Inbetweeners star James Buckley also appears in the special as the trusty sidekick of Inspector Hutton (Robbie Coltrane). Digital Spy caught up with James recently to find out about his new role and how it felt to be working with his comedy heroes, including Jennifer Saunders, Rik Mayall and Harry Enfield!
> Stephen Mangan Comic Strip interview: 'Playing Tony Blair was a joy'
How did you become involved with this latest Comic Strip?
"I got a phone call from my agent. I think Peter Richardson was interested in having me involved, because he's quite a fan of The Inbetweeners. I was in a position where I was going to wait for the Inbetweeners film to come out before I decided what I was going to do next, but as soon I was asked to be involved with Comic Strip, I was incredibly flattered and jumped at it.
"I'm a fan of the stuff they've done before and all of the people that are involved are basically my comedy heroes. It was really thrilling and exciting to be asked to be involved."
So you were a fan of the previous Comic Strip specials?
"Yeah, of course. I'm a really big fan of 'Bad News' - that's my favourite one."
Was it intimidating working with so many comedy greats?
"Yeah, it was the most nervous I've ever been in my life! I was just trying to act really cool, I guess, because basically I was just a fan who'd been asked to come and work! So it was an unusual situation and I had to try really hard to stop myself from just shouting things like, 'You're Rik Mayall!' But it was great, it was a really good experience."
"It's just a small part. I play Robbie Coltrane's sidekick, and Robbie is the inspector who is on the chase for Tony Blair. They have a warrant for his arrest, for mass genocide, and he goes off on the run."
And what was it like working with Robbie?
"Really good. He was really nice, a really sweet guy. Everyone was really lovely and seemed really pleased that I was involved. And it was great for me as a young actor to be working with all these pros, these guys who are really good at what they do. I tried not to bore them too much by asking about The Young Ones and things like that.
"I spent most of my time with Robbie, just talking to him and conversing with him. I just tried to take in as much as I could and learn from him as much as possible."
Do you still feel like you are learning and growing as a performer?
"Yeah, I still feel like I've got no idea what I'm doing! Very much so. I'm not sure when that feeling goes away. I don't know if it ever does. I don't know if you ever do stop learning really."
The Hunt for Tony Blair has a film noir feel to it. Was it fun filming in that style?
"Yeah, it was great. I saw the finished episode a couple of weeks ago and just how brilliant it looks and how beautifully it's been shot is almost funny in itself.
"It's quite ironic - Peter Richardson has done an amazing job and it looks great. I felt that was funny in itself - how great it looks [compared to] what the content was. It's sort of like a joke on top of a joke all the way through it."
If Comic Strip returns again, would you be interested in appearing in another episode?
"Yeah, of course, I'd love to be. I'm very much interested in working with Peter again. I think he's brilliant - a great guy and a great director - and I'm hoping to get involved in some more of his stuff. I'd jump at it, obviously!"
Having played a character liked Jay in The Inbetweeners, do you feel like you want to break away from that character now?
"I never really over-think things that much, really. I don't even consider myself to be particularly funny. I've always just thought of myself as an actor and if there's a part that I think I'd be good at doing and would be worthwhile, I've always tried to get involved.
"I think that's the mentality I'll always have, going about my life. If something's fun and you'll enjoy doing it, there's no reason why you shouldn't. That's basically the criteria that I judge jobs by."
Having said that, would you ever like to play a completely straight role?
"Yeah of course. I mean, I always think that everything I do is straight. I guess I'm funny in The Inbetweeners because the lines are funny, but I always try to play them realistically and straight, and how I think they should be said. I guess as an actor, that's all you can do."
"Yeah, I guess so. As I said, I take everything as it comes and I'll judge everything on its own merits. There's not a science to deciding what to do next, it's just something that I want to be involved with, whatever that is. It could be television again, or film, or stage, or I might decide to be a racing driver or something! It's that sort of feeling for me."
But do you have any particular career goals?
"I've always just taken it as it comes. I've never set myself any goals. I think the only goal that I've set myself is just to enjoy my life and to have a good time.
"This industry is quite risky and not as stable as a proper job, or what you'd call 'a proper job'. But I've always felt that if you're going to do this, you might as well do it properly and only do things that appeal to you. I've always been an all-or-nothing kind of guy - if it's something I want to do, I'll do it, and if it's not, then I won't even consider it."
And are you disappointed that Rock & Chips has come to an end?
"I'm disappointed about John Sullivan mostly. It's incredibly sad and it was unbelievable news when I first heard [that he'd died]. I'm very sad that I won't get to work with John again. He was a really lovely man - he really enjoyed what he was doing and had such enthusiasm.
"He didn't take what he was doing for granted, even though he'd been writing successful sitcoms for so many years. He still had such hunger and a passion for what he did, which was infectious. He loved what he did and ironically was so full of life, so to hear that news didn't make any sense to me at all.
"That's what I'm sad about the most. I mean, I loved doing Rock & Chips and I thought that there was scope for many more. But I'm proud of it and I'm not too disappointed to be leaving it now. I would've loved to have done something else with John again, that's for sure."
The Comic Strip Presents... The Hunt for Tony Blair airs this Friday at 9pm on Channel 4.