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Nick and Garth – The Interview

On Thursday 29th January 2004, producer Nick Goldsmith and director Garth Jennings gave their first interview about their work on the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy feature film. Wanting to make sure that the interview was accurate and informed, they picked to ask the questions two people who know the subject inside out: h2g2 editor Jim Lynn and myself, Douglas Adams biographer MJ Simpson. Also on the ‘conference call’ phone line was executive producer Robbie Stamp who set the interview up.

Nick Goldsmith (with beard) and Garth Jennings at Nick Webb’s book launch last year
(photo: MJ Simpson)

Jim and I transcribed the interview separately so you’ll find a very slightly different version of it here. For convenience I have split it up into four parts.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

MJ: Can we start off by discussing the cast members who have so far been officially confirmed? Why did you pick Martin Freeman for the role of Arthur?

Garth: “Arthur Dent had to be Martin really. Martin screen-tested for the role many months ago now. Robbie saw the tape along with us and it was the kind of tape you hope you’re going to have but very rarely do, when someone just comes in and nails it.”

Nick: “One of the things that got us very excited was that Martin managed to make the lines written by Douglas really work, really sound like his own. He did it in a very throwaway way which made it incredibly funny. It made the lines come to life in a new way.”

Garth: “He has just been extraordinary. He has reinvented it so it’s still Arthur but it’s a very new, fresh take on it. As you’ve seen in The Office, he can make even the most preposterous situations real and have real heart. He’s just so natural and wonderful. To see Martin struggling with hitchhiking through the universe is going to be the most lovely thing to watch.”

MJ: What about the unusual choice of Mos Def as Ford?

Garth: “Well, you can’t get more of a contrast than between Martin Freeman and Mos Def. He’s just marvellous, a fabulous bloke. You wait till you meet him, you’ll love him. He’s perfect for Ford. We didn’t know much about Mos before we went to meet him; since meeting him and investigating everything he’s done, it was almost no question – it had to be him.”

MJ: Can you just allay the fears of some people that, although Mos Def is a rap artist, he won’t be playing a hip-hop Ford?

Garth: “No, I think that would be the most appalling thing ever in the history of the world. To be fair, I didn’t know much about Mos Def before I met him and didn’t think that he was going to be right. But that’s why I say, when you meet him, he’s the most wonderful actor first and foremost but he’s also incredibly funny, incredibly clever. He just fits the brief in a most unexpected way really.”

MJ: And Zooey Deschanel will be Trillian. Why did you pick her?

Garth: “Trillian’s one of those characters that needed a bit more going on. She was a character that needed much development and that’s something that Douglas was working quite hard on. Zooey again just fitted the bill as far as being somebody who can be both smart and funny but not irritating. It’s very hard to have somebody who’s very clever and knows lots of things and not have them get under your skin. We found somebody who also works very well with Arthur, to really give Arthur a run for his money – and everyone else. She can hold her own. The last thing we wanted was the token female, and Zooey more than fitted the bill. I could go on about her for ages because she’s absolutely fabulous and she is extraordinary in real life as well. If we just get a bit of what she’s like in real life, I think we’ll be there.”

MJ: I know a lot of people feel Sam Rockwell is a great choice for Zaphod.

Garth: “Sam is an extraordinary fella. He’s the only man I know who can go from a high karate kick, straight into the splits without pulling a muscle and still look cool! He really took to Zaphod like a duck to water and his determination to ‘get it right’ is more than I could hope for. I would imagine it’s a bad idea to let him have an espresso before work unless we have a re-enforced set but other than that I think he’s going to be excellent.”

MJ: Bill Nighy as Slartibartfast was the first casting we heard about but the last of the main roles to be confirmed – why was that?

Garth: “Nick and I received the script for the film just after watching the BBC’s State of Play in which Bill Nighy was fantastic. Bill’s just perfect for Slartibartfast and we never bothered even considering anyone else. I wrote to him on several occasions to ask him to play Slarti but didn’t hear anything back for a while because he was so busy. The next thing I knew, he was in the papers talking about how much he loved the script and how excited he was to be offered the part. His enthusiasm and understanding of Hitchhiker’s is priceless. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Jim: When you were first approached to do the movie, what was your reaction?

Garth: “‘What an awful idea.’ We thought that it would be the typical, Hollywood, ruin-everything thing and we actually told our agent not to send us the script. Frank, being a very good agent, sent it anyway. So it sat on our desk for approximately two weeks and we kept just looking at it, thinking, ‘Oh, they’ll have ruined it. We’re not going anywhere near it.’ We had actually started making our own film and had already begun the casting process. Then one day Nick said, ‘Look, you should read this. I’ve just read it.’ He was very quiet about it, he said, ‘Just have a read, see what you think.’

“I took it home and my wife can vouch for this: I went into the toilet to read it, expecting to come out quite quickly, and 45 minutes later I appeared, saying to my wife, ‘This is actually rather good.’ Then my second reaction was: ‘It’s brilliant but it could be too marvellous to do. This is very important to a lot of people, not just me but an awful lot of other people.’ Then once we’d realised that it was a perfect opportunity to do what we do best, we jumped straight in there. And it’s been a roller-coaster ever since.”

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4