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Wednesday 20 December 2023

Interview with Brendan O'Carroll - Mrs Brown is back for two festive specials on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve

Get ready for a double dose of festive fun as two brand-new Mrs. Brown's Boys specials are set to grace BBC One and BBC iPlayer this Christmas. Brendan O'Carroll returns as the indomitable matriarch Agnes Brown, joined by a familiar ensemble of characters.

In these upcoming specials, all Agnes Brown desires is a tranquil and pleasant Christmas, but her family has different plans! Cathy takes on the challenge of cooking Christmas dinner for the first time, a cherished decoration goes missing, and an unexpected dinner guest threatens to disrupt Agnes's hopes for a peaceful holiday.

Produced by BBC Studios Comedy in collaboration with BOC-PIX for BBC One and BBC iPlayer, Mrs. Brown's Boys was commissioned by Jon Petrie, the Director of Comedy at the BBC. Executive Producers for BBC Studios include Steven Canny and Josh Cole, with Ben Kellet serving as the director and Gregor Sharp as the Commissioning Editor for the BBC. The show is distributed globally by BBC Studios.

Interview with Brendan O'Carroll

Lots of households view the Mrs Brown's Boys festive specials as just as integral to their Christmas as presents and Christmas dinner. What do you think it is about the show that brings families together and keeps people putting it on year after year?

You know what it is, I think since 2008 the world hasn't had a break. We've had all sorts of challenges, we've had a pandemic, we have had wars, all sorts of worries and it just gets to the stage where people get unsure, they get nostalgic. They go "Oh do you remember before, all this was lovely, that was lovely, the summers were longer and Christmas was brighter."

Mrs. Brown's Boys has a kind of nostalgia to it. It looks back to that kind of late 80s and 90s comedy where you don't have to worry about it, you just sit down and let it come at you, you don't have to try and figure it out, you don't have to have a university degree to understand it. It's just gags and it's let's sit down on Christmas Day, whatever else happens, let's sit down and just have a laugh. I think that's a big part of it, I think it's nostalgia.

Without giving too much away, what's in store for Agnes at Christmas this year?

Well, first of all, there's a shortage of Christmas trees yet again because of the forest fires in Spain and all over Europe and forest fires in America, so Buster has to get the Christmas tree from Australia. And it's a particular Christmas tree from Australia that he gets…

Also, Agnes' focus completely switches from herself, which is usually who she thinks about most of all, to Father Jamie's mother, it catches her a bit by surprise because again, I'm 67 years of age and you look at people and you go "oh there but for the grace of god go I". And I knew when I was writing this, this is going to be very hard to tackle in a comedy show, but I think we got it, I think we captured it just right, because it's a Christmas miracle and that's what everybody is looking for at Christmas, the magic.

How do you continue to come up with new ideas for the specials?

Well, you have to take into account the fact that I've had many Christmases myself, and the fact that I'm the youngest of 11 kids, so there have always been Christmas events and Christmas goings on that have happened. But it's funny, in one part of the Christmas episode, Agnes asks Father Jamie, "what are you up to Father Jamie?" and he says "Oh, I'm just working on my sermons for Christmas Day, for the Christmas blessing". And Agnes says "Oh, it must be really difficult to come up with something different every year," and then she just has a little look at the camera going "f****** tell me about it!"

So, it is difficult to come up with different stories, but again I always remember a story Richard Curtis was telling me about when they were making Love Actually. When they finished shooting it, he went "Oh, it's a disaster," we need to do some more shoots, and they decided to go back and shoot it as a Christmas movie and set it at Christmas and it changed the whole flavour of the movie and it became, and still is, my favourite Christmas movie.

Christmas is not Christmas without Love Actually, and It's A Wonderful Life, then it's Christmas. So, no matter what the story is, if you add Christmas onto it, it just becomes more magical, I think.

Do you think that people resonate with Mrs Brown's Boys because it's relatable for so many people?

It wasn't deliberate or a plan, it wasn't. They always say when you're writing you should write about what you know. All the characters in Mrs Brown's Boys, I know them, I know all those characters, and as it turns out everybody knows a Mrs Brown, everybody knows a Mark, everybody knows a Buster. So, I think that the characters are relatable and as well as that they're a bit predictable too, in that I know the audience see that line coming a mile down the road. But here's the thing, if we don't deliver what they are expecting every second is shattered so you have to, it's the familiarity.

Do you take inspiration from your own family Christmases for the show? Because you've got a big family now and you grew up as one of 11, so Christmas must be carnage in your house!

Yes, when I was younger especially, it really was carnage with 11 of us there. I think the way families do it now is that when Santa comes, which is important because I still believe in Santa, when Santa comes on Christmas Eve, he leaves Johnny's toys on that chair and Mary's toys on that chair. So, you come down and Johnny knows where his chair is and Mary knows where her chair is, but try doing that with 11 kids… Try doing that when you walk into a room and there's stuff everywhere, so whoever is up first gets the best toys, that's how it worked! "Santa left this for me! No he left it for me!" Or "you're never going to wear that dress, Brendan. Well it's mine, end of story." So yes, there is a bit of the chaos of Christmas that's reflected in Mrs Brown that comes from my own Christmases.

And yet, we sit down for Christmas dinner virtually in silence, just everybody happy to be there, content to be together. It was the one time of the year that we were all together. The difference between myself and my eldest sister is 18 years, I'm the youngest. So, by the time I got to five or six years of age, most of the older ones had emigrated or whatever. So, I spent my Christmas week in Dublin Airport because we'd always be meeting somebody coming off the plane.

I'm in Florida now but if somebody is coming in, no matter where they're coming from, I say to Jenny, I'm going to meet them at the airport. I want to go and meet them. So, Christmases were very much a Love Actually Christmas, maybe that's what it is. You know, on Irish TV, they have one show that they broadcast all Christmas week from the arrival areas of Dublin Airport, and you see people coming in from Australia or coming in from America, coming in from everywhere. It's just fantastic. It's just brilliant to watch.

In the Christmas episode Cathy's cooking Christmas dinner for a change… What is your favourite part of Christmas dinner? And who does the cooking in your house?

I do Christmas dinner! And it's always a big hit. I start Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, bring out the ham so I can glaze it the next day with some honey and sugar. I do the turkey, get everything ready.

Christmas dinner when I was a kid was also an absolutely huge event, and again, my memories of Christmas are really weird because my mother used to make Christmas puddings and imagine, there's 11 of us... I was the last one left at home, by the time I was a teenager, the rest had moved out and were married and had kids, I've got 30 nephews and nieces. But she would make Christmas puddings for all of them and send the Christmas pudding to them wherever they were in the world. She made the most gorgeous Christmas pudding. We would still be eating it in March. She used to soak the fruit in Guinness overnight, and she's making maybe 30 or 35 puddings so one of my memories is a bath full of peeled fruit and Guinness while it was soaking up overnight, she'd make it in a bath because it was so big. Then she would take portions of it out to make two or three at a time and that was put into a baby bath. So, my memory is glazed fruit in the bath, glazed cherries, mixed peel, all in the bath!

And finally, do you have a favourite moment or scene from the Christmas or New Year special this year?

I have two favourite parts. First of all, Agnes' acknowledgement that, blimey Cathy you really did do a Christmas dinner and it was magnificent. Because she never gives Cathy a break. I think that was nice. And then, without giving it away, my other favourite moment is when Father Jamie's mother stands up in the final scene, it's magic. It's just magic.

The Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas Special will air at 10.45pm on 25 December on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.
The Mrs Brown's Boys New Year's Special will air at 10pm on 1 January on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

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