You play Aisling’s character’s sister in This Way Up. It’s not the first time you’ve played sisters, is it?
No, she played my sister in a show I made for the BBC years ago called Dead Boss, which was a very different affair entirely to this.
In This Way Up, Shona is something of a straight-woman compared to Aine. Is that quite difficult to play?
Yeah, she definitely is. She’s the sensible, protective, maternal older sister. It was quite difficult, because playing the straight woman is not what I’ve done in the past. But for me, the show is about Aisling telling her story. It was down to her how she wanted to write it, and of course we developed it with her, and spent as much time as we possibly could working on it with her. It was ultimately down to her how she wanted the characters to be portrayed, and I just went with what she came up with and tried to do my best.
Aisling’s sister was the costume designer on the series. Did you find yourself analysing her, and how the two interacted together?
No, I definitely didn’t do that, but I did tell her I wanted her jeans. She came in on the first day to do a costume fitting, and had brought me in these other jeans, and I saw hers and went :“Give me those jeans.”
Is it tricky, being an executive producer on a show where the writer is such a good friend of yours? Is there ever a stage when there is a conflict between the two?
Oh yeah. Definitely. I think it’s difficult to do anything like making a TV show – which is really stressful, and there’s all sorts of very basic problems that you have to deal with just to make a TV show. It can be emotional as well. It can be tiring. I think with all the goodwill in the world it can strain things but I think we managed to get through it fairly unscathed. The thing that’s most important, apart from the friendship at the heart of it, is making sure you create something that’s as good as it can possibly be. That takes a lot of work, and people get tired but we all came out at the end of it pretty happy.
The show’s made by your production company, Merman. To a lot of creatives, the idea of starting your own business is hellish. Why did you want to do that?
Because I didn’t know it would be hellish! I suppose I just felt it was the right time. I’d made a bunch of TV shows for other people, and I just thought: “Why am I doing that? Why don’t I just make them myself?” At that point, I wasn’t thinking about the reality of it, which is responsibility and a lot of work, long hours and paying people, hiring people and so on. Luckily there are lots of people at Merman who are better at all that shit than me. It’s not my job walking around carrying the thing on my own. But I guess I didn’t fully understand what it would entail, I just thought “I want to make TV and I want to make film, and I want to make as much of it as possible.”
Going back to This Way Up, do you have to be very careful about making a comedy show about someone who’s had a breakdown? Is that in the forefront of your mind throughout?
Yeah, I do think you have to be careful at representing anything that other people might have experienced, especially when it’s to do with mental health. Catastrophe delves into that whole area quite a lot, and it always made me nervous. But I felt that if you are approaching it from a truthful point of view, if it’s a genuine thing that genuinely happened to you, and you have a perspective and experience of it, then I kind of think “What can go wrong?” if you approach it with sensitivity and intelligence. The fact that it’s a comedy I don’t think matters, if I’m honest. It would be the same as if we were making a drama. Just because it’s a comedy doesn’t mean it’s a piss take. So from a comedy point of view I wasn’t nervous, but I think if you’re putting out anything that has a sensitive subject matter, it makes you nervous. But you have to trust that you’ve approached it in a way that is truthful and sensitive.
Aisling’s not only written a very funny and moving script, she’s also an extraordinary actress, isn’t she?
Yeah, she is. I think that’s going to be the thing that really blows it up. Of course she’s been acting for years, but that’s not generally how people know her. They know her from stand-up, and they know her from panel shows. I think it’s going to be a real eye-opener. She’s done some great roles and done some great TV and all of that, but I think the fact that she was able to tailor-make this herself is one of the reasons why this is such a showcase for her talents. She’s written what she can do best.