Five festive minutes with… ROB BRYDON

Magic Light Pictures has been providing festive family treats to BBC audiences for a decade – and this year it’s the turn of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s The Snail And The Whale. Rob Brydon, 54, who voices the whale, tells Gemma Dunn about returning to the fold.

YOU’VE STARRED IN ALL OF MAGIC LIGHT’S ANIMATED SPECIALS. WHAT KEEPS YOU COMING BACK?

The quality of the product from start to finish – from the source material to the writing, from Axel’s illustrations, and then the animation is sublime. It is just beautiful. I come in early on and again towards the end, and without being horribly falsely modest, it’s a very small bit that I do. But a very pleasant, pleasurable bit to do.

THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE IS A LONGSTANDING FAVOURITE IN YOUR HOUSE. WHICH SCENE ARE YOU MOST FOND OF?

One of my favourite bits from the book is the page with the big wave on it. I love that image and some of the underwater stuff, just in a visual sense. But as an actor – because I’m not doing anything when that’s happening, apart from maybe the odd [noise] – it’s the line, ‘I can’t move on land, I’m too big’. Because if you were casting me physically, that’s not a line I’d ever get asked to say; whereas with animation, you can do things you’d never get cast as. And I was interested to not give him a big booming whale voice, but something a little more sympathetic.

The Snail and the Whale. Pictured: The whale (voiced by Rob Brydon). PA Photo/BBC/Magic Light Pictures.

WHAT’S THE STORY TELLING US, DO YOU THINK?

It’s an epic journey across the globe, where the tiniest creature and the mightiest mammal experience the vastness of our planet together. It taps into a lot of basic things, doesn’t it? The yearning to travel, the yearning to see the world, the size, the scale, the snail and the whale, the big and small coming together. Is it about opening your horizons..?

YOU’VE VOICED EVERYTHING FROM THE SNAKE IN THE GRUFFALO TO THE CAT IN ROOM ON THE BROOM. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED CHARACTER?

This is one of my favourites. I did like being the snake in The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, he has a bit of a Welsh feel and we don’t have many snakes in Wales. I also narrated The Highway Rat, I loved doing that. And I was hoping they would do The Snail And The Whale. It’s a beautiful book. I’ve got five children, so over the years I’ve clocked up a lot of reading time of children’s stories, and the very good ones do make it look easy. When you read a bad one it just clunks along the page and is almost painful to read – you can’t wait for your child to sleep. But Julia’s flow so beautifully and the economy – as a comedian, you’re a big fan of economy – of not using too many words, Julia is a maestro of that.

DO YOU STAY IN TOUCH WITH DONALDSON AND SCHEFFLER THROUGHOUT THE YEAR?

No, I see them at the screening. I wanted to get one of Axel’s illustrations and he has given me his email, but I’ve always been too reticent to follow through! My wife says, ‘When are you going to get a picture from Axel?’ I say, ‘Well, I just don’t like to ask!’ But there’s a crew and little cast screening that happens every year on a Sunday morning in the run up to Christmas, which is a lovely little tradition. But the voice role, like any animation, you tend to record your bit on your own. You’re rarely, if ever, in the studio with other actors.

The Snail and the Whale. Pictured: The whale (voiced by Rob Brydon). PA Photo/BBC/Magic Light Pictures.

ARE THERE ANY OF DONALDSON AND SCHEFFLER’S CHARACTER CREATIONS YOU’D LIKE TO SEE MORE OF – PERHAPS A SPIN-OFF?

I mean I wouldn’t assume to suggest… the horse in The Highway Rat! I thought there were hidden depths there, he had a look in his eye that suggested he had an opinion on everything. [He was a silent character] for a considerable amount of time and yet [he turned out to be the narrator]. But I never thought I would end up being in every one of these; each year I would wonder, ‘Why haven’t they got in touch yet – is it going to happen?’ But it’s started to become this regular thing and I’m genuinely so proud to be associated with it.

FROM THIS TO GAVIN AND STACEY, IS IT FAIR TO TITLE YOU ‘THE KING OF CHRISTMAS’?

[I’m in] the prince region, maybe. But no, I’m very lucky I’ve been in a few of these things. I always like being on the telly at Christmas, I don’t know why but I find it quite reassuring, career-wise; you know ‘I’m still around – and this will carry over into the next year maybe…’.

ZOG 2 HAS JUST BEEN ANNOUNCED AS THE MAGIC LIGHT PICTURES-BBC COLLABORATION FOR CHRISTMAS 2020. WILL YOU BE INVOLVED?

Am I allowed to say? Maybe that gives away the answer. Yes, I am!

The Snail And The Whale will air on BBC One over the Christmas week.