Tim Minchin on the value of peace and his new TV show
You must be chuffed with how Upright has panned out?
I am, actually, in a way I haven’t been with anything ever. I liked Matilda (the musical) when that was up. What allows you to really like something you’ve had a big role in creating is, of course, when it’s not just you. Upright is so massive, making a TV series and spending months in the writing room, all the different writers and all the people involved. You can give yourself permission to say I’m really proud because it’s not so narcissistic. If I watch some of my comedy, I can’t bear it, in fact, I find it virtually physically unbearable.
The show sounds whimsical – man drives piano across Australia – but it’s so not!
That’s a very good point. You’d presume whimsical, but it’s incredibly active. The comedy and drama sit on a knifepoint that I’m obsessed by in all my work. It’s almost like, “How far can you pull an audience one way, how much will they swallow comedically and will they still come with you when you turn a corner and ask you to care.”
You seem to be in a good place…
I’ve always been quite conservative in lifestyle and choices. My partner and I have been together since we were kids. I am not damaged and my comedy is not a salve on damage. It’s a thing driven by curiosity and surprise. “I didn’t know I’d get to do this! I’m going to do it.” I’m 43 now and you get to a point where you realise the value of peace… The way the world is now, I just want to feel not distressed. You have to do a bunch of things: not take too many drugs; not ruin your relationship; not read the news too much; put your phone down; breathe; be conscious in the present. You have to f**king work now at taking just a moment for toast and tea.
You have to work really hard…
I’m well and as you get older you realise how many people struggle with mental health, men at our age in particular. You realise not many people are just all right. Upright is about all of this. This period of my life of being this age and needing to take a breath out – the character’s shoulders have to be able to come down and to stand “upright”. The show is all about: how do you let yourself put your burdens down?
Giving yourself a break is incredibly cathartic, right?
Apparently people from the mid-30s to early 50s are at their most emotionally unstable, and then it starts getting better. Mostly it gets better as you age in terms of being happy, which suggests being happy isn’t about massive goals or getting lots of stuff.
Can Larrikins (directed by Minchin, but later shut down) be saved?
It doesn’t suit the people who killed it to let it be saved… Larrikins was an animated musical that we had spent $50 million (£38m) and four years on: Australian outback, singing animal musical voiced by all the famous Australians you can name. Hans Zimmer was helping with the score. It was hard work. The trouble is, if someone else wants it, the software is DreamWorks software, so you have to licence it to someone else. So [Universal] would sell it to Netflix for the $50m that has been spent plus all this other money. Then Netflix would say they still had $50m to spend because it was a $100m budget and it was only half-finished. Universal would then say, “By the way, when you release it, we’ll take half the profit because it’s our [thing]”.
That must have been hard to deal with. How did you react?
I contacted one of the top people at Universal to say, “obviously that means it can’t be sold. You can’t ask someone to spend $150m and only take half. You’ve already binned it. Why are you making it impossible for someone else to make?” And he replied, “Schmuck insurance: if it comes out and does well, how will we look? We’ll look stupid for shutting it down in the first place.” I went, “You know that’s psychopathic.” This was an honest but gentlemanly conversation. He just pronounced calmly, “I’m not a psychopath…”
Anyway, that was that… all the loss of art and time. The only thing that gets you past that stuff is time and learning to not think about it anymore.
Upright is on Sky Atlantic now