"The story has to be compelling and with comedy, audiences shouldn't see the joke coming."
It was a pilot in 2014, the highest E4 launch in 4 years in 2017 and now Roisin Conaty's brilliantly funny comedy GameFace, in which she plays an aspiring actress with a chaotic life and big dreams, is back for a second series, this time on Channel 4.
As series two begins, we find Marcella on the brink of yet another driving test and with her acting career at a new, humiliating, low. But as her friends and family move on with their lives and relationships, she can’t ignore the sinking feeling she’s being left behind. But will she be able to turn her luck around?
During our chat Roisin talks to me about the reaction to series one, what it's been like writing the new series and why she isn't putting stand-up to bed.
How much has the show changed since your original inception?
Not that much actually. The idea was always a show that was set firmly in truth but with big laughs. The more trust I was given to make the more dramatic and touching moments land, the more I was able to put them in.
How did you feel about the reaction to series one?
I worked really hard on the first series so I really hoped that it would connect in the way it did. I'd be lying if I said I was completely surprised because everyone, not just me, worked really really hard to make it as good as it can be and put so much hard work and effort into making it.
I guess what I wasn't expecting was that level of reaction and the way in which people would watch it again and again. People would tell me that they watched it when they were down and it is a binge-watch so I do feel like it lends itself nicely to that style of viewing.
The reviews were really nice but it's lovely hearing from people who see themselves on screen. I have also had people tell me that they were having chemo when they watched it and it made them feel better and it's incredibly moving when you read something like that.
I've loved reading some very lovely messages from a wide range of people who have bought into Marcella and invested in her and have told me how much they enjoyed it. All the lovely reviews, every nice tweet I got, they all meant something but the private messages from people were very sweet and make you feel like all the stress was worth it.
Marcella is a very relatable character and lots of people liked her. Was that always the ambition?
I never tried to make her relatable in a likeable way. I just wanted you to believe that she was real, a real person whose wins and losses both mattered. I base everything in truth so I always try to write truthful dialogue, truthful situations and truthful emotions.
Life is ugly but TV doesn't have to be so you can have inventive cutaways and heightened bits and I don't think in order to make something real that you have to lose all invention. I really wanted to play with it and some of my favourite moments are those more surreal moments.
My main thing was to make the characters speak the way they would if they were real and talk like they would if you were to meet them on the street. I wanted them to sound like people rather than comedy caricatures to move the plot on.
GameFace is now on Channel 4 instead of E4. Has that changed things at all?
Not really. When I first went to E4, the channel were really good and knew the show I wanted to make so I didn't get pressured to make a youth show and never felt that E4 had a different remit. I've always made the show as if it was for Channel 4 so with it moving to Channel 4 it's more exposing because it's a bigger and wider audience so I try not to think about it.
You need to make the show that you want to make, pitch the show that you love and it'll end up where it should be. Make the show you want to make, that's in your heart, that you feel's good and it will find its audience. I don't think you should try to follow any trends.
How have you found writing this second series?
There was a level of confidence in that I had done it before and you can't undo that. Every time I got to the bit where I thought I couldn't do this I'd tell myself that there's proof that I can because I've done it before.
Sometimes the introduction of characters, even though it's really hard, is the fun bit as you try and work out their identifiable behaviour patterns. So I have found it hard developing them in a way that's still believable and opening out the scenes and moving the story along in a way that isn't mad.
I think it's hard because it is hard and that's OK. That doesn't mean it's unenjoyable, it just means it's very hard.
And am I right in thinking that you're still writing whilst filming?
Yeah. Occasionally a location will fall through, especially for the cutaways. For example, the flash mob cutaway in the new series was originally set in a bar, but we couldn't get the bar and then we couldn't get the song, so I'm re-writing and pitching to my director and producer. I ask them what location we've got on which day and I then write based on that location.
There's a liveness to the whole experience, especially if something falls through. You have to fight to get something that you can get. I exec produce on it so I am involved in all the decisions including which scenes get dropped, so sometimes you need to write new scenes for the story to still work.
Filming out of sequence is hard emotionally because you go from filming a scene that's really fun and giddy to one that's really dark. But that's a real privilege. It's exhausting, but it's like being in the line of fire. It's amazing.
We've got such a great cast who are able to improvise on the day and find things that weren't there originally and things that I couldn't think of whilst writing.
Did you have series two mapped out when you wrote series one?
I always had ideas and I knew Marcella needed some wins and to move on a bit. There are certain things I knew I wanted to talk about, like class and age and how close our relationship are with our friends for those who are single.
I mainly wanted to explore the relationships between the other characters and Marcella. I wanted to widen them up and shine the light on them more. I still want to do that more if we go again. I have so many ideas, whiteboards and whiteboards full that the hardest thing for me isn't coming up with ideas it's deciding on the best storyline.
Plot and storytelling is very important. You want people to remain invested so the story has to be compelling and with comedy, audiences shouldn't see the joke coming. The best way to do that is to have a story that's surprising.
Like all good art or storytelling, there has to be an air of surprise I think to keep people interested. You don't want to be doing the same thing every week. You can if it's a straight sitcom and episodic, but that's not what GameFace is.
And there are some new characters this series. How did Frances, Graham (the therapists) student assistant come about?
She's representative of that young generation who are earnest and don't drink and don't smoke and vegan. And I wanted to put her with Marcella who's not old but should be well past her behaviour. She shouldn't be getting told by a 19-year-old to "Grow the fuck up" basically.
There's a really good bit in episode five - if I may say so myself - where Marcella says a very funny thing about daytime sex. I wanted to move everything on from the first series and I worried that if we kept those scenes where it's just her and the therapist in the room together, it would look like we haven't moved on.
I also really wanted to give Karl (Theobald) something else to move with. I felt like he needed a rival, a competitor. We had to take this out because of time, but Marcella is getting the therapy sessions for free because Frances is there. It's just one of those things that didn't make the edit unfortunately.