Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly won’t be going back to their roots anytime soon after a movie effectively ‘ended’ their acting careers.
The cheeky Geordie duo are best known for their presenting talents, having won Most Popular TV Presenter at the National Television Awards for the last 20 years.
They have delighted both kids and adults while hosting massively popular shows such as SM:TV Live, Pop Idol, I’m A Celebrity, Britain’s Got Talent and Saturday Night Takeaway.
But before all that, and their peculiar music career, Ant and Dec found early fame as actors on Byker Grove.
Dec joined the cast of the teen drama series as Duncan in 1989, while Ant got the role of PJ a year later having gained TV experience on children’s series Why Don’t You?.
“We didn’t particularly like each other at first, I thought he was miserable,” confessed Dec on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in 2006.
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“We’ve rowed a few times – we’re quite competitive,” added Ant, who said they would not got as far in their careers without each other.
After leaving Byker in 1993, the pair started making music under their character names, PJ & Duncan, leading to their first appearance on Top of the Pops in 1994 with debut hit Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble.
They released 16 singles and three studio albums, struggling in the UK charts but getting a number-one single in Germany, before returning to TV full time in 1997.
After years of presenting, the lads decided to get back into the acting game and hit the big screen in 2006 British comedy Alien Autopsy.
The movie was a spoof reconstruction of the 1995 alien scandal involving Ray Santilli and Gary Shoefield, who claimed to have discovered footage of an alien that crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.
“I think if anybody ever wanted to have a go, or criticise, this would be the opportunity,” Ant said after he and Dec were selected for the roles.
“But you’ve got to take risks and you’ve got to challenge yourself.”
The lads were cast against their usual TV roles in the film, which was refreshing for audiences to see, while also starring acclaimed Independence Day actor Bill Pullman and comedy favourite Omid Djalili.
Bespectacled Ant transformed into the serious character of Shoefield, while Dec played the rough and loud Santilli.
The film was a moderate commercial success domestically, reaching number 3 in the British box office chart, but reportedly only made £2.5m against an estimated budget of £5m.
It was a mixed bag with audiences, receiving a 50% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but got a bit of a panning from the critics.
James Christopher in The Times labelled the movie “an utterly dismal attempt to craft a post-modern spoof out of a 60-year-old hoax”.
While The Independent critic Anthony Quinn, who was equally unimpressed, wrote: “Ant and Dec may be the princelings of prime-time TV but they’re barely peasant-level in the big-screen stakes.”
And the BBC’s Neil Smith declared that the film was “too banal for adults, too gruesome for kids”.
Despite the mixed reviews, Ant revealed they loved making the movie and had a “great time” while speaking at the premiere at Newcastle’s The Gate.
“We went through a period of being sent a lot of film scripts and a lot were pretty bad. This one came in, our manager said ‘I’ve read it, it’s really interesting’,” Ant told the Newcastle Chronicle at the time.
“Normally they say you should read 10 pages and if not gripped by it chuck it in the bin. Before I knew it I was on page 15 and I finished it.
“I rang Ant and said you have to read it, it’s a great story. Unlike many of the other scripts, it had two male leads in it, which was very rare.
“Also what was so good about it is it was based on a true and I was intrigued by it back then.”
Ant and Dec had seemingly prepared themselves for the worst and accepted it might be he only time they delved into
“This might be the only movie we ever make, the only premiere we ever have, so we just decided to enjoy it,” Donnelly said before the film’s screening in Leicester Square.
“We’re signed to ITV to 2007 so certainly until the end of then we’ll still be working on our TV projects. We wanted to see how this went and if viewers can think of us as these characters. If things come in, then we’ll look at them but we’re certainly not going to launch an assault on Tinseltown.”
Usually everything they touch turns to gold, but Alien Autopsy isn’t the only dubious part of their CVs.
They would also probably rather forget their ill-fated gameshow Red or Black, which was surrounded by a lot of hype and claims of the largest cash prize ever handed out in the UK.
Masterminded by their old boss Simon Cowell, the controversial 2011 series was accused of glamourising gambling and the format of competing in a number of challenges before gambling it all on ‘red or black’ confused viewers.
Addressing the backlash, Ant told The Sun: “We kind of figured it was a Saturday night show. We all got that wrong and hold our hands up to that.
“When we had a winner on the first night, we all got back to our dressing room and said, ‘We shouldn’t be doing this again tomorrow, it should be weekly.’
“And we had some unfortunate situations with some of the contestants, which overshadowed the show, probably disproportionately.”
Despite the backlash, the show returned to ITV the following year with some major changes, including a new £3.5million prize pot, but was scrapped after that run.
After almost a decade of swerving the gameshow format, Ant and Dec are now back with new ITV series Limitless Win.
The five-part series sees contestants answer increasingly challenging questions while ascending a money ladder that never ends with each right answer.
While being excited for the show to start, the pair revealed their main concern was putting ITV out of pocket because the contestants can win an infinite amount.
The lads jokingly suggested they would have to cancel Tipping Point and The Chase to take all their prize money, or get some from daytime TV competition host Andi Peters.
“We had sleepless nights beforehand and we thought, ‘Are we gonna bankrupt ITV?’ because there is no limit on what you can win,” Ant revealed to The Sun.
Dec added: “When you turn the light off at night there’s that little thing that goes off in your head that goes, ‘What if someone just keeps winning – what are you going to do?’ I don’t know what would happen.”
Ant and Dec’s Limitless Win airs tonight on ITV at 8.30pm
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