Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo: ‘I’ve never heard us described as an island of joy before!’

Ahead of their new film and TV podcast, radio’s odd couple take questions from actors, directors and Observer readers about optimism, the films they disagree on – and biscuits

Mark Kermode (film critic) and Simon Mayo (audio host) appear simultaneously on video link in appropriately themed rooms. Mayo’s is his spare bedroom, which boasts some excellent wallpaper featuring graphic versions of 7in singles. “Every single record label and band and identifying mark has been removed,” he notes. “But if you’re a veteran like I am, you can spot a Fontana single or a CPS or Epic…” Kermode is in a teeny room in a house he moved into only yesterday. Unsurprisingly, his is not a fabulous backdrop (unpacked boxes and what looks like a bunk bed) but somehow, he’s managed to make his computer camera reveal him in moody black and white. “Oh God, how did I do that? I can’t switch it off now,” he says. “Very Bait,” comments Mayo, dryly.

Teasing and bickering with a film (and, often, music) theme is what Kermode and Mayo do, and have done since the 1990s, when Kermode first appeared in a film review slot on Mayo’s Radio 1 morning show. When Mayo decamped, first to 5 Live and then to Radio 2, their on-air relationship continued as Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, a two-hour 5 Live Friday afternoon radio show and podcast. Even after Mayo’s rather tetchy 2018 departure from Radio 2 (he was put into a difficult co-hosting position with Jo Whiley; he left after six months), Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review remained exactly where it was, providing informed, jolly, “what to go and see this weekend” entertainment. Or “wittertainment”, as the show’s fans have it.

And there are many, many fans. (We received hundreds of questions for this feature.) One of the BBC’s first ever podcasts, Kermode and Mayo… has long been one of its most popular. It won Listeners’ Choice at the British podcast awards in 2017 and 2018, and has avid, communicative listeners as well as an impressive interviewee list of high-profile directors and actors, many of whom have returned to the show several times. All respond to the wit, honesty and knowledge of the hosts. Mayo does the celebrity interviews (excellent: light but informed); Kermode provides the critical opinions (likewise, but more passionate: they occasionally turn into rants). No prying into famous people’s personal lives: the chat is entirely work-based, though this often morphs into running jokes, about cinema etiquette, or Jason Isaacs, or anything else film-esque they alight on for a time. The key to the show is: both men love film and they get on with each other.

Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review seemed utterly embedded, part of the BBC’s fixtures and fittings, until March this year, when the pair announced their departure. Perhaps it was always coming, given the way that Mayo had been treated. “We both had a very nice email from the director general, thanking us for our service, and how much he’d enjoyed the programme, and I’m in the process of working out what to say in reply, which is basically, ‘Thanks very much,’” Mayo says, diplomatically. So they’ve left, and have taken a few weeks off, and when they return, on Friday, it will be in podcast form, as Kermode & Mayo’s Take. This will come out twice a week, and there’ll also be a spin-off show, Take 2, for paying subscribers (which sounds like more of the same, but with no celebs and more listener contributions).

So what can we expect from these new podcasts?

“Well, you catch us in the interregnum between the BBC and the glorious new future,” says Mayo, “and we haven’t actually done anything yet. It’s hard to say too much, other than, essentially, although there will be exciting differences, it’s Mark and me talking about films, and talking to actors and directors, and reading emails. We only have one way of operating.”

The big difference appears to be that they will be reviewing TV shows as well as films, but, insists Kermode, this isn’t a major new feature. “To be clear, I’m a film critic who’ll happen to be watching some television,” he says. “Neither of us are pretending to step on the very great shoes of the people who review TV professionally.”

The Sex and the City 2 rant goes viral

“You’re not going to get a rant about this,” said Kermode, plunging into a 10-minute tirade against the “ghastly and putrid and vomit-inducing” sequel. After banging his fist on the table and singing the Internationale, he declared the film “consumerist pornography – an orgy of dripping wealth that made me sick”.

Mark wakes someone from a coma

In 2010, another Kermode rant, about Ron Howard’s adaptation of Angels & Demons – “stupid in ways you could not possibly imagine” – had an unexpected consequence. An email from a listener revealed that her friend Andrew, in a coma following a cardiac arrest, was brought back to consciousness after listening to Kermode’s exasperated review.

The Wittertainment code of conduct

In response to reports of cinema audiences behaving badly, a set of etiquette rules was drawn up for listeners to abide by. No talking. No slurping. No hobbies (including knitting, drug dealing and model aeroplane assembly). And, memorably: “No eating of anything harder than a soft roll with no filling”.

Tom Hanks shares his wisdom

A regular and reassuring presence on the show, whether discussing Toy Story 4 or his love for Aston Villa, Hanks provided some much-needed solace in early 2020 by sharing his favourite phrase: “This, too, shall pass. You having a rotten day? You having a great day? This, too, shall pass. It evens out.”

Naomi Watts storms off

During a 2013 interview about the Diana biopic she was starring in, Watts took exception to something Mayo said and brought the conversation to an untimely end. “I think we’re getting the wind-up, sorry,” she said, ending the call. Listening back to it, Simon was “a little bit baffled as to why she was so uncomfortable”. Kathryn Bromwich

“Ten years ago,” says Mayo, “there was cinema and there was television. And now, there’s so much cross-fertilisation that the TV shows will be obvious, I think. The ones that our audience would hope that we will tackle. Not, say, a new EastEnders story.” If they’d been on recently, they would have discussed The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe, or Ron Howard’s documentary about Paradise in California. They’ll definitely be all over Danny Boyle’s Sex Pistols series: “Clearly he’s a fascinating guest and the Sex Pistols are a fascinating subject,” says Mayo. “And it means I can sing Danny Boyle to the tune of Danny Boy,” says Kermode.

It does seem that, despite the podcasts being a new venture, much will stay the same. Kermode, naturally more passionate, will still be effusing and dismissing; Mayo, more acerbic, but also more reasonable, will continue to present more mainstream opinion. Plus they’re bringing their 5 Live production team with them, and they’ll record together, in the same room, which they much prefer to Zooming, as they did during lockdown.

“It lasted for about a year,” says Kermode. “And the minute we got back in the studio together, it was so much easier. The way you talk to each other is completely different. So much of the communication is to do with me looking at him and him not looking at me…”

Of course, they have other jobs: Mayo’s radio hosting sees him on air six days a week, for Scala and Greatest Hits Radio; Kermode writes reviews for this paper and talks film for various outlets. But you get the sense that being together, discussing movies every week, is an anchor for them. Or maybe a seesaw – a toy that doesn’t work without the other being there.

“It’s true,” says Kermode. “Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, we’ll be two old blokes in a room talking, with some films in between.”

Thandiwe Newton

Thandiwe Newton, actor

Who are your favourite three female directors, each?

Mark Kermode: Current female directors? Carol Morley, because her films are brilliantly adventurous. I’ve had so much pleasure watching her films, and marvelling at all the many things that are going on. I’ve watched Out of Blue three times back to back, and every time I watched it I saw new things in it. My favourite female director currently working is Céline Sciamma. Girlhood was so brilliant, and not only did she have those great performances and that great milieu that you believed in, but the film landed at exactly the right moment when everyone was going: “Oh, wow, it’s raising all these issues.” And I love Petite Maman, my favourite film of last year, just perfect. Then Julia Ducournau, because I thought Raw, followed by Titane was…

Agathe Rousselle in Julia Ducournau’s Titane
Agathe Rousselle in Julia Ducournau’s Titane: ‘it was like… boom’. Photograph: BFA/Alamy

Simon Mayo: She has sex with a car, Mark. Come on…

MK: When I saw Raw, I remember finishing my review saying: “The world is her oyster, watch her swallow it whole.” And then Titane came along, and it was like, boom. That rush of excitement and energy, you can feel her getting her fingernails dirty. I’d also add Joanna Hogg. I love her films.

SM: She didn’t have sex in a car, she had sex with a car… I would add Kathryn Bigelow. What Mark says, plus Kathryn Bigelow.

How did you meet and what were your first impressions of each other?
Hazel, Dublin

SM: I had just moved off breakfast to do mornings on Radio 1. And Matthew Bannister had taken over as controller, and I remember saying to him: “I think film reviews would be a good part of the show.” He said: “Well, Mark’s doing this for Mark and Lard. Why don’t you try him out?” So we had a rehearsal and it all went splendidly. When it comes to first impressions, I just thought it was a very good five minutes of radio.

MK: I remember going: “That’s Simon Mayo off Top of the Pops!”

Jason Isaacs

Jason Isaacs, actor

Your show is an island of joy in increasingly dark times. I know that both of you are avid consumers of news and politics, so how do you manage to find ways to project optimism?

SM: I’ve never heard us described as an island of joy before! Speaking for myself, I’d say there’s an element of performance in most radio. And it is a pretty dark time, but you don’t want an entertainment show to make you feel even worse. Which is not to say that we don’t deal with some very serious topics, either ones that come out of the movies’ subject material, or the stuff people write to us about, which is births, marriages, deaths, the final words that their father said to them before he died. But I think we have an obligation to give people an entertaining couple of hours.

MK: The genius thing about the show is, I talk to Simon, and Simon talks to the audience. The joy and the optimism, that all comes from Simon. I don’t really understand how it works. I just say the first thing that comes into my head. A lot of the time they have to birdsong it.

Are you continuing the birdsong in the new show?
SM: I think the editorial line will stay the same as it has always been. Cursing will get birdsong. The political bias from the Trot over the way, that will get birdsong. It is, and it will always be, a programme that you can listen to with your kids and with your grandpa.

What is your respective home-viewing setup?
Ephraim Muller, via Twitter

MK: I’ve got a fairly big flat television with a soundbar with a subwoofer.

SM: More or less the same, but I haven’t got a soundbar or a subwoofer.

What about your sofas? Because that’s important.

MK: I sit on an armchair, because there is an armchair, and I don’t know how this happened, but it became Dad’s armchair. Even if I’m in on my own, and there is a lovely sofa that I could enjoy, I’m in the armchair. The dog’s allowed on the sofa, but I’m not.

SM: I’m in the armchair, but mine is a chair without arms. It has a supportive cushion.

Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh, actor and director

Which are the films on which you have passionately disagreed?

MK: I can answer this. When I left Radio 1, at my leaving do, I did a screening of Dougal and the Blue Cat, one of my favourite films of all time. Mayo came along, and you have never seen somebody hate a film so much. We’ve also disagreed about two films that he has never seen, and that he will never see, which is The Exorcist, which Simon won’t see because it’s my favourite film of all time, and he thinks it gets funnier every year that he won’t see it. And Jeremy, the film that I first fell in love with, because he once heard the theme tune and thought it was terrible, and therefore on principle won’t watch it.

SM: I’m very happy to see The Exorcist, but it seems to be more useful as a running joke… The film that absolutely fell right into this is the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which I enjoyed and Mark hated. And for about a year, it was a running joke that we’d ask every guest: “Did you like Pirates of the Caribbean?” Most people liked it.

Jane Campion’s The Piano: ‘Just rain in New Zealand’ says Mayo.
Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin in Jane Campion’s The Piano: ‘Just rain in New Zealand’ says Mayo. Photograph: Cinetext/Miramax/Allstar

MK: I’d like to point out, the people who thought they liked it, didn’t like it. They just thought they liked it until I explained to them why they didn’t. And therein is the role of a critic.

SM: No, that’s the role of a Marxist.

MK: I’m not a Marxist. I’m a bleeding heart, middle-class liberal.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subjects if you couldn’t choose film or music?
Mike Searle, Surrey

MK: I want to say absolutely solidly, that I would never do Mastermind. Stuart Maconie did Mastermind, and he was brilliant. Not just amazing general knowledge, but amazing general knowledge available to him in the moment. If I said: “OK, my specialist subject will be Elvis, or The Exorcist,” and they asked me who wrote The Exorcist, or what was Elvis’s middle name, I’d blank. I would be unable to remember my own name.

SM: I have refused to be on Mastermind for the same reasons. But in the spirit of the question, I would choose either Edmund Burke’s Theory of Revolution, which is what I did at university, or the War of 1812, which I studied a lot when I wrote a book a couple of years ago.

Ashley Walters

Ashley Walters, actor

What is the formula for a great movie?

MK: So I would say, as a critic – and bear in mind critics do not know how to make films, they only know how to watch them – the only thing that works is the thing that I didn’t see coming. I go to screenings on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday every week, and it’s like, 10 o’clock, one o’clock, three o’clock starts. I don’t know anything about the films I’m seeing, because I tend not to read stuff in advance. Sometimes I don’t even know the name of the film. I turn up, and I have no idea what it is, then it turns out to be film of the week. Because it surprises you.

SM: My honest starting point is, there is no formula. Obviously, it helps if there’s a great script, and your actors can act. But that’s sometimes not enough. So I don’t know what the answer is, and I suspect that a lot of directors might say the same.

MK: Can I add one thing to this, which is: I would always rather watch a film aim high and fail on its own terms, than succeed in some botched way. Maybe, if there is a formula, it’s that. It’s why films like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which crashed and burned when it opened, is now considered to be Lynch’s best work, because it is what it is.

Meanwhile… Sheryl Lee and Kyle MacLachlan in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Meanwhile… Sheryl Lee and Kyle MacLachlan in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Photograph: Cinetext/Allstar Collection/New Line/Allstar

Which actor do you think has produced the greatest quality of work across their career?
Ben Hoeksma, Windsor

MK: Kate Dickie. She is the most consistently brilliant actor I can think of. I’ve seen her in every manner of film, and I have never, ever seen her give less than 100%. When you look at her filmography, it’s astonishing. I think Kate Dickie’s screen career is the thing that you could hold up in front of movie actors and go: “That is doing the job properly.” And yet you can watch three Kate Dickie films in succession on the same day and not realise you’re watching the same person. She is the very definition of the thing that in America they call “character actors”. And here we call “actors”.

SM: I remember interviewing Pete Postlethwaite a few years ago, and looking at his filmography, which was just astonishing. He was in everything, he was in almost every film that came out in one particular year. And two people who have appeared on the show a lot: Eddie Marsan, first. If Eddie is in it, whether the film is great or not, he is going to be great. And Toby Jones. In terms of a body of work, both of those you would go, extraordinary.

MK: Eddie Marsan told me that the day after he finished Happy-Go-Lucky he went to America to do Hancock. Literally one minute he was going “Enraha!” in the street with Mike Leigh [from a much-quoted scene of Marsan playing an angry driving instructor], the next day he was trying to kill Will Smith with a rocket launcher.

Edgar Wright

Edgar Wright, director

I am passionate to the point of being evangelical about the benefits of seeing films on the big screen. How do you feel about the big-screen experience today? And what’s your best experience of seeing a film with an audience?

MK: I feel very positive about the big-screen experience. Even if something is available for somebody to watch on their television, a good number of people will still go and watch it in a cinema. Look at the number of people that went to see that Russell Crowe-in-a-truck film, because, “Hey, cinemas are open and Russell Crowe’s in a truck!” As for the best experience of seeing things with an audience, when we saw Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible at the Edinburgh film festival, the guy in front of me fainted and I had to carry him out of the auditorium. I was so thrilled! And somebody fainted when one of the Chapman brothers and I did a screening of Possession, the Andrzej Żuławski film. And then, of course, a very good friend of mine fainted when I saw The Exorcist at the Barnet Odeon in the 80s.

You just want to be in some darkened room with people passing out.
MK: With people being so overwhelmed by the film, that they literally leave their body.

SM: I have no desire to see those films. But I entirely agree about the big-screen experience. There are some movies that you just have to see in the cinema, like a new James Bond. The answer to the second part is seeing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Warwick University film society, in a science lecture theatre. Like being in a Methodist chapel: hard surfaces, no confectionery, no alcohol consumed. But at the end of the movie, not only did it get applause from everybody, some people stood up and applauded.

Kate Dickie in Red Road.
Kate Dickie in Red Road. ‘The most consistently brilliantly actor’, says Kermode. Photograph: BBC Films/Allstar

Can Mark tell his Harvey Keitel story?
Luke, Stockport

MK: OK, so the Harvey Keitel story doesn’t exist. It was just nothing that became something through repetition. I said at one point: “Oh, it’s so libellous that you couldn’t possibly repeat it, but if you stop me in the street, I’ll tell it to you.” And then people did stop me in the street. And then I said: “OK, there isn’t a story. But if somebody asks you, tell them ‘I couldn’t possibly repeat it.’” It does cut to something at the heart of the show, which is, we always struggle to remember where the running jokes came from.

Which film would world leaders most benefit from seeing and learning the messages from?
Leigh, China

MK: Mary Poppins, because it’s a good film about goodness.

SM: Well, if Putin is in the audience, The Great Dictator would be a good place to start, and then we could all turn around and look at him and go: “That’s you.”

SM: And then when he was emotionally vulnerable, play A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which is about goodness and cardigans. Rather than being topless on a horse.

If you were a biscuit, what sort would you be and why?
Lady_Geoffery, Bristol

SM: I would like to think that I’m a chocolate digestive, but I suspect I’m just a digestive. Sort of reassuringly wholesome.

MK: I’m a ginger snap. Because they’re familiar, but they break in an unpleasant way.

Carol Morley

Carol Morley, director

It’s not possible you’ve collaborated this long and never had a dream about each other. So what’s the best dream you’ve had about the other?

SM: I don’t think I’ve had one.

MK: I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream about you, and now I’m actually feeling guilty about that. But if Carol wants to make a film about the dreams we have about each other, I’d happily watch it.

I read Simon’s book Knife Edge, and I thought it would make a good movie. Who would Simon cast in the lead role of Famie Madden? Who would Mark have direct it?
Jonny Cole, New Forest

SM: It was just a person who I was imagining when I wrote it, but the answer is Gemma Arterton. Although Famie is slightly older than Gemma. I would definitely cast her.

MK: For director, I’d say somebody like Aneil Karia, because I remember when The Long Goodbye came out and Simon said: “You have to see this thing, it’s just amazing.” And then they just won an Oscar, which got lost in all the nonsense.

SM: Actually, Aneil was slated to direct Mad Blood Stirring [another Mayo book], and then he wrote to me explaining why he couldn’t do it… If it ends up anywhere, it will be television, the rights have been bought.

Clio Barnard

Clio Barnard, director

Which film changed your life?

MK: Krakatoa, East of Java. It was the film that I remember seeing first in the cinema. My mother took me. And though I remember very little about it other than a massive volcano, and a song-and-dance number on a boat, honestly, that was the thing that made me think I want to spend the rest of my life in the cinema. I was absolutely overwhelmed. I only ever saw it once. I’d like to put Clio in my list of my favourite female film-makers too, incidentally.

SM: In terms of that rocket fuel moment Mark is talking about... seeing Mary Poppins, the first movie I saw in a cinema when I was, like, six. We got the timings wrong, so I saw the second half first, and then we stayed, because it was on a continuous loop, so I saw the first half after that, out of sync. In terms of change: movies don’t change your life.

MK: They do.

SM: They don’t.

MK: They do.

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in 1964 – Mayo’s cinematic awakening.
Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in 1964 – Mayo’s cinematic awakening. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Feature

Mark, do you think that in your relative old age, you’re becoming slightly softer and more forgiving of bad films? Or do you feel there’s always a chance of another Entourage rant around the corner?
Graham Hollingsworth, London

MK: Nobody ever believes this, but I never, ever plan to rant about anything. Quite often, afterwards, I feel a bit… ugh, you know? I think I’ve become more open-minded about what a film is trying to do, and more admiring of somebody trying to do something interesting. And less tolerant of films that aren’t even trying. A rant can always come.

SM: And the films that you’re talking about are always films that aren’t bad, they are offensive. The last time I interviewed Daniel Craig, the first thing he said was: “That Entourage review went well, then?” It was already like two years old or something. He said he was on a set and everyone gathered around and watched it, because it was a great piece of performance. In fact, Mark’s performance in the review of Entourage

MK: …was better than any of the performances in the film, boom tish.

Asif Kapadia

Asif Kapadia, director

Who are your top five people that you’ve interviewed on your 5 Live show?

MK: Simon does the interviews, so shoot.

SM: Asif is always a fantastic guest, by the way. He manages to engage you. If you’re not interested in football, you’ll still watch his Maradona doc... Off the top of my head, Tom Hanks. There is nobody who can sell a movie like Tom Hanks. Nobody. There should be a documentary made and shown to lesser actors. “This is how you do promotion. Make the person you’re talking to feel as though they’re the only person that you’re going to talk to, and give a little bit more than they’re expecting.” One time I was interviewing him, and I said to him: “What are you working on next?” And he said: “Well, it’s funny, the other day I was on the phone to Clint Eastwood…” and then he did a Clint Eastwood impression to round off the interview. So I would put Tom Hanks at one, two and three. Then the previously mentioned Sir Kenneth Branagh has to be in there, because he came in, live on the show…

MK: And chuckled.

SM: Which is where Chuckles comes from, a nickname that he only has when he’s on our show. He has the Hanksian gift. Whatever the merits of what he’s talking about, you just feel genial towards him. So I’m going to go Tom Hanks one, two and three, Ken Branagh four, and Chadwick Boseman at number five. The last time we spoke to him was for 21 Bridges. And he gave an astonishing answer to a question about Martin Scorsese, who was perceived as being slightly rude about Marvel films. It was like a soliloquy, an extraordinary speech about believing in what he did, and believing in the uniqueness of Marvel and Black Panther specifically. It was so wonderful that when he died, we played that answer again as a tribute. I’m aware there are no women in that answer.

MK: Amma Asante would be in that list. I hadn’t met Amma when you interviewed her for Belle, and I sat there thinking: “This is the smartest film-maker I’ve ever heard.” Answers that were thought out and engaged, in beautifully formed whole sentences, with that incredible, almost broadcaster voice that she has.

SM: So let’s kick out one of the Hanks.

MK: And then at number five, Charlie Kaufman.

Amma Asante

Amma Asante

…is our next questioner, weirdly, and she asks: Which film character would each of you say most typifies the other?

SM: I’d cast him in the Nick Lowe story in the title role.

MK: Well, you’d be A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, wouldn’t you? You’d be Hanks doing Mr Rogers. You’d be him. You’d be the guy who’d go: “Hello, everybody.”

SM: I’ve got a cardigan, look.

Regular Kermode and Mayo guest Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers in A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood.
Regular Kermode and Mayo guest Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Photograph: Lacey Terrell/AP

But Simon has an anger underneath there

MK: Well, there’s an absolutely great scene in that film, in which Mr Rogers is angry about something, something has got under his skin, and you just see him take a moment. A tiny little gesture that speaks volumes. And the character was a brilliant broadcaster and Simon is a brilliant broadcaster.

What’s the closest you’ve come to a proper falling out?
Gerald Browne, Wetherby

MK: The worst that’s ever happened would be that you’ll say: “I need to do this on Wednesday.” I go: “OK, that’s going to be very complicated. Can we not do it on Tuesday?” Then some very polite text messages about which day it would be better to record a show on. When we go into that polite mode, that’s as bad as it gets.

SM: I think it comes down to having very clearly defined roles on the programme. So in matters of films, I defer to Mark, because he’s the critic. I’m the host, so I can give you a proper answer about who’s been a good guest to interview on the show. There’s no jostling for the limelight.

You have been very professional and diplomatic in what you have not said about the BBC, but from your lengthy experience working for the corporation, what one change would you make to sustain it for the future?
Nick Taylor, Culcheth, Warrington

SM: [Sighs, looks at the ceiling] We’re just presenters, I don’t know. The BBC gets enough advice.

MK: I’m still at the BBC, I’m still doing Screenshot on Radio 4 and I’m still doing the News Channel film review, and there’s an outside possibility that there’ll be another Secrets of Cinema. The only thing that I would say is, trust programme-makers a little bit more. In my experience, people who make programmes actually tend to know what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. And they thrive with as little interference from on high as possible.

SM: I would say probably the BBC has to do less, and to do the things that it does, better. Staff programmes properly. Don’t make them scrimp and save and get them to work all the hours God sends just because the budget has been cut again. And that will mean there’ll be some areas that the BBC has to decide not to do. If I was still on 5 Live, and the director general had come on, I always had this question in mind: “How many orchestras does the BBC need?”

Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh, director

What’s the worst truly bad film that you love? And what’s the best truly great film you hate?

MK: Oh, wow. There are loads of bad films that I love. I would say probably the worst, truly bad in every version I’ve seen, is Caligula. Because I still have it in my head that somewhere in the ether, there is a version of Caligula that makes sense, and isn’t just an absolute car crash. I love Malcolm McDowell in that film, his portrayal of Caligula is brilliant. The scenes with him and Helen Mirren are just… So, Caligula.

SM: The bad movie I really like is Patch Adams. And the entire reason for that is it’s the only time I got to interview Robin Williams. And the apparently great film I don’t like is definitely The Piano, which everyone tells me is sensational and is just rain in New Zealand.

Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves
Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves; Kermode told the director he hated it. Photograph: AA Film Archive/Alamy

MK: I’d say the film I hate that other people love is Lars von Trier’s The Idiots. I got thrown out of the screening at Cannes for heckling it. I shouted: “Il est merde! Il est le plus merde dans le monde entier,” which is apparently not grammatically correct. I’ve actually loved other Von Trier stuff, Antichrist, and Melancholia. And I’ve interviewed him, and I said: “I have to tell you, I hated Breaking the Waves, and I hated The Idiots.” And he said: “OK, but did you really hate them?” And I said: “Yes, I really hated them. And he said: “But did you really hate them?” I said: “Yes, I really hated them.” And he said: “Good. Then we can get on.”

Simon – favourite ever Spurs player? Mark – favourite bass player?
Chris Moody, via Twitter

SM: Osvaldo Ardiles. Going back to a time when footballers from abroad were very exciting, when Ricardo Villa and Osvaldo Ardiles from Argentina came to Spurs, it was front page of the Daily Mirror and their headline was Spurs Coup the World. It’s the kind of thing you remember. He was this wizard, brilliant genius in the midfield.

MK: My favourite bassist is Jim Lea from Slade, because he was the first time I was aware of hearing the bass carrying the tune. He is an incredibly melodic bass player. One of my favourite rock films is Slade in Flame, which has got How Does It Feel as the theme tune. And the bass line just breaks my heart every time I hear it.

SM: If I’m allowed a vote, I’d like to chip in with Jean-Jacques Burnel from the Stranglers.

MK: Well then, I’m going to do my favourite Spurs player, which was Pat Jennings.

SM: Good call. Biggest hands in football.

Mark Strong

Mark Strong, actor

Please explain the “With, And, But” game. Will it now be consigned to history?

SM: OK, well, the “With, And, But” game is Mark Strong’s idea. So that’s rich coming from him. It was [actor]Tom Wilkinson who explained that you get your agent to ask for the “and” at the end of a list of actors in a film, so that it’s “Big Star, Big Star, and Respected Star”. But it was Mark Strong’s belief that sometimes these actors should have a “but” before their name.

MK: It’s amazing how well it works. And, of course, now there are different “ands”: “with the special appearance of”, “including the involvement of”…

SM: To be honest, we haven’t done it for ages. But like all of these things, it will come around again, particularly as Mark thought of it, and we love Mark Strong.

Do you ever fear that thinking so deeply about films actually detracts from the basic emotional experience of watching them?
Jazmin Saville, London

MK: No. The idea that if you unpack something… there’s a lovely quote from Billy Bragg, out of Must I Paint You a Picture? I’m slightly misquoting it. “The temptation/ To take the precious things we have apart/ To see how they work/ Must be resisted for they never fit together again.” It’s a lovely idea that if you take something apart you can’t put it back together again, but I’ve actually never found that with a film.

SM: Overanalysing people or a relationship, that can be done, but a physical thing like a book or a film…

MK: Everyone knows how much I obsess about The Exorcist. I spent decades taking that film apart to see how it works. I know how every single shot of that film was created. I can tell you the day on which every single shot was created. I can tell you who was in the room when it was created. And then you play it, and it just works. It doesn’t make any difference.

Max von Sydow in The Exorcist, Kermode’s favourite film.
Max von Sydow in The Exorcist, Kermode’s favourite film. Photograph: Cinetext/Hoya Productions/Allstar

Will everything be all right in the end?
Hannah Young, London

MK: Yes.

SM: OK, so this is from the line: “Will everything be all right in the end?” followed by “Yes, if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.” That line turned up again recently, in The Split. We established on the show, after exhaustive research, it comes from Best Marigold, doesn’t it, Mark?

MK: It has many sources, but what we turned out to be quoting was Best Marigold, yes.

SM: This taps right back into Jason Isaac’s question about being an island of positivity. Because there is no doubt that when Mark said that line in the show for the first time, it really, really struck a chord with a lot of people. And when we mentioned it to Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks absolutely loved it… Of course, when you take it out and analyse it as a statement, it doesn’t really hold any water.

MK: But as a mission statement, it’s a good one.

SM: I’ll go along with it as a mission statement.

  • Kermode & Mayo’s Take launches on Friday on all major podcast providers


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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