Roisin Conaty: 'I just want GameFace to be truthful'
Hit sitcom GameFace is returning for a second series. Georgia Humphreys asks star and writer Roisin Conaty about the challenges she faced with the new episodes
WHEN you're as naturally funny as Roisin Conaty, it makes sense you'd write your own TV show.
But, as the Londoner has found whilst penning sitcom GameFace, having a background in stand-up comedy can sometimes be a hindrance.
For one, it feels "really weird to kill a big joke" – even though she's learnt that's a necessary process in making the series believable.
"The thing I've always wanted to do with GameFace is go for belly laughs," elaborates Conaty (40), who won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer in 2010.
"But, it has to feel like you're emotionally invested in the characters. And I think that's the hardest thing, to write something that's naturalistic, because I think normally one thing goes or the other – you do naturalistic stuff and then you lose the ambition for a big belly laugh."
Whatever the comic is doing though, it's definitely working.
The first series of GameFace, which centres around struggling actress Marcella (played by Conaty), was the biggest comedy launch for E4 since 2013. It's been picked up by Hulu for American customers, and now has a new home on British TV, on Channel 4 – even if Conaty says it's not made any difference to the series itself.
"I think they were really good, they still let me write what I considered a Channel 4 show, for E4," suggests the ambitious, talkative star, who regularly appears on panel shows like Have I Got News For You, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown and Would I Lie To You.
"When I did the first series, it wasn't like, 'Can you make it more youth orientated?'"
So, what's to come in series two? It starts with thirty-something Marcella on the brink of yet another driving test and with her acting career at a new, humiliating, low. To make it worse, her friends and family seem to be quite successfully moving on with their lives.
However, she's not one to give up – so she starts trying to face her problems, including her drinking habits, and the possibility of romance with her driving instructor, Jon (Damien Molony).
There's no denying the hilarious, yet often surprisingly tender, episodes are full of ups and downs for Marcella, which helps make it a relatable show, all about navigating modern life.
How does Conaty find it both writing and starring in GameFace?
"I think once I get into the scene, I try as much as possible to be present," reasons the comic, whose other acting roles include Channel 4's Man Down and After Life on Netflix.
"But I am very aware of time. If I'm doing a scene with someone, I'm aware of the day, so I know if we're running out of time, or what we haven't got. It's hard sometimes to compartmentalise."
There was added pressure with writing a second series – plus, it was just as hard as writing series one.
"When you've established the characters, you could go any way with them. I thought it would be easier, the second series, but I didn't find it easier, at all."
On planning for the new episodes, she recalls: "I have a whiteboard; I tried to do more what I've read people on the internet do when they write shows.
"None of the storylines on the whiteboards are in the show," she goes on to admit, letting out one of her infectiously hearty laughs. "So, I think I have to leave a bit of room for chaos, if you know what I mean – in a good way."
Creating a show like GameFace obviously has lots of different stages – finalising the script, preparing for filming, actually filming, editing, waiting for it to transmit.
And for Conaty, each part of the process has been equally nerve-racking.
"There's not one bit where I feel like it's easier," she confides.
"The script bit I'm in hell, then when you start filming it's really high stakes, 'Can we cut it together, does it make sense?'
"Then in the edit, then first week of rushes is so nerve-racking, I couldn't watch it for four days because I was so frightened.
"I wish there was one bit I took lightly, but I'm always all over everything, trying to make it okay."
One of Marcella's memorable personality traits is her inability to be serious about things; she tends to crack a joke about it instead, even if it might seem a bit, well, inappropriate (which, of course, makes for great TV).
Is this behaviour something Conaty can relate to?
"Yeah. I think with someone like Jon, Marcella is quite scared of opening up again after the Simon relationship, so they dance around each other making jokes. I think it's quite sweet.
"I'd say I'm more direct than Marcella, but I get the whole thing about making jokes. That's my natural disposition. If something's awful, I find it funny. If something's funny, I find it funny. It's my natural, go-to place."
As a strong, resilient, determined woman, Marcella is also someone the vivacious Conaty admires.
"I love her," she enthuses whole-heartedly.
"I think she's got blind spots about her actual flaws which is frustrating sometimes, but I think that's like all of us.
"She makes things more difficult than they need to be sometimes, but I think she's an optimist, and I think she's got a life in her head that she really wants, and she's trying to push herself to. Her impulses let her down, but I do admire her..."
There can be the perception sometimes that, in comedy, the funniest moments are when things go wrong – and that seeing someone being happy isn't very amusing.
But Conaty disagrees, noting: "I'm not sure that happiness isn't funny. There are happy scenes in GameFace. Marcella enjoys her friends.
"But I guess life isn't always happy. In one day you can feel 50 emotions, so I just want the show to be truthful.
"I think the constant being told that we should all be happy is making us all unhappy; I don't think it's a healthy thing. It's good to accept that life can sometimes be hard. But she gets wins in this series."
:: GameFace starts at 10pm tonight on Channel 4