Interview with the man behind the mask
DESPITE being a BAFTA Award-winning TV star with millions of fans, British-Iranian star Kayvan Novak can walk down the street completely unrecognised.
That’s because, as the voice of Fonejacker, the inspired prank phone caller with a seemingly boundless supply of characters and voices, his face is never seen on screen. But all that has changed – these well-loved animated characters have been made into flesh at last, as the Fonejacker becomes the Facejacker. Here, Kayvan reveals all.
Your new series is on Channel 4. It’s a bit of a twist on the Fonejacker theme, isn’t it?
The idea is that I play some of the characters from Fonejacker, some of the animated characters, but I play them in real life. So we’re achieving that by heavy prosthetic make up that’s transforming me into the characters.
You must have to spend half your life in the make-up chair.
It’s quite time-consuming. Each character takes about three hours. But it’s worth it, because the transformation is pretty awesome. Terry Tibbs is a good example: we gave the picture of Terry Tibbs to our make-up guy, who then took a cast of my face and then tried to make a mask that looked like Terry. And the results are pretty sensational. I’ve been going round as Terry Tibbs quite convincingly. People have heard the voice and then seen the face and gone ‘My God, it’s Terry Tibbs!’
Who are the original animations based on?
Well, Terry Tibbs, for example, is two people that we Photoshopped together. We got the massive skull and cranium and suit and shirt and neck of one guy that we found on the internet, and we merged him with my Polish mechanic’s features, his eyes, nose and mouth.
Now that you’re playing these characters face-to-face as opposed to over the phone, does it feel very different to perform? Do you prepare differently?
It’s a good question. It’s something I’ve never experienced before. Playing someone so completely different, who doesn’t even look like you, is quite an escape. To just go out and be these characters is great, they’re suddenly real, and you get to play with them in different ways. Over the phone, you can only say things to people and hope that they accept it and react in the right way. There is more of a jeopardy being face to face. For the first few minutes of the interaction, you’re never quite sure that you’ve convinced them. You always wonder what they’re thinking. Ultimately, I’m a 31-year-old Iranian dude wearing a plastic helmet, putting on a voice and trying to convince them that I’m a character. I try and come across like a tornado, destroying everything in my path, so they have no choice but to accept them. It’s credit to the make up that you can stand face to face with people and convince them. The comedy potential then is massive; it’s much bigger than on the phone.
Have there been any characters from Fonejacker that aren’t in the new series?
Yeah, there are some guys who I can’t play in real life. For example, as much as I love the ‘Internet Service Providings’ guy, he’s a small, meek dude. I’m a tall, proud, arrogant man, so it just doesn’t work physically. With others, I put on the fat suit and I’m off. The African scamster guy’s name has changed, though. Terry looks quite like he does in Fonejacker, but the African prosthetic, with my features, made the African character look very different, so we changed his name, because it clearly wasn’t the same guy.
When you’re playing a well-loved character like Terry, you must sometimes get rumbled by people who are Fonejacker fans.
Yeah, but not that often. It was occasionally more a case of someone saying ‘Hang about, mate, who are you under there?’ Inevitably, sometimes when you’re doing work with prosthetics, sometimes people will spot something. That’s par for the course.
What have been the best reactions you’ve had from people? Has anyone ever tried to hit you?
No-one’s tried to hit me yet! Although Nigel Benn gave me a little warning tap, because he figured out something was going on.
You wouldn’t want him hitting you!
No. He’s a lovely guy, and he only did it in jest, thankfully.
In your other life, you’re a screen actor. You were blown up by George Clooney in Syriana.
Yeah, that was great. Four days in Casablanca, in Morocco, filming there. I really enjoyed it.
And you’ve just done a film directed by Chris Morris, a comedy about Jihadi terrorists.
Four Lions, that’s right. I’ve just come back from Sundance, it was premiered out there. It was a great experience. I did the pilot for Facejacker, finished that in March, and then went off to film with Chris Morris for ten weeks, with a bunch of amazing actors, and amazing Chris Morris.
Do you prefer doing the Fonejacker and Facejacker stuff, or the films? Where does your heart lie?
I’m really committed to making comedy, so if I’m acting, I prefer doing comedy. I like doing my own stuff, but if I’m going to work with people, then they’ve got to be the right people. And I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing people. I’m a lucky boy right now; I’ve got my fingers in a few pies.
You won a BAFTA for Fonejacker. How did that feel?
That was completely awesome. It was totally unexpected. We always used to joke ‘This will get us our BAFTA’ after a George Agdgdgwngo call – we just assumed no-one at BAFTA would give a shit about a bunch of prank calls. The success of Fonejacker was so unexpected. In 2008, when we were doing the second series of Fonejacker, we just seemed to win every award we were up for, which was just bizarre. We also had the anxiety of thinking ‘They’re awarding us for this fluke, the second series is going to be awful, what am I doing?’ And the anxiety of wanting to make the second series as good as the first.
How do you feel about this series? Now most of it is in the can, are you pleased with the results?
Very pleased. I think we’re making something that’s never been made before, and that’s exciting in itself. Not only is it pioneering and original, it’s also very funny, which is ultimately what you want.
Facejacker is on Channel 4 on Fridays at 10pm.