Stephen Mangan on new show Hang Ups: I've never been as excited and nervous
Not only does Stephen Mangan have the lead role as an unconventional therapist in new comedy Hang Ups, he also co-wrote it – and he's loved having creative control. However, as he explains to Georgia Humphreys, there's nowhere to hide if it doesn't work
STEPHEN Mangan knows that remaking a TV show has its risks. After all, the London-born actor spent seven years starring in Episodes, about a British husband-and-wife comedy writing team who take their successful British series to Hollywood, with disastrous results.
But that didn't put him off using the premise of Lisa Kudrow's 2009 comedy Web Therapy to create new (and heavily improvised) Channel 4 sitcom Hang Ups, which he also stars in.
"This is very far from the show they did in the States – not to diss that; it was very successful," reasons Mangan (50). "Time has moved on, and we felt that technology now – the fact we all live on our phones and laptops and devices, and there are cameras everywhere – meant things had changed."
Of the inspiration behind the show, he says: "Also, this country has only recently got to the point where therapy is a thing that people do. Everyone doesn't go, 'Oh, why don't you just talk to your best friend?' anymore. Therapy is a more commonplace thing now."
Mangan plays Dr Richard Pitt, who, after the collapse of his previous group therapy practice, has switched to doing weekly quick-fire sessions with his patients over webcam. From neuroses and phobias to anxieties, there are a lot of issues to deal with when it comes to the few clients on his list, leading to some outrageously funny scenes.
And while his loving wife, played by The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson, is supportive of his new and unconventional approach to therapy, he has the added stress of demanding relatives, errant teenagers and a trouble-filled past while trying to make his practice a success.
As Mangan puts it: "We wanted to show someone whose job is to be there, to be empathetic and listen and be honest with his clients, but who can't seem to do that in his private life."
Creating Hang Ups was a family affair – Mangan co-wrote it with his brother-in-law Robert Delamere, who also directed. Mangan's wife Louise Delamere – the couple have two sons, aged seven and 10 – is the show's producer.
"The problem we had was you get obsessed with a job anyway, and if you're both working on it, it's very hard not to talk about it from the minute you wake up until the minute you go to sleep at night," he says of creating the series as a married couple. "Our kids were non-suffering."
But working so closely together as a team definitely paid off.
"It was a huge process, because you're not just editing the script that was written – you're trying to make the best version," he says. "You could literally rewrite the entire thing. We had to take huge chunks out... huge storylines, whole characters had to go. It was like a 1,000-piece jigsaw, but we all chipped in."
Mangan has had many memorable roles over the years, including hit comedies I'm Alan Partridge and Green Wing. But as well as being his first writing venture, Hang Ups was a chance to challenge himself as an actor, thanks to so many scenes being improvised.
"Sometimes you get scripts and go, 'Yeah, I can imagine how I'm going to play that, I'm sure it will be fine'. But [with this]... just before you start rolling you're thinking, 'Is this going to work? What is everyone thinking?' But it always worked."
David Tennant, Conleth Hill and Jessica Hynes guest star as patients; Richard E Grant is Dr Pitt's own therapist, Charles Dance is his dad, and Celia Imrie his mum.
Mangan says it was a joy giving such an acclaimed cast the chance to ad lib – even if it did mean having to cut 19 hours of material into six 23-minute episodes.
"Sometimes, you can feel as an actor that everything's been decided before you get there – 'Here are the lines, stand there, this is how you're going to play it'," he says.
"I think it's a shame, because actors are incredibly creative and can come up with stuff you'd never imagine yourself in a million years."
To prepare for his own character, Mangan talked to a humanist psychotherapist.
"I didn't want to be glib," he says. "We wanted to have depth and be honest and authentic, and to treat all the issues that people come in with with respect. The humour doesn't come from what's wrong with people, but from the way we interact with each other."
It's clear Mangan is proud of the final product. So, will he be producing more of his own material from now on?
"It's absolutely brilliant to have creative control," he says. "I've talked about writing for a long time and I'm so pleased that I've finally got down to doing it, because it's also very exposing... there's nowhere to hide, and that's exciting as well.
"You've got to take a gamble. I don't think I've ever been as excited and nervous about a show coming out that I've been in."
:: Hang Ups starts on Channel 4 on Wednesday August 8.