Being Sid Squirrel: A Conversation with 101 Dalmatian Street’s Doc Brown
Beginning life as underground rapper Doc Brown, Ben Bailey Smith has diversified profoundly, moving into mainstream TV and Film acting, stand up, screen writing and children’s books. He has a host of notable television performances under his belt including a starring role in ITV’s Law & Order, C4’s The Inbetweeners and Derek, BBC thriller Hunted, BBC comedies Rev, Miranda, Fleabag, Russell Howard’s Good News, Live at the Apollo and ITV’s Midsomer Murders, and is highly regarded for his ongoing work with Ricky Gervais.
He starred in the 2016 Gervais movie David Brent: Life on the Road, and received huge accolades for a major dramatic role in the ITV1 hit drama Brief Encounters. He has also written music for the movies Attack The Block and Quartet.
Smith will be appearing in more dramatic roles in season two of Britannia for Sky Atlantic and Cleaning Up, starring alongside Sheridan Smith for ITV.
Smith also boasts a wide following amongst children, starring in and writing for the cult CBBC animation Strange Hill High and creating and co-writing the BAFTA winning Four O’Clock Club on CBBC, now into its fifth series. He again proved a hit for children with an unforgettable cameo in David Walliams film adaptation of the bestselling book Ratburger, for Sky One. He has hosted the Children’s BAFTAs for the last four years and is a patron of The Children’s Society.
His first children’s book, the Walker/Candlewick-published I Am Bear is on sale worldwide and been an instant hit with critics and readers alike. The follow up, Bear Moves, will be released in February 2019. He has a third picture book called Get A Move On! Due to be released by Bloomsbury in 2019 and is currently working on a novel for 8-11 year olds.
Late in 2016 Smith hosted the BAFTAs in Los Angeles, entertaining the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Tom Hanks, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence and more.
In 2017 Smith recorded an hour-long stand up special for the BBC which aired in March and toured the world opening for long-time collaborator Gervais. He also found a new dedicated audience as a regular understudy for Simon Mayo on the lauded BBC 5Live Film Show Wittertainment.
In our interview, Doc Brown discusses his new exciting role as Sid Squirrel in 101 Dalmatian Street…
What is 101 Dalmatian Street about?
101 Dalmatian Street, I guess the clue is in the name. Its inspired by the classic Dodi Smith book 101 Dalmatians, which the whole world knows about and it is a classic Disney film cartoon as well.
This is an animated series that bring the story bang up to date. It’s in contemporary London and the story follows the two eldest siblings Dolly and Dylan and their 97 brothers and sisters on their exploits. and it’s really is an ongoing tale of family and friendships in contemporary London
Can you describe the characters?
I provide the voice for two characters, Sid the Squirrel and Spencer the Sausage Dog. Sid is kind of a crazy, a high-energy little critter who is very athletic. He’s a bit of a parkour expert or at least fancies himself as one and he is absolutely obsessed with the hording and eating of nuts. In fact, nuts can make him pretty wild, he can really lose it if he gets a good selection of nuts or just in the hunt for nuts.
As well as Sid, I also play a Sausage Dog called Spencer and he is quite a sarky, snarky, snobby dog. He fancies himself as having certain airs and graces even though he’s very much the sidekick of Portia the Poodle. He’s definitely got his nose in the air, even though his belly is so close to the ground. He thinks he’s the business.
Can you tell us about one of the episodes that you feature in?
In the episode Crushed Out we discover that Dylan has a major crush on Portia the Poodle and Spender is Portia’s side-kick and he follows her around wherever she goes.
What attracted you to be part of 101 Dalmatian Street?
When I was a small child, my dream was to voice cartoons and to one-day voice animated movies. It was the first thing I ever wanted to do and I never actually believed that I’d ever do it. But the way my life ended up, I have somehow given myself a great chance of doing it. Its not something that has just come out of the blue, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d voiced a couple of cartoons before this one and done quite a bit of voice work and this was an opportunity to get right back into it what I love the most.
Can you tell us about London’s role in the show?
The series just like the original story is set in London. In the original story there’s loads of famous London landmarks which for me was as small boy was a very attractive thing. Because obviously I could look out of my window and see some of the same things they referenced in the film and this is no different, except that its modern day London. So hopefully a lot more kids will recognise it, even if they’ve never been, it’s beautiful to see some parts of my city reflected on film or even in animation.
What is it that attracted you to be part of the show of children’s shows?
I’ve been watching children’s shows since I was a child and haven’t stopped, because about 10 years ago I created my own children’s show, a television show and that kind of got me, my start in show business. So children’s TV is a huge part of my life and since then having had children of my own, I’ve got back to watching children’s television again from the toddler stage, all the way up to now – my eldest is 13. So I’ve seen every level of children’s show over the past decade or so, so it’s always exciting when I get the opportunity to be involved in the creation of children’s television. Mainly because the quality, the standard of children’s TV is better now than it ever has been. So it’s great to be part of.
Are you more like Spencer or Sid?
I’m definitely more like Sid than Spencer, I’d like to think I’m not that much like either of them, I’m not obsessed with nuts and I hope I’m nobody’s sidekick.
Sid is obsessed with nuts? Do you have any obsessions?
I guess the only thing I’m mildly obsessed with, similar to Sid is football. The playing of it and watching of it. I can’t do Parkour like Sid, he can jump up and down and climb up anything. My arms just won’t hold the weight of my own body, so no comparison there.
Are you part of a big messy family like the Dalmatians?
I’m definitely part of a big messy family, loud and messy definitely. We can destroy a room in seconds. That hasn’t changed much in having my own family and my own kids. We can tidy and the door can swing shut, swing open and it is bedlam.
Do you enjoy doing voice-over work and if so, why?
I’d say doing voice work is my favourite element of my work in terms of acting and performance by a country-mile really. It’s the most relaxed, it has the best people to work with. You can really experiment as a performer and really mess around and push your voice and do things you could never do as a normal actor, just because you don’t look right. I don’t look like a sausage dog, at least I hope I don’t – but I can play one in the world of voiceover. It’s a beautiful thing, plus you can come to work in your pyjamas and there’s not many jobs you can say that for.
How do you prepare to play a squirrel or a sausage dog?
The main thing when it comes to finding the voice for your characters is seeing pictures of them to begin with, that’s the very first thing. You see a picture of them and then you get a sense of whether they have a big burly voice or a little tiny voice, high pitch, low pitch and then from there you just play around. It’s important at that point to have other people in the room who can give their opinion. So something like this, it’s a comedy, you can do various silly things and see what sticks. Also you can do one really silly voice, try it out and its funny for a moment and you realise a hundred episodes later that it’s just really annoying. So that initial process is quite important, but it’s also one of the most fun parts as anything could work. It might not, but it might and that’s quite an exciting thing to be part of.
Were there characters you used to mimic as a kid? (fantastic impressions)
I used to copy all sorts of voices off-the-telly that I’d seen, some which I found easy to imitate and others which I was so confused by, how they existed, that I spent hours – and this is when I was about six, seven years old trying to mimic them.
I watched a lot of Sesame Street (in the style of Kermit the Frog) I was able to pick up on Kermit the Frog really early and it was a case of squeezing the back of my throat.
And then there were other ones like Donald Duck, I couldn’t understand how a person, a human being had created that voice, it took me forever and by the time I was seven I was able to (in the style of Donald Duck) Oh boy, oh boy oh boy and do things like that.
If you were a dog, what would you be and why?
If I was a dog, I would be anyone of those pedigree laps, any type of dog that can essentially get away without walking, be carried, dressed up, fed very very upgrade luxury foods – I’d be one of those. Not a fighting dog or a walking or a running dog, definitely not.
Have you ever had a dog?
Never had a dog, always wanted one. I am a cat person, which I think is a mistake in hindsight Because, dogs really love you back and cats, not so much.
How familiar were with 101 Dalmatians?
It’s impossible to not be familiar with 101 Dalmatians, it’s like a real Disney classic, it’s one of the big ones. I meet people all the time who haven’t seen Fox and the Hound or Robin Hood, obviously I have many many times. I like a lot of people was a Disney Fanatic as a kid, so 101 Dalmatians was right up there for me. Being a Londoner as well, having Hampstead Heath in there, I grew up not too far away – I knew the places they were talking about. There are so many things from the original story that stayed with me, for my whole life. The idea of this twilight bark and dogs being able to send information across the country when there’s an emergency. Those sorts of fantasy things that felt like they could be in the real world, always was a hook for me. I also loved the idea that Rodger one of the owners to Pongo and Pediter – he was their human, rather than them being his dogs. I loved that.
What’s your favourite Disney animated film?
It’s impossible to pick out one Disney film. So many of them have such a huge baring on me. I honestly couldn’t pick. I could list you my favourites. I love Robin Hood. I love Finding Nemo. I love Moana so much. Princess and The Frog is massively up there for me. I mean where do you stop? I could list 15 easily, so I’m going to do that, we’ll be here all day
Did you or do you watch the Disney Channel?
I do watch the Disney Channel, believe it or not – mainly because I have two daughters and they were obsessed with Jessie. I’ve watched an unbelievable amount of Jessie and I’ve watched the spin-offs as well. There is one set in Camp Kikiwaka, which I’ve watched way too much of. I’ve actually watched children in those shows actors become young adults. That’s how long I’ve been watching it for.
The series is set in London; you are from London – where do you consider home?
To me home is Willesden Green, its where I grew up and where I live now. That’s the gateway to the northwest of London, So I spent a lot of time on Hampstead Heath as kid, as I still do now. Which features quite heavily in the original story. It’s quite nice to have a landmark like that in such a universal film.
What are your favourite childhood memories growing up in London?
Going to the lido at Parliament Hill, I remember the first time I moved house, when I was about eight or nine picking out my room was really exciting in Willesden. My primary school was incredible. My primary school in Queens Park, I absolutely loved every minute of it, a lot of memories around north-west London I guess. The first time of going to Tower of London as well, that was awesome.
101 DALMATIAN STREET AIRS ON DISNEY CHANNEL, MONDAY TO THURSDAY AT 5PM