When Donald Trump kicked a crying baby out of one his rallies, Peter Serafinowicz rubbed his hands together and got to work.
The comedian’s latest project, a YouTube series called Sassy Trump, takes the Republican nominee’s actual words and redubs them in a sassy voice that perfectly matches the man’s curiously effete mannerisms – his dainty pointing gestures and scathing, catty insults. It’s a simple idea, but it’s been thunderously popular online, with the videos garnering millions of views.
“He’s a goldmine,” says Serafinowicz, an imposing and stately figure in person, like a big tree granted life by a mischievous wizard. “I don’t think many people had really noticed this aspect of him, but it’s all just right there in front of you. I turned the volume down on one of his speeches and suddenly noticed this totally different person. It’s like he’s this camp, bitchy, failed choreographer.”
The Sassy Trump series is peculiar in its comic appeal, bringing into sharp focus the horrible car crash quality of a typical Trump speech, right down to the garbled wording and off-kilter delivery. It’s often difficult to get your head around the fact Serafinowicz hasn’t tampered with the script.
“That’s the thing,” he says, “nobody can quite believe he’s saying this stuff. When Trump told that mum to take her baby out of the room in this horrible, bitchy way, it was so outrageous and silly. Revoicing it not only points out his ridiculous, campy buffoonery, it also reminds you that he really said this. And this is the guy who is the Republican nominee for President of the United States of America. This man. This man!”
Reflecting Trump’s words back at him requires a level of commitment, and Serafinowicz now forces himself to watch every speech, every debate, every rally. As a result he feels he’s gained some insight into the nuances of Trump’s personality.
“He’s the bitchiest person you’ve ever seen in your life, he’s so offended and so vain and vindictive and vicious. He’s fascinating. And although I really do love making these videos, the downside of it – apart from the destruction of planet Earth if he actually gets the job – is that I have to watch every fucking speech that he does. And it’s a really lonely life.”
The comedian recalls another speech, and then another, becoming more animated and despairing as Trump’s words swirl around his brain uninvited. “The hairspray thing,” he says, finally landing on a favourite. “He talked about hairspray in front of a load of miners in Kentucky. He compared the decline in the quality of hairspray to the situation of the miners and the safety regulations they have to deal with in the mines.
“It’s baffling. But because he continually says these ridiculous things, one is replaced with another, day after day after day, and you become desensitised. You don’t realise that he’s actually saying all of this. There is a man on a stage who is actually saying these things.
Serafinowicz has always an eye and an ear for the absurd. His sprawling IMDB page meanders through science-fiction and comedy, flitting from the BBC to Hollywood. As an actor he’s provided the voice of Darth Maul in Star Wars, and played the role of Garthan Saal in Guardians of the Galaxy. More recently he played the eponymous superhero in the pilot of a rebooted live-action series of The Tick. He’s also appeared alongside Simon Pegg in Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, and in 2002 co-wrote the cult comedy TV series Look Around You with Robert Popper, a maniacally dark, entirely straight-faced spoof of early 1970s school science videos.
His malleable and sonorous vocal chords have also led him to voice-over work in videogames. When we met, he’d just finished recording the dialogue of MacCready in science-fiction RPG Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Before that he’d worked on the notoriously masochistic game Dark Souls, insofar as every grunt and groan of exertion the otherwise mute main character makes was provided by Serafinowicz.
Playing that game now, he tells me, is a profoundly unsettling experience.
“Videogame voice-acting is such a weird job. It differs from normal voice work in that, with each conversation, you have these big branching dialogue trees and multiple ways that the conversation can go if the player decides to do something that your character doesn’t particularly like.
“I mean, there’s a point in the game where my character finishes a conversation with the player and says, okay, off you pop, start doing your mission. But the player can choose to hang about in the office, to stand on my character’s desk and jump around the place. So we had to record all of these bizarre lines you’d say to somebody who came into your office and just wouldn’t leave: ‘why are you still here? Please, go, you’re freaking me out.’”
But as strange as Serafinowicz finds the world of videogame voice-overs, it’s nothing compared to Sassy Trump, which might end up being his most enduring creation. “He’s such an idiot,” Serafinowicz chuckles, half fondly, and half with the kind of deep existential despair that can only come from watching hundreds of hours of Donald Trump speeches.