"If people are going in expecting it to be like Friday Night Dinner, they're in for a shock."
From the second Channel 4 announced Friday Night Dinner creator Robert Popper's next project, I Hate You, I have been eagerly awaiting its arrival. At the start of 2022 I included Melissa Saint in my TV Stars of Tomorrow list as she prepared to co-lead this new comedy with Tanya Reynolds.
Launching on Thursday 13th October on Channel 4, I Hate You is getting an exclusive early release on All 4 today (Thursday 29th September).
The six-part series follows an intense, messy friendship between two friends in their mid-20s, Charlie played by Tanya Reynolds and Becca played by Melissa Saint in her first major TV role.
I Hate You is about the one friend you can say anything to and do anything with: the idiotic in-jokes, the laughing till you almost puke, as well as the insane bickering and late-night shouting matches. It's about that one friend you really love - and really hate.
Charlie, a bit of a worrier who thinks 99% of humans are dickheads, and Becca, who has no embarrassment gene and usually makes the wrong decision, share a flat that is half spotless (Becca's room) and half 'shittery' (Charlie's room). Together, they're complete chaos. And you really should be crossing that road when they're walking towards you...
Across the series, Charlie learns the perils of jogging to jazz, Becca tries to seduce her own stepbrother, the girls meet a guy who believes humans came from bears, and both start dating older guys - more specifically, men in their 70s. All of this, plus a lord who keeps a fly as his pet.
Now that I Hate You is finally here, launching early on All 4, I caught up with newcomer Melissa Saint to talk about her first major TV role including working with Friday Night Dinner creator Robert Popper, her on and off-screen friendship with Tanya Reynolds and so much more.
This is your first major role in a television series, so let's start at the very beginning then, how did you first get into acting?
I actually didn't want to go straight into acting. I knew I'd always wanted to do it, but I wanted to set myself up before that, so I went to university and studied English because I enjoy writing.
Then when I came out of university, I went to IDSA (Identity School of Acting) for a year. After that, I thought I needed to get an agent, but how am I going to do that? What is this industry? I kind of went into meltdown.
I got a group of friends together from the class that I was in and decided that we should just create some work which would represent me as a young black female. At the time, I felt like there wasn't enough out there that represented me accurately. There were too many stereotypes, too much trauma and suffering.
So I co-wrote a play with a friend called PYNEAPPLE. That got commissioned at the Bunker Theatre which was insane. We dropped a trailer on Twitter which everyone really loved and Chris Sonnex (Artistic Director, Bunker Theatre) called up my director and asked if we wanted to bring PYNEAPPLE to the Bunker in three weeks. So we were like "Yeah! Of course."
I then got signed to Denton (Denton Brierley) which was insane. It was a very insane year for me. And then we were supposed to go to VAULT, but the pandemic shut everything down. Which meant I had a year of lots of auditions, sending lots of tapes and banging my head against the wall.
I did an episode of Doctors and then I got this through. And do I say, the rest is history? Maybe I do.
So when the script for I Hate You came along, what was your initial reaction?
When it came through, it was for a new pilot, a taster for Channel 4 and when I got it, it was a final callout. Which I later learnt, meant that they'd spent four months trying to find someone to play the role of Becca.
I remember reading the script and thinking - OK, this is tricky dialogue. I didn't know if it would sit in my mouth really well, so I had to take a minute to get the pacing right and get the words in my mouth so that they felt natural. And not try to be funny.
Sometimes with comedy, there's a fine line. We're not trying to be funny, but it's a funny script. Everything is there, so you have to play it as naturally as you can.
How would you describe I Hate You?
It's about the lives of two best friends. It's about having that one friend that you love so much, but also really hate because they drive you a bit nuts. You can be your full self around them. You can say what you want. You can be really filterless. It's like unconditional love. They feel like family.
Whenever I talk to people about it, I tell them it's a ridiculous show. It's absolutely nuts. It's bonkers. The tone of it is unserious but also relatable and actually, I think after everything that's been happening, it's what people really need right now. It feels like something that I haven't seen. It sits in its own realm of comedy.
What drew you to Becca? What kind of character is she?
I always say that she's absolutely filterless. She can be immature at times as well and she can be a bit selfish, but I think sometimes as human beings, we have to be. She just does what suits her which is something I really like about the character.
She doesn't think very much about repercussions or what other people will think about her. Her self-esteem is level 100. She's fun as well. She gets herself into ridiculous situations and then just has to get over it.
Is there something in Becca you wish you had?
The things I wish I could take from her would be the way that she does the most ridiculous things and doesn't think twice about it. I'm quite a sensible human being. I'm quite a sensible woman. And she just does things that I would never do because they're really dangerous or stupid.
That freedom to do something, not care and not give two craps about consequences is something I kind of wish I had. I'm less of a risk taker than she is.
Becca works in a curtain shop. A job she doesn't like. What's the worst job you've ever had?
She doesn't like her job very much, no. I don't think I've had any terrible jobs, to be honest. I used to work in a sports shop. That was my first job and I worked there for quite a while. I left when I went to uni and transferred stores, then transferred back to London.
I think that whilst sometimes retail can just make you... I think when you're surrounded by good people and you get on with your colleagues, it always makes it enjoyable. I don't think I've ever had any really bad jobs. I tend to stay in them for a long period of time, as well.
How did you and Tanya Reynolds work on Charlie and Becca's friendship? Because it's so believable.
When I went in to do my chemistry read with Tanya, I was obviously crapping my pants and had to say to myself - I can't fangirl, I've watched her but also, she's just a human being and I'm going into the room with her. We instantly got on and she was really great and cool, which was really nice.
In terms of working on our friendship, because everything was being done during the pandemic, we couldn't meet up yet we were playing best friends. So I messaged her on Instagram and said "Do you want to do a Zoom chat? Or a Zoom coffee or something?" Even though I don't drink coffee.
So we did that. It was just seamless, effortless and I think we spoke absolute nonsense for two hours which was perfect really, for the friendship.
Interestingly, we had a lot of conversations about sitting down and building the backstory of our friendship - and we did do a little bit of that - but everything was happening so quickly that we didn't have to do any of that extra stuff. It was just there.
Is it a friendship you recognise?
I'm an only child, but from seeing my friends and their sisters - I read their friendship as a sisterly friendship. I think that's a really beautiful thing. They still have love for each other but they can also be quite nasty to each other in the way I think siblings sometimes can be. But at the end of the day, they will back each other. I would like to think that they are going to be in their old age, together, snapping at each other.
How much did you work with Robert Popper on the script? And were you a Friday Night Dinner fan?
I'd watched a few episodes of Friday Night Dinner, but not every single episode. I'd seen more of The Inbetweeners, which Damon Beesley, who directed this had written.
I feel really fortunate actually that the whole experience was really collaborative and I'm not sure if I'm going to have this moving forward.
Obviously, within reason, because Robert is the writer, but there will be situations where Tanya and I would go "I probably wouldn't say this as a twenty-something-year-old woman. And I also would not do this." so we'd talk about what could work that still sits within the world of these characters.
The way Robert writes is very musical. Musicality is really important to him. He hears everything in a specific way and that's why it's so funny. Sometimes there might have been certain words that I would go "That does not sit in my mouth very well. Can we try this thing? Or that thing?" and we'd see what can work.
What were some of your favourite scenes to film?
Honestly, the scene where we go to the Lord's house and he is eating that cake... I don't know if that was my favourite scene to film but that was a very memorable scene because I just remember watching Colin (McFarlane) eat the cake and thinking - this is so disgusting! That wasn't acting. I was totally grossed out.
Another scene I loved was when Charlie and Becca are both in these hoodies and yanking them over each other's heads. We got through everything quite easily, without cracking up too much, but spent most of the time off camera laughing and dancing - I had to clear the tears from my eyes when we'd go for a take.
The moments where we were just looking at each other and had to be serious - neither of us could keep it together. Actually, neither could the whole crew. Obviously, they have to be silent but as soon as they stop filming, everyone started cracking up.
It was one of my favourite scenes to shoot because of how funny it was trying to hold it together. And actually, when I watched it, I thought - this is so silly! I love it!
We've got to talk about those opening titles. There's dancing. There's a horse. How much fun was that to shoot?
So much fun! Oh my god! I just remember reading the script and thinking - what is this?! Dancing? Alright... A horse? OK, cool. We then spoke to Robert about it and sat down with Ben, who directed that and Tanya and I were both like "What? This is absolutely mental, but yeah. Let's do it!"
We had our time with Lucie Pankhurst, the choreographer and she was honestly incredible. We had two to three days with her and quite sore bodies because there was a lot of experimenting to see what felt good. It was honestly so much fun to get there and do it.
We went to a massive studio to shoot it. They wanted us to dance on a moving platform, all in one take! Watching it back, it's insane. It blows my mind every time.
Who are you hoping this show will appeal to?
Obviously, I would love just anyone who's interested, to watch it but I do think it will attract quite a young audience. I remember when we did the taster and I showed it to my family and I remember showing it to my auntie who said "This looks like a funny show. I'd watch this show!" - I loved that. Hopefully, that's a sign. It's something really easy to watch.
A lot of people will inevitably come to it because it's the new show from the creator of Friday Night Dinner, but it's a very different show, isn't it? Do you feel that pressure?
It is. And I do. There's so much pressure. So much pressure. It's super nerve-wracking as well because you don't want there to be a bunch of expectations around it.
It's completely different and I think that's the same whenever anyone's done one thing, they create something that isn't the same. You've already had that thing. That exists. So you want something different.
If people are going in expecting it to be like Friday Night Dinner, they're in for a shock. When that happens, and it's not the thing you expected, people go "I don't like this" - so I hope people approach it with openness and accept it for what it is. It's its own show. Does its own thing.
They're releasing I Hate You as a boxset first on All 4. Is that how you watch TV?
Oh, I'm a binger. Honestly, sometimes I think it's really bad, but I love it. I eat up a binge all day every day. I absolutely love it. I actually think this show is so binge-worthy. You can watch it all in three hours and it's done.
It's good to have the option if people want to watch it every week, they'll be able to do that. Please, go ahead. Otherwise, I'm like binge it. Just binge the whole thing!
What are some of your favourite television comedies to watch?
I watch a lot of different shows. Honestly, it depends on my mood. The shows that come to my mind when you asked that question were Chewing Gum - I love that show - Fleabag and then very classic shows like Friends.
Also, I've been re-watching Jane the Virgin, which is kind of funny, but it's also super dramatic and I really enjoy the style of that show.
I tend to watch a lot of animation comedies and I don't know why. I think if I want something really easy to watch, that I've already seen - like Rick and Morty, I love Rick and Morty - it pops up, I've already seen it, I know what's happening, but love it.
I grew up watching a lot of American sitcoms...
Sorry to interrupt. But that reminded me. Joseph Marcell from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is in I Hate You. I mean... talk to me.
When we sat down to do our readthrough and I saw Joseph, I was pinching my arm. And he's so lovely. Who didn't love Fresh Prince?
Obviously, this is my first big TV thing and I was looking through the cast list and Joseph Marcell who I watched growing up is in my show?! My mind was like, I cannot process this. LOOKING THE EXACT SAME. Whatever he has been eating, I want some of that.
I Hate You - as you say - is your first major TV role. How do you feel that people can now finally watch it and that you'll be tagged back to this show when you embark on your future projects?
I'm so nervous! But I'm also, obviously, very excited. It doesn't quite feel real. Obviously, it's been such a long time coming and I feel really grateful that this is going to be the thing that people are going to tag me back to. Even better obviously, if people really enjoy it. What a great thing.
I've learnt a lot. As you do with every new job. There's always something to learn. But this was such an intense job so I learnt so much in terms of what's required. I learnt that actually, I'm going to rock up and be learning these lines right then and there. Whereas I thought I was going to come in already knowing them. No no no. There's no space for that in this job.
What's next for you?
I shot an episode of Ghosts, so I'm in that and at the moment I'm just working on some writing projects and seeing what comes up next after I Hate You comes out.
Interestingly, I did this casting workshop when I was trying to figure out the roles I wanted to play. I didn't want to be typecast, I want to try different things. I don't like being put in a box. But I remember him saying that one of the things he'd put me up for, was comedy. And I was like "Huh? What?! Absolutely not." - people would always say I'm funny because I'm very expressive.
With this show, I learnt that comedy is a thing that I can do and want to explore more. I'm working on a sitcom at the moment, with a co-writer. I don't think comedy is all I'm going to do and that's all I want to do, but once I'd eased into it, comedy feels great. Sometimes there are some serious challenges, but I've really enjoyed it and would like to do more of it, but in different shapes and different forms, I think.
I Hate You is available now on All 4 and starts Thursday 13th October at 10pm on Channel 4