High Life is a new, short-form, six-part series following 17-year-old student Genevieve, who discovers she’s suffering her first manic episode of bipolar disorder. Odessa Young, who stars as the student, tells Danielle McGrane about her work on the show.
Genevieve is a gifted student and she is shown seen experiencing her first manic episode. What did you do to help you prepare for this role?
I did a lot of factual and medical-based research at first just to figure out what exactly it was that triggered this disease, the causes of it, the various symptoms. And then I started going on a lot of personal blogs about mental illness and about those who have bipolar disorder. What was playing on my mind while filming is that people who are in manic episodes don’t always have the awareness of it. People who are going through psychosis don’t understand they are until it’s too late. So it’s this scary idea that you may think your actions are normal but really you’re being tricked by your brain.
Did you feel a responsibility to be as realistic as you could because you’re dealing with an illness that affects so many people?
One hundred per cent, I did. But I also learnt from the beginning that despite the common factors of the illness, people experience it in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to portray a manic episode. You can be a unique person and still have the illness, the illness does not hide your uniqueness.
Often when we see TV shows and films about mental illness they can be quite serious. Do you think it was good the way High Life approached it with humour?
Yes, I’m so sick of of seeing film and TV and media portray mental illness as the end of the world. It’s hard to find people or projects or tangible things in front of you that say it’s OK to be sick, it’s OK to feel the way you feel, and I think that a way of doing that is by inserting humour into it because it is funny. People with these disorders and illnesses have full, happy lives. I thought it was really important to normalise it.
Stephen Fry is an executive producer on this show and Sarah Blasko wrote the soundtrack. What was it like to have input from people of their calibre?
I think that it’s quite inspiring because they’re a part of it for the same reasons I wanted to be a part of it; we care deeply about the subject matter and we care deeply about the way it’s told. I can only hope that people respond to it in the way that I responded to it, which is with hearty amusement, but I was also touched.