Overshadowed is a dark new BBC3 drama about the terrible effects of anorexia on a teenage girl.
Imogene, a lively, 17-year-old Irish vlogger, is steadily drawn into the illness – which is personified in the form of her monstrous friend Anna. Anna, played by co-writer Eva O’Connor, is never seen by anyone but Imogene
Imogene, who relates her story by means of her vlog posts, is not especially popular at school but secure enough with her good friends Rosa and Sky. She has her looming exams, her sister’s fast approaching 16th birthday, and her Dad’s upcoming wedding to his new girlfriend, whom she doesn’t like.
The drama begins when she start a new health kick and she’s ordered a new camera so she can shoot and edit a video every day to document it for her vlog.
Imogene is played by up-and-coming Irish star Michelle Fox. Find out more about her career to date, and how she reacted to playing this tough new role.
How did you get in acting?
I did local youth theatre in Limerick and studied Drama at University in Cork and, then came over to London to try my hand at acting.
A friend recommended drama school training and, luckily, I got a place at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. I graduated last year and am still finding my feet in the business. This is my first lead role.
Why did you want to get into acting?
I am very outgoing. I’m the clown of the group. I’m the youngest of three girls and I suppose I’m the comedian of the family! My Dad’s a builder and my Mum was at home with us, and now she works with my Dad. No one in acting at all. I kind of fell into it.
How did you get the role?
My agent Kim Donovan asked me to do a tape for the series while I was performing in Medea at the Bristol Old Vic. I suppose I did the smart thing – I taped a scene but also filmed it on my phone as well because I thought they were going for something similar to that approach. I think they liked that I was being kind of innovative and I was cast.
Tell us about Imogene – and what she was like to play?
She’s a fun-loving slightly naive 17-year-old and she wants to be older like a lot of people her age. For a lot of teenagers, your self-esteem isn’t where you want it to be. It may seem narcissistic to the outside eye but for her character it’s a way to reach out to people. She wants to put forward this idea of what she wants to be.
She wants to be liked, like a lot of teenagers. She has a really good heart and when her life is turned upside down by anorexia, it’s heartbreaking to see and there were some really challenging scenes when Imo is at her lowest. I needed to leave my vanity at the door and be really open in playing her. None of us wanted this issue to be glamourised.
What was it like filming it?
It was two weeks, quite short and we had really, really long days. It was really intense. The director of photography called it a baptism of fire, saying I probably won’t get a harder shoot. I am in every scene, and she’s filming it herself. Every scene posed a different challenge. So it was really interesting, really fun but very challenging emotionally.
Have you had any personal experience of anyone suffering from anorexia?
No I haven’t, no one personally. But Eva [O’Connor] who co-wrote it is very open about her past and her struggles with her eating disorder. We were in lots of scenes together and they were a fabulous group of women and to sit down between takes and to talk about it was great. People start blaming the person it’s happening to, people say, ‘Why are you doing this, why can’t you stop?’
What we wanted to show was the eating disorder is a separate entity. To show it’s not someone’s fault. They are being controlled. It’s an illnesses, very much so. The episodes are very short and we show how fast it can take hold. It can happen to anyone.
The physical toll as the anorexia takes hold is part of the drama – how was that achieved on screen?
It was never thought that I would lose weight. Not when you tell a story like that. We had a fabulous make-up department and that’s not what they wanted the series so to be about. They didn’t want to glamourise an eating disorder and they didn’t want anyone to lose any weight or anyone to look any different. When we were filming later episodes there was no glamour in it at all. They wanted to do it responsibly because it’s such a delicate subject that affects so many people.
The vlogging is the framing device. It’s an interesting approach – do you think people documenting themselves on camera is healthy?
For older generations, it’s hard to imagine why someone would film themselves. It’s like having a diary that millions of strangers could watch forever. Anyone of an older generation finds that insane, but the younger generation have grown up with technology around them the whole time.
They have smartphones at 7, 8 9; it’s part of daily life. There are pros and cons to that. People can find so much support on the internet. Researching for this role I saw hundreds of blogs and people finding a lot of help online with lots of issues. But of course, these people are strangers, these people don’t know you. We all have a responsibility to protect children and teenagers from that.
Is it ultimately an optimistic piece? How would you characterise it?
It’ s very dark at the end but I hope we show that you can take your control back. The script and how it is shot is not something I have ever seen on TV. I think it is a powerful look inside the mind of a girl struggling through a crisis and how she tries to battle with her demons. All is not as it seems with Imo’s vlogs, and I think viewers will enjoy the dark side of sharing your life on the Internet.
Overshadowed will land as a box set on BBC3 from Sunday 1st October
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.