Speaking on the Grounded with Louis Theroux podcast this week, Michaela Coel talked about the complicated but special relationship she has with her dad, and how it influenced an episode of I May Destroy You.
It’s been quite a year for writer and actor Michaela Coel. Already known for her E4 comedy series Chewing Gum, Coel is the creator of 2020’s critically acclaimed show I May Destroy You. Examining issues of consent, race, modern dating and privilege, the BBC Three drama was unflinchingly raw, compelling, stylish and timely.
Coel chats to Theroux about everything from religion to dealing with the success of I May Destroy You and the importance of talking honestly about race. She also talks about her family and growing up with separated parents, which might relate to how she views her relationship with her dad.
“My dad has always lived nearby,” she tells Theroux. “And I think it was always a healthy thing that I was able to know my dad and spend little bits of time with my dad but also live in a house that felt quite free. I never got to have that upbringing where you saw parents arguing or fighting – I missed all that. I didn’t have any of that.”
Theroux then refers to an episode in I May Destroy You, where the main character Arabella visits home to her mum who is pining after Arabella’s cheating dad, and asks if her real family experience fed into writing that.
“I have a brother from my dad’s side and I have his whole family. But my dad is not with either of [our] families. And those two families have come together to make one family, it’s really quite interesting,” Coel explains. “So I’ll do Christmases at my brother’s house with his single mum and their family. And that episode almost seems like a fusion of both those families. So in one way, it’s my mum, in another way it’s my stepmum.
“I think that’s the thing about the way I write. It’s kind of both yet maybe none. I don’t think my mum pines for my dad at all. Maybe it’s because I pine for my dad? And that’s why I made the character like that?”
Coel is understanding towards some absent dads, saying: “I imagine that to have children and to have not been there is very hard for fathers. Even though there is a kind of parody of a big, chest-high guy… there must be a loneliness that goes with that.”
When Theroux says his own approach to fatherhood is “you get back what you put in”, Coel replies: “Yeah but I’ve tried to change that narrative. I think as I’ve grown up, I dunno, I think this is part of the beauty of writing: they say you get what you put in, so I’m trying to give back more than my dad put in.
“Because I think life was complicated[for my dad] at that time. There was no money, they were immigrants here. I think life, as we said, is traumatising for many groups. I think of this group of young absent fathers and I go, ‘God that must have been tricky for so many factors’.
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Explaining that she has maintained and developed a better relationship with her dad into adulthood, Coel adds: “I love sort of trying to be there for my dad and allowing him to be there for me as a dad: find areas where I need help and sort of let my dad do a bit of rescuing, you know?”
Images: Getty, BBC
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…