When Daisy Haggard returned to play Back to Life‘s Miri Matteson – the optimistic 30-something with a DIY fringe adjusting to normality after serving 18 years in prison – earlier this year, she decided she’d had enough of the wigs. It was time to give her own hair the Miri treatment, which for series two meant not only chopping it but also getting out the crimpers.
“This year I was like, excuse my language, f**k this. I’m going to cut my own fringe and just be done with wig fittings and then I can get home and see my kids faster.
“So I basically spent six weeks with really badly crimped hair and a very very short fringe, and the looks I got at the school gate. I mean, I think people thought I’d been all night clubbing or I was harking back to my teens,” she laughs.
It’s a Tuesday morning when I’m chatting to Haggard, the star of BBC Three’s Back to Life – a series she created with comedian Laura Solon back in 2019. After a few technical difficulties and video lags caused by weak internet (the pandemic’s second-biggest villain), we give up on Zoom and pick up the phone to speak about series two, which premieres on 31st August.
“I’ve been working for years hoping I’d get to make a show some day, so when you get the chance to do it again, you’re just thrilled and get carried away telling the next part of the character’s story.
“It was a complete treat to be able to have another go and make more silly things happen and more awful things happen to poor, poor, long-suffering Miri.”
Haggard, who’s best known for her roles in Psychoville, Episodes, Doctor Who, Uncle and more recently Sky One’s Breeders, plays Miri, who despite being somewhat vindicated in the series one finale, really can’t catch a break in series two. In the last episode, we watched as – spoiler alert – Miri discovered that her late best friend Lara attacked her on the cliffside as she thought she was having an affair with her father. It was actually their friend Mandy (Christine Bottomley) who was sleeping with Lara’s police officer dad and, had Mandy told her the truth, Miri wouldn’t have pushed her out of self-defence, resulting in Lara falling to her death.
Series two introduces Lara’s previously unseen father, played by Save Me’s Adrian Edmondson, who becomes an “enormous threat to Miri” in the upcoming episodes. “I always knew that we wanted to bring back the parents of Lara. We always knew where we wanted it to go,” Haggard says on series two.
Haggard and Solon wrote the role of Lara’s father John with Edmondson in mind after the Bottom star slid into Haggard’s Twitter DMs. “Me and Laura are massive fans of Adrian and he sent a lovely message about how much he loved the show as we were writing season two. Very cleverly, he put himself into our brains and we were like, ‘Oh my God, wouldn’t it be brilliant if he played a sort of really sinister [character].’
“We set up this character in the first season – we know he was a powerful policeman and we know he wasn’t a good man, but we also know that he would have suffered the most enormous grief, so we knew that it would be a really interesting part. We kind of wrote it with him in mind.
“So I sent him a message on Twitter saying, ‘By the way, you’re going to get a job offer, don’t worry – we probably won’t pay you enough, you probably won’t want to do it, I just wanted you to know.’ And then he says, it’s very unprofessional of me but even before he read it, he sent a very sweet message saying, ‘I’m in’.”
Writing series two during the pandemic meant that childcare took up a fair amount of writing time. “Suddenly, me and my husband have two hours each and then we would just be homeschooling and parenting. We would give each other two hours where you got to do your work or the shopping, so I learned to have to do a lot more in a short time than I’ve ever had to do.
“It was quite good in a way because I always thought I needed 10 hours to do two hours [of work] and actually had two hours and I did one hour. The procrastination window was shorter, which was a real shame. I Googled a lot less dogs needing homes. I like to think it’s good for the brain, it’s part of the prep. Google Earth-ing my area to see who’s got a big garden, what a creep.”
Filming with COVID around wasn’t too much of a problem either, considering there aren’t many big group scenes in Back to Life. “It’s quite a sort of lonely show in a sense, it’s quite sort of isolated so that was helpful. But also, we just did everything we could to keep it safe and I was absolutely adamant about that.”
Haggard knew she wanted to become an actor and writer from a young age, with her first ever steps being “a performance apparently”.
“I was just always doing terrible gym routines to Whitney Houston songs with props, making people sit on cushions and watch me until they got really bored. That was kind of my whole childhood, so my parents were not surprised at all that it was what I wanted to do.”
She wrote her first film at the age of 11, keeping her occupied for roughly three years. “It was really bad,” she says. “You see the point where I hit puberty, because suddenly, it becomes a very different show. It’s like there’s a hot decorator with his top off drinking Coca Cola. I go on the run with a wig on and stuff like that.
“I’d always give up on everything if I couldn’t do it, but I never gave up on that. I was really quick to quit but I never quit with that, despite it being a job where there’s so much rejection, I just kind of blindly went on like Miri, the eternal optimist.”
Haggard felt as though her career really began when she landed a role on Man Stroke Woman – the BBC Three sketch show starring the likes of Nick Frost, Amanda Abbington and Ben Crompton. “I had loads of those moments where you’re like, ‘Here we go!’ and I’ve said this before but I quit my job in a gym on reception dramatically and then it’d be like six months later – ‘Hello, can I come back?’
“That’s why I always feel like I could be back doing another job at any point, but I think Man Stroke Woman was a job where I thought, ‘that’s like a proper part and I’m in it properly’.”
Executive produced by Jack and Harry Williams of Two Brothers Pictures (The Missing, Fleabag, Liar), the idea for Back to Life came to Haggard when she was living with her parents again whilst pregnant. “I was being told how to load a dishwasher about 15 times a day and going a bit crazy. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve gotten quite far as a human. I’m not a baby. Don’t tell me how to do everything!’ My husband was looking at me going, ‘You’re being a real stroppy little teenager’.”
It was Haggard’s experience with that combined with her “lifelong obsession” with the demonisation of women who’ve gone to prison or committed a crime and her love of independent, coming-of-age films that turned into Back to Life. “I was with Harry and [producer] Sarah Hammond and they were like, ‘That’s the one, that’s a good one.'” A taster tape was made to give broadcasters an idea of what the show would look like and BBC Three quickly snapped it up.
“We all had a very strong idea of what we wanted it to look like and how we wanted it to feel filmic and not like a traditional comedy,” she says. “It’s all thanks to being able to make this taster I think. I think the scripts would have read a bit confusingly.”
Haggard and Solon have a few ideas as to where Miri would go in a potential third series. “I knew how season two was going to end precisely, like I’d written season one. But there is always a possibility for more.
“These first two seasons cover her immediate period of having left prison, so I always say yeah, me and Laura were chatting the other day, we were like, ‘If we do do a season three…?’ We got all excited. We definitely have quite a clear idea about what that would be too.”
As for Breeders – the Sky comedy in which Haggard stars as an exasperated mother of two alongside Martin Freeman – she doesn’t know what’s in store for Paul and Ally in season three but can’t wait to get started.
“I’m so excited to read the scripts. I’ve no idea and I will no doubt find out about three weeks before filming.”
Back to Life series two begins airing on BBC One at 10:35pm on Tuesday 31st August. The full series will also be available as a box set on BBC Three on the same day.