He may look like a certain former Prime Minister, but Shaun Micallef denies Andrew Dugdale is based on any one ex-statesman. Nor is he declaring whether The Ex-PM leans Left or Right.
“No it’s a guessing game, and I wanted to keep it ambiguous for obvious reasons. I didn’t want to make it about Politics. I wanted to make it about a politician,” he says.
“It’s not about the day to day of politics. There is a lot of reality that intrudes on it, conversations about events in the past and things that sound like they really happened.
“Even though I’m wearing the same glasses that Kevin Rudd now wears, and have a similar hairstyle, it’s not about Kevin Rudd.”
The notion of a sitcom about a former prime minister is hardly a stretch. Hawke, Keating, Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Rudd again were there for the mining during its development. Little did Micallef know Tony Abbott could be added to the roll-call once filming had concluded.
But the idea has been germinating for many years before the cameras ever rolled.
“The original idea popped into my head around Newstopia time, and just before Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation,” he recalls.
“I thought the idea of an ex Prime Minister was interesting –someone who has had the most authority and then not having it anymore.
“And I remember thinking it about Steve Vizard after he finished Tonight Live. Someone whom everyone knows is suddenly wondering what to do next.”
Micallef is joined by an ensemble including Nicki Wendt, Kate Jenkinson, Lucy Honigman, Nicholas Bell, Francis Greenslade, Jackson Tozer and Ming-Zhu Hii. In the six part comedy his character ‘Andrew Dugdale’ is retired with too much time on his hands.
“Nicholas Bell used to see Keating down the road having a coffee and he told me a story about John Howard which is that he and Janet were out shopping and they walked across the car park and both got into the back of their own car. They had forgotten they didn’t have a driver anymore!
“Bob Carr made the observation that no-one laughed at his jokes like they used to when he was Premier.
“That wasn’t the motivation for it but it so happens we have a lovely cache of ex Prime Ministers so it feels like it’s timely. It’s a thing! There’s a club of these guys who are not separated by 15 years. We see them on The Killing Season giving different versions of the same incident.”
Micallef agrees there is also something unique about the Australian experience for former leaders, but one that lends itself well to comedy.
“If you’re an Australian Prime Minister you’re not really a world leader. There’s something a bit wobbly card-table with the butcher’s paper and crayons,” he suggests.
“The idea of a daggy hero is a very Australian thing. And we have daggy Prime Ministers. Several of them in fact.
“It would be a different treatment if it was an American President or Great Britain (PM). It feels like you could actually live next door to an Australian Prime Minister because we have such an egalitarian view of life.
“‘Andrew Dugdale’ has quite a nice pothole, but it’s probably not his. It’s probably his wife’s.”
Also appearing is comedy veteran John Clarke, once his original choice to play the title role.
“John Clarke is playing my political adviser and manager. So he’s very graciously agreed to appear,” he continues.
“He was one of the key influences on me growing up. I don’t want to make it sound like he’s ancient or anything but when he was in his 20s doing ‘Fred Dagg’ that’s what I was listening to and laughing at.
“So it’s just a joy.”
The 6 episodes structured like the chapters of a book when a ghostwriter (Lucy Honigman) arrives to help Dugdale write his memoirs.
“There is an episode called Rivalry, there’s Immortality, Legacy…. the sort of lofty titles you’d find in a political memoir. Each episode explores that,” he explains.
“So I do meet my political rival, and someone who may give me Immortality. It’s no sketch comedy show, this one!”
But there will be more sketch next year. Micallef confirms the return of Mad As Hell for a single season in 2016. Next year he and Francis Greenslade will perform The Odd Couple for The Melbourne Theatre Company. Trying to pin him down to a single genre, or even medium, is a rather futile exercise.
“If it’s going to be TV then it shouldn’t be all the one thing. As much variety as I can muster without killing myself!” he muses.
“The idea of direct address / autocue-driven show like Mad as Hell, and then something like this which requires a bit of performing in an actor-ly way….then maybe a bit of a documentary -it’s a good year.”
The Ex-PM premieres 9pm Wednesday October 14 on ABC.