This Way Up Q&A: Aisling Bea, Sharon Horgan, Gavin O'Grady, and Alex Winckler
Aisling Bea and Sharon Horgan star in the new Channel 4 comedy drama This Way Up, coming this Thursday. We attended a Q&A for the show at the BFI Southbank
Aisling Bea joins the roster with This Way Up, but takes a different approach: throwing in some heart-rending drama into the mix. Bea plays Aine, an English-language teacher who leaves a rehab facility after suffering a nervous breakdown. She’s helped along by her sister Shona, played by Catastrophe star Sharon Horgan (who also exec produces), and the series follows their close and hilarious relationship.
Culture Whisper was delighted to attend a screening of the show, followed by a Q&A with Bea, Horgan, producer Gavin O’Grady and director Alex Winckler. The event was hosted by journalist Boyd Hilton.
Aisling Bea and Sharon Horgan star as sisters in This Way Up
What came first in the conception of the show?
Aisling Bea: The money. How much money I get, and how quick – not a lot, and it takes a long time. I was sitting at home with my sister and I wrote the first version of [This Way Up] in about 12 hours. I hate a maudlin energy around certain subjects because I don’t personally believe it helps. I believe the more you can do with laughter, the better. What I wanted to do was make a comedy about loneliness. But that’s a tough sell, so I said it’s about sisters…
Sharon Horgan: 'As soon as I met Ash, I fell in love with her'
You [and Sharon] have known each other for years. You met on Dead Boss, is that right?
Sharon Horgan: As soon as I met Ash, I fell in love with her. She just made me laugh a lot. [This Way Up] started off about sisters, but it’s become something so much bigger now. Ash’s whole thing was that there was a positive message.
AB: There are a lot of shows, amazing shows, that show a breakdown to a kind of crashing point. What I wanted to do was start broken and show [that] once you choose life, it’s a daily battle. I wanted to show an awkward energy rather than a decline. I think that’s more true to life.
How did you find getting the tone right?
AB: There is something in an Irish sentimentality that goes into death and finds the hilarity. We celebrate our dead by laying them out on a table, with sandwiches … [like] the scene in Derry Girls where they’re trying to get the earrings off the corpse. The worst thing for anyone, if they’re sick, is to create a funereal atmosphere around them.
Aisling Bea: 'The worst thing for anyone, if they’re sick, is to create a funereal atmosphere around them.'
The cast is extraordinary, it’s a big ensemble. Was putting that cast together difficult?
Gavin O’Grady: It’s about finding actors that can fit comfortably in this world of comedy and drama. I think we’ve created a very naturalistic world. In order to be funny, it has to be believable. We can’t push the realms of reality too much, we can’t compromise the integrity of the story for a gag. And because the two of you [Bea and Horgan] are so good in it and have such amazing chemistry, it’s [about] trying to find other actors who can match that amazing acting level.
AB: He’s paid to say that.
Alex, how did you find that direction?
Alex Winckler: When Aisling asked me to do it, I guess I expected it to be funny, but there was a kind of specificity to the whole thing that just gave it a resonance and a depth. Their chemistry was there from the get-go and set the tone for the whole thing. It was important to sit back and observe it. Doing less with this show gave us more because the performances were so strong and the writing was so strong.
SH: Yeah, you did f*** all really.
I wanted to ask about your character’s relationship with Tobias Menzies’s character and his son. There’s a poignancy – clearly they’re dealing with grief and loneliness as well. Did that come early on when you were writing it?
AB: Richard, Tobias Menzies’s character, had a son with someone and never really helped raise this person. Then [the mother] passes away, and [the son] comes to live with him quite suddenly.
Tobias Menzies stars as a reluctant father
AB: I had a lot of themes come up about the emotional language that we allow men to have, and the idea of a young man and an older man grieving in a house together. The language that’s happening and the silence of grief and getting to know each other… that’s through a barrier of not being able to talk to each other. And in comes Aine, [who] becomes that bridge between the two of them. It was definitely on purpose that he doesn’t have, say, a daughter. It’s just two men in a seminal age.
The music’s quite striking. Where did it come from?
GO: It was a journey, one we knew we wanted but couldn’t afford. Having something unexpected, that sort of jarred, actually worked.
SH: There are first versions of some of the episodes where there was a sadder, sweeter bit of music to go alongside a sad moment. We just felt like it wasn’t working.
AB: I genuinely feel passionately about this. You can have a difficult conversation and come out of it with a joke. Music had to do that as well. Sometimes, you’re having a difficult conversation or a break-up and someone goes ‘Hiya! Are you ready to order yet!?’. That’s what happens in real life: something swoops in and kind of punches you out of a maudlin moment.
Aisling Bea: 'The whole show felt like a family'
You mentioned your sister [Sinéad Kidao] as the costume designer. Was it weird having your actual sister on the set of a show about sisters?
AB: No, she loves being talked about. It was an absolute blessing. It’s absolute nepotism, of course, but she is so incredibly talented. Sinéad normally does big movies. She came to us [after] doing the new Little Women movie. Even doing our pilot, she was just about available because an Angelina Jolie movie got pulled.
AB: The whole show felt like a family. I’ve been working with Sharon for almost a decade and in many ways [she’s] like a big sister to me. And then to have my real little sister… I can’t even… I might choke up thinking about it! One day my mam came to visit set, and she was like ‘I’ve seen enough! This is very boring! Can I go home?’.
This Way Up airs on Thursday 8th August at 10pm on Channel 4