If you press play on Simon Pegg’s new comedy, Nandor Fodor And The Talking Mongoose, when it arrives on Prime Video this weekend, you might get a lot more than you bargained for.
The surreal adventure is based on a stranger-than-fiction true story which captivated the nation back in the 1930s, where a family on the Isle of Man laid claim to having a talking mongoose named Gef living in their farm. A psychoanalyst named Nandor Fodor heard about the tale and went to the island to investigate for himself, finding something even more unusual than he could have anticipated.
Director Adam Sigal’s film chronicles that investigation, at times feeling closer to a tale of obsession akin to David Fincher’s Zodiac – but with a talking mongoose – than your typically wacky Simon Pegg vehicle. This reflects Sigal’s own decade-long fascination with the story, which he’d been researching for years in the hope of one day getting to make this passion project.
He told Zavvi: “I heard about this ten years ago, completely randomly on a sports talk radio show – I did a double take, I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard, and started researching it that day. From that moment, I would always tell people that I’d make a movie about the talking mongoose, and they’d always look at me like “what on Earth are you talking about?”
“I never wanted to make it a straight-up biopic, and it took a while to find my approach to tell this story. I realized that the subtext here made it a story of belief systems and faith – I’m a very cynical, mostly atheistic guy, and I saw parallels between this and religion, in a strange way, when you see people make odd decisions in life all out of believing in something that can’t be scientifically proven.
“Nandor Fodor is the ultimate skeptic, like me, and the family are the blindly faithful – and exploring how they both react to this very odd situation which relies entirely on a suspension of disbelief was why I wanted to tell this story.”
Sigal didn’t have a specific actor in mind when writing, but when Pegg was offered his way, he became the first and only choice due to the fact he can pull off the “seamless transition between comedy and drama” within a single scene.
However, casting his lead – or the supporting cast, which includes familiar faces like Christopher Lloyd and Minnie Driver – was no challenge. Instead, the hardest task was finding a performer who could voice his mongoose, even if we only hear them briefly.
“Gef is a loose approximation of the concept of God, so when casting this role, I wanted someone who was like God to me”, Sigal continued. “I’m a writer, so even though I didn’t have anyone in mind while writing, it became clear my voice needed to be a writer I idolise like that.
“Neil Gaiman is one of the reasons I became a writer, and I worship his work, so he fit in perfectly. He’s an amazing man and having him tell me he loved the script and the film were highlights of my career – and unsurprisingly, he already knew a lot about the Gef story, including many of the quotes he was alleged to have said!”
Despite these weighty themes, the writer/director is quick to insist that this is still a comedy – even if it is a “heavier story” than it may initially appear.
“This story is fundamentally ridiculous – it’s about a talking mongoose, after all. I never wanted people to forget that, and wanted to ensure that the humour was bone-dry and very British, played completely straight with a tongue placed firmly in the cheek.
“I grew up in the States with my dad showing me things like Fawlty Towers, it helped me develop a love of dry British comedy. I wanted this to feel like a classic British movie, like something I was shown as a child.”
It’s also British in another key aspect: the production never once step foot on the Isle of Man, instead filming around the North of England, predominantly in Leeds and Whitby.
“I assumed we’d be filming in the Isle of Man, but when I proposed that, my production company looked like I was out of my mind”, Sigal laughed. “But we ended up shooting in some many beautiful towns in Yorkshire – and I even got to experience a Leeds United soccer game one weekend.
“They were playing Man City and got absolutely annihilated. Being near all those very angry Leeds fans was a beautiful moment…”
The investigation into Gef the talking mongoose was just one of the many strange stories that Nandor Fodor built cases around. Many will be wondering if there will be a sequel if this is a hit on streaming, and Sigal admits he has considered it.
“A lot of people have talked to me about it, and he has more strange stories like this – but as a storyteller, I’m not the guy to write sequels, I like jumping around between different projects. I just wrapped a shoot a month back on a movie about a mermaid who lives in a water tower, and right now I’m writing something about the softcore pornography industry in the 90s; I never want to be restricted by what I make.
“But I also never say never again, and if I find a theme like the religious one that makes perfect sense for a new Nandor Fodor adventure, then of course I’d do it…”
Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose is streaming on Prime Video 8 November 2023.