Classic Interview: Julia Davis

Julia Davis

We haven’t seen much of Julia Davis on television since her Sky Atlantic costume comedy Hunderby, apart from all-too-brief cameos in Inside No 9 and Psychobitches. But that is due to change in 2015. Davis, best known for the warped humour of Nighty Night, is due to return in Morning Has Broken, a C4 comedy about a breakfast television presenter named Gail Sinclair battling to save her failing career.

This interview with Davis originally ran in the Times in 2008 when she was about to star in a play called Contractions. She didn’t write the play, but its brutal, bleak view of life had echoes of her own work as well as echoes of Chris Morris. I saw the play and Davis was great, but I am really looking forward to seeing her back on the box. There is no transmission date yet for Morning Has Broken, but stay tuned to BTJ and we will let you know as soon as we know.


To watch Julia Davis on television one would never think of her as a nervous person. In the award-winning sitcom Nighty Night she played the monstrous man-eating blonde beautician Jill Tyrell who did terrible things to her neighbours, seduced Angus Deayton and wore buttock-baring red trousers. In Fear of Fanny she recreated the tyrannical telly cook Fanny Cradock and did terrible things to chickens.

Yet the youthful 41-year-old nearly postponed her meeting with The Knowledge because she was anxious about needing time to learn her lines for Contractions, the two-handed black comedy she stars in at the Royal Court. “I’ve got twins and my boyfriend is away filming, so I’m on my own with them and up all night. Trying to learn lines is a bit much.” In the end she is talkative and relaxed, but it is both understandable and bizarre that Davis was stressed.

She may be known for her television appearances, but a decade ago she gigged nightly in front of 3,000 fans in Steve Coogan’s live show: “But then everyone was over there, not here,” she says, gesturing out of the window and then to the other side of our table in a humid meeting room.

Contractions is definitely what you would call up-close-and-personal, being performed in a converted rehearsal space with a capacity of 30. The play marks a return to the public eye. Apart from a cameo inGavin and Stacey (the G&S star Ruth Jones played Jill’s asthmatic assistant Linda in Nighty Night) Davis has not worked since giving birth toWalter and Arthur last summer.

Motherhood has made her more choosy about the work she wanted to take on, but she was promptly convinced by Contractions. “I liked it immediately. I get sent a lot of things and get bored on the first page, but this gripped me.

“The writer Mike Bartlett, like me, is a really big Pinter fan and this has that feel to it, with repetitions and pauses.” And nastiness?

“Yes,” she says, with a hint of relish in her West Country lilt. But despite loving the play, she still had reservations. “I agonised over it. You want to be with your children, but you want to be creative, too.”

The classic dilemma is just one of the subtexts in a taut, complex piece. Davis plays an unnamed office manager who, in a sequence of increasingly disturbing Kafka-esque scenes, interviews new employee Emma (Anna Madeley). She interrogates her about having a relationship within the firm, probing her about her lover and fellow employee Darren. In the bleakest of scenes, Emma has to exhume their dead son and show him to Davis’s manager to further her career.

This must be quite an unsettling scene to play for a new mother, but Davis was undaunted: “I always used to wonder whether my sense of humour would change if I had children, but I still find that it is sick; and it will stay that way.”

Nighty Night set the bench-mark for boundary-pushing comedy with its mean-spirited gags about suicide and sex. It was hugely influential: The writer Sharon Horgan’s Pulling, for instance, is great, but very much Nighty Night-lite.

Click here to read more about Julia Davis

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