Oriane Messina and Fay Rusling have reason to celebrate. They’ve written and created their own comedy series, which will be aired on BBC One from next Friday 12 October.
Me & Mrs Jones follows the complex life of Gemma Jones (Sarah Alexander) a divorcee and mum who juggles the attentions of her ex-husband Jason (Neil Morrissey), Tom, a hot dad her own age (Nathaniel Parker) and her son’s best friend Billy played by Misfits star Robert Sheehan.
The pair who have written for Green Wing, Campus and Smack The Pony, gave the idea to producer Serena Cullen who then took it to Beryl Vertue at Hartswood Films.
In this exclusive interview for Screenwriting Goldmine, Oriane and Fay reveal how the whole thing happened…
How did you come up with the idea for Me & Mrs Jones?
Fay ‘I was reading a magazine article about a certain actress who was complaining that there were no romantic parts for women around and Oriane and myself are both romantic comedy junkies. We want to watch more of that sort of thing.
Oriane: ‘We like things like the Vampire Diaries.’
Fay: ‘We are terrible. We watch children’s television basically. I thought ‘What would you do if you were in your 40s and felt that first love feeling again?’ That went on to become: ‘What happens if you fall in love with your son’s best friend?’
Oriane: ‘And I was like – how old is the son? Is it someone she’s known since they were children?
Fay: I said ‘No, he’s 25.’ We put the boundaries in. Her son has only just met him travelling. They have come home because they’ve run out of money. I wanted that situation where you can like somebody, but can’t take it any further and everybody else is saying ‘No, you can’t.’
Oriane: ‘It makes it very embarrassing when we see Robert (Sheehan) at rehearsals because he knows we’ve been writing these fantasies.
Why did you take the idea to Serena Cullen the producer?
Oriane: “We tend to sit down and come up with a load of ideas at once and then kind of throw them out there and see who’s interested.’
Fay: ‘We were going to pitch it to America, but we happened to meet Serena beforehand and we said ‘What would happen if you fell in love with your son’s best friend?’ She loved it. She said ‘I will have it.’ Even though it was just an idea. She dragged us through the few years it has taken to get off the ground and got the interest of Beryl Vertue at Hartswood.
Oriane: ‘Then we wrote a treatment about the world that Gemma lived in and her family. The BBC commissioned a pilot script, then another script, and then we did a read through. Then we got a third script and then we got a series.
Tell us about your writing process..
Oriane: We plan it out together and write a scene-by-scene breakdown, which we show to Serena and Beryl and I try not to get too defensive or aggressive. Fay will write the odd numbered scenes and I do the even ones. We swap them, put it together and over webcam we act it out, which is quite embarrassing.’
Fay: ‘We live 80 miles apart…. She does a wonderful Robert.’
Oriane: ‘There was a terrible time when our internet connection went down and we were doing love scenes to each other on the phone. ‘
Have you always worked like that?
Oriane: ‘Yes, well we met performing together and when we write; we have quite a strong idea of how we want it to look visually.
Fay: ‘And our writing, is really similar. If you didn’t know you wouldn’t be able to tell who wrote what. We rewrite constantly. We rewrite each other’s scenes, take bits out and meld it all together.
Oriane: ‘There is an unwritten rule that if you take something out and the other person puts it in again, you just leave it there for a third party to decide upon. We don’t fall out, but we do have heated arguments about what happens to the characters.
Fay: ‘Oriane sees it all from over the top. I can’t see, I crawl through it. In that way, I think I could never do it on my own.’
Is it planned down to the very last scene, or do you leave room improvisation?
Oriane: ‘When we start we’ll write lots of random scenes that aren’t connected to get the feel of the characters. There is a Swedish character called Inca who is Jason’s (Neil Morrissey) girlfriend and we didn’t want her to sound like something out of ‘Allo ‘Allo.
Fay: ‘So all these scenes are about us finding the characters’ voice. When we worked on Green Room and Campus, we did that. Lots of random scenes that aren’t restricted by plot. They are like sketches and bits of them might become part of an idea for the script. It is quite freeing because you are improvising with your writing, not worrying about stuff like ‘We’ve got to get him over here’ etc etc.
Do you have to work hard at the gags? How do you know when something is funny?
Fay: ‘Our goal is to make each other laugh.’
Oriane: ‘And when we knew who was in the show, it was easier. For example, we found out that Neil is very good at physical comedy, so then we had him wrestling.
Is it easier being funny as part of a team?
Fay: ‘I don’t know. This works for us.’
Oriane: ‘We spend most of our time talking about our day and our lives and it will get to 10pm and we’ll think…
Fay: ‘Oh God, better do some work.’ Yes, we gossip all day.
Oriane: ‘Things that the kids say in the show are things that are own children have said or situations we have talked about. We are both parents so the things that Gemma experiences are familiar.
Fay: ‘The sort of women you meet at school. We know them. The feeling that you are the only one without friends. We wanted it to be like a really good romantic comedy film like Bridesmaids or something.
How long have you been friends for?
Oriane: ‘We met touring Agatha Christie plays 15-years-ago.’
Fay: ‘We used to laugh a lot in the kitchen during rehearsals.’
Oriane: ‘We started performing our own stuff and then we began writing on Smack the Pony. It got to the point where we were writing stuff for other people and not performing any more.’
Does being a performer help when it comes to writing?
Fay: ‘Well Oriane still performs. She is in Me & Mrs Jones – I have got one line.’
Oriane: ‘I don’t know.’
Fay: ‘We are not overly precious when something doesn’t work because we know that sometimes words don’t sound the same when they are acted out. That’s why we spend so much time on iChat.’
Oriane: ‘Most of the time she is showing me her kitchen and stuff!’
Fay: ‘We have had a really good time writing this.’
How does it feel to have your own comedy series on BBC?
Oriane: ‘We are excited, but it is the BBC and there is no hiding.’
Fay: ‘It’s terrifying.’
Oriane: ‘But you don’t want to make a show that nobody has an opinion about.’
Fay: ‘It’s once-in-a-lifetime. It’s a dream.’
We’ll see you at the BAFTAs then!
Oriane: ‘As waiters!’[Me & Mrs Jones airs on BBC One from Friday 12 October at 9.30pm. Interview for Screenwriting Goldmine by Sally Brockway]