Upside down in the back of a cab, bare legs held aloft by an earnest young woman. That's me - talking shop through my dimply thighs - in the trailer for the E4 comedy, The Work Experience, currently airing on Wednesday nights. Meanwhile Miss Leg-holder desperately tries to pretend that nothing is amiss. An amusing image for a comedy promo- but oh, so much funnier when I tell you that I am an actress and she is not. She is a real person and she really thinks that I am her boss. Or she did at that moment.
The Work Experience, set in a loopy fashion PR agency is an outrageous sitcom going on around two people who don't know they are in it. Four extreme characters, all played by actors, staff the agency, which coincidentally, is being followed by a documentary camera crew. Each week, we initiate two new real interns into our play for world PR domination and they have to endure a catalogue of catastrophic disasters. I play the one doing the hiring and firing, Joanna Grade - an oversexed alpha-male trapped in the body of an egomaniacal 40-year-old woman. Joanna runs Grade PR with an iron fist - but an iron fist wearing this season's spiked glamgoth statement rings, natch!
We followed a normal working week in our fake company, improvising for nine hours a day to keep the interns busy with everyday business-y stuff. It's much easier to convince someone to pick up a vanload of Latvian prostitutes or fetch a sperm sample when they have been doing mundane tasks for 90% of their day. But whenever they did pop out, we would furiously rehearse an upcoming scripted (ish) scene and pray it would go to plan once they got back. Outside of these snatched moments, our only means of communication with the production team was by text message. I still have this from our director: GO. NO STOP! WAIT IN THE TOILET UNTIL I TELL YOU YOU CAN COME OUT! Occasionally there were concerns that we had lost it. We became so embedded that spats would break out about whose job it was to hoover or who had been fiddling the petty cash.
After watching the pilot I had to accept that, what makes this show so unique, so funny, are its stars, the interns. Yes, we actors busted our balls (and our nerves and possibly our sanity) to stay in character for so long and deal with whatever came our way. But the comedy gold was in the interns' faces. We looked funnier and more ridiculous through the eyes of someone rooted in reality. Which was a relief, 'cos that was what I had told them to make them feel better after the shoots...
Yes, I did have my concerns about having fun with job seekers in these tricky times. A criticism anticipated and debated by everyone involved - the producers, broadcaster and actors. Was it fair? Here's my thinking - it was our characters that ultimately looked the fools and the interns the heroes. The interns were selected on a mix of their fashion experience, enthusiasm and interest for the role at Grade PR and they were given a full month's paid placement at a reputable fashion PR agency at the end of filming. They were happy to be filmed and having been interviewed by me, had no doubt they would be working for at least one maniac!
But most gratifying has been the responses of the interns. Every one of them is giddy with excitement about THEIR show. They thanked us for the opportunity and many have said that they wish Grade PR were real because they had had the time of their lives. At the cast and crew screening the 12 of them bonded and whooped louder and laughed longer than any of us. Oh, and one of the interns is now managing director of the agency we sent him to. I kid you not!
So returning to the back of that cab - nope, I'm not going to tell you what was going on between my legs. You'll have to watch. But I will relay my conversation with the intern, Felicity:
Joanna (witheringly): Seriously, PR is always like this
Felicity: I love it though. Every day is different.
Joanna: ...It certainly is!
And boy was it in the world of Grade PR! Like our interns, I sometimes wish that world were for real.
The Work Experience, Wednesdays, 9.30pm on E4