BBC Three have been online for 18 months and are showing no signs of slowing down as they prepare for the release of their latest drama Overshadowed.
Based on Eva O’Connor’s award-winning play, this new short-form series, told over eight ten-minute episodes, tells the story of a young Irish vlogger called Imogene whose life spirals out of control when she meets the monster of anorexia personified.
With the arrival of her new camera, Imo challenges herself to documenting her life, starting with her new health kick. But there’s something strange going on in Imo’s footage. I recently caught up with newcomer Michelle Fox who will be playing the lead in Overshadowed. Here’s what she had to say…
First of all, how did you get into acting?
In my town in Ireland, things like drama schools – no one goes. It’s not really a thing. In Primary school I used to go to after-school drama classes and then I started off in my local youth theatre when I was about 16 and I went to university at 17 and did a drama course for three years.
Then when I graduated I got into Bristol Old Vic and I was there for two years. I’ve been out a year now, so I’m still finding my feet, but it’s been really good. I’ve kind of been doing drama my whole life!
What’s the premise for Overshadowed?
Eva and Hildegard who co-wrote it, wanted to talk about mental illness and eating disorders in a really new way. So many young people’s lives are wrapped up in the internet, they share their lives on there and the internet and the media really influence their suffering. With Overshadowed, they came across a really new idea.
How would you describe your character, Imogene?
She’s a really down-to-earth, funny, slightly naïve young girl. She’s seventeen, but I think she’s a young seventeen. I think she has what a lot of teenagers have, which is this crippling low self-esteem, but she desperately wants to be liked and wants to have friends. And I think that’s why she’s decided to share her life on the internet.
I think that’s why so many young people decide to do that – because they crave people telling them that they’re good enough. She’s a very sweet girl and I think that’s what’s sad about it – she doesn’t see this thing coming.
Where do you think Imogene’s problems stem from?
One of the misconceptions with eating disorders, is that they stem from one certain thing, like taking too much notice of body image on television, social media or the internet – or even a traumatic family history. I think what we wanted to show is that it can come from nowhere, it can come from a mixture of things.
A lot of the times, when anyone has an eating disorder, people try to pinpoint what happened. I think for Imogene, it started really innocently, she just wanted to get fit. She just wants to get fit and fit in a bit more. She has friends and a loving family so nothing serious happened.
I think they wanted to show how innocently something disastrous like anorexia can take hold. It can be from really really humble beginnings.
Did you speak to any teenagers who have had eating disorders?
Because so much of their lives revolve around the internet, YouTube and social media – what I did, was I went onto YouTube and just watched loads of vlogs. Things like make-up tutorials, cooking things – really innocent ones and then I watched vlogs where people talk about their struggles with eating disorders and their road to recovery. It is quite shocking to see.
A vlog is like writing a diary to millions of strangers and letting them into your life. You might not even know that they’re watching your life unfold. They might not even comment. I thought it was important to look at as many vlogs as possible, because Imogene I think wants to showcase a certain side of herself.
A lot of people on YouTube want to show how pro-active their life is and how much fun they’re having. In Overshdowed, as the episodes go on the façade slowly slips, she feels so alone and the only people she can be close to are the strangers online.
How does this drama vary from other television dramas? Especially the way it’s shot in a vlog style.
I think there are lots of things on TV that show mental illness and eating disorders, usually from the family and friends point-of-view. A lot of the time, the sufferer is used as “other” and there’s something wrong with them. What I really wanted to show was how normal someone with a mental illness is really.
That’s what I liked about the vlog style, you’re seeing it from her point of view. She’s an everyday girl, she’s everyone’s sister, everyone’s friend down the road – so really it was just to normalise it. It happens to so many people and we wanted to show how it could just happen to anyone.
Through using a vlog, there’s no glamour to anything, it’s very bleak, very in your face and I think it will challenge a lot of people’s ideas on how people show mental illness on TV shows.
What was it like for you to play Imogene?
One side of her personality is really fun, trying to be everyone’s best friend and I quite liked playing that. The light and dark of Imogene was great to play. The end of the series, episodes 6,7 & 8 are quite bleak episodes. The other cast and crew, everyone at Rollem Productions were really great and gave me lots of time to prepare.
Some of the scenes at the end are really heartbreaking. They were heartbreaking to film and we had to be really respectful – that’s what I wanted to be. Completely respectful. If this comes out and just one person decides to seek help, I think we’ve made a difference. It was tough.
Who are you hoping will watch?
I hope young people will watch it, I think people binge watch everything in one now and I think BBC Three is perfect for that because it’s online so people can watch when they want to. So it’s perfect for young people and younger viewers.
I think an older generation can sometimes feel quite locked out because technology changes so much every 10 years- for example there was the recent story of the British newscaster (Mark Austin) saying that he found it very difficult to connect with his daughter during her eating disorder struggle. A lot of parents will go “Why would you want to film yourself every day? Why would you possibly want to show every aspect of your life?” – This show I think shows how innocent it is.
They just want to share their life, it’s not all bad, but there is a downside to it. For an older generation it’s a really fascinating watch.
It’s Kay Mellor’s production company producing Overshadowed. Was she quite involved in the project?
She was, mainly with Eva and Hildegard. Before I even came on board, Overshadowed was originally a theatre production and Kay Mellor flew over to Dublin and saw the production and then worked really closely with Eva and Hildegard for a year because she saw the play and wanted to change it and put it on TV so that it could reach a bigger audience.
She really saw something in the two girls and she was so good at giving so many of us a chance. She gave me a chance, she gave the girls a chance and a lot of the other cast. For a lot of us, this is one of the first things we’ve done.
Considering this is your first lead on TV, was Kay supportive?
She was very good. At the read through I was terrified because it’s mainly me speaking for the entirety of the series and it was in a massive room with lots of people around and halfway through she came up to me and said “You’re doing a really great job. Don’t worry about anything. I think this is going to be great.” – I think that even the scenes once we’d shot them were sent off to Kay for approval. She let the girls grow and develop but she was always there to support.
Have you watched any of the series yet?
I’ve seen the first two episodes and I’ve watched bits and pieces for ADR but we actually shot about five different endings, so even I don’t know what the end is!
Why was that?
The endings weren’t hugely different. They all just gave a slightly different viewpoint on how Imogene’s life is going to continue. It can be more positive, more ambiguous, or more negative – so we shot everything because we couldn’t choose between us so Hildegard suggested shooting them all and deciding after watching all the episodes in the editing suite what feels right.
Overshadowed arrives Sunday 1st October from 10am on BBC Three