Jamie Demetriou: ‘After Fleabag, people demand to see my teeth’

The writer and star of Stath Lets Flats on working with Phoebe Waller‑Bridge, his soft spot for Popstars’s Darius, and why he’s broody

Jamie Demetriou, 31, was born in Friern Barnet, north London, and joined the Chickenshed theatre group aged five. He studied at Bristol University and took an acclaimed student revue show to the Edinburgh fringe. His acting credits include Fleabag, This Time With Alan Partridge, Sally4Ever and Paddington 2. He is currently appearing in Horrible Histories: The Movie and Hulu’s TV version of Four Weddings and a Funeral. The second series of his Bafta-nominated sitcom Stath Lets Flats, about an incompetent Greek-Cypriot estate agent, airs on Channel 4 next week.

Why did you set your sitcom in a lettings agency?
God knows! I ask myself this question every day. I had no stake in that world. They say “write what you know” but I wrote about the thing I know least about. I needed to find a home for this character, an asexual idiot with a Greek-London accent. One early version was called “Flats & Chips”, about a lettings agency and a chip shop side-by-side and the rivalry between them. That would have had legs for about, ooh, half an episode.

How do you feel about lettings agents: loathe them or secretly fond?
Not secretly fond, openly fond, just because I’ve spent so much time thinking about them. When my friends go for flat viewings, I’ll tag along as research. I’m always curious how the agent will react, but they’re usually quite into it. It doesn’t stop them acting like fucking dickheads, though. I went on one with a mate and the flat was freezing. My mate was like: “It’s pretty cold in here. Isn’t it insulated? The windows feel thin and draughty.” The estate agent went: “It feels cold, like the windows are thin, yeah? But trust me, it’s not and they’re not.” Oh, that’s OK then. Nobody ever says “trust me” if they have done their research, right?

Have you had terrible flat viewings yourself?
We all have, haven’t we? One guy who showed us a flat in Brixton was really sweating and panicking. Eventually he blurted out: “Look, are you going to take it?” When we said no, he just turned and legged it out of the flat. Then we watched him through the window, furiously thumping the bonnet of his car. He’d spotted that he’d been given a parking ticket but was so desperate for the sale, he obviously thought “If I get this commission, that fine will pay for itself”.

Your sister Natasia plays Stath’s sister Sophie in the show. How does that compare with your real relationship?
Sophie and Stath are us in a parallel universe. If we hadn’t been given the confidence to get up and perform, we’d have ended up crying on a sofa together, watching TV and eating crisps. Tash is very confident, outspoken and hilarious, but Sophie shows her sweet, vulnerable side that few people get to see. She’s exquisite in it and counter-balances Stath’s multi-coloured buffoonery.

Waller Bridge and Jamie Demetriou smiling at a woman with her back to us, with Demetriou showing two large incisors.
Demetriou, alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as ‘Bus Rodent’ in Fleabag. Photograph: Hal Shinnie

The unrequited romance between Sophie and Stath’s colleague Al is lovely. Was it influenced by Tim and Dawn from The Office?
For my generation, it’s impossible to not be influenced by The Office. It was inspirational to see someone write and star in a comedy that felt true to his sensibilities. That’s what I always wanted to do. If you put an unrequited hetero romance in any comedy nowadays, it’s difficult to avoid comparisons to Tim and Dawn because theirs is the greatest love story in British comedy.

What’s the feedback been from London’s Greek-Cypriot community?
Mixed. The younger generation are way more into it. My dad tells me about rows he has at his cafe, where older people complain about it making Greek people look silly. Would they really rather I played a dull Greek straight man in the background? I see it as a celebration of the culture. Everyone’s stupid in the show, it just so happens that I’m Greek and I’m mocking myself.

And the letting agent community?
Not happy either. I read a few forums and one said: “Oh typical, a sitcom about crap letting agents, not the classic diligent, hard-working letting agent we all know and love.” Er, what show is that and how can I not watch it? “Rent a flat again, did you?” “Yeah I did, smashed it.” Roll credits.

Tell us about the new series…
Stath’s dad has appointed a manager who isn’t Stath, so he’s struggling to come to terms with that lack of nepotism. The new boss brings an understanding of where the London property market is headed, so Stath has to get his tiny brain around gentrification and meeting millennials. He struggles with the fact that exposed brick is good and plastic garden chairs are bad. We also see more of his desperate desire to be a family man. I’ve always been fascinated by those deeply broody wideboys. They have the whole naughty boy lifestyle but, my God, their son’s going to be an angel.

Jamie Demetriou with the cast of Stath Lets Flats.
Jamie Demetriou with the cast of Stath Lets Flats. Photograph: Jack Barnes

Are you broody yourself?
I am, actually. It’s in my blood. Virtually my first words were “Can I have a baby?” I’ve wanted a kid since I was a kid. I grew up in London, so my nurture was very western, but my dad’s Cypriot and there are three areas where my Mediterranean heritage comes to the fore: my broodiness, my taste palate and my love of deep Euro r’n’b cuts. The latter is why I’ve considered asking Peter Andre to appear on the show. I’ve resisted so far but it’s a matter of time.

Do you enjoy wearing Stath’s costume of cheap suit, pointy shoes and diamond ear stud?
I love the crap shoes and mundane suits but the magnetic earring takes its toll. I was hoping to get my ear pierced to make it easier but the Baftas were the day before we started shooting and I just got it into my head: “What if I have a reaction and have a freakishly swollen ear at the Baftas?” It might be the only time I get to go and don’t want my memory to be of a deformed ear. So I went back to the magnetic one, which crunches the flesh. My left earlobe is now longer than my right.

You played “Bus Rodent” in the first series of Fleabag. Do people still come up and ask about your goofy teeth?
Weirdly, there’s been a resurgence since series two came out – people demanding I open my mouth to see if they’re real. Phoebe Waller-Bridge has an insane grasp of the human condition. She had to stick to her guns to get it made, but wasn’t precious about it. She was collaborative; open to people mucking around rather than being tied to the script. There’s a scene where I say: “You don’t go through life with teeth like these and not know when someone’s pretending.” She came up with that just before the take, yet it’s the line that gets quoted at me most.

Is it a golden era for TV comedy? What else are you enjoying?
It’s sneakily become one, yeah. This Country deserves every bit of praise it gets. Me and Tash met the Coopers [siblings Daisy May and Charlie] and quite happily agreed they’re the funniest brother and sister in the country. Pls Like is a complete joy, everything Julia Davis touches is amazing, and the latest Alan Partridge series was phenomenal. I was lucky enough to have a cameo in it [as a laddish chef] and being on set was extraordinary. I felt like a teenager again, relearning how to do comedy.

Your dad’s a chef. Didn’t George Michael work in one of his restaurants?
Yes, as a dishwasher. We saw George Michael on TV a few years ago and my dad went: “Ugh!” I said: “Not a fan?” He was like: “No, he was always bloody singing when he should have been washing dishes.”

Are there any real-life characters you’d like to play?
Darius from Popstars in a billion-dollar Hollywood biopic. This is purely out of fondness. I genuinely rewatch that series on a monthly basis. I know every word.

Stath Lets Flats returns to Channel 4 at 10pm on 19 August

Contributor

Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

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