THE COMPLETELY MADE-UP ADVENTURES OF DICK TURPIN Interview With Comedy Icon Tamsin Greig (Exclusive)

In The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin, Dick Turpin (Noel Fielding) sets out on a journey of wildly absurd escapades when he’s made the reluctant leader of a band of outlaws – and tasked with outwitting corrupt lawman and self-appointed thief-taker Jonathan Wilde (Hugh Bonneville).

In this irreverent retelling set in the 18th century, Turpin is the most famous but least likely of highway robbers, whose success is defined mostly by his charm, showmanship and great hair. Together with his gang of lovable rogues, Turpin rides the highs and lows of his new endeavours, including a brush with celebrity, all whilst trying to escape the clutches of the thief-taker.

The six-episode first season will premiere globally with the first two episodes on Friday, March 1, followed by one new episode weekly through Friday, March 29, exclusively on Apple TV+. 

Tamsin Greig is nothing short of iconic and will be known to many of you for her incredible work in classic sitcoms like Black Books, Episodes, and Friday Night Dinner. The actress also counts the likes of Shaun of the Dead and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among her many credits and has had a successful career on the stage, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in 2007. 

The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin sees Greig play the delightfully evil Lady Helen Gwinear, the leader of a Syndicate dedicated to controlling the criminal underworld. When we caught up with her earlier this month, we took a deep dive into the work that went into bringing this character to life and got heaps of unique insights into how Greig created one of her most memorable roles to date. 

Check out the full interview in the player below. 

I had a great time with the show and I’m curious whether getting to be the big boss of this Syndicate is what drew you to the project?

She’s a great character. She was pitched in one sentence to me which was, ‘Do you want to play a powerful woman who bullies Hugh Bonneville?’ I mean, it’s a great pitch. Who could say no to that?

You and Hugh have some wonderful scenes together. What was it like to work on that back-and-forth between them?

Unfortunately, there was a very long table between us so I couldn’t quite get the classic, signature Bonneville twinkle close up. I could imagine it. Also, it’s probably good for Hugh to keep Lady Gwinear at table’s length because she’s so flippant about her ability to have people executed. It was great fun to be in his company. He’s a very detailed, precise, and very elegant artist. I just copied him. 

Would you say it’s true that it’s more fun to play a villain? I know a lot of actors say they don’t view their characters as being bad…

Yeah, I think the people who say that are correct. I don’t think they think of themselves as a villain. They’re just doing their lives. You do you, and I’ll do me. Lady Helen just happens to be at the top of the pyramid with a lot of money and experience and access. She’s just doing what she does. If somebody needs to be executed, to not do that would be doing her job poorly. So, yeah, she’s just trying to do her job well and not get killed herself.

This is a very funny series and your character has some great comedic moments. However, there’s a very sinister side to her and a hint of madness; I love the giggle when she talks, but what was it like finding the character?

I thought about this and have spoken about it, but I thought about who was most powerful in the room. Say, for example, you’re at a family gathering and you’d think it might be the matriarch and the one who has made the dinner that’s most powerful and the one that might burst into tears at any point. Actually, at any point, the most powerful creature in the room is the toddler who has a tantrum because it’s a little bit late to eat and too many presents have been opened. That child could kick off at any point so I put that child into a big posh dress and set her going. 

You get some very elaborate and fantastic costumes throughout the show, so what were those like and did they inform your performance at all?

The costume designer on the show, Rosa Dias, is someone I’ve worked with on a number of different projects. She’s a brilliant woman. Incredibly precise and detailed, but also very playful and has a great team around her. I said to her I didn’t want to wear a corset because I hate them and she said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll work around it.’ So, if they look elegant, it’s because she’s brilliant and, yes, of course, the dresses are like a planet. It has an orbit and it means people can’t get too close. [Helen] wears very elegant gloves which means she’s in a global pandemic situation all the time in that she mustn’t touch other human beings in case they infect her and no one must come too close unless it’s a dog and then can therefore be useful and warm on a cold day.

Do you find, whether it’s a project like this or a contemporary one, that the costumes, makeup, and jewellery, play a large part in what you do with a role?

Definitely. You know, all departments are bringing creativity and their own wonderful imagination to it. I was talking to the head of the hair and makeup department and she was really excited about creating the wigs and all these wonderful pieces. We were hoping there would be a scene you would see Lady Helen taking her wig off and you’d see that her real hair was slightly ravaged and maybe a bit bald as if she’s got alopecia or something. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find a place for that to go in, but who knows what’s down the line. 

Some of my favourite scenes of yours are with Noel Fielding. There’s a little flirtiness and hatred there; what did you enjoy about working with him?

Oh, Noel Fielding has his own universe of panache when he walks in the room. He’s a painter and creative. He’s always imagining. There are sparks which fly off him that are very infectious. You allow that to inspire you as well and he’s playful and childlike as well, so I think Lady Helen was cluing into that playful naughtiness of, ‘Shall we play kiss chase or shall I just kill you?’

You and Ellie White are great together. As two of the main female cast members, what about that did you like exploring as two very strong-willed characters?

I’m a huge fan of Ellie White. I think she’s a brilliant performer and a great inventor. And endlessly watchable. I was really thrilled to be a player alongside her. I think you’re right, there is a lot of back and forth and because their relationship, no spoilers, is to be revealed, has history, it means their dialogue can be much more surprising and unexpected and undercutting than you’d expect. It’s a lot of fun to be around her.

Did you find, working on this project, that there was a lot of room for improvisation and to have fun on set?

The scripts are very elegantly constructed. They’ve got a great writing team involved. Really, you’re just playing a very well-constructed piece of music and it’s what you bring to it that will bring it into that three-dimensional arena. I think the elements of improvisation are to do with what comes from the character and what sort of pops out when you least expect it. Certainly, the physicality of a character. I found out, when I was able to walk with Noel that Lady Helen actually walks much quicker than her dress would allow so often, the dress could have been an impediment, but because she’s so active and giddy, it meant she was in control rather than the dress being in control. 

There are so many funny scenes in the series, so was there anything you struggled to get through on set?

Yeah, I was quite well-behaved on this job. I’ve wasted a lot of time in my career, of which I’m deeply ashamed, and so I think I’m coming to terms with the fact I’ve got a lot of work to do and need to stop wasting people’s time. So, I think I was pretty good on this one and just kept my head down and didn’t let the imp of giddiness undermine me!

This is a very powerful female character, which we always need to see more of on-screen, but what’s it like for you to have a character like this to sink your teeth into and to have the power to order a death without question in that first scene?

It was a lovely scene to introduce the character, but she’s also very polite. There are some beautifully set-up contradictions. She’s confused by why that person is still there as she thought she’d had him executed, then it’s fine, and then he can’t concentrate while he’s there, so he has to go! But thank you so much, because she did ask for it, and now it’s done, so that’s great. She’s pretending to have morals and manners on top of a childish desire to pull the legs off bugs and see how they die. It’s a difficult contradiction to play. 

While I have you, I need to mention Friday Night Dinner. That’s become one of the all-time great British sitcoms and it’s revered. What’s it been like to see the legacy of the show and how it’s been embraced more and more in recent years?

You know, none of us knew when we were making our 10-minute teaser to try and sell the show to the channel back in 2009, it was a long time ago, and I was around those brilliant actors for more than a decade. The show found its place very much in lockdown when people were locked in houses watching this family locked in a house of their own making. There was always a character you could relate to in each family. So, yeah, it’s found its place and I’m thrilled I was part of it.

If we’re lucky enough to get a second season of this series, where do you think you’d like to take Lady Helen Gwinear next?

Well, Lady Helen Gwinear has so much power already that it’s difficult to imagine where she would stop. I think she’d probably want to climb higher and higher up the pyramid and maybe be able to see how many people she’s killed along the way. It’s about how many toys she can get in her own toybox and not worry about the other annoying children.

There are so many great British actors in this series and it’s a real showcase for British comedy, but what does it mean to you to see it receive a global audience thanks to Apple TV+?

This is like one of those extraordinary boxes of chocolates where you open them up and you can’t believe all your favourites are in the same box and you bite into another and it’s even more delicious than the last. It’s an elegant showcase for the sort of talent that’s here. Everybody, there are no duds. There are no orange cremes that you bite into and go, ‘I was really hoping for a coffee.’ They just don’t exist in this show. You get the likes of Jessica Hynes and Connor Swindells turning up as guest superstars and, yeah, it’s breathtaking. World, look out. 

These are the made-up adventures of Dick Turpin, but did that stop you from doing any research? Did any real or fictional characters inspire you at all?

I did do a little bit of reading around and there are so many conflicting reports about Dick Turpin, including what he did and where he was, it became a great idea to extrapolate. Lady Helen is not a historical character, but we all have somebody in our lives, particularly a female figure, who has some level of authority or sway over us. I think everybody has that, so it’s just cluing into that, whether it was a teacher, a neighbour, or a family member who turns up at certain times of the year and wields too much power, I think we’re always remaking history but with the same old building blocks of funny old humans.