Transcript from BAFTA TV Sessions: Comedy Actors, Tuesday 28th July 2020
Holly Walsh: Hello. Hi, my name is Holly Walsh and welcome to the Actors in Conversation – Comedy Performance. This is part of BAFTA Television: The Sessions, a series to celebrate some of the nominees and nominated programmes from this year’s Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards and the British Academy Television Craft Awards. This is a virtual event on behalf of BAFTA and we’re going to learn about how these actors go about doing such an amazing job and making us laugh so much. Check out bafta.org and BAFTA’s social channels for more activity and news and thank you to our supporters TCL. A bit of inflight safety announcement: We’re streaming this event on YouTube and Facebook and you’ll be able to rewatch there as well if you miss anything. Please join the conversation on social using #BAFTATVSESSIONS. Please ask our questions, if you can see there somewhere on the bottom of the screen a Zoom Q&A function, ask us anything you like. Closed captions are also available at the bottom of your screen from now, and finally this is the bit we’ve all been waiting for, please welcome our panellists. First of all Sian Clifford.
Sian Clifford: Hiya.
HW: This is like a terrible game show. Next, Jamie Demetriou.
Jamie Demetriou: Hi Holly.
HW: Wow, are you sitting in Laura Ashley’s house.
JD: Yes. Thanks for ruining it, I’m a big Laura Ashley fan.
HW: Ncuti Gatwa, who plays Eric in Sex Education.
Ncuti Gatwa: Hello
HW: Gbemisola Ikumelo. Wow, what a reveal!
Gbemisola Ikumelo: A reveal!
HW: Gosh, you must have spent a lot on the effects of that.
GI: I have people.
HW: Youssef Kerkour
Youssef Kerkour: Hello
HW: And last but not least, we’ve got Guz Khan. He’s leaving us. It’s all about the suspense, have we lost him?
Guz Khan: Nah I’m here, good day people.
HW: Well OK so here we have everybody in the house, this is very exciting. Have I missed anyone? No that is everyone. Thank you so much for joining us and congratulations on your incredible nominations. I can’t believe it and you must be so excited. I’ve never been nominated but you’re living my dream. I’d like to start by saying that I—my agenda is I’m a writer so I’m going to ask you loads of questions I’ve wanted to ask actors that I’ve worked with but haven’t. So first of all, this is for everybody but I’ll start with Sian, do you find it weird watching the finished result? When you sit down and watch the finished episode, what everyone else is watching on TV, is it really strange to see what got in, what got cut? And also are you able to sit back and enjoy it or are you just really critical of your performance?
SC: It depends on the project and it depends how many times I’ve watched it, honestly. Like with Fleabag it’s kind of weird because there’s loads of stuff I’m deeply ashamed of.
HW: Are you talking about the pencil hair?
SC: That scene in particular. That was only our third day on set and my second day filming and it was a nightmare to film that scene. And so that’s very strange for me the response it’s had because I just did not have a good experience making that particular moment. Like yeah it’s just—it’s hard isn’t it when you, and there are people on this who are the creators as well as the stars so you understand like when you see all the holes so you can see all the stuff, and it’s only when you get some distance or watch it 3,000 times if you can bear it that you get beyond yourself and can get over yourself and enjoy it. weirdly with Fleabag I sort of feel in some way divorced from that character because I’m so different to her I think so I am able to watch the show as a whole and forget I’m in it in some way. It’s a trick I have to play but yeah it’s hard and weird and I’ll never, ever not be critical.
HW: Ncuti, Ncuti your show is obviously Sex Education, which is pretty out there in terms of subject matter and young people discussing things I discussed never in my teenage years. Do you find when you watch it back you’re like ‘oh that’s how it fits together and how the storylines all related.’ Obviously you’ve read the script but it must feel kind of amazing to see the finished show and then also your performance in it and how you shone in it because you’re incredible.
NG: Thank you very much. My favourite bit is watching everyone else’s storylines just because when you’re filming on set you’re quite secluded—is that the right word?— you’re secluded from everyone else, you’re only filming your bits unless your storyline intertwines with other people. Certainly with our situation because it’s a school and everyone’s got their own storylines, I rarely see if it’s not Otis or Adam then I don’t know what anyone else, what the other characters are doing. So it’s a joy to watch the finished performance and be like ‘oh is that what you were doing with the banana? Ah I see.’ I really enjoy it and I also really enjoy—yeah when you get the scripts and read what’s going to be happening to the characters you’ve fallen in love with also then you see the finished product, it’s very fulfilling.
HW: Youssef, you’re obviously in a lot of the show so you’re kind of must know how things are fitting together, but obviously—is everything filmed out of sequence with your show?—so do you have to remember what you came into that scene in with from the last sequence, and is that difficult?
YK: Yes, that’s something I said on day one to the director Daveed Sant, which was help me remember where I am in the story because that’s going to be the biggest thing. It’s about tracking the arc of the character, so at every point no matter what the scene is it’s got to do something to the character. That’s the number one thing I will think about, is where am I in the story and the character’s development, and how aware am I of it. all the intricacies that are involved there, that’s when watching it back when all’s said and done, that’s the nail-biting moment, it’s like did I track that properly.
HW: Yeah, yeah.
YK: Because God knows I’ve done stuff where I haven’t. I’ve thought I was in the right place then I watch it back like oh my God that was absolutely terrible. When you have a great team of people around you it kind of happens naturally, everyone protects the arc and the storyline as well.
HW: Gbemi you’ve got the opposite of that because you’re obviously it’s a sketch show so every scene is selling a different character. How do you sort of adjust to doing character after character after character and just changing it up all the time?
GI: I mean I guess—it’s been my dream to be able to be transformative as an actor. I always say like a young Gary Oldman, where you don’t really know what he looked like for the first maybe ten years of his career—he could walk right past you and you wouldn’t have a clue. It’s a real dream to just be like oh I’m going to play a seventy year old today and a fat boy after lunch, and for me that’s just the dream. You get to just play and be—there’s nothing remotely difficult about that for me in terms of it’s fun and the challenge is then obviously having to differentiate and let other things go, but it’s just so much fun and silly isn’t it. it’s a really silly show so you don’t have to take yourself too seriously.
HW: You right a lot of the script yourself, right?
GI: Yeah I’m involved in the writing.
HW: With that in mind, and I think Guz and Jamie have this as well—you like sing the theme tune, write the theme tune, like you kind of live or die by your own jokes because you wrote them. Do you find when you’re performing your own jokes that you’re changing them all the time when you’re on camera thinking ‘actually the energy isn’t right on this?’ or do you keep doing the same joke again and again and again until it’s right? What’s your sort of attitude to that?
JD: I think a lot of the time I sort of decide on a sort of sound of the joke or sound of the rhythm and then the words come second fiddle. I was saying this on a thing I just did, but a lot of the time I’ll know I want Stat to go [mumbles] but then whatever fits that kind of thing. A lot of the time you are stuck to the story, so sometimes doing those variants and stuff on set is just to create an energy to go back to the script and make the story work, I think.
HW: Do you like watching it back or do you sort of like—are you just sitting there going that could have been better or that worked so well, or that was the day everyone was having an argument and we got away with it sort of thing—
JD: Yeah there’s definitely a sense a lot of the time of remembering what that day was like, but if that day was hell it’s actually a pleasant surprise to see ‘oh we did actually shoot something,’ because your memory of it is like the fact that there was like, I don’t know, a rat in your lunch or something.
HW: I’ve had the same caterers as you actually.
JD: I watch—just when you’re talking about the edit, my first few cuts my notes are just get my face off of the screen. The reasons that I want my face off the screen are not helpful for the screen. It’s like you know I have a big nose and that light is hitting it in a big way, so that isn’t helping the story, people will be distracted by that.
HW: Unlike now when they’re distracted by your wallpaper, so that’s good.
JD: It’s not mine!
YK: Stop telling people it’s not yours, you know it’s yours.
HW: Guz you started as a stand-up right? I’ve always found watching my own standup really hard—maybe because I’m awful— but do you find watching yourself acting and yourself doing stand-up really different, or do you see it all as a similar character doing a thing? Do you have different views of how you do different things?
GK: The only approval that I’m ever looking for is from my mum, yeah. And whether it’s stand-up or Man Like Mobeen or on Netflix, her opinion is still that I’m a dickhead. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what I’m watching or how I’m watching it, there’s still a very long-ass way to go. In terms of everything everyone’s been mentioning, when we started Man Like Mobeen as a show three years ago, the very first series me and my co-leads, we were on set the very first day and we were like a bunch of Year Ten kids that get kicked out of mainstream education and taken out on a daytrip. We didn’t know what any of the words meant, they’re like ‘would you like sides?’ Would you like sides? I’m like yeah, we’ll have chips later on. We didn’t know anything about any of the terminology, any of the uses of the words. For me, every single time we do a project because it’s so early on we’re just learning. Everybody on this live stream as well, just look at the array of programmes, skillsets they bring to the things they do. it’s a madness, we’re learning all the time.
HW: Do you stick very closely to the script? Ncuti, do you ever get to improvise, or is it like these are the words, people have spent hours writing them, I have to stick to them? I’m saying this as a writer, but are you a slave to the script or is there room to mess about and add stuff?
NG: I try my best to be a slave to the script because obviously people have spent time writing so it’s easier to say those words. But I do try to—I think it just depends on the characters I’m playing .if there’s a character I’m playing that I have a particular connection to and understand in a particular way then I will at least raise the conversation of discussing a different way of saying it or adding… Sometimes I’m naughty and add my own words in just because I can and will.
GI: I was going to say in Sex Ed there are some West African-isms in there that I’m like man put that in himself, I’m sure!
NG: If I connect to the character like Eric, Eric’s West African, I’m East African but I had a bit of an understanding of that world, so I don’t know. I tried to add a few things in here and there, but it always depends on the character I’m playing. If I was playing an Etonian Oxbridge graduate I wouldn’t quite know how to adlib that but with Eric it was OK.
HW: Youssef, how much of it is improvised and how much of it is scripted. Do you, because I’ve worked with actors in the past who if you ask them to improvise a bit it throws them and makes them uncomfortable but others love it and add in jokes and stuff. Where do you fall in that? Do you prefer the script or--?
YK: I definitely prefer the discipline of the script. I need a rigid frame in which to play and I love feeling free inside a very strict frame. I was one—quite a few years to read a line and go ‘ooh I’d like to adjust that— and asking the writer if I could change a particular line. Sometimes to show respect I’d ask if I could change the word ‘the’ to the word ‘and’ or something like that. Some writers go ‘no’ and then you’re stuck. I worked with a guy named Nick Murphy, a director named Nick Murphy, former BAFTA winner, and he said no there’s a discipline to saying lines that you need to remember, and since then I’ve kind of gone ‘OK someone has sat down for a long time writing these words, I’ve got to find a way to make these words work.’ That’s my approach to it. The other side of the coin is when you’re doing comedy and you’ve got a writer like Rufus Jones, you change the script at your peril because any of my attempts to make it funnier did not work because he’s thought of the funniest version of it. there are some lines that the logic of the character’s journey wouldn’t make sense if I said them in a certain way, or the lines weren’t—what I paid particular attention to was what does the line suggest about the character’s mind-set, and if there’s something slightly off that’s something Rufus wouldn’t have thought about or hadn’t thought about because he doesn’t have my personal experience of it, so then we’d talk about that and adjust little things but it’s about tiny adjustments as opposed to just going for it. He was extremely generous and said ‘Listen, very fast and loose with this stuff if you want to change anything or do anything.’ I tried very hard to go in there and be like yeah let’s see what happens, but it’s hard when the writing is very good, when the writing is great it’s like you change it at your peril.
HW: Guz, you’re your own boss in Mobeen. Do you find you get to a point where you want to change stuff or do you speak to the other actors and say stop changing stuff? How do you feel about it all?
GK: It’s the polar opposite to what Youssef said. He’s making me feel bad and I write my own show. I should be sticking to my own script! In terms of the way we work, it’s a very quick setup and shoot situation; budgets are low so we have to make sure we’re getting the best material we can. From the first series when we were all getting to know each other from writers and directors and producers and stuff, we spent a little bit of time and gave jokes one or two goes, but if I’ve written a dead joke by the third series we can immediately identify it and go ‘that joke is dead, move on. Let’s improv something around it.’ I’m really blessed to be surrounded by people who are talented at improv, from Tolu to Tez you know and we really enjoy getting that level of improv because it makes the script and show feel a little bit more real and raw, you know?
HW: Sian when you’re doing, obviously Phoebe’s scripts are so funny, but do you get a say—say you feel something isn’t working or doesn’t fit your character or whatever, or I mean, any situation, do you ever talk beforehand and say ‘let’s adjust that or change that,’ or is it like what you receive in your sides is what you do?
SC: What I receive in my sides thirty seconds before shooting my scene I will do my best to remember. Phoebe and I went to drama school together so we’ve known each other nearly seventeen years now, so we have a trust and a dialogue with one another. She’s such an extraordinary collaborator Phoebe because she isn’t precious, but our relationship on set is probably different to how she is with other people because she can be, I don’t know, vulnerable with me because she can say ‘I don’t think this is working what do you think?’ otherwise she’ll go and talk to Harry our director. There’s been times I’ve said it’s good enough and you need to leave it alone, and she has, and there’s been times I’ve said—I remember she rewrote this scene in series one, she completely rewrote a sequence and showed it to me and I read it to her and I didn’t even say anything, she just looked at my face and said ‘the other one’s better isn’t it?’ I was just like, you know. It’s amazing when you have that dynamic, I doubt I’m going to experienced that with anyone ever again and that’s why I hope she keeps employing me. Honestly those scripts feel perfect and she really played to the strengths of our team on the second series in particular because she wrote to those rhythms so so hard and specifically and deliberately. I love what Youssef was saying about freedom within the form, so you feel it’s a really safe environment for you to speak up if you’re feeling like it’s difficult or whatever, but Phoebe always knows when the rhythm’s off, and even the paedophile joke in ep one that Andrew Scott lands, that just came out of her and Andrew hiding away in a corner and they came and tested it on us on camera and we just you know, somehow kept it together. It does feel playful but you also want to honour the script.
HW: Gbemi when you’re—obviously being part of a sketch group is such an ensemble, do you just have to trust the people you’re in a sketch with that they’re not going to go too big or too small, and you’re not going to have to go too big or too small to match them? How do you balance it all with so many people?
GI: I think it was done in the casting of us because I think we are just such a good unit and work so well together, because I don’t think there’s ever been a thought of ‘oh I need to be more like this or less like this.’ I think everyone knows their sweet spot as a performer and we compliment each other really well. I might work with Samson—like this question about scripts, I love starting with the script, but also Famalam is one of the first projects I’ve had where you start with the script but then you can just go ‘OK we got that now let’s chuck it out and improvise the crap out of it and play.’ There are some actors who are very strict and some who you wonder if they learn their lines—
HW: Which one are you?
GI: I learn my lines! I’m a line learner. I’m a— a bit like the ‘I don’t know about the ‘and’,’ but what Famalam has given me is this freedom to go ‘oh but I can play.’ When you have someone like Samson Kayo who is just mischievous on set, you can just sort of play with him and it’s fun and you don’t know what it’s going to be from day to day.
HW: Jamie you’re in a similar position in that your show is full of a bunch of incredibly funny people. do they chip in with stuff as well, do they have ideas and you work with them, or do you have ideas and then they work with your ideas? How does that work?
JD: It’s different every day but a lot of them have done the work already by being as funny as they are. They’re all people I’ve been watching through live comedy and TV comedy for like ten years, so I’ve already become obsessed and addicted to their rhythms and things they do and sort of written that into the script as is. But what usually happens on the day is we’ll do some kind of read-through and because I don’t know if anyone else finds this but when you enter a location you don’t always get exactly what you want out of a location so all the jokes and stuff you planned to make happen don’t make as much sense there, or you find like new things. If you didn’t realise there was going to be a table in front of you you can put a glass of water on the table and push it far enough away from you that you have to reach in the scene and make a thing out of that, but I think stuff like that will impact on all the actors. We do a rehearsal of the lines and I find them all so funny and respect them so much that I’m shaking over the things seeing if they find it funny. The moment scenes tank you just have to embrace and go ‘well that’s obviously crap,’ so I run away and scrawl a rewrite based on that read. What I’ll do is I’ll talk to everyone about that and be like ‘did that feel uncomfortable in your mouth? Can you think or something that feels maybe more comfortable, etc.?’ Then usually we’ll just do it with that script, then maybe an improv pass and this is a very administrative answer, I’m a robot, thank you.
HW: I’m going to take away the quote ‘did that feel uncomfortable in your mouth?’ I’ve always wondered when I’ve written a character, you sort of write them in a script and you know who this character is and where their points of view are coming from, but then you hand it over to an actor and they just make it, take it somewhere you
never thought it was going to go. In my case they just make it so much better than what was on the script, and I wonder how do you do that? You take the scripts and then do you just go for long walks talking to yourself trying to work out who that person is, or Youssef when you were trying to work out who Sami was, did you know that was this character or did it take a while to get your head round who this person was as a 3D, real, truthful identity?
YK: Yeah, the short answer is I genuinely believe the writing told me—the writing was so good, when the writing is great I find I can see how it’s supposed to be played. Sometimes I felt like I came on set and just said words and on my way home everyone would pat me on the back for the good job I did and I’m thinking I didn’t do anything, I came in and was supported by Rebekah and Oaklee and everybody, Rufus, and I just said my lines. That’s how I felt a lot of the time, so that tells me the script informs a lot of what I did. Then there’s the flip side of it, which is because of the subject matter and seriousness behind the comedy, there are real world counterparts to our story that are very serious, very tragic, very sad, very heavy, and wanting to do right and justice by that truth is where the work came in. There were lots of walks around the block thinking OK I feel like I’m seeing a tiny hole in a needle and I need to thread this character through this really delicate space. That’s kind of where I was coming from with it. it’s a bit of a balancing act, you know?
HW: Guz, you’ve got—in Mobeen you seem to cover some really difficult subjects really deftly. It’s so funny watching you talk about stuff but when you think about what you’re talking about like knife crime or police brutality or whatever, it’s difficult subject matter. How do you, when you’re performing those lines, not make it sound trite or like you’re undermining it, do you see what I mean? How do you balance the kind of subject matter with the performance.
GK: The most important thing from a writing perspective and performance perspective is none of it can ever be preachy and the reason for that is people are tuning in fundamentally to have a laugh. Something we found very rare when trying to sell some of these themes when we were going to the BBC saying we want some of these episodes pretty much in the back of a riot van with a far-right leader, BBC as you can imagine were like ‘yeah not sure that’s going to be funny mate.’ We were like ‘listen don’t you worry about that, leave that up to us.’ The reality of the characters’ lives that we portray is yeah they’re going through you know, socioeconomic difficulties, there’s’ a lack of education, they’re in and around crime, but not everything is doom and gloom. It’s finding those moments of levity and humour that takes place. If you walk outside my front door right now, people are living very difficult lives but they find humour in the worst circumstances, so for us always making sure we’re honest with what we’re writing and performing it wasn’t actually that difficult to find the humour in it.
HW: Sian, you had similar with the miscarriage storyline, which was really amazing to see on screen because I don’t feel like it’s something that’s talked about and it was done so beautifully, but did you ever get a feeling of like ‘oh God this is a big one and I’m going to have to get this really right,’ or did you just read the script like OK I trust this script and know it’s going to be fine?
SC: Well just what Guz was saying, I think humans are inherently hilarious and actually if you just play it straight down the line it just will be funny. You play a truthful situation and I think that’s why comedy is the truly experimental space where we’re actually trying to bust through an old paradigm, I think that’s the only place TV is truly having an evolution because like people are willing to take risks, by which I mean the creators not the gatekeepers, but I think—and guess what guys, there’s no risk just make it—yeah, so with that scene again you just have to play the truth. That’s why I think it doesn’t matter what script you’re presented with and I think the genre is so restrictive and we’re in a space where I feel there might be a need to move beyond it because I don’t think things fit in so neatly anymore to these binary ideas. I don’t think it necessarily serves the medium, if you look at the projects that are represented and being recognised by BAFTA this year, you’re just like yeah, I think it’s exciting that audiences are actually hungry for more complex, human stories. That miscarriage is based on a real thing that happened to a friend of Phoebe’s, like it wasn’t a dinner but she was at a business lunch and she had a miscarriage in the bathroom and went back to her business lunch because she didn’t— she had no other point of reference, she was like I just have to carry on and initially I think there was a whole Twitter backlash because people were like this would never happen, and then all these women’s stories came out that said that happened to me, and it’s unbelievably common, never spoken about, and amazing that women are being given more of a chance to talk about these things that are so natural and part of our day-to-day lives.
HW: Gbemi, when you’re doing your characters do you find, because obviously your show has got a lot of African characters or different voices than what we might normally have seen on a sketch show, do you ever worry ‘oh I hope people aren’t laughing at this character, I hope they’re--?’ They’re so well written and such funny characters you’re totally laughing with them but are you ever considering like you know, we find that funny but are you thinking are the wrong people going to look at it in a different way, is it something you can be arsed to worry about?
GI: Yeah, no I think I always go my job is to put the work out there and be as honest and integrous with the work we’re doing, I can’t be responsible for how someone might misinterpret what I was trying to do or we were trying to do. I definitely think when the joke is with the people whose story it is, there is more nuance and less occasion for it to be—I’ve been an actor for a minute and I’ve been in jobs where they’ve gone ‘can you just do an African accent because that’ll be funny?’ I’ve had those words said to me and it’s like ‘why is that funny?’ I think when we’re playing aunties and things we’re not doing this accent because aunties are funny, we’re doing it because these are our aunties and this is what happens in the party. I’m now considered an auntie on the show and after that sketch I took all the jollof rice that wasn’t used home. I’m not ashamed. It’s our truth and it’s our life. Maybe some of them are heightened, but I think you can’t really go wrong when there’s that truth there.
HW: There’s also a universality to it in that everybody’s aunts are a bit competitive, it doesn’t matter where you’re from and families are embarrassing and there’s always leftovers that need to go home, that’s for sure.
GI: There was a load of Philippine people going ‘oh yeah this is a Philippine thing,’ and others going ‘this is an Asian thing,’ so no it was really, really lovely to go OK we’re united by our crazy aunties across the culture, it’s really nice.
HW: Jamie, how much of what you do is based on people you know and how much is your own twisted imagination?
JD: It’s hard to say because everyone on the show on the surface is very stupid, but no there’s like I think it’s trying to capture a general goodness and sweetness about a lot of people I grew up with, people I went to school with, people who sort of I don’t know—it’s more just like general personality types you see over and over again and you see, they’re generally seen as flawed but it’s kind of like tapping into the goodness of them is the sort of aim. My character for example just does everything wrong but assumes it’s fine because he’s him. It’s like I wouldn’t do something wrong, would I? surely not, even though that thing’s broken and got black liquid dripping out of it, like I swear that’s fine because it’s me sort of thing. Deep down that comes from a place of self-confidence and maybe he was
bullied at school and all these things and when you tap into those things, you know he loves his dad and sister… As the series went on, I don’t know, it took a while for me to work out what the show was about. Series one, he’s just an arsehole.
HW: Was it the second series? After watching the first series you realised what the show was about?
JD: Well I think in a lot of ways yeah. I find the character reprehensible for the first few episodes of series one because I’d been working on it for like six years before we started shooting it so I was like well everyone knows this context because I knew it so well. I assumed people would assume like oh yeah—because I’ve done so much work on it, I’ve got photos of whiteboards being like ‘these are the instances where he was bullied at school,’ and it’s like how the hell is the audience supposed to know that? I remember someone texting me a few episodes into series one like ‘oh he’s actually a nice guy deep down?’ I was like yeah, didn’t you read all my notes I made over seven years?!
HW: Ncuti, you’re obviously nominated for the second series of Sex Education? No, first series.
NG: No first series.
HW: First series. OK. Sorry I just watched the second series! When you got the part and you sit down and read it, how much are you like I can do what I want with this? Did you— I mean, Eric’s a decade younger than you, so were you like I have to work out what someone ten years younger than me does with their face and their words and their actions, or did you just totally tap into the character and you got him or did you have to build him? How did that work getting the script through, does that make sense?
NG: Yeah, yeah it makes sense, it’s a good question. I don’t know how I’m going to answer it. like what a lot of the guys have said, I got the script, I read it and there was a lot there. I was like there’s a lot I can play with and I was very aware he’s ten years younger than me but much like with the humour I was like that’s not something I can play directly. I can’t try and emulate youth because I’m not sixteen anymore, so I just have to play the truth of the scene and it’s so well written that hopefully it comes across, the youth comes across because it’s coming from the writing which is what I’m saying. Hopefully if I just play the truth of the scene I come across ten years younger. It was rich and full of a lot of stuff that I—I was really surprised that a very middle class white Australian woman had written this gay, black character so well and so nuanced and aspects of his culture and parents and all that was in the script already, that wasn’t something I had to develop or build on. There was also quite an open dialogue between myself and Laurie and she wanted to make sure she was getting things right when it came to things like the church and other things about his cultural identity. It was always a conversation, on Sex Education it was always a conversation between Laurie and the cast as to where these characters are going, how they’re growing and who they are as people. I guess in a way it was a constant building but I tried not to go in with an idea of who he was in terms of his youth or anything like that, I just tried to let the writing do it.
HW: Do you kind of tonally or energy wise match it to other people in the scene, or do you kind of say this is my scene so everybody match it to what I’m doing? Does that make sense? Who kind of sets the scene in terms of how big or small or how much energy or whatever?
NG: Who sets the scene? Definitely our leader, chief Ben Taylor. He sets the scene and his energy sets the scene for the whole set, he’s a very playful guy and that kind of sets a precedent for the atmosphere on set, it’s a very playful set. Obviously the subject matter like we’re all kids, well we’re all playing kids so there’s a lot to bounce off and everyone’s coming with an energy that
everyone’s bouncing off. When you’re in a school building as well you're remembering stories from when you were at school, like I drew a dick on this locker as well, and so there’s a lot of energy coming through from everyone and you just bounce and play off that. In terms of my scenes and who sets the vibe, I don’t know. With Ben, we’ve got a thing called the Naughtiness Dial, so I’ll do the scene and I’ll do it religiously, get all the lines out well, then he’ll amp up the Naughtiness Dial and be like OK amp this up to five now, and it’ll be level five adlibs. Then sometimes he’ll amp it up to ten like ‘Ncuti, level ten!’
HW: The X-Rated version!
NG: So that’s how I tend to do it. it’s a very collaborative process.
HW: Shall we go to some questions? There’s a lot of people called Jessica asking some questions. It seems to be all people called Jessica. Do you mind if I go to the questions? I don’t know what they’re going to be like, they could be great, they could be awful, let’s see. This first one is from one of the Jessicas, it says ‘is there a scene that you are particularly proud of performancewise? If so, why?’ Let’s start with Guz, is there a favourite scene you’ve got you just love.
GK: This one scene, the only reason I’m proud of myself is because I got through without busting up for the fifty-seventh time. There’s an actor in our show called Mark Silcox, he’s a legend, he might actually be a real life serial killer, he might get his own Netflix show. He turns up to set and I’m like ‘you Mark how’s it going? Have you learned your words?’ ‘No I haven’t,’ ‘OK cool, that’s no problem brother let’s go.’ He did an iconic scene where he pours Ribena on to somebody’s car right. Pours it onto the car and has a fight with them. You’re meant to have for professional reasons a stunt coordinator or whatever, and we didn’t have one. The director was like you’ve got to make sure you really take it easy, and we had to physically separate Silcox from the other performer because even after they
said cut Silcox wanted to bang this guy in the face. I found it amazing though, there was all kinds of swearing in different languages I’d never heard in my life. The last word I heard as I went out the door was ‘you’s a cunt,’ and I was like ‘oh relax! Relax!’ I’m just glad I made that scene it was hilarious.
HW: Jamie, what’s your favourite scene from probably the second series or any of the series.
JD: I don’t know about favourite but the one that stands out in my head is in the same vein of what Guz is talking about like I’m glad I got through it, was I did a thing where I have to try and get out of a car and I get caught in a seatbelt and then I get caught again in the seatbelt. Then I go and slam my leg in the car door, but I was like cheating it and putting my finger in the way to block it, and I was going round to look at the rushes to be like ‘does it look real?’ then I had a eureka moment, which I think says a lot about the process of acting sometimes, where I went ‘ah the problem is I’m not doing it for real, I should do it for real.’ And you go the reason I’m not doing it for real is because it’s really dangerous. I was like ah OK I’ve been having my fingers in the way of the door I should just do it, and I slammed my leg in the car door as hard as I could and luckily there’s not much dialogue after that moment but when they cut I was like I’ve broken my leg. There was just a huge bruise from my thigh all the way down to my ankle.
HW: Was Charlotte Richie genuinely laughing at you at that point?
JD: I think so. I think she was just in shock at what I’d just done. I remember going over to the monitor and being like imagine that isn’t the one we use. Luckily it was. I’d say that one but yeah.
HW: Gbemi, obviously the aunts are up there with some of the funniest, but what’s your favourite character you’ve done on the
show or your favourite sketch you’ve done that’s made you love your job?
GI: I love playing Fat Sam. I love just playing the kid who just likes to eat everyone’s food. I have so much fun with it. it’s the stoic-ness you have to play with him and I just love the understatedness of it, even though it is really over the top in terms of how I look, I love that. And also there, I think in series one William and Funke with me and Samson who do a kind of Richard and Judy-esque couple, I love that because I’ve never laughed to the point of terror before. I don’t know if anyone’s had that where you’re laughing and your body doesn’t know, your body starts going I think there’s a problem and this person is in a fearful place and starts giving you tears because your body thinks you’re going through something really traumatic, but you’re just laughing? I’ve never laughed that much. Watching it, they’re just editing around me and Samson corpsing all the time. You watch it and I’m laughing.
HW: I bet the editor both loved and hated you in equal amounts that day.
GI: I think it’s the ones that make you laugh, those are the memorable ones.
HW: Ncuti, what will you take away as your favourite scene from Sex Ed?
NG: My favourite scene? My favourite scenes from Sex Ed are probably the ones I’m not in. I love the ones like the ‘It’s My Vagina’ scene, the bus scene at the end of series two as well was another favourite scene of mine. One that I’ve done, I think any scene that I successfully, any scene I’m in heels because I’d never worn heels before and that was a very new experience. There always seems to be a lot of heels, so it was like yeah, shooting at midnight and I’m in a pair of boom boom shorts and like batty riders in the freezing cold, yeah. Any of the scenes where Eric is in his more daring outfits I was always happy that I did them.
HW: You deserve a BAFTA for services to heels I think. Youssef, what does your, which scene do you feel like was the funniest, the one you had the most fun at?
YK: The one I had the most fun at was the marmite scene. I have a WhatsApp video of when I first read that scene a year before we shot and I am crying to Rufus because I just love that moment so much. On the day it didn’t disappoint. It’s a little scene in the first episode of the first series and it was preceded by a scene where Rebekah Staton and Rufus Jones are talking about me and I’m given a sandwich to eat—this is a refugee who’s just made it to England, first bite to eat, and there’s only one way of eating it which is to ravenously stuff it into my mouth, and I ate twenty-one sandwiches that day. This is before I had to start eating copious amounts of marmite.
HW: Do you actually like marmite?
YK: I do, I’m partial to marmite on toast in small amounts.
HW: You’re the only person in the world who’s indifferent to marmite. Completely undermines their advertising campaign.
YK: I might love it, I might hate it.
HW: There’s your dating profile right there.
HW: Sian, what scene do you remember the most enjoying and finding the funniest? SC: I mean similarly to what the guys are saying it’s more scenes I’m not in that are my favourite because yeah. In terms of challenging, that miscarriage scene, the frame that’s on me we filmed that for seven hours because we couldn’t find the right angle. That was really hard just getting through that day was really hard. I honestly give any of my scenes that have come out well I give it all to the editor because whatever he’s a genius. I think my favourite scene isn’t one I’m in it’s of Andrew Scott and Phoebe at the end of episode three and they’re in the church garden where Andrew is talking about a fox and his relationship with foxes and that’s where the fourth wall is broken. Just like Youssef when I read that, well before we started filming and Phoebe was like can I send you the scripts I’m really scared for you to read them, and she only sent me the first three and I’ve got a photo on my phone and I was bawling. I sent her this photo because like yeah. That for me was the most special, and shout out to Jamie Demetriou in a sex shop in series one.
HW: I’m glad you said ‘in series one,’ because that could’ve come out as a real revelation. Here’s a good question, it’s from Maureen and she says who or what was your inspiration or the moment that made you pursue acting as a career. Gbemi is there anyone in particular who you saw and were like that’s what I want to do?
GI: No, I remember doing the nativity play and they needed a Mary and no one wanted to touch the boys’ hands because they had germs and I was like look I’m going to woman up and I’m going to do this thing, hold his hand, it’ll be all good. At the end of it I got applause and I literally just got addicted to applause I was like I love this, I love the sort of—I love an audience response. Then I started finding actors I fell in love with, but it was Mary.
HW: The Virgin Mary is your muse, much like many renaissance painters before you. Youssef, who did you see who set you on the path to becoming a brilliant comedy actor?
YK: I don’t know about brilliant comedy actors but when I was a kid I watched Fred Astaire and I’d go round my parents’ flat in my socks acting like I was some fantastic tap dancer and I—
HW: I’m thinking about you like Tom Cruise in Risky Business or whatever it is
YK: Just imagine a six year-old doing that, that’s exactly what it was yeah. The decision I made, we took a trip to Stratford-uponAvon from Morocco with my school and we watched a production of Henry V and he swung over of the audience, what looked like over the audience, on a big chain for the sort of ‘Close the wall up with our English dead’ speech and I was just like I’m going to do this. The big pyrotechnics and everything all blowing up, it was quite special, yep.
HW: That’s quite an impressive school trip, we just went to Bird World, so I’m jealous of you. Jamie, who was your comedy hero when you got into this?
JD: All the classics, everyone knows them. I suppose my dad probably as a kind of origin point. I don’t know, so much mad stuff would go on in our house that would sort of resemble story structure that you’d go ‘oh I can tell these stories to people at school and they just work,’ I didn’t have to add anything to them. My dad used to run a greasy spoon café and he once came home like ‘Jamie look at the internet and find out what was the name of the ship in the film Titanic’. And he thought the internet was a room full of people in our house. I was like ‘are you joking, it’s the Titanic,’ and he was like ‘ah, I bet fifteen pounds it’s the Mary Rose.’ I kind of think stuff like that, me and my sister would just die laughing. That’s objectively funny, there’s no strings to that we’ve got to do something with that.
HW: Sian, who did you as a comedy performer just go they’re brilliant and that’s something I want to follow in their footsteps kind of thing?
SC: To be honest I didn’t really have anything like that. I grew up doing amateur dramatics in my area. I knew when I was like seven years old that I wanted to be an actor, so I joined the group and we did The Wizard of Oz, I played a munchkin, a right of passage, and then I got stage fright so I didn’t do the show the next year but my sister did it and they did The Little Mermaid and I had this really strong feeling I can remember like it was yesterday where I was sat in the audience watching the show and I knew that I needed or wanted to be on the stage and not in the audience. Then I did loads of am dram, but musical theatre basically until I was eighteen, then I went to drama school and then I was spat out into this industry which like completely kind of stifled me and wouldn’t let me play character roles or anything like that. But of course I had my little spy, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, there who her intention, her hard intention, was always to showcase that side of me. I’m genuinely indebted to her for the rest of my life. Imelda Staunton was someone that I was just obsessed with. I saw her and Clark Peters, Helen Goodman and Joanna Riding in Guys and Dolls at the National when I was fourteen years old. Then I went back and queued from five in the morning to watch it again, twice. That was another huge moment where I knew I wanted to do this, but Imelda Staunton is someone I’ve consistently followed but to my shame, like comedy I know nothing about. I learn from all of these incredible people I’m totally in awe of.
HW: I can’t believe that because you certainly don’t look like that, you look like you nail every joke and your timing is so perfect when you’re doing your lines. That’s so much more than the script, timing is impossible and you can’t learn timing. You either know it or you don’t.
SC: Maybe it’s something to do with musicals, I don’t know.
HW: Maybe, yeah. Ncuti, who do you look up to, or who did you have in mind when you got into all of this sort of comedy side of things?
NG: Do you know, so I never played a comedic role before Eric, I’d never played one and never thought of myself as a comedic actor. In terms of getting into acting, it hadn’t been a burning passion that I had from growing up. I was like seventeen in high school, couldn’t decide what to do, and my teacher was like ‘you need to go to drama school and not uni because you’re not going to hack uni,’ so I was like OK let me try drama school, and thankfully I loved it. But it was mostly classical theatre, I’d never played a comedic character. I think I find people really funny and people I meet on the street really funny and I take little bits of what someone’s said and put them in—in terms of Eric I watched a YouTuber called Grace Ajilore I really like, lots of random influencers.
HW: How do you say her name, Ajilore?
NG: Ajilore, yeah.
HW: How do you spell her surname?
NG: I just was obsessed and watched a lot of that for my audition for Eric. In terms of influences, everything. I tend to think that everyone around me is great and I just steal what everyone else is doing and add them to whatever I’m doing.
HW: Guz, are your comedy heroes stand ups who are also actors or straight up actors? Who do you go to when you’re looking for inspiration?
GK: As a viewer all those classics from like Chapelle to Martin Lawrence, but everything they did, where I’m from you don’t do acting. You’re not an actor where I’m from and I think when I’m analysing, mine comes from a lot of pain. I got kicked out of drama in Year Nine because I wanted to be a Chris Tucker tree in the play and my drama teacher was being a wasteman and she goes ‘nah just be a normal tree,’ but listen, this wasn’t a one-off incident. We did Romeo and Juliet once and she said just be a brick. I was like ‘Miss what do you mean? Can’t I be a wall?’ She was like ‘nah stand in the corner and be a brick,’ so I think really all this acting is just to prove her wrong. So Miss Griggs, if you’re out there, who’s a brick now?
HW: So Miss Griggs is your reason! This is a bit of a bigger question I suppose, but useful for people who are actors who are watching and sort of look up to you guys: What’s your piece of advice for someone who’s maybe trying to break into comedy acting and is there anything in particular you do when preparing for an audition that gets you, that you feel like gives you an understanding of the script or any way you break it down in practical terms? Jamie, what do you do when you’re auditioning? Do you spend a lot of time with the script or do you break it down or imagine who would play that? How do you do it?
JD: I think it depends. I think the moment I stopped getting consistently turned down in auditions is when I started seeing it less as an audition and more as a meeting, which is potentially like—you don’t want to go in being rude, but if you go in like I’m going to work out whether I want to do this role as much as you’re going to work out if you want me and you’re just like this is what I have and if it’s wrong for the show then it’s wrong for the show… Part of that is working out what you have and what’s your take on it. Reading a script and going ‘I think they want this from this,’ abandoning that idea and going on to the next thing you think is always my way of doing it. Creating moments in it that are yours that no one else will give. I’m lucky enough now with Stats to have sat on the other side of the table and audition people, and it’s always the people who do the thing I didn’t plan to be the case in the script that get the part. Always. Obviously, if someone’s working in an office you don’t want to come in as a pirate—
HW: Well I think everyone’s changing the way they work now after that.
JD: But I think it’s genuinely just working out what you find funny about the part and what you can make your own in it. It’s kind of vague but yeah.
HW: Gbemi you’ve done a lot of comedy acting and what I would call serious acting because I don’t know what the official word
for that sort of stuff is—I saw you in The Last Tree recently and absolutely loved it, but how do you treat auditions like comedy auditions, drama auditions, do you treat them the same? Or do you go into comedy auditions in a different way than you would drama?
GI: No, I don’t treat comedy like this thing. I just treat it like this is a script, this is a character, let’s honour the words on the page and if it’s written well that stuff will come out. But I, a bit like Jamie, I started realising I worked more when I stopped caring so much about if I’m going to get it and going ‘do you know what, we’re going to play?’ there’s times when I’d go ‘do you know what? I’m going to give this a cheeky accent and I know they haven’t asked for one, but why not?’ and then usually they’ll be like ‘we love the thing you did with the thing!’
HW: The pirate! We love the pirate you did in the office, that was amazing.
GI: That’s usually when I’ll get cast in something, when I go I’m just going to chance it and do this really weird out there thing that I just felt instinctually in that moment and just try it and go and have a punt. And one what that does immensely for me is it takes the pressure, it stops you thinking it has to be this or has to be that, and the other thing it does is allow you to be free. There’s a sort of opening and I think people on the other side of the table as it were, they see the energy you’re giving off and if you’re giving off an energy that is sort of effervescent, as well as being able to act and all that stuff, there’s something that draws them to you. I’ve only just started realising I get jobs when I walk in that kind of energy and space.
HW: Youssef, you went to drama school am I right? I am right.
YK: I did.
HW: Did a lot of what you learned at drama school help you at auditions or was it
something you learned in the years after drama school?
YK: I have two BAs in theatre. I went to uni and got my BA in Theatre and then I moved to England and needed to go back to school to make friends so I kind of have the same degree twice. I was a professional actor before going to drama school, I kind of in terms of the audition stuff, in America they train you to audition and I didn’t really have too much of that at drama school. All the stuff I really learned now I’ve learned just by doing. That’s the Catch 22 is you become better at it the more you do it, but you need more auditions in order to be able to get more—you need more auditions. What I was very big on was knowing, know thyself, know who you are, know what people see when you walk into the room. For me that was the big thing for a very long time, just playing to what I believe people saw when I walked into the room, which was actually a bit different from how I saw myself. That realisation that people can see something else, you need to figure out what that is. Of course, this is stuff that takes a lifetime, it’s active, it’s stuff you can work on every day to try and figure out how you come across and do whatever you need to do. Now what I tell everybody, as the guys have been talking about, is get yourself into a state, a positive, happy, powerful state before you go inside the room so that energy Gbemi was talking about comes across, because that cuts through everything else. They don’t want to see an opening night performance, a finished performance, they want to see a well thought out idea. If you remember that it gives you a lot more freedom to go in there and take control of this thing, do you know what I mean? Yes you finally got an audition but take control of it, do what you need to do and like as Jamie was saying see it as an opportunity to do your thing in front of these people.
HW: I’ve certainly found being on the other side of the desk there’s projects you get people in for and they don’t suit that but you’ve got them in mind for something else further down the line. Going in there with that energy and excitement and passion is so key. Guz, do you hate auditions or do you relish them?
GK: Bruv I think auditions are whack. The thing is, I think before—I thought before I’d even been on an audition I was already writing the first series of Man Like Mobeen. I’d never been to an audition, I bounced straight out of work life and into doing this. The one thing I will say, a hundred kids have asked me while we’re in the ends shooting Man Like Mobeen, they’re like ‘bro how do I even get to the audition bit?’ and I think that’s the really important bit. For me, I look at, every time I open Instagram and there’s a friend I’ve got in the industry I’ve worked with before, Jamie’s worked with them as well, and we are every two or three days pinging each other messages of often comedy performers who have no access to the industry: They don’t have an agent, they don’t know a special number to call to get an audition, but they’re creating content. I’ve seen like three people last week who are hilarious. Legends in the flesh before their time. They’re just making videos on the ‘Gram or they’re putting them on YouTube or Twitter or whatever it is, so I would say to like anybody out there who thinks they have the skillset and they believe in themselves, create content bro. It can be as lo-fi as grabbing your phone and turning it round on yourself in your living room, but really social media has given us the opportunity, myself included, for a whole host of people who’d never be able to access being a performer or the arts or going to drama school. If you can create content yourself and put yourself out there, if you’re good someone’s going to find you.
HW: Sian did you do a lot of scratch theatre? Is that what you’d say, I don’t know how you say it in theatre, but a lot of trying stuff out?
SC: R and D.
HW: What did you call it?
SC: R and D. I mean I guess, but there are always things being workshopped, always, always, always. My background is theatre, I did a decade of theatre and then I did Fleabag, that’s my bread and butter. I’ve done years of that—
HW: But when you first started, were you doing a lot of theatre and casting agents would come and watch that and then they’d be like ‘do you want to get this audition?’ or were you just being sent up for everything you kind of fell into—
SC: I would say you don’t really get auditions from anything like that. I think casting agents just won’t go to those things. I went to drama school, I was really lucky I went when you didn’t have to pay for it, so I was really lucky because my family wouldn’t have been able to afford that, no way. So yeah, and the thing is if you’re—and I don’t recommend drama school necessarily at all to anyone, I had a very, very challenging experience there.
HW: Don’t tell Youssef that, he’s just done two of them
SC: I think it depends
YK: No comment here!
SC: Some people have a really dreadful experience, they definitely do not—the experience I had in no way prepared me for the harshness of this industry or the reality of it even. Definitely didn’t do any audition prep or anything like that. I have worked with as many people who are extraordinary who went to drama school as who didn’t. There is no—I don’t think there is one way, and like what Guz is saying, everyone owns a camera.
HW: Yeah, yeah.
SC: We can all do it. I just think people are being discovered every single day because things go viral or whatever, but it’s yeah, I think theatre is a hard place to start, but it’s also very rewarding and definitely the space where I learned my craft without the exposure of being on screen I guess. I can’t remember your original question—oh yes, when I came out I guess I did do those, and you know what, what came from that and I guess what came from drama school, is a network of people. So actually if you can get out and do that stuff, whether it’s you’re making stuff with your mates on your phone or you show up to a scratch night at a theatre thing, you will meet collaborators and you will create things. Phoebe’s company DryWrite, we were doing these shows in a disused pub for years and it was, you know, the writers that came from that and directors, it’s kind of extraordinary who was in that gang. James Graham was one of the people that was part of that who’s obviously done pretty well for himself. That actually, yeah, I would say do that to create that network and recognise that no one is a competitor, everyone is a potential collaborator, everyone.
HW: Ncuti, I’m coming to you last but this is the last question: Did you, when you did the audition for Sex Education did you leave thinking ‘I have nailed that, that is my part’? Or did you have to do loads of auditions and it just felt like nerve-wracking, what happened?
NG: Yeah, kind of similar to what some of the guys are saying when I started auditioning for Sex Ed I had come to a point where I thought I was going to give up acting because I just came out of a really long spell of not working and just a couple— on theatre you can’t really save that much money when you live in London so I was like I’ve not got any money, I need to go home. I was in a play just outside of London and started auditioning for Sex Education but I just completely had the mind-set that it was a Netflix show, they’re not going to hire me anyway, I’m just going to go along, it’ll be good to meet the director, the casting director, fine. But then once this play’s done I’m just going to move back up to Scotland. So I was going in with an energy that was quite like I don’t really care, I don’t care about this show, any of this, I’m just going in and having fun, and they kept calling me back. In my final audition because I was coming back and forth from outside of London I was spending a lot of money and I was like this is exactly what I do not need right now, so in my final audition I was like I really, really couldn’t give a fuck, so I just started twerking.
HW: There you go! I think that’s the perfect thing to end on. If in doubt, just start twerking and that’ll get you the part.
NG: But I knew, after I did that I looked at the producers’ faces and I was like I’ve got this role.
HW: Well I cannot thank you enough for all your incredible insight and inspiring performances and congratulations on being nominated. I just want to say a big thank you to Gbemi, Sian, Jamie, Youssef, Ncuti and Guz, and good luck for the awards and yeah that’s it! Goodbye!
YK: Goodbye everyone!
GI: You’re amazing!