Totally Tom talks about scrubbing cars with Brillo pads, nuancing posh people and the best modern British comedy.
Read Sab Astley’s ★★★★★ review of All My Friends Hate Me here.
Sab: What’s the moment of social awkwardness that haunts you guys?
Tom Stourton: I recently did a reading at a wedding, and I just fluffed it! I got really worried that I had let everyone down because I had just made a film about how you shouldn’t do this. I don’t know what it is about me being at weddings and making them about myself. It’s worrying!
Tom Palmer: I remember a party just after Uni where I was introducing a school friend to three friends from university, but when I got to the third person, I just couldn’t remember their name, and I had been at university with them for three years! So I spilt my drink over myself and was like, “Oh god, look at me!” It was a good out but must have looked absolutely insane to everyone that was in front of me. Yeah, that definitely has stayed with me.
TS: I still remember when I was 14, and we were staying with this family, and there were two really good-looking daughters, and I became this nerdy besotted 15-year-old who wanted to impress one of them, so when she asked if anyone wanted to wash her car, I was like “I’ll do it!” I got up the next morning really early, and I washed it with what I thought was a sponge, but it was a Brillo pad. I took off all the paint, and she just burst into tears. I realised that it was taking the paint off rather than cleaning it, but I just went harder for some reason.
Sab: What do you think is the best piece of modern British comedy?
TS: I would say Partridge every time. There’s still nothing that makes you laugh like it! And the fact it has been going for as long as it has is a real testament to the depth and scope of the character. Partridge is always my knee-jerk answer.
TP: Yeah, I would say the same, but to change it up a little, I’m gonna say Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. I absolutely loved that show and wished there had been more. We used to watch it obsessively, then watch the deleted scenes, then the commentary and then the commentary on the deleted scenes. We really immersed ourselves in it. That’s just a fantastic show.
All My Friends Hate Me is now playing in cinemas nationwide
Sab: Did you have any specific inspirations for the film’s tone? When I was watching, it reminded me of a movie called The Servant (1963) by Joseph Losey?
TP: Yeah, I saw it a long time ago – because it’s Pinter, isn’t it? I mean, we were always a bit influenced by Pinter. Someone once described his work to me as the idea that you’re never sure what’s happening on stage; is it a deep conspiracy or a nightmare? The idea of not knowing what’s real induces paranoia, and that’s what you feel as you watch a Pinter play. That was always a touchstone for me in what we were trying to do, never committing to one side of the story, continually making you wonder, ‘is there something real? or is this all in Pete’s head?’
TS: Yeah, we always wanted to match films like Festen and Force Majeure – films that manage to have an operatic awkwardness and tension to them; we wanted to ensure there wouldn’t be something to break that – like a murder. That made sense in mainly budgetary terms, but also, it feels like a perfect challenge to set yourself.
Sab: So, what has the BFI’s support meant to you? Because I think with incredible independent films like this, the wrong support risks it being buried.
TS: I think we’re insanely lucky because I think you’re right about it being buried with anyone else.
TP: Our strategy going into it was to retain creative control, and then our slightly harebrained plan was to sell it to a streamer, nice clean sale, they’ll do the rest and actually, it never even crossed my mind that we would get a theatrical release, let alone a proper nationwide one. So having the backing to turn the film into an event has been invaluable in spreading the word, and it’s just a massive reminder that only a theatrical release can do that.
TS: I’m slightly worried; the trailer might be better than the film! [Laughs.] It’s been so instrumental in the word getting out there.
Sab: You guys have been up and down the country doing Q&As; what’s it been like touring the film?
TS: (Surfer boy voice) So wild, dude. [Laughs.] No, we have eaten a lot of free Picturehouse food, and I’m very grateful for that, but it’s not a sustainable diet. I think we’ve been nervous about the world of the film being too niche, but then you know, to have the BFI backing was a huge vote of confidence. And then we were like, “well, what’re people gonna make of it in Newcastle?” We thought they’re gonna be turned off by the whole posh thing. But actually, it’s been really fun, and it’s been really encouraging in all the cities to see the themes are universal enough for it to translate. What’s been amazing is just to have people that want to talk about the film.
TP: The questions at the Q&As have been so varied and continuously challenging and interesting. It’s just nice to feel like we’ve got something that throws up many talking points, which was really satisfying to experience.
Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton (aka Totally Tom), photo by Charles Moriarty
Sab: I guess this film sort of nuances posh people if that makes sense? Everyone in the film has an immense relatability, even characters like Archie, who we strongly associate with the icon of the ‘Posh Boy.’
TP: I think we get frustrated when you see the over-the-top posh character driving the Ferrari and wearing a cashmere sweater around his neck. That is one way to lampoon that class, but we always felt there was something more interesting in creating characters that had one foot on the ground and yet still indulge in semi-obnoxious, quite classist pastimes. So it was great creating these more nuanced characters that didn’t wear or do things that you sometimes see posh people do.
TS: Although Archie is wearing a gilet for most of the film. [Everyone laughs].’ So you know, there are certain musts – you can’t get rid of everything!
Sab: I wanted to ask you about High Renaissance Man. Would you guys ever consider going back and making it a full feature?
TS: We were actually thinking about doing a film about him! Something like: his dad, who loathes him, dies, and he gets the estate and tries to put on this whole festival. But then the estate falls into the hands of momentum, or I think ISIS was involved at one point. But I think All My Friends Hate Me felt like a thematic return to that similar kind of character. It’s been a long road since then, at times, trying to second guess what’s trendy to write rather than just the world that we know. There are definitely crossovers between Pete and James in terms of their desperation not to be perceived as deeply uncool.
Sab: That makes a lot of sense; you can feel many of the themes in High Renaissance Man are much more refined in All My Friends. So, when the penny drops toward the end, was the big reveal always the same? Or did you work on a few different ideas?
TP: Yeah, without trying to say anything, the thing he confesses to was the ending at one point. Something about that ending felt kind of Agatha Christie, and it felt like it suddenly took away all the magic of the dread and uncertainty of the setup. So, after that draft, we came up with this idea, “what if he confesses to something really bad that’s just not related to anything at all?” And isn’t that more painful? Certainly more frightening.
TS: There were also gorier endings, and as I said, it started with, “can we afford that?” and actually, it felt like a cop-out. There was an alternate ending in the car, where there was a blank birthday card. Pete doesn’t know if they forgot to write it or if it’s a metaphor for how they see his personality. But that felt a bit fiddly. And in the end, it was Andy [Gaynord], the director, who cracked it. We were on a car ride, just talking through the end, because it was so hard to get something that is satisfying out of something that is, by its nature, very vague.
Sab: My final question would be, let’s say you have carte blanche, you can work with anyone in British comedy, do anything with them – who would you pick?
TS: Ooh, that’s a really good question.
Steve Coogan would be great, obviously, but honestly, having been able to work with Dustin [Demri-Burns], he is a kind of hero of ours as well; we were big Cardinal Burns fans, so it was just really cool to get him involved.
TP: Geena Davis is pretty incredible. Always loved her comedies and stuff. I know it’s hard to say without it sounding like quite an unrealistic pitch.
TS: Hmm – let’s say, Hugh Grant!
TP: Yes, let’s say, Hugh Grant. He’s doing pretty cool stuff, and he’s so funny. Yes – we’d love to do something with him.
Our thanks to Totally Tom (Tom Palmer and Tom Stourton) for talking to Cinerama Film. All My Friends Hate Me is playing now in cinemas nationwide.