EXCLUSIVE: On Set With David Tennant And Virgin Media

David Tennant has returned to the Virgin Media sofa in a new advert campaign. The company very kindly invited us along to the set at the start of December to watch David at work as he filmed the latest ad.

Read our exclusive on set report here:

Last summer Virgin Media conducted a rather unseasonably chilly shoot in a cavernous West London warehouse to record a new series of ads for their superfast broadband and TiVo offerings.

“This time they’ve arguably found somewhere even colder” says David Tennant ruefully. He’s stepped away from the set briefly to chat to us in our cosy corner from which we have been watching proceedings, huddled under fleecy blankets and cuddling hot water bottles. “I had no idea you were hiding back here … with your heaters and blankets and hot water bottles…” he adds, eyeing our well-stocked table of sweets, drinks and snacks with something that might be approaching envy. David, despite the cold, is typically perky and fresh-faced. He’s only just rid himself of the Broadchurch stubble, having wrapped on the shoot of the ITV drama a couple of days previously and headed back up the M4 for three days freezing in a disused industrial unit in Middlesex. Today they are concentrating on one of the new TV adverts.

The ad is an exercise in modern filmmaking technology. The three stars have been filmed separately and will meet on screen through some post production wizardry. The previous weekend a small crew flew out to film Usain Bolt in Jamaica and the world’s fastest man was said to be nothing short of charming, obliging, generous with his time and an utter gent. Back in London on Wednesday the ever-dynamic Sir Richard Branson jetted in to the set for a two hour slot ahead of dashing across to Westfield to join Mo Farah for the reopening of the Virgin Media outlet. Now David Tennant is working with green screen and interacting with absent co-stars so that their footage can be joined together for the 40-second narrative.

The amount of people involved is actually quite surprising, considering the length of the finished product. Director, assistant director and star aside, there are, among others, scriptwriters, legal representatives, a make-up artiste, camera, lighting and sound operatives, electricians, technicians and carpenters, members of the Virgin Digital team and even someone to hang on to David’s coat between takes. There are also three lookalikes / stand -ins: one for Usain, a Richard Branson who causes more than one person to double take, and one for David. The three of them all sit together at lunchtime. Those not on the immediate set are, like us, layered up in big coats, hats, scarves and gloves, grouped round halogen heaters and watching the action on high resolution monitors.

It takes a while to set up for each take and the monitors show footage of a Usain Bolt imposter and the real Usain played over and over as techs work to get the perspectives correct. While we wait, the writers come over to explain their part of the process, from the brief to the storyboards to working with the director’s vision to seeing their words and actions realised on the screen in front of them. Between takes David wraps himself in a big puffy coat with a hot water bottle underneath. For this shot, seated on the sofa, he can partially keep his coat on his lower arms and body. He can, he complains, only wear thermal leggings beneath his suit, as a vest would be visible under his white shirt and he is rubbing his hands together to warm them. This take has him reacting to the Bolt imposter, repeating his scripted line several times and then, at the request of the director, ad-libbing some responses. At one point he jerks a thumb towards the bogus Bolt, forgetting that the coat is still over his hands. “Oops, I can’t do that, can I?” he apologises, reluctantly removing the jacket to repeat the line. His ad-libs seem effortless, reducing many of the observers to silent giggles. However, a small hitch sets them back somewhat when it’s noticed that David’s shirt gapes open when he moves. It is swiftly taped up for retakes.

After lunch it’s straight back to work. The stylish, sparse set has now been augmented by the addition of what looks like a large mic stand, arranged and angled to mirror Usain Bolt’s iconic pose. Time is taken to get the height and positioning exactly right as David is required to weave around the frame while delivering his lines. There is some discussion on set about how this will proceed and how the images will be layered together afterwards. “Ooh, the things they can do now!” he muses David, slightly tongue in cheek.  In our monitors we can see the superimposed image of Bolt. David is over six feet tall and it’s not often that you see him dwarfed by anyone, but Bolt still has a few inches of height on him and is broader too, and it looks at times as if the actor will struggle to appear over the sportsman’s shoulder. He tries some takes on wobbly tiptoe. The director asks him to jump while saying his line of Superfast Broadband. “What word do you want while I’m in the air?” asks David “You can have Super or Fast”. He actually manages both. They also bring in an apple crate for him to step onto in order to gain those few crucial inches to make the shot work.

During a brief reset David pops across to our corner to have a quick chat and to check out what we are seeing in our monitor. We muse about the freezing cold and the novelty of seeing him clean shaven after so many weeks of the heavy stubble required for his last job. I ask him how he is getting his cues of where to stand as he can’t possibly be seeing the image of Usain Bolt that we do. He confirms that’s the case. “I have no idea what this is going to look like” he explains. “I just have marks on the frame to tell me where to duck down and go around”. He leans across to point them out on the monitor. “They put it together afterwards by magic”. He’s then called back to the set and is straight back to work, resuming his choreographed movements around the stand. And that’s when we have to leave them, heading out to our transport as the shoot continues on into the evening.

Thank you to Virgin Media for inviting us to be their guests for the day and for making us feel so welcome and looked after. Special thanks to Gill and Mike who were the perfect hosts and to everyone who gave up some of their time to talk to us.

Big thanks too to Ben Reynolds of Fifty6 Media and LDNFashion for inviting us and organising everything and, most importantly, reminding us to bring our gloves!

Watch out for the latest Virgin media ad campaign featuring David Tennant coming soon to your TV screen and computer.


  1. Oh wow, you guys are so lucky!!!! Glad you had a great time! :)

  2. Intresting write up, oh by the way I was the Tennant lookalike (Richard Ashton)you should have poped over to say hi?

  3. That was fun. Thanks for that! :)

  4. Strange fact, I know both Richard who was Tennant's stand in and Daniel who was Bolt's as Daniel and I have a mutual friend and I am a Dr Who cosplayer. I feel a bit like Kevin Bacon. :-P


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