When they first stumbled onto British TV screens back in 1992, glasses of Bolly in hand, Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone were a revelation. Spiritual foremothers to the freewheeling women of Girls, Broad City, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Inside Amy Schumer, the women of Absolutely Fabulous pioneered a brand of unruly, reckless femininity unlike anything we’d seen on TV before.
Show creator Jennifer Saunders played Edina (Eddy), a fad-obsessed fashion publicist/fashion victim who oscillated between narcissism and vicious self-loathing; Joanna Lumley was her best friend Patsy, a coke-snorting, Botox-injecting editor with a beehive updo and a blood-alcohol content so high that “the last mosquito that bit [her] had to check into the Betty Ford Clinic.” Together, they created a sensation, spawning five seasons and numerous specials, a devoted American following (despite worries that their humor would be too black for puritan sensibilities across the pond), and the adoration and embrace of the fashion industry that they so mercilessly lampooned.
With the long-awaited Absolutely Fabulous movie premiering July 22, we talked to the British comedy icons about killing Kate Moss, flirting with Jon Hamm, and getting the whole gang together 24 years after their show first premiered.
How did you come up with the idea to have Eddy murder Kate Moss in the film?
Jennifer Saunders: You just know that Edina would worship Kate. Kate would give her a certain amount of cool. Everyone wants to be Kate’s friend; everyone wants to be in Kate’s girl squad. For Edina that would be the ultimate dream. And I thought, Wouldn’t it be funny if, in trying to get her, she kills her? Because that’s the biggest fashion faux pas you could ever make. The worst thing you can do, in fashion, in her world, would be to kill Kate Moss.
It is the ultimate fashion crime. Was she game when you came to her with the script?
JS: She’s very game. She’s so cool and so easygoing. I had sort of forgotten to ask her. Written it, sold it, forgot to ask her if she’d be in it. So I was a bit nervous when I rang and just said, “Got a film, a film script. I know you sort of know about it, but do you want to read it?” She said, “Yeah, yeah, send it over.” And I got a message back going, “Yeah, yeah, love it.”
You guys had tons of cameos in the film, like Gwendoline Christie and, of course, Jon Hamm. I was impressed you actually got him to joke about his penis size.
JS: You know, you’ve just revealed something that we have no idea about.
Joanna Lumley: How did we reveal this? Tell us how, Anna.
JS: We said, “You were a very big 15.” [In the film, there is a joke about a sexual encounter with a young Jon Hamm where he is described as “a very big 15,” which this writer took to be a reference to his notoriously impressive penis.]
JL: Oh my God, I didn’t understand that. I thought it meant that he was tall, that he looked like a grown-up boy.
JS: I know, I have to say, that’s hilarious. We made the joke and we didn’t even know.
JL: Oh my God. Is Jon pleased about this joke?
JS: Well, he heard it on the day.
JL: Well, he probably didn’t think it was that, did he?
JS: Well, I didn’t think it was that! How hilarious.
Maybe I misread it! But that’s how I took it.
JS: He was such a joy. And he’s so gorgeous. So gorgeous. We’re pushing for him to be the next James Bond, we’ve decided. We’re gonna start saying it. What about Jon Hamm for James Bond, wouldn’t he be good?
You have both worked together for a long time — is there ever any tension, or do you generally still get along well?
JL: It’s like a kind of party. Film work is hard work. It’s long days, and quite often quite dismaying locations you have to be in. But I’ll tell you, everybody who came in, the core cast, we’ve all known each other for so long that we’re just like an old family. It was sort of like a huge sort of extended cocktail party without the alcohol. People think we drank like fishes throughout, which we did a little bit, a very little.
JS: The second the scene is over or they’re moving the light or something, Joanna and I would just sit and do a crossword or something. It’s very nice.
You’ve always been very good at getting the fashion industry to laugh at themselves, even though one often thinks of fashion people as being quite self-serious.
JS: Well, I think most of them [have good senses of humor], actually. And I think people love to be noticed, they love to feel included. A lot of people are flattered if you, you know, if you make jokes about them, or I think because it means they’re known.
JS: Yes, the jokes, the jokes are always on Eddy and Patsy, ultimately.
There’s an iconic joke about Lacroix back in the original series. What are the equivalent fashion-victim-y brands today?
JS: I think they’re still the big brands, to be honest. I think people, if you want to be seen in something you might, you know, you put on your Chanel jacket or your Prada shoes, or I suppose the ultimate thing is the Birkin. If you see someone and they’ve got a Birkin, they will know that it’s a Birkin and they want everyone else to know that it’s a Birkin because they will have paid ten grand for that handbag.
JS: This is the handbag, not the full all-in-one costume?
JL: [Laughs.] No, Birkin bag, yes. A Birkin bag. And I think handbags, not so much clothes anymore, but I think you can tell a fashion victim by their handbag.
What do you think are the most important changes within the fashion world since the show originally aired?
JS: The biggest thing is online shopping. So that you don’t have to dress up, go down Bond Street or Rodeo or wherever, go and be intimidated by shop assistants to buy Gucci shoes or a Prada dress. You can just go online and, if it doesn’t fit you, send it back. And I think that is the biggest, biggest difference, because that means everybody can do it.
So fashion has become more accessible?
JS: I think there’s less trends. I think the magazines can’t really set trends anymore. I think that happens online. People see, What’s Kim Kardashian wearing? What’s Taylor Swift wearing? What’s this person wearing? And they can then go online and buy it. They don’t have to read Vogue to know; they just have to look on Net-A-Porter, that’s what’s in. Everything is in now, you know. [But in writing the film] the thing is to know when to stop going on about modern trends so it doesn’t look like you’re just doing it for the sake of it. Because the thing with the film is it has to be about different things. It’s not just about going, well, “This episode’s about Twitter, they get into a mess on Twitter.” It’s got to be about an emotion and how they resolve something that’s going on in their lives emotionally.
It’s quite amazing to see an onscreen female friendship that’s endured for so long .
JL: I think Patsy sticks [with the friendship] because it is as she says it was: bloody good fun. It was just good fun. Sure, good things can go badly wrong. Nevertheless, there’s always another day. They are eternal optimists. Somehow they will find somebody with money, they’ll get Champagne, they’ll get a car. Even though everything in the film shows that they haven’t got the money, there is no Champagne, the car has been taken away from them, they are eternal optimists, and I think that is quite infectious, actually. They do it because it’s fun.
Patsy and Eddy have always been known for saying really outrageous things. Was there any inclination to tone some of that stuff down — for example, the jokes about trans issues?
JS: I think we just tried to write something that was true to the characters and funny. And, I think, you’re always going to get a bit of a Twitter storm about something. You just have to make it for yourself. And for the people in it. And the people I know think it’s funny. And there are enough people around on that set who would go, actually, “Patsy can’t say that,” or, “You shouldn’t say that,” or maybe it’s a bit insensitive. But we have people that represent every kind of diverse group, and I think if one of them said to me, “That’s probably a bit insensitive, that joke,” but nobody does, because it’s ultimately a joke on [Patsy and Edina], not a joke on the thing.
JL: Jon Hamm didn’t complain.
JS: Jon Hamm didn’t complain, no.