A Chat with Dexter Fletcher, Dexter Fletcher interview, Hotel Babylon

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Don't miss Will's review of "Hotel Babylon: Season 1"

It was a role in Alan Parker's 1976 film, "Bugsy Malone," that first brought Dexter Fletcher to the eyes of the world. Subsequent parts in "The Elephant Man," "The Long Good Friday," The Bounty" and "Revolution" kept his resume steadily growing, but it was his role as Spike Thomson in the BBC series "Press Gang" that really made him into a proper star in the U.K. Here in the States, he's probably best known for his roles in "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" or as SSgt. John Martin in HBO's "Band of Brothers," but aficionados of BBC America will spot him as Tony, the concierge on "Hotel Babylon." The first season of the show is now out on DVD in the States, and we were able to speak with Fletcher about his experiences on the show, his work with Ione Skye in "The Rachel Papers," and how brilliant it is to find oneself being called upon to work with both The Divine Comedy and Kylie Minogue.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, Dexter, how's it going?

Dexter Fletcher: Not too bad. Is that Will?

BE: It is.

DF: How're you doing?

BE: I'm great.

DF: Good. It's not a great line, so…I don't know if you can hear me okay.

BE: I can, but I'll try to speak up, if it'll help you. Well, when I first started watching "Hotel Babylon," I thought it was going to be a guilty pleasure show, but then I got caught up in the characters the more I watched it.

DF: Well, it seems to be a guilty pleasure over here because…I don't know if it's just because the sensibilities of the U.S. and U.K. are slightly different in that respect, but, yeah, I mean, it's a kind of guilty pleasure here. The papers like the "Times" and the "Guardian" over here seem to be a bit snobby about it, but we obviously feel that, y'know, it's a lot of fun, and it's a high-end-looking show.

BE: Yeah, I think the graphics, especially the way it zips from scene to scene, are particularly fun.

DF: Yeah, I think it's something that they…they kind of struck upon a very definite look for it that adds a lot of movement to it, and it's an interesting way to watch it fly by, so it's something they've kind of taken and embraced. Because it's all in the one precinct, in the hotel, you can fly around and zip about, and it keeps the movement and the interest going.

BE: Are the team-meeting scenes crucial to keeping up the camaraderie between the cast?

DF: (laughs) They've always played an integral part by default, really, because it's sort of…the set up of the premise of each episode is where we come together and discuss the business and deal you into where it's going to go. But, of course, they can turn into a bit of a riot, because you've got all of the main cast sitting around the table, and invariably someone has a lot of dialogue and the rest are left to sit around and nod and listen. There's a bit of ribbing that goes on here and there, but it's always a lot of fun because we're all together there, and we get to see what the rest of us are up to. The nature of the show is that we all go off in our separate storylines in each episode, and none of us really ever get to interact. The guest stars, the other actors who come in, we spend a lot more time with them, funnily enough.

BE: Well, the rapport between you and Max Beesley is great; you get a very nice banter going.

DF: Yeah, we're lucky; they write well for us. It's developed because Max and I have become great friends, so they hang around us a bit, and they pick up on how we are together, and that's the great thing about those characters, really. I've been around the scene for awhile, and Max is kind of…well, I mean, Max has been around for awhile as well, but he's a star emerging, as it were. And as a result, he and I have a genuine relationship: my character's been around and seen it all, while Max's is keen to do well, and he's on his way up. So it kind of reflects where we ourselves are. Although Max is a much better cook than I am. Max is a fantastic cook.

BE: Does he cook for the entire cast?

DF: No, but for half of us, he has. He had a dinner party with half of us there, and it was great.

"('Hotel Babylon') seems to be a guilty pleasure over here. I don't know if it's just because the sensibilities of the U.S. and U.K. are slightly different in that respect, but papers like The 'Times' and the 'Guardian' over here seem to be a bit snobby about it. But we obviously feel that it's a lot of fun."

BE: Martin Marquez is always good for a laugh as Gino the barman. He seems to really enjoy making that accent as over the top as possible.

DF: He's the funniest man on the show. It's unusual, because…like great comedians, he's very quiet. He's not overtly on the set running around and joking all the time. That's more Max's and my domain. He's very quiet. But when he does say something, nine times out of 10, it's right on the money, and it's always very funny. And, of course, he created that character to be someone who's a highlight of the show, really, because you know that when Gino comes, you're going to get value. It's going to be a lot of fun. And he plays it with such conviction, you know? I think the thing is that (adopts accent) he's very Spanish. And I think a lot of his father is in that character, and that's why it's so realized, it's so real, and that the accent is so real. And there's the conviction of Gino, like when he's telling some strange story that happened many Christmases ago back in Spain. And he's a great actor. That's why "Hotel Babylon" works so well; they got the best actors they could get, and that's what really pays off for them.

BE: I've always felt that Gino was kind of like Manuel from "Fawlty Towers" if he just finally got fed up with Basil and wasn't going to take it any more.

DF: (clearly not completely on board with the comparison) Yeah, well, uh, he's kind of a super-uber version of Manuel. But he's great. We're really lucky to have Martin around.

BE: Being in the States, I've actually only seen just Series One of the show, but…

DF: Oh, really? Well, the big news for Martin is that he loses his cash in Series Two. But everyone's back for Series Two, and it moves nicely. I mean, Series Three has just started here in the U.K., and there's been some changes made. Tamzin (Outhwaite's) character (hotel manager Rebecca Mitchell) moves on, and Max is now running the hotel. He's the manager. That's not 'til Season Three, anyway, but it's great for my character, because he comes to the forefront more, because he's been around a lot and he knows how things work. He's a lot more useful for Max's character to have around, because he's seen it and done it all, really. But we all get into our own little scrapes. And there's a little love affair between Tamzin and Max as well, which is quite interesting. So there's a lot of good stuff to come.

BE: Excellent, because I've just gotten the DVD set of Series 1 to review, and it's great.

DF: Well, good, I'm glad you're enjoying it. Obviously, we're very proud of it, and it's going very well here in the UK as well, and in other countries around the world as well. People just enjoy the fact that they get a window into the world that is the five-star luxury hotel. I mean, honestly, it's a rare treat, isn't it? Even for us of those who are in the industry, it's a rare moment that you get to go and peek behind the scenes at these high-end extraordinary London places. The Hotel Babylon is sort of based on three or four different real places in London.

BE: Yeah, it makes me want to go pick up the book that the series was originally based on. I've never actually read it.

DF: Well, you could do a lot worse. I mean, it's a very good book. That's why we've got such good storylines and characters: because that book was very well researched, and they're all real stories. So it obviously adds a great deal of weight and gravitas to the things that we do. And the stuff that's funny is real as well, so it's to our advantage, very much, that it's so well-realized and so well-balanced like that.

BE: Given the premise, it's not like it couldn't go on indefinitely, but how long do you envision yourself working on the series?

DF: Y'know, I have a lot of fun in the show, and because I have this kind of roving position, I can get to all corners of the hotel and cover a lot of bases. For the time being, for my character, and as long as they keep things interesting for me and don't get complacent, which they don't seem to be doing, then I'm quite happy to keep going as long as they want to make the show. I mean, it's the BBC, it's very good quality, and the company involved in making it are also quite good. Unless Steven Spielberg phones up and wants me to do another series of "Band of Brothers," then I'll stay there happily as long as they want to keep making it. I'm more than happy doing that, especially if we start to get more international acclaim. For instance, if people in the States are responding to it, that, as far as I'm concerned, is a really good thing. I'd love to stick around. I've got nowhere to go at the moment.

BE: I've actually been a fan of yours since "The Rachel Papers."

DF: Oh, great!

BE: I really don't know if it even got a theatrical release in the States, but I discovered it on video after seeing Ione Skye in "Say Anything."

DF: Oh, yes, another great Ione Skye movie. (laughs)

BE: Absolutely.

DF: Yeah, it's a lovely movie, and…and Jonathan (Pryce) is a fantastic actor as well. I suppose "The Rachel Papers" was sort of our English version of "Say Anything," but Ione is a beautiful, wonderful girl. It's 20 years ago now, that film, and I haven't seen it for a long time, so I'm not sure if it still holds up, but I imagine it does in its own way.

BE: It's probably been 10 years since I've seen it myself, but it always felt like a British version of a John Hughes film to me.

DF: Yeah, and I think that's what Damian Harris, the director, was trying to achieve as well. It's kind of got elements of "Ferris Bueller" in it as well, hasn't it? You know, there's all that talking to the camera, and you've got this young, cocky guy who doesn't quite know as much as he thinks he does, but at the same time a lot of guys are going to be going, "I totally know where he's coming from. I get it." It's that stage in every young man's life where they ask, "How do I get closer to the fairer sex? How does this work?" He's less of a romantic than John Cusack's character in "Say Anything," I think. That guy had his heart broken and tried to mend it, whereas Charles Highway hasn't quite connected to that, which is a very English thing.

BE: How did you enjoy working on "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels?"

"I got a phone call saying, 'Look, would you like to come to Spain and do this video with Kylie (Minogue)? You'll be playing her love interest.' It took me about 30 nanoseconds to say, "Yes! I will absolutely do that!" Not the sort of stuff you're going to turn your nose up at. More the sort of thing where you think, 'I can't quite believe this is happening, but here I am.'"

DF: Well, you know, that was a highlight for me. It was 10 years ago, but it was when there was this whole British thing coming through, and we were just finding our own voice in terms of making movies again, and it'd been awhile since that had happened. So we were involved in this…it was a very low-budget film, you know. I don't even think it cost a million pounds. In terms of making films, it was not a lot of money. People were turning up and working for nothing, and there was a lot of tension, but you were also aware that there was this interesting and exciting thing happening. And Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn, the director and producer, were these whiz kids of the British film scene who had yet to be discovered…and, of course, as soon as the film came out, that all became apparent, that Guy was rather an extraordinary director and Matthew was an extraordinary producer. It was an exciting time to be around in the British film industry, and also to be such a huge part of it was a really exciting thing as well. Yeah, it was a fun and exciting time. We'd get taken to fashion shows and media events, and suddenly people would give you clothes and cars and perfume, these ridiculous things that didn't really happen before. We suddenly had all the trappings of being big movie stars again, and it was very exciting, as it would be.

BE: I'll just close with two quick music-related questions. First off, how did you come to team up with Neil Hannon on The Divine Comedy song, "Here Comes the Flood?"

DF: (pleasantly surprised at the question) Oh! Because the drummer in Neil Hannon's band was the guy I used to sit next to at school. My best friend in school, a guy called Miguel Barradas, is a fantastic drummer and was working in Neil's band, and Neil had seen me in a TV show that was fairly big here in the U.K. called "Press Gang," where I played an American. Neil knew my work and knew that Miguel knew me, and said, "Hey, can you get him in to do some stuff on the album, to read this thing? I want an American accent." And, so, Neil phoned me up and I went and had a drink with him, and like you do in the pub, we sat and chatted about what he thought it was and what it could be. I ended up going in the studio and recorded, and then I also ended up doing about three or four gigs with them at various venues in London. During the course of that song, I would walk out on stage in a suit, recite my lines, the crowd would go bonkers, and I would walk off again. It was the most extraordinary thing I've ever done. But, y'know, The Divine Comedy have got a huge following.

BE: Were you already a fan of theirs before getting the call from Neil?

DF: I was, so that was a bonus for me as well. When he asked me to come and do some stuff for them, I was, like, "This is a dream come true," so I happily said yes. Yeah, that was a great thing that Neil asked me to do that.

"People just enjoy the fact that they get a window into the world that is the five-star luxury hotel. I mean, honestly, it's a rare treat, isn't it? Even for us of those who are in the industry, it's a rare moment that you get to go and peek behind the scenes at these high-end extraordinary London places."

BE: And lastly, because I know you've got people waiting for you, I just had to ask about your appearing in the video for Kylie Minogue's "Some Kind of Bliss."

DF: (sighs happily) Yes…

BE: (laughs)

DF: Yeah, I did some work for an artist called Sam Taylor-Wood, who's an installation artist here in the U.K. Anyway, she's friends with Kylie, and I did this short film for Sam, and Kylie saw it, she was doing "Some Kind of Bliss," and I simply got a phone call saying, "Look, would you like to come to Spain and do this video with Kylie? You'll be playing her love interest." And, so, it took me about 30 nanoseconds to say, "Yes! I will absolutely do that!" And we flew out to this fantastic place called Almeria, in Spain, where Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Sergio Leone shot all these great spaghetti Westerns, and I was out there for five days with Kylie Minogue, driving around and pretending to be a gangster. So it was not a bad little number. Not a bad job. Another perk of the job, that you suddenly get these wonderful opportunities to get involved with people like Kylie.

BE: Nice work if you can get it.

DF: Absolutely. Not the sort of stuff you're going to turn your nose up at. More the sort of thing where you think, "I can't quite believe this is happening, but here I am." And there I was with her in a motel room, dancing around, she in her hot pants. And I just thought, "Well, this is a good day's work."

BE: A perfect ending quote if I've ever heard one. Thanks a lot, Dexter. It's been a pleasure.

DF: Thanks ever so much. Enjoy the rest of the show!

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