Out British actor/writer Charlie Covell has written two stand out episodes of the queer anthology series Banana: Episode 4 (“Helen”) and Episode 6 (“Amy”), the latter premiering tonight on Logo. Not only did she pen tonight’s wonderful episode, she also stars as the titular character.
Charlie graciously took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her experience working on Banana.
AfterEllen.com: How did you initially get involved with Banana?
Charlie Covell: I was really lucky: Russell and Nicola and the production team at Red were actively looking for new writers, and so my agent sent them a feature film I’d written called Burn, Burn, Burn which they liked and I guess thought my voice might fit in with the other people writing on the show. It was pretty crazy, to be honest—I left the first couple of meetings in a bit of a daze. I couldn’t believe it was happening—that I was sitting in a room with the people who are responsible for some of the best of British TV, and they were asking me what I wanted to write.
AE: In both episodes you wrote, you did a great job of exploring really dynamic characters in a short amount of time. How did you approach writing for an anthology series like Banana? Was that format difficult?
CC: Thanks, that’s really kind of you to say. No, the format wasn’t difficult, actually. We were all given total freedom, and basically told to write what we wanted. The first story I wrote was Amy’s (Episode 6). It popped into my head almost fully formed, so they just let me get on with it. I knew that it needed to be tied in with Cucumber, but they were pretty relaxed about how to work that out. Kay being a policewoman was Russell’s suggestion, I think, and it made perfect sense in terms of the character I was already starting to write.
I suppose Helen’s episode (episode 4) was slightly different. With that story, Russell and Nicola gave me much more of a starting point in terms of the subject matter they wanted to explore (revenge porn), and specified that the protagonist was trans. Storylining that was much more collaborative than with Amy’s episode—drafts went back and forth and those discussions were brilliant—I learned an enormous amount from them. Again, though—surreal in the extreme: You’re sitting across a table from the guy who wrote Queer As Folk and brought back Doctor Who and is basically a wizard, and chatting through character arcs and narrative like it’s the most normal thing in the world.
AE: Obviously, Banana focuses on queer characters and stories- does your other work center around LGBTQ characters or was this a departure for you?
CC: The honest truth is that I’m very new to this—writing—and so I don’t know if I’d be departing from anything! But no, I don’t think it is. I suppose a lot of what I’ve written recently involves protagonists who are LGBTQ, but the focus is on character and story, rather than how they’re labelled—they’re not defined by it. Amy and Kay aren’t defined by being gay, and Helen isn’t defined by being trans or straight. Alex, who’s one of the main characters in Burn, Burn, Burn is gay, but the narrative doesn’t centre around her sexuality: it’s a film about platonic friendship and grief (it’s a comedy as well though, I promise).
AE: I read that your character, Amy, is based closely on you in real life. Were you nervous about putting something so deeply personal out there? Did your process of writing change for this episode, knowing that it’s fairly autobiographical?
CC: Ha! She’s based on me, yes, but it’s still fictional. I wasn’t nervous, I don’t think. Because writing about OCD and anxiety was personal, yes, but it was weirdly cathartic, too. I think my brain has always been able to split in two when I’m worrying or catastrophizing: one part is doing the panicking, and the other part is observing and finding it quite funny. Like, genuinely being in agony on public transport, convinced I’ve left the gas on, and then finding it kind of hilarious at the same time. I thought it would be interesting to try and write something about that experience, see if people identified with it at all.
AE: I think Amy is a really relatable character, even for people without anxiety, or whose anxieties don’t impact their lives as much as they do for Amy. Was it hard to strike a balance there? Did you have to pull back on any of her behaviors because you felt like they might be too much for an audience to understand?
CC: No I didn’t feel the need to pull back, actually. I guess I hoped that as long as the audience “got” Amy—as long as the fantasy sequences were clear (and I think Al [Mackay, the director] did a brilliant job with them) then it would work. I figured that once we established the language of her anxiety and catastrophizing, then you could pretty much go anywhere and people watching would be able to understand where she was coming from.
AE: Did you get to help with casting at all? (If so, what was that like?)
CC: I wasn’t directly involved, no. (Apart from the enormous and elaborate bribes I offered to secure the part of Amy…) But I did get to hover in the wings and hear about who was being cast, which was very cool. I’d seen T’Nia [Miller] in Stud Life and thought she was brilliant, so was delighted to hear she’d been cast as Kay. She was great to work with—very funny, and unbelievably talented. And Bethany Black as Helen—just wow. I absolutely loved watching her play that part. I think she’s amazing.
AE: What was your favorite scene to write vs. your favorite scene to shoot?
CC: In episode 4, my favourite bit to write was the scene with the family at the end—maybe it’s because I’m terribly soppy, but I really loved writing about this little unit who loved each other and had each other’s backs, but still bickered and moaned at each other like people do.
In episode 6, I think my favourite bit to write was that awkward first date in the pub, trying to get the dialogue both natural and funny. And my favourite bit to shoot was the scene in the restaurant. The food was delicious. I am a simple creature.
My least favourite scene to film was me running back to the flat, mainly because it made me realize what a ridiculous run I have. Al was saying, “So you’re running really fast, like your life depends on it.” And I honestly thought I was doing a good job, giving it my all. Well, what I took home from watching that back is that I hope TO GOD I never actually have to run for my life, because the ambling, jaunty trot I adopted—prancing, not panicking—will not serve me well.
You can catch Charlie’s episode of Banana tonight on Logo at 11/10c.