Interview: Sharon Rooney of E4’s ‘My Mad Fat Diary’

E4’s My Mad Fat Diary is back for round 2! I got to meet up with the delightful Glaswegian actress Sharon Rooney, who immerses herself once again into the character of Rae Earl, to talk about the book, mental health issues, body image, and of course, season 2!

Hello Sharon! I’m a big fan of the show. It is brilliant. I would love to know how you come across the part for Rae Earl?

My agent called me when I was on tour around Scotland with another job and it was my last day before I finished. He said, ‘I have an audition for you.’ I wasn’t really interested; I had decided I didn’t really want to be an actor anymore. But he insisted that he really thought I would be interested in this part and asked me to just read the script. I said ‘OK, I’ll read it but I’m not going.’ Well, one page in and I was like, ‘YES! I’ll be there!’ So I really very nearly didn’t go!

Wow, so you must be really quite glad that you did!

Yeah, but it just shows that everything happens for a reason doesn’t it? You just never know.

And it only took you one page to decide. What was it about the character and the story that made you think, ‘yes, I want to take this on’?

I think for me, the main reason I really wanted to audition was because I had never been given a script that featured the bigger girl in this way. All the other stuff I’d been sent was always ‘the bully’ or ‘the victim’. It was never just a story, about a girl. There was always some silly ‘thing’ attached. This character had all these issues; eating issues, mental issues, family issues. Just like every other person. She had all these issues but they didn’t define her. She defined her. And I just knew, I have to do this.

The book, and consequently the series, addresses issues that aren’t things people will choose to shout out about. Writers seem to have a bit more freedom, but when it comes to television it still a bit of a taboo and these issues are approached only in certain ways.  Do you feel this is something that will definitely help those people who are going through these things and let them know it’s normal?

Yes, I think that is the beauty of the writing and the show. Young, old. Fat, thin. Boy, girl. Anyone can watch it and can relate, not just to Rae, but also to any of the characters. The book is set in the 80s, the series is mid 90s, but you can set it in the 60s and the 70s and it is the same old issues, time and time again.

There is nothing wrong with having a bad day, nothing at all. There is nothing wrong with putting your jammies on and staying in. The world will wait, the world will not combust because you can’t force a smile. And it is finally on TV and not sugar-coated.

And I don’t think we overdramatize.

No, not at all.

And it could be easy to overdramatize, and I as an actor could be selfish and make it intense and sad, but life is not like that. Any tragedy that has happened in my life I can remember laughing. That’s what happens, we laugh, we cry. Everyone is human.

Exactly. I love that the series is honest, it’s raw, but it’s not aggressive at all in the way it approaches the issues. And then of course it has the comedy element!

It’s interesting that even though it is set in 1996, it has been made and broadcasted in a time where the issues of self-esteem, physical appearance, social pressure, mental health and eating disorders are all disturbingly relevant. Your audience is young – people who are living under these pressures from society.

Exactly. They need to learn that it is fine. We don’t all look the same. How boring would it be if we all looked the same!? If no one ever had any problems, and everyone was always fine, all the time…we would all end up ill. Because we’d be so bored of our mundane existence.

So true Sharon. Have you received letters or other types of correspondence that have said ‘Thank you’?

Sharon breaks into a smile.

Yeah! Lots of letters, lots of Tweets. But not just young people, but from all ages! Boys as well which I think get a little forgotten, because boys have the same self-image issues as girls. They just don’t always get a fair chance to express them.

We also did something, this year, which meant we got to meet some fans, and that has been absolutely amazing; to actually see the person behind the Tweet. To see the person, because it’s all so digital nowadays!

Is there one particular letter, person, story or tweet that really struck a chord?

Yeah, one particular person came up to me and they were very upset. They told me the series had really saved their life and then explained to me what had happened to them. It really upset me because I thought, ‘Why the fuck has it taken so long for there to be a programme for this person to relate to and to make them feel OK, for not being OK?” That’s ridiculous, in this day and age. And then I felt so thankful to everyone who has been working getting this show done, and for me to be a part of that…it’s great. But it does make me sad that it has taken so long.

sharon rooney my mad fat diary

I know that you’ve met Rae Earl in person, how was it to meet your real life character?

It’s funny because we didn’t speak at all during the first series, and that was Rae’s decision. I wanted to speak to her, but if I wanted to ask her questions it had to be through certain channels. But she was always there for me! I asked her about it and she explained that she didn’t want me trying to play her, as she is now, because she isn’t that teenage girl anymore. But after the first series we did meet and it felt like we already knew each other. I feel very lucky to have someone like Rae in my life, because I know other people have done shows loosely based on real people and they haven’t had any contact with them. Rae doesn’t have to be my friend; she doesn’t have to be in contact. She’s not obliged, but she does because she’s brilliant and I’ve made a friend for life.

That’s brilliant. And she was probably right to let you take on the role of Rae as you saw it, as you connected with it?

Yeah, and I think it was very kind of her to be so thoughtful.. Because even if I wouldn’t have intentionally – I think subconsciously, I would have maybe tried to be her as she is now. And not the teenage Rae.

When you were reading Rae’s book were there particular parts or one particular event which you were excited to act out and bring to life on the telly?

It’s weird because the script and the book are so different. What our writer has done is take themes from the book. For example, she didn’t meet her best friend in the hospital; they were friends from school. So there are differences and the fake Rae – that’s what I call my character – she goes through completely different experiences than the real Rae, but they’ve gone through them for the same reasons.

When the show came out I think people expected a direct interpretation from the book and people would Tweet me asking where certain scenes were!

What is your favourite thing about Rae? Maybe something you find inspirational?

The love that I have for her is the same thing that annoys me about her! Sometimes she’s great at not caring, she is confident in what she knows and she believes in it. But with things that really matter…she doesn’t pipe up.

It’s curious, and ironic. She has this confidence, this ability to be funny and be the life and soul of the party but when she really needs that confidence for important matters…

She doesn’t use it!

Exactly! Right, second series coming soon! Release date?

I don’t know! My Twitter feed is constantly filled with this question and no one believes me, but I truthfully do not know. I have recorded every single episode. It hasn’t been decided yet but I do tell the fans ‘You’ll know before I know!’ Because I get most of my news via them.

I do know it will be February. If it’s not February I’m leaving the country!

Well I’m excited, and I’ve seen the trailer. So. You and Finn. In luuuurve?

Hmmmm

She purses her lips and looks side to side with a cheeky smile

You can’t say anything can you?

NO!

Okay, give me a general synopsis, a little taster of what to expect.

I would expect the unexpected. Tears, tantrums and I’d keep a wee eye out for Rae! Minx is a bit too sexy,  but she’s being a bit…

(I gasp) Sharon, is Rae being a bit naughty?

She’s being a bit of a pain. Oh, you know what she’s getting?! This is what my Gran would say. ‘She’s getting gallace.’ She’s getting a bit cocky with certain people. But she’s doing her duck thing, where she is floating on the surface but underneath she’s struggling. And with certain characters, the way she is interacting with them…I’m a little like ‘Rae, wind back in!’

Rae, calm down!

I’m laughing quite a bit as Sharon narrates to me how she tells off her character mentally, her frustrations with her character and their connection. She is a really funny girl and I am enjoying the interview immensely.

So is this second series taken from Rae’s second book My Madder Fatter Diary?

Again, they’ve taken themes. This year we’ve explored some really dark stuff and then some really fun stuff. I would say it’s more of a rollercoaster this time. Even when I’ve watched it back, and I know what happens, I still felt sometimes a little out of my comfort zone. I don’t know…something is different this year with Rae.

I’m intrigued. Very intrigued.

Okay, so give me some behind the scenes gossip. Any backstage romances?

No romances. Too busy, there is no time for romance!

Friendship?

Yeah, we are all friends. We bitch at each other, shout at each other and have the best time with each other; we are like a proper gang.  And we all have our own roles. So, Ciara is the hyper one. Jordan is the one line king; he comes out with the funniest things. Jodie is always up to something, she’s so mischievous but also so loving! Dan is the one that teaches us stuff that we don’t know about. So he was teaching us to draw this year. Nico is the quiet one.

And good looking. He’s very good looking is Nico.

And he does have good banter! When he’s up for a banter it’s great. And I’m like the mum. Telling them all to shut up so we can finish and I can go home!

That’s brilliant! Thank you so much Sharon, you are wonderful. I can’t wait to watch season 2 and neither can the team at Spindle.

I thoroughly enjoyed my interview with Sharon, but I do regret asking her one question. One of great importance. I should have asked for Nico’s number. Damn it.

Catch Season 2 of My Mad Fat Diary this February on E4!

Words: Irune Rue Chamberlain