Doll and Em: Friendship, family and film stars

By Sarah Jane Griffiths
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Media caption,

Actresses Doll Wells and Emily Mortimer are lifelong friends, as well as collaborators

New comedy Doll & Em sees British actresses and lifelong friends Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells playing heightened versions of themselves in Hollywood, calling in favours from family and film stars as they shine a light on female friendship.

It is fitting that Doll & Em originally started life as an excuse for two best friends to spend more time together.

"We spent about 10 years pretending to write something," admits Mortimer, whose films include Shutter Island and Match Point.

"We finally realised that we'd told enough people - including our husbands - that we were writing a screenplay, we actually had to come up with something to justify the hours spent racking up phone bills and travelling the world together."

The result is the six-part, semi-improvised comedy, which premieres on Sky Living on Tuesday before a US run on HBO.

The story begins with a heartbroken Doll arriving in Los Angeles to seek comfort from her movie star best friend Em, landing a job as her PA in the process.

Co-written and directed by another friend, Azazel Jacobs, the pilot (now the first episode) was filmed during Mortimer's breaks on the LA set of TV drama The Newsroom, and was totally improvised.

"We knew what the scenes were going to be but we hadn't written anything down, we just practised what we were going to say to each other," reveals Wells - whose own acting credits include Bridget Jones' Diary and Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy (he has a cameo in the London-based episode).

"We didn't think it was ever going to see the light of day. Then once we were lucky enough to get it commissioned we thought 'Oh god, we've got to write the next five!'"

This is a very honest portrayal of female friendship isn't it?

Dolly: There's a sort of shorthand about female friendships, that you've just got to absolutely love each other and if you're jealous or paranoid you are just made of something horrible.

Emily: We were really interested by the idea of jealousy being something that everybody feels and it's not just something that evil people feel! It's the most common emotion and yet it's one that we all find really difficult to talk about. We really liked the idea of outing that as a feeling between two people who adore each other and really do want the world for each other, but get stuck in this horrible competitive thing.

Was it strange playing characters with your own names?

Emily: At the time it didn't feel strange, because it helped. When people have known each other so many years, you can't fake that kind of rapport. So we wanted to exploit it and make the way that we talked to each other as natural as possible, so that the audience would get even more freaked out by the fact that we were behaving so horribly to each other.

It was only afterwards that we thought "should we really have called ourselves Doll and Em?" It really isn't us, and it definitely isn't our relationship, so it was a sort of double-edged sword.

You secured some pretty impressive cameos, including Susan Sarandon, Andy Garcia, John Cusack, and of course Bradley Cooper - how did you manage that?

Emily: Bradley Cooper is in our opening sequence on the red carpet and it's sort of ridiculous that he's there, but it's so great. He had just done a play with my husband [Alessandro Nivola] who is an amazing actor and produced Doll & Em. Sandro just pulled a favour, shame-facedly, and it was just a very kind act of charity on [Bradley's] part.

With everybody else we had the advantage of having made this first 20-minute sort of taster-reel, that was the pilot. People really responded to it. So we were able to show it to Chloe Sevigny and Andy Garcia, they all said that they'd like to come along. We had them for about half an hour each, because they're very busy important people, but it worked out.

Why did you decide to use a fly-on-the-wall style for the camera work?

Emily: [We thought] wouldn't it be cool if we could create a world which felt spookily real, like you really are getting to open a door and look into this world - a slight of hand where people didn't quite know what was real and what wasn't.

How much is based on your own experiences of Hollywood?

Emily: What was really interesting to us is the sort of noir-ish aspect of it - which is definitely not everything that Hollywood is at all - but there is part of being on a film set when you're an actor who's got quite a lot of pressure on them which is paranoid-making.

You're made so much of because everybody thinks you might have a nervous breakdown and leave or something, because you are this highly-strung person that needs to perform for them. And you know that they can't really be feeling as generous towards you as they are saying they are, because nobody does, I mean that's just not possible!

And Em's husband and children are actually played by Dolly's real-life family?

Emily: It's all really incestuous and screwed up!

Dolly: He was there anyway as he's a photographer, he was taking the photos. He didn't really speak.

Emily: The men are very unimportant in the whole series, we knew he didn't have to actually be an actor, he could just be quite handsome and silent.

It really worked out, but he was so brilliant in it that if we manage to get commissioned for a second series - which we hope we will - he's creeping in in a major way. He's got lots of lines in the next one.

Doll & Em premieres on 18 February at 22:00 GMT on Sky Living, and can be downloaded from Sky Go now.

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