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Nicola Coughlan – who plays Maggie

What were your initial thoughts when you read the scripts for Big Mood and what made you want to get involved?
Camilla has been a part of my life for a really long time, I’ve known her for nearly 16 years, and we always wanted to work together. We wrote a podcast together called Whistle Through The Shamrocks, and it was very silly and very fun. It was a nice chance to see how our working dynamic was. Camilla had talked about writing something that I would be in, but it took various different forms and then all came together as what Big Mood is now. I was never really asked to do Big Mood, Camilla just always expected that I would do it, and I would have never said no! The challenge of being an actor or writer is our schedules, I really hoped I could make it work and thankfully it did. When I read the script, I was like, it’s so brilliant. But I’ve known Camilla was a brilliant writer for a really long time. I saw the first short play she ever wrote, and it was genius, in that moment I genuinely knew she was going to be a famous writer. I’ve never been in doubt because she’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, she’s so smart. She’s got such a distinct voice and that came through so clearly within the scripts. Big Mood has so much heart to it as well. It’s a gift as an actor when you just get handed a script like that and you haven’t even had to audition, you’re like thank you so much this is great!

Talk us through some of the themes from the show and what stood out for you?
I think one of the things I knew that was important to me is that even though the show deals with difficult stuff, Camilla said it’s a comedy. It’s so brilliantly balanced by how much you have these proper laugh out loud moments and then the next scene, you’re crying. I love that it felt very true to her voice. It’s also very much in the vernacular of how her and I and our friends speak to one another, so it felt very real. It was really gutting to read it because it was so effective, and I think it talks about mental health in such an unflinching and kind of an uncomfortable way. In the world now there are way more solutions around mental health, way more openness about it, but also sometimes the line is drawn – depression and anxiety are very socially acceptable and it’s okay to talk about but when it gets into people using anti-psychotic drugs, or having psychotic episodes, then people can get totally freaked out by that and that’s not considered in the banner of comfortable mental health. I’ve shown it to a couple of people and everyone that has watched it has loved it and said it’s so funny but have also said this is really important, I think it’s going to give people a completely different understanding of what bipolar disorder is and how it manifests, and it did that for me as well.

What have you enjoyed most about Big Mood and what’s it been like working with everyone involved?
Honestly, the whole experience was incredible. I really fell in love with everyone. I mean, I’ve loved Camilla for years and years so that was a given. Our director Rebecca Asher has worked on some of the stuff that’s been most formative to me in my career, like Arrested Development is one of my favourite shows of all time. She was on that series for the first three seasons. She’s just an incredible director and so kind and respectful. I have a big belief that nothing good happens on a toxic set. Rebecca would know what everybody was doing, everyone’s name and everyone’s job. She made me feel very comfortable because when I read the script at first, I had a real sense of – a good script will do this for me anyway and I don’t really have to think about the other stuff. The script will inform how you move, how the character talks, every gesture and how you live in their body. So, I was like, I think Maggie is going to be very handsy and I could see these acrylic nails in my head. But I said to her if it wants to be very flighty, that can be hard for a director because I’m cognizant of the editing room. If I try to do loads of very different things in different takes it’s going to make it hard, but she was like, “do what you want to do and we’ll work around you” which is incredibly kind and it made me feel really free in the performance. Lauren Evans cast the supporting roles so phenomenally, I think people are going to completely fall in love with this cast because everyone is so distinct, people that have two lines in this show completely steal it. Maddie Jepson for example, absolutely phenomenal. Amalia Vitale, again been a friend for years and years, they just come in and they blow it out of the water, and I’m really excited for people to see that. It was really hard work because we filmed in seven weeks, I was filming Bridgerton at the same time for half of it. So, it was tough but even the crew were saying I think it’s really brilliant and funny and important and when you get that from the crew they’re not lying because they don’t need to tell you that – everyone loved making this show.

Who is Maggie?
Maggie is just about to turn 30 and she lives in East London. Her best friend is Eddie and they’ve been best friends for about 10 years. They obviously truly love each other but I think you see from quite early on the relationship is very co-dependent. I think when you meet Maggie at first you think she’s just this really fun-loving kooky girl and there’s little hints throughout the first episode that something’s not quite right, but I think the first episode really wrong-foots the audience in a clever way because you think oh she’s so fun and then you start to think – oh hang on, somethings not quite right here. So, the first episode you see her, she’s full of beans and has this insane mission to go off to her old school, she’s decided she’s going to do a talk there about being a playwright and then you quickly realise she’s got an ulterior motive and it’s completely messy. Maggie’s quite chaotic and Eddie’s very grounded and they sort of balance each other out. But I think you start to question almost immediately, who’s benefiting from this? And you really see that dynamic sort of start to fracture as the show goes on.

What is her relationship with Eddie like?
I think they truly love each other, but I think it can often happen in a dynamic where two people are not actually doing the best by one another, they’ve fallen into a pattern of behaving and treating one another and that’s actually not benefiting either, but it’s difficult because they have a real love and respect for one another. I spoke to Camilla about it a lot, everyone else in their lives is kind of incidental because you see Maggie have these moments with men but it’s not really important to her. Eddie is centre of her universe; she doesn’t have a mega close relationship with her mum and definitely doesn’t have one with her dad but Eddie is everything to her. It shows how dangerous it is to put every pressure in your life and every hope and every dream onto one single person, it’s a dangerous thing even if you truly love someone because there’s a chance that at one point or another one of you is not going to be able to give that back to that person.

Are there any similarities between you and Maggie?
It’s funny, I think Maggie is so different to me in so many ways. I’ve never played a character like her before, someone that has so little self-doubt, I often play quite bookish characters and people that stand in the background and Maggie is front and centre. It was really liberating to play her because there were scenes in which I was like, ‘I would never do this’, she’s so bold and so front footed. I loved playing her, there’s a distinct challenge in how do you make a very depressed person very funny? Camilla had done that with the writing, but it was a definite challenge in the performance, because there are moments in which she verges on the ridiculous, I was always talking to Rebecca and Camilla about charting the journey for bipolar disorder, it really changes throughout the series. Each episode is distinctly different, and Maggie’s in a really distinctly different place. But also, what are the moments to hammer home when it’s really serious or she’s depressed? But it still has to be a really funny scene. It was certainly a learning curve for me because I think unfortunately depression is something a lot of people can relate to, and a lot of people go through but the mania was something that was new for me to learn about. And in that first episode, like knowing, she feels invincible. She feels like nothing in the world could go wrong. She’s at the top of her game. She’s looking good and her skin is great. She’s like, everything is brilliant. And I thought, wow, it’s really interesting to play that but also really challenging, it was doubly challenging because we only had seven weeks to shoot it and you film a scene from episode three, then the beginning, then the end straightaway, but having Rebecca and Camilla there as a team, I felt really supported and I could always go to them. Asking questions like where is Maggie now? How is she seeing the world? How is the world seeing her?

Any anecdotes or funny moments from set?
One of my favourite things to film was the dinner party. I think we filmed that in the second week, and it was when I felt like there was like a really special moment and it doesn’t happen on everything. When you film something and you could feel the world forming, I just saw all these people and I’m like, okay, these are her friends, and this is the life she’s making. We’re in Maggie’s flat and there’s her agent and there’s Jade her intern and I get what the show is, I get what it’s going to be, and I love it. That was a really thrilling moment. And I completely love Lydia West, she and I are similarly very passionate about positive work environments. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a bad day or whatever, but she lifted me up and I hope I did the same for her. We knew if that dynamic doesn’t work, the show doesn’t work, and Camilla said that to us. Lydia is so easy to get on with, she’s such a genuine, cool, lovely, and loving person.

Why should people watch Big Mood?
I’m biased, but I love the show. I genuinely think it’s a brilliant show, I really do. I’m so insanely proud of it. It’s the most personally invested I’ve ever been in anything that I’ve ever worked on. Because it is written by one of my best friends and it’s got so much meaning behind it. I think it’s so funny. It’s like a show I’ve always dreamed of making but never knew if I’d get to. I remember watching Girls when it came out and watching Fleabag and Broad City and always thinking ‘God I’d love to be in something and make something like that’. I think the show is very relatable, it’s also about the weird change that happens from your 20s to 30s when the things you used to get away with that were kind of fun and cute, are not anymore. Life starts to get a bit more serious, and you have to figure out who you are and what you’re doing with your life. Camilla is a genius writer and I’ve been waiting for the world to see that; this is her moment. We just loved making the show and it’s a really special thing. The cast and I have all become mega close now, so it feels like I’ve made this show with not just one friend, but a group of people who I really, really love.

Channel 4
Published March 19, 2024