JOANNA LUMLEY AS PATSY AND JENNIFER SAUNDERS AS EDINA IN ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE.
Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone are awful, horrible, craven people. No two women in the galaxy are more rampantly mad, consistently rude, relentlessly outré, and indisputably hilarious as the characters on BBC’s long-running comedy Absolutely Fabulous. God, they are magnificent.
What Ab Fab creator, co-star, and brilliant sketch comedian Jennifer Saunders gives us with her portrayal of Eddy, a slacker mom and PR agent who never got her clients so much as a blurb, is all our dysfunctional, can’t-have-it-all fears turned into living art. In tandem with Joanna Lumley’s forever drunk and dismissive Patsy, the glossy magazine editor who sends her staff into shock when/if she shows up in the office, these two thoroughly unbearable hags are all of us on our worst days, squared—and we love them for it.
Saunders has been promising or threatening the return of Patsy and Eddy for years. And now, finally, they are here with Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, out July 22. But just to make sure you remember it’s all about them, the new movie begins with Eddy accidentally killing Kate Moss. I can’t wait.
HAL RUBENSTEIN: What the hell took you so long? All us Ab Fab fans have been starved for laughs and waiting for what seems like forever.
JENNIFER SAUNDERS: The thing is, we do a lot of other things, you see. We had a lot of gardening to do. And lives, we have lives!
RUBENSTEIN: And how rare—all these years later—to have assembled the entire original cast.
JOANNA LUMLEY: Easy peasy. Everyone said yes at once.
RUBENSTEIN: The lives you made world famous as Patsy and Eddy were blatantly superficial, unrepentantly hedonistic, nonstop indulgent, and, above all, deliciously insolent. Whether the target was high or low, young or old, sweet or caustic, you let everyone have it. But it’s now 2016, and society has become, oh, perhaps a little thin-skinned, shall we say. Did Patsy and Edina have to shift their gears a little?
SAUNDERS: Yes, I certainly found that both in writing it and in trying to get it made, it is really easy to offend these days. And people who take offense aren’t merely offended; they create a forum. And they have other people who can then join them and sign a petition about being offended. So it is a very different climate than the one we started in.
RUBENSTEIN: Do you think the original show would have trouble launching today?
SAUNDERS: I really do. But people have to remember, Patsy and Eddy are not supposed to be nice. The whole idea is that they are offensive. And our humor is so physical as well. Growing up, we were big I Love Lucy fans, and Lucille Ball has a massive influence on us. I mean, Joanna is an amazing clown. We’re making fools of ourselves. We’re not role models. The reason the show became such a hit is that people never lost sight of that.
RUBENSTEIN: How has Patsy changed over the years, besides the fact that she claims she hasn’t eaten anything since 1973?
LUMLEY: Patsy’s insides are virtually nonexistent, as they have mostly been removed, and she is bathed in the formaldehyde of constant alcoholic refreshment. Her memory is beginning to slip a little, but neither she nor Eddy notices such a trifle. Her cigarette uptake has increased, and she is as ever dependent on Eddy providing her with all she needs.
RUBENSTEIN: Recent changes in the fashion industry have been seismic. Not only is Eddy’s mantra “Lacroix, sweetie!” no longer valid, but the retail market is drowning in every level of merch, social media dominates, apps dominate the way we communicate, and celebrity culture overshadows artistic endeavor.
SAUNDERS: I guess it’s the perfect time to kill off Kate Moss.
LUMLEY: Jennifer thought of that. Jennifer thinks of everything. Well, Patsy is still very serious about fashion, when she can remember which magazine she works for and where her office is.
RUBENSTEIN: Eddy wears a button that reads, “Reality TV makes me sad.”
SAUNDERS: I think the truth is that, as you get older, there’s only so much stuff you can fill your brains with, and Patsy and Eddy are full. The extra stuff doesn’t go in, and it makes them angry. Patsy and Eddy reflect the age, their age, and our age, too. You realize you don’t know who’s on top of the charts. Besides, now it’s iTunes, now it’s something else. You can’t actually keep up. And that’s very frustrating. That’s what the movie is about really. Patsy and Eddy should really be dead or retired, but if you still want to be in it, how do you keep going?
RUBENSTEIN: Patsy and Eddy have wailed about a new disease called the Kardashians that’s spreading like herpes. Does our revamped culture kind of scare you in that way?
SAUNDERS: It doesn’t. Are you scared, Joanna, by the new celebrity culture—of the world?
LUMLEY: Maybe of the new technology, Jennifer, not celebrity culture—we embrace that because we are celebrity culture. We love it. [Saunders and Rubenstein laugh] But new technology, I’m personally completely freaked out by it. I don’t even have a mobile phone.
SAUNDERS: I think Joanna’s ahead of the game here. Because I think this whole idea of digital detox is going to hit off. There will soon be a lot of people going back to a flip phone rather than a smartphone because people don’t want to be working all day long. There is going to be a backlash because it’s become too intrusive. It’s too involving and it’s too public.
LUMLEY: Well, I’m actually behind the game because I’m so lagging. But eventually everyone is going to come full circle and try to catch up with me—so I guess I am ahead of it now.
SAUNDERS: It’s the same as everything else. Wear the same clothes for ten years; it’ll come back in.
LUMLEY: Social media is an addiction and a problem, honestly. In the future, everyone so addicted to it now are going to have children who will look at them and go, “What were you thinking? Putting your whole profile on Facebook. You’re crazy!”
RUBENSTEIN: Speaking of children, the foundation of Ab Fab is the relationship between Eddy and her constantly disapproving daughter, Saffron. In fact, the show started from a short sketch you wrote called “Modern Mother and Daughter.”
SAUNDERS: I always thought it would be about the family and the idea of my self-absorbed generation raising children. Eddy’s being in PR was just a convenient way of representing the modern world, because the idea of everything being promotable and needing to be branded, especially in fashion, had suddenly come up. But Patsy’s and Edina’s jobs were always supposed to be the backdrop for the weird codependency between Eddy and Saffy.
RUBENSTEIN: Because, despite their consistent derision and occasionally contempt for each other’s habits and obsessions …
SAUNDERS: They need each other. It’s even the same with Patsy and Saffy. The whole thing is actually a sort of hideous ménage à trois, really, based exclusively on torture and codependency.
RUBENSTEIN: Patsy once said that when she looks in the mirror, she sees “me looking fabulous!” Eddy said she just sees the room.
SAUNDERS: Yes, I hope that’s pretty far from me. Edina is this representation of an awful lot of neuroses, but I play it out through her, so I don’t have to keep it to myself.
LUMLEY: For me, Patsy is therapy. Patsy is pretty much everything I’m not, a polar opposite [Lumley was, in fact, a Bond girl, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)], which is why it’s such a pleasure to play her. The way that both of them behave is almost like cartoons. They’re kind of unbelievable. Patsy’s asleep, but she is having the best dream.
RUBENSTEIN: Though the show is pure ’90s in attitude and morality, you must be delighted that so many young people are discovering it now.
SAUNDERS: People are getting it from their mothers or whoever in the family watched it before. Also, thank heaven for YouTube. But perhaps what’s helped make the show stay relevant is that it is multigenerational, so there is someone you can always identify with. And now, hopefully, it’ll hit yet another generation.
RUBENSTEIN: If the movie is a hit, are you going to make me wait endlessly again for the next Ab Fab?
LUMLEY: The movie will be a hit. There is no “if” about it. It will be a hit for Eds and Pats, as they starred in it and that is about as good as it gets. Patsy would like Leo DiCaprio to be in future films, as she thinks she may have married him at some stage, and Jon Hamm, who is playing hard to get, and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and Al Pacino and Robert Redford, whom she once slept with she thinks, and Idris Elba. They may make many more films if they feel like it, and if they can get millions up front to party properly then go on a long holiday in the sun.