Ben Miller is in a glorious flap in the uproarious new series I Want My Wife Back.  In an exclusive interview we chat to him about the delights of filming the new closely observed romcom, the fate of Brighton Pier, being stabbed to death with an ice pick and finding aliens.

 

Written by Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni, I Want My Wife Back stars Ben Miller opposite Caroline Catz (Doc Martin, DCI Banks) as overworked banker Murray, who is forced to reboot his life when wife Bex decides to walk out on their marriage. It’s her 40th birthday and she’s at the end of her tether, as he’s never home when she needs him.

As the series unfolds, Murray has to contend with escalating pressures from dysfunctional colleagues, despairing family members and disgruntled friends as he flounders to find a way to win Bex back.

 

Mark Reynolds: The new series is reminiscent of The Worst Week of My Life and it's from the same creative team. Did they write the role of Murray with you in mind?

Ben Miller: Well they say not. So I had to linger outside their office looking mournfully at them trying to put it into their heads, and eventually they seemed to remember that we did that other series together.

 

Were you one of the first actors to sign up?

Yes, absolutely. I loved it instantly, right up my street, and having done The Worst Week of My Life I’ve been wanting to work with Mark and Justin again ever since.

They also wrote quite a lot of our sketch show, so that was the thing that we’d done most recently, but it was really, really fun to do another narrative comedy. I hope it’s funny like The Worst Week of My Life, but I think because it’s romcom, not a sitcom, there’s a slightly different pace to it.

 

Caroline Catz is terrific as your weary wife. How did you enjoy working with her in that particular role?

I was in a couple of episodes of Doc Martin back in the day and I met Caroline there. I think she’s just one of those brilliant comedy actresses who is funny by playing things really truthfully.

She grounds everything, her attention to detail is fantastic, and she’s brilliant fun to work with, really lighthearted and up for a laugh.

The sweet thing about Murray and Bex, it’s their flaw in a way, is that they’re still close and they still get on despite everything that’s happening around them.

 

Caroline Catz and Ben Miller in I Want My Wife Back
Ben Miller and Caroline Catz as Murray and Bex

 

Murray is hard-pressed by a wonderful cast of needy work colleagues and friends. Which of the rest of the cast did you have most fun working with?

All of them are brilliant! Stewart (Wright), again, is someone I worked with on Doc Martin, and his timing is amazing.

It was my first time working with Ken Collard and it was just hilarious. He’s got the most extraordinary, unique acting style, I absolutely loved it. He’s also a Buddhist with a love of Snack Wurst, a particular brand of German sausage, so he’s a very interesting character to spend the time of day with.

 

The scenes are intercut with inviting shots of Brighton. Apart from the opening scene on the pier, how much of the filming was done on location?

We did some bits in Brighton, but you’d be amazed how little of it was shot there, a lot of it was shot in parts of London I’ve never been to, deepest West London, and South London too.

 

Why was Brighton the right choice of setting for this story?

Well, there’s a kind of melancholy in the series that I really love, and I think there’s nothing as melancholic as seaside towns out of season. I think that’s what makes it such a good setting. Apart from the fact it’s visually so striking, the sheer impressiveness of those big open spaces.

 

Coincidentally it was in the news that Brighton Pier has been sold for £18 million to an upmarket bar chain. That feels like the end of something that perhaps shouldn’t be lost.

It may be a good thing though. I have to say it was looking in a pretty sorry state when we were filming there.

It needs a bit of love, and the last thing we want is the same thing that happened to Hove pier, to fall into disuse and then eventually just collapse.

I guess these things have to move on, but it does seem sad. If the kiss-me-quick Brighton starts to disappear, that really will be the passing of an era.

 

The full cast of I Want My Wife Back
The full cast of I Want My Wife Back

 

Turning to your other work, do you have any regrets about giving up Death in Paradise? Or about your character being killed off so you can never return?

I really miss the show and I’d have loved to have continued. Richard Poole was one of the most fantastic characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, really good fun.

I miss Guadaloupe as well, but I feel like it was the right thing to do.

[Regarding regrets] you never really know, you’re just doing things on instinct. I’d done three series and I didn’t want to outstay my welcome.

I remember having a meeting with (exec producer) Tony Jordan, and him saying, “I think it would be a really bold thing for you to be murdered in the show, so we’d have to investigate your murder,” and I thought that’s just a brilliant idea, and right in keeping with the tone of the show—which never really took itself that seriously. But when it was happening, it felt like a violation, it felt shocking.

Being stabbed to death with an ice pick seemed a really brutal way to go. I remember when we were filming it and I’d just done my final shot in a pool of blood, pulling out the ice pick and saying, “Can I change my mind?”

 

Will we see another series of Armstrong and Miller?

I hope so. I’d certainly love to do one, but there are no plans at the moment.

 

I spotted that next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the first series. Have you planned anything to mark the occasion?

That’s kind of terrifying, isn’t it? Well, we’ll have to have a party. But whether that will roll over into shooting another series, I don’t know.

 

You’ve recently been onscreen in ITV’s It’s Not Rocket Science. Were you involved in the creation of the show, or did ITV feel obliged to ask you to co-present because they’d stolen your book title?

Again, I was one of the first to sign on and I got really involved in the creation of the show.

I loved it, there was a brilliant team behind it, and it was testament to their good nature to let me play with the train set. I think it came across in the show that everything I was doing was something that I really, really wanted to do.

All the items sprang from my own interests. It was like a bucket list show for me really, I got to do all the things I’ve wanted to do for about twenty years, like fly with the Red Arrows, find alien life… It was amazing, an incredible experience.

 

What will we be seeing you in next?

I’d love to do more of I Want My Wife Back, but we’ll have to wait and see how it goes down. I never really know what’s going to happen next, but that’s the nature of the job. Until I’m actually filming something and I’m there on set with my wig and tights on, I never take anything for granted.

Probably the next thing is a show called We Love Sitcom, which is going to be a one-off panel show celebrating BBC sitcoms, for which we’re going to have some amazing guests. The panellists are going to be the stars of our most loved sitcoms.

 

Without giving anything away, can we assume that this series ends in a way that allows for a second run?

It certainly does narratively. I hope it does too in terms of the audience liking it. You just never know.

Nobody watches things at the time they go out anymore, so it’s increasingly hard to judge how things are going when they’re going out. It’s not exactly headline news, is it? "Showbiz Riddled With Uncertainty". But it’s definitely more uncertain than it was. I just hope people come to the show and give it a chance.

 

I Want My Wife Back stars on BBC One Monday 18 April at 9:30pm

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