Drifters: Jessica Knappett on comparisons with Lena Dunham and why she's not a female Inbetweener

The writer and star of the new E4 sitcom talks Girls, Bob Mortimer, dressing up as a giant mobile phone and the second Inbetweeners movie...

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Drifters: Jessica Knappett on comparisons with Lena Dunham and why she's not a female Inbetweener
Written By
Susanna Lazarus

Jessica Knappett is bringing the quarter-life crisis to national attention. As the writer and star of new E4 series Drifters, she's reliving the trials and tribulations of her unemployed twentysomething days in a show that's been billed as a cross between Girls and The Inbetweeners. 

Knappett is no stranger to the exploits of Will, Simon, Neil and Jay, having starred as Blake Harrison's love interest in their first visit to the silver screen, but she's keen to point out that her series isn't a simple redressing of the boys' schoolboy antics. Drifters sees her character, Meg, arrive back from her travels in India to no job, no money, no home, and a simpering ex-boyfriend who's still convinced their together. It's enough to send shivers down the spines of the so-called "boomerang generation". 

She's joined by best friends Bunny (Lydia Rose Bewley) and Laura (Lauren O'Rourke) as the trio negotiate their own professional and dating minefields. RadioTimes.com caught up with Jessica to hear all about Drifters, dressing up as a giant mobile phone, and those Lena Dunham comparisons...

What can you tell us about your character, Meg? 

Meg is a slightly neurotic, daydreaming, witty, cynical, naïve drifter. She wants to achieve something, she just doesn’t quite know what it is yet and she feels like she’s been given a raw deal in life and things haven’t quite worked out the way she had planned which is probably because she didn’t really have a plan in the first place. Meg has the ability to get things spectacularly wrong is really the bones of it. She ends up being the accidental parent to her friends Bunny and Laura which is a bit of a flawed plan because Meg doesn’t really have a clue.

So, 'fess up. How much of this is this based on your own experiences?

Tragically, it is very autobiographical. It’s a fictionalised version of real events so it’s not a documentary, although I have to say, at some times it did feel like it when I was standing in my mobile phone costume handing out flyers. I’ve done a mobile phone, pieces of fruit, energy drinks. It’s amazing the extremely degrading outfits – the extent that you’ll go to just to earn £45 when you’re desperate to pay your rent. 

Are you finding it therapeutic to revisit the mistakes made by your twentysomething self?

Oh yes, it’s very cathartic. Somebody said to me that comedy = tragedy + time and I think that is very, very true. The worst days at work and the worst dates and worst relationships and all of that stuff from my early twenties – the days I came home from work and cried and the dates I came home from and moaned about – those are the stories that have ended up in the sitcom. 

And you've got Bob Mortimer on board to play your dad...

That was quite a surreal experience. The part was going and we offered it to him because we thought he’d be perfect and we were just amazed that he agreed to do it. The great thing is he is obviously a bit of a father of comedy so it’s really nice to have that reassuring presence on set. You feel like you’re doing something right but it is quite hard to get it out of your head that it is Bob Mortimer. I used to watch a lot of Shooting Stars and I just have to forget. 

Everyone's been using the words "Inbetweeners" and "Girls" an awful lot when talking about your show - is it getting on your nerves?

I don’t mind it because it’s hardly surprising, really, given that all three of us [Lydia Rose Bewley and Lauren O'Rourke] were in the movie, the guys [Inbetweeners co-creators Iain Morris and Damon Beesley] are the producers, and it’s made by the same production company. I don’t blame people for drawing comparisons at all. It’s just that it is a very different show so I suppose it would be amazing if we got even a fraction of their success or audience but I don’t think it’s going to be the same. If people come to it thinking it’s going to be like The Inbetweeners then I worry that they will be disappointed because it is a completely different show. 

Do you see elements of The Inbetweeners in it?

I suppose the one thing that is similar is, when I was writing it, Ian and Damon always encouraged me to take it as far as I possibly could so there are gross out moments, there’s a bit of sexy stuff in there and I throw up in a bin. It’s a sitcom about a group of mates and a period of time in your life so obviously there are comparisons. 

What about the Lena Dunham comparisons?

I love Girls and I love Lena Dunham-  I just didn’t know anything about it when I was writing Drifters. It was two years ago when I started creating the show and then when Girls came out I thought. "Oh, great, now everyone’s going to think I copied this show". So obviously there is that worry but more than anything I’m flattered to be compared with her. I think she’s brilliant and she’s done a lot for comedy and feminism and she’s a good role model. I love the show but it’s so different. Drifters and Girls – it’s like comparing Britain and America. They go and have parties in Manhattan warehouses and we gatecrash rooms above pubs. They have abortions; we get scabies. 

DriftersYou'd obviously worked with Iain and Damon on The Inbetweeners movie, but what was it like creating a show with them?

I spent quite a lot of time locked in a room with them, telling them my deepest, darkest secrets. They know everything about me. If anyone needs any dirt just ask Ian and Damon. They just have a brilliant way of getting it out of me, especially Iain Morris. He’ll tell me an awful story – something that’s happened to him – and then I feel like I have to join in by telling him a terrible secret.

Is there anything you regret putting on television for all to see?

It’s not all true, obviously, but there are bits that I watch and think, “Oh, god, my dad’s going to see this”. The one time when Meg gets lucky, I just really wish that I hadn’t done that. Especially when I’m watching it in the edit suite when we have to go through it frame by frame and I’m surrounded by the male director and the two male executive producers – it’s all very embarrassing. 

Do you think the quarter life crisis is underrated?

It’s definitely a real thing. I think it’s a product of how much freedom we have in western society. We’re just spoilt for choice and life’s so different now. We have a lot of time to sit around and think and go on gap years – but having said all that, it’s not like the jobs are there either so I think the recession’s had a massive impact on my generation in that it’s possibly stunted our growth a little bit. 

And finally, we're all clamouring for details of the second Inbetweeners movie - are you going to be in it?!

God, I would absolutely kill to be in that movie and they know it as well. I have told them in no uncertain terms but I haven’t heard. I’m still waiting. I may still be waiting when it comes out. I have offered to come back as an entirely different character but they don’t seem to be warming to that idea either. 

Do you keep in touch with the Inbetweeners boys?

Yes, I see them every now and again. They’re all quite busy with their families now but I saw Simon [Bird] and Joe [Thomas] at the weekend and we’re all still in touch. They're a really lovely group of boys and it had a really big impact on my life doing that film – I hold it very fondly in my heart. 

Drifters begins tonight with a double bill starting at 9:00pm on E4

The series will be available to own on DVD from 25th November

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