Out of Of­fice

Since play­ing David Brent’s syco­phan­tic side­kick in The Of­fice, Macken­zie Crook has be­come a mi­nor movie star, thanks largely to his role in Pi­rates of the Caribbean. So why is this crit­i­cally ac­claimed and com­mer­cially vi­able ac­tor still ner­vous, asks Do

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

EAR WITH me while I at­tempt a slightly far-fetched com­par­i­son. Macken­zie Crook is to Jeremy Irons as An­thony An­drews is to Martin Free­man. Whereas ev­ery­body ex­pected the boy­ish An­drews to emerge from ITV’s Brideshead Re­vis­ited as a ma­jor star, it was, in fact, Irons, less good-look­ing, but more ver­sa­tile, who achieved proper celebrity. Sim­i­larly Free­man, who played the hap­less Tim in The Of­fice, Ricky Ger­vais’s mighty sit­com, seemed to be the cast mem­ber most likely to forge a suc­cess­ful ca­reer away from Slough’s favourite pa­per mer­chants.

Well, Free­man has popped up in the odd film since then, but his ca­reer is al­ready lag­ging some­way be­hind that of Crook. The tiny, sharp-faced ac­tor, who played syco­phan­tic Gareth in The Of­fice, se­cured a sup­port­ing role in all three Pi­rates of the Caribbean films and last year re­ceived ec­static re­views as Kon­stantin in a tri­umphant pro­duc­tion of An­ton Chekhov’s The Seag­ull. Now he has been dragged to a Lon­don ho­tel to pro­mote his role in a strange lit­tle com­edy called Three and Out.

“Yeah. I am re­ally be­gin­ning to tire of lis­ten­ing to my own voice,” he says, while fail­ing to lo­cate sugar for his cof­fee.

De­spite his re­cent suc­cesses, Crook still seems in­or­di­nately ner­vous and un­com­fort­able in his own frame. He rarely looks you in the eye. He al­lows his sen­tences to grad­u­ally de­cay into a breathy el­lip­sis.

“Yes. I am still sus­cep­ti­ble to nerves,” he says. “I can get anx­ious about the work. I didn’t go to drama school, so I do some­times feel like I am not prop­erly qual­i­fied. I still feel like I am learn­ing the ropes.”

He got the chance to talk to a few act­ing leg­ends while work­ing on Three and Out. The film, in which Crook’s Lon­don tube driver agrees to en­gi­neer the demise of sui­ci­dal Colm Meaney, also fea­tures Imelda Staunton and An­thony Sher.

“It is in­spir­ing just see­ing the con­fi­dence ac­tors like that bring to their job. With An­thony and Imelda and Colm, you just get this sense that they know they can do the work.”

Why would some­body so con­spic­u­ously nerv- ous de­cide to move into the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try? Raised in the most mid­dle-class cor­ner of Kent, Paul Macken­zie Crook is the son of a travel agent and a hospi­tal man­ager. By the age of 10, it had al­ready be­come clear that he was not grow­ing at the ex­pected pace and he was pro­scribed hor­mone treat­ment. In pre­vi­ous in­ter­views, Macken­zie, now 36, has ad­mit­ted that the fo­cus on his phys­i­cal dif­fer­ence did add to his self-con­scious­ness. Yet, af­ter leav­ing school, he still felt able to launch him­self into the cruel world of stand-up com­edy.

“Well, this will seem odd – be­cause I did start on the com­edy cir­cuit – but I never saw my­self as a comic. Ev­ery­thing I did was scripted. I would break away from the script to deal with heck­lers, but, es­sen­tially, I was play­ing a part all the way through. So when I got into television with The Of­fice, it seemed like a nat­u­ral move.”

But it must have re­quired real in­ner strength to en­dure a decade play­ing the likes of Char­lie Cheese, “the cheeky chirpy chappy from Chor­ley”. Were there ever times when he felt tempted to throw it all in and be­come an ac­coun­tant or a plum­ber? “I don’t think so. Through­out that 10 years, I was work­ing my way up grad­u­ally. If it ever seemed like I was get­ting into a rut, I would take a show to the Ed­in­burgh fes­ti­val or what­ever. It’s been a grad­ual climb for me. Ob­vi­ously, there have been larger leaps for­ward – like The Of­fice or Pi­rates – but it still seemed like a steady climb for me.”

Crook had worked along­side Ger­vais on Chan­nel 4’s The 11 O’Clock Show, but he is adamant that he had no in­put into the ini­tial cre­ation of the ex­tra­or­di­nary Gareth Keenan. In­deed, the char­ac­ter, who ex­hibits a creepy de­vo­tion to David Brent, boss of the pa­per man­u­fac­tur­ers, was orig­i­nally cre­ated for Stephen Mer­chant, Ger­vais’s co-writer.

“Well, the first time I read it with my nor­mal ac­cent, then they asked if I could do a West Coun­try ac­cent. Stephen is from Bris­tol, so that did, maybe con­firm that they did orig­i­nally write it for Stephen.”

Though Mer­chant is a bril­liant comic per­former, it is now im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine any­body other than Crook play­ing Gareth. The ac­tor man­aged to bring a hint of ter­ri­ble vul­ner­a­bil­ity to the blonde toady whose week­end ad­ven­tures in the Ter­ri­to­rial Army caused his work­mates such hi­lar­ity. I won­der if Macken­zie, hav­ing looked at Gareth from the inside, can tell us any­thing about the char­ac­ter we don’t al­ready know.

“He is just very child­like,” he says. “That’s his down­fall. He wants to be pop­u­lar more than any­thing and looks upon Brent as the most ma­ture and in­tel­li­gent per­son he knows. That’s sad in it­self. Ev­ery­thing he does is to make peo­ple like him.” It sounds as if Crook re­mains fond of Gareth, de­spite his abun­dant flaws.

“Yes, I am very fond of him. He is not a vin­dic­tive char­ac­ter. He is just trag­i­cally naïve. Hope­fully, I will never tire of talk­ing about him. He is a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter and, for some rea­son, peo­ple just took him to their hearts. The mo­ment I read the script of The Of­fice, I knew it was some­thing spe­cial and I knew it was go­ing to con­nect with peo­ple.”

Af­ter the se­ries scooped up ev­ery com­edy award worth win­ning, Crook was con­fronted with sec­ond-album syn­drome. There was ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity that an ac­tor with such an ec­cen­tric ap­pear­ance would have trou­ble se­cur­ing fur­ther roles. But, as it hap­pened, it was Crook’s very odd­ness that caught the eyes of main­stream film-mak­ers. Johnny Depp, who had worked with Crook on Find­ing Nev­er­land, rec­om­mended him to the men be­hind Pi­rates of the Caribbean, and he was of­fered the part of Ragetti, a daft pi­rate with an inse-

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cure glass eye.

The cheques from the three Pi­rates movies helped Gareth buy a sub­stan­tial pile in north Lon­don. The house, which he shares with his wife and two chil­dren, was once owned by Peter Sell­ers.

“I had al­ready de­cided this house was the one,” he says. “Then the wo­man who owned it dropped in and men­tioned it once be­longed to Peter Sell­ers. Well, I would have paid dou­ble then. I don’t be­lieve in the su­per­nat­u­ral, but I do of­ten think that this is where he lived when he was in The Goons, and Spike Milligan and Harry Se­combe must all have been there.

“Sell­ers planted a beech tree at the bot­tom of the gar­den and the neigh­bours hate it be­cause it sheds leaves and blocks the sun. But I like the fact that Sell­ers is still an­noy­ing peo­ple from be­yond the grave.”

Macken­zie must, surely, have wor­ried that he was in dan­ger of be­ing type­cast as the de­luded grotesque.

“There was a pe­riod when I was al­ways turn­ing up as one half of a fat-and-skinny dou­ble act. There was Lee Aren­berg and me in Pi­rates. Then Johnny Ve­gas and me in Sex Lives of the Potato Men, and then the stuff with Ricky. There was a point when I said: ’I will never work with short fat men again’.”

Sex Lives of the Potato Men, a very broad Bri­tish com­edy, whose plot re­quires no fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion, at­tracted some of the worst re­views in liv­ing me­mory. (“One of the two most nau­seous films ever made,” the Sun­day Times said with­out clar­i­fy­ing what the other might be.) Yet a few years later, Crook man­aged to cap­ti­vate au­di­ences and crit­ics with his rev­e­la­tory per­for­mance in Ian Rick­son’s pro­duc­tion of The Seag­ull at The Royal Court Theatre. Ni­cholas de Jongh, the Evening Stan­dard’s vet­eran critic, felt the young ac­tor was more im­pres­sive than his co-star, vet­eran Kristin Scott Thomas.

“Scott Thomas’s lim­i­ta­tions serve only to make Crook’s Kon­stantin ap­pear more pa­thet­i­cally iso­lated and his tran­si­tion from TV co­me­dian to se­ri­ous ac­tor more amaz­ing,” de Jongh wrote.

This must have felt like a kind of vin­di­ca­tion for Macken­zie. Theatre crit­ics al­ways have their knives sharp­ened for ac­tors who gain fame in other me­dia.

“Maybe, but I didn’t get into the pro­duc­tion just to show I could do more se­ri­ous work. Frankly, I didn’t know I could do it un­til the re­views started com­ing in. Ian Rick­son got the idea of cast­ing me as Kon­stantin, hav­ing just seen me in The Of­fice and Pi­rates, but I am for­ever in his debt for hav­ing that con­fi­dence. It re­ally was nerve-rack­ing em­bark­ing on that and it was re­ally quite grat­i­fy­ing that it worked out.”

Per­haps he might like to paste the re­views of The Seag­ull be­side those of Sex Lives of the Potato Men in his scrap­book. The lat­ter would serve to re­mind him (like the fel­low who used to stand be­hind Cae­sar and whis­per about mor­tal­ity) that, even in mo­ments of tri­umph, catas­tro­phe is al­ways at our el­bow.

“Yeah maybe,” he laughs. “Though, you know, I don’t think I kept any of the re­views from Sex Lives.”

Colm Meaney and Maken­zie Crook in Three and Out

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