Interview: Julia Davis – 'As long as the character’s funny then the likeability aspect doesn’t matter'
Camping is a new sitcom from the creator, writer and star of Hunderby and Nighty Night
New sitcom Camping marks the directorial debut of Julia Davis as she turns her withering gaze onto the British seaside vacation. This six-part comedy stars League of Gentlemen's Steve Pemberton and Hunderby alumni Rufus Jones, Vicki Pepperdine and Jonathan Cake as they pack their bags and head for a holiday from hell. 'It’s about a group of couples going away for someone’s 50th birthday,' says Davis. ‘One guy unexpectedly arrives with his new girlfriend, which messes up the whole holiday and it descends into a nightmare by the end.'
Camping marks something of a departure for Davis as she actually plays a fairly likeable character for once. 'She’s called Fay and she’s very flaky,’ Davis notes. ‘She just wants to have a good time, really, with whoever. She turns up with one guy, but if that’s not working out she’ll just move on to another. She’s neither horrendous nor particularly moral.'
Davis has made a name for herself with a singular brand of edgy comedy. Regularly working alongside Steve Coogan, Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker, Davis has starred in Jam, Brass Eye, Black Mirror, I'm Alan Partridge and Nathan Barley (essentially a roll call of British TV’s most distinctive comedies across the last 20 years). However, it’s her self-penned projects that have best showcased Davis’ wonderfully twisted talent. Early writing credits include much-loved sketch show Big Train and fake documentary series Human Remains, but it was 2004 when Davis unleashed her dark masterpiece of awkward comedy: Nighty Night.
A thoroughly offbeat sitcom that boldly waded into areas most feared to tread, it tackled disease, disability and death with a daring sense of humour. Davis also took the starring role (alongside Kevin Eldon, Ruth Jones, Angus Deayton and Rebecca Front) as self-centred Jill Tyrell whose first response to learning her husband has cancer is to join a dating agency.
Davis' next major project went back in time to the 1830s for Hunderby, a black comedy that tore apart the clichés of period drama and helped her win a BAFTA and two British Comedy Awards. Davis played Dorothy, another cruel and bitter character. 'I sort of hope that as long as the character’s funny then the likeability aspect doesn’t matter,' she explains. 'But I think if you look at Basil Fawlty or Alan Partridge, those characters are not that likeable. Also, I sometimes think you can find things to like in extreme people.'
With Camping, Davis not only stars but also created, wrote and directed the series. 'I was very lucky with the crew. They were non-macho, really nice blokes who helped the whole thing. This makes it all sound like a love-in, but it was really good being with actors who are friends. It was not a horrifically daunting thing to do and I imagine if your debut as a director was with some huge stars, it would be quite scary.'
Camping starts on Sky Atlantic, Tue 12 Apr, 10pm, with all episodes available the same night via Sky Box Sets.