Nick Mohammad and David Schwimmer on new sitcom Intelligence
Nick, you must be so pleased to have your first television series after all these years?
NM: I wake up every day and I’m absolutely delighted. David and I first met five years ago and have been talking about doing something together, and getting the right idea. It takes so long. Even the edit took six months. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.
In an age full of comedy-dramas, BALANCE loves that Intelligence is an out-and-out comedy. Why did you choose this format?
NM: Because I have a live comedy background, I’m very wedded to the search for a laugh and I probably get a bit concerned whenever anything gets too sort of “drama”. I was only ever intending to write something that was quite gag-heavy.
At the risk of hero worship, how did you land an actor who can do the lot?
DS: Well, Nick’s one of them!
NM: It’s all been through collaboration and it’s such a treat to have David’s wealth of experience on my first TV series.
DS: We’re both really lucky, and it has been an incredible experience. From top to bottom, there’s no egos. Whoever has the best idea – that’s
One of the strengths of Intelligence is the excellent cast…
NM: It has to be an ensemble and it was all deliberate to sell the idea of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters). As it’s a real place, you have to populate it with characters who we can relate to in different ways.
David, how much fun was it to play your character, Jerry? On the surface, he’s a bit of a douchebag, but we find out there’s more going on with him…
DS: I’ve always wanted to play this kind of guy who, on paper, is really unlikeable. If you list his qualities, it’s pretty bad: misogynistic, homophobic, narcissistic, entitled, racist, power-hungry, alpha and, as you say, a douche. We worked hard to give him more humanity; it wasn’t fun for me to play at first. I felt like I was playing one note. We kept working at finding the humanity through the backstory. Everything is a mask for him, because he is hiding genuine pain. Once we discovered that though, everything seemed to fall into place.
In the history of comedy actors such as Peter Sellers, Julie Walters and Phil Silvers, BALANCE puts you in that top bracket…
DS: I appreciate that! Thank you. Peter Sellers is one of my favourites and has definitely inspired me a lot. And all the Monty Python guys and Dudley Moore.
Will the show run season after season?
NM: If we can.
DS: We’d love to.
Are you aware when you’re making comedy alchemy, David? To pick one Friends scene, for example: when you needed to pretend that Ross didn’t like the drink he was drinking in front of Joey, even though we knew he loved it.
DS: What I can feel is what’s funny. If I feel that it’s funny, then I know it’s funny. You know when you have it right in terms of “the turn”: playing one thing and then the turn is flipping and playing another. If you’re doing multi-cam, I know exactly where the cameras are. It’s technical, but you also know when you can do it better. Usually, the first two takes are the best.
NM: I don’t have the experience David has, but it’s the rhythm. You can feel when something is right. Not just the timing, but the whole package.
Is it a bit like baseball, when you know you’ve got hold of a home run?
DS: Yes, you know you’ve got a hit before you see where it goes.
What do you both do for balance?
NM: My wife and I play in an orchestra.
DS: Do you play together?
NM: Sometimes. It’s how I proposed – off the back of a piano duet. I printed out a Beethoven symphony transcribed for two pianos because I knew it was her favourite. On the last page it said: “Will you marry me?” Beat that, Schwimmer!
DS: I was going to say the same.
All episodes of Intelligence are on Sky One now. Listen to David and Nick on the BALANCE podcast.