For fans of British TV, Ian McNeice and Joe Absolom are instantly recognizable as the father and son duo Bert and Al Large in the hit dramedy Doc Martin. The duo were recently in Boston for an event organized by American Public Television to publicize the show which is currently airing on Acorn TV. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with Joe and Al about the Doc Martin.
Doc Martin is built around the idea that, Dr Ellingham is a fish out of water as a city slicker trying to adapt to life in the South-West. As actors, can you guys relate to his predicament when you leave London behind and head down to Port Isaac to start production?
Joe “We’ve been filming in Port Isaac for so long that we’ve become part of the tapestry of the town. Over the last nine years, we’ve integrated with the locals very well which is good because you don’t want to alienate people when you’re filming. We don’t hide when we’ve finished filming, we get out into the community and spend time with people so really we are part of village life. You could say that we are the village people!”
How much time do you spend in Port Isaac?
Ian “We go there every other year for four months. We spend about two weeks working on each episode. We say goodbye to London and we stay in cottages from April until the end of July. It’s a beautiful part of the country and a wonderful place to raise kids so we really enjoy it. We become Port Isaacson’s for four months every year! In England, the school holidays begin right at the start of August. Port Isaac is a very popular holiday destination so we have to wrap up filming before the tourists arrive.”
Do you ever have issues with excitable tourists wandering onto the sets or trying to get on camera when you’re filming scenes?
Ian “We are pretty well protected by the production team who try to keep people away from the sets. Occasionally though, we do have problems. Fairly recently we were filming a scene in the restaurant when a family wandered in. Mum and Dad came over and told me that they wanted to book a table. All of the tables were laid out so it looked like quite a nice place to have lunch. We had some difficulty explaining to them that it wasn’t real.”
What kind of impact does your decade-long onscreen father and son relationship have on your personal relationship offscreen?
Joe “We can’t stand each other! Just kidding. When you are filming on location for a long period of time you all give each other some space but then you meet up for dinner. Our family have been to Ian’s for dinner and we meet up sometimes back in London.”
Ian “For me, Joe is like the son I never had. I always tell my kids to be more like Joe! He is very much a man of Port Isaac. His daughter was even born down there last year while we were filming.”
Joe “We had a few false alarms with the pregnancy while I was filming and we explored the possibility of using a birthing pool at the rental cottage — but that didn’t work out. Anyway, we did have a beautiful baby girl called Daisy Mae. Her initials are DM but that’s purely coincidental and nothing to do with her being born while we were making Doc Martin!”
Why are stars such as yourselves, Eileen Atkins, Louise Jameson and of course, Martin Clunes so eager to appear in Doc Martin?
Ian “The writing is very good. We film every other year so that gives the writers a chance to produce something of real quality. We have all worked together for so long that it has a family kind of atmosphere.”
Joe “It has a very good reputation. I was in a stage play last year and all of the other cast members said they wanted to be in it. Martin Clunes is very affable and his wife is the producer. They work hard to create a very happy atmosphere on set. Also, it’s nice being able to spend four months of the year in a holiday destination and get paid for it!”
How long do you think the show will keep going?
Joe “We all want to go out on the top. We’ve had a pretty good innings already but Martin Clunes won’t want to flog it to death. We’ll keep making it for as long as it works but obviously there are only a finite number of medical issues you can have in a small town.”
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
Ian “I am going to be in Doctor Who for the 50th anniversary. Joe had a huge success with Kevin Costner’s Hatfields and McCoys so it’s only a matter of time now before he becomes the next Clint Eastwood.”
Doc Martin Special Collection (Series 1-5 plus TV Movies) is available on DVD and the newest season, Series 6, is available on DVD Dec 10 from Amazon and AcornOnline.com . The entire series is available for streaming on Acorn TV, which has a free 30-day trial.