Thomasin McKenzie, the versatile star of “Last Night in Soho” and “Jojo Rabbit,” is already hoping for the second season of darkly comedic series “Totally Completely Fine,” which saw her transform once again.
This time, she morphs into twentysomething Vivian who inherits her grandfather’s cliffside house. The problem is, many strangers actually come there to end their lives. Suddenly, Vivian has to do something she isn’t quite used to doing: Help others.
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“There can be joy in the midst of despair. It’s something I have learnt over the years: even in tough times, you have to make an effort to look for it,” says the New Zealand actor, who immediately embraced the story’s black humor. But she also wanted to kickstart an important conversation.
“Mental health is something everyone struggles with, in so many different ways. We have to open up this conversation so that people stop feeling embarrassed about sharing their experience.”
“This show deals with mental health in a very unusual way. It’s a dark comedy, but it’s not making fun of it. I was sensitive to it because I myself had mental health struggles that are scary to talk about because you don’t want to be a burden to others. I wanted those who have experienced it and are now watching the show to feel valued.”
Co-produced by Sundance Now and Stan, Australia’s biggest OTT operator, and produced by Fremantle, the show – now heading to L.A. Screenings – was created and executive-produced by Gretel Vella, Keir Wilkins and Emme Hoyhe co-wrote.
The show has recently premiered on Stan in Australia plus Sundance Now and AMC+ in the U.S.
“We are thrilled to be bringing this important and powerful series to the international market. It would work well on a subscription service as well as a free-to-air network,” states Jens Richter, Fremantle CEO of commercial and international.
Fremantle is “already in negotiations” with several territories around the world. “It’s a unique look at mental health and the difficult topic of suicide from the perspective of a young female writer, tackling these issues in a way that’s relevant to us all,” he adds.
Devon Terrell, Brandon McClelland, Rowan Witt, Contessa Treffone. James Sweeny, Max Crean and Brigid Zengeni rounded up the cast.
“I had anxiety and depression since I was about 14, but when the lockdown happened, a lot of people were saying to me: ‘I finally understand what you have gone through’,” says Vella, who also served as a writer on Elle Fanning hit “The Great.”
“We had a lot of people in the writers’ room who have experienced it, we had experts and those who were interested in mental health prevention. I have received messages from viewers, saying: ‘Thank you. I feel seen.’ There is still a long way to go in terms of depiction of mental health, but one of my main goals was to do this authentically.”
And, as pointed out by her lead, with a dose of humor that has already drawn comparisons to “Ted Lasso.”
“Tonally, our show is completely different, but it also has this life-affirming element to it. There is a great phrase by Phoebe Waller-Bridge: ‘If you make people laugh, they will open their arms and you can punch them in the heart.’ I always use comedy to talk about things that are hard,” adds Vella, admitting her favorite film is, in fact, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“When we talked to mental health experts, about depression in particular, they said that when people feel they are living a contributing life, they start to improve. For Vivian, that’s definitely the journey. It’s going to be a messy one, but she still deserves to be here and be happy.”
McKenzie, always “looking for something new to try out” in her work, also responded to the “messiness” of her peroxided, troublesome character.
“You always feel this pressure to make them ‘likeable’ but I pushed against that. It’s important to see people like that on the screen. They give us permission not to be perfect all the time and to accept our own faults,” she explains.
As noticed by Valla, there will be even more ambitious content to come from Australia in the future.
“There is a stream of shows coming this year that’s going to change the game even further. I have certainly noticed a difference. Previously, when I pitched similar ideas, people would laugh me out of the room. They thought our accents wouldn’t ‘translate.’ Now, I am getting completely different responses,” she says.
“Even on the Fremantle level, the producers sought me out and were excited about taking on emerging Australian writers. At every step, I thought: ‘Surely, someone is going to call me now and tell me I can’t keep running this thing.’ No one ever did.”
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