Just knowing that Sir Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi are acting in a project together is worth noting but knowing they’re doing a British sitcom where they play gay men who have been coupled for nearly five decades?
That’s just “Vicious.”
The sitcom, created by Gary Janetti (“Will & Grace” “Family Guy”), focuses on has-been actor Freddie (McKellen) and Stuart (Jacobi), a former bar manager who still hasn’t told his elderly mother that he’s gay, living together in bitchy fashion. And while the series has an edge to it with the frequent verbal jabs and barbs at one another, viewers will also get a sense that there is also love beneath all the viciousness.
Besides McKellen and Jacobi, the cast also includes Frances de la Tour as their friend and neighbor Violet, Marcia Warren as Penelope, a dotty friend of theirs and Philip Voss as Mason, another elderly friend. Also, Iwan Rheon comes into their lives in the pilot as Ash, a young straight man who will be taken under the men’s wings and become a part of their group.
At the Television Critics Association Press Tour in January, Janetti was present along with McKellen and Jacobi via satellite to talk about the fabulous new project and what viewers can expect from the series, which premieres on PBS this Sunday. Here are 10 things we found out:
Audiences DO want to watch older people. Jacobi said it best when he cited two examples of television series he happens to be a part of that are built around characters of an older generation. “I think one of the reasons for the success of ‘Last Tango In Halifax’ and ‘Vicious’ is that the public are gagging for programs featuring people who are older,” he said. “I think the television and films are so seemingly, until now, obsessed with youth and beauty. It’s very refreshing and certainly very good for us and our bank balances to reach the age of to be in your 70s and to still be asked to perform such great shows, such well‑written shows.”
Exaggeration is not a bad thing. McKellen said that he met a 16-yr old fan outside one of his Broadway shows who had seen the series. The actor recounted, “I said, ‘Did you enjoy it?’ He said, ‘Enjoyed it? I adored it.’ And I said, ‘But you didn’t think it was a little bit too exaggerated, because that has been a criticism of the show?’ He said, ‘Of course, it’s exaggerated. That’s why I adore it.’” Score!
Bringing Sir Ian and Derek Together: Janetti explained how the project came together, “I heard that Ian and Derek actually wanted to work together and were interested in doing a project together. So that was the genesis. That was the starting‑off point. Once I heard that, I was, like, ‘I will move heaven and earth to work with Ian and Derek.’”
Naming the Queens: Janetti revealed the show was originally called ‘Vicious Old Queens’ but in referring to the show and talking with the actors, the name ‘Vicious’ became more of the norm.
What makes Freddie & Stuart last?: While the couple spends more time jabbing at each other than showing affection, there’s no doubt they love each other and the actors explained what’s made that possible. “The bedrock of their relationship is their great love and affection for each other and that’s what’s kept them together. And they recognize the need of each other for the other one,” said Jacobi. “I think particularly with Stuart, who kind of has to look after Freddie’s gargantuan ego, and it’s a full‑time job.”
Genuine affection: While Freddie and Stuart may bite at each other viciously, McKellen and Jacobi gushed over one another during the interview. During the interview (they were both via satellite but not together), while McKellen was praising Jacobi’s work, Jacobi cut in to say he could hear what he was saying, to which McKellen replied, “Oh, hello, darling. How are you? You’re looking gorgeous. You look gorgeous.”
From “Game of Thrones” to “Vicious:” Actor Iwan Rheon may be best known for his season 3 role of Ramsay Snow on “Game Of Thrones” but he shows a very different side as the young man who moves into the same building as Freddie and Stuart. “I think at first he was rather in awe, rather, of Ian and myself,” Jacobi said. “But we soon loved him up something rotten and he grew and grew in the series and is now totally indispensable and totally wonderful.” McKellen added of Rheon, “he may have been over-impressed by working with two old codgers, but frankly, the reverse is true of me.”
Theatrical throwback?: You’ll notice when watching “Vicious” that there is a different, old school feel to it that actually works in its favor in lending a theatrical element to the show. As Janetti explained, “‘All in the Family’ had a huge impact on me. We watched it every week. It never left that set. It was brilliant and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I was like, ‘Oh, I was seeing a one‑act play every week in my house.’ This was a touring theater company, basically, what would be the equivalent today, and I think that there’s something very intimate and special about that.”
McKellen/Jacobi Lovefest: The acting giants haven’t shared the screen or stage much in their career but McKellen shared, “It’s a joy to be up close to Derek Jacobi’s work. Alas, we haven’t worked very much over the years since we were at University together, but I don’t think I’ve missed many of his great shows and performances and to be right up close and begin to see how he does it after all these years is, in itself, wonderful. And then because we’re friends, we’re allowed to set each other up and poke fun at each other.”
Season 2: Let’s Go Outside!: Though the first season stays within the walls of Freddie and Stuart’s home, Janetti teased that we’ll venture out for the second season. “In order to know who people are, we need to see them in their lair…we started to take them into the outside world a little bit in series one, and we had a lot of fun with that. It was very successful and series two we’re going to explore that even more and take them to more interesting kind of places. I think people like Freddie and Stuart out in the world, it brings a whole other dynamic to the show.”
“Vicious” airs Sundays at 10:30pm on PBS but be sure to check local listings for your PBS station.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
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