Vincent Franklin

GT (UK) - - CUCUMBER - WORDS RYAN BUTCHER

Of course, there wouldn’t be a se­ries if it wasn’t for our main pro­tag­o­nist, 46-year-old Henry Best. Played by the truly bril­liant Vincent Franklin – prob­a­bly best-known as Tory spin doc­tor Ste­wart Pear­son in The Thick of It – Henry is the kind of guy you’ll find your­self nod­ding in agree­ment with one minute, and shout­ing fu­ri­ously at your TV screens the next. Ei­ther way, he may be one of Rus­sell T Davies’ finest-ever cre­ations...

Vincent, look­ing back, how was it star­ring in Rus­sell T Davies’ first gay drama in 16 years? It was ex­tra­or­di­nary. I dis­cov­ered only at the very end, talk­ing to Rus­sell, that my very last line in the show was one that he wrote about ten years ago, and he’s al­ways wanted to put it in. So work­ing with somebody who spent ten years plot­ting and plan­ning all of this stuff is very ex­cit­ing. And his writ­ing is ex­tra­or­di­nary. What’s great about this is any­one who’s watch­ing this will be dragged along by the amaz­ing hu­man story that’s some­times hys­ter­i­cal, some­times shock­ing and some­times very emo­tional. Peo­ple who spend the full eight hours with us will come out the end pretty wrecked – in a good way. Or maybe wrecked in ev­ery sense of the word. Ev­ery sin­gle word Rus­sell has writ­ten has a rea­son for be­ing there and it’s driven by th­ese ex­tra­or­di­nary character’s he’s cre­ated. Like Henry. Some­times you’ll hate Henry and you’ll think he’s the most ridicu­lous man you’ve ever met, but then there’ll be other times where you say, “God, I wish he was my friend.” So let’s talk about Henry, who could very well be one of the most com­plex and in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters Rus­sell has ever cre­ated... Henry is some­one who’s life has be­come com­fort­able and, rather like a lit­tle boy who hasn’t been forced to grow up, he likes to push at life. He likes to light lit­tle fires to see what hap­pens. As we know from episode one, he lights a lit­tle fire that night, he pushes things a lit­tle bit in a way that means his en­tire house of cards col­lapses and, as the se­ries goes on, he’s forced to come to terms with who he is. What he does is some­thing we all do – if we’re un­happy with some­thing about our­selves, we think about chang­ing ex­ter­nal things. Whether it’s go­ing out and buy­ing a new car or whether it’s find­ing a new part­ner. Paint­ing over the cracks in your life. And then, what Henry sort of re­alises – partly be­cause he’s a gay man and partly be­cause he’s a man in his late 40s – is that he doesn’t know what’s ex­pected of him. It’s not clear. So he goes to live in a ware­house with th­ese boys, where he doesn’t know what the rules of life are. By episode eight, he sort of comes to terms and re­alises what he’s about. So it’s about a man grow­ing up re­ally and, like lots of men, he’s waited a long time to do it. But the best thing about Henry is that he’s al­ways right – and what he slowly learns is, it’s not al­ways good to be al­ways right. You must be get­ting asked a lot about be­ing a straight man play­ing a gay character? Peo­ple are ask­ing me all the time and I say, well, you know, it’s re­ally im­por­tant that straight ac­tors do keep play­ing gay char­ac­ters, and vice versa, un­til that ques­tion doesn’t need to be asked any­more. When I played a Tory in The Thick of It, no one ever asked me, “So, are you re­ally a Tory?” “What’s it like be­ing a Tory?” It’s prob­a­bly a lot harder th­ese days to come out as Tory th­ese days than gay. God, ab­so­lutely. The day there’s a Tory Times and I’m be­ing in­ter­viewed for it will be a sad day. What’s in­ter­est­ing is, I’m not play­ing some ‘ev­ery man’ gay character. I’m play­ing, quite specif­i­cally, Henry Best who works in in­surance – and that’s just as im­por­tant about him as well as ev­ery­thing else. My worry is that peo­ple might pi­geon­hole Cu­cum­ber or di­min­ish it by say­ing, “It’s just a gay drama, it’s a pro­gramme for peo­ple who are con­cerned about th­ese is­sues.” But ac­tu­ally, this is a show that ab­so­lutely cel­e­brates sex­u­al­ity, it ab­so­lutely cel­e­brates and ex­plores gay life in mid­dle age, but any­body watch­ing it will see it re­ally ex­plores re­la­tion­ships, sex and be­ing mid­dle-aged. Be­ing a mid­dle-aged straight man star­ring in a show like this must’ve opened you up to some new ter­mi­nol­ogy and, shall we say, at­ti­tudes to­wards sex? Ab­so­lutely. There were quite a few ac­tors who were quite sex­u­ally out there, who loved to use bits of ter­mi­nol­ogy. And I’ll tell you what – there’s a mo­ment of joy and dis­ap­point­ment for me in the new way that peo­ple hook up. I’m of a gen­er­a­tion that Henry is, where you met peo­ple and it took you a long time to read the sig­nals be­fore the first time you went out, the first time you snogged and the first time you shagged. There’s some­thing amaz­ing about be­ing able to use tech­nol­ogy that says 50 yards away from where I’m stand­ing now is a man that I think I might fancy, and I can hit this thing here and be­fore I know it, we’re hooked up. You’re never alone with this tech­nol­ogy and the idea you could be sit­ting in your bed at univer­sity go­ing, “Is there any­body else here who’s go­ing through what I’m go­ing through?” And you look at an app on your phone that tells you: “Yes, there are other peo­ple in the flat be­low.” Just go knock on the door and you’re fine. That’s fan­tas­tic, be­cause lone­li­ness is a ter­ri­ble thing. But at the same time, it’s fuck­ing bru­tal as well, in the way it goes, “Yeah, re­ject you, don’t like you, don’t like you.” I know we’ve all done that but, please, I don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to see it on my phone. I don’t think I need to get told by my phone that I’m deeply unattrac­tive! At a time when the gov­ern­ment is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­der pres­sure for not ed­u­cat­ing enough on is­sues like sex­u­al­ity and sex­ual health, do you think shows like Cu­cum­ber are tak­ing on a bit of a so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity? I’m sure that’s right, but I think if you said to Rus­sell, “You’re tak­ing on a so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he’d prob­a­bly laugh and punch you in the face. What’s great about Rus­sell is that he takes great re­spon­si­bil­ity as a writer, but he’s true to his char­ac­ters and the world he cre­ates. He deals with so­cial is­sues be­cause that’s what his char­ac­ters are deal­ing with. I don’t think he sits there and thought of it in that soap sort of way, like, “Oh, we should have a men­tal health sto­ry­line.” He’s deal­ing with peo­ple who’re com­pletely real and vul­ner­a­ble. Lots of peo­ple have been say­ing that this se­ries is a bit shock­ing, and I think it WILL be shock­ing be­cause the truth can shock us. But it can also, at times, make us laugh hys­ter­i­cally, make us smile and make us cry. Noth­ing has been put in there to shock – it’s there be­cause Rus­sell is more hon­est than any other writer I know about him­self, and he al­lows his char­ac­ters to do aw­ful things. But we un­der­stand why. It’s some­thing that makes his writ­ing spe­cial.

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