Horrible Histories star Mathew Baynton talks to Sophie Herdman about his recent hit The Wrong Mans and fantasy Yonderland.
As the year nears its end, Mathew Baynton can look back and feel proud of what he’s achieved.
Mainly, it has to be said, due to The Wrong Mans, the BBC Two show he co-wrote and starred in with his mate James Corden.
The comedy thriller has been a huge hit both ratings-wise and with critics, and fans are desperate for a second series.
But this is also the year that Yonderland, the fantasy comedy written by and starring Baynton and his Horrible Histories co-stars, hits screens.
The 32-year-old is just about getting used to his new-found fame.
“It’s the most wonderful thing because children never try to play it cool. They just run up to you and tell you they love you
It’s not just members of the public who’ve started recognising Baynton’s talent; industry folk have also noticed.
“James is probably used to it,” says the slim actor. “But having people in the industry who I really admire paying me compliments means more to me than any review.”
Having said that, he does enjoy the positive write-ups. “If you’re going to get hurt by the bad reviews, you should also allow yourself to enjoy the good ones.”
And get hurt he does. “When I was a young lad wanting to be an actor, people told me it’s a tough industry, you’ve got to have a thick skin.
“I think that’s nonsense. You’ve got to have sensitivity to be good at the job. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get hurt.”
Luckily for Baynton, Yonderland is funny.
It was drawing to a close when the cast and writers - Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Simon Farnaby, Laurence Rickard, Ben Willbond and Baynton - decided to start another project.
“We were desperate to keep working together, so we tried to work out how we could do a show that we could still treat like a grown-up dressing-up box, and we immediately centred on the idea of making it a fantasy.”
The story centres around a mother of two, Debbie, who discovers an elf in her cupboard. It tells her that she is ‘The Chosen One’ and must save Yonderland.
And so she sets off on an adventure, meeting ‘The Wise Elders’, who are not actually wise, and a tribe of people who, having once presumably evolved, are now devolving.
Many of the characters are puppets and Baynton, along with the rest of the cast, plays different roles.
The show will be broadcast on Sunday at teatime and, as with Horrible Histories, Baynton’s frustrated that it’s categorised as a family comedy.
“When I was growing up, I don’t remember seeing a distinction between adult and family comedy,” he says.
“Everything my parents watched, in terms of comedy, we would watch with them - Blackadder, Monty Python, all of those big shows,” he says.
“I was always quite attention-seeking,” continues the actor, who grew up in Essex, the youngest of three brothers.
“I decided it was my role to make the family laugh. Looking back, I think I was quite irritating. They’re probably glad that I’ve found an outlet now.”
He trained at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama, landing a number of small roles, including in 2008’s Telstar: The Joe Meek Story, where he met Corden.
The pair hit it off and Baynton went on to appear in Horne & Corden and Gavin And Stacey. Further small roles followed, including in Peep Show and Spy, but it was Horrible Histories which took his status up a notch or two.
At 32, Baynton’s still young - and he feels even younger. “When I talk to people who are in their early twenties, I don’t feel any older. I think it’s going to get embarrassing,” he laughs.
At Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, appearing in Tom Basden’s play Holes, he did start to notice a change.
“Some of the young comics spoke to me as though I was a veteran, or at least a professional,” he says.
Plus, he’s starting to spot a few grey hairs, thanks to his two-and-a-half-year-old son, Bo.
The toddler is vaguely aware of what his dad does for a living, and has developed a slightly skewed idea of the working world as a result.
“He thinks work is putting on a beard. One day his eyes will be opened, but I do find it wonderful that that’s his view of work.”
Unlike many in the business, Baynton says he wouldn’t mind if Bo one day followed in his career footsteps. “A lot of actors say they would never let their kids be an actor, but I enjoy it, so why would I not let him?”
In the pipeline for Baynton is a film, Bill, about Shakespeare, and, of course, the possibility of a second series of The Wrong Mans.
“James and I never made a secret of the fact that the BBC’s indicated they’d like us to do more,” he says. He and Corden are currently working on some new stories.
“If we can’t come up with a good enough one we probably won’t do it. Having said that, we’ve got an idea now that we’re progressing and we feel like it’s worth doing.”
Sounds as though Baynton will have to get used to being recognised, then - but he doesn’t seem to mind. Grinning, he says: “We’re all just luvvies looking for attention, really.”
Yonderland starts on Sky1, Sunday 6.30pm.
Humans and puppets
The Muppets - Some of the most famous puppets of them all, the Muppets have appeared in films and TV series.
Sesame Street - The long-running American TV show started in 1969 and is still popular today.
The Sooty Show - Another long-running kids’ show, hand puppets Sooty, Soo and Sweep got up to all sorts of mischief alongside their human friend Harry Corbett and later his son Matthew.