Interview with Roisin Conaty for her self-penned sitcom GameFace
Your new series is GameFace. Explain a little bit about the show.
The show centres around Marcella. She’s found herself in her mid-30s, and the acting career she thought she would have has never really happened, and the man she was with for 12 years marries a woman he met in Vegas after only knowing her for six days. So we see her back in a house share with her best friends, trying to pick up the pieces and forge ahead with a life that maybe she hasn’t focussed on enough. I wanted it to feel real and naturalistic – I wanted it to have laughs other than jokes.
Your character, Marcella, is an actor. The life of an actor is very haphazard, and nobody ever thinks they’re going to succeed. Is that a bit like when you started out in comedy?
Yeah. Working in the arts is as much about holding your nerve and not giving up as it is talent, more so if you’re brought up working class, it can be a bit of a closed shop, sometimes. Stand up comedy feels a little more of a meritocracy, you don’t audition to get a open spot but of course there is still the issue of earning a living. We cover that in the show a bit actually– it’s not even about Marcella being a good or bad actor, it’s can she work for free? There are points in life when we have to look at our lives honestly and decide what’s working and what’s hopeless, and Marcella is at that stage when a dream hasn’t worked out and she is thinking she should park it. Sometimes you can use your dreams to not really focus on real life. Is there a significant autobiographical element to the show?
There are some stories that are true and some that most definitely are not. I think I am quite similar to Marcella, maybe if the comedy handn’t worked out… She can act like an arsehole, but she’s not an arsehole. And I think that’s how I identify myself. She feels quite real. There’s friendships that are like mine. And Caroline [Ginty], who plays her best friend Caroline, is my best friend in real life. We did a show together in 2007.
And the cast is great and includes Pauline McLynn and Francis Magee, who play your parents.
They’re both amazing. I know no-one’s going to go “The cast were shit, weren’t they?” But the cast were brilliant. We worked really hard on the casting, and I felt that it came across. I was really lucky with the cast that everyone felt real.
The pilot went out in April 2014. What took so long?
It wasn’t commissioned
Did you re-shoot the pilot?
It’s a reboot. It’s the same storyline, but we’ve made it so it’s not exactly the same. It’s not starting from the same place, but it has the same exposition. It wasn’t easy to do again, and obviously it’s recast, but it’s encompassing the same themes. And Marcella isn’t a postman anymore. I couldn’t make that work.
How do you find the writing process? Is it a completely different skill from writing stand-up?
Yeah. The writing process was both horrendous and exhilarating and brilliant and freeing. Because I wanted the show to feel like real people, you have to hide the writing more, if that makes sense. I don’t like it when I can hear the writing in dialogue. I found writing this really freeing, because stand-up is really a yes or a no with the results. You go on stage, it’s a yes or a no. This is so much more nuanced. There’s bits where you’re not chasing a laugh, and that’s a weird feeling. But you need to do that, you need to get tone. It can’t be all chorus, and that’s a learning curve. I’m not one of these disciplined writers who gets up early and has coffee and then sits down to write at 9am. So then I’d find myself thinking: “Why did I talk myself into this? Why did I talk anyone into giving me this?”
Do you feel a huge sense of pressure, as the writer and star of your own show?
Yeah, it feels bit mad. You have no idea how people are going to react to it. Even this is such a weird thing, talking about something that just all started off in my head. With stand-up, you’ve done all your previews before you go out on tour, so effectively you know it all, you’ve done all your market research. With this, you have no idea.
Do you think the world of comedy has become a lot less of a boys club?
It’s hard to answer that. I’ve got to be really careful. I remember when I was really struggling, and you read people speaking, and they forget that they’re speaking just for themselves. So I can say I’m doing better, and I’ve got a TV show, but sometimes you can take your experience as a shared experience, and say “We’re all doing great now!” And someone who’s struggling will think “Fuck off!” But definitely, representation-wise, it’s gone up in my career. In the past, we couldn’t even get on panel shows. Men would get shows if they’d had a good gig. Women had to have been nominated for an award before they could get on. That’s all changed, and it’s still changing. We still have a way to go. But it’s a super-exciting time – there’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Michaela Coel, and there are some really great stand-ups coming through who are going to be big stars.
Now that you’ve written your own series, can you enjoy another comedy show, or do you find yourself analysing it and picking it apart forensically?
I still love comedy. I really do love it. But I do analyse stuff, I like to work out why it works. That’s my job. So I’ll watch an episode of something and analyse why it did or didn’t work. I think you need to be able to articulate that. It’s helpful, as a writing tool, to be able to define why something hasn’t worked, or why it has. But I still love watching comedy.
What have you enjoyed watching recently?
I’ve watched a lot of drama, actually. I’m a bit comedy-ed out. But I loved People Just Do Nothing, Broadcast News is one of my favourite films so I will always give that another watch. I’m currently watching The Handmaid’s Tale, which I love. But I’ve been working a lot this year, so I’ve not seen as much as I would like.
Why should the audience watch GameFace?
Oh God. Why should they watch the show? I’m terrible at PR. All of this is madness. I don’t know how to answer that. Why should they watch the show?. Hmmm Watch the show, it’s funny and it’s got a really lovely cast. And I think it’s good.