After seven years, the actor’s gorgeously pompous creation Steven Toast is back – and this time he’s taking on Hollywood. He talks about anger, failure and Clem Fandango
It wasn’t the first time. Berry once saw the quote – which his character, the ridiculously self-important actor Steven Toast, angrily says to his hipster voiceover producer Clem Fandango (Shazad Latif) – as graffiti on the wall of a public toilet in east London. A thoroughbred racehorse was christened Clem Fandango, he tells me.
Matt Berry recently got on a London Underground train and crashed into someone wearing a t-shirt with his Toast to London Catchphrase: “Yes I can hear you Clem Fandango!”
Now Toast has finally gone to Hollywood. Under the mistaken impression that he had landed a leading role war of stars Film, he has moved (after a seven-year hiatus) both from Channel 4 to BBC Two and across the Atlantic for the insanely surreal new series. Toast to Tinseltown.
“It’s a full primary school education, or the distance of an entire adolescence since Toast was last seen on our screens,” says series writer Arthur Mathews on the set of the series, which is filmed in keeping with the world of the title character’s unfulfilled expectations will be based in Harlesden, North West London. “But he hasn’t learned anything.”
“Toast gets a whole new life in America,” says Berry. The reason for moving to the States was to avoid covering the same ground as the first three series. “We didn’t want to ruin it. If we wanted to do it, it had to be in a different place, with different people,” he says
Tinseltown is certainly a new playground for Toast — and a new place for him to endure weekly ritualistic humiliation. The beauty of Toast is that, unlike an American sitcom character, he never wins. “He’s fooling himself and tripping himself up over and over again,” Berry agrees.
“It’s very different from the American sitcom model, where there’s a lot of resistance to losers and characters not getting what they think they deserve. Our comedy is not like that. We start with those losers and watch them not get what they deserve.”
Toast’s unrelenting failure begins the moment he arrives in Los Angeles. “He goes to Hollywood and says, ‘I’m happy to take on different roles as long as I don’t have to play the butler or the killer,'” explains producer Charlie Leech. “And then his agent tells him, ‘You’ve been offered the role of the butler, who turns out to be the killer.'”
It’s fair to say that Toast isn’t a very likable character. He seethes with anger over and over again at the humiliations with which the industry showers him. When his agent Jane Plow (Doon Mackichan) informs him that he lost a starring role to his acting rival Ray Purchase, he angrily smashes her desk and has to attend an anger management class taught by Des Wigwam (Kayvan) Novak, Berry’s Co -Star in the BBC’s American vampire mockumentary What we do in the shadows).
“He has some uncomfortable qualities,” says Leech, “but you always feel for him because he’s a loser and everyone loves a loser. He’s like Eddie the Eagle.”
“The Brits love outsiders,” agrees director Michael Cumming. “The trick is to surround Toast with absolute bastards. Put him alongside Ray Purchase and Clem Fandango and Toast looks like a hero.”
It’s this friction between the characters that creates comic sparks. “Some actors come in and say, ‘I can’t be that awful at Toast,'” says Berry. “And I have to tell them, ‘Look, the more awful you are, the funnier it is.'”
Toast works as a comic creation precisely because he is blind to his own flaws. “Anyone who takes themselves seriously is always going to be funny and fertile ground for comedy,” says Berry. “Look at Captain Mainwaring or David Brent. Every kind of pomp is just waiting to be stung. It also helps a lot when a comedy character has absolutely no sense of humor. Toast only ever laughs at his own jokes.”
This fatal lack of self-confidence is crucial. “There’s a lot of Tony Hancock in Toast,” says Cumming. “He was pompous, but also lovable. We love pompous characters because they get to say what we’d like to say. When confronted with irritating hipsters, we’d just giggle, but Toast actually calls them out. All the things we just think, Toast says out loud.”
Berry, 47, won a Bafta for his performance as Toast in 2015 and is always looking for new material for the character. He was even inspired by actors during lockdown who posted videos online of themselves doing Shakespeare “very seriously”.
“A lot of people I’ve met at Jobs have a lot of Steven Toast in them, and I’ve always found them very funny,” he says. “When I’m doing voiceovers and other actors lose their tempers, I make mental notes. I’m like, ‘Great, I can make something out of this. Come on, be angrier. That’s gold!’” He refuses to name names.
Berry is having the time of his life playing Toast. With his wonderfully rich, melodious voice, he rinses every syllable around his mouth and spits it out as if it were a 2017 glass of Patient Cottat Sancerre Anciennes Vignes Sancerre, which Orson Welles offers toast in the scene I film them ( the late director). , played by impressionist Lewis Macleod, is inexplicably a wine shop owner). “He’s great fun to play because you can be as ridiculous as you want and encourage every other actor to be just as ridiculous.”
How similar is Berry to his alter ego, I wonder? Not in the slightest. “Toast is someone who wants a lot more out of life and doesn’t understand why it’s not celebrated more,” says Berry. “I, on the other hand, am the opposite. I’m always so grateful that something happened to me and I sometimes wonder why it happened in the first place.”
What’s next for the character? Berry hopes the series goes on and on, although of course the future for Toast will be much like the present – plagued by bitter disappointment.
“He thinks he should be the new James Bond,” says Berry. “He’s convinced he could do a better job than anyone else.”
Toast of Tinseltown begins Tuesday 4 January at 10pm on BBC Two