Kurupt FM to Wannabe star: Lily Brazier interview
When BBC Three mockumentary People Just Do Nothing propelled Brentford’s Kurupt FM crew to BAFTA glory, it was only a matter of time before some of its bright new stars got their own shiny new vehicles – TV shows that is, not ICE’d out GTIs.
First out of the (tower) blocks is Lily Brazier who plays MC Grindah’s deluded beautician bridezilla (but almost certainly not his baby-mother), Miche. In Wannabe (available now on iPlayer) Lily sticks to the rich comedic coal-face of self-delusion, but this time as Maxine, a failed, talentless former girl band member turned talentless girl band manager, who decides she’s still got what it takes, despite the fact she never had it in the first place.
As Miche in PJDN Brazier took her first steps as an actress, and made conjuring tragedy, comedy and sympathy all at once look effortless. With Wannabe Lily has taken on co-writing (along with PJDN creator Ben Murray) and directing duties for the first time too, and if the first couple of episodes are anything to go by, she has a natural ability to conjure compelling, funny yet meaningful narrative too.
How did Wannabe come about?
Me and Ben (Wannabe’s co-writer and director) were talking through ideas and it basically came from a combined obsession with ITV’s Big Reunion, Alan Partridge and Eastbound and Down. The idea of life after fame is fascinating, people that were once idolised having to go back to the mundane life they thought they’d left behind.
Are you more like Miche or Maxine?
Oh god, I hope I’m not like either. I think they both have elements of the things that I really try not to be, especially how rude and unaware they both are. I’d say Miche is the ultimate basic bitch who sort of means well but sort of doesn’t, and Maxine is a highly driven, single minded nightmare with no self-awareness. I suppose they’re both who I’d like to be if I didn’t give a fuck.
How does Maxine’s need for fame differ from your own?
The idea of fame is terrifying to me, I feel like I would be the ultimate disappointment and I much prefer anonymity. Maxine is different, she was promised fame at a young, impressionable age before her girl band Variety failed, and she still thinks fame is the key to her happiness. She’s still clinging onto the idea of living the dream and is fighting for something that doesn’t exist.
Did you do any method-style research into either character?
I always like to do a lot of research just because I find it helps to lodge ideas into my brain, especially for improv. I watch a lot of documentaries and reality shows. So for the last series of PJDN I watched a lot of Don’t Tell the Bride and for Wannabe I watched every 90s/00s pop documentary you can find on YouTube. There’s one called Geri by Molly Dineen that I’d highly recommend.
What’s your favourite form of exercise?
I know that you’re supposed to mix up your workout but I’m obsessed with spinning and go at least three times a week. Mainly I love it because it’s dark and you get to sit down for some of it. Plus I can’t ride a bike, I know, it’s shameful, and spinning makes me feel like I can.
What do you do when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed?
When I feel stressed all I want to do is lie in my bed and hide and eat but I try to force myself out of the mood by working out or doing some guided meditation. I think I’m in love with the man from Headspace. I also love going to the cinema alone, it definitely helps to get lost in another world for a bit. That usually sorts me out.
Which real person would you most like to play?
Prince. I wouldn’t be right for the role but I’d try really hard.
Do you miss Brentford?
I’m actually a fraud because I grew up in Kent but I am extremely fond of Brentford now and yes I do miss it. We’ve been shooting PJDN for so long that it’s like a second home and the Morrisons there is one of the finest I’ve been to.
Has your fame, or filming, ever landed you in any awkward or embarrassing situations?
I’m a very awkward and embarrassed person so absolutely. There have often been times when we’re doing a wide shot out on the streets and people think you’re not acting and are a real person. Though in some ways that’s actually quite freeing, when you’re playing someone else it’s okay to act like a weirdo. Sorry this isn’t really a You’ve Been Framed worthy anecdote is it.
Are all British sitcoms ultimately about class?
Christ this is a deep one. Um well I suppose that could be argued, in many ways class is at the heart of British culture. I love Martin Parr’s photos and they’re a good example of that. For me, the way people live their lives has a lot of humour in it, especially the mundane routines and rituals we all follow and giving trivial events great meaning. So yeah, maybe.
Have you ever experienced a pushy manager or brushes with people who prey on those who seek fame?
I don’t really like being told what to do or telling to people what to do and so I do find pushy people who are very sure of their own opinion fascinating. I’ve had managers when I’ve worked in offices who were quite pushy but that’s probably because I was shit at my job to be fair.
When you know you’ve got to be on tip top form (e.g. for a big shoot or audition), what do you do to be your best self? (eat, practices, rituals and routines)
I stop drinking alcohol so that I can keep a straight head and so I don’t ruin my immune system, I also stock up on vitamins and juice every morning. I make sure that I give myself some time off from preparing so I don’t become completely obsessed. I’m not sounding very fun.
If you could change anything about yourself what would it be?
Lack of confidence is probably the biggest one for me, so I’d like to have a bit more self-belief. I’m going to go into Miche mode and basically quote a meme now, ‘often the only thing holding you back is yourself’. Obviously it depends on the circumstances and actually I’m not sure that’s quite the right quote but it’s pretty inspiring stuff.
How do you get in the zone for writing? Does it come easy or is it painful?
I’m pretty intense so once I have an idea then I’m fully focussed and I’ll watch or read anything that feels relevant to it and am constantly noting thoughts down on my phone. From my experience, the early stages of writing are quite painful. Plotting and working out the minutiae of the characters can be a struggle but once that’s worked out then it’s very fun.
For Wannabe we made a pilot first and so we had most of the characters already cast and that made it so much easier to throw them into situations and write their dialogue as we already knew their voices. Writing is the best job in the world because you just think of some ideas and then loads of clever and talented people make them real. I’m very bloody lucky.
Do you think there is any truth in the ‘tears of a clown’ cliché of comedians?
Yeah definitely. I feel like humour is a sort of defence mechanism because you’re trying to detract from your own insecurities or something. It’s also about communication and finding a shared connection. When someone is showing off to me and trying to make me laugh I think it’s the biggest compliment of all.
Will you read the critics reviews?
Um, maybe, I dunno. It’s a cliche but it’s so true that you could have a million nice reviews but you’ll only ever remember the one bad one. Or maybe Wannabe will get a million bad ones, shit… I think it’s good to learn from mistakes and people’s opinions are always interesting and make you consider things you may not have done otherwise. We’re all constantly learning and improving… I’m panicking about the reviews now.
If you had to pick between writing and performing which would it be?
I actually really want to direct, ideally something that I’ve written. Performing is a very interesting thing to do and it’s great to use up some emotions, it can be quite cathartic, but it’s also nerve wracking and makes me feel quite vulnerable. I think ultimately, if everything goes to plan, I want to end up behind the camera.
Wannabe is on BBC Three now.