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About Spaced: Interviews: Jess
13th June
The Music

This excellent article was written by Nathan Webb and is an extended version of the article as it appeared in the April 2000 edition of the excellent sleazenation magazine. You can contact Nathan at
If you would like to see the magazine, contact the editorial on +44 (0)207 729 8310

It's not often juries acquit themselves well at awards ceremonies, but the panel at December's Comedy Awards certainly scored when Jessica Stevenson scooped Best Female Newcomer. The award confirmed what many of us who'd caught her sparky performance as faddy, bright-eyed, wannabe journalist Daisy Steiner in the brilliant Spaced (which she co-wrote with co-star Simon Pegg) and her finely nuanced rendering of socially awkward neighbour Cheryl in Caroline Ahern's sparkling domesticom The Royle Family already knew - Jessica S is the alpha actress of new Brit comedy.

"It was the best night," beams the modest and engaging Stevenson. "I was flying, telling jokes left right and centre and I didn't stop to notice whether anyone was laughing. In a way I was disappointed that I was so collected about the whole thing 'cause I'd stayed sober to try and take it all in. But it was a genuine surprise." As per, Stevenson's the overnight success who's been scratching a living in acting for years, a National Youth Theatre alumni whose CV includes Disney's Nazi-Germany set Swing Kids, Greenaway's gruelling The Baby Of Macon and Staying Alive - ITV's response to edgy BBC medico-drama Cardiac Arrest. Oh, and the Kodak Fun Camera ad.

But it's Spaced that's really hyped her profile. After a spellbinding 7 week run on Channel 4 last autumn, the show's producers, the Paramount Comedy Channel take a second bite with their spring airing. Smart, sassy and daisy-fresh, Spaced was the co-hab sitcom that didn't suck, the laugh riot highlight of 99's cathode calendar that demanded you spool back the VCR after every viewing. The skinny on Spaced - two strangers who sham their way into a primo flat by posing as a professional couple - doesn't really do justice to the hi-impact series' ambition, scope and highly personal aura. Closer in style to the hard candy kind of storytelling advanced by pixilated epics like Toy Story, The Simpsons and South Park than any live action equivalents, Spaced is rich with movie references and rife with such Gen Y icons as comics, clubs and vidgames (Tekken 3 plays a pivotal role in one of the series' most barbed, man-that's-gotta-hurt sequences), depicting the lifestyles and obsessions of twentysomethings with unprecedented accuracy. Factor in director Edgar Wright's hardcore camera choreography, ripped from the Sam Raimi rulebook of demented cinemascope action and Spaced becomes both the antithesis and antidote to too many years of white-out lighting, static camerawork and atrophied character development perpetuated by the mainstream sitcom, an evolutionary leap away from its underwhelming format. "It was our mission, that's what we wanted to do," claims Jessica. "We wanted to make it different in all aspects, visually and stylistically and contextually too. We tried to do something that was based on our experiences but was quite cinematic to make it eye candy as well as funny."

Lip-smacking pop culture savvy is one thing, but where the series really scores is its extended meditation on the complexities of friendship and exquisite torture of modern love. Focusing on the fierce loyalty and internecine jealousies between Daisy and Simon Pegg's struggling graphic artist Tim Bisley, Spaced generates an emotional realism unseen in TV comedy since Clemens and La Frenais' Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? "Simon and I felt that it was quite a modern phenomenon - the friendship between a heterosexual man and a woman that was never consummated. There's something very safe in having a platonic relationship with someone because you know it can go on forever. As soon as sex becomes involved it's almost like you've given it a sell-by date." With genuine candour, Spaced zones in on the altered priorities of the (al)chemical generation. "After 1975 - the year of divorce when so many people were breaking up - we're much more cautious. That's why people are starting relationships much later in life. It seems to me that we're now living in a culture that's based on personal enjoyment, that's ultimately all about you want to do. "I think people are much more open minded about what love means and what love can mean," she continues. "Having a support network of friends, it's like the alternative family and for a lot of people the bond between friends is stronger in some sense than their families and means more. I think the whole of the 20th Century has been about blowing apart the myth of family."

With cast and crew populated by friends, flatmates and close associates, the alternative family vibe is strong on Spaced. Jess considers her Best Newcomer gong a team award and attributes the series' success to the creative chemistry she shares with writing/acting partner Simon Pegg. Indeed, it was the duo's work on little-seen, no-budget Paramount show Asylum with Edgar Wright that convinced them to offer Stevenson and Pegg the carte blanche commission to create a series from scratch. "We're really lucky that we've run into one another, me and Simon," she admits. "He's so good, I learn so much from him. We often think we might have been friends in the playground, running around with our hoods on our heads doing Batman. We have that kind of working relationship, it's very playful, we really regress and that makes it easy to come up with ideas."

Ironically, it was the atomised portrait of the rather more nuclear Royle Family that provided Stevenson with her other winning role. A virtuoso display of invisible acting, her portrayal of diet casualty Cheryl Carroll was discreet enough to convince a friend of mine that Stevenson was a local teen harvested from some North Western acting workshop rather than a jobbing thespian. Like fellow mesmerising screen mavens Lesley Sharp or dinnerladies' Maxine Peake, Stevenson's not afraid to embrace the roles that fail to flatter. "I love Cheryl," she asserts. "Somebody asked me about how I felt playing someone so unattractive. But I think you could have a real fire in your loins for Cheryl. In some ways I wish I was a bit more like Cheryl, there's no angst about her. It's one of loveliest things - I'm always thanking Caroline for letting me play the part and I'm working with such brilliant actors that I could quite happy just sit on the sofa in silence for a whole episode."

While most of her time is spent with Pegg crunching Spaced 2's scripts into shape, Stevenson has strayed away from the page long enough to film a part in David 'This Year's Love' Cain's next screen outing and land a recurring role in Vic 'n' Bob's noughties remix of sixties spectral detective series Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). Good going for someone who claims her sure handling of the 'funny woman' mantle is accidental. "In this job you get what you're given, it takes a long time to be able to guide your career. Comedy is just something that happened to me."

(c) Nathan Webb 2000

Copyright © Nick Lee 1999-2002.
Spaced is © Channel 4 Television.