You star in the new series Dead Pixels. What’s the show about?
It’s a new sitcom for E4 that centres around Meg, Nicky and Usman, who are three friends who are always talking to each other via a game that they play called Kingdom Scrolls. They’ve been playing the game together for quite a while now, and they have their own band on the game, called The Jade Knot. And it’s kind of about how these three people deal with their lives when they’re kind of constantly living via this game.
You play Meg – what’s she like?
She’s not doing very well as a human being in general. She has a job, she has a flat, she has flatmates. But she kind of wakes up, turns Kingdom Scrolls on, basically all of her human relationships happen via Kingdom Scrolls. I think she’s happy enough in her own little world that she’s in, but there are definitely some frustrations there.
What did you do by way of research? Did you spend months on end gaming in your bedroom?
I was really lucky, I actually went away to Croatia to shoot something else just before we shot. I bought myself a Nintendo Switch and spent a lot of my holiday playing Zelda Breath of the Wild. I absolutely fell in love with it. I was already a bit of a gamer – I’m a big Playstation fan, I have a lot of old school games, I still have my PS2. But it’s really exciting to try and rediscover my love of gaming, and now I can never put my Switch down when I’m at home.
In the show, one of your fellow gamers is American, and as such, you’re never physically with him. Was that the case with filming as well?
Filming is so fun, because even when you’re not on camera that day, you come in, you don’t have to have hair or make up or costume, and you just sit nearby and read your lines in the whole time. We each did that for each other. It was so exciting. Sargon Yelda, who plays Usman, was there as much as any of us, because Usman is always online playing the games. And then Sargon had to get all of his on camera stuff done in just a few days. He was there the whole time, and Usman is one of my favourite characters. I love the fact that you could have any character from any part of the world in this show.
Explain a bit about Alison. What’s her role in the show?
Alison is easily my favourite addition to the show since we did the BLAP, a couple of years ago. She’s this very grounded person who doesn’t play Kingdom Scrolls at all. She lives with Meg and Nicky, and she just does not understand their obsession with it. She’s very normal, she’s got hobbies, she’s active, she’s got a lovely job and proper friends. Charlotte Ritchie is so brilliant at playing her. Alison isn’t a mean girl at all, she’s always trying to empathise with Meg and Nicky, but I just feel sorry for her, because she lives with these dreadful people.
So you think Meg is a dreadful person. Do you like her?
I love her. Filming was so hectic, and we had to get everything done so quickly, so I spent 90 per cent of my waking hours as Meg. I completely understand her need to shut off and just live in Kingdom Scrolls, and how that makes her life easier. And I understand that a lot of the mean things that she can say or do come from a really insecure place. Especially with Alison. There are moments in the show where you can really see that Meg wants what Alison has. Evolution favours the socially capable, and Meg is not that. So when I say dreadful, she can be absolutely awful at times, but I know where it’s coming from.
As well as being socially frustrated, she has other frustrations of a more physical nature, doesn’t she?
Yeah, she’s massively sexually frustrated. That goes throughout the whole series. Which brings with it such a brilliant storyline with Meg and Russell. She’s massively sexually frustrated, and is very open about it, which I think is really refreshing, to see a woman on telly talking about her anatomy all the time. I’m really lucky in my career, I’ve been around that a lot, with shows like Raised by Wolves, and Harlots. I thoroughly enjoy when I get to do and say stuff like that. I think it’s really funny.
The cast on the show is pretty small – generally there’s five of you in it all the way through. What was the experience of filming it like?
It was amazing. Like I say, all of the gaming characters – myself, Will Merrick, David Mumeni and Sargon Yelda, we were there pretty much all the time, because if you weren’t on camera you were reading in. A lot of our scenes are done via Kingdom Scrolls. But that meant it was really refreshing when we were actually doing human-to human scenes. And every time Charlotte came in it was really exciting, because that meant that we were going to be in the kitchen or in the living room, and not playing the game. It was really interesting, we did at least two weeks solid of us just being the core five in the group, and then there are episodes later on in the series involving quite a lot of people in the flat, and I remember it being such a shock to the system. Because they were all really attractive as well, for the storyline, so suddenly there are 25 attractive supporting artists in our tiny studio, and it was really bizarre.
You’ve mentioned that much of the action takes place in Kingdom Scrolls – what do you think of the animation?
I think the avatars are so cool. I’m especially jealous of Will Merrick’s avatar, because it looks exactly like him, but in a full wizard costume. They took pictures of our faces at the first readthrough for the series, so the characters are based on our faces. I love them. Greta is just perfect. You know the Phillip Pullman series where all the characters have a daemon, and it’s an extra part of their personality? I feel like this is very similar. If you look at their avatars, you get another insight into who they are. And the game looks amazing. And there’s so much comic potential. It opens up a whole new world of things you can do in a TV show.
Some of the costumes, situations and lines you have to deliver are beyond ridiculous – did you find corpsing a problem?
Massive. I’ve never corpsed so much on a job before. And I kind of pride myself on being really good at it. I feel like my big introduction to comedy was Raised by Wolves, where I played Aretha and I had to keep a very straight face the whole time. And that was really good training for me. But I’ve never laughed so much as in this job, and then it emerged that I was trying to contain it so much that my heart rate would get really high, and I’d start sweating. Will and Charlotte are hilarious.
Have you ever cosplayed (outside of the fact that you effectively cosplay for a living)?
Oh yeah! I’d never thought of it like that! No, I never have, but saying that, I’m a massive Star Trek fan, and last year I went to the Star Trek convention in Birmingham, and I had the best time. Me and my fella bought a couple of t-shirts there, and we’ve already decided that next year we’re going to go back and wear our original series t-shirts. The cosplay there was amazing, I loved it. I love cosplay, and I follow so many cosplay accounts on Instagram. The work they do is just so impressive. I think it’s amazing.
As you’ve said, you played Aretha in Raised By Wolves. It strikes me that the two are completely different and yet hugely similar at the same time… What do you think they’d make of each other?
I think the similarity lies a lot with their sense of humour. Both have quite a dark and dry sense of humour – that may be because I am the common denominator. I don’t know what Aretha would make of Meg. I’d be really interested in them meeting via Kingdom Scrolls, because I think meeting Meg through a game is completely different from meeting her in person. I think she’s a lot more of an extrovert on Kingdom Scrolls. I think in real life they’d probably sit in a room together without talking to each other for hours on end, because neither would be brave enough to say the first word.