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Mission Possible with Sharon Horgan

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Comedian, writer, actress, producer … Sharon Horgan is a woman who can’t be stopped, and she makes it look ridiculously easy. DEREK O’CONNOR catches her on the fly to find out how she juggles it all, and what she considers her “dream project”.

Four things you may need to know, in case you didn’t already, about Sharon Horgan. 1.) She was raised in Meath, where her parents owned a turkey farm, and currently lives in Hackney with her husband and two kids, aged five and ten, who are currently into Moshi Monsters and Loom Bands. Big time. 2.) Over the course of the last decade, she’s created and starred in a trio of superb sitcoms (Pulling, Angelo’s, and Dead Boss), acted in another couple (Free Agents, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret), won a UK Comedy Award and has been nominated for a BAFTA, popped up everywhere from acclaimed Irish indie flicks (Death of a Superhero, Run & Jump) to various Channel 4 oddities (track down Bad Sugar online on 4oD immediately) and directed a superb Little Cracker for Sky. 3.) She’s whip-smart, incredibly prolific, a working mother of two and, in our opinion, the funniest Irishwoman alive. 4.) She’s really, really busy.

“I work like a dog, I really do,” she says. “I don’t know what that is – a semi-madness, I think. It’s half like ‘I need to do this’, you know? My brain just won’t switch off, there’s always a certain amount of stuff swishing around up there, like a malfunctioning washing machine. And I enjoy it, so it doesn’t feel like a terrible hardship. It’s fun.” But where, exactly, does that drive come from? Try the turkey farm, for starters. “An element of it is having come from a big family [she has four siblings] with everybody fighting to get to the top of the pile, a ‘look at me!’ kind of thing. We were always told to work hard, and that kind of stays with you. The rest is just my own madness.” It appears to have done the trick: her brother Shane, it should probably be noted, once scored the winning try against England in the 2006 Six Nations Championship, securing Ireland the Triple Crown. Sharon, on the other hand, was a bit of a late starter, having spent her twenties knocking about London in a series of nowhere jobs before channelling her experiences into the Pulling script, but now she’s doing alright. And then some.

She’s back on our screens this month in the second series of Psychobitches, a wicked little sketch show masterminded by League of Gentlemen stalwart Jeremy Dyson. The concept is inspired: a series of iconic women, as portrayed by a series of great comedic actresses, reveal all to their psychiatrist, as played by the brilliant Rebecca Front, whom you may remember as the leader of the opposition from the last series of The Thick of It. For Horgan, the project was something resembling a no-brainer – where else would you get to play Eva Perón, Cleopatra, Virginia Woolf, Frida Kahlo and Eve (as in Adam and) for starters? It also served as a break, of sorts, from overseeing her own projects. “They just asked me to do it, which is always nice,” she says, “and I loved the idea, and everyone performing in it. There’s such a ridiculously high calibre of cast involved [including Catherine Tate, Kathy Burke and Julia “Nighty Night” Davis] – I mean, if you’re going to pop in and do anything for a couple of weeks, this is the best, because it’s fun, and it’s silly, and you get to dress up and wear wigs and fake noses. It’s like a busman’s holiday. A tonne of craic, basically.”

Enjoyable as it may be, the Psychobitches gig still comes with its own particular set of challenges: “There’s a pressure in sitting there in a chair and hoping that the character that you’ve come up with is funny enough,” she says. “You’re basically given the script, and you can just go off and do what you want. It’s a little bit scary. You turn up, on the set, on the day, in your ridiculous costume, and you just sit there and put your little show on. We don’t have a huge budget, and there isn’t a huge amount of rehearsals, it’s nerve-racking, but then you let it fly and then if it works, then everyone’s happy. It’s one very simple idea, all done on the one set, and I think that limitation becomes its strength. And you can really go for it.” If you don’t believe her, witness Horgan’s rather X-rated (and completely genius) take on Jane Austen – you’ll never look at Pride and Prejudice quite the same way again.

As befits a talented, determined and whip-smart woman used to generating her own projects, there’s a mogul waiting to cut loose; since Ricky Gervais sold The Office to the US, any number of British sitcoms have been snapped up for an American re-do, amongst them Pulling and the hilarious Dead Boss, which starred its creator as a woman wrongly imprisoned for her employer’s murder. A US version went into production earlier this year, with Horgan attached as executive producer, and Jane Krakowski (Jenna from 30 Rock) playing the lead. “It was the most stressful and the most fun two weeks of my life. I didn’t write the new version, so it didn’t take up a huge amount of time, more six months of emails and then suddenly you’re there, on set with Jane Krakowski and David Cross and Amy Sedaris, and Barry Sonnenfeld [who directed the Men in Black movies] is directing it, this ridiculous enormous production.”

The original Dead Boss only lasted six episodes on BBC Three – the budget for the US pilot alone would have paid for another series, or three. “When we made our Dead Boss, our prison set was a joke,” she says. “It was like one cell that we moved round when we needed to. The American one was a massive Fox production; I just stood around taking pictures all day, I just couldn’t believe the size of it all.” Ultimately, Fox decided not to pick up any of their 2014 pilots, Dead Boss included, but Horgan remains resolutely philosophical, and amiably candid, about the whole experience. “You have to be there during pilot season to know how fucking nuts it is,” she says. “It makes no sense, it just feels like it’s all a game. Everyone’s chasing the same talent, everyone’s price goes up, and they’re wasting millions every year on pilots that don’t even get seen. It’s insanity. I’ve done it four times now – Pulling was remade twice – it’s an incredibly elusive and random process. It’s tricky to capture whatever it was that made something good, to recreate it in a completely different scenario. That said, I love the process. Hopefully, I’ll be back again.”

Relationships being everything in her business, Horgan has enjoyed lengthy creative partnerships with both Channel 4 and the BBC: not that she takes her success thus far for granted, mind. “It’s never easy, but at this point it’s easier than it would be if you didn’t have a few shows under your belt. I’m making a new series for Channel 4, and I’m always like, ‘Really? You’re going to let me do this?’ about it. That doesn’t change, that slight sense of wonder that they’re going to let you put whatever it is you’ve created from the shit you have in your head onscreen. The doors open a little easier, but it’s a slog to keep your foot in that door. You can’t stop for a minute and have a little nap, you’ve got to push constantly. And you can’t make the same show over and over. You have to keep finding new ways to express yourself. And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but I’ve never made something that I didn’t want to watch. And I’m lucky enough to not have to repeat myself.”

The best way, then, to balance a busy showbiz life with the challenges of day-to-day family living? Don’t. Even. Try. “I haven’t got the ability to be rigorously structured, unfortunately. I’m a chaotic mess,” she says. “It’s simply that I don’t do anything else. All I do is kids and my work. So, when you filter it down into just those two things, it frees you up a bit. The kids do everything with me; if I go and do a pilot in America, they come, they’re on set, I keep them involved. That’s the only way I can make it work, and most of the time it does.” Children being children, they have their own unique take on matters: “They tell people I’m an actress,” she says, “because that’s the bit they like the best. They don’t really give a shit that I spend most of my time sweating over a computer, you know? That’s not the glamorous bit.”

Next up is that new Channel 4 project, Catastrophe, a sitcom created with US comic Rob Delaney – it’s not on until next spring, but the advance buzz (based upon recent preview screenings of the first episode) is already nigh-upon deafening. Oh, and then there’s the production company, Merman, that she just set up to develop projects on both sides of the Atlantic. Ultimately, Sharon Horgan keeps on making stuff. And funny stuff at that. Right now, she’s thinking big, and bigger still. Is there a dream project? “I’ve got three,” she says. “One is the movie thing, I’ve just written and am hoping to direct my first film next summer, working with Ailbhe Keogan, who wrote Run & Jump. Another is trying to nail the sitcom thing: this new one is pretty important to me, not in terms of changing the world, or being an enormous success, but just getting it right. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I want to crack the formula as to whatever it is to make an American network comedy, almost because I’ve done it four times now and I’m stubborn. What is that thing that makes it work? I’ve still got to stratch that itch. Maybe next year.”

Season two of Psychobitches airs on Sky Arts in November.

This article originally appeared in IMAGE’s November 2014 issue, make sure to check out the December issue which is out this Saturday.

LOVE this? Why not have IMAGE delivered directly to your door each month? Check out this month’s offer here.

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