Aisling Bea on her latest creation, This Way Up
Huge congratulations for This Way Up – it’s incredible. Why tell this story now?
I’m telling it because it is what I was interested in. Stories and narratives can be an amalgamation of things; you can make a character that is very much like your own sister, but has traits and quirks of a man you used to meet in your office. That’s creativity, I suppose; and that’s being a writer, not a documentary maker. Also I love it, and her, and one big part of the character was that I really wanted to write someone who was funny: not for the audience, but for the other characters. Someone who’s funny in real life.
And the themes…
I wanted to make a comedy about loneliness, because for me, it’s the one subject people stay away from; I think we fear that. I read somewhere that people fear it like they do a cancer, like if you talk about it, you might get it, too. Loneliness begets loneliness. It’s quite pervasive in our society and has genuine, huge effects. Like in terms of this magazine and this interview, it has huge biological effects. When you go to a support network, you recover from accidents quicker than if you’re trying to cope on your own.
What advice would you give regarding coping with loneliness in a big city?
I experienced it when I first moved to Dublin from the countryside to go to university. I didn’t know a single person and had to go up to people and make friends. When I think back on it, I think, ‘Jesus, it was so hard for me,’ and I’m very chatty. How hard must it be for people who aren’t as chatty? I was brought up in a very open, ‘everyone-is-welcome’ family, and you will only benefit from the more people you let into a country, to your home, to your life. Your brain will expand, you’ll be able to lean on them the same way they can lean on you, and that literally has a dopamine-boosting effect on your whole body. Keep trying to get out there and put yourself out there as much as you can, even when it’s really hard; keep hoping and joining as many groups and events and doing as many hobbies as you can.
In terms of wellbeing, is there anything you’d like to try and pass on?
Ooh, a multi-pronged approach. So, many things. CBD oil – I really like CBD oil, that’s a practical thing – and I love alternative therapy. A lot of alternative therapy and spiritual stuff like crystals and healers worked for me as a sort of more wizardry version of CBT. I also solidly recommend therapy, but as I say in episode six of This Way Up it’s bloody expensive and not for everyone. There’s also an audiobook called The Science Of Fate. I don’t think you can throw enough types of different things at yourself.
What else have you thrown at yourself?
Maisie Hill also has a book called Period Power, which teaches women to look at their cycle and where they are. There are certain times in your cycle when you’re more gregarious and other times when you’re gonna be more insular. Neither of these makes you better or worse at your job, but it’s looking at how you plan your week that week. It’s been a real eye-opener for me, just looking at how kind to be to yourself, and other times how much to force yourself out the door, and sometimes to go, ‘No, you need to’. Other times you need to say, “Today’s the day you f**king get outside and take responsibility for yourself.” The main thing is no one can do it for you. It would be lovely if someone could, but you really have to take responsibility for your own mental health.
I think This Way Up will inspire people to go on a journey of the self…
It’s a bit like BALANCE. I’m always, “What tips will I get?” But curiosity is key. It’s why I’ve still not learned to drive after 16 years. You need the curiosity. With something like crystals, I don’t want to lean into it like it’s a religion. I’ve got some stand-up about this where I’m like, “I hate religion and I hate all that magic and things, so instead, I have a crystal healer and an energy healer, and I do exactly what they say,” y’know?
By the way, there’s a scene in episode one on the doorstep that’s such a distillation of your loveliest qualities…
Beware of charming Irish people. That’s my biggest warning…
This Way Up is available now on All4. Living With Yourself airs on Netflix later this year