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I TALK TO Emma Sidi

"There easily could have been someone who could play this role better than me. I had to be ready for that."

With three solo Edinburgh shows under her belt and a number of roles in hit television comedies including W1A, Pls Like and King Gary, Emma Sidi's breakout role came in 2021 as she starred alongside best friend and fellow comedian Rose Matafeo in Starstruck, BBC Three's biggest new comedy of 2021 with almost 5 million streams.

Co-written by Rose Matafeo, Alice Snedden, and Nic Sampson, Starstruck tells the story of Jessie, a millennial living in East London juggling two dead-end jobs and navigating the complications of becoming romantically involved with famous film star Tom.

After deciding to stay and pursue a relationship with him, Jessie must deal with the real-world consequences of her grand gesture and what her return means for best friend Kate, played by Emma Sidi.

I recently caught up with Emma to discuss what's in store for Kate in series two, what it was like working with her best friend and her boyfriend, her thoughts on BBC Three returning to television and whether Starstruck should return for a third series.

What was it like for you to launch series one and start to film series two the day after, whilst all the lovely reactions to Starstruck came flooding in?

That's the thing, it was so live, the reaction, that our approach had to be - Don't look at Twitter too much, because we'll get distracted. What if there's lots of hate?

Thank god there wasn't, but you're quite realistic about this stuff now. Especially as comedians, Rose and I have always done shows in Edinburgh and for all the lovely tweets you get, you do get the odd one that's like "Didn't get it. Not for me. What the fuck is this?"

You do have to be very water off a duck's back with it, so our approach was not to look into too much what people were saying in that first week. Then we got to the weekend after the first week of filming and it was like "Oh! Great! Phew!" - this is actually going quite well.

That was obviously really encouraging and created a really exciting atmosphere on set, to feel the reaction live whilst we were filming.

I remember for series one, being surprised to hear the word rom-com used to describe a television series. But that's exactly what Starstruck is, isn't it?

I think it is really. It's a really cool example of how things are changing now with television alongside features. TV as we all know is bigger than ever and Starstruck is an example of how you can do a rom-com in a TV format, but retain what it is about a feature style rom-com that everyone knows and loves and is very familiar with.

It's actually lovely to hear that people have been watching Starstruck successively like they have. It seems like a really common way to consume the series, which is cool.

What's nice is that, unlike a rom-com sequel, series two isn't set years later when Jessie and Tom are happily married and living their best life. It carries on right from that final scene in episode one, doesn't it?

Rose (Matafeo) and Alice (Snedden) write it, but they told me from the beginning that they were going to be doing that, and I love that so much. Any rom-com you see, the moment it ends is the happy ever after and you're done.

The way Starstruck series two starts immediately at that second is so undermining on the happy ever after because the problem starts straight away again. To me, it really reminds me to the end of The Graduate and how we get those few extra seconds that make us think "Oh my god, this is a disaster. What have they both done?!" and it feels like Starstruck, inspired by that, runs with it. It's just so rewarding to see the reality of the rom-com magic.

It's no secret that you're Rose's best friend in real life and you used to live together. What's it been like to be so invested in a project for years before an actor would normally find out about a role?

There's such an interesting weird mix of the personal and professional with it. I almost know about everything all the time that an actor would never normally know. For example, choosing the directors, obviously, I had no influence, but I was aware of that process in a way that actors normally aren't at all. You're normally flown in and out again.

It was an amazing experience for me, to see every little aspect of the process through my friendship. What's also really nice is that I was in the original pilot, which was a non-TX pilot in, I want to say, 2018. So it's really been a long process and a total privilege to have been in every bit of it.

Was it always agreed between yourself and Rose that you would play Kate?

Well... I did have to audition for it. I also had to audition for it when the character was called Emma. So that was really hard! But also, you have to be realistic. There easily could have been someone who could play this role better than me. I had to be ready for that. All good. No bad blood.

I went to the audition with Rose and the Casting Director, and Rose was kind of eyeballing me to try and do a good job. Also, that's great as well, because I think even though you might have someone in mind, casting should be this wide, open process. But I'm very relieved that I got it!

I love the friendship between Jessie and Kate in Starstruck. It feels real compared to other friendships on television.

I've become obsessed with Seinfeld recently, I'd seen some episodes in the past, finally, I'm doing it from the beginning. I'm OBSESSED. The way it makes me scream with laughter.

The reason I bring it up is that there's a dynamic going on there between Elaine and Jerry or Jerry and George, where they're quite mean to each other. They're really direct. They don't take any shit from each other. They're almost relentlessly mean to each other. But underneath it, is the strongest, most powerful, "I would die for you", friendship love.

And I think that's something I do feel there is a bit of in Starstruck. Jessie and Kate are kind of really harsh on each other, all the time. Kate's role is to almost 'school' in inverted commas, Jessie as to how life works, what she should do, what she should say to Tom, What she shouldn't do. Which really carries on into the second series.

I just think there's something really truthful and fun to watch in that.

How truthful is that to your friendship with Rose?

Very true. Too true. There's a lot of lecturing that goes on!

Have you ever read something in the script that you recognise from your friendship that you perhaps didn't realise Rose knew/noticed that surprised you?

Well yeah! In the first series, I remember saying to Rose "I'm just really worried that I'm doing Kate too annoying. She's so annoying!" and Rose is like "Yeah, don't worry. Just stay with that." and I was like "Oh my god! That's how you see me?!"

But at the same time, there are loads of things about it that are really sweet. It's nice to see art imitating life that close to home.

And Kate's boyfriend Ian is played by your boyfriend in real life, Al Roberts, What's it like working together again?

It's such a strange thing, but I love working with him. And I'm not just saying that so we can have a peaceful dinnertime. Working with him is so great. Maybe it's the same as working with Rose really. Anyone we know really, really well, is a total joy to work with. You have to learn the lines and then past that point it just happens naturally, which is an amazing thing to get to experience.

The sex scene in episode one... I mean, it's a very mild sex scene. It's nothing too bad. I was so chill about that. I've had sex with that guy! And then on the day, I was terrified because you realise that sex on film, in a comedy setting, is a completely different thing. But again, it was fine in the end.

Nowadays we have intimacy coordinators, even if you're an actual couple in real life. And that was just amazing because it meant you didn't need to worry about all those little things that are building in your head.

I think the intimacy coordinator at one point asked "Have you guys ever worked together before? Do you know each other?" - and I'm like "Yeah, yeah actually..."

At the start of the series, we know Rose decides not to go to New Zealand after all. Do you think Kate's pleased to have her friend back?

There's a bit of a mix. I think Kate is devastated when Jessie leaves. It's heartbreaking. It's the worst thing that can happen in the history of human friendship. But also, we can see in the background - and she mentions this in episode two - that she's planning on Ian to move in.

So actually, she's dealt with the grief of Jessie leaving by making plans of how her life can progress. How she can move to the next stage.

So it's quite funny when Jessie comes back. It does have that slightly mixed emotion of "Right. I've been grieving for you. I thought you were dead to me. And now you're back, which is so great. But also, what do I do with the trying to grow up bit?"

What are your favourite scenes to shoot in Starstruck? I imagine the New Year's party was a lot of fun?

It was! To be honest, I always think about Succession, and how much fun it must be to film that show because the sets are so luxurious and gorgeous and that is how that party felt. It's such a beautiful house because Tom's house - this movie star's house - has got to be flash. It's got to be comfy. My god, it was so nice to be in there!

It even did smell nice. It was a real house. I think it was some rich person's real house so you did feel that opulence. So that was great.

As well as in Starstruck in general, I love the bigger scenes with lots of people because almost everyone involved is a comedian in some way. At least, a lot of people are. Just working with comedians is really really fun, I think. The way you don't quite know how their performance is going to skewer what the character is.

At the party, Kate really seems in her element, doesn't she?

Yeah. It reminds me, I did a year abroad at university, and I had part of it in Paris and I was accidentally at a party I shouldn't have been at. Where there were Parisian actors and poets. All that cliched stuff was actually going on. I was just a total state because I was so excited to be there. Knew I wasn't allowed to be there. Knew it was an accident that I'd been invited. Knew I should leave as soon as I could out of politeness.

And I think Kate has a lot of that energy. she knows this is her one chance to be amongst this weird species of people because Kate doesn't even have any ambitions to be involved in celebrity. She's not even that interested in it. But it's just that experience in the moment of knowing it's a rare event and making the most of it.

There's a great scene at that party, between Kate and a new character played by Jordan Stephens.

Yeah. Jordan Stephens in it is just so funny. Obviously, I'd known about Rizzle Kicks, they were massive when I was at school, but he was really really funny to work with. His character talks about being on set with George Clooney and he really channelled that. Jordan had some really interesting experiences like that that you can feel him drawing on.

With BBC Three now back on TV, how do you think that's going to change the way people watch Starstruck?

It's interesting. We were all so upset as an industry. Anyone who likes comedy was really upset when BBC Three stopped being a channel. So you kind of deal with it and BBC Three has been doing so well online. The way the shows work and the way they go out on BBC One, it feels like it functions.

So it's going to be really interesting. And hopefully fantastic with BBC Three being back on TV again, but I can't quite predict how it's going to be different. In my head, I imagine that people will just be streaming Starstruck on iPlayer like they were before.

My one prediction is that I think it could be really good for more alternative and sketch-style comedy. BBC Three is this channel, this home, that you can go to and just have alternative, unusual comedy and you can just sit there and watch it if that's what you're into. But it won't make such a difference for more narrative comedies, like Starstruck, because we're used to streaming that on our own terms, I think.

I think it will be so special to have a channel that's almost a nest for sketch and humour. I think that will be really cool.

What do you enjoy watching on television?

I love TV. As I'm sure you do. Love comedy. Love seeing all the new comedies that are out. Alma's Not Normal I just thought was so amazing. So so good. Stath Lets Flats - I may be biased, but I'm a huge fan of it. I just think it's fantastic. So yeah, love comedy.

There are comedies I'm really excited about seeing too, like Lazy Susan, which I think is going to be perfect for BBC Three.

Mrs Fletcher is a really random show. I mention it just in case someone hasn't seen it because it's really hidden away and that's about a woman who gets addicted to porn when her son leaves for university. And I was like - this is a really unusual hook!

Drama, we're just spoilt for choice, aren't we? It's impossible to even say what your favourites are now because there's so much of it.

As a fan of television who's now on television more and more. What's that like?

I grew up in a household where you could watch TV 24 hours a day. So we did. It's such an unusual thing, filming a TV show. The first time I was ever in anything, which I think was Drunk History, the idea that they were going to a different angle and you were going to say the same thing again, shocked me.

You've wanted to be an actor all your life, how did you not know this!? I find that the projects I've worked on, I've had such amazing luck with. They've been such warm, friendly places.

I've been in two series of King Gary and Tom Davis is one of those people that is just this super warm, loving showrunner - in the same way that Rose is. In the same way that Jamie Demetriou is. It's a dream job to be around that.

What's next for you?

I'm developing my own comedy-drama. So there's lots of, I would say, low-key things bubbling away. I've got this hush-hush project I'm working on... which I can't say anything about. So that's great.

I'm doing writing rooms, so there's nice behind the scenes stuff that I've been involved in and continue to be involved in.

And then a series I was in for Radio 4, Party's Over with Miles Jupp is all about a disgraced Prime Minister, who's been forced out of office. The first series came out last summer, it did really well, so we've got a second series of that. But my goodness, with the news recently, that series and the concept has got so close to reality. So I'm really really looking forward to seeing what happens with that. It's apt.

Third series of Starstruck?

I literally don't know anything. And if I did, I probably couldn't say anything. But, my personal opinion... and not to spoil it, but it's a great ending. A fabulous ending. And I think Rose was even thinking - we were talking - maybe that is a really solid ending. But when I was watching it the other day, I was like "Oh, no... I think we need a series three!"

Starstruck returns Monday 7th February at 10pm on BBC Three with all episodes available on BBC iPlayer at launch


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