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I TALK TO Susan Wokoma and Ed Easton

After an initial three-part pilot series in 2017, Dave's hit hospital comedy Porters is returning with six brand new episodes and I caught up with two of the show's leading stars to find out more.

Set in a fictional hospital, Porters is written by Dan Sefton (Good Karma Hospital) and follows porters Simon, Frankie and Tillman, played by Ed Easton, Susan Wokoma and Rutger Hauer who dwell beneath the hospital façade in a secret subterranean basement world of partying morticians and taser-happy security guards.

Also part of the cast are naïve nurse Lucy, played by Claudia Jessie, Dr Pradeep played by Sanjeev Bhaskar and Jane Bison played by Tanya Franks.

Joining the cast for series two are Sinead Keenan as Dr Bartholomew and Daniel Mays as long-time porter Anthony De La Mer who's been drafted in to replace Tillman who has gone to visit the Dalai Lama - but don't worry, fans of Rutger Hauer will still be getting their fix.

So what else is happening? Well, Anthony's arrival makes Frankie's life hell until she realises that they have to work together to make some extra cash and Simon continues to pine after Lucy, despite her getting engaged to Dr McKenzie.

I recently caught up with Susan Wokoma and Ed Easton to talk about the second series of Porters.

Did you find it easier working on the second series because you already knew each other and what the show is?

Ed Easton: As soon as we got back together there was none of that trying to work out who each other is and who's a dickhead essentially.

Susan Wokoma: (Laughs) I think that's what's good about doing a three episode pilot that doesn't really exist apart from with UKTV - it does feel like a series so you are working together enough so when you then hopefully have a proper go at it, there's not that much awkwardness.

For anyone who didn't catch the first mini-series, what is Porters about?

Ed: Porters is a hospital-based comedy, but not like all the other ones because it's not about the doctors and the nurses getting off with each other, it's about the porters wanting to get off with the doctors and the nurses.

It's about the porters, who are all the cogs in the machine. For example, "this patient needs to go over there but they haven't got any legs. So the porter puts them in a wheelchair and wheels them over to where they need to be." (Both laugh)

Ed, how would you describe your character, Simon?

In the first series, he was feckless with a grandiosity to him. He wanted to be a doctor so thought that he should start at the bottom and be a porter, but he couldn't even do that because it's a difficult job.

He still wants to be a doctor and there are times when he still tries to be one, but it feels like this series he just thinks "Let me get to grips with this porters thing first." But of course when the opportunity arises to aim higher, he still fucks that up!

Susan, how would you describe your character, Frankie?

Frankie is a run-of-the-mill porter. She's been there for ages and then Simon comes in who she immediately hates because by him coming in saying he wants to be a doctor, that's insulting to her job - a job that she doesn't care about. But still, she's allowed to speak ill of it but other people aren't. Her logic is a little bit weird.

In the first series, Rutger Hauer's character Tillman and her have been working together for a long time and have a sort of best friend, father daughter thing going on. But you see the three of them forced to work together and go on some adventures.

Tillman loves Simon immediately so Frankie has to give a shit about him. So she learns that he's bearable and doesn't make her fully sick.

The good thing about focussing on porters is that they can work in any area of the hospital. Their job goes from moving bodies to sorting post which means the comic possibilities are endless. You're not just with doctors saving lives.

My favourite hospital is Green Wing but that's because saving lives was very low on their priorities! (Laughs) They really didn't give a shit about that which is why it was really good.

And Frankie has history with the new boy doesn't she?

Yeah, she has history with Anthony De La Mer, played by Daniel Mays. They're both wheeler-dealers trying to make the best of a bad situation. So they come up with different schemes to make money. Initially he crosses her patch but then they learn that they have to work together.

Which is when we start to find out that Frankie has other aspirations and could actually be a doctor if she wanted to. But she doesn't quite feel like she can. Which sheds light onto why she hates this one (points to Ed).

How did Daniel Mays fit in to the cast?

Ed: Really easily actually. He's a pro!

Susan: He came in so last minute, I can't even tell you, really close to the wire, so even if somebody is lovely - and I'd only heard nice things about him - you don't know whether it's going to work. Sometimes you get people who join something and are so scared about messing up that they can be quite unpleasant.

But with him he was professional, but he's also still a bit of a kid. When I realised that he used to be a child actor, you can still see that in terms of how excited and giddy he could get. I really liked him.

And it was a very different role for him as we're used to him being in serious dramas...

Ed: It felt like he came in to do AmDram and we were all just fucking around and having a great time. What I mean by that is that he just came in and had a really good time and enjoyed himself. I feel like the approach he took coming in to Porters was "This will be loads of fun!" so he came into it wanting it to be a blast. And it was!

Susan: And drama is so different. It just is. To be able to do both goes to show how brilliant he is to be honest. There are a lot of people who can do one or the other. But what you do get when someone has been doing Line of Duty or whatever and they come into something like this, is that they just have a really good time because you don't have to worry in the same way.

But also, comic timing is something a lot of people don't have but he's really got that.

What was it like working opposite Rutger Hauer?

Ed: Well for one of my scenes I had to act to a puddle.

Susan: Oh! He wasn't there?! Which one?

Ed: The golf scene where I go and sit on a wall and have a conversation with him, and then he disappears. We did that in the fourth of fifth week and he didn't start shooting until the sixth week. So I sat on a bench and they were like "Look lower. Look lower." and I was like "I'm looking at a puddle!" and they were like "Yeah, that's the one!"

(Both laugh)

Susan: I didn't know that! How fucking brilliant.

Do you enjoy the fantasy scenes where you get to dress up?

Ed: I love dressing up.

Susan: You do and you do the most. What I love is when we're filming and I've got a scene off and I get to just see you (Ed) looking like a fucking fool! (Laughs) I love it so much!

Ed: There's a bit where I had to dress as a baby, a toddler and a then a young scout. All we needed was me, somebody to sort of direct it, and a cameraman. Oh... there was about twenty people there! "You don't need to be here to watch me dressed as a baby!"

I thought they were having me on, we didn't need that many shots. I watched them and it's just the baby one that made the cut! So the toddler one and the young scout one aren't even in the show! Just for kicks. Someone's got that on record somewhere for themselves. Three costume changes in the basement of a disused factory for that!

Susan: I don't have many. I have one in the court which might go in my showreel as a dramatic role! So I thought "this is good". I then did the LARPing stuff in episode two, but that's not a fantasy scene, that's just a flashback. That meant I had to dress up as a fairy, which I didn't like. But we had a dog.

How much say did you have about your characters went in series two?

Susan: Our Exec Laurence is great and called each of us in after the first series and asked us what we would like and what we would be interested in. The first thing I said, and Claudia (Jessie) said separately, was more scenes with each other.

Ed: I said that as well.

Susan: (Rolls eyes) Urgh, OK. Yes, you did as well. Do you want a fucking cupcake? (Laughs)

Ed: Yeah. I want a cupcake that says -

Both: 'Feminist' (Both laugh)

Susan: In all seriousness, it felt weird in the first series that us three to get on as well as we did but would never be filming together, it felt strange. We all felt that so I've got loads more scenes with Claudia which is great and a whole fight club episode which is episode four.

This series seems to be a lot more about you three and Daniel May's character and less about the guest stars as it was for series one. Would you agree?

Susan: Yeah, I was a bit worried. All those guesty things are really fun because if a part is really well-written you can see how people are willing to give up two days of their time to do it. But sometimes when I watch things where there's a lot of emphasis on who they can get it in, it can feel like you're masking something or trying to put something shiny on it.

I didn't feel that on the first series, but I did hope that Porters didn't become "Guest starring... Sting!" D'ya know what I mean? (Laughs)

Ed: (Laughs) Sting?! You've immediately managed to name the weirdest person who could be a guest star. "You'll never guess who's coming in?" - "Oh my god, who?" - "Sting." "Right... OK... No, good... but why?"

Susan: With this series I feel like we do have cool shiny people like Marc Warren in, but that's because his part is perfect for him. It wasn't just "Oh let's call our friend". It made sense.

Would you be friends with your characters?

Susan: Never! No! Frankie's awful. She's a knobhead. She's so mean. Simon walks in on his first day and the first thing she says is "Shut up! First rule of portering..." If you break it down, everyone's awful. But also why does everyone have to be nice?

Ed: No! My character is a gaslighting psychopath.

Susan: You are a psychopath. You just look at Lucy and go "Well I love her" - that's weird! You have to speak to the woman. That's Simon. But Frankie is awful. She's just a bully.

The more time we spend with these characters, you can excuse, just like any other comedies, the bad things that they do.

You film in a real hospital, do you get recognised?

Ed: You did in the first series!

Susan: Did I? When?!

Ed: We were outside. I think you were having a cigarette.

Susan: I don't smoke anymore! I vape now... (Laughs)

Ed: You were by the bike sheds and some guy came up to you and went "You're in Chewing Gum. I think you're great in it" and you went "Yeah. So?" and then you spat on him! (Laughs)

Susan: (Laughs) No!

Ed: Then you put the cigarette out on his face and said "Get out of here! Scum." - That last bit didn't happen but she did get recognised.

Susan: Put that in! That's really funny! I want to read that back! (Laughs) That's more or less the only time. I don't really get recognised for stuff. Being recognised isn't the same these days because everyone is so accessible. What I tend to get, which is a bit strange, is that people come up to me and go "Oh I saw you in that thing. You're on the TV." and they always say "Keep going... Keep going, don't give up."

So you're like "Thank you?" I think it's more a "You're going out there, you're doing your thing, keep going, never stop!" but sometimes that doesn't filter through. I get encouraged a lot, which is great if you're having a bad day!

Looking at other comedy on television, what do you enjoy watching?

Ed: I rinsed through Flowers. It's fucking brilliant. It's so good. There are two bits that are heartbreaking and beautiful. There's one bit where she sits down and listens to her husband's recording of why he feels sad all the time. The show is fucking hilarious and then it gets really dark. But in the most beautiful way. It's fucking exquisite, genuinely.

Susan: I'm halfway through Russian Doll, I know that's not a comedy but I really like that. You know when you really like everything about a character? The script is super sharp. It's so quick and witty and she's allowed to be so witty. I love the premise as well.

There's too much TV at the moment. I'm trying to think what British comedies I've enjoyed...

What's next for you both?

Susan: I'm writing a comedy at the moment, which I've actually been writing for a while with Tiger Aspect. I was commissioned back in 2016 and it's been through lots of version and I've basically come back to the original version! So we're reworking that which is really exciting.

I've also been in the writer's room for the second series of Sex Education which is exciting and I've been commissioned to write my first feature with BBC Films which is a comedy about abortion.

And I've just finished filming Year of the Rabbit for Channel 4 which I'm very excited about and that should be out later in the year.

Ed: All of my stuff is far more ethereal, but I'm writing up a treatment at the moment for a show about toxic masculinity and about paternal relationships and fraternal relationships because I think that's super important to talk about.

If you have a platform, use it to say something important. Even if it's a comedy. Especially if it's a comedy! And I'll be going back up to Edinburgh this year with Gein's Family Giftshop.

Porters returns Thursday at 10pm on Dave


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