.

The fact that it’s a bit crazy, it’s a bit nuts, was what appealed to her, I think. It was just great fun. I love that episode – I love all of them actually. They’re all so different, you don’t get any repetition across the series.

YOUR BREAKOUT ROLE WAS HEADTEACHER MR GILBERT IN CULT E4 SITCOM, THE INBETWEENERS…

I was very lucky with that part. I met someone in the street today who asked me about The Inbetweeners; It’s so strange, it’s such a big part of my life, but I would say that all three series and both films, for me, were a month’s work. But people love that show and I’m so proud to have been a little part of it.

People really seem to like Mr. Gilbert, and he did me a lot of favours, so I have nothing but affection for it. Iain Morris, one of the [Inbetweeners] writers, absolutely loves the fact that people shout ‘Gilbert’ and then hide afterwards.

The Cleaner, BBC1, Friday, 9.30pm and will also be available as a box set on BBC iPlayer

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992