The Man behind the Meerkat
By Niall Spence
Here at The Guide Magazines we’ve racked up some pretty impressive celebrity interviews over our last nine years; from top comedians, singers and actors to Olympians, celebrity chefs and reality TV stars but none of those quite live up to our latest slightly furry interviewee, Aleksandr Orlov.
Aleksandr is the rather cute brains behind comparethemeerkat.com and has recently been rubbing his fuzzy shoulders with Hollywood’s A-List elite including actor and the governator Arnold Schwarzenegger. Niall Spence caught up with Longtown native and man behind the meerkat, Simon Greenall. Simples.
Why do you think Aleksandr and the meerkats became such household names?
“I think it was a character that everyone sort of liked. Because you see Aleksandr is a terrible bighead, he’s arrogant, he thinks that he knows everything yet he’s constantly undermined by Sergei and its kind of classic comedy. Aleksandr and Sergei are kind of like Laurel and Hardy, they’re a very good little double act. He’s cute but also he has his faults which people really like.”
So how did you end up being the voice of Britain’s best loved meerkat?
“I just went up for it, I’d done a Russian tiger for [the production company] before so they knew I could do it and I have played a lot of Russians in videogames and stuff like that, so I could definitely do the Russian. But I said to the producers let’s take his voice right up; let’s make it really high. Because originally they were thinking more sort of: smooth, deep and gangstery for his voice but I said, looking at the size of him he needs to have a high voice.”
How did you get into acting?
“I did lots of different jobs around Carlisle and Cumbria and stuff and I seemed to get fired from everything I did because I was a bit useless. I had kind of always wanted to act from school but there was no acting outlet at school. So after being fired from every job I had I thought well you can’t get fired from acting. So I applied for drama school and the Carlisle Education Authority gave me a grant which is what made it all possible so I kind of owe it all to them and I went to drama school in Manchester.”
When did you get your break?
“For a long time I didn’t do anything, I left Manchester and went to London and absolutely just couldn’t get arrested. I couldn’t get anything down to start with, but eventually I got a job as a writer for Smith and Jones, which was a good start and slowly I kept asking if I could be in stuff. I’d been doing stuff for Armstrong and Miller, Smith and Jones, stuff like that so I was starting to get known as a sketch performer. Then I’m Alan Partridge came along, I’d known Steve Coogan from college as we were at Manchester Poly together.”
You’ve played so many roles, who’s your favourite?
“Well it has got to be Michael the Geordie. Michael the Geordie is the one that everyone knows me for. I sort of forget how much people like that character. Recently I’ve been doing these I’m Alan Partridge quiz nights, some guys rang me and said would I like to host an Alan Partridge quiz night? It was a huge success, they all sold out, we did three nights in Hackney in East London and they were absolutely packed there was about 200-300 people there every night then we did two nights in Dublin that were even bigger, they were huge, there was about 500 people a night. In Dublin they went absolutely mad for it, they love it, and they love Coogan over there.”
Why do you think shows like I’m Alan Partridge have such longevity?
“It’s still big because he’s a well thought out, very real, rounded character. He’s got so many foibles and quirks and weird things wrong with him but all that means is you can’t help but be interested in him. That and he’s an ultimate loser, people like losers.”
Is there a chance we’ll see more from Michael in the future?
“Well, it would all depend on what Steve’s doing and what Armando Iannucci is doing. I think there will be another film but I don’t know when and you never know if you’re going to be in it, you never assume you’ll be in it.”
Do you prefer acting or doing voiceovers?
“I prefer to work. Somebody asked me the other day about resting and about having time off; I’ve only had four days out of work in the last 30 years. I don’t do spare time, I’m useless, if I’ve got time off I’m running up the walls going wild, asking myself why am I not working?”
Do you have to train yourself to do these voices or does it come naturally?
“It kind of comes naturally but you can practice, you can hone it. When you’re born, you’re given the most fantastic musical instrument in the world which is your voice and most people don’t realise that if you keep practicing you can do all sorts of wonderful things with it. It’s as much about listening to how people speak as well. Don’t just hear the words, really think about what they are saying. Like you know how they talk in West Cumbria “it’s viry broad but there’s nowt rang with it marra it’s luvly”. Accents are dying out, down South they’re all changing all the young guys down there are “talking like dat, you nar wot a meen” there’s no young cockneys no more.”
How does the style of acting differ between TV and Films?
“It doesn’t really, I’m in the next series of Benidorm and it’s just about being good. People want you to be reliable, good and not a problem; they have enough problems as it is so the last thing they want is you going: “I’m not really sure about my motivation here, what does my character do?” They haven’t got time for that; you’ve got to turn up, do a good job and go home.”