Johnny Flynn plays Dylan Witter in Channel 4’s new romantic comedy, Scrotal Recall. Here, on set midway through production, he talks about sex, STIs and the show’s surprisingly tender look at the trials and tribulations of finding ‘the one’.
Scrotal Recall will air on Channel 4 soon
What’s the concept of the show?
It’s the story of Dylan who, despite being a romantic idealist, has contracted chlamydia. He has to track down all of his exes to inform them, so each episode tells the story of how they met, and what happened next. It’s a story about falling in, and out of, love, and also about friendship – notably between Dylan and his two best friends, Luke and Evie, who always have his back. There is also a “will they/won’t they” story between Dylan and Evie which is pretty heartbreaking too.
What’s Dylan like?
At the point you meet him in the show, he’s just realising that the ideals he’s held since university have got him into a bit of a fix. He’s really clever. I really like him. He has my taste in music, films and books and that kind of thing. But he’s in trouble because he over-romanticises situations, and that’s his main problem with girls. He has a picture of what the perfect relationship is supposed to look like. So the good stuff, the things that he should really be seizing as opportunities, pass him by. He’s innocent, but really switched on and witty. His dynamic with Evie and Luke is great. He and Evie have this intense friendship, they’re really close and really care about each other. He and Luke have a brilliant bromance, they take the piss out of each other endlessly, it’s so funny.
With that title, and the subject matter, is there a lot of risqué subject matter in the show?
The situations that you might consider risqué or embarrassing are essentially funny and true. They’re not gratuitous; it isn’t full of gross-out humour. It’s never disgusting for its own sake. But it does deal with some funny and embarrassing situations.
Have you ever had an STI?
How do you think you would go about approaching your exes if something like that had happened?
I guess it depends on how serious the STI was. With the show, Dylan is doing the right thing, obviously, because chlamydia can get quite serious, but is easily treated. So he’s meeting up with his exes before it damages them in any permanent way. I guess I’d be a bit like Dylan.
To be honest, I don’t have many exes. I’ve been kind of with the same girl since school, with some exceptions when we broke up and went out with other people. So it would be quite easy for me. I’d basically call my wife and say “You need to start taking some pills.”
Did you have to film a lot of sex scenes?
Not many full on sex scenes. We actually still have one left to shoot, which is a really funny one. But there aren’t many. I’m with a different girl every episode, so I suddenly have to meet this person who’s playing my girlfriend for that week, and get to know them, and then at some point you have to kiss and pretend to jump into bed, But they’re all quite different. I guess what’s really good about the show is not every one of them is a happy relationship. It’s kind of true to people’s experiences. It’s all there.
Dylan seems to have clocked up quite a few partners. What’s your attitude towards that?
I think it’s fairly modest. On the list he draws up at the beginning there are 21 names, which I think is more than me, probably. I think that’s not terrifying. I think the reason there are quite a few names on there is because the point of what his character is going through, he’s realising why he’s a ‘serial boyfriend’. He doesn’t let things work, because he can never see what’s good in his life, so he follows the wrong avenue. I think everyone in their 30s looks back at their 20s and thinks “Oh God, if I’d just done this and this, and not done that…” There’s a kind of pathos about Dylan – the more people there are on his list, the sadder it is for him, because he does want to be with somebody. It’s not like he’s just shagging around. He really wants to fall in love. I think the number reflects the truth of that situation.
Underneath it all, the show is actually a surprisingly tender look at love and relationships, isn’t it?
Yeah, I would say that’s really the point. It’s a very heartfelt show. The central relationships, between the three main characters, are really loving. And you see a really lively, complex and true portrait of being friends who have grown up together and know each other inside out. I think that’s a really nice thing to celebrate.
Did you enjoy filming with Antonia and Daniel?
Yeah. We became best friends very quickly. I would say we’re going to be best friends for life. It’s really lovely. Dan and Antonia moved in to a flat together in Glasgow quite soon after we started shooting, because there was a flat available that was in a slightly nicer area. I’ve had my wife and son up with me, which is why I’m not part of that party. But we always hang out together in the evenings after shooting. It’s really, really nice to be playing with people that are actually your friends. We find ourselves really having fun on set. Sometimes that can be dangerous, because we really corpse a lot. We fall about laughing when we should be acting. So that’s really fun, I’m excited for the future of the show.
You’re from something of an acting dynasty…
Minor acting dynasty!
…Do you think it’s just in the blood, or is it a product of growing up with acting all around you?
I don’t really know. For me, it’s certainly been something I’ve been interested in since I was very young. My dad was an actor, and he made it all seem quite magical. It felt like a slightly subversive thing, telling stories, when all of my other friends’ parents were builders or bank clerks. It’s always seemed quite magical to me. Weirdly, my dad didn’t want me to become an actor, he was always quite resistant to it. He told me as much many times. That just made it more attractive to me. When I was young I was being pushed, against my will, towards becoming a classical musician. I had music scholarships, I had to play the violin and do orchestra practice and that sort of stuff. That meant I didn’t get to do any school plays. I desperately wanted to do that. So I went to drama school, which was what I really wanted to do. But I played music as well. I was writing my own songs and playing in bands, and found that I really loved that as well.
Is it difficult for you to combine your music with your acting commitments?
It’s tricky sometimes, because I have a young family as well. I feel like I’m doing three full-time jobs. And my wife works hard as well. It’s like a juggling act, but I try and make it work because I think I’d feel a bit crushed if I couldn’t do the music or the acting. I don’t want to have to make a choice. They’re different, but at the same time they sort of feed each other. I need to do them both.
So you could never prioritise one over the other?
No. One is like breathing and the other is like eating. I have to do them both. I usually like doing whichever one I haven’t done for a while. So if I’ve been touring with my band a lot, I’m really excited about doing a play, or vice versa. They provide a holiday from each other and keep the other job more interesting.
You’ve done a lot of theatre, including Jerusalem, and some Shakespeare at The Globe. Is it important to you to keep doing theatre as well as film and TV stuff?
Yeah, definitely. I haven’t done a play since spring of last year, and I’m getting itchy. So I’m going to head back into that. I did several years of doing straight, back-to-back plays, so I promised my wife that I wouldn’t do that for a while. I was never there to put my son to bed in the evenings. And so when the opportunity to do this show came up it was perfect. It’s fantastic to get to play a really interesting character in a really well-written show. And to do some comedy on TV as well, which I haven’t really done onscreen before.
Scrotal Recall is coming soon to Channel 4.