Motherland: 16 Things You Didn't Know About Your New Favourite Sitcom

From an audition that left an exec "terrified", to why kids were almost banned from the show entirely.
BBC

It’s the sitcom that’s winning over waves of new fans as the weeks go by and TV critics are falling over themselves to praise (one even said it has the potential to become “as massive as Gavin & Stacey”) – Motherland fever is officially at an all time high.

The BBC Two school-gate comedy – which is a hectic, razor-sharp take on the perils of middle class parenting – quietly debuted with a pilot episode in 2016, and has since gone on to become one of the channel’s biggest success stories of recent years.

But if you’re one of the many people who have only just discovered this previously-hidden gem after its arrival on Netflix over lockdown or upon the release of series three, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about it...

1. Diane Morgan and Anna Maxwell Martin always try and dodge scenes with the kids

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For a show about parenting, there’s actually very few scenes involving children. However, that doesn’t mean the stars relish filming those when they do roll around.

Diane Morgan, who plays Liz, told the Guardian she and Anna Maxwell Martin – aka Julia – are “always trying to work out ways we can avoid scenes with children”.

“They should use dummies. Or add them in later with CGI,” she said.

“I’ve never wanted children for a split second. The pain, the expense, the hassle… I can’t see any advantages. Then I work on Motherland and feel vindicated,” she explained. “People say: “Yeah but who’ll look after you in your old age?” What? Are you only having kids to be your carers?!”

2. In fact, kids almost didn’t feature in the show at all

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Co-creator Sharon Horgan admitted in an interview with Grazia: “We weren’t even going to show the kids if we could get away with it. Because it’s not about parenting, it’s about friendships. It’s like a workplace comedy in a way because it’s about a group of people thrown together who only know each other through that situation.”

3. Sharon Horgan was working on a US series with similar themes before Motherland was born

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Helen Linehan conceived an original idea about the stress of motherhood before she and husband Graham Linehan (Father Ted, The IT Crowd), approached Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe, Divorce) and Holly Walsh (Dead Boss) about working on something together.

At the time, Sharon and Holly were working on a US TV pilot with similar themes before teaming up with Helen and Graham to conceive Motherland.

Sharon told the Guardian: “We wrote a show for a US network about a mother who was struggling, fucking up, getting it wrong,” explains Horgan. “By the time we came to shoot it she was 60% less of a mess. So it was 60% less funny. I think at that time there wasn’t an appetite for mothers on screen who were saying this is all wrong or kicking back.”

4. The story of how Anna Maxwell Martin got the role of Julia is iconic

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Anna admitted she had hit her limit of auditioning for roles she didn’t get, and when she went in to read for Motherland, she saw the list of people up for the role of Julia and admitted she “couldn’t be fucking arsed”.

She told the Guardian: “I was in the worst mood ever. I was so, so rude. I went into the room and was like, ‘Hiya.’ Stony stare. ‘Do you want me to sit here, or what?’ Honestly, I think that’s what got me the job.”

5. However, her audition “terrified” co-creator Graham Linehan

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Sharon Horgan told Grazia in a joint interview with Anna: “You terrified him so much that he desperately didn’t want you to get the part!”

Sharon added that she knew instinctively that Anna was right for the role of Julia. “’She did it like nobody else could or would do it.”

6. Anna Maxwell Martin had not done much comedy before Motherland

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While Anna picked up a nod for Best Female Comedy Performance at the TV Baftas in 2018, she hadn’t done much in the way of comedy performance before filming the Motherland pilot two years prior.

She said in a Guardian interview: “It’s not intentional, it just didn’t come my way, or maybe I wasn’t so interested. It’s quite a serious business, comedy. Whereas all the drama I do, I’m usually hysterical for 12 hours. Then I get on a comedy and I’m always like, ‘They take it really seriously, don’t they? And now I’m being shouted at.’”

7. Tanya Moodie was convinced she’d lost the role of Meg after messing up her second audition

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Tanya joined the cast as party-loving mum Meg in the second series, but believed she’d missed out on the role because she thought she’d messed up her second audition.

Having gone big in the first one thinking she had no chance of being cast, Tanya told HuffPost UK she was much more attached when she went back to read again and it made her too nervous.

“I fell to pieces – I was so nervous,” she explained. “I’ve been a Buddhist now for nearly 30 years, so I have this thing where I try not to get attached, do my thing in the moment and really trust the outcome. But I went into the second audition feeling really attached! I didn’t do a great audition.”

However, it seems bosses believed in her a lot more than she did, as she made it through to the third stage and eventually landed the part.

8. Lucy Punch has to relocate from the US to film Motherland

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The actor is actually based out in LA, after first moving to the States in 2006, where she has had a number of big screen roles.

That means when filming of Motherland takes place in west London, Lucy has to temporarily relocate back home.

“I stayed in London with my son and enrolled him in a different school,” she told the Daily Mail after filming the second series.

“He was jet-lagged and not sleeping, so I was rattled and exhausted. I was in the perfect mood for the show.”

9. There’s a lot of improvisation in the show

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While there’s obviously a great team of writers behind most of the things you see on Motherland, the cast get to input their own ideas too, Tanya Moodie told HuffPost UK.

One way in which they do this is with improvisation, with Tanya revealing that one of her favourite bits of improv actually got cut.

Speaking about the Mother’s Day episode where Philippa Dunne (Anne) is at the café listing off all the things that she does on Mother’s Day, Tanya said: “Philippa had another like 30 seconds work of improving and they cut it. I remember watching that scene back on telly and was like, that was such a shame because she kept going on and on and it was so funny!”

10. Joanna Lumley has played Lucy Punch’s mum before Motherland

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Joanna Lumley’s guest appearance as Amanda’s obnoxious mother, Felicity, was one of the highlights of series three, but it’s not actually the first time the pair have shared the screen.

The Absolutely Fabulous star previously played her mother in the 2004 adaptation of the Cinderella story, Ella Enchanted.

“So it was a special treat to pitch up again as another fairly poisonous parent in Motherland,” Joanna said.

11. Lucy Punch is more Anne than Amanda in real life

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While Lucy plays the unlikeable yet totally fabulous alpha mum impeccably, in real life, she could not be more different to her screen persona, instead likening herself to Amanda’s downtrodden sidekick, Anne.

She said in an interview with The i: “I’ve only got one child so I feel that maybe I’m more like Anne – not Irish, but a very smothering, overprotective mother. Fortunately, I don’t have a nasty Amanda in my life, bullying me. And I’m not quite as… weak, to put it nicely.”

12. It is filmed in real people’s houses

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The homes you see in Motherland belong to real people, but are completely redressed for the show.

Tanya Moodie told HuffPost UK: “The houses you see are nothing like the house normally, they completely redress it like the character’s house – repaint walls, put up new art and change the furniture around.

“I’ve never met an owner of any of the houses we use, they’ve always been off – it would be too much for them”

13. Diane Morgan landed her role after recording a scene from the show on her iPhone

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Diane was on holiday when her agent sent through an email revealing she’d been asked to audition for a Motherland with an accompanying script.

“I read it and thought, ‘Oh my God, this is actually funny.’ It’s really rare to find a script that makes you laugh out loud, and this did,” she told the Guardian of how much she wanted the role.

Thinking on her feet, she ordered a bread knife from room service and filmed the scene from the pilot where Liz cuts off her finger while cutting into some frozen cheese on her iPhone in the hotel room with her boyfriend reading out Julia’s part.

She added: “Then we went back to the pool and I’m thinking: I won’t get it. But apparently [co-creator] Graham Linehan said, ‘As soon as we saw the video, we knew we’d found our Liz.’”

14. Paul Ready has someone close to home in mind to play Kevin’s wife Jill

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In three series, we are still to meet Kevin’s elusive – but much-discussed – wife Jill, although Kevin reckons his real-life wife Michelle Terry would be the perfect casting.

He told Radio Times: “I was saying this to someone the other day, each time a series airs and I’m walking down the road with my wife, she’s always saying, ‘They think I’m Jill.’ So maybe my wife could play Jill.”

Olivier Award-winning Michelle is best known for her roles in the theatre, including productions of Macbeth, Hamlet and As You Like It, and has also appeared in TV shows including Law & Order: UK, Marcella and The Café.

15. Diane Morgan is a distant relative of Corrie legend Julie Goodyear

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Diane is related to the actor behind the iconic Rovers Return landlady Bet Lynch through her late father.

“There were a few actors on his side of the family: Julie Goodyear, Frank Finlay and Jack Wild [who played the Artful Dodger in Oliver!],” she told the Guardian.

“What a dynasty. We’re like the Redgraves.”

16. There’s a reason Sharon Horgan doesn’t feature in the show herself

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Sharon is known for her acting as much as her writing, and while she often appears in the shows she creates, she had reservations about starring in Motherland.

“I worried that it would make it too much of a Catastrophe crossover,” she told The Voice. “If I was in it, it would have felt too similar in some ways. And it’s a lot of fun casting a show like that, and watching those girls do their thing. It was a pleasure.”

Motherland series one to three are available to stream on BBC iPlayer.