A big ask: Stephen Mangan

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The 'Episodes' star tells Gabriel Tate about Matt LeBlanc's girlfriends and a seedy Soho encounter

Stephen Mangan in 'Episodes' Stephen Mangan in 'Episodes'

If you were pitching a script to US TV, what would it be about?

‘It would be about a curly-haired British actor who sleeps with all of Matt LeBlanc’s girlfriends. It sounds more like a documentary, but there you go. Matt would play himself, so he had to watch it happen. Tamsin Greig could play a champion figure skater – we spent ages learning to ice skate this morning and were both useless.’

First powerful piece of TV?

‘“Boys from the Blackstuff” was a eye-opener. That and “Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em”. My career has walked the tightrope between the two: I look like I’m in the former and act like I’m in the latter.’

Worst thing a critic’s said about you?

‘“He gives the most irritating performance I’ve ever seen in a theatre.” Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard.’

Which dramatic role do you covet?

‘I always wanted to play Constantin in “The Seagull”, but I’m too old now. Other than that, they mostly involve picking up my classical theatre career which I’ve left languishing: Prospero, Iago, Hamlet… Theatre’s a much less faddish, more sensible world than TV or film.’

Piece of work you’re most proud of?

‘Playing Tony Blair in the “Comic Strip” film, “Green Wing” and doing “Much Ado About Nothing” with Cheek by Jowl.’

And least proud of…?

‘Being the Turkish Gillette man. I didn’t get anything back for it, least of all my dignity. I was also the face of Estonian chewing gum for a while. I’ve never been to either of those countries – I’d hate not to be mobbed at the airport.’

Most memorable audition?

‘For the Estonian chewing gum, actually. I’d just left drama school, and went to the top of a rickety stairwell in Soho where a sweaty, middle-aged man was waiting with a camcorder. He said: “What’s your name? Sit down. Take off your top.” I thought: hello, this is what they warn you about… Then I had to growl like a tiger at the camera. But I got the part!’

Weirdest story you’ve heard about yourself?

‘I can’t think of one. I suppose every single story printed about me must have been true…’

Favourite TV theme tune?

‘“Taxi” has a wonderful ’70s groove.’

Who would you interview on your own chat show?

'Jesus, Shakespeare and Muhammad Ali would do me. I’d want to know how Jesus’s mum got away with the virgin story, which was probably the finest bit of salesmanship in human history. I’d ask Shakespeare if he wrote the plays and could explain what they all meant. And Ali, what it felt like to be the most charismatic, beautiful and courageous sportsman of all time.’

If you have an hour to kill in London, what do you do?

‘Take my top off for sweaty men in Soho.’

Which TV detective would you like to be?

‘Ironside looks like quite a cushy number – if I was feeling tired, it’d be good. But Columbo can’t be beaten. I’d only be five minutes in make-up.’

Stephen Mangan stars in 'Episodes', which airs Fridays, 10pm, BBC2


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