“I’m feeling slightly ashamed,” said Julia Davis at a screening of her new comedy Sally4Ever. The room erupted in guffaws, just as they had been while watching the first two episodes of her new comedy. In it she plays Emma – a predatory and narcissistic lesbian who comes between Sally (Catherine Shepherd) and her hapless fiancé (played by Alex Macqueen) and ruins everyone’s lives.
The series is the latest in a brilliant list of Davis comedy villains – Jill Tyrell the narcissistic sociopath form Nighty Night and not dissimilarly selfish Fay from her equally brilliant Camping (recently given a US remake starring David Tennant). She does a fantastic line in villains – and pain. Why is it something she constantly returns to?
“I do think for a lot of people humour comes from anger or frustration so I think I see these people around and I am sure everyone does,” she tells RadioTimes.com. “It depends on how much you focus on that kind of thing. It’s just an area I find very, very interesting. I don’t know the answer, if there is one.
“Jill in Nighty Night is the ultimate extreme narcissist and sociopath and it does seem to run through a lot of my characters. They are variations of a theme and it’s a dynamic I continue to find interesting. I do see those people around and I continue to be shocked by their behaviour and want to keep looking at it through a slightly different prism each time.
“I don’t want them to be the same – I think they could be viewed in that way, but there are subtle differences. My character in Camping was more vacuous and my character in Sally4Ever is more proactive.”
Julia Davis and Catherine Shepherd in Sally4Ever
Davis was keen to explore the new territory of a same sex relationship in Sally4Ever.
“This goes to a lot of places and is probably more ambitious than anything I have done before,” she notes, chuckling about the fact that episode four has a scene (which she won’t say more about) so shocking Sky’s director of content had to see it to check it could be broadcast.
There is also a particularly explicit scene in episode two – a sex scene – that Davis admits she felt uncomfortable shooting. It involves body doubles playing the characters of Emma and Sally – and a lot of naked flesh is on show.
“It felt a bit creepy some of the time to direct these two women…I felt one was slightly uncomfortable,” she says. “You feel a bit like a porn director, ‘put your boobs like that’. We were slightly nervous…”
But, she adds: “Some of it is absolutely ludicrous and I enjoy that. I like people being shocked if they enjoy it. But if they don’t I think ‘please don’t watch it, please don’t be offended’. I don’t take enjoyment from shocking people. I take delight in ‘oh my god’ reactions if people enjoy it. But there is a ridiculous side to this.
“People do say my stuff is so dark and it is in a way but I think there’s a sadness to it also, underneath it all. There is something underneath comedy that is serious and if you flipped it round it’s serious which is maybe why some people don’t like it because it’s so…” she laughs …. “painful”.
Talking of being serious, Davis admits that she has long been toying with the idea of writing a drama. “I’m always thinking I should try something serious but I don’t know. I do think comedy is underrated and I get the feeling sometimes people think comedy is so easy you just knock it off but the amount of work that goes into it is massive.”
She says that she tends to write her comedies as if they are standalone single series which helps gives her the idea that she will move on and create something else, something fresh and new.
She did that with Camping – now being remade for HBO by Lena Dunham – and unlikely to return for a second series. But she thinks there is something in Sally4Ever which may see her wanting to return.
“There are quite a lot of characters in this so there are a lot of places it could go so potentially it could carry on. I’d like to do more if asked but I need to take a step back…”.
Sally4Ever starts on Thursday 25th October on Sky Atlantic
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news