Michaela Coel: I May Destroy You is “definitely not entirely fictional”

The BAFTA-winning actress talks consent, sexual assault, and why her upcoming drama needed an on-set therapist.

Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You (BBC)

Michaela Coel’s new BBC One drama I May Destroy You is a witty and brave examination of sexual consent. The 12-part series focuses on Arabella, a writer who is sexually assaulted – and as Coel states, the show is “definitely not entirely fictional”.

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Speaking to RadioTimes.com, Coel said the drama “started just like with other things that I write, like Chewing Gum… it’s grounded in some sort of reality, something inspires me from real life.”

Coel has spoken publicly before about how she was sexually assaulted while writing the second series of Chewing Gum, her hit E4 comedy. The situation that her character finds herself in is very similar to Coel’s past experience: in the show, Arabella is drink-spiked after slipping out for a break during an all-night writing session at her publisher’s office (in Coel’s real-life case, it was a production company’s office).

While researching for the show, Coel explained, “I began to ask other people questions, both women and men, I realised that basically I was definitely not alone in wondering why these lines of consent were always blurred, and there were so many different experiences. So I tried to take on the challenge of creating a show where I explore the different forms of where sexual consent can be stolen.”

Programme Name: I May Destroy You - TX: 08/06/2020 - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: Arabella (MICHAELA COEL) - (C) © Various Artists Ltd and FALKNA - Photographer: Laura Radford

“It [writing the show] wasn’t easy, it was a labour of love,” Coel said, before continuing, “This show is about how trauma changes you, affects you, contorts you, suppresses you, reduces you, makes you explode, that’s what it’s about.”

Although she stresses that the show is fictional, it’s “not entirely fictional. It is a fictional show [but] definitely not entirely fictional.”

In addition to hiring an intimacy co-ordinator, the show also had an on-set therapist, Lou Platt, on retainer.

“She was paid to just be there,” Coel said, “and if ever anybody ever wanted to talk to her – I met up with her a couple of times – you know, in case it starts to feel overwhelming, because it can trigger memories for anyone, even people in the crew, so everybody had access.”

Speaking via Zoom from her east-London flat, the BAFTA-winning actress praised the BBC for giving her such freedom with the project. Piers Wenger, the broadcaster’s drama commissioner, had emailed her to say, “‘You can make this as near to the knuckle and honest and as true to your voice as you want’,” Coel explained, “and they [the BBC] really stayed true to that email.”

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I May Destroy You will begin on Monday 8th June on BBC One at 10:45pm. For more to watch, visit our TV guide.