Cu­cum­ber Ba­nana Tofu

Fred­die Fox

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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

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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

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