Mindhorn is a farcical comedy about a faded actor, Richard Thorncroft, who reprises his role as a truth-seeing detective (Mindhorn) and returns to the Isle of Man to help the police catch a Mindhorn-obsessed serial killer. Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby explain the story's origins, its time-warped setting, and the outlandish merchandise the film has spawned
Why did you choose to set Mindhorn on the Isle of Man?
Julian Barratt: We’re very inspired by the show Bergerac, which was made in the ‘80s set on Jersey, the Channel Island, and we wanted an actor to get trapped on an island, basically. We couldn’t make it Jersey so we needed another island, and the producers of the film said why not the Isle of Man, because there’s very good tax incentives to film there. We don’t make any decisions based on money, let’s just say that, we’re artists.
Simon Farnaby: We make decisions based on Googling somewhere.
JB: So we Googled the Isle of Man.
SF: Because we’d forgotten about it. I forgot it was there.
JB: A lot of people have actually.
SF: It’s not on certain maps.
JB: That’s right, yeah, it’s fallen off some, some of the larger Ordnance Survey maps don’t include it. But yeah, we looked at it and went: ‘This has got everything and more that we need’. And also there’s never been a detective show there, which is what our film’s about, a detective show that was once set on this island. So the Isle of Man was perfect, and it looked like a strange…
SF: There’s this Wicker Man quality to it, which Mindhorn has lots of similarities to.
JB: Man goes to an island and has a rough old time of it, and doesn’t die in a fire in a burning effigy at the end, but does have a rough time.
SF: He wrestles with himself and other people.
JB: But the Isle of Man ticked all our boxes in terms of what we wanted.
SF: It has a faded grandeur.
JB: Trapped in time a little bit, perhaps. In the ‘80s.
Where did you come up with the idea of Mindhorn’s eyepatch – the one that can see the truth?
SF: He originally had a nose that could smell the truth, but the idea of this show where someone goes around sniffing wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing.
JB: And I look good in an eyepatch.
SF: Julian can only really act with one eye.
JB: I can act with either eye, but you’ve got to be twice as good as an actor to act with one eye. You need to put all your emotions just through one eye and really punch it out of that eye. I found it quite difficult to do at first and then I found a technique that allowed me to act with one eye, which I patented.
SF: No one else is allowed to wear an eyepatch now.
Mindhorn feels as quotable as Anchorman – what were your favourite lines to deliver?
JB: Fill your boots.
SF: It’s truth time.
JB: It’s truth o’clock. Truth is in the eye of the beholder.
SF: You don’t say that.
JB: No. But I like saying that.
Were there any lines you liked that didn’t make it into the movie?
SF: Someone asks Mindhorn: what’s it’s like ‘What’s it like to face a killer?’ And he goes: ‘It’s like looking into…’
JB: ‘Into an abyss…’
SF: ‘An abyss. Cold, pure, heartless evil. I’ve never seen such evil before. And I’ve worked with Ian McShane.’ But we thought: Ian – we don’t know him. It just made us laugh.
JB: It sounded funny. But we didn’t use it in the end.
What’s with all the weird Mindhorn merch in [the killer] Kestrel’s lair?
JB: There is a merchandise angle in this film if you want to exploit that and buy tiny versions of me.
SF: The art department had a real field day. It’s a gift to an art department, they just took it and ran. We always had that little ‘cupboard of dreams’ scene where he’s got a Mindhorn jigsaw and all these old press cuttings and Mindhorn rulers and stuff.
JB: it’s nice to imagine the type of merchandise that would have got made back in the day, off the back of a show that was not quite as successful as Bergerac or Knight Rider or Six Million Dollar Man, but which was a small, poor man’s Six Million Dollar Man. Like a £60 man.
SF: £6 man.
JB: That merchandise would be the equivalent merchandise, so it would be terrible things.
SF: I think I had a Bergerac jigsaw.
JB: Of his face? Just John Nettles’ face? A 3000 piece jigsaw?
SF: Yeah, 3000 pieces, and I would get to know them and I’d go ‘Oh that’s his pupil. Just a black dot.’
JB: You’d get to know them? Jigsaw pieces?
SF: Not that weird is it?
Is there going to be a Mindhorn sequel?
JB: There might be a prequel.
SF: But it’s very hard to make the Isle of Man look like the 1980s. It’s a problem: you’d have to spend half the budget modernizing it from the early ‘70s. No, it’s obviously a bit of fun.
JB: We love the Isle of Man, we had a good time there and if they’d have us back, we’d go there.
SF: In a thrice.
Mindhorn is in cinemas now.