- Iconic comedy-drama Cold Feet returns to ITV this Friday after a 13 years hiatus
- The show previously won awards for being the ‘Most Popular Comedy’
- Hermione was affected personally by the new storylines more than expected
- All the returning actors feel that the show will be a gamble
Trust James Nesbitt to come up with the analogy. His Cold Feet co-stars are thinking about how to describe their big reunion, when the cast of the iconic comedy-drama met up again last year to make a new series, after a hiatus of 13 years.
There’s much likening it to meeting up with old university pals, or attending a school reunion. James, who plays Adam, has a more startling recollection, describing looking into the mirror en route to the first day of filming, and seeing abject terror looking back.
‘It was like meeting up with a load of old lovers,’ he says. His co-stars look at him as if he is slightly deranged. ‘Well I was nervous,’ he argues. ‘I was apprehensive. I hadn’t seen people for ages!’
From left: Hermione Norris, Robert Bathurst, James Nesbitt, John Thomson and Fay Ripley return for the new season of ITV’s Cold Feet
There were nerves too from the female members of the ‘gang’, as this bunch of now middle-aged friends still think of themselves. The seemingly unflappable Fay Ripley admits that she willed the car taking her to the first day of filming to crash, so sick did she feel at the thought of turning back the clock.
Hermione Norris was beside herself with anxiety – mostly because she had read the script detailing what had become of her character Karen. And lo, Karen had become quite the sex goddess, getting more bedroom action than she ever did in the original series, when she was married to the hapless David, played by Robert Bathurst.
Did she punch the air when she read that script? No she did not. ‘The opposite!’ she laughs. ‘I mean, I think women loved seeing a woman of Karen’s age be sexually liberated and having a great time.
But as an actor when you read that script you think “oh no”. You think “my poor husband”.’ Fay nods furiously, and pulls what can only be described as a puke face. ‘You don’t want to go to work and kiss someone.’
On balance, though, everyone agrees that it is A Good Thing to have a middle-aged female character who still seems to have a pulse. ‘It’s so refreshing and nice to see a woman have a good time. Often, that’s a very male storyline,’ says Hermione. ‘And I have to say it was tastefully done. It wasn’t Fifty Shades.’
Hermione Norris, Robert Bathurst, James Nesbitt, John Thomson and Fay Ripley pictured with Helen Baxendale pictured in the early days of Cold Feet
Brace yourselves, though, Cold Feet fans. It seems the new series – which is pretty much a load of midlife crises all vying for attention – turns even saucier. Fay lets slip that she and John Thomson, who plays her character Jenny’s husband Pete (‘who always has his eye on the Pringles’), have been filming a passionate scene in their kitchen.
At their age? She explains that it’s a ‘fantasy flashback’. Jenny is grappling with a ‘who am I?’ phase, convinced that her best friend has dumped her, and while her husband is happy to settle for his lot in life, she wants more. More what, though? It’s hard to tell whether she’s talking about extra helpings of dinner, or sex. Perhaps both.
‘There is a lot of food involved,’ Fay says of this racy scene. ‘It got out of hand. I’m not going to lie. You could potentially use it as a cooking video as well. There were some health and safety issues, but I think we got there.’ John says, worryingly, ‘There were raspberries involved. They said we could improvise.’
Adam’s new love Tina (far left) with Pete, Jenny and David in a highly anticipated scene from the new series
What a blast it is catching up with the cast as they film series two of the ‘revamped’ comedy-drama. Holed up in their second home – Manchester, where the show is set – they are on relaxed form, much more so than this time last year when no one had the faintest idea whether the show would be welcomed back with garlands – or panned as the most clunky telly revival since Dallas brought Bobby Ewing back from the dead.
‘Relief, relief and relief,’ is how Robert Bathurst describes their reaction to the critical acclaim that followed. ‘I mean you can be confident in the script, you can watch a screening and think “it works”, but ultimately it’s down to the audience. There were never any guarantees. There still aren’t. We are all only too aware that we have to earn that affection.’
Perhaps it’s only now that they can be honest about what a gamble it was for all of them to reprise the roles that made them all famous. The show was, of course, based around the lives of three couples, all relatively carefree thirtysomethings.
Robert Bathurst, Hermione Norris and James Nesbitt pictured at this years National Television Awards. Hermione says she was affected by the new storylines more than expected
First time round we followed them as they embarked on family life and bought their first homes. Returning to those lives again – in middle age, when disappointments had set in, as well as wrinkles – was always going to be fraught. Hermione in particular shudders at how easy it would have been to be attached to a telly failure.
‘Historically, the chances of something coming back and not working were quite high. If people had just laughed it off, or been mean about it, it would have been hard. You don’t want to regret having done something.
I mean we had all been blown away by the new storylines. I was much more personally affected than I expected. I found that I really cared, particularly about what had happened to Adam and his son Matthew after his wife Rachel died. I was quite weepy about them. But in terms of whether viewers would be as engaged… well, we hoped, but you honestly never know.’
As it happened, the new Cold Feet – which found Adam remarrying, then regretting it and opening up a whole new chapter of romantic angst – was the triumph of the year. Critics raved about how writer Mike Bullen had managed to engage us once again with characters that were familiar, yet had evolved.
From Left: James Nesbitt, Fay Ripley, John Thomson, Ceallach Spellman, Hermione Norris, Leanne Best and Robert Bathurst pictured ready for the new season to begin
The storyline was striking. The show had never shied from merging the laugh-out-loud funny with the tragic (after the scene in which poor Rachel died when her car was hit by a lorry, the funeral was seen by 10.7 million viewers), but all these years later Mike Bullen tackled the topic of male depression, and had John Thomson’s character Pete struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Today, John admits he baulked a little at his script, too. ‘I mean I was a comedy actor,’ he says. ‘And this was dark stuff. Part of me was thinking, “But my pedigree is comedy”. I wasn’t sure I could do it. But I loved the fact that Mike Bullen thought I could do it.’
He wasn’t prepared for the emotional toll the role took, though. ‘It was odd for me to step into the dark side,’ he admits. Part of Pete’s storyline last season was when an elderly man asked him to help him die.
Even this did have some comic moments but, he says, ‘If you’re doing a comedy, you go home with a smile on your face, but when you’re dealing with the attempted murder of a pensioner you take a little of it home with you. There were nights after work I’d go home and think “Phew! Blimey”. It was a challenge, most definitely.’
The cast previously won the award for ‘Most popular comedy’ at the 2002 National TV Awards
Sobering too was the reaction Pete’s depression provoked in viewers. ‘All these people got in touch and said, “Pete’s story is my story. I’m going to see a doctor. I’m going to get help.” It was incredible. I mean I don’t see myself as an ambassador for male depression. It was overwhelming because I just set out to play the part, but it struck a chord out there.’
There is a danger of a comedy focusing too much on ‘issues’ though, says Robert Bathurst, adding that the new series is character-based rather than issue-led. As James Nesbitt points out, ‘We aren’t one of those shows that goes “infidelity, done it; abortion next”. It’s all driven by the characters.’
What happens in this new series, though? Well, we kick off with Adam landing a new job with a trendy dotcom company. Cue midlife crisis number one. He’s finding his feet too in his new relationship with Tina, his landlady, who turns out to be quite the commitment-phobe.
WHAT THE GANG HAS BEEN UP TO
Adam has been rebuilding the relationship with his son Matthew
Jenny is holding her family together through depression and ageing
Pete was balancing two jobs to make ends meet and battling with depression
David was last seen proposing to Karen as part of his roller-coaster love life
Karen has seen the return of her old nanny and her son Josh
Tina is being lured by Adam to trust him again
ADAM (James Nesbitt): The born charmer who lost his beloved Rachel tied the knot again last season with tycoon’s daughter Angela, but immediately regretted it.
She’s now returned to the Far East and he’s in Manchester, where he’s struck up a romance with his landlady, Tina.
He’s also rebuilding his relationship with his son Matthew, who’s a chip off the old block – he’s already had a fling with David and Karen’s daughter Ellie, but now prefers her twin, Olivia!
JENNY (Fay Ripley): Funny and fearless, Jenny’s always the glue holding her family together (except when she had an affair and got pregnant with daughter Chloe).
In the last series her marriage to plodding Pete looked in jeopardy as she enjoyed the attention of an admirer. But when she learnt Pete had depression she looked after him.
She now has teenage kids, an ageing mum and Pete to deal with, plus her own unfulfilled ambitions. Can she keep up the brave face?
PETE (John Thomson): Adam’s best mate, mostly known as poor Pete.
Permanently skint, but with a heart of gold, in the last series he was working two jobs as a taxi driver and a carer for the elderly as well as trying to battle through depression, and he gave us a fright when he talked about killing himself.
With an inheritance from the man he cared for coming his way, surely it’s time something went right for him?
DAVID (Robert Bathurst): The posh, pompous suit is just too bumbling to hate.
His private life is a disaster: marriage number one, to Karen, was rocky for years before it ended, and marriage number two, to his cold-hearted divorce lawyer Robyn, has now also come a cropper.
After a stint in jail on remand for fraud, David found out the charges were to be dropped and in drunken celebration he decided to propose to Karen again.
Sadly, millionaire Eddie (played by Art Malik) had the same idea, and the two of them were last seen brawling on a Twister mat.
KAREN (Hermione Norris): She once seemed destined to be a bored, long-suffering businessman’s wife – now Karen has her own publishing firm and an exhausting love life.
Little wonder David seems to regret their split.
Life’s been spiced up further by the return of her old nanny Ramona, and of her son Josh, who came home with a surprise boyfriend, Juan.
TINA (Leanne Best): She started as Adam’s landlady, but it was clear she’d eventually become his lover.
Will it last, though? While he was growing obsessed with her, another lover came out of the woodwork, and Tina’s past proves to be as complex as they come.
She too has loved and lost – will Adam be able to convince her to trust again?
The ‘question of children’ also comes up, he reveals. Will it be happy-ever-after? Of course not. This is Adam. ‘History has shown us that the minute Adam is content he begins to look for reasons not to be,’ says James. ‘There has to be some kind of conflict, some element of danger, guilt, self-loathing or tomfoolery.’
Central to the new series is that question every fiftysomething asks themselves, he says. ‘He’s a man of 50 faced with that question, “What next? Is there a next? Or am I just biding my time?’” And what other examples of midlife ennui will we encounter? ‘Bicycles,’ says John Thomson. ‘That’s the classic new sign of the midlife crisis, isn’t it? There is a lot of Lycra.’
The big question when Cold Feet returned last year was always how the cast would handle the absence of Adam’s true love, Rachel (played by Helen Baxendale), such a key character from the original line-up.
John Thomson as Pete Gifford and James Nesbitt as Adam Williams pictured in a scene from the new series. John Thomson previously struggled with drink when the show first launched
Her death brought the first run of the show to a shuddering, devastating end. The idea of bringing her back – even in ghost form – had been mooted, but ultimately dismissed when Helen decided not to return. James talks of how difficult he found being on set without her.
There was one particular scene that proved more emotional than he expected, he says. Just before Adam got married again, to Angela, a much younger woman he’d met in Singapore, he took his and Rachel’s son Matthew back to the house where he’d spent his early years.
James says that afterwards he was showered with praise for his acting. He leans in. ‘I found that very easy to play,’ he admits. ‘I was in pieces – for real. I was having to rein it in rather than work to get the emotion there. I missed her terribly. I mean it was such a strong relationship. I think Adam and Rachel had a really great love story, I really do. It was a proper love story.’
Imagine being the ‘new’ Rachel on set, then. It’s the tag actress Leanne Best – who plays Tina – has been landed with, having joined the cast for last year’s series. ‘Not terrifying at all,’ she says, with a nervous laugh. It was a quirk of fate that caused Leanne to look startlingly like Helen Baxendale, though.
The cast of the series had heard rumours of the shows return for so long that they believed it would never happen
Her short dark bob was ‘very much an accident’, she says, a salvage job after a previous role had forced her to bleach her blonde locks once too often. ‘The result is that I now look more like Rachel – which works for the storyline.
There has to be a nod to Rachel. But Tina’s very much her own character, with her own back story. It’s been lovely seeing how things develop between her and Adam. I don’t think I’m giving away too much to reveal that it’s not going to be plain sailing. They both bring a lot of baggage, let’s say.’
Among the original cast members, there is much talk of how much they had all aged since they last met up. Hermione and Fay pull at their faces and roll their eyes over how brutal the camera can be.
The men don’t. ‘I don’t really see it. When I look at other people I can see that they have aged, but when I look in the mirror I still think I’m looking at a 19-year-old,’ says the eternally chirpy Jimmy Nesbitt.
‘Well, I’m 25,’ quips John Thomson. And Robert Bathurst, who has the driest humour of the lot, deadpans about his tips for sliding into middle age. ‘I’ve always said that no one over 40 should wear jeans,’ he says. ‘That was a rule a while back, which seems to be broken. I think so long as you avoid the plum-coloured chinos, you are doing OK.’
John Thomson says that nothing prepares actors for fame and that he now feels better prepared to cope with the fame that will come when the season returns
There’s a more serious discussion, though, about whether it is easier to be a male actor than a female one these days. ‘Intelligent people say – I’m sure I’ve said it – “men age better”. I mean it’s what we believe is the tradition,’ says James. ‘It’s nonsense, but we are conditioned to think like that. Women age beautifully, but we are conditioned to think that it is not the case.’
Of course we can’t talk about ageing without the subject turning to James’s famous full head of hair. When he had a series of hair transplants, he was surprisingly open about it, but he had his own spitting-tea-over-the-script moment when he read a reference to Adam having a similar ‘procedure’.
‘He put it in, cheeky b*****d!’ he says of Mike Bullen’s nod to real life. Today he says he had no option but to go public about a deeply personal matter. ‘It was ridiculous for me not to talk about it. I mean I was bald – then I had hair and I thought, “I may as well say it, before someone else does.”’
Presumably his hair transplant surgeon was delighted to get the publicity? He smiles. ‘I probably did think, “I’ll get a couple of free ones out of this.” You can take the man out of County Antrim…’
Of course the return of Cold Feet had been mooted for years, to the point where the cast never really thought it would happen. ‘There were always rumours, but I never took it seriously,’ says Fay Ripley. Her family did take it seriously, however. After one (false) report, eight years ago, they actually threw Fay a party.
Robert Bathurst (pictured centre) believes the opportunities for working class actors to develop are being taken by the middle class due to the expenses of starting out in the industry
‘It was on the news!’ she remembers. ‘What happened was that someone had done an interview with Helen Baxendale and she had said, “Oh, it will probably come back.” That became a headline, which became an item on the BBC Six O’Clock News. Then my family threw a party.
They had a barbecue and lots of champagne. Oh marvellous. I was saying, “But I haven’t had a call. No one has told me. If it was going to return, I wasn’t going to be in it, clearly.’
What’s interesting about getting these very diverse actors together (‘We’re like a pop group, everyone has to be a bit different,’ muses Fay) is that their collective experience of the acting business is immense.
There’s much thanking their lucky stars, though, that Cold Feet changed their lives in the way it did. They all would hate to be starting out in today’s industry. Robert Bathurst talks of the rise of the middle-class actor – at the expense of the working-class one.
James says the show will be a gamble for all the actors involved. Cold Feet returns to ITV Friday, 9pm
‘I don’t know how young actors make a living, apart from the ones who are rich to start with. It’s the reason why a lot of actors are coming from affluent backgrounds, because they have to be able to support themselves. I used to feed my family doing adverts. I still do voiceovers with no shame attached.’
When Cold Feet took off first time round, this lot became household names overnight. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing – John Thomson famously went off the rails and had to claw back much of his life after well documented issues with drink. Are they better prepared for the attention this time round? Every single head nods furiously. ‘Definitely,’ says James. John agrees.
‘Nothing prepares you for it. There is no drama school that teaches you how to be famous, not one. There is no drama school that I know of that teaches you that you have to pay the bills. There is none that teaches you ambition. You learn about acting being a craft, an art form, but there is no mention of the fact that you have to earn your bread and butter from it.’
They all say they will be happy to stay with Cold Feet for as long as Mike Bullen feels the show has legs. No actorly worries about being pigeon-holed, then? James says, if anything, involvement with this sort of show leads to more work. ‘It probably helps, to be honest. If you are successful, they will put you on another show.’
John nods. ‘It’s very much about profile now. It’s kind of like the American model. But it’s a catch-22. You can’t get a profile without work, and you can’t get work without a profile.’
They all had a lot to lose with the return of Cold Feet (‘Let’s face it, it’s not as if we were struggling actors desperate to do it,’ points out James), but the gamble seems to have paid off. They’ve fallen effortlessly back into finishing each other’s sentences, anyway.
‘Your memory does funny things,’ says Fay Ripley. ‘When you’re back with those people you start recalling things you’d forgotten. What struck me was that a lot of the stuff we had shared was ours alone. The references, I mean. Even our families wouldn’t know about them. The power of shared experience is extraordinary.’ n
Cold Feet, Friday, 9pm, ITV.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online