Kiss Me First – from the creator of Skins, Bryan Elsley – is a tale of female friendship in which real life and virtual reality collide.
The Channel 4 thriller stars Simona Brown as Tess, a hedonistic party girl with mental health issues who meets Tallulah Haddon, an insular young carer named Leila, inside a computer game.
At a recent screening of the series, Brown spoke about the responsibility of portraying a character with a mental health condition and how such illnesses are often not taken seriously.
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Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo was hosting the panel and, suggesting that “there is still this stigma in Afro-Caribbean communities about mental health”, asked Brown whether she felt a big responsibility in portraying Tess.
“It’s definitely a topic that is brushed under the rug,” Brown agreed. “It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re not depressed, you’re just not well,’ or, ‘Just pray!’ or, ‘You’ll be fine – just get out more.’
“So I’m glad that I got to embody that and really got to research. I learned that with mental health, whether it’s depression or bipolar or anything, everyone’s process is different and you can’t really compare.”
Brown went on to explain how she avoided making Tess a cliché. “I didn’t want to play a caricature or make assumptions about how Tess would act,” she said. “I wanted it to be an organic process.
“I wasn’t like, ‘Okay, she’s up now, she’s manic now so I’ve got to act manic.’”
Executive producer Melanie Stokes was keen to emphasise that Tess’s condition was deliberately left ambiguous. “We never actually say what her condition is,” she said. “We made a conscious decision not to do that because we didn’t want the audience to categorise her and put her in a box.
“She’s Tess and she has a fragility to her but that is Tess’s character as opposed to her representing a mental health type.”
Stokes added, “Mental health is a broad spectrum and we’re all on that spectrum. It was very important to us that Simona is playing Tess and the audience can take their own view on what her issues are. That’s what Simona did so beautifully.”
Kiss Me First begins on Monday 2nd April at 10pm on Channel 4