Interview: Still Game's Greg Hemphill and Sanjeev Kohli reunite for new comedy series Dinosaur

New BBC comedy Dinosaur, created by Matilda Curtis and Ashley Storrie, showcases Glasgow locations for a local family story.
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Dinosaur follows Nina, played by Ashley, an autistic woman in her 30s, who adores her life living with her sister and best friend Evie. Glasgow street scenes feature prominently across the show.

The sisters’ usual routine is interrupted as Evie announces she is engaged to her boyfriend of six weeks, Ranesh, pushing the family and friends into new scenarios that become all too much much for Nina as she is pushed in with new groups and placed at the centre of preparations for the wedding. Ashley says: “Dinosaur is about love, friendship, sisterhood and being your own self even if it makes people uncomfortable because, you should be comfortable.”

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Greg Hemphill plays Ade McArthur, who has always had a fun, easy relationship with his children Nina, Evie and brother Bo: “My character Ade is a bit of a dream character for me because the more I read the scripts, I was reminded of Walter Matthau’s line about half the battle is basically being the character and I was reading it going ‘Oh my goodness, I think I’m Ade. I think I actually am Ade – not the best person to play Ade – but I think I actually am this character.’

“I think he’s a dad that people would like to have. He will embarrass you and be everything that a dad should be, but I think he’s actually got a sweet heart and a twinkle in his eye. I’ve certainly embarrassed my kids over the years, so I feel as if I’m qualified.”

As the co-creator of Still Game he has earned his own perspective what it takes to create a successful television comedy series: “I’ve only ever really done comedy. If I was to do a drama and the director said ‘Alright Greg, you’re going to cry now’ I would probably run a mile. The technical thing is sometimes it’s physical, sometimes it’s about saying the line at a certain pace and giving it a certain lick.

“You’re bouncing off other people all the time and certainly if you’re changing things, you have to be in the moment and have to be ready and fluid with that. I think when it comes to comedy, the most important thing is who am I working with here and how do they like to work? How can I service that and help that?

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“Sometimes naturally, you become the old man on the set, and you just have to accept that. But I’m not here to teach anybody anything, I’m here to learn. I’m a big advocate of life-long learning and it really is a pleasure to be around a group of people that are new to me and I’m new to them. I’ve been in this little cottage industry bubble of Still Game for twenty years.

“It’s like a velvet cage in a bubble and while you’re in that bubble, young people are coming up, they’re doing great work and they’re having their great careers and you’re missing it all. When you come out the other side of that bubble, you get asked to do something like this.”

Describing Dinosaur as compelling, moving and hysterical, he enjoyed his time filming in Glasgow with the cast: “Working with people like David Carlyle, who from my money was in one of the best shows of the last ten years, It’s a Sin. We watched every episode of that and I was a bit starstruck when I met him, to be honest. Danny and Kat – they’re just adorable.

“I’ve known Ashley for quite a while, I knew her when she was a stand-up, a fantastic stand-up, and such a quick mind. The thing that strikes me which I’ve loved is Ashley’s love of the moment and changing things and saying, ‘Why don’t we try this?’ and ‘Are you okay with me changing this?’ and it keeps you in that moment and it also means that you don’t arrive on set prepared to the hilt and trapped in amber with the way that you’re going to do it. You’re in the moment and working with other actors and that’s been a joy.

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“We were filming a scene where Nina played by Ashley has to take a phone call and we were sitting behind her and we have to have a conversation on camera. So, we made up a story about Kurt Cobain, Iceland and Lazy Town and poor old Ash was trying to take this phone call in front of us and the story got longer and more elaborate and more branches were growing off the tree. I felt sorry for her because I think she was more interested in listening to the story that we were telling than doing the phone call that she was supposed to be doing on camera. She kept turning around and rowing (?) us, it was a real joy.

“I’m fifty-three now, I thought I was young, hip and quick and there’s all these young, quick hipsters underneath me and my gosh, it’s a pleasure to be in their company. You’re working with young DOPs, young directors and Niamh, she’s young, but my goodness she’s got an old head on her shoulders. She has a lovely symbiotic relationship with her young leads, I think in that she is very responsive to their needs and to their desire to change things and try things and talk things through on set. You come onto set with an open-heart and an open-mind and it’s a joy to see how other folk are doing it. I’m having a ball, absolutely having a ball. Long may it continue.”

Sanjeev Kohli plays Sachin, Ranesh’s dad, a lethal art critic who appears cold and superior which contrasts with the friendliness of Nina’s family. It soon becomes evident that Sachin doesn’t quite know how to talk to everyone.

“Dinosaur is about family, about family dynamics, but it's also about people pretending to be things they’re not, certainly, in the stuff that I've filmed. So, Sachin, Ranesh’s dad, is a very pretentious art critic and you get the impression that nothing would impress him, and everything would disappoint, so that's the way I played it and it's brilliant to play someone that's exactly who I'm not.” Sanjeev says.

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“I was very chuffed to be asked to be involved in Dinosaur. I feel it’s very different to lots of stuff that's come out of Scotland. I think especially with comedy in Scotland and, as someone that's quite long in the tooth with Scottish comedy, it can be a bit one note tonally. This feels much more, I don't want to say modern, but I’ve said it now, modern. In terms of the way the dialogues are, it's beautifully written, beautifully constructed. The characters feel very new and fresh.”

He thoroughly enjoyed the filming process in Glasgow, including sharing scenes with Greg for the first time since Still Game: “All the scenes are fun because I'm filming with old pals and new pals. They’re all lovely — except for one. I won’t tell you who… no they’re all lovely. Ashley is a brilliant brilliant stand up, it’s lovely seeing her doing this, acting.

“She admitted herself, she said she's much more comfortable on a stage with a mic than doing what she's doing, but she looks bloody natural to me. There's a scene that we have where she does this monologue and she just absolutely nails it and you think ‘That's coming from the heart’ as well as being a really good performer, also there's a lot of truth there which is lovely to see.

“The whole cast are brilliant, really good fun, really good atmosphere on set as well, but also just to be working with people who are pals and are legends. People like Greg Hemphill and Sally Howitt who I’ve worked with down the years, and you forget that they’re legends because they’re pals as well but then working with Greg for the first time since Still Game, working with Sally with River City and then just seeing new talent.”

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There were moments when the cast were able to improvise during the production, which led to some funny moments: “We filmed a scene which was brilliant fun. So, it's basically Sachin and Di and Ade around the table in Di and Ade’s house. Greg just started improvising some stuff and I am thankfully really good at keeping a straight face. A lot of my characters are deadpan for that reason, and I managed it but it was absolutely brilliant, he just went to some places and it was hilarious. It's lovely to be on a set where you are encouraged to improvise, I think sometimes you just find moments and Greg found about 20 of them.”

The series is a showcase for Glasgow and the way we speak to each other: “It’s just lovely to be able to showcase Scottish dialect. I feel for years, we’ve been embarrassed, there’s this cringe factor with Scottish dialect and I love the fact that you go on TikTok now, you maybe go on YouTube, and there’s Scottish people being Scottish and being themselves and that’s really important” Sanjeev says.

“So, hopefully that will come across. Especially with the way that we watch television, when you watch something that’s being streamed from Scandinavia or from Baltimore and actually when it comes from a place, that gives it an extra dimension, so why not celebrate that. I love the fact that someone might be sitting in Bolivia and watching this and yeah, they’ll have the subtitles on but they will learn a bit about how we speak and it'll be a lovely wee cultural injection.”

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