He’s revolutionised children’s TV and made eating apples cool. Kelly Apter talks to LazyTown Live’s Magnús Scheving, the man determined to get kids moving.
If you ever bump into Magnus Scheving in the street, one thing’s for certain – he won’t snub you. As the creator, producer and star of TV sensation, LazyTown, Scheving knows a certain amount of responsibility comes with the territory. He also remembers the crushing disappointment of meeting one of his own heroes. ‘When I was a little boy I went to a show starring a guy who was an icon for kids in Iceland at the time,’ recalls Scheving. ‘Afterwards I waited a long time in the freezing cold to see him, but he just walked straight past and didn’t even look at us – I never forgot it.’
Starting life as a series of books and live shows in Iceland, LazyTown the TV show has gone on to air in over 100 countries, while last year’s live production was the best-selling children’s theatre show in the UK and sold out faster than U2 in Mexico City. Despite such global success, Scheving stands by his philosophy that it’s the children, not the stars, who matter most.
‘If you’re working with kids you have to understand that it’s more than just a job,’ he says. ‘I spent four years playing Sportacus in the live shows in Iceland and after every single performance I went out and met all the kids. Even if we did three shows a day and I was tired, because it’s really important to the children and they remember it for the rest of their lives.’
When 44-year-old Scheving first launched LazyTown in 1991, he had already carved out a successful career as a medal-winning athlete and fitness club owner. What made him turn his attention to the health and well-being of the younger generation instead?
‘I realised that there were no role models for kids – just Popeye, but he smokes and hits people,’ says Scheving. ‘And I thought it would be better to have another option. So I spoke to a lot of parents and kids and found out that there are basically seven issues for anyone who wants to raise healthy kids: to be safe, educated, eat right, be able to follow rules, share things, not lie and cheat, and get enough sleep. So I created the LazyTown characters around that.’
After the success of last year’s all-singing, all-dancing live show, Scheving has created another theatrical blockbuster LazyTown Live: The Pirate Adventure. This time, devious Robbie Rotten has made the heroic Sportacus lose his memory. So that rather than promoting ‘sports candy’ (fruit and veg), Sportacus thinks he’s an ice-cream salesman. With the help of Stephanie, the kids of LazyTown and, of course, the audience, Sportacus remembers who he really is.
One of the biggest achievements of LazyTown, both on screen and stage, is its ability to appeal to both sexes, but for different reasons. ‘For girls LazyTown is a music show and for boys it’s an action show,’ says Scheving. ‘While for parents it’s a tool to help them raise healthy kids. So it means different things to different people. I’m very proud that the audience is made up of 50/50 boys and girls – that was a real challenge and took a lot of homework.’
LazyTown Live! The Pirate Adventure, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Wed 25 Feb–Sun 1 Mar.