#MeToo is a universal confession of trauma and pain. We wanted to shine a light on that
Comedy, romance and drama meet in post#MeToo Hollywood in Chivalry. RACHAEL DAVIS finds out more from its writers and stars
TURNING the #MeToo movement, one of the most significant moments in modern gender politics, into a comedy is no mean feat, even for Steve Coogan.
In Chivalry, a new Channel 4 comedy-drama written by and starring Alan Partridge actor Coogan, 56, and Him & Her star Sarah Solemani, 39, the comedic duo tackle the question of romance and working relationships in Hollywood.
Steve plays Cameron, an oldschool movie producer who has to work with Sarah’s Bobby, an upand-coming feminist director, to recut a movie that’s been derailed by a #MeToo scandal.
The idea for Chivalry was born out of a debate between Steve and Sarah when the #MeToo movement came to a head.
“We started talking about it, arguing about it, and also laughing about it,” says Sarah. “We started thinking: ‘What if we put two opposing characters in dialogue, where we’re just debating?’
The answer, it turns out, is that they fall in love, but with a whole lot of learning along the way.”
An ensemble cast joins the duo, including Wanda Sykes, Sienna Miller, Lolly Adefope, Robert Lonsdale and Aisling Bea. Look out also for some surprising Hollywood cameos.
We caught up with Steve and Sarah ahead of the launch.
#MeToo is such a complicated topic to cover, especially in a comedy. What were the big debates that came up?
Steve: The big thing for me, the premise of the whole series, was how does romance thrive in a post#MeToo environment?
Let’s tell a story about two people who are in the midst of this new landscape, who fall in love with each other whilst negotiating these things.
Maybe then the question will answer itself. Sarah: One of the biggest debates that came out of #MeToo was a concern that it was somehow going to be the death of sex. In the show, this is why Bobby talks so explicitly about sex.
When you have proper conversations about consent, you’re actually opening up opportunity for more sex and more pleasure because it’s a proper dialogue where women’s needs are taken into consideration.
Trying to wrangle all of those massive, complex, confusing themes into a scene or into a moment was what we talked about a lot.
What does comedy and humour let you to do that drama doesn’t?
Steve: In terms of the comedy, we were very careful about it. Once you know how you can find these comedic moments, when you become confident with it, it’s knowing when not to do a joke, not to employ comedy when you know you could. To have the guts to be sincere sometimes, which is not an intuitive thing, certainly for me! Sarah: It makes it harder, because you have to do both! You have to keep it suspenseful but you have to find the humour and give the audience permission to relax.
#MeToo is a universal confession of trauma and pain, and we don’t want to undermine that. We wanted to shine a light on that, and at the same time let some of the tension out.
Marta, our director, was really good in reminding us of not being scared to go to some of the darker areas, and then Steve is always so kind of ruthless when it came to the comedy, it had to be the funniest moment we could possibly invent.
You both live in this world, but what did you do in terms of research and preparation?
Steve: We do live in this world, so we’re aware of what’s going on in terms of the media and discussions and new protocols, we’re aware of all that.
Being in the industry means it’s not a huge leap to put yourself in a slightly different place, it was just taking things that you sometimes feel and amplifying them, adding some extra things to make it complex and provocative.
There’s definitely a Venn diagram where our characters overlap with who we are. Sarah: It’s less about research, but more about exploration of our journeys, because Steve and I have had such different journeys and different challenges.
I was really relieved when he would ask not just difficult questions for the show, but difficult questions of himself.
This took a lot of trust and sharing and inquiry, so that we could craft characters that, hopefully, feel real.
The first two episodes are set in Hollywood: did it have to be set in the states?
Sarah: Hollywood is such a heightened, extreme place, and there’s a reason the #MeToo movement started here. So it felt like a natural base for it, but it was very important to us that it didn’t feel like an injoke.
Actually, any public-facing business has to deal with these issues, so it can be any workplace where you’re juggling this new, chaotic landscape where what you say can sometimes feel policed.
Hopefully people will relate to it, even if they don’t have any knowledge of Hollywood.
What did you enjoy most about working together?
Steve: Writing with Sarah was like spending time with a friend every day. That’s what was enjoyable: just writing with Sarah and feeling safe to explore things that I would not have felt safe doing alone.
That made it fun, because I trusted her judgement implicitly, but I didn’t always trust my own! Sarah: He really makes me laugh: he’d send me a text, or make a joke on a session and I’d be laughing for days afterwards. And also getting an insight into an incredible life and incredible career – that is fascinating.
And, like he said, feeling safe enough. It was a very trusting, enjoyable, safe working environment.
■ Chivalry is on Channel 4, 10pm, Thursday