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I TALK TO Jessica Reegan

It's been available on BBC iPlayer since July, but now Sam Bain’s latest comedy Ill Behaviour starring Jessica Reegan is making its BBC Two debut.

Playing IT nerd Tess, Jessica stars alongside Tom Riley, Chris Geere and Lizzy Caplan in the three-part series which has won fan and critical acclaim alike.

For anyone who hasn't yet watched Ill Behaviour, what is it about?

It's about three friends, Joel, Charlie and Tess. Unfortunately Charlie gets diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma and he decides that the best way to treat it is to go down the alternative medicine route with herbs and potions and stuff like that.

We do plead with him to take a conventional route but it falls on deaf ears, so we decide that the next step is to abduct him, tie him up in the basement and with the help of a rogue Oncologist, forcefully administer chemotherapy.

But it's comedy! It's very funny.

It is a comedy, but there's a definite thriller element to it, especially with it being an hour, wouldn't you agree?

Definitely yeah. It's not a sitcom. The description of it could sound like Breaking Bad, it's not the conventional description of a comedy. The description could lend itself to so many different genres, but I think Comedy Thriller is the most appropriate one for sure.

The hour-long nature of the series means that it does feel like a drama at times as well.

With it being an hour, do you find there's a lot more to your character than there would be in a half-hour sitcom?

Hugely! Ill Behaviour was originally conceived as a film and I think that really shows. You get such a narrative from having three hours to tell a story about four people. There are also great subtleties, because of Sam Bain's writing of course, but sometimes characters can be written in quite broad strokes and you have to fill in the detail.

Not with this. There were things that I had to go back and realise that I'd missed and make sure I play that beat or that moment where she has a shift. I loved all the detail, it was great.

How would you best describe Tess?

I think she's an introvert with unlimited potential, given the right circumstances. She's quite down on herself, but there's this little voice inside her head saying "There's more to you than this. Than this job and this life. You have something to say, a point of view."

For all it's ups and downs and drawbacks, I think her relationship with Joel, he does help her a lot to take risks with herself. Once she taps into that, there's no stopping her really! She has a really lovely arc in the series.

And she absolutely believes that she's helping to save her friend's life doesn't she?

100%. She's not being blindly led by her more dominant friend. I don't think Sam Bain or Chris Geere would mind me saying that she's more intelligent than her friend. (Laughs) She's definitely more intelligent than Joel.

She knows the risks, but she absolutely does believe that he's going to die and that they have a chance of saving him. And she can do that, she hasn't got much else going on.

Both her and Joel are coming from such a good place. But just a very incompetent place. A very inept place.

Are there any similarities between yourself and Tess?

Well-written characters and ones that people always identify with, whether it's in a small way or a big way. I identify with Tess in the way that she says thing ten times and nobody is hearing her.

I think a lot of women can identify with that. Being the competent one in the room, but being ignored by louder voices. I think so many people can identify with that.

It's a thing. It's called the Dunning–Kruger effect where incompetent people believe they're competent because they're often the loudest ones in the room. Whereas competent people underestimate their own ability.

I think she's a great example of that and how she finally, as the story comes to a close, realises that she's extremely capable. No spoilers obviously... But... Yeah...

There's a great chemistry between yourself and Chris Geere (Joel). Did you audition together? How did that chemistry come about?

Thank you for saying that. It's lovely when people pick up on that. I read for the part in an unusual way. I went along to a reading of the script and was told that they had cast Tess and they just needed someone to read in.

That was a big lie from Sam Bain, who I think just wanted me to be really relaxed and for the other people in the room to see what I could do.

In that first read through, Chris Geere was there and we were delighted with each other. It was so easy and not to sound too pretentious, but I think we were good at picking up on each other's rhythms because comedy is all about rhythm. It was just delightful.

He's more experienced than me and was really supportive and guided me because it was my first comedy lead. I've done dramatic leads before but comedy is very much where my heart is.

And where better to start than a Sam Bain project?

Well he gave me my very very first start. I had a line in pilot of his and that was my very first job, so he's made up for it now.

The thing about Sam and his writing is that it's not about going "How do I make this come off the page?" it's "How do I not get in the way of this?" - it's so brilliant.

I'd read the scripts loads of times, acted the scenes out loads of times but when I watched it with some friends I was still like "What's going to happen here?". There was loads that I'd missed. Little exchanges with Chris Geere and Lizzy Caplan that I perhaps didn't pay attention to before. Maybe because they weren't involving me! (Laughs)

I've watched it through twice now and I definitely felt that I picked up on new things the second time around. Would you encourage people who have watched in on BBC iPlayer to watch it again on BBC Two?

Definitely. The gruesomeness and the drama of it can sometimes take over and you're perhaps not able to pick up on some of the more subtle things, some of the other points being made or some of the smaller stories being told.

When I was watching it with friends it was very visceral and uncomfortable but they were very keen to then watch the next episode. They really wanted to stick with it.

It's a very challenging story and I know some parts of it have made people go "I don't know if I can take this" - but what I would say, is that there's so much pay off on every moment. Everything has a consequence. The things that you find uncomfortable to watch, there is swift justice for that at the end.

The things that your find inappropriate are definitely not appropriate and we're going to tell you why in episode three. We just need you to come along with us.

Were you ever concerned about doing a comedy about cancer?

No, because I didn't ever feel that the comedy was about the cancer. The comedy was about taking two incredibly inexperienced and clueless people, with good hearts and good intentions, and seeing what you would do. And how would you physically go about it?!

From what I've seen online, the reaction to Ill Behaviour since it arrived on BBC iPlayer has been very positive. Are you pleased with the reaction it's getting?

It's so positive and I'm glad you said that! I was a bit like "Do I?... Do I?... Shall I just shut down my Twitter for a little while? Will I get loads of abuse? Will they call me 'Tess the cancer slut' like I call myself in the show?" - and not a bit of it.

I mean, there were one or two, and I'd be concerned if there weren't people saying "It wasn't for me" because it's not for everyone.

I've been really pleased with the reaction so far and again, the reactions that have been negative, you can kind of tell that they haven't watched it the whole way through. I just hope it reaches a good audience far and wide because it's bracingly original I think. I thought that when I read the script. There's nothing like this.

When we were filming it we all thought "We've never done this before!" (Laughs)

Were you happy with the decision to premiere the series on BBC iPlayer in its entirety before it's tradition TX on BBC Two?

I think it was a great decision actually, because it's got some really good cliffhangers and it's three hours. It's not going to take over your lives. You will still shower and go to work.

It's unusual to have this tight three-hour binge watch but I think it's really good hangover telly actually! (Laughs)

I'm also really thrilled about it coming onto terrestrial because my friends and family in Ireland haven't seen it because there's no BBC iPlayer in Ireland. Nudge nudge BBC. There's an audience there, let me tell ya! (Laughs)

What's next for you?

I've got an Irish sitcom coming out called Nowhere Fast for RTE, but it's being disTributed by BBC Worldwide so hopefully people will see it here and it's written by a comedian called Alison Spittle and she's a fantastic new voice.

There's been a real key change in Ireland at the moment in brilliant female characters and what she's created is hilarious!

I'm also going to be appearing in the West End transfer of Long Day's Journey Into The Night alongside Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville! That starts in January next year and runs until April.

Ill Behaviour airs Sundays at 10pm on BBC Two


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