Robert Carlyle is no stranger to playing big screen villains, after first capturing international attention as the terrifying Begbie in Trainspotting.
It was a career-launching role that made him one of the industry’s go-to bad guys, in the following years appearing as everything from a Bond baddie in The World Is Not Enough, to history’s most evil man in Hitler: The Rise Of Evil.
Going to dark places is no challenge for Carlyle, who has long maintained that the hardest shoot of his career was 1997’s The Full Monty, the smash-hit comedy in which his character, the ambitious schemer Gaz, leads a troupe of unemployed men in becoming male strippers.
He explained to Zavvi: “Comedy is always difficult because something that’s funny at eight o’clock in the morning is not so funny at eight o’clock in the evening! More so than any other genre, you leave after a day of shooting to go back to the hotel, and find yourself wondering if you are actually good at the job, or if you’re just rubbish.
“But that wasn’t the reason why I was hesitant to return to The Full Monty, and I’d be a liar to say that I didn’t have to put a lot of thought into that decision. You don’t want to make anything which could downgrade the memory of the original film, which is beloved by millions of people all over the world – I had to make sure we didn’t mess with that.”
Fans of the original movie – which became the UK’s biggest box office hit of all time upon release, only to be dethroned by Titanic a few months later – will be relieved to discover that the eight-part Disney+ sequel series (also titled The Full Monty) has been worth the wait.
Where the original movie set its sights on exploring the economic impact of Thatcherism on an impoverished working class community, the series reintroduces us to characters who have all invariably been failed by the inability of successive governments to “level up” the North since then.
Exploring everything from failures in health and education funding to the heartlessness of the benefits system, it’s even angrier about the current state of the nation than the original movie, and once again pulls off the near-impossible trick of balancing this with humour equal parts laugh-out-loud and heartwarming. Oh, and there’s no stripping in sight.
“With the movie, we had 90 minutes for everything, but now we have an hour to spend with each individual character”, Carlyle continued. “We’ve taken these characters from 25 years ago and explored them in much more detail, and just like the original film, at its core this is a political story; in the film, they became strippers because the steelworks closed down, and they’re still navigating similar pressures all these years later.
“I think it’s testament to Simon Beaufoy, who wrote the original movie screenplay and wrote this series, that these characters are exactly where you would want them to be even after all this time. Nothing stupid happened, nobody went off and became a multimillionaire – when you are reintroduced to Gaz, he’s a porter at a mental health clinic and later in the series becomes a lollipop man.
“At first you think it’s strange that he’s ended up there, but of course that’s where he ended up. These men still had nothing at the end of the first film, and there was nothing to suggest their lives were going to be easy on them after that; this series shows that it has still been tough on them”.
The original film’s cast all return here, including Wim Snape, who played Gaz’s son Nathan. That role was Snape’s first ever acting gig at the age of 11, and he was understandably excited to be revisiting that parent-child relationship all these years later.
He told Zavvi: “In the original film, Nathan was always the parent, constantly telling his dad what he should and shouldn’t be doing. Since then, he’s only further created a boundary between his father and doing the right thing, by becoming a police officer – which makes perfect sense, his father’s a rebel, and what’s the only way you can rebel against a rebel?”
Like most of the cast, he had his apprehensions about a sequel series arriving more than a quarter of a century after the original movie, but quickly realised this was a story that urgently needed to be told.
“Simon is an incredible writer, he’s not going to do something for the sake of it – he’s got a story to tell and a point to prove. 25 years ago, stepping out of Thatcher’s Britain with unemployment being where it was, we all naturally thought it couldn’t get any worse than this.
“Now here we are with food banks, a cost-of-living crisis and an NHS on its knees, just to name a few things, and the series sends a message through how these characters navigate that.”
The series also reintroduces us to Dave, one of Gaz’s former colleagues at the steelworks who reluctantly joined his stripping act in the movie. Actor Mark Addy found returning to be “absolutely joyous”, with his character now a caretaker at a struggling high school-turned-Academy, which offered a perfect chance to explore how the British education system was failing the younger generation.
He told Zavvi: “When Simon sent an email, saying he was angry with what’s happening in society and he wanted to do a State of the Nation piece, I knew I wanted to be involved. The best way to approach this is through these characters we met a quarter of a century ago, who people are familiar with, and they can see how they have been affected by everything that has happened.
“I knew these characters were in safe hands, because the same writer who has lived with them all these years will know exactly how to place them in the contemporary world – being involved was a no brainer for me”.
The primary new character this time around is Gaz’s teenage daughter Destiny, played by Talitha Wing. A budding musician, she finds her creativity stifled by budget cuts in the school, and the topic of arts funding in state education is one close to Addy’s heart.
He continued: “In the series, the music department is being axed, the same as it was with drama. Are these subjects the most important things? No, but losing that means you’re losing a form of therapy for kids – these subjects give them a chance to express things, you can’t do that in a maths lesson.”
Another major change to the formula this time around is the increased role for women in the narrative, now that the drama isn’t specifically rooted within male anxieties. This means a beefed-up role for Lesley Sharp’s Jean, the wife of Dave and the headteacher at the same school where he works.
Sharp was overjoyed to see her character had been given meatier material here, telling Zavvi: “Jean in the original film was a satellite character. That film was about male identity loss, a lack of self-esteem and the collapse of the steel industry in Sheffield, so the relationship between Dave and Jean was purely an emotional heartbeat in the background.
“When the scripts for the series came in, I was pleased to see she’d been given a narrative. Both her and Dave have dealt with this major blow in life in not being able to start a family, and she chose to make the most of every minute she had, and now finds herself running a school.
“It’s here where we see the reality of running a school is not a bed of roses, and where the character has gone is fantastic. We previously saw her just as Dave’s great cheerleader, but as we look closer, we see there’s a couple here who have needed to have a deeper conversation for the past 20 years and keep avoiding it.”
For actor Steve Huison, reprising his role as former steelworker-turned-café owner Lomper, the education storylines had a particular resonance.
He explained: “There’s a line that resonated with me, where a character says music saves lives – it brought a tear to my eye, because it really does. I was at school in the mid-seventies in Leeds, and I was lucky to be in the comprehensive system at that time, because I could do music, art and drama.
“Of course, some teachers said no, you need to focus on your academic subjects, but now I’m 60 years old and I’ve been working in music, art and drama all my life. It’s got me through things, and made me the person I am today – to see children today being robbed of this, because it’s taken away as some sort of pastoral pursuit, is very insulting”.
I was incredibly moved by The Full Monty series, which refuses to coast on nostalgia for the original in order to tell a bold story rooted in the current moment. I laughed, I cried – and I didn’t even miss the stripping.
The Full Monty is streaming on Disney+ from Wednesday, 14th May.