Gideon Defoe Interview
Gideon Defoe Interview
Gideon Defoe is the author of the hugely successful series of comic Pirates! books, the first of which was published back in 2005, in which the pirates end up chasing around Victorian London after no less than Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin and the Elephant Man. Entitled The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, the book has now been made into a film by Aardman Animations, with the voice of Hugh Grant as the Pirate Captain and with the screenplay also written by Defoe himself.

Having penned three more piratical adventures in the meantime and with a brand new Pirates! adventure due out this year, he took the time to speak to View’s Matthew Turner about how you can’t actually write a novel in a week, why he’s not really that much of pirate themed movie fan, and why he had no idea that the likes of Brian Blessed and Hugh Grant would actually appear in his film.
Where did the idea for the books come from and how did the film come about?

Gideon Defoe

The books were the result of a stupid bet with a friend. I told him I could write an entire novel in a week, which, it turned out, I couldn't. But I did at least start something, which was what ended up being the first few chapters of The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists. It only went any further because a girl I liked asked me what I was doing with my life, and so, having idiotically started banging on about my 'novel', I was then sort of obliged to finish the thing. The main reason it was about pirates was because pirates seemed like an unusual thing to write about at the time, because this was a year before Johnny Depp came along and made everyone love them/get quite bored of them again.

The film came about because a copy of the book happened to be sitting on a desk at Aardman. During what obviously must have been a particularly boring development meeting, Peter Lord [co-founder of Aardman] picked it up and started to read, which must have seemed a little rude to everybody else. I think Pete has always had a bit of a soft spot for pirates, and something about the tone of the book obviously struck him as fitting in quite well with Aardman's sensibility and somehow, via a lot of good luck, as any film that actually makes it to the cinema needs, what was initially conceived as a daft bet in a pub, has ended up as a sixty million dollar feature film.
Before you had any notion that the book would be turned into a film, were there any actors you had envisaged playing the Pirate Captain or Black Bellamy, etc? I imagine Brian Blessed is something of a given. Related to this, with the actual cast, do they sound like they sounded in your head?

Gideon Defoe

Well, there's a comprehension exercise at the back of the first book that asks who should play the Captain in a movie version, "other than Brian Blessed." The joke only works if you presuppose nobody would ever turn the book into a movie, so it's kind of ruined now. And of course Brian Blessed actually IS in the film, though as the Pirate King rather than the Captain, which makes it even weirder. As for who I envisaged ... I certainly didn't envisage Hugh Grant. But now his is the only voice I can hear when I write the Captain. He has this innocent, enthusiastic charm that just really nails it.
Are you a fan of pirate movies in general? Do you have any favourites? I've always been fond of the pirates in Asterix.

Gideon Defoe

I seem to remember the pirates in Asterix are pretty racist, aren't they? But generally no, aside from the old Errol Flynn Captain Blood type of movie, pretty much every pirate movie has been horrible. Even the Graham Chapman one is kind of tough to get through. And that Polanski effort is one of the worst things I've ever seen. And as much as I love the Muppets, Treasure Island is no Christmas Carol. So it would be fair to say I'm not a big fan of celluloid pirates.
Did you do any research into real-life pirates?

Gideon Defoe

I think it's best to keep my research to quite minimal levels. My excuse is that it's because the comedy has to deal with basic archetypes that don't rely on too much specific knowledge, but of course really it's that I'm lazy.
How much input did you get into character design and so on? Did you spend much time on set?

Gideon Defoe

The design process goes on at the same time as scripting, so I got to see how it developed. And occasionally I'd offer the odd comment that would sensibly be ignored. But mostly I just felt guilty that they were spending six months and tens of thousands of pounds trying to work out how to build the Captain's beard.
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