Holly Walsh in conversation with Sophie Willan, Rose Matafeo, Anjana Vasan and Aimee Lou Wood
Holly Walsh: Hello. I think we’re ready to start. Hello, my name is Holly Walsh and welcome to the final BAFTA Television Session of 2022. This is the brilliant Female Performance in a Comedy Programme. The whole series has been celebrating the nominees of this year’s Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards or BAFTAs and the nominees and winners for the British Academy Craft Awards. The Television Sessions are part of BAFTA’s Learning, Inclusion and Talent programme helping to creatively inspire and engage the industry, budding talent and fans alike. Just to add we have two brilliant BSL interpreters with us tonight, Katie and Vicky, who will be signing for us. So a little bit of housekeeping before we begin, please join in the conversation using the hashtag—what’s the word? When it’s a thingy, a pound sign, a hashtag! #VirginMediaBAFTAs and if you’ve got a question there’s a Q&A function on the bottom of this if you understand the technical stuff, congratulations. There’s a sort of chat bit where you can put your questions in and we will be asking our wonderful panel at the end of the session. And if you’re a member of the press, please can you state your name and publication alongside your question. Closed captioning is available now which you can turn on at the bottom of your screen, and there’s a live transcript which you can follow in a separate window, and the link to this is in the chat.
So without further ado, tonight we’ll be celebrating this year’s Female Performance in a Comedy Programme with the nominees as they offer their insight into their process and share their experiences of bringing these captivating characters to life on the screen. They’ll also be offering you the audience the chance to ask some questions. So let us introduce our brilliant panel. In no particular order starting with Sophie Willan, she’s going to pop up.
Sophie Willan: Hello, hello!
HW: There’s Sophie! Rose Matafeo…
Rose Matafeo: I’ve been struck by sunlight, I’m sorry!
HW: My gosh you look heavenly! Honestly you look angelic. Anjana Vasan.
Anjana Vasan: Hello!
HW: It’s going well! Aimee Lou Wood
Aimee Lou Wood: Hello, hi!
HW: A full house! This is really good. Unfortunately, Aisling and Tash can’t be with us tonight, they’re also fellow nominees but they have more important things to do! So screw ‘em we don’t care. No, they’re both filming and very busy. Unfortunately they’re not with us but that just gives us more time with these wonderful people. So I’m just going to start off by asking Rose, I think seeing you dancing down a canal to Return of the Mack is one of the best things I’ve seen this year. But how—do you get PTSD or joy whenever you hear that song now?
RM: Yeah it took a long time to figure out which song to choose for that sequence. And it turns out, you know, your final decision has a lot to do with what is the cheapest rights-wise. So we had a lot of—I had a dream list of songs I’d go walking around London to and I’d always go for walks and see what one worked for the rhythm of it. I had a couple I really wanted and yeah, and then through a number of sort of a process of elimination because some of them were like how is that that much to get the rights to? That’s like more than the budget of our entire show! And then we thought of Return of the Mack and it was a happy accident like so many things are in TV, that budget constraints lead to really, you know, wonderful things!
SW: What did you want, your dream song?
RM: You know what, I’ve never revealed this and it’s gonna be a scoop! No it was a track by The Whispers, Keep On Loving Me. A real ‘80s kind of disco track and it would have changed the entire thing, I think it would have changed the entire vibe of what that scene was, which feels a lot more triumphant especially with the slo-mo because do you remember the Return of the Mack video? The music video was really like, it was just Mark Morrisson walking slowly in slow motion in this leather jacket.
HW: Yeah it’s a lot of leather. It’s a very goth look!
RM: Such a goth look!
HW: For what is an R&B ballad.
RM: Yeah it was such an amazing R&B goth look. There was a snake in that video, go back and watch it like it’s absolutely iconic. But no I still love the song and I still get a lot of tweets of people saying—from a mum the other day saying ‘every time Return of the Mack comes on me and my kids dance to it because of Starstruck.’ And I’m like… the kids know why she’s dancing, right? Oh my gosh!
HW: Sophie, you had some of the sort of most iconic outfits since Villanelle I think. You really rocked those sort of big coats.
SW: I really enjoyed it.
HW: Did you get to keep any of them at the end?
SW: I’ve got two in my closet!
HW: Identical ones for continuity or two different ones?
SW: Two—one of them was the baby pink one with the floss here and there was another one that was a lacquered one that was for Joan that didn’t get used so I got to capitalise on that.
HW: My God, you just cleaned out the wardrobe at the end!
SW: Yeah she was great Daniella, the look the costume. She did a brilliant job with it because we wanted it to be quite camp and big, you know and the female characters that are in the main show they pop out from the backdrop so that the backdrop is a bit more kind of darker and then they pop out. She just did that brilliantly, really good.
HW: Anjana, did you have any massive earworms? I mean I imagine you had to record a lot of those songs 55,000 times. Are there any that are never going to leave your head and you’re just stuck with?
AV: Probably Bashir with a Good Beard.
SW: A banger. That is a banger.
AV: It was the first one we all learned so it’s the one I have in my head. But also I think it helps that the songs are genuinely catchy.
HW: They’re really amazing.
AV: So you’d never get bored of them. They’re really good songs.
HW: They are, I mean there’s got to be a playlist out there on Spotify.
AV: There is a Spotify playlist, yeah.
SW: You should release an album! You could do a tour, you lot!
AV: I did get some requests from like music touring groups being like do you want to, just saying if you want to play at this festival the invitation is there!
HW: You should do what People Just Do Nothing does and basically have a side career! Aimee, should I call you Aimee Lou or Aimee?
ALW: Either’s fine!
HW: Which would you prefer?
ALW: You know, whatever you prefer!
HW: I’m going to go for Aimee Lou.
ALW: OK great, I like Aimee Lou!
AV: Aimee Lou is different from Aimee.
RM: There is a right answer Holly!
HW: There is a right answer and I can tell the BSL people look like they’re worried, so I think I might have picked the wrong one but we’ll go with Aimee Lou. Aimee, Aimee Lou, the big question I think everyone wants to know is how much of an arsehole was that goat? Or was it quite a nice person to work with?
ALW: She was very cute.
SW: Oh what an answer.
ALW: And she knew it. And yeah, whenever she was on set she dominated the space. But do you know what, her acting really improved as time went on! I was so impressed because at the start, bless her, I think you know she just wasn’t having it. She was not having it. And then by the end of it was like you know, she was coming out of a trailer with a cigarette and stuff.
HW: Just shouting across ‘what’s the vegan option?’
ALW: Really just confident, and her confidence grew a lot. But no she was a little bit—I had no control over her. She led the way in absolutely everything.
HW: Was she well behaved when you had her in the car and everything? Because I can’t imagine doing a car scene is easy at the best of times, let alone when you’ve got livestock in there.
ALW: She pooed a lot. It was the poo that was the main issue.
AV: Did she also wait for action before she pooed as well just to let you all know?
ALW: Of course, of course. She had hours to poo and as soon as action. It comes out of nowhere.
RM: I heard Elizabeth Taylor did the same thing.
HW: I was going to say I know a lot of actors who wait til just about you’re going to roll and then need to go to the toilet. So I feel for you. Well thank you so much all of you for joining us, it is an absolute treat. I’d love to sort of talk, and I think it’d be really nice if we could sort of talk amongst ourselves about a bunch of stuff. Please don’t feel like I have to interview you, ask each other questions, but I’d love to start by talking about how hard it is at the end of filming to sort of leave your characters behind. I mean, Sophie, you have obviously—how much is your character like you in real life? Because obviously you wrote it and you devised it and you play—
SW: Well I was just looking at Rose in the same way because it’s similar isn’t it.
SW: A bit of an alter ego. I suppose when you do stand up you kind of create an alter ego
SW: I remember when I first started stand up just thinking to write a list of qualities I dislike about myself and see if I can make them funny. I suppose you start with that, and then with Alma she’s kind of based on me when I was twenty-one you know because it’s kind of when she was a lot younger and that’s when you know I did a bit of escorting or whatever was going on, ex boyfriends and stuff was very much me when I was twenty-one. But that was quite good because when Alma was thirty she started to become her own person then, but there’s definitely a crossover.
HW: At the end of filming do you find like it—you know at the end of a day’s filming do you find it easy to just be like that’s a different person, walk away, go home, play with your dog? Or does it feel like during that time of filming you sort of are her a bit.
SW: It does get a bit like that because we are similar characters it is a bit odd. You don’t know where you—it’s like ‘fabulous, woo!’ you know I say similar things to Alma then they become the catchphrases of Alma and you forget what your bits are. It’s a bit odd to decompress afterwards.
RM: Do you find that it’s strange when, that thing I feel the exact same thing coming from a stand up background in that you’ve created a character rooted in what people’s perceptions of you are, you know, previous to the show. But in a way there are elements of yourself in the character that then people react to it, to your character to Alma or my character Jessie where they’re like ‘oh I can’t believe she did that!’ or ‘why would that person be like that!’ and you get kind of offended because you’re like ‘hang on! Hang on! They might have a reason as to why they acted like that!’
SW: And also because it’s fictional! The moment it gets weird because you are playing a character and you make decisions with the character that you know you wouldn’t particularly do yourself.
RM: It’s like a multiverse, it’s weird.
SW: It is odd, isn’t it. We’re all mad really that we do this.
HW: Aimee and Anjana, sorry to talk over you, Aimee and Anjana you’re both obviously your character are written by other people for you. Do you relate to those characters and do you feel like as it went along you sort of you had a lot in common with them? Or do they feel quite different people to you? Let’s start with Aimee.
ALW: I definitely have always related to Aimee. That’s, also the name thing is a coincidence so that’s also a bit weird. But yeah I have always, I remember reading the scene that I had to audition with and I was like ‘oh my God I’ve said these things, I’ve said these things verbatim.’ But she—we are different, we are different, but I definitely think over time there’s been—I mean it’s been three seasons now so there’s definitely been a bit of a merge and I sometimes, I find that quite hard sometimes. More in my, not so much on set but in my everyday life when people come and talk to me I do think what you’re wanting right now is Aimee from the show.
HW: That’s so interesting.
ALW: Yeah, and I feel—
SW: People scream ‘Alma!’ at me, they scream her name at me. But then I suppose you’re called Aimee…
ALW: I’m like ‘yeah that’s me!’ and then I’m like ‘no it’s not me! Is it me? I don’t know!’ So yeah, it’s weird because I do feel definitely like we are… But also we’re like ten years apart in age, like I’m ten years older than my character. So we are—yeah, and I think she’s a lot, she’s a lot more… I really like how present Aimee is, she’s a very present person. She’s not as—I’m much more I think stuck in my head kind of person. That’s why I feel pressure when people come over and talk to me because I want to be really like with them like she would be and not disappoint me but sometimes I’ve just got so much going on up here I’m just like sorry! But yea.
SW: But you are different aren’t you from the bubbly one—there’s the one-dimensional character and they can never be like the full human. I think writer performers are a bit lower key, I suppose, than on screen. It’s the same with Alma. A lot of her qualities, she’s a lot more innocent, just kind of you lose a bit of that with age, don’t you.
SW: It’s probably similar with your character like the whole world’s her oyster in that kind of way so people expect to meet that person and that’s probably the same with you, and you ten years ago you know Aimee.
ALW: Yeah, yeah.
HW: Anjana, when you first read the part, did you feel like ‘this is me’ or did you feel like this is a really interesting character? Did you base it on people you knew or what was the—
AV: To be honest, I think we share the same DNA, like a lot of the DNA is the same. I definitely related to her insecurity and anxiety, I felt like no I still have that but a younger version of myself had that a lot. So I think Amina is just sort of dialled up to 100 but you know, I sort of I felt like immediately I could relate to this person. Also there was some weird sort of very coincidental things that happened where you know, Amina’s Spotify playlist is almost exactly like my playlist. This is a folk and country playlist.
HW: Don Mclean full of Don McLean
AV: I think there’s some references to Paul Simon in the script and Nida our writer and director found a YouTube video of me before she cast me playing at a Paul Simon tribute night. So it was just these weird coincidences that felt like fate because where else am I going to find a brown girl that loves Joan Baez and Paul Simon, like that’s not the thing you see. You don’t get a script that’s like that.
SW: It’s like it was written for you really.
HW: Was it written for you?
AV: Well, not originally. I think that was always there so that’s what I mean about the DNA being serendipitous—is that the word? It started off as a comedy Blap but once the Blap got commissioned I think Nida could envision me in it and continue to write the series with me in mind. But she already had that in the script, the spirit of her was already in there, in the Blap. It felt quite easy to step into her shoes.
HW: Did you feel it was quite revealing having to play, you know, like having to play—you’re obviously a really accomplished musician but there’s a big difference between playing at a night and being on national TV playing an instrument. Did you get nervous about having to play or were you like this is another skillset?
AV: Amina’s more talented as a guitarist than I am. I never picked up electric so I had to like wrap my hands around that, you know. So it was definitely nerve wracking because it’s just a whole other thing, like it’s—it felt, because also I like that my music and acting feels very separate. I do music for myself, so this felt exposing, you’re right, in that I didn’t—I never really did anything that merged the two and I felt quite self-conscious about that at times. But then it was very helpful playing a self-conscious person.
HW: Yeah, right. Amina it was a perfect part really! Do you, Rose, when you came to write the second series, did you feel like you had to, you wanted to avoid making that character too clichéd? Were you trying to shake up and find new ways and new situations for her to find herself in, Jessie? Or were you like I really like what we did in the first series with that and I’m going to build on it. Did you sort of—were you always looking for new ways of expressing her kind of sense of humour?
RM: I’m not—it’s a difficult question! I’m so bad at questions about writing because I’m like I have no idea what we did! I think it’s because the character was so, I felt like you know again like Sophie was saying it’s based on so much of your own persona or your own comedy person coming from a different sphere, you kind of have a real—she’s a very strong character in the first series, and in the second series I think what was difficult was to… What I think was particularly difficult was to write a character in the second series who makes mistakes. And I think that is—I don’t want to make it immediately like political, but I’m talking about female characters. It’s really hard to write female characters who mess up and make mistakes and are flawed. I think they’re held to this different standard sometimes as particularly male—in comedy as well I think a lot of the reaction to the second series was like ‘why is she doing this? Why is she acting like that? Why is she being mean to Tom?’ And I’m like have you ever watched a show—do you know about stakes, right? You know about complexities in character and stuff? It was a real difficult thing to even get across the line with the powers that be. It would be like they’d question sort of like ‘oh she’s unlikeable here.’ You’re met with—
HW: It’s a go to note. Almost a cliché of a note and I think it almost gets levelled more at women.
HW: It goes at women much more. It’s the bossy, unlikeable vibe.
RM: It’s like a woman who doesn’t like you know in the second series, a woman who feels uncomfortable with being in a committed relationship. It’s very interesting to see the people who were quick to note that it’s unlikeable. How is that unlikeable? That’s a personality trait. It’s a very gendered thing. But no Sophie, you came across the same thing, is that right?
SW: Well no I was going to say something but then as you were saying that I was thinking as soon as women get into their love lives, everyone’s got an opinion, you know. It’s weird, isn’t it, it’s really interesting. I had something similar with the first, one of the first people who saw an Alma script before the Caroline Aherne Bursary and everything, he read it and said ‘oh the thing is female heroine addicts are not funny, they’re very frightening and it’s very unlikeable.’ You know it’s funny isn’t it, you think God!
HW: That’s hilarious! Try telling Siobhan Finneran that!
SW: I know! Yeah exactly. And my mum is a drug addict but she’s a very funny, very likeable person. Often they’re very charming, you know and get away with quite a lot.
RM: The scene in Alma the one where they’re going for the drinks
HW: It’s amazing
RM: That is one of the funniest things I’ve seen and it so comes from such of like you know what you’re writing about and you know that’s funny. You come from that world. And that’s the important thing about having people writing from their own experiences, you know.
SW: And flawed women, again. They’re both loving and kind but they’re also quite mean, you know, flawed. I think that’s nice to see, isn’t it, to see people disconnecting, trying to connect.
HW: I think the beauty about all the shows is they are really about women—it’s just not that all of you are leads, but all of you are leads with really good female friends and female supporters. Each of you has like a best friend or a group of best friends who are women who are also making mistakes but also sort of they’ve got your back. Aimee I think your relationship with—I’ve actually forgotten her name it’s terrible—what’s your best friend called in—
HW: Maeve that’s it! I beg your pardon. I’ve watched it all so I should have remembered! It’s so sweet and nice and it’s a really hard-core storyline that you’re talking about and it seems kind of light because it’s through Aimee’s eyes and she’s got that sweetness to her. But you and Maeve have a really sweet, great way of talking about everything that happened on the bus. Did you find that was nice that the scenes were written with women discussing it together and it felt quite kind of protective and powerful in that way?
ALW: Yeah. Yeah, I mean the detention scene from season two still makes me cry when I think about it because we were really—that day we all, like it really was like in real life we were having those same kind of chats and we were all bonding so much. So it still definitely yeah, but this season what I loved so much about in season three what I loved about Aimee and Maeve’s friendship is that they have an argument. I was so like, I was so sad but also excited to see that because I think it was so necessary that they fall out because their friendship is so sweet and so loving and so supportive and they’re constantly like—me and Emma who plays Maeve were constantly laughing about how many times in this season they ask each other if they’re OK? ‘You sure you’re ok?’ ‘Are you OK?’ ‘You sure you’re OK?’ They’re constantly, constantly! But then we have this scene where, you know, there’s conflict but they have to go but they’re so honest with each other in that scene and it’s scary for both of them because it’s like that thing you’ve got, especially when you’re younger where like you know our friendship’s just it’s great we love each other so much and we’re just there, but then they get really real with each other and I just think it was really important to see that happen. Because they are from very different worlds and they’re very different people and they’re kind of soul mates in this weird way, but they are very different. And I think just having that it made their relationship so much stronger and I think deeper and more grown up. Like when I read that it kind of gave me like goosebumps because I was like oh my God they’re growing up, like they’re actually really growing up. Because they’re really getting into it now with each other and they know they trust each other enough. Because they both have trust issues, they both find it hard to trust in their own ways and they trust each other enough to fall out. And I think that is a huge thing.
AV: I also really love the friendship you found with Maureen in Season Three. I thought that was so sweet and like so beautifully played by both of you.
ALW: Thank you. I love her, I love her so much. Those were the most fun with Samantha. Because also I think that they’re weirdly like, they’re from different generations but they’re also so similar in their hearts. They’re so similar and it’s like they needed to meet each other. It’s always so satisfying as well when you see characters meet that haven’t met before. Its’ exciting.
SW: New relationships forming, yeah.
RM: Like Hercules and Xena when they had a crossover episode! That was a crazy time when two character like what, it’s crazy!
HW: Sophie, your character and Jayde’s character Leanne they’re such a lovely double act. Did you write that part with her in mind or did you cast her then you were like oh my God the chemistry, what a dream?
SW: Very similar to Anjana because I had an idea for the best friend character which was kind of an amalgamation of a lot of my friends at that time but then I kept struggling to get into that character. And I’d seen Jayde perform and I just thought she was fantastic, just a real natural talent and just had that thing. I’d got drunk with her one night, we started drinking red wine and I thought God I could actually hang out with you a lot, this could be a thing! When I was writing it, as soon as I started writing, and with her accent being so strong it kind of wrote itself as well, that Bristolian accent. Like with Lancashire they have their own rhythms so you just sit at your computer writing in her accent but badly and before you know it it’s written itself. We had a fight, and that was very fun. We had a fight with furniture, that was fantastic. If you’ve been annoying each other all week you just get it all out.
ALW: Cathartic! It’s very cathartic.
SW: Yeah. We got a bit nasty with each other in the script. I wanted that scene where—because I didn’t want her to be this, especially because she’s a bigger girl we talked about weight and how you have the fat friend and how that feels for women who are bigger. You know we wanted to make her sexuality empowering and not something that was a joke. She had a really hot boyfriend and it wasn’t even mentioned, just so for her she felt fab as Jayde but also Leanne she was empowering figure. And also that she wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t just the brilliant, easy-going fat friend confidante. She had flaws, she was judgemental. Her intentions were good but there was some judgement there. I wanted her to have a very sort of full character.
RM: It was awful when they had that fish fight. You feel it. it’s so comical but you’re like—you don’t want them to fight and don’t want them to fall out.
HW: Yeah. It’s like seeing your parents rowing it’s like that’s not right! You’re a unit.
SW: Actually all the crew were throwing fish!
RM: Love that!
SW: And I thought you bastards!
RM: Why did you write—when you wrote that in the script, Sophie, were you also going ‘I do not want to do this on the day?’ Like were you looking forward or were you like I can’t believe I’m writing this.
SW: I was looking forward to that. It was the sex scenes, Rose, that I wanted to talk to you about in a bit. Especially when it’s a character that you’ve kind of written yourself, what the fuck are you doing to yourself? I was sat there writing going ‘this is going to be hell. Why am I doing this?’ but you know you want to have it in.
RM: But your sex scenes were like—you look, you’re kind of, you know that episode you’re feeling really sexy, feeling your sexuality. Mine is—
SW: I think that’s worse!
RM: Well that’s harder but mine’s like a drunk sex scene.
SW: It’s brilliantly done.
RM: I was, it was interesting. It was, it was you know, I agree because it’s like having a comical sex scene was easier than any scene where I’m having to be intimate or even hug or like hold hands with someone. I don’t like that. Like no, no, no, no I don’t want to have to look lovingly into someone’s eyes—
RM: Or like mean—
SW: Mine was with James, who’d my friend and you know he’s next to me. That was awful. Whereas the spanking—
RM: Yeah it’s fine!
SW: Calling him a dirty whatever I was calling him. Absolutely fine!
SW: You know to me the fish anything like that was silly and fun. But it’s that moment of intimacy isn’t it. The thing is especially as a stand up you’re not really used to kind of that side of yourself.
RM: The vulnerable.
SW: It’s not really encouraged. It’s kind of more—
HW: Aimee, when you read a sex scene in the Sex Ed script, does your heart sink or are you like great, brilliant, let’s do it? How do you feel about it?
ALW: I feel similarly in terms of that I find really just intimate maybe romantic ‘I love you so much,’ I find that more… I feel more vulnerable doing that than like say the first scene that I ever did, the first scene of Sex Ed where it was like this is just so, this is mad we’re just going to be going for it. But yeah I feel like it’s similar, it’s the really vulnerable stuff that I think is yeah. But also in terms of sex scenes I’ve not had one for such a long time and I’m not mad about it.
HW: Did you all work with intimacy co-ordinators when you were doing it? Did you have one on set? Did you ask for one or did you not have one?
SW: I only found out about them after it started and then I did go oh could we possibly do that but it was like oh we don’t need that. It was a bit like not even for me, more for like the men who I’m spanking his raw bottom. The poor guy needed an ice pack after we finished that scene, I had to get a medic. There was a lot of stuff like that that was more difficult for the men I found. Especially because with the Alma sex stuff they were being quite predatory but these really were gentle souls, just actors who happened to be playing a pervert. I think they found it really difficult. If I was doing it again, probably would want an intimacy coach.
HW: It takes a lot of the sort of weirdness. I mean having directed I’ve always loved having them because it just takes the weirdness out of it. it’s like everybody’s—
RM: Also it makes it look better. It makes it look a lot better because I feel like the intimacy coordinator we had was more so, it wasn’t awkward but it was more like because I was like… There were bouncy balls involved, they were nude. It was great, they had all of the kit so it’s like you could do the stuff and you know you wouldn’t see something slipping you know, it looked realistic. It was a lot to do with that rather than emotional stuff in my experience.
SW: That’s good. My director Chappers was really good with that. He made—I think he must have spoken to one or something because he made everything feel quite practical and the shots he did were dead quick. Like one from the front, we’ll do that one there, done. It felt like it was, he was aware of my anxiety that they had to do so many. I think he just—I think having the right directors I suppose.
SW: Have you done one Anjana yet?
AV: Our show is very, very halal. There is barely any—speaking to you guys I’m like wow I was so lucky I didn’t have to go through any of this.
SW: Do you think they will in series two though? Because they’re all up for it, aren’t they. They’re all quite good fun aren’t they.
AV: I don’t know. I don’t know what Nida has in store for season two. I feel like, you know, I don’t know that Amina would but who knows!
HW: You never know! Did you Nida, you didn’t know Nida before you started shooting?
AV: No I met her during the audition process, yeah.
HW: Did you do a lot of rehearsals with her? Obviously it is like a great show but also bits happen in it, all the magical realist bits that you probably don’t know how it’s going to feel until you see it back, like suddenly it cuts into a black and white film or it’s a pop video or whatever it is. Were you—did you kind of see her vision as it was being made or when you watched it for the first time were you like ‘oh that’s what we were doing!’
AV: I think it was so clear on the page, I think she’s a brilliant writer that you can sort of envision everything as you’re reading it. Also she’s one of those directors that you just go I trust you 101%. I didn’t feel like I ever had to look back at the camera to see how anything worked because I just trusted her so much. The fantasy moments were so fun to do, I think I always dreamed I would be in a black and white movie one day so getting to do a Brief Encounter spoof was like a dream come true. So you know just things like that. And I’ve forgotten the question a little bit—
HW: I guess you’ve answered it which is did you find it easy to trust Nida and sort of look into her vision and were you surprised at the end when you were like ‘oh that’s what that was going to turn out like,’ or did she explain it as you went along?
AV: She definitely explained it but it exceeded by expectations. I think because I watched the Blap and I saw what she did with a ten minute Blap with the low budget and I saw what she could achieve with that I expected so much with the series. I remember the day that we were all—we were filming in the countryside and all the girls are dancing, you know, in the countryside and the camera’s moving around us. Amina’s awkwardly dancing but everyone else is kind of dancing with abandonment and there’s a shot of Momtaz dancing with you know a purple flair and that was a moment I realised that this show was going to be special. Because I almost tear up thinking about that moment because she just looked epic, like it looked cinematic. So I feel like the show starts off as something like a sitcom and it just becomes something more big and more expansive by the end. I think that was when I had a glimpse into her vision for the show which was even more than I imagined it would be. In terms of rehearsals, we rehearsed a lot because of the music stuff, so we had to like technically get all that right but there were some scenes that she wanted to keep you know the magic of. Or if they were more emotional she didn’t want to over-rehearse it because you want to feel like you find it on the day.
HW: Yeah, that’s so interesting. I mean obviously Rose, did you write, when you wrote your show did you write for your ensemble in mind or did you—I mean, you know, Emma Sidi is your friend, right, in real life? So did you write—
RM: She had to audition which she always goes on about in interviews. It’s like yeah, cute story, whatever. She’s like ‘it was actually kind of rude,’ I was like look we had to go through the audition, it would have looked so bad if I just cast my best friend, no questions asked. So it was—
HW: It would have looked very Tory government!
RM: It would have been! It would have been tyrannous. So I put it out to the people. I’m so lucky because I’m in a position where I get to have you know, control in the casting process as well. So it was a dream because I got to cast people who I knew from comedy and meet new people that really surprised me in the auditions and stuff. What I love though is that because I’m in it and I write it and Alice Sneddon who wrote series one as well is always on set, having the writers on set and having this ensemble cast who have such a strong background oftentimes in improv and all of that, we were always able to write towards the characters. Particularly in the second series it was like oh my Gosh we have this amazing ensemble cast and being able to in comedy write towards people’s strengths is just like, just a dream as writer because you go ‘that person’s great at that’ and ‘that person with that person has amazing chemistry so let’s just write a scene with them!’ It feels like you have a toy box with these amazing performers.
HW: Was Alice like ‘I want to write a scene with me and Minnie Driver because if we’re going to have a famous person in it I want to be in the scene’?
RM: Can I tell you Alice Sneddon is in this show under duress. The first series she filled in for a last minute drop out of cast because he couldn’t make it so we were like ‘Alice can you just be in it please?’ She’s mad, like so mad that she’s in the series. Second series wasn’t supposed to be in that episode, cast member was unavailable so we wrote her in and that scene with Minnie she had, at that point at the end of the day, had Minnie for one day and had a bit of extra time at the end we were like let’s do an improv scene with Minnie it’s fine. She was like ‘I don’t think we’ll have the time, I think we’re going to go over, I don’t think we’ll…’ I was like ‘no, no stay in your costume’ but she got out of her costume. I saw her downstairs and was like get back in your costume we might make that scene,’ she was like ‘oh nah I don’t think we will.’ She was so reluctant to do it and in the end Minnie was up for it and we forced her into an improv and just took one take. We were going into overtime, it was one uninterrupted take of improv between Minnie Driver and Alice which I really want to release somewhere.
HW: Just a full unedited scene.
RM: So much stuff they talked about. Alice started talking about how she was a dog walker, that she wanted to walk Minnie’s dogs. It got really dark. To see Minnie Driver do this amazing improv was just like heaven, with my friend who was like annoyed that she had to be in the scene! I was like check yourself Alice, come on!
HW: I think we should open the floor for questions if you don’t mind, so I might crack on. I haven’t actually read any of these, so I’m going to read them as I go so if they’re incredibly inappropriate don’t blame me but here we go! First is from Erica and she says for Rose how was your process for turning your stand up stage comedy into a thirty minute comedy series?
RM: It was—to be honest not a lot of it was based on my stand up but potentially my persona. But no it was—I didn’t really talk about much, I didn’t put a lot of my stand up jokes into the show because I was already doing a special of my stand up jokes and so yes. There’s only a couple of lines that I sneak into Starstruck that are definitely failed ideas for the stand up jokes! I was like ‘oh I might as well use that!’ But no it was—I’d say it was a real big shift as a writer to go from stand up and you know some of you might feel this as well, from that forward to a scripted half hour comedy. It’s a different—
HW: I think it’s always amazing when people are like ‘you do stand up, of course you can write a sitcom!’ And they’re so hard and so different. I mean yeah, jokes are jokes—
RM: I’m actually against stand ups doing sitcoms. I don’t know why I’ve done the show. I’m actually—
SW: I can do it but none of you!
RM: Yeah exactly! Philosophically I’m against it but OK fine, some of us can do it. No, No, but genuinely I think it’s an issue with writers who don’t come from a performing background coming into comedy and they don’t get the opportunity to get stuff made because they don’t perform as well. That’s why bursaries are so good with getting emerging writers, getting scripts seen. I’m really lucky because I get to perform and people see me—
HW: Aimee you come from a theatre background, did you find it hard translating what you do on stage to you know the small screen? Is that a clichéd sentence, I think it probably is but I’ve said it now!
ALW: No the only thing that was really that different was that when I was first—when we did the first week of filming for Sex Ed I was thinking that when you did a crew show you had to make sure the whole crew could hear you. I thought it was a crew show!
ALW: Yeah and exactly.
HW: Did you do a bow at the end?
ALW: Yeah and obviously I thought, like Ncuti and I have both spoken about this that we were both like OK crew show OK, and we really thought that it was like you know, it had to be this incredible—that it wasn’t just people watching to see what they needed to do. We thought it was oh my God—I remember our director being like ‘Aimee, you’ve got a microphone on.’ I was like ‘Oh yeah!’ it was things like that. But they’re not as different as people may think, although I do wish at drama school we had been taught more film stuff because we really did not have a lot of screen acting lessons at all. But yeah it was just that kind of stuff
HW: This is another question from Erica, she’s got some great questions tonight. She should get a BAFTA just for the questions. This is again for Anjana, it’s empowering hearing a brown girl like rock music as I’m a black girl who enjoys rock music, a genre often cited incorrectly as being far from our likeness. How was your journey into acting, and any advice for black and brown girls who struggle to find a script as unique and varied as we are?
AV: Oh my gosh that feels like a very big question. I mean also yes, I feel like speaking to how unconventional it is to see characters like this, the truth is I think it’s not radical or unconventional but TV is catching up with the fact that, you know, there have always been black and brown people who play folk and rock and punk and metal. You know, it’s not unusual. Muslim punk is not unusual, there’s a whole world of that in real life. I mean I feel like I’ve been—similar to Aimee I’ve had a theatre background and I graduated ten years ago and this is the first time I’ve read a script like this. I still feel like I’m learning, I still feel like I’m very new to this bit of the industry. So in terms of any advice I could give, if you have any talent in writing I’d say write your own stories because you’re always going to have a better, bigger imagination for yourself than anyone else. I think even if you think you don’t have it, try. I wish I had that talent to be able to write like Sophie and Rose. I’m in awe of the fact that you’ve been able to write your own stories and tell them on your own terms. I guess yeah, I think if you can write songs write them, if you can write scripts write them. That would be my advice.
HW: I think there is an element of making work for yourself. Going out, writing the parts you want to see on TV.
AV: I think the message of the show is a little bit like that, it’s about making art on your own terms because the band I think that is what the Punk DIY attitude is about anyway.
HW: So true, that’s so true. That’s a really lovely metaphor. And it’s exciting and it’s risky and all those things. Like we were talking about earlier you feel like you’re really putting yourself out there and exposing something that could go either way. But that’s—I think that’s a really lovely way of putting it. I’ve got more. This is a big one, this is from Beth and it says: May I ask how comedy will evolve for you in the next year? What would you like to see on screen? I’m going to take that as an interpretation of what do you think we should do to improve as a comedy industry? Like what do you think we should be pushing and what would you like to see in the next five years a lot more of on television?
AV: I would like to see a show with all of us in it!
RM: Oh my God let’s do that.
AV: Let’s begin there.
RM: Such a good place to begin! That’s so true, like a super group. No one does super groups anymore!
SW: Oh my God.
RM: But you can’t cast like up to five funny women in the same show, oh my God!
AV: It’d just be so much material!
RM: Oh my God!
SW: It is getting better in some ways. It’s exciting. Thinking about this nomination list of women doing really interesting characters, it’s fabulous isn’t it. And everyone’s so different and coming from different backgrounds. I do feel there’s an improvement. I think the gatekeepers, I think we’ve all been talking about and comedians, everyone’s been talking about how we need to be more diverse, I think that is getting a little bit better? But I think that needs to happen, doesn’t it, that the gatekeepers need to keep being from all different backgrounds because one type of person cannot represent or have the same interests.
RM: There’s a positive front facing of such amazing women on television but it’s like Ok then you need all of them behind the camera as well and writing it. What’s so amazing is even in this category of just the most incredible people I was shocked and I’m a real dick and I would have been like you know if any of you had sucked I’ve had been like ‘goddammit what?’ But now I’m like I get to go to the BAFTAs and see all of those people in real life and meet them! I’m actually stoked. And also because like you work with Nida and Karen Maine directed the first series, and so those things are improving in terms of like who’s directing these shows, who’s producing them, who’s show running them. I think that’s like definitely we’ve all been cast in other things in funny roles as women, but to cast and be able to collaborate and to work with a far more diverse group of people who aren’t the same people who have made television for the last you know thirty years, that will be a real—that will be so cool in the future.
SW: It’s definitely getting towards that, isn’t it, but it’s a slow you know.
HW: I feel like there’s a generation before us who did a lot of really hard work for women and then we’re slightly sort of having an easier time because of them, and the next generation after us will hopefully have a really easy time after us and it sort of just feels like it takes a long time, generations, to get through the system but eventually hopefully, it’ll be—
RM: Even to feel empowered in this moment in time to even what we were talking about before about getting a note about an unlikeable female character and do you know, in previous… That sucks no matter when that note comes to you, but to be in a position where you go, I actually feel like I am supported enough by enough people to go ‘that note sucks and this is why that doesn’t make sense.’ And it’s showing your own kind of—and to say that to someone who would be higher up than you seems like it would be career suicide or something like that but we kind of, I don’t know, there’s enough cool people that would support you and that kind of, yeah.
HW: No you’re right.
AV: If I might jump in, like Rose I was thinking about what you said earlier and you brought it up again about the unlikeable thing, and I was thinking about Alma’s Not Normal and I was thinking that the title I think it’s brilliant because I go ‘so how would you describe her?’ and I think it’s a DNA that all, like the spirit of all our characters share something even though they’re all very different. And the word that I hate hearing is ‘quirky’
SW: I know
AV: I feel like it’s a word, I don’t know if you feel like it’s been written about in terms of your characters that you’ve played.
SW: Quirky woman!
RM: A woman with a personality is what they’re really talking about.
AV: Even if it’s enduringly used, it still feels reductive in terms of actually what you’ve done with those characters, you know? I was just trying to think of a word to describe but I couldn’t because I feel like there’s not enough vocabulary about how you write about female characters, how you write about funny women. Because it’s still very new to write and talk about funny women and describe them beyond quirky and kooky and eccentric.
SW: I don’t think they describe. I think it’s a bit show not tell isn’t it. They are exciting, give us a couple of reasons why they’re exciting. So they’re always funny with that, but the not normal thing with me was going actually, these are most normal families. Loads of people have got trauma, they feel not normal, they’ve always felt like outsiders my family because they’ve not quite fit in in their town. They feel other worldly but then at the same time you often feel like a fish out of water in this industry, or I do, so that not normal thing… And also because I was brought up in care so a lot of my records were very accusatory words when I got my records back, this idea that you were a bit odd, a bit not normal, didn’t live with your mum and dad. But actually reclaiming that word is important. I don’t think you can reclaim quirky, can you? It’s just annoying!
AV: I love that Alma always says fabulous because I feel like she’s sort of reclaiming that eccentricity for herself and making it wonderful and beautiful, you know.
RM: I feel like I need to hear you say that in real life. I’ve never heard Sophie say fabulous!
HW: One thing I love about all four of your characters as well, and it’s interesting because we’ve talked a lot about the sort of writing of the characters, I think all four of you do an amazing job physically at being really funny and unflattering and inelegant and gawky and great and all the things you love about your friends and you sort of… I think there’s something really great that’s coming through in a new generation of female stars like yourselves who are sort of embracing the messiness of being a woman. I just think Anjana, all your—your face says it all. You say everything with your face, like that wonderful first scene with your parents and that arranged marriage and your face just drops in the most amazing way and it is so sweet and sort of heart-breaking and funny and wonderful. What I love about all four of you is you’re just sort of really up for going for that and not really thinking like ‘oh I really need to look—‘and I mean this as a huge compliment, like demure and like a sort of through the male gaze and I can just sort of be like the women I know and be really funny.
SW: Yeah I agree. I think all of the performances are really full, very exposing quite vulnerable. We’ve gone in, haven’t we, head first, which I think’s brilliant. And all in such different ways.
HW: I’m going to end, because we have to finish in a minute, but I’m—
SW: You were trying to wrap up nice then weren’t you and I bobbed in! Sorry
HW: I’m going to ask you one last question and that is what TV show at the moment brings you joy? I’ll start with Rose.
RM: Oh why! Why, because I turned away from the camera?
HW: Exactly, punishing you!
RM: No there is one and I just forgot it. Oh no. Come back to me!
HW: OK I’ll come back to you. Sophie?
SW: I’ve just been watching a lot of true crime, I’m not going to lie.
HW: Which one in particular?
SW: Anything scripted. What did I watch last that I quite enjoyed? It’s depressing because it’s like oh a man murdered a woman.
HW: I think embrace it!
SW: Oh what’s it called, the one the crazy clown who actually was a murderer, murdering loads of people. I don’t know why it brought me joy, it shouldn’t should it! But when you’re in this world all the time you need a break. You’re like oh it’s my break I’m going to watch a man murder a few people.
HW: Yeah I spent last night watching a Mary Whitehouse documentary so I feel you. Aimee Lou, Aimee, Aimee Lou I’m going to go with Aimee Lou to end this, what TV show brings you joy?
ALW: I’m quite late to the party but I started watching Search Party. It’s so funny, it’s so good. So funny. I think I can’t remember their last names because I have this habit of calling people by their first names as if I know them, but Meredith and John—
SW: Like they’re your mates
HW: That first episode is a textbook example of a good pilot. Like if you’re going to write a pilot watch that first episode, it’s so brilliant.
ALW: It’s so funny.
RM: Which John though, there’s two Johns. Isn’t there? John Reynolds and John—
HW: Which one are you talking about, John Early or—
RM: Tall one or the shorter one?
ALW: Shorter one.
HW: Yeah he’s amazing. Have you watched—
ALW: All of them though, all of them though, but—
RM: John Early is one of the funniest people of all time.
ALW: It’s incredible.
HW: Have you watched Afterparty? If you like him, you’ll love that. It’s on Apple.
SW: What’s that?
RM: Sorry, that was mine. Severance on Apple. In my accent that’s probably tough.
SW: I need to get a good one because I was thrown in at the deep end.
RM: No, no, no I don’t have a good one! Sophie, I was going to say all these vlogs that I watch of Korean girls living alone in cities. That’s what I watch on YouTube! It’s fantastic, it brings me genuine joy!
HW: Anjana, last but not least, what TV show brings you joy or TV in general.
AV: Genuinely I binge Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr.
HW: So good. Although the bars last week I thought were a disappointment for the final, but we’ll brush over that.
AV: I’m glad, I don’t want to spoil it if someone hasn’t watched but I’m glad the person who won won because I’m a fan.
HW: Interesting, interesting, interesting.
SW: Ooh I’ve got a better one, sorry I just want to say something less creepy than serial killers. The Dog House, have you watched that?
HW: What’s that?
SW: Oh it’s lovely. Dogs who have lost their homes they meet owners and they come together and they fall in love, it’s like First Dates for dogs.
RM: I saw that the other day and they meet and they film the first meeting and stuff.
SW: Yeah, dead emotional.
RM: Yeah I saw that. The companionship.
HW: I’m going to find all four of you and we’re going to commandeer a table at the BAFTAs to continue this conversation alone. Thank you so so much for all your time and insight and wonderfulness. I’m sure I’m supposed to say something at the end that wraps this up. Oh I do. Thank you panel and audience, catch up on this session and much more on the BAFTA YouTube channel and BAFTA’s social channels and of course good luck to our nominees and tune into the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards on Sunday 8th May on BBC One.
SW: And we’ll meet! It’s exciting isn’t it.
ALW: So exciting!
RM: So excited!
HW: Thanks a lot guys, thank you so much!
AV: Thank you!