Charlotte Ritchie: “Feel Good has been cathartic for a lot of people”

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Charlotte Ritchie: “Feel Good has been cathartic for a lot of people”


AActress Charlotte Ritchie, 31, grew up in south London and was still finishing her drama degree at the University of Bristol when she landed the role of Oregon in the Channel 4 student comedy Fresh meat. The following TV roles include Alison in Ghosts and nurse Barbara Gilbert in Call the midwife. She shares the role of George in Feel good, a semi-autobiographical romantic comedy by actress Mae Martin, who identifies as non-binary. The show won two Royal Television Society awards earlier this year and is nominated for a Bafta at the ceremony next weekend.

Feel good is back for its second (and final) series. Why the switch from Channel 4 to Netflix?
Channel 4 didn’t pick up the second series, but I’m so relieved that Netflix did. I knew Mae [Martin, creator and star] and Joe [Hampson, co-writer] had planned a two-round trajectory and had some solid ideas on how it was going to end. It would have been a shame to cut it short. I think it’s different from the first series. Our characters are more mature and everything has progressed.

Coming back, where do we find Feel goodis the first couple?
By the end of the first series, Mae and my character, George, had just gotten back together, but there was an ominous feeling of something unresolved. Mae still kept a lot of secrets. This time, Mae is back in Canada in rehab, while George is cut adrift and in denial. She is desperately trying to make herself as attractive as possible so that Mae comes back to her and they can live happily ever after.

At one point, Mae compares you to a kidney bean …
I find that extremely flattering. I really do. There is something very heartwarming about a kidney bean.

Does the show satirize millennial culture or embrace it, do you think?
There is an interesting tension because how the audience performs certain scenes depends on what they think of the millennial culture. When you’re used to being mainstream, as George certainly is, sometimes you just can’t be bothered with all that seriousness. The other viewers will identify with it completely. With everything run by algorithms these days, we are all aware of our demographics. It can make you aware of yourself. Every time I walk around London with a scarf with a white dish in my hand, I find myself thinking, “I’m a cliché, but I can’t escape it”. The show gently sends that out.

How was working with Lisa Kudrow, who plays Mae’s mother?
I was a huge Friends fan and I cried when the last episode aired, so I was delighted to meet her. What was weird was that no one mentioned it Friends. It’s like meeting Buzz Aldrin and not talking about the moon. But touring with Lisa the second time around was more relaxed and we talked about Friends a little. It must be weird to be part of such a great cultural point of reference and for everyone you meet to know yourself from that.

How important is it to seeing a non-binary love story on screen? Have you had positive feedback from viewers?
Absolutely. It has been very cathartic for a lot of people. Mae and I get feedback from such a wide range of viewers. Not only those who feel their sexuality is represented, but also people who might be in secret relationships or feel ashamed. What I find amazing is that Mae took the risk of sharing something so specific and semi-autobiographical and then so many people identified with it. I have received messages from people saying it has helped them understand their friends better. I’m glad it’s so funny too. It can be easy to forget the jokes when the subject matter is often serious, but the show transports you with humor.

Charlotte Ritchie, far right, as Oregon in Fresh Meat. Photograph: Ray Burmiston / Canal 4

Were bedroom scenes with Mae more or less awkward than with male actors?
There is no huge difference. The sex scenes are always delicate, intimate, and rely on the other person. It was a pretty easy process with Mae because we got to know each other well and became comfortable with each other. Most of the time, we just laughed. Being almost completely naked at work is a strange thing.

There has been increasing attention recently to behavior on set towards women. Have you had any disturbing experiences?
I have, yeah. I don’t want to speak for all women but it is a very common experience. It is a question of power and status. Much of it comes down to a culture where women feel they owe something or should feel grateful. There is still so much to unravel but the more we feel like we legitimately belong to a space, the more it levels the playing field. The fact that it changes quickly is exciting. The best thing is when the change comes from understanding, empathy, and love, as opposed to fear. Someone was inappropriate with me on set a long time ago and the team, who were younger than that person, instinctively shut it down and checked that I was okay. It wasn’t a ‘we’ll be in trouble if we don’t’ question, it was ‘that’s not cool’. It’s a great place for further progress. The responsibility of fixing it cannot always lie with those who go through this stuff. The dominant culture needs to do the most thinking. But I really feel a big change.

Were you bored that you came last in the recent round of Tyrant?
Non [laughs]. I don’t know if it’s a defense mechanism, but I’m not very competitive. Especially when the competition is all about running blindfolded and looking like an absolute idiot. I made the mistake of wearing blue overalls so I took a lot of stick to look like a Minion. But it could have been worse – I was almost wearing a yellow top and going full Minion until my roommate pointed out to me.

You have to act a bit in front of a pigeon in Ghosts. How it works?
At the start, George the pigeon did not hold out. On his first day of filming, he crashed into the camera, pooped on it, and then knocked over a pot of plant. George is total responsibility, so we’re doing a lot with CGI in the new series. We just finished filming and stayed at a hotel in Guildford which the owners said was haunted, ironically. One morning I came out of my room and there was a pigeon standing in the hallway. I thought it was a liquidation. No one could understand how he got there.

Keep in touch with the Fresh meat gang?
Funny you should say that. We’ve been in touch a lot recently as it’s the 10th anniversary of the series. I looked at old photos and videos and we had so much fun. It couldn’t have been a better first job, even if I had to work on my thesis in the boring evening. But I have learned a lot during these three years in Bristol. I did a sketch show with Jamie Demetriou and Ellie White. In fact, Jamie helped me with my audition for Fresh meat.

Are Call the midwife fans still traumatized by the heartbreaking death of nurse Barbara?
I’m afraid of it. I always get people coming to me, angry enough that I put them through this. It was very moving. I watched it with my mom, which was a mistake.

Three years ago you were in the short film Pay attention to the way you go, written and directed by Emerald Fennell – another Call the midwife former student. How was it to see his success?
Epic. I am so proud of her. Promising young woman absolutely blew up and I’m desperate to see what she does next. She is very daring. And such a beautiful person, not that she has to be. But it is.

What cultural things did you enjoy during the lockdown?
For a long time I struggled to concentrate on reading but I just finished Kurt Vonnegut’s one Slaughterhouse-Five. It was deep and amazing, although I know some people do it for the baccalaureate, so I’m 15 years late. I have a VR ticket for a concert at Fontaines DC. I compulsively binge a lot of bad TVs like Under the bridge and Married to First Sight Australia. Me and my roommates also watched The walking dead and I swear Married to First Sight Australia gave me worse nightmares than zombies.

What makes you happy when you’re not working?
I am learning the piano and trying to get into meditation. I also made food bank deliveries on my bike for this large group where I live in east London. It’s a welcome reminder that most people are lovable. After spending a lot of time online or reading the news over the past year or so, it’s easy to believe that the world is horrible and everyone is horrible. Meeting strangers is good for you. It reaffirms your faith in human nature.

The second season of Feel Good launches on Netflix on Friday, June 4

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