When I meet the cast of Channel 4’s Loaded, it’s at the tail-end of a stretch of interviews during which Samuel Anderson, Nick Helm, Jim Howick and Jonny Sweet have been asked approximately four times an hour what, if they each suddenly received £15m as their app-designing characters do in the show, they’d spend it on. Before I even sit down, Sweet starts to reel off “I’d get a kettle, fill it with gold…”
Loaded, written by Fresh Meat and Misfits’ Jon Brown isn’t a celebration of wealth. “This show is about how not to enjoy being a millionaire,” explains Nick Helm, who plays game designer and recovering addict Watto. “It’s not aspirational at all. It’s about the negative impact that money has. If you watch something like Entourage, it’s ‘oh wow, isn’t being rich amazing!’ We’re all miserable.”
If that seems a peculiarly British take on the idea of striking it rich, it is. It’s also a particularly current one. As Samuel Anderson’s character Leon finds out in episode one, the days of fast cars and flashing the cash are over. Today’s wealthy classes are normcore Prius drivers, not Gordon Gecko types. As the show puts it, “There’s never been a more insensitive time to be a millionaire.”
“It is quite a funny time for it to be going out in a way,” says Jonny Sweet, who plays timid coder Ewan, “because four men getting rich is everyone’s least favourite bag at the moment, more than ever and rightfully so.” Episode one has a perfect moment of cringe comedy as the friends bemoan the potential loss of a small percentage of their millions in the presence of the office cleaner. Post-financial crisis, obnoxious displays of wealth are seen as just that – obnoxious.
In the course of their showbiz careers, has the cast ever come face to face with that kind of ostentation? “I was filming something once and they had built their own cinema with these massive plush seats in their garden,” says Helm, “I think if you’re a millionaire, that’s a valid thing to spend your money on, but they had this cinema in their garden with all these seats and this big screen and they had two DVDS – they had the One Direction Movie and St Trinians 2. That is an absolute waste.”
Money can’t buy taste, it’s agreed. Or decency. Sweet remembers his days tutoring English to the offspring of wealthy parents. “They basically just hired people to keep their children away from them in the evenings,” he says, “I remember one boy, who was twelve, turning to me at the start and saying ‘If I don’t like you I’ll get you sacked’ and I looked around the room and every single panel or wall had what looked like a gold-framed portrait of the mother, in the most vain, obnoxious show of wealth. They were clearly expensive and were literally just her, some in a cowgirl outfit with her foot on a haybale, some in different Parisian settings…”
Conversation moves on. In the UK, money and class are tied up inextricably. A friend of a friend of a friend of Jim Howick is “extremely wealthy, he’s like an Earl or something ridiculous,” he says. “But you go to his house and he had shit drinks, just shit whisky like Bells!” The room laughs. “Of course he does though,” says Howick, “because he doesn’t have to impress anyone. He’s not a social climber, he’s there.”
Are there morally sound ways to be rich? Definitely, they all agree. “Pay your taxes, donate to charity” says Helm, “and look after the people that were in the same position that you were before you got lucky.”
That kind of magnanimity isn’t a priority for Anderson’s Loaded character, Leon, whose first point of order on becoming a millionaire is to rub it in the face of anyone who ever doubted him. “He shows off,” says Anderson. “It’s ‘you told me I couldn’t make it and here I am!’ It’s quite tragic.”
“It’s just highlighting his insecurities” says Howick. “When, for example, Leon goes back to his school in a helicopter to stick two fingers up essentially, it’s sad really.”
“The funniest bits,” continues Anderson, “were the ones where it’s just like ‘this is horrible,’ just awkward and…”
“Bleak” finishes Howick.
“It’s not a comedy any more is it?!” laughs Helm.
To round laughter, Anderson tells the story of going back to visit his drama school after becoming a professional actor, and not quite receiving a hero’s welcome. “There was a class in the big hall about to start and they were doing monologues and I went and asked if I could come in and watch and I got told off by the teacher! She goes ‘No, we’ve got an actor in who’s been in Emmerdale.’ And I was like, ‘I’ve been in Emmerdale! And I went to this school!’ She said ‘Yeah, I know who you are thank you very much, but you can’t come in’.”
Is there a sense that, as explored on the show, success isn’t seen as very likeable here in the UK? Was that drama teacher trying to put Anderson in his place?
“That definitely happens,” says Howick. “I’ve had people shout out to me, unprovoked, ‘You’re not even that famous!’ and I’m just waiting for the bus. People can have an attitude about it, they approach you and their first gambit is ‘Are you famous?’ and you just don’t know how to respond, it’s like, no, I’m not but… and they keep on, ‘You’re famous. Are you famous?’ Or someone will come up in the pub and say ‘I don’t know what you’ve done but my friend says you’re famous, what have you done?’ and that’s when you want to say ‘just fucking Google me, mate’,” they all laugh.
“I Googled myself the other day to prove who I was,” says Helm. “I needed some ID to pick up some tickets. It’s a valuable resource, Google.”
Some people just assume that if you’re on the telly, you’re going to be up yourself. Others just enjoy shouting at you, it’s suggested. “When I did Emmerdale, I was told off for that character,” says Anderson. “An old woman stopped me in the street and went [in a Manchester accent] ‘come here, you, you leave that Donna alone’” he laughs. Howick had the same experience owing to his recent role in Broadchurch, in which he played a rape suspect. “I went to see my mum in a show—she does am dram—and there were her friends calling me a rapist [laughs] as I was buying a raffle ticket.”
Back to Loaded. Because it’s about four male friends who live together, create an app, and make a bunch of money, it’s bound to be labelled ‘the British Silicon Valley’ I say.
“Someone referred to it as a British version of Entourage as well,” says Sweet. “It’s sort of an anti-Entourage—not that we have anything against Entourage—but it is very British.”
Helm doesn’t see the Entourage connection. “It’s like the polar opposite of what those aspirational shows are. It’s really about how becoming millionaires affects four friends.”
What does Loaded have to say about male friendship, I ask? “There is a lot of love between the four of them,” says Sweet. “I think that’s what Jon’s been really good at writing, first of all the vibe of what male friends are like, the way they talk to each other and little arguments and power struggles.”
“It’s quite a brutal dynamic,” says Howick of their characters’ relationship. “There’s a lot of piss-taking. I think it’s indicative of long friendships. When you’ve been through that cruel phase together—thirteen to fifteen, before you could do anything vaguely adult when there’s the worst peer pressure, name-calling—then you’ve got that blubber really. They’re hard-wired for each other’s vulnerabilities.”
All four of them are vulnerable characters. From Leon, with his extravagance and something to prove, to shy, awkward Ewan, to creative recovering alcoholic Watto, to social conscience of the group Josh. “The money just exacerbates Josh’s neuroses, really” says Howick of his character.
Success doesn’t only make the four of them suspect in other people’s eyes, it’s also creatively stifling. “Success sort of cripples us,” says Helm. “The thing they get the money from [a smartphone game called Cat Factory] is the thing they’re least proud of, but now they have to feed a machine and generate something as popular as Cat Factory where in actual fact, their instincts are to do something more intellectual or creative.”
“That’s the interesting thing,” says Sweet, “they hadn’t really considered the consequences of success because it had been so long they’d been making games that weren’t successful and then they suddenly do get very wealthy and they liked it before, they liked their lives before when they would just sit together and have fun. There are moments when they reminisce about the pre-money era as being actually a lot simpler.”
It could be called a sort of Midas-like morality tale then? “Exactly” agrees Sweet. But funny. “It can be very silly and quite macabre and quite dark,” he explains. “There are bits of it which are genuinely very, very sad, but then it will quite quickly shift into finding the humour in that moment.”
“But, it’s also really funny, it’s consistently funny” says Helm.
Could the premise stretch beyond one series? Definitely, they all agree. “I’m really proud of it,” says Helm, “I absolutely love making it and I think it’s a really good show but I love making it so much, even if it was a piece of shit, I’d still want to make it.”
Incidentally, asks Sweet reading my notes upside down, why have I written JASON STATHAM in big blue Biro letters across the top?
It’s a sort of Den Of Geek tradition, I explain. We ask people what their favourite Jason Statham film is. At these words Nick Helm’s eyes light up “I love Jason Statham.”
“My favourite Jason Statham moment…” starts Helm, he says, then stands up and proceeds to give what has to be the most thorough, committed answer to that question we’ve ever received. Honestly, I think we might have to give him some kind of award.
Not being able to do the performance justice with mere words on a screen, here it is:
Watch Loaded. It’s funny, perceptive, not a British copy of anything and boasts a great comedy cast (also including Aimee Ffion-Edwards, Nigel Planer, Lolly Adefope and Simon Day), one of whom really, really loves Jason Statham.
Loaded starts on Monday the 8th of May at 10pm on Channel 4.