Award-winning British actress and writer, Susan Wokoma, is one of our favourites on the small screen having starred as “Raquel” in E4’s Crazyhead, the prudish “Cynthia” in Chewing Gum, and more recently as “Frankie” in Porters.
Her accolades include being named one of BAFTA’s Breakthrough Brits in 2017 and in that same year she was listed as one of Forbes 30 Under 30. She’s one busy lady, we just heard that she is writing a family sitcom inspired by the experiences of one of her half-sisters who came back to London for a couple of months [we can’t wait for this one].
Her latest role sees her starring in Channel 4’s detective sitcom Year of the Rabbit, set in Victorian London. The series follows Detective Inspector Rabbit (BAFTA winner Matt Berry), a hardened booze-hound who’s seen it all, and his hapless new partner Strauss (Freddie Fox), along with Susan’s character, Mabel, the ambitious daughter of the chief of police who ends up becoming London’s first female officer. Together, the trio must fight crime while rubbing shoulders with street gangs, crooked politicians and Bulgarian princes.
Susan shares more about her new role with us …
Explain a bit about Year of the Rabbit.
Year of the Rabbit is a police procedural set during the Victorian era that focusses on Rabbit, played by Matt Berry, who is a copper, and Strauss, played by Freddie Fox, who is the new kid on the block, and Mabel, who I play, who is the daughter of the chief played by Alun Armstrong. She’s very keen to become the UK’s first female copper. It follows them solving very Victorian-esque crimes; sort of Jack the Ripper levels of violence and weirdness.
In some respects it’s about as far removed from Chewing Gum as it’s possible to get, isn’t it?
Yeah, it is. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it. Cynthia in Chewing Gum is such a bizarre, strange character whereas there’s so much where Mabel is aware and sure of herself. But over the course of the series that gets tested and she gets knocked off her axis. In terms of style, in terms of language, in terms of the scale of it, in terms of the plot, it couldn’t be more far away from Chewing Gum.
It’s a very sweary comedy and Mabel is the sweariest of the lot, isn’t she?
She is, thank goodness. I think I get the only, or maybe one of only a couple of c-bombs in the whole thing. What I love about that is that she is not a police officer. She has tagged along on this big escapade. She’s running across London and chasing after criminals, but she’s not allowed to say the word c***. “Mind your manners!” It’s so funny.
“She is closer to Spice Girls feminism, one of the lads. But you know until feminism didn’t exist properly, in Mabel’s mind, then. So it’s wanting to be one of the lads, work as hard as them, fight as hard as them, catch as many criminals, beat up as many people… that’s where it all comes from.”
Do you enjoy the absurdity of the show?
Absolutely. I’m a big fan of Matt’s and I know he does absurdity like no one else. The great challenge about this is to get on board with the absurdity of it, but also we have a plot and we’ve got twenty three minutes to zip through it. It was a really big challenge in keeping that weirdness and also getting the plot down. You want there to be an element of peril and danger. When people get killed, they get killed. That was really fun to tap into both. There were loads of times on set where I was like, “What are we saying?” Love it, though.
Do you like the fact that Mabel is a strong woman, fighting her corner in such a sexist world?
Yeah. The thing is, she’s grown up in that police station with loads of blokes. The fight isn’t so much ‘up for women’ because she doesn’t have any women around here. It’s more “Oh, I want to be one of the lads.” She is closer to Spice Girls feminism, one of the lads. But you know until feminism didn’t exist properly, in Mabel’s mind, then. So it’s wanting to be one of the lads, work as hard as them, fight as hard as them, catch as many criminals, beat up as many people… that’s where it all comes from. And then she meets Lydia, Keeley Hawes’ character, and that’s the first female I think ever in her life that she’s gone, “Oh my God, she’s completely different and there’s no men around her. What is that?”
Had you done any period pieces before?
No, zero, none. I did a restoration comedy on stage maybe five or six years ago but apart from that everything has been jeans and t-shirts with me which has been fine. So that was one of the draws, like, “Ok, how do I be in this world that I’m not normally seen in and be funny and that.” The reality was with great difficulty, wearing a corset.
So, you were in a corset! What was that like?
Painful! Genuinely painful. It made me look at all those actresses that do that with a lot of admiration. I don’t know how they do it. But on top of that trying to be funny and running down a street and beating someone up with a bike chain, that genuinely, very quietly, I had to think how to execute that and still be funny. Because it hurts! There’s no two ways about it, it hurts. But! It looks great. I’ve got to say, I was watching it and thinking, “Damn but it looks good…” It was a challenge.
Did the costume help you get into character?
I had to fight against the costume a lot just because a character like that… I mean there wouldn’t be a woman in all those petticoats and skirts running about being a cop. I had to play the character in spite of the costume, otherwise every two seconds I would be like, “Oh my skirt!” I had to forget about it. I was working against that costume a lot, just not acknowledging that I had a massive train that kept ripping. But it looks great.
Year of the Rabbit starts on 10 June 2019 at 10pm on Channel 4