John Cleese will have to amend one of his most famous catchphrases – his classic line from the sitcom Fawlty Towers: “Don’t mention the war!” In one of the most legally tricky film projects of next year the comedian will appear alongside stars of Baywatch but – due to rights issues – is barred from uttering the name of the iconic Nineties television show. Don’t mention the Baywatch.
Cleese, who is taking part in a long sell-out run of the live show Monty Python Live (mostly) at London’s O2 arena, is back in big demand. His part in the film The B-Team – in which David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson are expected to appear – is as a classic British villain, living in on a yacht in the Mediterranean. The film, which was originated by former Baywatch stars Alexandra Paul and Jaason Simmons, is being shot by British director Chris Cottam.
Baywatch ran for 11 seasons between 1989 and 2001 and made global stars of the cast. The idea behind the film came from the many international film events the actors attended in the company of foreign dignitaries at the end of the Cold War period. They could have – the script suggests – been working undercover for the CIA.
The problem is that – although the famous red swimsuits do feature – without the production rights to Baywatch, any mention of the famous series must be censored by an explosion or the knocking over of an expensive vase.
“It becomes a running joke,” said Cottam. “It’s a comic device that gets us through a lot of issues.”
He said the Baywatch cast showed a level; of self-deprecation that audiences might not associate with California-based actors. “There are mentions of rehab and boob jobs and ages and The B-Team is a joke about B-List actors – it’s quite refreshing,” he said. “But this was a massive show in the Nineties and they are fundamentally good actors who are still well-known today.”
Cottam is also the director of Evermoor, the first Disney live action series to be shot in the UK, which will launch in the autumn and be shown in 160 countries.
In The B-Team the actors take on a crime-busting role more closely associated with Eighties series Charlie’s Angels and are assigned to thwarting Cleese’s character (Victor Van Vaught), who has grasped the technological powers required to launch an arsenal of nuclear rockets.
The movie, which aims to capture some of the irreverence of the Austin Powers film series, is being shot in Eastern Europe and Italy.
“The B Team is an action comedy with some reality thrown in,” said Ms Paul (who played Stephanie Holden in the series). “We play ourselves, so the audience might not know what is true-to-life and what is made up for the movie. And that is exactly what we want. Were we really agents for the US government during our heyday? The CIA has used famous people as spies before.”
Fremantle Media North America, the company which owns the rights to Baywatch, said it did not wish to comment.
Ms Paul said the process of gathering the film cast had been made easier because “about five years ago, a bunch of us from different years of Baywatch started hanging out more and more”. Among that group, only Jeremy Jackson (who played Hobie Buchannon, son of Mitch, David Hasselhoff’s character) had worked with everyone else. “But we are bonded by shared experiences and we had all met each other doing various publicity things over the years.”
After Baywatch, Paul, who has performed in more than 70 films and TV shows, went on to become an endurance athlete, completing an Ironman Triathlon, and a political activist, campaigning for animal rights.
Now 50, she said The B-Team was not about trying to recreate the series that made the cast famous. “This movie is about taking the piss out of ourselves and going behind that one dimensional image people have of actors they see on TV,” she said.
Asked how difficult it had been to keep the name Baywatch out of the script, she said: “We play ourselves so there are going to be assumptions the television show in question is the one we actually all were on. But no, it most definitely is not. It is not. Not. Shall I say that again?”