Q&A: Phill Jupitus on new film, The Big Bad Fox

Simon Button

Phill Jupitus talks to us about Scotland, family, and his new film, The Big Bad Fox And Other Tales

Isle Of Wight-born Phil Jupitus started out as a political poet in the 1980s before branching out into stand-up comedy and acting. Best known for being a team captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks for its 19-year run and for his frequent appearances on the QI panel, he’s currently voicing the character of Dog in the animated film The Big Bad Fox And Other Tales. A father to two grown-up daughters, he lives in Fife with his wife Shelley.

 

RD: You voice Dog in the film. How did you tap into your inner canine?

Phil: A cursory look at Wikipedia will tell you I was a rabbit in Watership Down, I played some ants in Rex The Runt and I played a dog on a kids’ TV show called Bottom Knocker Street so I’ve got form. The thing with The Big Bad Fox is that when I got into the studio to do the voice I was thinking, What would a dog sound like? and they went, “Just do you.” We looked at the dog—fat, grumpy, cup of tea, doesn’t want anything to do with what’s going on—and they went, “That’s you”, which I’m not sure was meant as a compliment.

RD: Are you a dog lover in real life?

Phil: We had a dog but very sadly lost him last year, but he was around for 15 years which for a Staffordshire bull terrier is good going. With my itinerant lifestyle now, with myself and my wife splitting our time between Scotland and down south, it wouldn’t be very fair to get a new dog. I still mainly tour and as much as I’d love a dog I need to wait until I retire.

RD: Is one of the joys of doing voice work that it doesn’t matter how you look?

Phil: [Laughs] When one is in London one has to cut a certain dash, but how I look is not something I usually concern myself with.

RD: Given your screen and stage persona, do people expect you to be droll and witty in real life?

Phil: I’ve started talking about this in my gigs, that the bloke people see on stage or on the telly kind of doesn’t exist. The television one is a fella who sits at a desk with a load of friends larking about and then it’s edited into the narrative of a half-hour comedy show.

Then before I go on stage I go into this strange sort of foetus state where I’m doing nothing, being really quiet, and it’s almost like I have to be quiet to let the beast out. I say in my show, “The guy that you’re watching right now only exists in this moment you’re watching him”. When I meet people in public I can almost sense their disappointment that I’m not stage Phil or telly Phil, I’m just Phil who has two daughters and lives a quiet life on the coast of Scotland and is a low-energy bloke.

"It was a case of, 'Why not live somewhere really beautiful for what remains of your life?'"

RD: What are most enjoying about life in Fife?

Phil: My daughters both live away now and when they left home we decided to make the move. I’ve spent a lot of time in Scotland because of the Edinburgh Fringe and last summer I toured all around Scotland and found it to be an insanely beautiful country. So it was case of, “Why not live somewhere really beautiful for what remains of your life?” Plus, I always think change is good.

RD: What are your pleasures in life away from work?

Phil: I do collage artwork. I love country walking and that fits very well with life on the coast. I’m trying to work my way through chunks of the Fife Coastal Path, doing five-eight mile stretches depending on how energetic I’m feeling on any given day.

When you have a job that’s so immediate in terms of your brain activity there’s no better relaxation than spending time just trudging and thinking about nothing. I like to write poetry, too; I’ve hit something of a dry period but I’m not worried about it because if you panic you won’t start writing again. I look forward to when inspiration strikes. 

RD: Now that your girls are grown up, do you get to see much of them?

Phil: I saw my eldest, Emily, the other night but the younger one, Molly, lives in the States so those visits are few and far between, but we go over there or she comes here and we don’t let a year go by without trying to get a couple of visits in.

RD: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from your 30-plus appearances on QI?

Phil: It was when Stephen Fry said, “Tell me when the sun has gone down” and I went, “Now”. He said, “No, it’s still there” and I went, “But it’s dark”. Turns out it’s the bending of the light that makes it look like it’s gone when it’s still there. That absolutely, properly blew my mind.

"I’m still really enjoying gigging but it’s starting to take more of a toll than it used to"

RD: You’re performing at the Edinburgh Fringe at the moment. Do you still get the same buzz from doing live shows?

Phil: I’m doing three shows a day and it’s like your body is a lab where you go, “What sort of stresses and strains can I subject it to?” This is the first time I’ve felt tired at night. I’m still really enjoying gigging but it’s starting to take more of a toll than it used to. But then I’ve had a really busy year—doing a 100-date tour and moving house—so I think it’s more that than not being physically able to do gigs anymore.

RD: What’s the one thing you have to have in your dressing room?

Phil: Weirdly I don’t use a dressing room anymore. I do this thing where I’m on stage with my back to the audience from when people are coming in and in the interval, I just mull around and have a chat. I find it odd that when you go see a show you’re in a building where at a prescribed moment the performer appears, does their bit, disappears again for 15 minutes, then comes back out. I’m blurring the lines a bit.

The Big Bad Fox And Other Tales is in cinemas now