Jack Whitehall: ‘Two stars from the Guardian, that’s the aim’

Jack Whitehall’s career as a comedian and actor took off 10 years ago with two TV shows: Channel 4’s Fresh Meat, in which he played posh boy JP, and the BBC sitcom Bad Education, which he wrote and starred in. Now he reprises his Bad Education role, the rogue teacher Alfie Wickers, for a one-off Christmas special that reunites most of the original cast. The 34-year-old Whitehall recently created a celebrity interview podcast on Audible, Safe Space, and last year starred in the movies Jungle Cruise, with Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, and Clifford the Big Red Dog. He lives in London with his girlfriend, model Roxy Horner.

When we see teacher Alfie Wickers again, he’s duct-taped to the whiteboard, being abused by his students. That looked very realistic – was it?
Yeah, that was real.

And when the tape’s removed, you crash pretty heavily to the ground. Was that painful?
Maybe what’s happened there is that I’ve got too used to being on sets of films where they have vast budgets. And if you are willing to do your own stunt, you are very, very safe because they’ve thrown a lot of money to make sure you cannot hurt yourself. So yeah, that was certainly one where I was like: “If we’ve got it on the first take, I think we should maybe move on.”

I do think it helps if you throw yourself under the bus a few times

Do you generally do your own stunts then?
Yeah, I did all my own stunts on Jungle Cruise. My poor stunt guy as well, I felt so sorry for him, it was the most awkward moment ever at the end of the shoot. Dwayne Johnson surprised his stuntman by giving him the keys to this amazing Chevrolet truck. He handed them over to him in front of all of the cast and crew, and this huge guy from Hawaii is almost in tears. And I looked over at mine and I was like: “I’m really sorry, but I’ve got you a candle. It’s a nice candle, it’s a four-wicker, but I just need you to know in case you think you’re getting any kind of vehicle.”

Did that inspire the scene in Bad Education: Reunion where Alfie thinks one of his ex-pupils has given him a flash car?
No, that’s a genuine thing that happened to my dad [Michael Whitehall]. He was the agent to the actor Peter Bowles, and after Peter had been doing a couple of series of To the Manor Born, he went to my dad’s office and said: “Michael, I just want to thank you so much for getting me this job. It’s changed my life. And if you just wander over to the window, there’s a surprise that I want to show you on the street.” And he walked over and there was this white Rolls-Royce parked outside and my dad was like: “Oh my god, Peter, I’m so grateful.” And Peter said: “No, no, the car’s not for you. I just wanted to show you that because of you getting me such a good deal, I’ve now been able to afford a Rolls-Royce!”

The concept of your podcast, Safe Space, is that if you talk about the most embarrassing things that happen to you, you feel better. Is that really true?
Yeah, there have been a couple [of episodes] – Jameela Jamil and Emily Atack – and afterwards I was like: “Well, their PRs are going to get in touch, aren’t they?” And we waited and they didn’t. But I do think it helps if you throw yourself under the bus a few times. Like: “No matter what you’ve done, I’ve probably done something worse. Let’s just get it all out there!”

In the episode with Judd Apatow, you talk about having been “a manchild” in the past. Will you ever stop doing embarrassing things?
I’m definitely more conscious of it. Even today, on the This Morning sofa, when I told a story to Alison Hammond and Dermot O’Leary about getting drunk and throwing up in the back a taxi, there was a voice in my head going: “Are you too old to be doing material like this? That’s something that you can probably boast about when you’re in your 20s, but you’re 34 years old now. And you’re on This Morning: it’s certainly not going to be impressing any of their demographic. Come up with some more erudite material, please.”

You are back doing work-in-progress standup shows. What material are you drawn to at the moment?
Well, [the show] came from just going on a particularly funny holiday with my girlfriend, and then building up this routine, essentially about going on safari with her. But parallel to that I’d like to do a show that maybe has a little bit more substance to it. Again, trying to mature as a comedian, make sure that there’s a little bit more purpose to the comedy in it. I’d love to get two stars from the Guardian. That’s the aim.

Whitehall with Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson in a scene from Jungle Cruise.
Whitehall with Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson in a scene from Jungle Cruise. Photograph: Disney/AP

Two stars? What do you normally get?
Well, I’ve got five stars from the Guardian, but it’s been over the course of 10 years and five reviews. But I still count that as five stars from the Guardian.

Do you see your career mainly in Hollywood from now on?
Last time I was in LA, I was told there were two really good projects that I’d been earmarked for. One of them was to play a Chippendales stripper, and the other one was a heroin addict. And I was like: “Those are two very different assignments. Am I going to the gym? Or should I maybe go and try to find a shady-looking gentleman on a street corner? See if I can go method for that part.” And I didn’t get either of them, so that’s fine. I didn’t have to hit the gym or take up crack.

  • Bad Education: Reunion is on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer on 15 December, 9pm, followed by series four in January