Being gay is the 47th most interesting thing about me

Sue Perkins on her new comedy Heading Out

Sue Perkins has written a new six-part comedy for BBC Two, Heading Out, in which she also stars as Sara, a successful 40-year-old vet who has yet to tell her parents that she is gay. Here she talks about the role and about writing and filming the series, which starts tomorrow.

Sara is someone who’s managed to get to the age of 40 without really changing or challenging herself in any way whatsoever. She works hard and is very good at her job as a vet, but she hasn’t developed personally in any way.

I wanted to write something that was very much an ensemble piece, where people are falling in love and being disappointed, where friendships are being tested and where a group of people are at a point in their lives where they need to make a decision. Where are they going in their relationships?

More importantly than anything else I wanted to write something from a little experience about being gay but firmly base it in the real world which is predominantly heterosexual. It’s not a political piece - it’s just saying we’re all the same. I’d like people to look at Sara and feel sympathy and want her to get together with Shelley Conn’s character Eve and for them to feel sad when it’s complicated.

By making the gay character funny and sweet but above all normal, you make a far better, longer lasting statement than you would if you had an entirely gay comedy. Society has moved beyond that, most of my friends are straight, this is my final sigh of ‘come on, we’re beyond this now’ and being gay is maybe the 47th most interesting thing in my life. I want the whole process of ‘coming out’ to one day not be a big deal or a great fanfare and if this piece attributes to that, then brilliant.

I think the hesitancy, the shyness and the awkwardness in Sara I definitely see in myself. Thankfully I’m not as neurotic and I’m not a coward. I don’t have it in my personality to be frightened of things.

The hardest thing about writing Sara was that I always knew she had to be likeable and I had to work quite hard at that. She’s also not the funniest person in the show and there were times where I thought ‘I wish I’d just written three scenes for myself, where I can walk on, be hilarious and then leave!’

But instead Sara needs to be the emotional heart of every scene and the job with her is not to be funny but for people to understand her situation because then that’s the base level upon which all of the other characters come to life. It’s such an amazing cast that at times I just sat with my mouth open and then suddenly realise, ‘Whoops! I’m meant to be acting’!

I wanted to set Heading Out in a real world, a concept I originally struggled with as I don’t have a proper job. The office has already been done but I do visit the vets a lot with my lingering, sick, vomity pets so it got me thinking.

What’s great about a veterinary is that everyone goes there, posh people, poor people, people from every ethnicity, background, religion and they’ve all got animals that will eventually need to go to the vet. So it gave me a lot of scope as a writer to just plonk anything in there.

In episode three you’ve got Mel Giedroyc’s character as a Russian guard’s wife, dripping in jewels and cash and in the same waiting room you’ve got a guy with a manky, old collie who just put his pipe out. So I really like that.

The animals were, naturally, appalling. One dog, barked every time he saw a sound boom which was every scene. He’d try to lick the boom, he’d try to eat the boom, he’d try and have sex with the boom and that went on for hours and hours, and he was constantly trying to rear up and knock me off my feet! The Borzoi dog from episode four was so nervous that its back legs gave way the whole time, plus she was meant to be a boy - the whole point of the scene was that it was meant to be a dog that can’t get it up! Realistically, the only animals that behaved were the dead stuffed cat or the snake.

Here’s a clip: from the show:

Published: 25 Feb 2013

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