Fresh from a win at the recent Television Baftas, The Inbetweeners continues to prove what a fair few of us already knew — there's a lot of comedy mileage in hormonally-challenged schoolboys. A few weeks ago we shot the series' stars Joe Thomas (far left, who plays romantic dreamer Simon), Simon Bird (left, posho nerd Will), Blake Harrison (right, gormless wonder Neil) and James Buckley (far right, "clunge"-obsessed Jay) for our Brilliant Brits feature in the current issue. After they'd stopped dry-humping, here's what they had to say.
ESQUIRE: Before we start, Simon, there's jam on your knee.
SIMON: Oh shit.
JOE: There's a bit more.
SIMON: You ate it as well!
JOE: I ate it as well. That's the kind of relationship we have.
ESQ: You're about to start shooting the third series of The Inbetweeners. What have you learned about the fates of your characters?
JOE: It's written very much like a last series. It's got an actual ending.
SIMON: Which is sad but good. We've learned to play the characters over two series now, so we just slip into it.
JOE: In the first series none of us knew what we were doing, the second series we were just getting the hang of it, but for this one I don't know if we needed too much rehearsal...
BLAKE: Almost too complacent really.
ESQ: How did you all get involved in The Inbetweeners in the first place?
BLAKE: James Buckley was in the pilot. He originally played [my character] Neil. I think they realised that he could bullshit very well and was quite mouthy, so he could play a very good Jay.
SIMON: The pilot was a couple of years before the series, so I think most people had gotten too old by the time they got round to actually making it. I don't think it was that they were shit.
BLAKE: I'd only recently graduated from drama school, and it was an open audition thing. It was very lucky because I was just going to have to start working at a charity call centre. It got me out of that, which was nice.
ESQ: Sounds like a narrow escape.
BLAKE: Yeah, fuck that!
JOE: Yeah, I mean I was considering working for a charity. It was that bad.
SIMON: [Writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley] saw us doing a show in Edinburgh and we started writing for a radio show they were doing. They were like older brothers to us. We kept saying, "Can we audition?" They said, "No way, you're totally wrong for it." And then they didn't find anyone, so two days before filming they were like, "Oh, alright then." It was really just nepotism.
ESQUIRE: So Joe and Simon, you two had no acting experience?
SIMON: We'd done sketch comedy.
JOE: We'd done a lot of live performing, but that's not really the same as acting. As I've found out. The last person to teach me how to act was my A-level Theatre Studies teacher at school, which I literally still draw on. Got an A! So that puts me up with...
SIMON: Brando. De Niro.
JOE: Pacino got an A.
SIMON: I think he got a B actually...
JOE: Oh yeah, he got a B. He couldn't do the written exam.
ESQ: Obviously the series is about a group of friends. Was it important for them to establish a rapport between the four of you straight away?
SIMON: It was very much, "This is it, deal with it."
JOE: We started almost straight away.
SIMON: I don't know, I shouldn't say, should I? When they had the recall there were five [of us]. That was sad. We were like, "One of us isn't going to make it..."
BLAKE: It was the guy who played [whispers].
JOE: It was a bit weird.
SIMON: The getting on with each other thing was massively important because that's really the main point of the show. That we're all friends. Already knowing Joe was really nice for me, because obviously it was the first TV job for both of us. It was nice to have a friend there.
JOE: It was like having a friend from junior school who had gone to big school with you so it wasn't so scary.
SIMON: And then we got to know these fuckers! I don't like him [motions to Blake] if I'm honest, but we're stuck with him now.
ESQ: You're all in your twenties. How did you feel about being cast as 16-year-olds?
BLAKE: It's a bit of a compliment I think.
JOE: I haven't really moved on emotionally from that time in my life, so it's not really an issue. I still spend my time feeling sorry for myself and making serious mistakes.
ESQ: Presumably as the series go on, the writers are running out of embarrassing teenage material to mine?
SIMON: I don't think that's actually true! Iain [Morris], his life is just laughable.
JOE: A litany of embarrassment. I think they realised they could look at their lives between the ages of 25 and 35, and there was also an unbelievable wealth of [instances] of them behaving appallingly there. Quite a lot of the stories are "Oh god, teenagers do the most embarrassing things..." but they're actually things the writers did when they were fully grown men.
ESQ: Journalists often compare The Inbetweeners to Skins, but how come they don't mention Grange Hill?
JOE: I bought Grange Hill: The Album on vinyl the other day. It's really fucking shit. I bought it for a pound in a jumble sale. There's "Just Say No", the anti-drugs anthem, which was obviously the big hit, but then the others...
SIMON: But a lot of people say it was the B-sides.
JOE: Yeah, it was the B-sides! My favourite track is "You Know The Teacher (Smash Head)", which is really, in a way, the natural successor to The Beatles.
ESQ: Humiliation seems important to the comedy of The Inbetweeners. Do you think it's a big factor?
BLAKE: The biggest factor.
SIMON: And also, when Joe has his penis out, that is Joe.
JOE: That is me. I'm actually in denial that that was on television.
SIMON: It is on there. A lot of people have seen it.
JOE: I've got no way of processing the information, so I behave as if I'm not actually in the show. "Cope" is not the right word, but because we've obviously got a certain chemistry, that is real.
SIMON: Sexual chemistry.
James Buckley arrives. He is sporting Jay's signature blond highlights and bowl cut.
SIMON: Hallo! Come on, sit yourself down.
ESQ: So James. Talk us through the new hair.
JAMES: I nearly started crying yesterday. I was so upset. I had to have all my hair cut off and dyed blond. I wasn't happy.
SIMON: It's a good look.
ESQ: How would you have it normally?
JAMES: I don't know any more. If it was up to me I'd never shave or get my hair cut, but my mum starts getting upset that I look like a tramp.
ESQ: Is it true there's an Inbetweeners film in the works?
JAMES: There might be.
SIMON: It's really difficult to tell. There are so many stages, there's all the money, getting greenlit... I think it's at a good stage, and it looks like it's going to happen.
BLAKE: We're keeping out fingers crossed.
JAMES: I think everyone wants to do it, I just don't know if anyone wants to pay for it.
SIMON: I think they have funding now, it's just got to be organised. They're just literally quite lazy, Iain and Damon.
ESQ: And are you guys involved in the script at all?
JOE: Not really.
ESQ: Not really?
JOE: Well not at all! We keep asking...
JAMES: I stopped giving suggestions after the first rehersal day of series one.
The Inbetweeners returns to E4 in the autumn