Wednesday sees the second series of Sky1’s warm observational comedy The Café from writers Michelle Terry and Ralf Little. The sitcom set in and around a café in Weston-Super-Mare run by the generational trilogy of Mary, Carol and Sarah was first shown in November 2011. I recently got the chance to speak with star and co-writer Michelle Terry about what we can expect from series 2 and what it’s like acting in something you’ve written.
It’s been nearly two years since we last visited The Café, why has there been so much time between series?
The second series was done and dusted by November so it was just a case of thinking when would be the best time to put it out.
What’s the writing process like for you and Ralf?
The first series was much more structured, we’d sit in and office together and write every single day. By the time the second series got commissioned we’d both got other jobs so it was much more sporadic really. I sat in my house and he’d sit in his and we’d send stuff back and forth to each other.
Did you feel any pressure with Series 2?
Yeah, there was the pressure. When you get a recommission you’ve been endorsed by people. Craig (director Craig Cash), Lucy (Head of Sky comedy Lucy Lumsden) and Stuart (Programme controller at Sky1 Stuart Murphy) have been so supportive of the project so it’s important to put the pressure to one side and focus on the story. You also want to honour all the amazing actors that we have with decent story lines and decent parts. In a way it was much easier because we knew the actors this time and could hear their voices.
You film in a set overlooking Weston. Was it trickier filming series 2 now that people know who you are and what you’re doing?
The set is purpose built so we can control what happens inside the set. We’ve got glass windows because we didn’t want to block off the sea front and we wanted all the passing trade and people going past the café just to give it a sense of reality. You get the odd person who wants to disrupt it but most people were really cooperative and wanted to stand on the sidelines and watch.
There’s always a lot of talk about whether comedies need studio audiences nowadays. When you were first discussing the idea did you make a concious decision to shoot this in a different style?
It came up but because of what we wanted to do with that sort of voyeuristic style, and also because we shoot on location it was very important that it wasn’t a set and that it was bordering on reality. There was no way we could capture any of that filming in a studio really. For us is was as much about the aesthetics of it as it was about the dialogue so we had a very specific idea of how it should look.
Once you’re on set do you and Ralf take your writing hats off or will you change dialogue if you feel isn’t working?
It changes a lot. We were lucky enough to get some rehearsal time in. We had a week before we went off to set kind of work-shopping the script. The biggest problem really is the weather. A scene that you’d planned to be very sunny or a sunlit romantic scene you have to do in the pouring rain because time is tight. You have to think on your feet and acknowledge the weather so sometimes you’ll need dialogue for that. You’re sort of troubleshooting to make sure that the script and what’s going on outside match really.
Are you anything like Sarah?
I think there are elements of me. I think she’s probably nicer than I am.
Does having written the words give you an unfair advantage over the other members of the cast?
I don’t know if it’s an unfair advantage. Both Ralf and I tend to know most of the scripts word for word. So yes, actually I suppose we do have an advantage because we know everybody’s lines!
So if worst comes to worst and no one can commit for another series you could play everyone!?
That is a brilliant idea! And we’d save so much money.
What are the advantages for you as a writer and an actress working with Sky?
For me it’s freedom and trust. They’ve been prepared to take risks on new writing. Everyone knew who Ralf was and Craig coming on board puts some weight behind it but it’s still taking a risk on two new writers.
What can you tell us about the new series?
Well Carol’s ex-husband comes back who is Sarah’s dad so he puts a spanner in the works for Sarah and her mum. I’m not really sure I should reveal any more.
You’ve got some guest stars this series. What can you tell us about them?
It was important we had the story rather than writing a part for a specific guest. Mackenzie Crook turns up. We’d written this part and Mackenzie was available and wanted to do it so it worked out perfectly.
During the first series the style of comedy was labelled as ‘warm’ and ‘family friendly’. Is that something you were happy with?
There’s lots of hard edged comedy, critical comedy and satirical comedy that are done really well in other areas and I think Sky comedies are going for a much more family oriented audience. Hopefully there’s enough of a subversive edge to each of the characters. They’re human beings really so hopefully they come across that way.
The dialogue is very naturalistic, do you take bits from conversations you overhear?
I think Ralf would agree that everything we’ve taken is something we’ve heard. Now we know the characters we modify it so it sounds right in their mouths. Listening to people’s conversations is priceless really.
What are you enjoying on TV at the moment?
I’m loving The Returned. I think it’s great that people are tuning in every week and coming in the next day and talking about it. I like that people are reading the subtitles and it proves that if it’s a good story people will read television. I also like all the Scandinavian programmes like The Killing and Borgen, they set such a high standard.
And What are you working on at the moment?
I’m at The Globe Theatre in London doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream so I’m there till October.
The Café 2 will transmit on Wednesday 24 July 21.00 Sky 1 HD