Meeting Team Bisexual
As Channel 4 get ready to air The Bisexual starting on Wednesday – and with the entire series available online from 11pm that night – we thought it would be good to hear from the team behind the show about their work bringing fresh bisexual plotlines to late-night telly.
First up, writer, director and star Desiree Akhavan:
The Bisexual is your new comedy for Channel 4 – can you explain a little bit about the show?
The show is a bisexual dating comedy about a woman who has identified as a lesbian for her whole life then comes out as bisexual and starts seeing men for the first time in her 30’s.
Inevitably, there are more than a few echoes of your own experiences in there. How autobiographical is it?
It’s not autobiographical in its plot- I’ve never identified as a lesbian and came out as bisexual from the start, but the characters in it are inspired by the people Cecilia and I know and love, so it comes from a very personal place. It’s a look at London and particularly Hackney as we know it.
You describe ‘bisexuality’ as the last taboo. Do you think that’s the case?
It sure feels like it. There are worse taboos out there, but this one’s tricky because by the very nature of it being bisexual is invisible: if I’m walking down the street holding a woman’s hand I’m gay, if it’s a man’s I’m straight. That’s how a lot of people side-step the label. It has a lot of stigma to it.
Next Desiree’s co-writer Cecilia Frugiuele:
How did you become involved with the show?
Desiree had just moved back to to London in 2015 to promote Appropriate Behaviour, after having been to LA and pitched the show with Rowan Riley (co-creator of the show). Seeing how well Appropriate Behaviour was being received in the UK, she decided to see if the same concept could work for the UK. That’s how she met [executive producer] Naomi de Pear. We had been co-writing our second feature (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) and the transition to us co-writing the show happened somehow organically thanks to Naomi and (producer) Katie Carpenter who were great supporters of our collaboration.
Both The Bisexual and Appropriate Behaviour start with the break-up of a long term relationship. Why is that a fertile starting point for a drama?
I guess depending on how you look at it, it can be a bleak end point but the moment when the world starts crumbling under your feet, when someone pulls a rug under you suddenly everything is a possibility.
Maxine Peake who plays Sadie:
What was it that attracted you to the role of Sadie?
I think it was Desiree, if I’m honest. I read it, and I’d seen her film Appropriate Behaviour, and I just thought she was extraordinary. And then she’s over here, writing, directing and starring in something, and I thought “I want to be a part of this.” They approached and asked if I’d be interested, and Desiree wrote me a lovely letter saying “I really don’t know your work, but people keep saying you should be playing Sadie.” And we did a little Skype interview, and I thought she was amazing. And we just clicked, and I thought “I really want to be part of this.” It felt like nothing else I’d seen on British telly when I read it. And I felt like it was very different to stuff I’d done previously.
Sadie isn’t the most straightforward of characters – how do you see her?
There’s quite a bit of an age gap between Leila and Sadie, so I think that’s part of the complication. Sadie got a lot of things out of her system before she settled down with Leila. Leila says to Sadie: “I gave you my 20s,” but Sadie says to her “Well, I gave you my 30s,” and that’s quite interesting. As a woman, the 20s are when you’re having fun, and 30s are the time when you’re thinking about family and settling down. That’s what we’re led to believe is what we should be thinking, as women.
Do you think it’s worse for Sadie because Leila is dating a man?
Oh yeah. I think it makes her think about herself as a woman – was she not able to give her what she wanted? Was Leila ever really in love with her? Now she’s looking at the opposite sex for satisfaction and love. I think whether you’re straight or gay or whatever your sexual preference, it’s about rejection. When someone says “I don’t actually know if you’re enough for me at the moment, so I’m just going to go and find out,” that’s quite a hard thing to deal with.
And our heroine’s new bestie, Gabe – actor Brian Gleeson:
Tell us about Gabe – how do you see him?
Gabe is a novelist who, when we meet him in the story, hasn’t had anything published for about 10 years. He kind of became quite successful in his 20s, and it’s been a few years since that. He’s teaching in a college, and getting by, but he’s on the wane a little bit. He’s quite neurotic. What’s great about the show is that your understanding of him deepens as episodes go on and you kind of get to learn more about his background and why he’s in London, and his relationship with his sister (played by Eva Birtwhistle). You get an understanding of a different kind of trauma that he’s experienced in the past.
Is it fair to say he thinks Leila is quite exotic because she’s bisexual?
Yeah, yeah! Gabe is very intelligent, but he wouldn’t be exactly up-to-date or ‘woke’ in the sense that most people are these days. He puts his foot in it a lot! But he learns a lot from Leila about her life, and her thoughts about identity and being bisexual. And what’s great about the show is also that she learns a lot, about him as well.