Frank Woodley's eight-part ABC sitcom combines emotional drama with blows to the nuts, he tells Andrew P Street
Frank, while you’re clearly playing a version of the Frank Woodley character you’ve spent the last 25 years doing – good-hearted, dim, accident-prone – Woodley has an unexpectedly gritty premise in that you're trying to reconcile with your estranged family.
The whole idea was to make this very romantic. The stakes are very high and the emotional torture is laid on pretty thick. I really enjoyed doing that.
And yet the show is also a pratfall-heavy sitcom filled with visual gags.
I found it really challenging and intriguing to make the show all visual and physical jokes. I don’t know exactly why I wanted to go in that direction, but I’ve been experimenting with that over the last few years since Colin [Lane, former comedy partner in Lano & Woodley] and I split up. I did a solo theatre show called Possessed, and it also had that kind of quality of genuine yearning.
It’s interesting to compare Woodley with something like Mr Bean, which is also mainly silent and physical. But where Mr Bean will be trying to fit something in a car or go to the beach, in Woodley, you’re trying to win back your daughter and ex-wife. That’s a lot of emotional weight to put on a show that’s, basically, a lot of falling over.
Working with Colin it became very clear that the thing that people loved in our work was the relationship between the two characters. With Mr Bean you don’t really care about any of his relationships with other people. I’ve been drawn to that broad style of comedy, but I have also really appreciated comics who can take you into having a deep respect for the emotional lives of the characters. People like Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton, where you feel like there’s a kind of grace to what they’re doing, as well as buffoonery.
Speaking of Keaton, you also share his maudlin quality which neatly undercuts some of the more over-the-top moments. You do comic melancholy beautifully well.
Well, that’s lovely to hear. Once again, I think it’s this really fine line, where if you start going for pathos it can get very hammy and manipulative. I try to respect it and give it dignity while I’m performing some of those emotions and those moments - not lay it on too thick. I don’t find that easy, but I find it very satisfying when it’s pulled off.
Woodley screens on ABC1 at 8pm on Wed 22 Feb 2012.