Five minutes with… Lily Allen on comedy-drama Dreamland
Not content with her spellbinding stage debut in the West End's 2:22 A Ghost Story, Lily Allen has now turned her attention to the small screen.
The 37-year-old singer-songwriter will star in new Sky series Dreamland, a big-hearted comedy drama – written by multi-Bafta award-winning actress Sharon Horgan and produced by Merman – which centres on the everyday lives, secrets and dreams of a working-class family living on a council estate in the seaside town of Margate.
London-born Allen plays Mel, one of four sisters in a somewhat dysfunctional set-up.
The eldest, Trish (played by Freema Agyeman) is pregnant for the third time, and, while her other two sisters Clare (Gabby Best) and Leila (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) rally around her with their mum (Frances Barber) and nan (Sheila Reid), Mel makes an unexpected reappearance in their lives, threatening to destabilise the entire family unit.
Based on Sky's 2018 Bafta-winning short of the same name, the six-episode run will offer up a heartfelt yet dark comedic exploration of multi-generation female relationships, set against the backdrop of one of Kent's favourite coastal resorts.
Not bad for Allen's first foray into the world of TV. But what else can the Smile hitmaker share before it airs?
WHAT DREW YOU TO DREAMLAND?
I had just moved to New York, but I bring my kids back to the UK for summer to spend time with their dad, so, when this landed on my desk and I heard it was shooting in Margate – and I love Margate – I was instantly hooked. Of course, I thought the script was amazing, and this being a Merman production was a big pull for me too. I trusted their instinct with it, and I loved the short that I had seen of it in its previous incarnation.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER MEL
Mel is a bit of a dark horse within the family make-up. She has aspirations outside of Margate where her family live. She's tried to make a life for herself away from all that, and that's failed, and she has now returned. She loves her family, each person for different reasons. I think she just feels a bit misunderstood, and maybe not heard and not seen – but's probably not well equipped to be able to deal with it.
WHAT ARE MEL'S DREAMS?
I don't even think Mel knows what her dreams are. She is just very reactive and knows that she used to be miserable in Margate and couldn't see a way of rectifying that. Hence why she did the classic geographic change and tries to escape. In her head she wanted to thrive in Paris, working in fashion, but that didn't work out, so she is back at square one. She currently doesn't really have aspirations other than to just not be her, she is just escaping herself.
ARE THERE ANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN YOU BOTH?
I've felt very misunderstood in my life. I'll seem very visually present to people in my life but at the same time not really understood or listened to. I think that's what attracted me to Mel in the first place, the similarities not the differences. I felt an affinity with her.
YOU SAY YOU LOVE MARGATE, HOW WAS IT FILMING THERE?
It was great! I rented a little house in the square and brought my kids across. It was excruciatingly hot. But it was lovely, it's steeped in summertime history, that town.
DID IT BRING BACK ANY FOND CHILDHOOD MEMORIES?
Both of parents' family lived by the seaside – Portsmouth and Paignton. My mum used to be a Pontins Blue Coat, so I have faint memories of those kinds of holidays. I don't know though; I sort of blocked out most of my childhood!
HOW DOES DREAMLAND STRIKE THE BALANCE BETWEEN BEING A COMEDY BUT COVERING IMPORTANT TOPICS SUCH AS RACE, FEMINISM AND CLASS?
I think all good comedies stem from reality and darkness, and the mundanity of life. People come together and laugh about those things, and I think this show does that really well.
THE SHOW BOASTS A FEMALE HEAVY CAST, FEMALE WRITERS AND A FEMALE PRODUCTION TEAM – DO YOU THINK THIS HAD ANY IMPACT ON THE SHOW?
It's funny because when we were in rehearsal doing the roundtables, there was such a good vibe and energy and I had never experienced anything like it. And then I was like, oh yeah, it's because it's nearly all women. But on the other hand, it's my first TV job so I don't have anything else to compare it to. But I can tell you that I had an amazing time and have made some lasting relationships.
THIS IS YOUR DEBUT TV ACTING ROLE. HOW DID YOU FIND THE FILMING?
I get up at 5am anyway, even when I am not working, so it was actually quite nice. When I get up at 5 in Brooklyn, I'm just sat twiddling my thumbs for a few hours, so it was nice to get up and get straight on to set and start working. I do find the waiting around on set quite interesting because I've got quite severe ADHD, so my concentration levels are difficult to manage in those situations. The long days don't scare me because I'm a grafter, I like to keep busy.
HAVE YOU GOT THE ITCH TO CONTINUE ACTING?
I'm doing more theatre in summer and developing a few things with different people. But also I am back in the studio making music!
WHAT DO YOU THINK PEOPLE WILL TAKE FROM THE SERIES?
I think it's easy to point fingers at the guilty party but there's always two sides to a story. I think we are in a time where people are quick to blame and shame people, but we're complicated as human beings and we do things for an all manner of reasons. Everyone comes into the world the same, right? We all become who we are from learned behaviour and our surroundings and our environment – and Mel is the same. She's done a terrible thing, but she isn't a terrible person.
– Dreamland premieres on Sky Atlantic and NOW on Thursday April 6.