Rochdale is Cool for Cat!
Actor Danny John-Jules, best known as the sharp-dressing character Cat in the long-running BBC sci-fi comedy series, is making a personal appearance at Dale-Con, the sci-fi fans’ convention at the Wheatsheaf Centre, Rochdale on February 22nd and 23rd.
The annual event attracts fans of all kinds of shows from Star Wars to Blake’s 7 and the appearance of Cat is a coup for the Wheatsheaf, which last year greeted Craig Charles, Cat’s starshipmate Lister on Red Dwarf. If like me the thought of anything scifi makes you reach for the TV remote and press exterminate, try not to be too judgemental.
“The thing about science fiction is no one wants to admit to being a science fiction fan,” says Danny. He goes on to say: “But ask them what their favourite film is and they say Alien, Terminator, Robocop.
Everything they mention, it’s all scifi and yet nobody is a sci-fi fan.”
Danny recently returned from Japan, after visiting there in his role as Cat. He affectionately calls the Japanese fans ‘the J Team’. “They all tend to be really intelligent. They’re people with brains.
They love Red Dwarf and that’s the kind of people that you find at these conventions. They aren’t going to get excited watching Eastenders. These guys, their brains are higher than that.
“If they see something not quite right scientifically, they will tell you. I remember one scene we had in Red Dwarf, we were jumping through time and there was a clock on the wall, we’d jumped through different times and someone wrote in and said: “Well if that’s that and this is that then that clock should say ten past two.”
“So then we go back and it’s ‘Oh my God, we have made a mistake here.’ They’re right. If most TV shows went through the same scrutiny that science fiction shows do, you know, they’d never be allowed on TV.”
It’s said that the Red Dwarf actors get to keep their outfits, but Danny denies this. “I actually don’t have any.” Not even the teeth? I ask. “I’ve got the teeth.” He grins.
The teeth, for those not familiar with Red Dwarf, are a set of sharp fangs that Danny wears as Cat, a humanoid who evolved from the ship’s cat over thousands of millennia while the human crew were in suspended animation for the flight.
In his role, Danny also moves in a swaggering zoot-suited gait, like a cat. Being a dancer helped.
Red Dwarf is a Manchester Show, it’s a northern show “I had a career in musical theatre before I ever did television.” he says. “I was in a West End show when I auditioned for Red Dwarf. I’ve been in six West End shows. I met Bob Fosse (the great American choreographer) in 1985 at the Municipal Theatre in New York, danced the lead in Cats in 1983, Starlight Express. I did everything…”
“I suppose like Cat the fans are perfectionists. Cat is a Virgo like me. That was quite easy to portray but also if you actually look at the character he’s a straight talker. He’s yet to have sex in that show. There’s lots of insinuation but actually Cat is a virgin.”
Another similarity is that like his character Cat, he also likes to keep active and work out.
Jeremy Clarkson didn’t like being second fiddle to us “When I do Death in Paradise, part of my deal is that I have an exercise bike in my hotel room. I’ve already done a run on the beach or a swim before I arrive on set. When I hit the ground I hit the ground running.”
Death in Paradise is set in the Caribbean, on the island of Guadeloupe, and Danny’s real-life roots are also there, in the Dominican Republic.
“My family is from the next island along, which is quite cool, so I do speak the local language. When I go I can converse with the locals. It was a French colony; it’s still French so if you write a letter you have to put France at the bottom.
“They speak French and Creole. Before its independence it was originally French and then after that the Brits and French fought over it several times and took over.
“So, from the difference of an hour on a ferry you’ve got locals on one island speaking English and Creole and then you go to the next one and they speak French and Creole. But if you can speak the same Creole that’s it. I grew up listening to my parents speaking Creole in the house. The locals say ‘How come this English guy can speak Creole?’
“My parents got divorced and Dad went there with his second wife. He’s been back there for about 30 years now.”
Danny has spent a lot of time in the North of England. He points out: “Red Dwarf is a Manchester show, it’s a northern show. People don’t realise. London turned it down and Manchester commissioned it.”
Away from television work, Danny is a great fan of live theatre and isn’t keen on the TV talent shows that instant stardom that soon fades.
“It’s not only just the audience that are missing out but the performers themselves are not equipped and that’s why you don’t see longevity.
“What you see is a reality performer who comes along, they stick them on every cover of every magazine and every show and they make loads of money and then you realise a year later that they really don’t have anything to offer.”
When he’s not flying through space, Danny is a keen motorcyclist and a a speed freak. But unlike so many petrol head celebs, he’s never been on Top Gear. And there’s a bit of barely disguised animosity when he explains why…
“They won’t have us on because we always used to beat them. Jeremy Clarkson didn’t like being second fiddle to us. Jeremy Clarkson was the first presenter of Robot Wars and then Craig Charles took over and ratings rose and he didn’t like that. The amount of people who have said there should be a Red Dwarf Top Gear!”