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29 October 2014
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Drop Dead Gorgeous 

Model Scout Marcella (Angela Murray) hands Ashley (Sinead Moynihan) a business card much to the surprise of Ashley's sister Jade (Linzey Cocker)

Drop Dead Gorgeous - brand new comedy for BBC THREE

Production notes

15-year-old twins Ashley and Jade are sitting sipping lattes in their local café when they are approached by a model spotter from a local agency, but it's not the beautiful Jade who gets the nod, it's the self-confessed lanky geek Ashley.


The first drama commission from Hat Trick North, the original idea for Drop Dead Gorgeous was sparked by a single, thought-provoking article in a newspaper.


As Cheryl Taylor (BBC Executive Editor, Comedy) explains: "Some time ago now I was reading an article in The Evening Standard about a little boy who was bemoaning the fact that his sister had been scouted and was modelling in Paris and how his family's lives had been turned upside-down.


"It immediately set me thinking: We as a society are endlessly bombarded with images of the glamorous lives of models, but we never really stop and think about the families who are behind these models and how they are affected. That underlying drama really caught my imagination.


"I was working at Hat Trick Productions at the time and we began to develop the idea. Carmel Morgan (Coronation Street, The Royle Family), was attached to the project in 2004. She delivered her first draft in 2005 and has written just the most fantastic scripts."


Carmel (Head Writer) takes up the story: "Cheryl sent me a really interesting, original treatment and I was instantly engaged by it. I found especially fascinating the effect of sudden fame on the family and wanted to expand on that.


"The Mum especially would be so pivotal in the family and it reminded me of the Charlotte Church Mum/Manager scenario and the well-documented effect it had on her.


"So I set about exploring the effect fame and celebrity has on the family, because lots of celebrities seem to moan that they don't really change, it's the people around them who do and I wanted to explore that idea."


Drop Dead Gorgeous is set predominantly in Runcorn where the Webb family live, as well as in and around Manchester.


Producer Juliet Charlesworth explains why Runcorn was ideal as the central location: "We were looking for a very specific place to film our drama. We needed a location that had an unforgettable character of its own, and which was a small enough town for this piece of news to spread like wild-fire so that Ashley would become an instant celebrity.


"We really wanted somewhere semi-industrial and far enough from Manchester so those trips the Webb family make into town could be fairly epic and exciting. We visited the area and immediately fell in love with the place; it had all the right energy and beauty for it to be our main location – and the town felt so right for Pauline and Terry.


"Our little terrace of houses is an amazing find, with heavy industry at the bottom of the road, stretches of water and twinkling lights at night time and then churches and horses in fields at the top of the road – it is certainly a strange location, unusual even, and it was just so right for this project!"


Carmel Morgan agrees, adding: "We wanted somewhere with a small town mentality so that this girl's discovery and journey into the world of supermodels would be the biggest possible news in her locality. It had to be somewhere as ordinary as possible and have that feeling that it could be anywhere."


Juliet stresses the importance of getting the set design spot on: "We were very keen never to patronise our family but to give them a wonderfully warm, real and comfortable life in their home town.


"One of the most difficult locations to find, and something that took weeks of scouring around, was the school and the kitchens where Pauline works as a dinner lady. We wanted somewhere that wasn't too modern - the only time we allowed ourselves to be modern, fashionable and contemporary was in the modelling world."




Sinead Moynihan plays Ashley Webb


Sinead Moynihan makes her acting debut in Drop Dead Gorgeous.


Producer Juliet Charlesworth explains how Sinead was discovered: "We have an amazing Casting Director called Bev Keogh (Clocking Off, Shameless) who scoured the North West for our characters.


"We started our search with Ashley Webb and having met Sinead we were fairly convinced we had found the right girl. Sinead has all the physical attributes - she is tall, lanky, self-confessedly a little bit shy and geeky – but she is also a very successful model in real life, so we knew all the photos and the eventual runway show would be amazing.


"It was a huge gamble for us to take on a very fresh and new talent but both directors were keen to take on the challenge and Sinead desperately wanted to prove herself."


24–year–old Sinead Moynihan thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of playing Ashley - an awkward, shy school girl from Runcorn happy living in her twin sister Jade's shadow.


That is until fame comes knocking and she finds herself striding down European catwalks, splashed across the media and suddenly earning more money than she could have believed possible.


Despite all this, Ashley quickly discovers that all this glamour and fame comes at a very big cost indeed as huge cracks begin to develop and deepen in the Webb family – all because of Ashley's big break.


Sinead takes up the story: "I had been working as a model for seven years, and one day the possibility of breaking into acting came and I just decided to go for it. I really enjoyed my audition, and I kept getting called back and called back until eventually they offered me the part."


She continues: "Although this is my first acting role, modelling is pretty similar as it's actually just like silent acting. In modelling you're portraying yourself through a single, static picture, whereas with acting you've got more scope as you use your voice and actions."


She adds: "I have loved every minute, I'm not sure why but I wasn't that nervous at all. I think it was probably because my first scenes were in the photo studio which of course I'm so used to.


"That really eased me into it all psychologically, as well as the fact that everyone on the cast and crew were so lovely and answered all my naïve, beginner questions!"


Sinead warmed to the character of Ashley: "She would never, ever think she's going to be a model; she's the geek in her group of friends. Her sister Jade puts her make-up on and gets all glammed up whereas Ashley just scrapes her hair back and doesn't think about what she looks like and is happy like that.


"This completely changes though when she is model scouted as Ashley absolutely loves it and suddenly comes into her own. She becomes confident and happy and the modelling just brings something out in her that was always hidden away before."


So how similar is Ashley's story to Sinead's own?


Sinead laughs: "Drop Dead Gorgeous is so close to my real life story. I was 16 when I was spotted by a model scout and I just thought it was a complete joke, I was the school geek and couldn't believe that they had picked me of all people out!


"I went home, told my Mum, got some pictures taken and before I knew it I found myself working in London, New York and all over Europe. I can remember so clearly what I was like before I got spotted and how I felt at every stage of the journey, and it's exactly Ashley's reaction to the situation she finds herself in."


Sinead says that script writer Carmel Morgan has captured the stereotypical life of a model perfectly: "I've seen so much of what happens in Drop Dead Gorgeous going on in real life – Carmel's written it so well – she's got it spot on in fact.


"She's done a lot of research and I can really relate to how much Ashley grows in confidence as the spot light is directed her way. Carmel did speak to me after one of my auditions just to run through a few things to do with the modelling world and I know she spoke to a few model agencies as well."


She adds: "Although there might be little snippets of things that I've spoken to Carmel about in the script, it's her writing and her ideas completely, so I can't take any credit at all!"


Linzey Cocker plays Jade Webb


Next in line was Jade, Ashley's twin. Juliet takes up the story: "The minute Linzey Cocker (Northern Lights, Shameless) walked into the room we knew she was going to be Jade Webb – she's a brilliant actress as she has real stillness and subtlety of performance.


"We put Linzey and Sinead together at their second session to see how they looked together - we had to believe they love and hate each other in equal quantities. The chemistry was perfect; they smiled and laughed and chatted together like old mates so we knew we had it right."


Linzey relished playing Ashley's jealous twin sister Jade - the 'pretty' one of the family who all the boys fancy and who is waiting for that day when she is asked to embark on a modelling career.


This is all until Ashley is model scouted instead of Jade. As Jade fights to control her jealous demons and throws obstacles in Ashley's way, we see deep cracks begin to appear in their once close relationship.


What drew Linzey to the project? "There are so many fantastic actors in Drop Dead Gorgeous and loads of different characters which makes the show so varied and exciting to work on.


"There's so much going on all the time and all the characters are in direct contrast with each other – everyone has a storyline of their own and it all fits together perfectly. The script is just brilliant!"


She continues: "At the beginning Jade is the one who everyone likes, the beautiful one and the one who gets the boyfriends, while her twin Ashley is like her shadow.


"Jade was always told she should be a model so when Ashley - who was the geek of the two - gets spotted by a talent scout, Jade's very jealous and actually turns into a pretty nasty person."


She adds: "I think the greatest moment of Jade trying to really destroy Ashley is when she sleeps with her boyfriend Hardeep, played by Sushil Chudasama.


"That moment is so important as it really shows how far Jade is prepared to go to pull Ashley back down from the cloud that she's drifted up to with her modelling. The line is totally crossed as she sleeps with her sister's boyfriend – you really can't get much worse than that can you?"


Linzey explains the depth her character: "She knows deep down that it's not Ashley's fault, but when her Mum Pauline makes everything worse by pushing Jade out more and more, she's devastated and her behaviour gets worse.


"The sad thing is that Jade is a really nice girl and she tries so hard to battle with this jealousy but her rejection from everyone close to her just pushes her to do these horrible things to the sister she actually really loves and respects."


Linzey explains how she could actually relate to Jade and her experiences: "Jealousy is such a common emotion and everyone, no matter what age or background can relate to it. At school there's always the really pretty person or the clever person, there's always somebody who everyone thinks 'I wish I was like you'.


"No matter how strongly people may deny it I think that everyone feels that jealousy to a certain extent at some point in their life. Jade constantly has this sick kind of jealous feeling – she desperately tries to suppress it as she's proud of her sister doing so well but she can't help it."


Linzey's close off-screen relationship with Sinead Moynihan was vital and they really helped each other with some of the difficult scenes: "I had one particular scene with Sinead where she had to really shout at me. Her eyes were filling up and I started crying too as she was so realistic and scary!


"It's a good thing though as we really bounce off each other which makes our sisterly relationship believable - it's Sinead's first acting job which you'd never guess as she's absolutely fantastic."


Linzey also loved working with the rest of the cast: "Murray, the smarmy agent, is one big laugh, he's so funny and bitchy, whilst Mikey, who's my little brother is just hysterical.


"Lee Worswick, who plays the character, was also my on-screen brother in Northern Lights so we have a great relationship. He's got that whole cheeky thing down to a tee and he just doesn't have a serious minute in the series."


So what's it been like filming in and around Manchester? "It's been really exciting filming in all the different location, the hotels, bars and offices where I'm usually just shopping with my friends.


"We were filming in a hotel and a man came up to me - he recognised me from Northern Lights and he asked for my autograph, I was so excited but so embarrassed as well as it was in front of everyone!"


Kathryn Hunt plays Pauline Webb


Producer Juliet Charlesworth knew that finding an actress to play the central role of Pauline, whose character is pivotal to the story, wasn't going to prove to be quite so easy: "Pauline has a huge journey, both emotional and physical to go on, so we had to ensure we got her right.


"This character also appears in pretty nearly every scene of the show, so we had to find an actress with great stamina and energy – enter Kate Hunt who loved the script, knew Carmel, and was ready for her dinner-lady to model-agent transformation!"


Kathryn Hunt (Coronation Street, Now You See Her, Fat Friends) plays Ashley and Jade's mum Pauline Webb, a dinner lady from Runcorn who finds herself thrust into a new and glamorous world which she's only ever read about in magazines.


While falling in love with this new way of life and actually being rather good at it, she compromises her old values and begins to neglect those nearest and dearest to her.


What drew Kathryn to playing the part of Pauline? "Drop Dead Gorgeous is a very exciting project to be involved in – the scripts are just so fantastic.


"The first two episodes are by Carmel Morgan who writes for Coronation Street and we all just loved them; they've got a bit of everything in them, they're fun and dramatic, even her stage directions are funny. For me the script is where it begins and ends, and this just jumped out at me."


Kathryn describes her character's central role in the series: "I think Pauline's story is pretty core to Drop Dead Gorgeous. Her actions totally reflect the concept that if you're given an opportunity you have to grab it with both hands which Pauline does and she just keeps running!


"She compromises a lot of her old values, although she convinces herself she's just doing what's best for her daughter and her family."


She continues: "Pauline gradually starts to lose her friends – she asks too many favours from people while losing sight of what they might need from her. All the time she's convincing herself that what she's doing is best for Ashley. She's on this road travelling at 100mph and everything's a blur as she goes past it."


Kathryn enjoyed working alongside newcomer Sinead Moynihan: "I think one of the most interesting things about this project is Sinead's own personal journey as it's so similar to the storyline.


"She was spotted at the age of 15 and has been working as a successful model ever since. We spent the first two days of filming in the photographic studio which Sinead just absolutely took in her stride. That's her profession, so she was totally at home.


"She looked so beautiful – we were all standing back and just watching and asking questions as we were in her world then - she was amazing. Sinead has been fantastic to work with – you'd never know it was her first acting job – she's like a sponge; she takes in all the information and absorbs it, uses it and learns some more the next day."


Kathryn concludes that Drop Dead Gorgeous is: "Not exactly a rags to riches story but more of a slow burn. The series looks at the effect that money and fame has on a normal, happy, close-knit family and how being placed in a completely different situation affects you and those around you, not always in a positive way."


Casting continued at a great rate, as Juliet explains: "Lee Boardman, Elizabeth Berrington, Connor McIntyre and Kevin Doyle are all fantastic actors as well; they walked in and floored us with their auditions, by which time director Sue Tully and I were laughing and crying in equal measure!"


Lee Boardman plays Murray Priestman


Lee Boardman (Rome, Dalziel & Pascoe, Coronation Street) plays ambitious agent Murray Priestman who discovers Ashley Webb and starts trying to drag her out of her working class family in Runcorn, determined to put her on the world stage as an international supermodel.


Lee explains: "Murray is a hard nosed, very camp business man. He's very, very good at his job and knows exactly what sells in the business. He wants to see to it that Ashley becomes the biggest star in the world – and he knows that she potentially could be, which in turn could earn him an awful lot of money."


So what drew Lee to Drop Dead Gorgeous? "I was sent the scripts and I just thought 'wow'. I've never read such wonderful dialogue. All three writers are just so brilliant, it feels as if every scene I'm in has lines that I've waited years to be able to say; it's such an exciting project and I truly believe that it's going to do very well indeed."


He is equally enthusiastic about working with Sinead: "She's fantastic - It's a bit annoying really, you spend years training and working hard, and Sinead walked onto the set for the first time and was just really good and so natural!


"You'd never know it was her first job. Before this she's done proper modelling work – London Fashion Week, Milan, New York – the lot. She's a very talented young lady."


Lee relished playing Murray, an outrageously camp agent: "When I first saw the scripts I never for one minute thought I'd be cast. Murray's very, very camp and bitchy but so funny.


"It's pretty different from what I've done in the past, I mean it couldn't be much more different from the character Timon I play in Rome, but that's what makes it so fascinating and exciting; I really have loved playing such a different kind of role – it's been great fun."


Lee continues: "Drop Dead Gorgeous is Carmel Morgan's wonderful, honest take on the whole celebrity culture – the effect that it has on every-day, normal people. The script is from the same arena as Shameless and The Royle Family; it's on a par with them and also there are some absolutely brilliant performances.


"I really believe that there's something in it for everyone – a huge range or people will love it so I really hope it's going to be a real winner."


Connor McIntyre plays Terry Webb


Connor McIntyre (Murder City, Heartbeat, Waking The Dead) explains why his role as Dad in the drama is so central to the drama: "Terry's role is pretty pivotal as he is the viewers mouthpiece throughout.


"He's worried about his kids and the effect that all of this is having on them. He's a really loyal, steady protective Dad first and foremost, and he worries about the welfare of his kids. As well as his concerns for his children he is aware of the growing tensions among his group of mates who Pauline is really beginning to push away a bit with her attitudes."


Connor adds: "Terry also starts to worry about himself as a husband. He actually just wants things to go back to normal – the happy loving family they were before. He thinks Pauline is really out of the line with the way she is starting to treat her friends Kerry and Val.


"She's lying to them more and more, not turning up for work, letting them down constantly and he really wants her to go back to how she was and still is deep down.


"The most important thing for Terry is that he wants and needs his family back together, he wants Pauline to love, support and be there for Ashley, Jade and Mikey all equally, which now she sadly isn't doing."


Writers Carmel Morgan, Stephen Russell and Jan McVerry


Producer Juliet Charlesworth talks a bit about the fantastic scripts which were written by a collection of people: "The heart and soul of this series belongs to the writers. We were extremely lucky to find such an amazing team working alongside Carmel Morgan.


"The brilliant Stephen Russell (Big Train, Coronation Street, Shameless) who brought to the drama the outrageous party held by the twins, which leads to Jade's ultimate betrayal of her sister Ashley when she sleeps with her boyfriend Hardeep.


"Stephen also concludes the series with the final huge pay check of £1m that Ashley receives for her cosmetics deal, while managing to portray that actually deep down she is just a lonely, miserable young girl.


"Jan McVerry (Coronation Street, Brookside, Playing The Field, The Forsythe Saga) introduces true glamour with Ashley's first runway show and she picks up on and elaborates Pauline's increasingly erratic and bizarre behaviour so, so well which ultimately leads to the announcement of the birth of Pauline Webb Management."


Carmel Morgan sums up the series: "I would say it's about an ordinary family and the dynamics of that family when a lucky break happens. In my mind it's particularly about a dinner lady, a happy-go-lucky mum of three who loves her husband and kids and has a tight circle of friends.


"She doesn't particularly feel in a rut, her glass is always half full, but her life isn't exactly on fire with excitement. The story is about how this good fortune comes their way and Pauline feels it's her duty to help her daughter grab that opportunity and embrace it and if her family can all benefit from it then so much the better. I really hope people will identify with that."


She continues: "I think that whole PR machine is fascinating; I'm really interested in the way things kick in and gather their own momentum and the way in which everyone around Ashley will change in accordance with that.


"Drop Dead Gorgeous is about the lure of celebrity and the corrosion of fame especially on the peripheral people, which is exactly what happens to Pauline – it's about fame by proxy really."


Meanwhile, Carmel delved into the modelling world to make the script as authentic as possible: "I met Sinead and her agent and spoke to her at great lengths about her life as a model. I wanted to know everything: how she was first discovered and how she felt about her amazing, life-changing experiences.


"As we were talking I was suddenly struck by the coincidental similarities to her real life. When I explained how Nana Howard would think that they should store the money away and keep it for a rainy day in case it all goes wrong, Sinead just laughed as that was exactly how her Gran reacted. I was really glad about that as it means there is emotional truth in our story."


Juliet and Carmel agree that there's a bit of something for everyone in Drop Dead Gorgeous.


Carmel concludes: "There's a family dynamic which just about anyone can relate to and laugh along with – including my Auntie Maureen!"





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