Stephen Merchant Explains Why He Wanted to Act in The Outlaws (A Decision He Came to Regret)

He and co-creator Elgin James also tell Consequence the story of their "first date"

Stephen Merchant The Outlaws Interview

The groundbreaking British sitcom The Office and FX’s captivating Sons of Anarchy spinoff Mayans M.C. couldn’t have less in common, except for one thing: Their respective co-creators are now collaborators. Writers Stephen Merchant and Elgin James recently teamed up together for the new original dramedy The Outlaws, which focuses on a group of eclectic strange ers brought together by court-ordered community service in Bristol.

The idea for The Outlaws originated with Merchant, whose parents worked as supervisors of offenders doing community service. But to take on the story, as he recently told Collider, he told his agents “Put me in touch with someone who you just think is from the completely other side of the tracks to me.”

This led to his first meeting with James, and together the pair came up with a story that blends crime and comedy together in some unexpected ways, anchored by a charming ensemble including thee Christopher Walken, Rhianne Barreto, Darren Boyd, Gamba Cole, Jessica Gunning, Clare Perkins, Eleanor Tomlinson, Charles Babalola, and Merchant himself.

As it turns out, Merchant (laughingly) regrets the decision to be a part of the cast, but he explains his reasons for appearing on screen in this Zoom interview, transcribed and edited for clarity. He and James also tell the story of their “first date,” what the casting process was like, and what the future of The Outlaws might look like.

To start off, I know you were brought together by your agents for this project, but I’d love to hear the story of your first meeting.

Stephen Merchant: Well, we met, I, I recall we met in a kind of hipster cafe, is that a fair memory?

Elgin James: That is.

Merchant: And we did not know each other before and there’s always slightly odd, those meetings, aren’t they? Because you never quite know if you’re gonna hit it off with the person. But I felt like we kind of relaxed into each other’s company very quickly and felt, you know, like we had a lot of the same likes and also same dislikes. We felt like we bonded very quickly and started sort of chewing the fat on this idea and felt that, you know, we could both bring something to it. You know, unique perspectives. Is that a fair encapsulation of that first meeting?

James: 100%. It is definitely a hipster cafe in Los Feliz, California. And it’s awkward because you have to stand in line to order — it’s not like you just come down and sit at a table. So we actually had to stand next to each other when we first met and I think literally within seconds it was just like, oh, this is gonna be rad. Like this is good.

Merchant: It was sort of like a date, like a first date.

James: Yeah. We swiped right on each other and here we are seven years later.

Merchant: That’s right.

I happen to live in LA, so let me ask — which cafe was it?

James: I always wanna say it’s not Home. It’s across… It’s The Alcove.

Oh yeah, that is an extremely hipster cafe. So that meeting was seven years ago?

James: Six years ago, seven? I’m not sure.

Merchant: You don’t remember our anniversary? [Everyone laughs]

In terms of the development process between then and now, I can think of one reason perhaps why there might have been a couple of years where nothing was happening. But what was the process of figuring out what the show was for you? Was it just a lot of emails back and forth developing characters?

James: It was a lot of hanging out together at Steve’s house, which was great. A lot of Postmates, a lot of judgment when he would order fish or meat, because I am more superior as a vegan. It was originally a film. We were talking about it as a film and then we found getting into it that we just didn’t have enough time in 90 minutes to really explore the characters like we wanted to. And that’s how the television show came about.

Merchant: That’s right. Yeah, exactly. And then we both were doing other projects and we were kind of getting pulled hither and thither, which is kind of why it took time as well to sort of get it going. As you say, we then developed [the film] into the TV show and it just, and we just sort of let it happen kind of organically, I suppose. And here we are.

James: Yeah. And here we are.


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