Sarah Solemani on moving to Hollywood, taking on Trump and watching movies with Renee Zellweger
The star of Him & Her and Bridget Jones’s Baby tells Ellie Harrison what life is like on the West Coast for women in comedy
Sarah Solemani has an interesting theory. The British actress is working in LA and reckons that Donald Trump has paradoxically made this era a more exciting time for women in Hollywood.
“There's this kind of drive to make sure an alternative narrative is presented,” she tells me. “The current administration has made a lot of women executives say, “We've got one slightly feminist thing on our slate, but it's now or never. If not me, who? If not now, when?’
“I think it's an interesting one. I mean, I don’t think I've moved to Hollywood when it's become an anti-establishment community of feminist TV shows but, you know..."
America’s current culture war – Hollywood vs Donald Trump – is showing no signs of slowing down. From Meryl Streep’s famous Golden Globes speech and Trump’s Twitter retaliation in January to the Emmys slinging match just two weeks ago, it is clear that the relationship between the acting sphere and the leader of the free world is acrimonious, to say the least.
In spite of this – and perhaps because of this – Solemani has a point; by rallying against Hollywood and holding controversial views on female reproductive rights, Trump has made women in the industry more defiant.
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Solemani, star of Him & Her and Bridget Jones’s Baby, upped sticks to LA last year to write a HBO series with Super Bad and Trainwreck star Bill Hader (“a hilarious and brilliant man”). Barry, set to air in 2018, centres around a hit man from the Midwest who moves to Los Angeles and gets caught up in the city's theatre scene.
Him & Her
While London-born Solemani admits that she has found herself caught up in the West Coast lifestyle of “people drinking juice in lycra”, there are some things she still misses about home. Like kebabs. “Kebabs have been a big thing,” she says. “You have to draw a line because your life shouldn't be about preservation. You need to have some sort of self-harming act in your existence.”
The 35-year-old’s next on-screen appearance is in a BBC2 comedy pilot: The Pact. It follows Solemani’s Amy and Brett Goldstein’s Andy, who agreed as schoolfriends that if they were still single at 35, they’d get hitched. After their lives take very different courses, they bump into each other and their pact rears its head.
“It seems like a sensible thing to do, almost like a buffer,” Solemani muses on the show’s premise. She describes Amy as “lost”, “a bit of a mess” and someone who “still has bad sex she regrets”. In tonight’s pilot, we see her, drunk and dishevelled, ricocheting from one unsuitable man to the next, and getting so wasted she passes out on her doorstep.
For those who know Solemani for playing the beloved Becky in Him & Her – the twenty-something living in a grotty flat with her boyfriend Steve (Russell Tovey) – the two characters are, apparently, very different. “There’s something about Amy in The Pact that’s a bit more lonely and in need of affection,” she explains.
Solemani herself could not be further from the two characters. Her acting career first began to take shape when she joined the National Youth theatre at the age of 16. It was the same year she lost her mother to cancer, and she has previously spoken about channelling her grief into training.
Her first proper role was in The Graduate in the West End, just after she left school. “It was my first audition and I got it, and I thought, “Ooh! This is easy, name in lights, bit of money, membership to the Groucho Club at age 18.’ Little did I know that there would be ups and there would be downs."
But the downs are hard to spot. Solemani went on to study at Cambridge, where she was vice-president of the student theatre company, Footlights, alongside Inbetweeners Simon Bird and Joe Thomas. Her first role as a series regular was in the BBC’s 2007 comedy Roman’s Empire with Chris O’Dowd and Mathew Horne, and other comic ventures since have included Bad Education and No Offence.
As well as acting and writing, Solemani has also dipped into activism – backing Yvette Cooper in the 2015 Labour Leadership race and even contributing to her speeches. Would she ever consider going into government? “Not sure,” is her very tentative and delayed reply.
It is certainly not a resounding “no”.
And last year, of course, Solemani appeared in Bridget Jones’s Baby as Miranda, the flawed heroine’s new best friend – a role singled out for praise by critics. Solemani admits that “people didn't have high expectations [for the sequel], everyone was really surprised it was genuinely funny”. And her friendship with the film's star, Renee Zellweger, has spilled into real life, too. “She plays with my kid, we go to the movies, we hang out.”
All in all, it sounds like Solemani has it all figured out – admittedly, there are no kebabs in her life, but Bridget Jones is her best pal and she’s defying Donald Trump while breaking into Hollywood. Would she have done anything differently? Solemani says her message to her 18-year-old Groucho-gallivanting self would be this:
"Don't be afraid to empty your bowels. Like when you need to empty your bowels, you should just do it. Wherever you are. Because – I mean, try and find a toilet – but so many girls have toilet shame in a way that men don't and you just have to, like, release.
“Because it's not healthy for your body and it will ruin your night or your day to carry that around with you.
“So, just empty your bowels – it's human, it's fine, you need to let go and enjoy yourself."
The Pact is on Wednesday 27th September at 10pm on BBC2