“‘The Full Monty’ is Sheffield, and Sheffield is ‘The Full Monty,’” said the actor Robert Carlyle in a recent video interview.
When the feel-good feature was released in 1997, the film put the former mining town in the north of England and Carlyle, its lead, in the spotlight. Made on a budget of about $3 million, “The Full Monty” garnered more than $250 million at the global box office; at the time, The New York Times declared the film “by far the biggest success at Fox Searchlight Pictures.”
Written by Simon Beaufoy, the film followed a group of unemployed steelworkers in Sheffield, including Carlyle’s Gaz and his best friend Dave (Mark Addy), as they attempted to raise money and wrest back control of their lives by performing a strip show for the town’s women.
Now, a new eight-part TV series, premiering Wednesday on FX and Hulu, returns to Sheffield 25 years later, in another period of austerity and economic downturn. Co-written by Beaufoy — with Alice Nutter, a screenwriter and former member of the music group Chumbawamba — the show reunites the film’s original cast, including Carlyle, Addy, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Barber and Lesley Sharp.
“If they left it any longer, I think we may have all been dead,” deadpanned Carlyle, 62.
“The Full Monty” was Addy’s debut film performance, and led to roles in “A Knight’s Tale” and Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” and, later, in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Carlyle had been best known for playing Begbie in Danny Boyle’s 1996 film “Trainspotting.” He also collaborated with the director on “The Beach,” “28 Weeks Later” and “T2 Trainspotting.”
In a recent video interview, with Carlyle calling from New York and Addy joining from his home in Yorkshire, north England, the pair discussed the parallels between “The Full Monty” film and the TV reboot, and why it felt like the right time to revisit their characters. Below are edited excerpts from that conversation.
What was Beaufoy’s pitch for getting the gang back together?
MARK ADDY I remember getting an email from Simon checking whether I’d have any interest in being part of a state-of-the-nation drama seen through the prism of characters that we’ve met 25 years ago. How have they fared in the intervening years? He was interested in looking at the N.H.S., Britain’s public health care service, the care system, education — all aspects of our society — in the same way he did with “The Full Monty.”
ROBERT CARLYLE There are a lot of things that are precarious at the moment in the country. Conservative rule, austerity — people have been chipped away at, and so has the infrastructure of the country. That’s as good a reason as any to do something which reflects people’s current experiences.
What’s changed for Gaz and Dave in the intervening years?
CARLYLE From Gaz’s perspective, I don’t think a lot’s changed. It’s still pretty much a hand-to-mouth existence for him. He does a variety of jobs to survive.
ADDY Dave and Jean, who’s played by Sharp, have moved to a slightly nicer area of Sheffield, but they’re struggling in their own way.
“The Full Monty” film explored how several issues affected the characters’ masculinity. In the first episode of the series, Gerald (Wilkinson) questions what he’s “allowed” to say these days. What identity issues are the characters grappling with in the show?
ADDY Our generation is struggling to know how to address a person. You’re worried you’re going to offend somebody by misgendering them completely innocently. But that has come from a place of more acceptance and tolerance. It’s a problem that’s been thrown up by an improvement.
CARLYLE Everyone has to be respectful of gender pronouns and stuff like that. It’s easy to be dismissive, but it’s important. The way that I look at it, it’s not much to be asked to call someone “they” or whatever they want to be called.
One of the last great “isms” that seems to be up for grabs is ageism. Hopefully the show addresses that a little. Just because you get to your 60s, you’re not worthless.
With Barber’s character, Horse, who is now in his 70s, you see how the welfare system that failed younger men is now failing an older generation.
CARLYLE The whole Horse arc is tragic. There’s a moment I loved, you know when he goes to the supermarket? He’s got the packet of sausages and he’s slapping it against the self-checkout scanner. He says, “Where are all the checkout girls? They’ve all gone.” He’s trying to put money into that machine and the guy says, “Use a card.” But he hasn’t got a card. That’s something you don’t see on TV.
At times, the show is also unapologetically silly. Why did a sense of lightness feel like the right approach?
CARLYLE It’s what Simon Beaufoy does brilliantly. You can’t escape the politics in “The Full Monty,” but he’s able to balance that with humor. There’s no way any of these characters are self-pitying. It’s vital for it to have upbeat moments.
ADDY It’s about how life goes on, the human spirit will hopefully see people through. The silliness tempers the tragedy.
CARLYLE If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. And who wants to sit about crying all the time?
Why do you think the show found a home on FX and Hulu in the United States, and on Disney+ in Britain, rather than on a British TV network like the BBC or Channel 4?
CARLYLE I know it was offered to them. They weren’t interested. When I was told it was going to be Disney+ and FX, I was really surprised. This film had gone down in history as one of the biggest-grossing British independent films of all time. No one in Britain wants to stick some money into this?
The film was released in a specific cultural moment in Britain in 1997. How important was that to its success?
CARLYLE Tony Blair, his Labour government, Britpop. The whole explosion of popular culture. We were lucky, Mark and I, to be in the center of that.
ADDY It was like, the worst of times are behind us, and things are going to get better.
CARLYLE It rode along on the wave of optimism that prevailed at the tail end of the ’90s. But of course, that lasted about three days. Now, we’re back to where we’d been.
How did “The Full Monty” shape both your careers?
ADDY I hadn’t done a film before. I’d done a lot of theater and was starting to make my way in the TV world. It changed everything for me. I remember Bobby saying at the time, this could do for you what “Trainspotting” did for me.
CARLYLE “The Full Monty,” my God, who could have predicted that? It opened up a lot of opportunities across the pond. “The Full Monty” has been like a vast, warm shadow that’s followed me through my whole career.
How do you feel about the fact that Gaz and Dave keep their clothes on this time?
CARLYLE Absolutely delighted, as I’m sure the audience will be. When Simon got in touch, the second line of the email said, “By the way, there won’t be any stripping.”