“That was always a big plus for me,” Grant quipped. “I hate those two. Actually, there are people who have fixations on historical characters. Doing ‘Love Actually' with Billy Bob Thornton, who as you know is unusual, we learned that he has a proper phobia about 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. He's terrified of him. And I remember on that set, we had a set of No. 10 Downing Street, I found a picture of Disraeli, and I used to slyly push it in front of Billy Bob. And he would just break out in a sweat.”
Degrees of humor
Which brought the conversation around to the differences between British humour and American humor.
“People have asked me about that for years,” said Grant, “and honestly I don't think there are such big differences. I guess the only place where there's a little more emphasis in Britain is sometimes on profound silliness, just almost surreal, childish silliness like you see in Monty Python or in a lot of Aardman films, I think. But otherwise I don't think there are profound differences.”
Lord added, “I find it impossible to answer when people ask, ‘Is your humor very British?' I have no idea. And the big question is, if it is different, does it matter really? Because we in Britain, we drink in the American humor by the gallon-load. In all sorts of different styles and tones, we take it all in and laugh at half the antics.
“I'm sure there are some things we don't get. Cultural references and such. Like when people make jokes about American high school. I know there's a whole world of experience that American high school kids have had that I haven't had.
“But I don't mind. I laugh along, I get bits of it and bits I miss, and that's fine. So I kind of hope American audiences will be similarly broad-minded and just enjoy something with a slightly different tone.”
Added Grant: “And it is always true that the more you try to be international with your humor or your entertainment, the more you'll fail. And the more you try to be local and indigenous and just do what pleases you the more you're likely to succeed internationally. People like it. They like something different. They don't like homogenized stuff.”
So, how do they hit that sweet spot with humor for kids and adults?
“It is very difficult … well, in fact it's very easy actually,” Lord said. “I really think — I'll say the corny thing — you just make it for yourself. Because what else can you do except what amuses you? If it doesn't amuse you, you aren't going to do it. So you do what amuses you.
“But we're not idiots,” he continued. “We know, of course, that it's for children as well. For example, the writer, Gideon Defoe, writes hilarious dialogue but would never leave any room for action at all. So we had to force his dialogue aside and said, ‘No, no, we've got to get some action in here. This has to be visually entertaining, as well.'
“That was my role, just to make a space for the purely visual and just trust the audience that they will like humor up and down the scale. And I think that's what we've done — we've got some quite smart humor for the sophisticated adults and ludicrous schoolboy humor for children and everything in between, I hope. It seems to all fit together rather well.”