Mel and Sue have gone from “Bake Off” to bump off.
Many viewers will recognize Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins from their pun-tastic days hosting “The Great British Baking Off,” but the duo have been in the business of pratting around on screen and stage together for over three decades.
Their latest adventure as a pair of bumbling assassins in Sky and Peacock’s “Hitmen” represents in some ways a dramatic departure from the “sweet and fluffy” halcyon days of “Bake Off.” However, fans of their infectious camaraderie needn’t worry. Perkins reassures that their trademark “pissing about” is still a key ingredient of this batter, just sub in bullets for chocolate chips.
“It was nice to do something which was so radically different from ‘Bake Off’ and to surprise people,” says Giedroyc. “You don’t often get the chance to do that in life, you get a bit pigeonholed and people just think, ‘Oh you’re the guys that talk about cakes.’ To get this job, go left field and do something different, felt brilliant.”
Each episode of “Hitmen,” which premiered in the U.K. in March and launches Aug. 6 on Peacock, is essentially a three-hander between Fran (Perkins), Jamie (Giedroyc) and the poor hit they have tied up in the back of their yellow murder wagon.
But instead of coldly blowing their marks’ brains out like professional killers, Fran and Jamie are a lonesome pair who prefer to have a chat and get to know their victims a little, with often disastrous consequences.
“The classic trope of a hitman is young, buff, usually male, and I like the idea that these slightly bumptious, cretinous, neurotic women could have that as a job. We wanted to slightly change the idea of what a hitman is,” Perkins says.
Giedroyc and Perkins are the first to admit they don’t fit people’s harmfully narrow view of assassins, which, combined with their well-deserved reputation as reality hosts par excellence, makes “Hitmen” an all the more unlikely recipe for their big small screen return.
“We’ve done bits and bobs on our own, but the scripts came through the post and made us laugh out loud off the page. It’s quite rare that that happens, to be honest — mostly because we don’t get sent lots of scripts,” Giedroyc says. “We’re a pair of perimenopausal women in our early 50s, and the writers [Joe Markham and Joe Parham] are really cool, happening guys. The fact they wanted to write for us, we were just so chuffed about that.”
However, with the freedom this new opportunity provided also came a kind of pressure that Giedroyc and Perkins hadn’t felt in 25 years.
“Hitmen” managed to score guest appearances from the likes of “Fleabag” sensation Sian Clifford and “The Crown” alum Jason Watkins, “serious actors” as Perkins calls them, with a different work ethic from Giedroyc and Perkins’ “fetch us from the Winnebago when we’re ready for our close-up” attitude. Or so they claim.
“Going into it we were cacking ourselves,” Giedroyc admits. “I remember on day one of filming Sue and I got together in my little bunker — my little caravan — parked next door to hers obviously, and we said, ‘Right, we’re carrying this show, neither of us went to drama school, this is going to be quite interesting for the Mel-Sue collective.’ We had sleepless nights and moments telling each other, ‘I can’t do this.’ But the fact is, we always have each other’s’ backs and that got us through.”
One area where soggy bottoms were perhaps surprisingly not involved was in the stunts department.
Tom Cruise shattered his ankle leaping from one building to another on the set of “Mission: Impossible 6,” and more recently Charlize Theron damaged her thumb “fighting a very big guy” on the set of Netflix’s “The Old Guard.” Thankfully, the two stars of “Hitmen” didn’t run into such problems performing their own stunts (which may not have been 100% the time).
“We did quite a lot of the stunts ourselves and there’s something very alluring about being craned up in a harness on top of a caravan,” says Giedroyc. “The action sequences and stunts were very absorbing, especially watching my body double taking over and running in a very attractive and fit way through a wood, taking down a drug dealer and straddling him, before it cuts back to me.”
“In my head I’m Trinity from ‘The Matrix.’ On the outside, it’s more like Humpty Dumpty with a buzz cut. I had to try and reconcile these two realities of what I think I am and how I’m perceived,” adds Perkins.
Tonally speaking, “Hitmen” isn’t a million miles from BBC America’s “Killing Eve” in its irreverence and occasional moments of brutal violence. (The show opens with a businessman splatting on the ground after Fran and Jamie accidentally drop him from the sixth floor of a building) But instead of Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer’s sartorial cool, “Hitmen” is governed by the kind of “shambolism” that makes Giedroyc and Perkins quintessentially Mel and Sue.
Perkins says that, as with every project they make together, the duo couldn’t help but (lethally) inject their own personalities and friendship into the characters they play.
“Fran has got that eldest child neurosis which I really gravitated towards,” Perkins explains. “I always equate people’s position in families to a breed of dog. If you’re the eldest, like me, you’re a you’re a collie dog, always shepherding people into different rooms. Whereas Mel’s character, and also Mel herself, is the youngest child and that’s always the show dog: Doesn’t give a s—, un-freighted, without baggage, just enjoying life, slightly pampered.”
Regardless of whether they are still nursing a broken heart over Giedroyc and Perkins’ decision to quit “Bake Off” after its much-publicized departure for Channel 4, fans on both sides of the pond will likely be delighted to see these two old dogs up to new tricks in “Hitmen” — even if the duo is dealing in blood rather than raspberry jam.
“Weirdly a lot of the ‘Bake Off’ audience seems to have transferred, even though it’s completely different subject matter. Unless they watched that episode of ‘Bake Off’ where one of the judges shot a baker, which did feel like a really extreme response to a bad crème brûlée,” Perkins jokes. “The primary reason I’m drawn to anything is if I get to hang around Melanie and the idea of us joshing about in a small, slightly dank Winnebago thrilled me to my core and will hopefully appeal to people. We’re very, very lucky to go from a big reality show back to character comedy, back to where we started.”