Interview: Keith Chegwin on Kill Keith

Kill Keith is the first feature film venture for popular TV personality, Keith Chegwin, since 1992. We catch up with ‘Cheggers’ to find out what it was like having the title role in this film…

It’s difficult to tell whether or not Chegwin really is exceptionally excited about his part in Kill Keith, or whether his cheery demeanour is simply a by-product of his years spent presenting breakfast television. I suspect it’s a bit of both.

“I did lots of movies when I was a kid,” he tells me, “I did Roman Polanski‘s Macbeth, I did Robin Hood Junior, but then to be asked to make a feature film now… oh my God!”

It seems that despite having been given a cameo appearance in Ricky Gervais’ 2006 series of Extras, Chegwin is relatively unaware of his own popularity. Having received a fair bit of negative press over the years, many people these days seem to view him with the same a sense of nostalgia reserved for the childhood TV shows which he presented, such as Swap Shop and Cheggers Plays Pop. It is perhaps, then, less surprising than he might expect to hear that the film’s director, Andy Thompson, recruited him for the role before the script was even written.

“I bumped into Andy Thompson, and he said ‘I’ve got an idea for a movie,'” he explains, “I said, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘It’s called Kill Keith!'” He stops to chuckle to himself, clearly a fan of the film’s irony. “But [Thompson] went away and came back with a script, which I personally laughed my head off at.”

He’s not lying either. While it remains to be seen whether or not the public find this film quite as funny, it’s clear that Chegwin thoroughly enjoyed his dual role in this dark horror-comedy. Yet despite the fact that Kill Keith seems keen to ham up the perils of breakfast television, Chegwin points out that much of the humour is, in fact, in-keeping with his own personal experiences.

“I do think the underlying thing is, there is a lot of backstabbing in morning TV – but this stabbing [in Kill Keith] is a little bit more pointed! We’ve got the phone scam, that’s in, we’ve got people’s egos, that’s in, the light-heartedness, but at the same time someone wants to be number one on the show… that’s always been prevalent, when I’ve done The Big Breakfast, through to GMTV.”

With this wealth of experience behind him, it’s little wonder that Chegwin appears extremely at ease on screen. However, he reveals that he actually found acting to be somewhat different from the presenter roles in which he is more commonly seen.

“I found playing myself more difficult – I really had to think ‘what does Keith Chegwin do?!’ We did a few takes of me running up and down the road and Andy said, ‘Er, just a bit tighter, like you do when you’re normally on telly,’ and it clicked, I went ‘Oh yeah, ok!'”

There are a number of scenes which are a millions miles from Cheggers as we know him. I wonder aloud how much persuading it took for him to film the leather-clad pole-dancing scene, for example.

“Quite a lot actually! I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s me Mum going to say?’ But you know what, I just thought, it’s in the spirit of the movie… if the script requires it, then I’ll do it!”

“The only thing I won’t ever do again is take me clothes off!” he admits – a reference to the Channel 5 game show, Naked Jungle, which he reportedly volunteered to present in the nude.

Although deciding against being involved in the writing of Kill Keith, there’s no denying that this film largely revolves around Chegwin’s own career and persona. Indeed, aside from his own role, it soon emerges that he has has an impact on other areas of the film, with many of his co-stars being lifted straight out of his personal phonebook.

“Andy went through my mobile phone saying, ‘Oh I like him, we’ll have him!’ Joe Pasquale I worked with on the cabaret circuit for years, Russell Grant and I worked together when we were fifteen years of age in a West End stage show called Tom Brown’s School Days, along with Simon Le Bon. Tony Blackburn and I used to present shows on Radio 1. I was quite worried about what their performances were going to be like, and they were quite worried about what my performance was going to be like! But I think everybody put in 100%, so I’m really pleased with what we’ve done.”

One thing that becomes increasingly evident during our discussion is that Chegwin is not ungrateful for the opportunities which he has been given over the years. After all, there are plenty of ex-television presenters who rarely continue to appear on screens so many decades later, except for the odd stint on celebrity-based reality television shows. Perhaps Chegwin has simply been lucky – that certainly seems to be his, rather endearing, interpretation of events.

“I luckily did Extras with Ricky Gervais, and it was quite funny because he turned around to me and said ‘Look, I’ve got a part for you to play in Extras… I don’t want Keith Chegwin, I want you to play a role.’ I suddenly thought, Oh my gosh, that’s quite a responsibility really, isn’t it? It was nice to be asked to do Life’s Too Short, the new series with Ricky Gervais. I was so shocked when Ricky said, ‘I know you did Extras, but I want you to do this as well,’ – I’m going, ‘Bloomin’ heck!'”

Chegwin’s somewhat unexpected favour amongst Gervais and his team certainly seems to have opened up a number of opportunities. It’s no surprise that he was keen to work with Gervais for the second time; he’s undoubtedly a big fan.

“[Gervais] writes such blimmin great material and he’s – how do I explain it? – he’s a real generous performer,” he explains, still as enthusiastic as ever.

“Like, if you think of something funnier, which I haven’t done, but I’ve seen other people on the set do it, he goes ‘Oh yeh, do it!’ He wants to make you shine, which is unusual, because normally comics want to make themselves shine – so they take all the best lines, and look the best and get the greatest parts. With Ricky Gervais, his whole ambition is just to make fantastic series’ where everybody does the greatest cameo they can.”

It seems ideal, yet Chegwin is not without any sense any responsibility for the chances which he’s been given, and I find myself hoping that the critical reaction to his upcoming work is more positive than that which some of his previous projects.

“It’s nice that people like Andy Thompson and Gervais and Steve Merchant and that are willing to trust you… they’re actually trusting their production on you. Which is a hell of a worry, isn’t it?”

Yes, I imagine it is.

Kill Keith is out in UK cinemas from 11th November.

Check out our review here.

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