Stephen Merchant: "I was terrified of Christopher Walken catching COVID on my watch"

25 October 2021, 21:01

Merchant has been telling Ed Gamble and Matthew Crosby how looking after the icon during filming of his new series The Outlaws in Bristol "had him on a knife edge".

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Stephen Merchant's new series The Outlaws starts this week (Monday 25 October), which sees the writer and director star alongside movie icon Christopher Walken.

The show - in which a group of strangers on community service get mixed up with some really serious criminals - was shot on location in Merchant's home town of Bristol... which caused a few nervous moments regarding the health and safety of the iconic 78-year-old star of The Deer Hunter and Pulp Fiction.

"I was so terrified of him catching COVID on my watch," Merchant told Radio X's Ed Gamble and Matthew Crosby. "It was difficult filming under those circumstances anyway, but particularly got an icon that you're responsible for.

"Every day I was sort of on a knife edge. Every time it looked like someone was going to sneeze, I'd kind of jump in front of Walken like I was saving the President from a bullet. I was just on tenterhooks all the time."

Christopher Walken in The Outlaws
Christopher Walken in The Outlaws. Picture: BBC

"We'd done so much to protect him," he went on. "We'd given him security and he was being shepherded from his hotel to the set and then back again... Everyone was in masks, with all this distancing.

"I turn round one day and I notice right at the edge of the set, he's just got his arm around some local Bristolian and they're just doing selfies!

"I rushed over there and pulled him away and said, 'Chris, what are you doing?' He said, 'Oh he's a fan, he tracked down where we were filming and he's brought me a bottle of Jim Beam'."

Stephen Merchant in his new BBC series The Outlaws
Stephen Merchant in his new BBC series The Outlaws. Picture: BBC

Despite never having drunk Jim Beam in his life, Walken apparently accepted the gift anyway, much to the puzzlement of Steve.

He said: "I feel like a Bristolian had walked into a Poundland and gone, 'What would you buy an American film star? A tin of hot dogs? No, probably a bottle of Jim Beam.

"So for a week I was waiting for the symptoms to break out - because this Bristolian guy... he was obviously not taking care of himself. He was wearing flip flips in February!"

Luckily the veteran actor managed to avoid COVID, completed filming and returned home safely.

Stephen Merchant's Outlaws is available to watch on BBC One or iPlayer.

Ed Gamble and Matthew Crosby's Radio X show is every Sunday morning at 8am. Listen to their latest podcast episodes below or on Global Player.

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