Gemma Chan: Romance? It’s all been downhill since primary school

The star of Channel 4's Dates talks chat up lines, online dating and splitting the bill at Nandos

Tell us about your character in Channel 4’s Dates


My character is called Erica. She goes on two dates – one with a woman, one with a man. When you first meet her, you think she’s very confident, easygoing but you see quite quickly that she’s actually a bit lost. She’s a very complex, conflicted character, and that was what drew me to her.

Have you ever ventured into the world of online dating?

No, but last year I played someone who meets someone online in True Love – the Dominic Savage thing on BBC1 – and I did a lot of research. I used friends’ accounts and read a lot of profiles. I find it really fascinating how much you can seemingly tell about a person: what people choose to write about and the way they write is really telling.

Tell us about your first ever date…

I went to see Jurassic Park with a boy from my primary school. When I got there, he’d already bought my favourite pick ‘n’ mix for me. I’d obviously had them at school and he’d remembered. What a gentleman.

Would you call yourself a romantic?

In some ways but I can also be quite cynical. You can definitely keep your teddy bear – urgh!

What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for somebody?

Can we come back to that?

What’s the most romantic thing somebody’s done for you?

It’s all been downhill since the pick ‘n’ mix! When I was at university, my boyfriend got the key to my room off the porters, made my desk into a table and laid on an Italian meal with candles and everything.

How would you approach a potential partner?

I’m terrible at that. I don’t want to do all the work.

What’s the worst pick up line you’ve been subjected to?

I was in Morocco and someone offered 500 camels for me…

Are you a high maintenance date?

God, no. I think that’s the antithesis of what you want. You’re already tense because it’s a first date so if you’re somewhere very formal – like a posh restaurant – that would be even harder. You want something more low-key where you can hopefully relax and be yourself.

Is it true your first date with your current boyfriend – comedian Jack Whitehall – was at Nandos?

He didn’t even offer to pay; we split it.

We hear that you recently lived one of your teenage fantasies…

Yes, I’m playing an American spy in Kenneth Branagh’s new film, Jack Ryan, with Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley. There’s a scene where Kevin Costner and I get shot at and he pulls me down to the deck – “get down!” – and covers my head. My inner 13 year-old was screaming “I’m in The Bodyguard!” I think the first few takes are un-useable.


Dates is on tonight at 10pm on Channel 4