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Aisling Bea wants to make one thing clear: This Way Up, her new Hulu comedy-drama — which deftly combines laughs with a tale of desperate loneliness in the city and also stars Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan — is not New Girl with depression.
“I was proud of that joke in the end!” Bea laughs. “I believe you can be irreverent and funny about serious things and it gives them less power in a good way. But I also wanted to make this feel like a show of its own and grubby and rough and messy rather than too polished and shiny.”
Already a hugely successful stand-up comedian across the Atlantic, where she features regularly on topical TV comedy shows, Ireland’s Bea knows how to hold an audience, her quip about New Girl and other one-liners drawing much laughter at the launch of This Way Up at London’s British Film Institute. It was there she summed up the inspiration for the show.
“I was reading something interesting about how loneliness is this disease now which genuinely affects society and how we deal with each other, but also everyone is afraid to say they have it in case they may catch it too,” she said. “So what I wanted to do was make a comedy about loneliness.”
Bea has written all six episodes of This Way Up‘s first season and produces alongside Horgan (whose company Merman is behind the series), while the pair also star as Irish sisters transplanted to London.
“I wrote the part for Sharon,” says Bea. “There was never going to be anyone else. What you kind of see on stage or on screen is very real, which is a nice thing because sometimes if you’re playing a boyfriend or girlfriend, you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s all fake.’”
The pair met on the set of 2012 series Dead Boss and instantly clicked. They’ve been writing and developing projects together for some time, with This Way Up being the first out of the commissioning gate.
“As soon as I met Ais I fell in love with her,” concurs Horgan. “She just made me laugh a lot and from that point we were trying to find something. We started writing a film together, and there was another project that we spent years on; it didn’t go anywhere. And then she wrote this, and you could see that there was really something there.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Our dynamic, I’m so lucky to have it,” adds Bea. “And I love making her laugh. And I would hope to do it for a very long time. It sounds so romantic. I hope to always make her laugh. I promise to be there for her when she’s down.”
There has already been talk in the U.K. of This Way Up filling a Fleabag-shaped hole in TV viewing, and there are indeed some similarities concerning their bittersweet poignancy. But you could also find comparisons with Better Things, or areas of The Good Place, or some of Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge outings. The point being that as a skilled writer and comedian, Bea gets you in the heart as well as makes you laugh; the fact she happens to be a woman in a show with two female leads is by the by.
Just in case anyone needed further clarification, out for dinner last week with another friend, Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Bea posted a photo. Her T-shirt carried the slogan “Female is not a genre.”
While set in London, Donald Glover’s Atlanta was a key reference point for the visuals of This Way Up and Bea has a sense the content could translate well in the U.S.
“I think what I love about this show, which was unintentional, was that there are very few people who are English or who have English parents in it,” she says. “And a lot of it is, at its core, two immigrants. A huge amount of our cast, their parents came to the U.K. and so I found naturally that chats a lot of the time on set would delve into how people came to be here and I think that’s a very American story and sentimentality and hopefully, maybe that could connect more with America in many ways.”
Something Bea has thought about — a lot — is how to fully utilize her producing role.
“What’s nice about being a producer is you could implement things you want on other shows, so we got to make it a green set, a plastic-free set,” she says.
One of the eco tactics involved using costumes brought together by her sister, film costume designer Sinead O’Sullivan.
“Sinead runs a thing called the Costume Directory which is on Instagram, all about ethical fashion and ethical clothing with practices within the costume world,” explains Bea. “So, we got a huge amount of the costumes in the show from charity shops. And you can’t put that on other productions just coming in as the actor, but when you’re at the top, you get to make decisions about how you like things and sort of make your world with how you’d like it to be run. And that felt really amazing.”
This year, Bea will also play wife to Paul Rudd’s character in Living With Yourself for Netflix, while a 2020 release is scheduled for movie Love. Wedding. Repeat, in which Bea will feature alongside Olivia Munn and Sam Claflin.
“I’m so looking forward to [Living With Yourself] coming out at the autumn,” she says. “And it’s funny because they’re two very different characters (in the Netflix and Hulu shows) but have the same accent and face as me. It’s almost like parts of me that if they’d gone off to live different lives the two characters and it is a bit of a Sliding Doors actually.”
This Way Up begins streaming on Hulu 21 in August 2019.
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