Jim Piddock is the first to acknowledge that while some may not be familiar his name, they’re sure to at least be acquainted with some of the many films and shows he’s been involved with over the years. In fact, Piddock’s resume, not taking into account his continuing commitment to the stage, is as impressive as it is diverse with the UK born thespian having won critical and commercial acclaim for his work in Britain and North America.
In so far that Piddock has delivered some wonderful scene-stealing support-roles in films such as Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, Independence Day, Lethal Weapon 2, Austin Powers Goldmember, The Five-Year Engagement and Christopher Nolan’s 2006 Oscar nominated thriller The Prestige, complimented by a list of TV appearances that include the 1986 reboot of The Twilight Zone, Fame, The Tracey Ullman Show, Murder She Wrote, Mad About You, Angel, Friends, The Drew Carey Show, ER, Lost, Law & Order: LA, Chuck, Castle, Two and Half Men, Get Shorty, Modern Family and The Haunting of Bly Manor… yeah, chances are you’re familiar with at least some of his work.
And while affable Englishman can also claim credit for scripting the likes of 2010 Dwayne Johnson starrer The Tooth Fairy, and 2016’s Mascots (which saw Piddock reunite with A Mighty Wind director Christopher Guest) along with episodes of the late 90’s neo-noir crime series Silk Stalkings, Piddock can now add literary author to his extensive resume, thanks to his charmingly droll, insightful and refreshingly pretense-free autobiographical musings Caught with My Pants Down: And Other Tales from a Life in Hollywood.
Releasing digitally and in print on March 23, Piddock encapsulates a surprising vulnerability to his comedic recollections, offsetting his success with earnest self-deprecation rather than self-aggrandizement. And by abandoning any unnecessary embellishments, he graciously allows his readers to find both the heart and humour inherent in the trials and tribulations faced during his journey from the grueling independent stage of London’s theatre district to playing against some of the biggest actors and power brokers in Hollywood.
“I actually did something for the Screen Actors Guild called Inside the Industry: Let’s Talk About It.” Extrapolates Piddock as we discuss the timing of his newly minted memoir. “I was interviewed by a reporter from The Wall Street Journal in front of 200 or so people. I was supposed to be on stage for 45 minutes, and I went about half an hour longer than that, just telling stories. And I really enjoyed it.
“Afterwards, we had a Q&A, and the audience seemed to quite like it. So I came away from that thinking to myself, “Wow. I actually quite like being out there in front of a live audience. I haven’t done theater for a while. Maybe I could do a one man show with this sort of stuff, just talking bollocks for an hour and a half. And I certainly have a volume of stories.”
“So, I started writing. And before long, it was a 10-hour play. I figured that was going to test the patience of even the most hardened of theatergoers, so I then started thinking about writing a book. And just as the pandemic hit, I thought “Well, this is a perfect opportunity to write this. I’m not going to have this kind of time on my hands again.”
“But it was quite hard because I’m not a person who looks backwards very much. So it was actually like pulling teeth for me, but I eventually got there. I’m actually very proud of it. It’s kind of a fun book because I think it’s as much about the observed as the observer.
“I was very aware from the moment I started that I didn’t think that many people would be interested in the Jim Piddock story, but they’re probably very interested in the stories Jim Piddock has to tell about life, and the world, and people he’s worked with. Because obviously, I’ve managed to work with almost anyone and everyone.”
For those familiar with Piddocks work as both actor and screenwriter, Caught With My Pants Down will satisfy any expectation you’ll bring to the table, but the new creative medium also offers the multi-hyphenate a broader canvas on which to paint his stories, allowing for a more intimate inflection and supposition in his narrative. Mapped as a series of anecdotical chapters, with some interconnecting call-backs dictated by a defined timeline of experience and personal growth, the book for the most part is a fun yet casual read, painting its portrait of a rising star whose quest for fame resonates more with a quality of work than any real thirst for celebrity.
An attribute that harkens back to Piddock’s origins in the theatre world, where the necessity of being a working actor left the young performer with a reverence for his craft, not merely via an appreciation of a regular paycheck, but with an astute insight into the power of harnessing communal creativity in a media saturated society. Where employment holds more value than accolades, as does growth over dogmatism.
“Completely different!” Explains Piddock defining the difference between writing a book and a screenplay. “I think my experience of crafting screenplay and teleplays helped because I know how to structure something roughly; I know how to get in and get out. I don’t linger on the color of the flowers and the smell in the air and all that. Not very much anyway. So that helped, but it really was a completely different experience.
“It sort of found its own kind of structure really. I mean, obviously, I used a linear structure in terms of my life and progression through show business. But I didn’t want to linger on my childhood because I didn’t think anyone would give a shit about who my parents were, what kind of background I had.
“It was much more anecdotal, and much more about telling stories, and trying to make a sense of things. As I go through, there’s a little bit of philosophy, whereas screenwriting is essentially a craft. It’s mostly about the craft and dialogue and stuff. So it was a much more difficult process for me.”
As suggested by the books adept title, Caught With My Pants Down offers some hilarious chapters that effectively peel back the shroud of Hollywood’s glitzy curtains, revealing in their wake some rather grounded, and absurdist comedic fare, whilst exposing various fragile egos and eccentricities, and chronicling a number of missteps in the pantheon of La La Lands hallowed halls.
However, while Piddock could have easily filled his tome with nothing more than show business exposition, his literary aesthetic, seemingly by design, demands moments of introflection in order to reconcile some rather darkly hued moments of his life, all of which bring a deeper appreciation and sense of levity to the surrealism of working in his chosen field.
None more so than the chapter which details the tragic loss of his friend, fellow expat and director Duncan Gibbins. Moments which Jim admits are as essential to understanding his own story, as they are to the book’s narrative.
“In funny way, I found those quite easy to write about because they were so straightforward.” He muses as the conversation moves to some of the more personal tales included in the pages “They were so present emotionally. But yeah, there’s a couple of quite highly emotional chapters. There’s Duncan’s death, and then my daughter’s birth, which was literally six months later, I think. They were very important moments of my life. So those are the things that are easy to remember. It’s the goofier, odder, sort of quirky stories that you go, “Oh, my God, I’d forgotten about that.
“One of the things I did want to do with this book is be totally honest. Because I’m in my mid 60s, and I couldn’t give a shit what people think now. I’d never written this book in my 20s, (A) because I didn’t have anything to say, but (B), I would’ve been like, “Oh, my God, I’ll never work again if I say that.”
“But at this time of my life, I’m very honest. And that’s sometimes about myself, sometimes about other people. Mostly, it’s fairly effusive and about people I liked, and some people who confused me. There’s three people I totally eviscerate in the book, absolutely eviscerate, scorched earth time. One of them is dead, so they can’t sue me. And the other two are both very well-known people – very well known – and still alive and kicking and working.
“And I didn’t mind doing that because, first of all, I never want to work with them ever, well one of them again, the other one I never did work with, but I came across. So I don’t care about that.
“But I really do believe that bad behavior in any format, in any sphere of life should be called out. If not, that’s how bullies get away with it. When we just sit back and go, “Oh, that’s them being them, or I don’t operate like that, but that’s obviously their issue and they’ve got a problem.” Yeah, they do, but they don’t have to inflict it on us. So I really do call out some very bad behavior. And I’m glad I do. And they can try and sue me, but they’ll not win because it’s all true.”
“I did, however, run it all by a lawyer, and it’s all fine. There was one story I ended up dropping because I felt it was actually just a bit, I wouldn’t say mean spirited, but it felt a bit needless for me to do it because it’s not someone who I think is necessarily a terrible person, but who did behave fairly badly.
“And in an amusing way, I told it because it amused me thinking back on it. But that ended up going. And there was a couple of things I just sort of tweaked a little, so it wasn’t horrendously abrasive. The last thing I wanted was to seem was like sour grapes, because it’s certainly not sour grapes, it’s crushed grapes. So there we go.”
Clocking in at around 300 pages, depending on your preferred format, Caught With Your Pants Down doesn’t exactly play as hollywood-tell-all, but instead offers a celebration of a strange and often misrepresented community seen from the viewpoint of a natural entertainer. A theater actor, if you will, who found his way to America in the early 1980s performing a one-man show about a football player, and who audaciously proceeded to step onto the sets of numerous studio and network productions, all the while earning enough respect and admiration to keep the door open for him. And thankfully, possessing the self-awareness to understand the absurdity and blessing of his great adventure.
An awareness that has scored Piddock, and his debutant publication with no less than seven pages of authentically curated celebrity endorsements from the likes of Russell Brand, Hugh Bonneville, Drew Carey, John Cho, Frances Conroy, Bill Hader, Eddie Izzard, Jane Leeves, Ian McShane, Seth Myers, Chris O’Dowd, Jean Smart, Alan Tudyk, Christopher Guest and Jacki Weaver to name but a few.
“It’s a bit odd.” Muses Piddock on the peer support his fledgling work has received. “You sort of send it out and think, “Well, if I get a couple of replies, it’d be great to stick some quotes on the book.” But it was just really, slightly humbling and pleasantly surprising that I got three dozen back, and from some fairly big names. And they were genuinely enthusiastic.
“Because what they said outside their quotes, in their actual emails was, “Jim, I can’t tell you. I’m not just bullshitting; I didn’t write this quote just to give you a good quote.”
“And that was really lovely, but it does feel a little bit like you’re at your own funeral and people are doing eulogies, especially when some of them do know me as a person. Some of them were roast-y. I mean, Billy Connolly’s is very roast-y, and there was a couple of others.
“But it was all slightly disconcerting, because although it’s lovely to hear, normally you wouldn’t be hearing any of it because you’d be lying in a coffin while people are saying it.
With the book ready to make its way into the world, and Jim Piddock enthusiastically adding the moniker of author to an already impressive resume, the stage actor, come writer, come screen actor, come producer offers one last insight into his literary adventure, musing over a personal revelation that the process of crafting Caught With Your Pants Down sprung upon the unexpecting thespian.
“A lot of the stories are about embarrassing – that kind of cringe humor – of awful stuff that’s happened to me and that I’ve done.” He continues “Hence the title of the book, which was based on a real incident that happened in public. And I thought that was a lovely metaphor for a life misspent in show business.
“But it was interesting to write. I think one of the things that really surprised me was that when I was going through it all, I didn’t realize that a lot of the themes were about a search for family. And that again, to me at least, made it more than just being about show business. It’s about a search for family and the importance of making choices in your life and how that really defines who you are.
“And that became something that emerged in writing all these goofy stories, that something much bigger and wider and more important emerged, which was a lovely surprise.”