The cast of Such Brave Girls talk about their roles.
Kat, what can you tell us about Such Brave Girls?
Such Brave Girls is a family sitcom about three damaged narcissists who are desperate for love. It's three characters trying to navigate the world armed with nothing but poor judgement skills, and self-esteem that's exclusively tied to people that couldn't care less about them.
It's a fictional show exploring trauma and dark subject matters that are deeply personal to myself and my sister which would normally be dealt with in a drama territory, and moving it into a comedy space because that's how we deal with our issues. But it's proudly a sitcom.
How would you best describe your character, Josie?
Josie is someone who is desperately trying to work out who she is. She's trying to rebel and express herself whilst being held back by being a spineless, chronic people pleaser. She's a direct contrast to her sister Billie. When you have family trauma, or a parent that leaves, or both, I think you respond in different ways. Josie has turned her anger inwards, towards herself - constantly trying to run away and reinvent who she is. Whereas Billie is just angry at the world. Deep down, they're both desperate to be loved.
How much of the series is based on your real-life experiences?
All the characters in the show are fictional. The trauma is deeply rooted in reality and I think that's what gives us the authority to make the jokes that we're doing. The things that Josie faces come from what I've seen and experienced and this has given me a warped perspective on the world, and has given me and my sister this very specific sense of humour that comes from our own personal experience. That's the fun of this show, I'm taking issues that we dealt with in reality and finding the most manipulative cathartic way of dealing with it in the sitcom world.
What was it like working with your sister, Lizzie?
It's an honour, because she happens to be the funniest person in the world. It's been the most fun I could possibly have doing this show. Having her with me has been absolute gold dust, because she has such a similar perspective and sense of humour to me because we've been through the same things. She's great at backing up any stories from our past that are so bizarre I'm worried I'm remembering them wrong. She elevates everything I do. She's very much the Del Boy to my Rodney. She knows her character inside out.
Did you always have Lizzie in mind for the role of Billie?
There was never a day where it wasn't going to be her. We've got such a strong shared language that means that we don't even have to really discuss what we're doing in a scene, we just immediately have each other's back. Plus she's not afraid to tell me when she doesn't like something.
Tell us about the family dynamics between the sisters and mum Deb.
There is a lot of friction between all of them, because they have very different perspectives on the world. None of them are completely wrong or right. They're all equally toxic. Together they've created a dynamic of shallow bliss between them. I think they do love each other, but their way of expressing that isn't through saying I love you, but through screaming in each other's faces about something seemingly superficial.
I think Deb is trying her best to keep the house and stop the fall of Rome happening, meanwhile Billie and Josie are too self-centred in their own worlds to notice. Josie feels victimised by her mum, but hasn't stopped to notice how much her mum is doing to protect her from the harsh reality of the real world. Billie and Deb are kindred spirits though. Josie's the runt of the litter and they're aware of that. What they do all have in common is they're all united in their quest to be loved, by any means necessary.
Were there any funny moments from filming?
So many. Simon Bird, our director, really set the tone for that and was always up for a laugh. None of us are serious people. We had this game going through filming called 'Under the Sheet' where we would hide a crew member under the sheet and we had to guess who it was. People would lose their minds.
Lizzie's pep talk to me before I had to do my kissing scene was a highlight. The hardest I've laughed is we had to film a clubbing scene where Lizzie improvised this dance routine for two minutes and was almost entirely gesturing towards her crotch which was absolutely mesmerising, and I was trying to keep a straight face which was impossible. Everyone was trying to make each other laugh on set, which meant there was this constant sense of fun and energy.
What's your most memorable scene?
There's a few. I really love the scene in a toilet cubicle in episode three, where it's all of us screaming at each other. It felt like the lines are really pinging off each other, and everyone was really at the top of their game doing it. I liked pretending it was like we were in The Thick Of It or something. It really felt like the electricity was in the air.
We got a sad dose of reality though, because me and Liz thought we nailed it in the first few takes and then Simon our director came in and was like, "guys, what are you doing? Step it up." Turns out we were doing quite bad acting.
I think everybody's favourite scene to do collectively was the birthday dinner round the table, because it was just a constant game of competing to see could be the funniest at the table in-between takes, who could be the weirdest, who could annoy each other the most, that was the most fun, I've never laughed so hard. Lizzie had to kick my shin under the table.
Was there any improvisation?
Good question! The dance Lizzie did was absolutely improvised in the club and I had to bite my cheeks until they were bleeding to get through that. We improvised in rehearsals to get to know our characters. I'm a big fan of actors tweaking lines to fit their voice because I think it always makes everything feel more real, which is very important to me. This cast are all powerhouses in their own right and know their characters so well.
It brings me so much joy when they suggest stuff. Paul (who plays Dev) had a line that was something like "I'm just gonna go check on my lasagne." Paul said, "I don't think Dev would make a lasagne. He's a perfectionist, he's always on his iPad. I think he'd make a shakshuka" and he's absolutely right. He knows that character inside out, and Dev made a delicious shakshuka.
What inspired you to write the series?
At the start of lockdown, I had this call with my sister. Neither of us had been speaking much, and over the phone I had to tell her I'd been sectioned, and then she told me she ended up in £20k worth of debt that she'd been keeping a secret. I don't know how we'd been keeping these big secrets from each other for a really long time. We both just burst out laughing after we'd told each other what had happened, and it made me realise that you do just deal with the most serious things through comedy, and it's always struck me how we can always make each other laugh, even in the darkest times. Just that conversation made me feel so much better about everything that had been going on, because it just made it feel like it wasn't this big, scary monster anymore.
If I can laugh at something, then I can feel bigger than it, and that felt to me like this is terrain I want to deal with in a comedy world, because that's how we talk to each other. And I think hopefully, maybe other people might relate to that, too. It gives us agency over what happened and an element of catharsis. I also feel like I'm quite bored of watching shows that feel very safe at the moment. And I think they're really nice, and I enjoy watching them. But I don't feel represented in those, and I also think they might perpetuate this idea that we should be scared of dealing with the darkest stuff in the comedy world. And that's not how I feel about comedy. It's meant to be a powerful tool, making stuff accessible. So that was what inspired me, really.
How did Simon Bird become involved in Such Brave Girls?
Simon wrote me a letter after watching the pilot saying he'd love to direct the series. So I met him and everything he said was absolutely spot on, he completely understood that it was so important to us to hold on to the comedy. He made it clear that it was also very important to him, and that was completely aligned with how I felt about it, which was really exciting.
I think there's a world in which this got turned into a comedy drama because that's the trend currently with a lot of shows coming out, and I think him and me kind of felt the same way that this is resolutely a sitcom. It was honestly amazing to work with him because he's a performer, so he knew exactly how to deal with our insecurities. He was always, always prioritising takes and letting us experiment, and he was a really good collaborative person to work with. That was always the priority on set, making sure everybody felt heard, and wanted to collaborate and have a laugh. I think he really encapsulated that.
You are the writer, creator and star of Such Brave Girls, how was writing for this show different from other shows you've written for such as The Mash Report, Joe Lycett's Got Your Back and Unforgiveable?
Well, it's different, because my face is on it. And also dealing with stuff that's deeply personal to me, I needed time on this stuff to work out how I feel about it and how I want to say, which takes absolutely ages. This is the stuff that I want to put in something that's mine, I wouldn't give for someone else's story that I'm writing for. It was a mix of it being amazing to have that much authority over what I'm doing, but also terrifying to have that much responsibility about the show. It was a big challenge for myself, but I think you're supposed to write what scares you, and I've put a lot of stuff that scares me into this. To be honest though, it's mainly the responsibility of my face being on it.
Do you prefer acting or writing?
I think writing has saved me, it's my favourite thing in the world and I can't imagine not doing it. The minute I got out of hospital, I opened my laptop and started writing again. I take my laptop everywhere with me, I even took it clubbing once. It's something I can't really live without. I find it hard to live in the moment, but with writing I get to live in it afterwards. Acting is very fun, like the days we were all on set you are with people and laughing constantly, and that's the best bit. It's a reminder as to why you work so hard to make a script better, so you can enjoy them on set and make people laugh. I forget that bit when I'm writing. The combination is weird though. It really struck me on set while we were filming how I could spend 2 years thinking about lines and dialogue over and over and over again in my head, and then you basically get 20 min to act it and it's done. Writing is endless.
What do you want viewers to take away from the series?
That they might see themselves in it in a way, or feel like they're not alone. The world is a scary place and if I can do anything to make things feel more manageable or funny, or take the sting out of bits of life that people might be scared or embarrassed or ashamed to talk about, then I've done my job. I think the worst thing you can do is not talk about things, I think it becomes massive and scary, so if I can break down barriers and get people talking about stuff then I'll be happy. Well, not happy, but close enough.
What can you tell us about your character Billie?
So she's definitely not me, but she's based on bits of me. Probably my worst traits, which Kat has very much highlighted and heightened for the nation to see. Billie definitely loves with all of her heart. But it's almost always aimed at people who don't care about her at all. The ones who actually care about her, she mostly treats like s**t. She's brave, she's very bold, but also sometimes she's extremely vulnerable. But she would bite your head off if she knew that about her. Most of all, I think she is sexy, and that's what people should take away from this.
What attracted you to the role?
I think because Billie has no shame. She says exactly what people are thinking. Well, okay, maybe not exactly. But maybe what they wish they could say or do in certain situations. She was an extremely cathartic character for me to play, and I got to kiss really fit people, as you'll see in the series. And lastly my sister wrote the show so if she hadn't given me the role that was inspired by me, I would have killed her. I'm not letting someone better than me play me, I'll be playing me in the biopic of me.
What was it like working with your sister?
It was genuinely incredible. Having your sister there on my first ever job felt like just such a privilege, and felt like a piece of home coming to set with me every day. We have such a similar sense of humour and language, I think that's why every scene just feels like me and her having a chat in her flat, it felt so natural and so normal.
Obviously, aside from how brilliant it was, we did have a few rows as sisters always do. We had this huge argument one morning, and then we had to film a scene where we're sitting on a bed together and we could not be sitting further apart. We refused to speak to each other in between takes, we were furious at each other. But then moments later, we're back in her trailer in the bathroom, brushing our teeth together, panicking about the kissing scenes we both had coming up. I think that just sums us up as sisters.
Aside from her being my sister, working with her as a writer and performer was just such an honour. She's hilarious and so smart, not street smart she definitely isn't that, but I've never known someone to be so irritatingly good at everything she does. I didn't know she was that talented, and it's really pissed me off actually.
How would you describe Billie's relationship with her sister Josie and mum Deb?
I feel like Billie is definitely Deb's favourite, that comes across throughout the series and honestly, for all the right reasons. I feel like Billie and Deb are so similar they're desperate for male validation, they always want to look feminine. They definitely pluck each other's stray pubes.
They have really similar coping mechanisms and as soon as they have an idea they go for it full throttle, no one can stop them. Whereas Josie is a very thinky person and the family don't like people who do too much thinking because it's dangerous. Josie very much wants to figure out the world, which Billie and Deb know is a bad idea. Josie and Billie are like the classic sister dynamic. Well, okay, maybe not classic for everyone's sisters, but definitely in our family. We are like Del Boy and Rodney, she's the Mark to my Jeremy. When Billie has a plan, Josie is coming along for the ride, whether she likes it or not. If Billie wants something done, Josie is exactly doing that. I feel people think that Billie's cruel to Josie, but I do slightly think Josie likes coming along for the ride too. I think she just likes being involved, like a pet.
Would you say Billie is a hopeless romantic?
God yes. She will try to force you into loving her, even if you really don't want to, and she's almost never successful in that. I feel like she really wants that happy ending which sadly, I don't think she'll ever get, cause she always goes for the wrong people and believes she will be the one to change them.
Any memorable moments from filming?
Night shoots are the most memorable thing that sticks out for me. It is the craziest experience, I can't even really describe it to anyone. Like for me I go to bed at 9 o'clock every night, I'm in bed at 8.30pm light off at 9pm, whereas for these night shoots you're literally getting ready for work at 7pm. I was having chicken tikka masala in the woods at 4am, it was bizarre. We all lost our mind in the woods as no one could remember their lines. And I simply couldn't get this one line right, we were all delirious. Simon, our director, had a really good game to keep us going. He would write lots of compliments and the odd insult on pieces of paper and put them in his jacket pocket and we could pull one out after a successful take, so as you can imagine, those notes lasted all night. So those tough shoots and moments became the most hilarious times that I'll always remember.
This is your first TV acting role, how did you find the filming process?
It was honestly crazy. I genuinely went to bed every night thinking this cannot be real, like this can't be my life. I felt really safe and really looked after. The whole process just felt like us all just trying to make each other laugh and be as odd as humanly possible. They all really took the pressure off and made it feel just like fun and just feel like the best job in the world. The whole cast became like a family. They were all so supportive of me, especially in tough moments. Me and Kat were working with some real powerhouses like Paul and Louise and I learnt so much from them. I knew I was so lucky to work with actors of their calibre and it really made me want to step up my game.
Did Louise or Paul give you any good acting advice?
I cannot tell you how much advice they gave me. Most mornings Paul and I would sit down together, he would have a coffee and croissant, I would have 10 Red Bulls and he would tell me the most amazing stories and give me the best advice ever. Every bit of wisdom he gave me I will take into any job I have. I will always be so thankful for him being so amazing to me from the start of my career, I owe him a lot. As for Louise, just watching her was all the advice she needed to give me. She was so brave in her performances and honestly, when people watch it, I think it will take people's breath away and I really want to be a brave performer like her.
What roles would you like to take on next?
What's next? Honestly anything that is offered to me. I'm extremely available.
Would you like to get into writing yourself?
I feel like writing is such a specific talent. I saw my sister for three years sitting in a dark, dark room and tip tap her fingers, I don't know how she has that concentration. I loved it when me and her were doing scenes together but to sit down and write something as incredible as she has done, I just don't think I could do that. I did have a few ideas, one time we were driving back from set with two of the producers and I thought, 'okay, now is my time, I'm gonna tell this about this new, amazing idea I've got for a show'. And then they proceeded to tell me that that idea had already been made. So I don't have any new or original ideas clearly. And definitely none that don't include Simon and the rest of the cast from The Inbetweeners.
Speaking of Simon, what was it like working with him?
Before he came onto this project, I was such a massive fan of his, I think he's honestly incredible. Having him as a director, I felt so lucky because I really trust him as a performer and a director as well, and his comedy instincts are always so perfect. He was on point every time, if he came in with a change it would just make the scene 10 times funnier. He supported me so much and, genuinely, I felt so safe with him behind the camera. He just had the most perfect instincts, and like I said earlier, when he was playing those games with us on set he just nailed the balance of being really professional, but also making every scene and every day really fun. And he just knew exactly what he wanted to do and what he wanted to make, which was just so great coming into this project. I started as a fan but now I truly see him as a very good friend, and if he says otherwise I will be so cross.
Did you have any input into the script?
In the early stages of the script me and Kat spent a lot of time going through stories together and just trying to make each other laugh. Kat loves details, so she would sit with me and we'd talk about a situation that happened and she would quiz me on every specific detail about it and I think that's what makes the series and her writing so incredible because she really does nail down specifics which makes it feel so real. She would then send me a draft after we'd have a big conversation and I couldn't believe how she'd turn that into this incredible script. I'd read it out loud and I would change stuff to say in Billie's own voice, but the whole experience is really collaborative. Kat was really open about if you felt that line wasn't in your voice, you could easily change it, so I feel like it was a very open book, which was incredible.
How would you best describe Such Brave Girls?
I think it's a dark sitcom about an extremely dysfunctional family who are in desperate need for approval, but really they are in desperate need of therapy. At times it's not an easy watch, but definitely a must watch...I hope!
What can you tell us about your character Deb?
She is a nightmare mother from hell but she loves her daughters. Not equally, of course. She much prefers Billie, the little one. But she tries to do her best by Josie, even though she is convinced that she's from another planet.
Deb is a wily street rat in big earrings. She will do absolutely anything to get the family out of the tens of thousands of pounds of debt they've have been left in by her useless husband's disappearance. That includes lying, cheating, stealing, etc.
What was it like working with the cast?
I love working with them. They are hilarious. Kat and Lizzie are both going to be megastars. It's a frankly unseemly amount of talent for one family.
How is Deb different to other characters you've played in the past?
I've played kick-ass cult leaders, no-nonsense Victorian doctors, entitled noblewomen, wild-eyed baddies possessed by evil and David Mitchell's fantasist motormouthed little sister. But obviously Sherlock was a phenomenon so I still have to contend with people's memories of sweet kind good lovelorn Molly Hooper. What can I say? Deb is a nightmare and I love her. I really wanted to resist any pressure to make her nicer or more relatable. It just feels so good to be bad. There's no one like Deb. I love playing her. It's hands down the best fun I've had with a character. I don't think it gets much better than this.
What did you think when you first read the script?
How would you best describe the family dynamics?
I think it's fair to say that the Johnson family is a hot mess. Deb is a text-book narcissist, more or less entirely incapable of empathy, and completely convinced that the solution to any mental health problem is marriage. To a man.
Her daughters are basically deranged and quite a lot of the blame for that lies in their dad buggering off and their mum being Deb.
What do you think she sees in Dev?
She sees four bedrooms and an ensuite.
All Deb's problems will be solved if Dev asks her to move in. He is their "Willy Wonka ticket out of f**king hell". She doesn't bridle at his pathological stinginess, addiction to episodes of Grange Hill or deathly dull line in conversation. None of this is a problem. What matters to Deb is a massive house and the end of debt.
Did you have any input into the script?
Kat was really open to us making offers and I made a fair few. But when a script is that good you don't need to meddle.
Such Brave Girls is Lizzie's first acting role, did you give her any advice?
She knows everything already and she learns at the speed of light. Lizzie is a force of nature. It is bats that this is her first role. She is going to be Dame Elizabeth in five years' time.
Any memorable moments from filming?
Most of my most memorable moments involve Paul Bazely and either Vaseline or an unripe banana. Our intimacy coach, the heavenly Elle McAlpine (who just worked on Yorgos Lanthimos's Poor Things with Emma Stone), made every time we had to do anything in the bedroom (or the kitchen in one case) an absolute laugh. One scene was so funny that Elle had her fist in her mouth to stop from laughing and spoiling the take. That's a big compliment.
How would you best describe Such Brave Girls?
It's the story of a 21st century family: two sisters who are "wet for trauma" and utterly unequipped for adulthood, and their glorious, useless mother-from-hell who will happily threaten to slit their throats in their beds if they don't stop being weird in front of her rich new boyfriend. So, something for everyone.
Lizzie and Kat - and their amazing love interests, played by Sam Buchanan and Freddie Meredith - take care of the Millennials and Gen Z, while me and the divine Paul Bazely are bringing it home for the old gimmers.
Tell us about your character Dev?
Dev has recently started going out with Deb, who is the girls' mum. They met online and they've been on a few dates. Kat writes brilliant biogs for the characters and for Dev she'd put his greatest moment of glory in his whole life was on a stag weekend in 1998, when he was the last man standing in a paintball competition, and to me that was like key to Dev.
He has a very run off the mill job in quality control which he loves, he loves his team and he's very serious about his work. He thinks he's got a good sense of humour but probably not. For some reason he's got a huge love of New Order and he follows them all around the world to see their gigs. And he's got a huge love of Grange Hill strangely, he loves looking up Grange Hill on his iPad which Deb's very suspicious of. He's a quite straightforward bloke who is completely overwhelmed by these three women, and he's quite scared of them really.
What does Dev see in Deb?
The thing about Deb is that she's very forceful character, she's very good at projecting the side of her that she wants him to see so the Deb he knows is very different to the Deb the girls know. She's really attractive, she's quite glamorous, she's stylish, I think he really fancies her and I think he's a little bit frightened of her, which maybe adds to the allure.
What does Dev think of Josie and Billie?
At first I think Dev is really frightened of Josie and Billie. He's never had kids and he's with this woman who has two grown up children and they seem quite unstable, they are very unpredictable and he never knows what they might say to him. The first time he goes round Deb's house, Josie is telling him about medication she had when she was sectioned and that's terrifying to him.
I think, as the series goes on, he becomes genuinely fond of them. He probably feels they've been missing a father figure so he feels sorry for them and maybe there's a part of him that feels he can fill those shoes. But I think in any conversation he has with them, he never knows quite how it's going to go and that scares him a bit.
What attracted you to the role?
I just really love the character. He's successful, he's got a really good job, he earns good money and has got a nice house, but he's really awkward. He's very different to characters that I've played in recent years but I also love his vulnerability. I love the fact that he's scared of the women in the show and I love in the larger sense that Kat writes this.
This is the story about these three women and the men are quite peripheral and yet she's written him as someone who's really real and I just know who he is. When she says that his proudest moment was doing that paintball in 1998 I just think I know him and I know lots of men like him and he's really funny. But I really wanted to make him like a real person as well someone you go, Oh, my God! I know people like that. I didn't want to make him a caricature, and I think she's given me enough there to do that with him.
Did you have any input into the script?
Yeah, I was so lucky because I've worked with writers before who are brilliant but want you to perform exactly as they've written it. But the amazing thing about Kat is on set I would sometimes improvise a bit and she'd go oh, I love that! that's really funny, she's incredibly generous. I felt all the way along it was a real collaboration and that I was allowed to make suggestions that were heard, and then sometimes incorporated, and then it affected the other things she was writing. Kat would write new bits and say that she's written it based on something I would have done the previous day that made her laugh.
What was it like on set?
We didn't stop laughing and Simon's the most amazing director. We know how brilliant he is on-screen and how funny he is but on set he's calm. He knows the gag and how to make something that's quite funny, really funny. He's got a fantastic eye for comedy so you feel really safe, and when people feel safe they relax, and then you have loads of fun. We also knew the scripts were brilliant, and then the cast. They just made me laugh all the time. I mean, it was really hard not to corpse on set because you'd look at what someone's doing and you'd be like oh my God, that's so funny! I didn't think they'd be doing it like that. We laughed all time. It was just brilliant.
Any memorable moments or scenes?
One of the early scenes we shot all together was in a Greek restaurant, there was around 6 or 7 of us sat round the table and it was most of the regular cast and it was the first time I got to see them all in costume doing their stuff, it was just such so brilliant to watch all those other actors being so funny. It was such a delight, we sat round the table for two days and we laughed and laughed, that was a real highlight for me. Also working with Louise Brealey, she is wonderful to work opposite and she is amazing as Deb. We did have to do quite a few comedy sex scenes, but we had amazing intimacy coaches and they just made it fun.
Finally, how would you best describe Such Brave Girls?
I think everyone needs to see it. I've never been in a show like it. it's so funny, it's so touching. It's a story about two young women and their mum really really trying against all the odds to have a better life but making all the wrong decisions along the way. And they really misbehave. But hopefully, you really love them as well. And you just think, Oh God, yeah, I've been there.