Joanna Hunkin is the Head of Entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

The real life inspiration behind Absolutely Fabulous' Patsy Stone

'We're just miserable old gits,' Ab Fab stars Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley tell Joanna Hunkin.

People often make the mistake of assuming Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley are one and the same as the characters they play on screen - the irrepressible and irresponsible Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone.

It's not always a bad thing. No matter the time of day, they point out, people always offer them champagne. But it can become a little tiresome.

"People can get a little bit bumptious," laughs Saunders. "They imagine that you are that person so they can say whatever they like to you. People get a little bit over-excited, I think, sometimes. But they soon get put right and realise we're just miserable old gits."

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.

Lumley adds: "I think sometimes they would rather have Patsy at the party than me."

More fool them if they do. For Saunders and Lumley are two of the most interesting, engaging and thoroughly charming women you will ever come across. Throughout their extensive publicity tour for Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, they have laughed, posed and laughed some more, delighting fans and journalists equally.

Their easy banter is the result of more than 25 years' friendship, which began when Lumley auditioned for the role of Patsy.

"I didn't know Joanna," explains Saunders, who came up with the original concept of Ab Fab as part of her French and Saunders sketch show. The eight-minute sketch, titled Modern Mother and Daughter featured Saunders in the now infamous role of Eddie, with Dawn French playing her stern daughter. But no Patsy.

"I knew Edina had to have a friend," she explains. "I'm used to working in a double act and writing for a double act. It was only natural that Edina would have a friend. It needed to be a friend who would support her bad behaviour.

"She was going to be a sort of low-life Sun journalist, a gutter-press journalist. And Ruby Wax, who was the script editor, said 'oh you should see Joanna Lumley, she's really funny'. So she came in for an audition."

After meeting the statuesque blonde, Saunders was inspired to draw on Lumley's own past as a model to create Patsy's story.

"You see someone and you see how they are and you make the character for them. They bring something else to it."

Lumley adds: "She'd forgotten to tell me it was supposed to be a low-life journalist, she'd forgotten to put that part in. I didn't know what I was doing."

After 25 years, five seasons and a host of special appearances as Patsy and Eddie, both women know exactly what they're doing. To the point where another television series held no interest.

The idea of a film Absolutely Fabulous had been floating around for some time, with rumours regularly surfacing in the British press.
The idea of a film Absolutely Fabulous had been floating around for some time, with rumours regularly surfacing in the British press.

"People kept saying 'where are they? We need another television series' and there wasn't really going to be a television series," Lumley says.

The idea of a film had been floating around for some time, with rumours regularly surfacing in the British press. Eventually, Saunders' agent insisted she either do it or shut the rumours down.

And although the film shares the spirit and silliness of the original series, making it was a very different process.

"It's totally different because you don't have the rehearsal process, there are a lot more people to make happy so you get a lot of notes," Saunders says.

"It's shot out of sequence and takes some weeks to do rather than two hours," Lumley adds.

But although the film doesn't feature the live audience of the TV series, it does feature just about everyone else. Every core cast member returned for the big-screen version, along with a host of former guest stars and celebrity cameos, including Kate Moss, Gwendoline Christie, Joan Collins and more.

As always, it is a female-centric affair. But despite female-led comedy having become a major talking point in Hollywood recently, Saunders says she never set out to wave a flag.

"We were just making it funny," she says. Rather, the set-up and stories were inspired by those around them at the time.

After 25 years, five seasons and a host of special appearances as Patsy Stone and Edina Monsoon, both women know exactly what they're doing.
After 25 years, five seasons and a host of special appearances as Patsy Stone and Edina Monsoon, both women know exactly what they're doing.

"There was a lot of bonkersness around in the 90s. There was a lot of madness. We didn't make that up, that was happening. We just made it excessive. But it was based on what we saw," Saunders says.

Men just happened to be peripheral to those stories.

"I mean, you have the ex-husbands coming in and out. Saffy nearly got married once, but to be honest, they live in a female-centric world.

"They had a couple of escorts once," she remembers gleefully. "One was Idris Elba. We discovered him! It's my favourite line of Patsy's when she sits on Idris Elba's knee and says 'Has anyone ever told you you look like Sean Connery?'"

Lumley adds: "Romance has no part in this show, which I think is a relief to everybody. I think everybody's sick of romance."

Instead, it's their enduring friendship that drives the story. Both on and off the screen.

Low down

Who: Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley
What: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
When: In cinemas todayEdina and Patsy with guest star Emma Bunton.

- TimeOut

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