What of the state of British comedy? Sitcoms largely do badly over here, especially those which are shown on BBC3 (apart from perhaps Ideal starring Johhny Vegas) which seems to always be looking for the new pretender to the ill-fitting Two Pints of Lager… crown. That search usually leads to overly brash Northerners, or crassness on a sub-human level and a general lack of the finer, and simpler points of successful comedy.
But into this context a new BBC3 sitcom has arrived- and believe it or not, it’s actually gathering up some positive critical reactions. But it’s still billed as a “Northern comedy”, and it’s still typical BBC3 fare- so why is it going down a storm? One review from The Stage magazine seems to have hit the nail squarely on the head…
What makes The Gemma Factor’s achievements all the more remarkable is how perilously close it skates to the potentially appalling. If the show’s comedy calibrations were just a few degrees out Gemma’s personality would be irritating and imbecilic rather than sweet and naive, with her friends and family coming over as clumsy cliches, not cuddly and colourful. As it is I was totally seduced, even without the picture postcard shots of West Yorkshire at its sunniest and greenest.
While there are still caricatures of a familiar nature for a BBC3 sitcom- they are less overtly callous and they work a lot better for the lesser focus on the pantomime. There’s still not exactly a great deal of intelligent satire, but you cant have everything.
It seems that all of the reviews so far agree on one thing- the strength of the show is predominantly down to the casting of one particular rising star: step forward Anna Gilthorpe who plays the eponymous heroine, on whom the burden of carrying the British comedy flag seems to sit quite comfortably.
I got the opportunity to speak to Anna this week, to try and get an insight into what a TV rising star is actually like…
So, important question out of the way first- as a rising star of a new British TV show how long will it be before you appear in a British horror film, or alongside Danny Dyer?
As soon as they ask me I AM THERE. I’ve been practicing my scream just incase they call
So, sell me The Gemma Factor.
Right, The Gemma Factor is a new comedy/ drama for BBC3 written by Tony Pitts following Gemma Collinge and her quest for fame before her 21st birthday. Gemma has no discerning talent but is obsessed with Heat magazine, Big Brother, Lady Gaga, reality TV stars and sees no reason why she can’t be up there with them enjoying the dizzying heights of fame even though she lives with her Nana in a tiny, picturesque Yorkshire village. It’s crude, colourful, ridiculous and full of heart. Think Royle Family meets Ugly Betty. It also stars Ross Adams, Gwyneth Powell from Grange Hill, Angus Barnett from Pirates of the Caribbean and Claire King.
What has the reaction been like after the first two episodes?
Are you being recognised on the street? It’s been brilliant and very surreal! We have had glowing reviews in practically every paper and magazine and even had my pic in the sacred Heat. Alas I haven’t been spotted yet (I have been trying my best smiling at everyone I meet and holding The Gemma Factor pics up next to my face) but Ross Adams who plays my best friend and camp stylist Jeff has a few times and he is so excited! We’re not like our onscreen characters at all.
Where did the opportunity to play Gemma come from?
I originally auditioned for the pilot as Nell, Gemma’s other best friend but was secretly hoping they would see me for Gemma too. Luckily they did and we filmed it a couple of years ago, had an amazing week up in Hebden Bridge and then had to start the waiting process to find out if it would be commissioned. We had a ‘yes’ from the BBC and then i had to reaudition a few more times to check they had the right girl for the job. Eventually after a long wait I had the good news and haven’t stopped smiling since!
What’s your showbiz background?
Ooh I’m not sure I’m very showbiz… yet ;) Oh except I was on The Michael Barrymore Show singing in the shopping centre when I was younger (ultimate in showbiz!) I’ve always wanted to be a singer and trained at The Royal Academy of Music Musical Theatre course got an agent and then have been trying to make it as a singer and actress since graduating.
Any weird fans?
A few! Lots of facebook adds and guys asking for signed photos and a very special fan offering to give me private personal training sessions with lots of winky faces attached!?
Are you looking to work just in comedy?
I would love to do more comedy. We had such an amazing time filming The Gemma Factor, we just laughed all day long, so we’re all praying that we’ll get to do a second series this year but it’s all determined on ratings so we will have to wait and see. Otherwise I want to just do as much work as I can acting and singing and am hoping playing Gemma will bring me more opportunities to do so.
What do you think about the general state of British comedy these days?
I think there is a lot of talent out there, really creative and unique stuff but it’s so difficult to get the backing and funds it’s really challenging to find avenues of getting it seen by the masses.
Ive read some interviews where you’ve cited dubious TV and film influences/favourites already- redress the balance, what are the five films that have meant the most to you?
Ha! I know, Inside Soap magazine asked me my favourite TV shows and afterwards I was like ‘wow the RSC are never going to employ you with those answers’ America’s Top Model… XFactor…. Right films let me think.
2. The Shawshank Redemption
3. Moulin Rouge
And obviously you can’t go wrong with Home Alone. Not sure if I have redeemed myself…
Beyond The Gemma Factor what are your plans? Anything on the horizon?
It’s back to auditions. That’s the joy of being an actor you’re never sure of what/ or isn’t(!) coming around the corner. Fingers crossed lots of exciting projects. I’m off to New York this week on holiday and then have lots gigs with my girl group I’m in ‘The Tootsie Rollers’ coming up which will be lots of fun.
If you could have played any iconic role in film history which would you choose?
Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffanys.
Would you seriously consider a film career, assuming an opportunity came knocking?
Who would you say was the greatest influence in your life in the business?
All the friends I have made doing various shows and jobs. They’re all very inspiring and have given me so much advice and support. Also I’ve found book ‘The Secret’ by Ronda Byrne (no I’m not on commission!) is a great help of how to keep positive about life and achieving your goals
Any plans to head down the reality TV route? And what’s your opinion of that side of the industry?
I’m a bit limited with my lack of balance and inability to walk in heels. Dancing on Ice and Strictly Come Dancing are definitely out and myself and Ross have agreed we would be the world’s worst (but possibly most entertaining) contestants on I’m a Celebrity… (no straighteners? Sorry- what?). I think it would depend what show it was and my circumstances at the time. I think it’s sad that so many shows are now made instead of commissioning new dramas and comedies but have to admit I lap up watching a bit of Celeb Big Brother.
What upcoming TV show or film are you most looking forward to seeing this year?
Gemma Factor series 2 without a doubt. I still to see Glee! I know shocking stuff. All my friends have been raving about it but I want to watch it all from the beginning so am waiting for the box set.
Gemma is a fame-hungry harlot- can you empathise with her in terms of how she views fame?
I can definately empathise with her and think there are a lot of girls in Britain who have the same aspiration in life. In todays society it seems people can be famous for doing nothing in particular and have met girls who just want to be a WAG. The sad thing about Gemma is that you learn later in the series that her main drive to be famous is fuelled by her trying to impress her estranged Dad and I think that’s the problem people assume if they get famous their lives will then be perfect.
What advice would you give to someone seeking to work on screen?
Training is a good start and then do as much as you can. Short films, student films, be creative and come up with projects of your own with friends (whack it on youtube you never know it could be the next big thing). It’s all about meeting people, getting your talent out there, being positive and of course luck!
And finally, what’s the best thing you’ve heard about yourself since you’ve been on TV?
One review described me as ‘toothy Gilthorpe’. I mean surely there were other adjectives they could have used?!
The Gemma Factor airs on Tuesdays on BBC3. Or you can watch old episodes- along with lots of other BBC favourites on the BBC iPlayer here.
This article was first posted on March 21, 2010