By Sarah Blythe
If I mention the name James Mullinger, you will be forgiven for checking which section of the website you are in. No, you are not reading this in our Comedy section…James Mullinger has now spread his wings even further, and alongside his stand-up, he is the presenter of a new film review show Movie Kingdom, on Sky. I caught up with James to talk about movies, stand-up comedy and balancing the two!
SARAH: So we are here to talk about your new show Movie Kingdom, but I thought we might start with a bit of an overview of your history, and what has led you to where you are?
JAMES: No problem. I was born in Maidenhead, grew up in Maidenhead and at 18 went to University to study English Literature and Women’s Studies, which is what my first tour was about. I then worked in WhSmiths in Maidenhead for a few years before coming to London to work for GQ magazine, who I still do lots of work for. So I worked for GQ for 5 years before taking up stand-up comedy, and I took up stand up basically because it was just a dream of mine. I always wanted to do it. I was never a very popular child at school so I spent most of my evenings just watching comedy videos. Even at school I would just find a quiet corner to listen to stand up tapes on my Walkman. So it was always a dream and I’d been at GQ for 5 years and realised I hadn’t followed my dream so I then pursued stand up. I spent a horrible, horrible 3 years travelling round the country not being paid. I don’t think anyone realises how difficult bad gigs can be and how it can be just soul destroying, but equally you know when you drive for 3 or 4 hours to perform, and die, and travel back and you’re not being paid, it’s a horrible existence and the more you do it the more fun it gets and obviously now I’m always being paid, unless it’s a charity gig, so that takes the sting off it! I’ve been doing stand up for 6 years now. Three solo tours, and still just do clubs all the time, still do work for GQ, and do Movie Kingdom which started a couple of months ago as well. And try to be a dad in between.
SARAH: Nice and busy then! If you’re looking at your comedy, your journalism and your role as presenter in Movie Kingdom, is there one you particularly enjoy? Is it comedy because that feels more a part of you?
JAMES: Stand up I love, and if I had to pick one, that would be the thing. It is my biggest passion, but to be honest I feel massively lucky being able to do all three. I think if you asked Lee Evans “what do you like most? Is it the writing, is it the stand up, the acting?”…he would probably pick stand up. That’s the thing that defines who you are.
SARAH: To do stand-up it’s got to be a bit of a passion anyway, like you said, because it is such a hard slog.
JAMES: No-one does it and goes “oh this looks easy” then jumps into it and then suddenly makes it. Which is why it’s my favourite art form because there’s no bad stand up. There is stand up that we might not like, but there’s no-one that can’t do the job. There’s loads of really shit but successful CEOs, bad but successful actors like Keanu Reeves, but in stand-up there’s no-one who can’t make an audience laugh.
SARAH: Do you think that’s true?
JAMES: Yeah, yeah because it’s the most immediate of art forms. I don’t like certain comics selling out the O2 arena, but at the same time 20000 people are paying to watch them, and they’re making them laugh every 5 seconds. You can’t tell me anyone who sells out the O2, who doesn’t make the audience laugh every minute. Going further down the circuit, obviously there are people doing stand-up who aren’t good at it, but there’s no-one who is making a good living off it that isn’t good. When I was researching my old school days show I was reading all my school diaries and I found a diary entry from my mid-teens saying “should I pursue journalism or should I pursue stand up”, and to me now the fact that when I was 10 my dream was to host a movie show, and now the fact that I’m able to do all three is just a dream come true.
SARAH: Now I’ve seen quite a few extracts from Movie Kingdom, and I think for me it feels more familiar than other similar shows, less formal.
JAMES: The thing we have been trying to do with Movie Kingdom, and the thing we have been trying to sell to get the exclusives we need is the fact that unlike other shows on TV it’s not hosted bya TV presenter who has been hired because they can read an autocue. And I’m not casting aspersions at Claudia Winkleman or Edith Bowman, they are both very good at what they do. But they were hired because they’re known faces who can read an autocue. I don’t have an autocue, my director won’t let me, he makes me write the stuff and learn it so that when I deliver it it’s real. When I sit in the cinema and shout about the new Tin Tin film, it’s me being passionate, because I’m not reading what someone else has written. I’ve been to see the film, I’ve written what my thoughts are and I deliver it 100% genuinely because it is by movie fans, for movie fans.
SARAH: Who, if anybody would you most like to have on the show?
JAMES: Well the ones that we’ve got coming up that I’m really genuinely excited about are Daniel Craig for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Tom Cruise for Mission Impossible 4. I’m excited about them because they’re both massive stars. Tom I’m particularly excited about because he’s known for having fun. I interviewed Antonio Banderas last week and that was the best, one of the best interviews we’ve ever done. He was just so up for it. I took a picture of my cat Molly along, because he does the voice of Puss in Boots, so I said “this is my cat Molly. What voice would you give Molly?” And he just did the most hilarious things. That’s what the show is about; it’s just having fun with the stars. But personally the dream guest is Seth Rogen. ‘A list’ star, funny as hell. The way he improvises, the way he does his interviews, he’s brutally honest. And I just personally think he is really really funny, so it would be him. In terms of comedians, because we do the DVD collection, I have been trying to beg Michael McIntyre to do it, and I know him really well because obviously we used to gig together when he was still up and coming. I’ve also been speaking to David Walliams, and I’m hoping they’re both going to happen.
SARAH: All the clips I have seen I have enjoyed because you can relax whilst watching it. That’s what you want from that kind of show, but I notice you focus on mainstream film. Would you ever consider reviewing more art-house film?
JAMES: Yes definitely. We have been picking mainstream over art-house, but that’s for no particular reason, other than we are a new show and we do need viewers.
SARAH: It’s a safer way to establish yourselves?
JAMES: Exactly. But yes, we do want to broaden it and cover more art-house and less mainstream films. We just hope that our audience are movie fans who like comedy.
SARAH: How did it come about? That’s the one thing we haven’t spoken about!
JAMES: We conceived the show two years ago, we shot a pilot, went round all the channels. King of Shaves came on board about six months ago and kindly raised the offer to finance the whole thing. They did it because they do PR things that they love, and they love the show.
SARAH: Wow, so for the whole team it is a labour of love! So is it the presenting you really enjoy or is it the theme?
JAMES: It’s the theme, it’s the movie theme. I didn’t do stand-up because I wanted to be a TV presenter; it’s not what I do. I like performing my own stuff. I don’t want to be Dermot O’Leary, just going up and reading lines. I obviously want to do more TV but in a stand-up or comedy environment. I wanted to do Movie Kingdom because of my love of film and my love of comedy.