Aftersun - interviews
Aftersun is one of five upcoming single comedy-dramas to run over consecutive weeks on BBC ONE.
Here, Sarah Parish, who plays Sue in Aftersun, talks sunburn; and writer David Nicholls tells how his work travelled from the Old Vic to BBC ONE.
Sarah Parish plays Sue
Aftersun centres on married couple Sue and Jim (Peter Capaldi), who go on holiday to Spain together to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary – a gift from their grown-up children – only for the couple to realise that their relationship might not be as strong as it used to be.
"I was attracted to the character of Sue because she's brilliantly written, typical of David Nicholls, who writes fantastically for women," explains Sarah.
"She's very strong and has a wonderful way with language – quite damning in some ways and fairly waspish – but the challenge for me was to play a role with age and a weightiness of history behind her.
"Sue has the weight of a 20-year marriage and two adult children and so I thought that would be quite interesting - to play a character at quite a difficult stage in her life.
"Her children have left home and she is suffering from what they call 'empty nest syndrome' which is a form of depression – her marriage has hit a point where it's pretty stale and they're finding it very hard to be in each other's company."
But the part isn't all doom and gloom, as Sarah explains: "Sue's got a great sense of humour but I think that, with people with a great deal of wit, it can turn dark and quite nasty.
"In this particular piece you see a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, really, somebody who's really not happy in the place that they're in at the moment, which is what makes it an interesting part to play."
The role is a far cry from Sarah's more glamorous roles in Cutting It, Blackpool and Much Ado About Nothing, but, as she explains, that was part of the appeal.
"I really enjoyed it not being a glamorous part," says Sarah. "Obviously, there are pros and cons with it not being glamorous. The pros are that you watch it and you think, 'Ooh, I look fairly attractive in a certain light', but playing a non-glamorous part is quite refreshing because you don't have somebody preening and primping you all day.
"You can actually get on with doing the work you have to do internally and without somebody constantly coming up and putting a bit more lipgloss on!"
Although the part did require make-up, it wasn't for Sarah's face:
"Sue spends more than half of the piece sunburnt so my make-up call was simply having red make-up put down one side with no other make-up at all – although it did take quite a while to get it in exactly the same position every day! It was an interesting make-up call and very different from the usual ones I get."
The location was a great boon for Sarah, too, but she wasn't able to make full use of the glorious weather while in Spain:
"It was an amazing location in Javea, between Alicante and Valencia: it was glorious weather, we were filming in a fantastic villa with its own pool and at the foot of this enormous mountain – we couldn't have asked for a better location but we couldn't sunbathe!
"Both Peter and I were covered in factor 5,000! If you saw Peter out there he was wearing a bandana, a huge hat, long-sleeve tops every day and long trousers and I was in a huge sunhat – we weren't allowed to get brown in any way or look at all healthy because of the parts.
"Plus we were acting with two of the most good-looking people I've ever seen in my life – Juan Pablo Di Pace, who plays Felipe, and Anna Madeley, who plays Esther. So by the end of the two weeks it hadn't done much for my self-esteem!" laughs Sarah. "They were great characters to play, though!"
Writer David Nicholls
Aftersun's writer David Nicholls has previously written the hit comedy dramas Cold Feet, I Saw You and Rescue Me and last year adapted Much Ado About Nothing for BBC ONE's Shakespeare: Retold season.
He has three best-selling novels to his name (A Question Of Attraction, The Understudy and Starter For Ten), with Starter For Ten due for release as a feature film in the UK this October.
"Aftersun actually started its life as a ten-minute play at the Old Vic in London," says David.
"There was a workshop weekend there a year ago with a whole host of writers and actors who had to brainstorm ideas and write a play in 24 hours – Aftersun was the result of that. It seemed to work incredibly well when they performed it on stage.
"I'd just come off holiday and was given James Nesbitt, Saffron Burrows, Catherine Tate and Gael Garcia Bernal to work with.
"We improvised during the day and then overnight I had to write a ten-minute script which was performed on stage in front of Kevin Spacey and all the other writers and actors involved."
The ten-minute version of Aftersun lay dormant for a while but, as David explains, when he was asked to come up with a script for the BBC's season of comedy-dramas he knew that he wanted to revisit the play.
"Very little of that original ten-minute play has survived, but the basis of it seemed to be a good idea, so when the BBC asked for some ideas for single comedy-dramas it seemed to fit perfectly and I started to work on it again."
His inspiration for the script came from the great comedy writers of his childhood.
"When I was writing it I was thinking of the tradition of plays that I grew up with, from the likes of Alan Bennett, Jack Rosenthal and Mike Leigh.
"Plays like Nuts In May and some of the earlier Alan Bennett plays were a big influence on me when I was growing up. The situation of four people thrown together in a closed environment appealed to me and I love that mix of characters that you get with Mike Leigh and Jack Rosenthal.
"This was a bit of a departure for me as usually I write romantic comedy and this is a little bit darker than some of my work."
David has worked with Sarah Parish once before, when she starred in Much Ado About Nothing, which David adapted for BBC ONE.
"I loved working with Sarah on Much Ado About Nothing last year and so it was great to see her bring this character to life," says David - and the feeling is mutual.
Interjects Sarah: "This is the second time I have worked with David and as soon as I saw the script I loved it. He writes about proper, solid, weighty themes rather than tiny little bits and bobs.
"He writes great scenes and, as an actor, that's a great thing to pick up and say, 'This part has got a beginning, middle and end'.
"When I pick up one of his scripts I can immediately imagine myself saying the words. Sometimes, even if the writer is brilliant, you can't imagine yourself saying the words and getting your mouth around it. David's words seem to come very naturally to me. I can't wait for Starter For Ten to come out."
This might not be the last people get to see of Aftersun, though: "It was the first time anything I had written had been performed on stage and I'm still quite interested in doing it as a play," says David. "So it might yet make the West End!"