Cucumber Banana Tofu
He’s baaaaaack. After revolutionising gays on telly in Queer as Folk, and making Doctor Who ‘a thing’ again, Russell T Davies is back with what might very well be his magnum opus. Not content with creating just ONE show, Russell is back with THREE – the triumphant telly triad of Cucumber, Banana and Tofu, all interlinked and spread across Channel 4, E4 and 4OD respectively. You’re going to hear from the emerging stars and established actors who make up the colourful cast in Russell’s new universe. And, of course, from RTD himself. But what better place to start than the man who’s sure to become a bona fide iconslash-heartthrob overnight? We give you, Freddie Fox...
We first meet Freddie Fox on a July afternoon in a warehouse in central Manchester. He has a thick, foppish mane of blonde hair, piercing steelblue eyes and, take it from us, in the flesh he’s absolutely stunning. Intimidatingly so. It’s ridiculous.
Freddie invites us to sit on a couch – a garish, orange couch which’ll be used as a set piece somewhere down the line. After managing to pick our jaws from the floor and regain strength in our knees, we join him.
We’re speaking in hushed whispers as, just a few feet below us, Freddie’s Cucumber co-lead Vincent Franklin is finishing what will become a pivotal scene in the narrative. But even while trying to keep his voice down, Freddie can’t mask the excitement of being involved in Russell T Davies’ latest masterpiece.
“I can’t say I’ve had more fun or a more successful artistic experience – ever,” Freddie beams, his eyes lighting up. “Both socially and artistically speaking, it’s been an absolute triumph. To begin with, the scripts are amazing and the characters are beautifully deep. But I’ve admired the script since I first auditioned for it.”
But before we go on with Freddie, let’s give you some context. You should’ve seen the trailers by now – and depending on when you read this, you might’ve even seen an episode or two. And if not, we’ve been banging on about Cucumber, Banana and Tofu since it was first announced last year, so there’s really no excuse. But if you’re really NOT in the know, we’ll recap.
Channel 4’s Cucumber follows the story of 46-year-old Henry Best [played by Vincent Franklin] who, after a disastrous night with his long-suffering boyfriend Lance – involving a threesome gone wrong, a suicide and an unhealthy amount of Boney M – looks to begin life anew. He soon finds himself in a bohemian-esque flat share with his work friend Dean and the beautiful Freddie Baxter – that’s Freddie Fox’s character. The name similarity is just a coincidence. We asked.
Freddie is everything Henry isn’t and, perhaps more importantly, everything he wants to be. He’s a bisexual nymphomaniac who’s cool, cocky and confident with his sexuality; wielding sex as a weapon rather than fearing it, like Henry. And Henry wants him, more than he’s ever wanted anyone in his entire life. What follows is an intricately woven story of tragedy, comedy and raw sexual energy, centred around their unlikely relationship.
You’ll also see Freddie crop up from time to time in Banana, too. But the E4 show is more of a companion to its Channel 4 counterpart, rather than a continuation, with selfcontained episodes focused around marginal characters in Cucumber, who’re perhaps only lingering in the background of an episode. A onenight stand for Freddie, for example.
And Tofu? That’ll be a factual web-series best described as an online guide to sex – straight, gay, trans, young, old and everything in between. But we digress, back to Freddie. “Freddie is a bisexual Mancunian nymphomaniac,” explains the actual Freddie. “He’s just moved in to a new flat with people he’s aware of, but not really known. And Henry arrives, who’s another complete unknown. He’s skating on thin ice, because his parents have him on a leash. For someone who’s nature is not to be well behaved, he’s trying to fit in. To tie himself down, he gets a boring drone job in the canteen of HC Clements, where Henry works as an insurance man. He’s just trying to get by, but he’s drifting through life a bit lost.
“He’s one of the great characters I’ve ever been able to play. He’s a bit of a jewel – they don’t come around like this very often.”
If there’s one sentiment we’ve found shared by every member of the Cucumber and Banana cast that we’ve spoken to – and one we hope
you’ll agree with as you read these pages – it’s that Russell’s return shouldn’t be seen as a ‘gay series’, or pigeonholed as such. But, in fact, should be recognised for what it truly is – a celebration of life and living, love and lust, sex and sexuality, in whatever form that may take.
“Every tiny relationship you can think of – from bisexual to straight, gay to lesbian – it’s all covered in this show. The voices are many. It makes it a show, not about gay minorities, but about everybody. I firmly believe that society is made up of a majority of minorities. We’re all in a minority, in a way. Very few people fit one bracket. It’s about everybody – and all the quirks in between.”
It’s what makes Russell’s characters – perhaps in Cucumber and Banana more so than in any other show he’s ever written – so relatable. Everyone who watches will be able to see pieces of themselves played out on screen, and it’s a notion that’s not lost on Freddie, either.
“Like every character you play,” he tells us, “if you’re going to do it well and with truth, you’re going to have to invest some of yourself into it. There are some elements of me in there, and there are some things that are completely not me – which is actually, funnily enough, easier, because you WANT to go to those places. You WANT to go there. That’s the lovely thing about being an actor. It’s so cathartic to play things you’ll probably never be in life.”
We don’t want to spoil too much for you, but with a character who rides so many roller coasters of emotions and sentiments as Freddie, was there anything the young actor found particularly challenging?
“Wearing a cock sock!” Freddie laughs. “I didn’t enjoy it, but I got used to it. I’ve really enjoyed being able to display my range as an actor, though. I can scream, I can cry, I can shag – and I got to do it all every day as a northerner.
“Working with Vincent [Franklin] has been such a joy. He’s such a brilliant actor and I’ve learned so much from him. He’s just impeccable. That’s what I want to be – I want to have the body of work of Vincent’s when I’m his age.”
We don’t know about you, but we blacked out for a minute or two when we heard Freddie say ‘cock sock.’ Obviously, the sex scenes are an integral part of the Cucumber and Banana – but whereas previously, gay sex has been used on telly to shock and tantalise, in this, the scenes take on a real raison d’être, as you might expect.
“The sex has been beautifully handled,” explains Freddie. “I have to have sex with a lot of people, as per the character. Men and women. And it’s all been, well, quite sexy.
“Sex scenes are notorious for being awful and dead of any sexual desire. You know, making noises you’d never make during real sex. But this has all been quite hot. Maybe that’s Russell’s writing? Maybe it’s the cast? Maybe it’s the tone that’s been set by the directors? When it’s a show all about sex and everything it entails, it’s important that the sex is, well, good.” We couldn’t agree more. It’s a few months later when we see Freddie again. Filming for Cucumber and Banana has long-since been wrapped up, and it’s the calm before the storm – before he’s written into the annals of TV history as, perhaps, one of Russell T Davies’ greatest-ever creations. But if Freddie is indeed about to become an overnight sex symbol and icon, which we believe he will, he’s certainly not preparing himself for it.
“It’s a character that’ll appeal to gay audiences,” he says, “but I certainly don’t expect to be a gay icon or anything. It’s not a question of wanting to be one, either. I’m an actor, rather than someone who’s representative of a core.
“I feel very lucky, in the truest sense, to have be given the opportunity to play Freddie Baxter. I think sometimes I’ve gotten him really right, which I’m proud of, and sometimes there’ll be things I’ll watch back and go, ‘Fuck sake! That’s just not right.’”
We, Russell T Davies and Freddie Fox all agree – there’s a little bit of Freddie Baxter in all of us. Whether it’s for a fleeting moment on a night out when we strut our stuff and know that we’re the absolute shit, the way we approach our friends and relationships, or even the way we approach sex. It’s what makes him such a delight to watch on screen. But is there anything we – or even Mr Fox himself – can learn from the character of Freddie Baxter?
“People would say to me, ‘I don’t suppose you need any more excess confidence than what you have already.’ But a lot of confidence, as I’m sure you know, is to cover up a lot of insecurity and wanting to make a good impression with people you’ve never met before. And that’s something that I personally learned from him.
“He’s fucked up, but he’s confident and he trusts himself, and that’s enough to win people over. He doesn’t have to try and be nice or disingenuous or emotionally inauthentic. He can be who he is, and if people don’t like it, he says, ‘Well fuck you, you’re not worth my time.’ That kind of confidence is what’s very interesting and very attractive. When you see people who’re really grounded and know themselves, you go, ‘OK, you can be a bit abrasive, but you’re being truthful and I want to spend some time with you.’”
And readers, we don’t know about you, but whether it’s Freddie Fox, Freddie Baxter or anyone else from the colourful cast of Cucumber and Banana, they’re all people we’re looking forward to spending time with – and going on a journey with – for the next eight weeks on Channel 4 and E4. Strap yourself in tight, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.
The sex has been beautifully handled. I have to have sex with a lot of people, as per the character. Men and women. And it’s all been, well, quite sexy. Sex scenes are notorious for being awful and dead of any sexual desire. But this has all been quite hot
Cucumber episode three