Everything you need to know about comedian Sophie Willan’s exciting new comedy pilot Alma’s Not Normal…
Meet Alma from Alma’s Not Normal. She’s skint, got no qualifications, her dodgy boyfriend Anthony has broken up with her, and her heroin addict mum Lin wants to move in.
It might sound dark, but this is a deft and funny one-off comedy pilot with heart, character and superb casting.
Siobhan Finneran (Benidorm) is fire-starting mum Lin, Lorraine Ashbourne (The Crown) leopard-print-loving Grandma Joan, Jayde Adams (Good Omens) is best pal Leanne, and James Baxter (Emmerdale) plays ex-boyfriend Anthony.
Creator Sophie Willan stars as irrepressible Boltonian Alma, and she’s backed up by a host of TV greats in this semi-autobiographical comedy.
Here Sophie – an ambassador for Homeless and Care Experienced Young People – tells us more about sitcom pilot Alma’s Not Normal…
The casting is superb. You must be delighted?
Sophie Willan: “Yes! I’m a big fan of Siobhan Finneran – I love Rita, Sue and Bob Too. She’s very much Northern female actress royalty! Lorraine Ashbourne is absolutely brilliant; she’s a really kind and generous person. She was involved from the beginning, which was wonderful. Jayde Adams is my friend and I wrote the part of Leanne with her in mind. She’s a natural actress with amazing comic talents!”
What can you tell us about Alma?
SW: “Alma’s at a crossroads. She’s just got out of a long-term, toxic relationship, is left with no money, no job and no family really, apart from the unruly women in her life, so she needs to start again. She was quite dependent on Anthony and his mum Viv (Mount Pleasant’s Sue Vincent) to provide a substitute family for her, so now she needs to become more independent, reconnect with her family, move on from her ex, and find money – there’s a lot going on for her!”
This pilot is based on your stand-up material and is semi-autobiographical. How do you feel about turning it into a screen comedy?
SW: “I’m really excited. I’ve done autobiographical stand up comedy shows based on my experience but this is fiction, really, inspired by true events. It’s its own beast and it’s its own world. All the characters are their own people. The actors have taken on the characters I’ve written and made it their own, so it feels nicely separate from my experiences and the stand up shows I’ve done.”
Although this is fictionalised, do you share any traits with Alma?
SW: “Alma has characteristics similar to me but she’s also very much her own person… A Boltonian wild child with an unflinching take on mental health, sexuality and substance abuse! Although inspired by a lot of true events and true people, it’s become it’s own world, with it’s own voice.”
Have you always had the ability to find the humour in sometimes troubling situations?
SW: “I think so. As difficult as things have been in the past, I come from a funny family, and humour’s been a saving grace. I think comedy is incredibly cathartic.”
We have to ask you about Lin and her boyfriend Jim’s teeth…
SW: [Laughs] “The teeth were a debacle. I’d actually written it that Lin and Jim (Chewing Gum’s Nicholas Asbury) have no teeth. But when we went into production it became clear that getting Siobhan to look toothless was going to be really difficult, so I had the idea to give them false teeth. I had to think on my feet with that one!”
And finally – the big question… Is this one-off pilot going to go to series?
SW: “I’ve had positive feedback from everyone involved, so fingers crossed. With everything that’s going on all my work has been cancelled, so I’m treating this time like a writing retreat. If I could come out of lockdown with a series written that would be great!”
Alma’s Not Normal airs on BBC Two, 7 April at 10pm