Rose Matafeo talks about new BBC Rom-Com series Starstruck

Rose Matafeo suddenly comes to what she calls a “horrible” realisation during our video call about her new sitcom.

In Starstruck – which the Kiwi comedian wrote with Alice Snedden – she plays millennial Jessie, who finds herself in an awkward situation after accidentally sleeping with a film star called Tom (Nikesh Patel).

Discussing what it was like filming romantic scenes in the six-part series, the 29-year-old quips: “I was like, ‘I’m sorry Nikesh, I literally don’t know how to kiss’. We have been in a pandemic for a year, I am single, I have not kissed anyone.”

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And that’s when it dawns on her: “Yeah – he’s probably the only person that I’ve kissed in a year. Oh my god!”

It is this honest, relatable, no-filter humour that Auckland-born Matafeo, who won the best comedy show award at the Edinburgh fringe festival in 2018, has become known for.

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When it comes to the inspiration behind Starstruck, which will be broadcast on BBC One and BBC Three in the UK, and will also air in the US, New Zealand and Australia, Matafeo has had lots of people ask whether Jessie’s situation with Tom is something that has happened to her in real life.

The answer is no – it is just that she is “obsessed with romantic comedies”, particularly classic romcoms from the nineties.

“So it’s kind of working backwards from there, and finding the premise that I think fits in with my strengths as a performer, knowing that I’d be in it, and my background,” says the actress, who also starred in the film Baby Done.

How much of herself has Matafeo written into the character of bubbly, east-London dwelling Jessie, who is juggling two dead-end jobs, including one at a cinema?

“Quite a bit. I think it’s a tradition that’s mainly, unfortunately, adopted by men in the past, particularly in films.

“I love Steve Martin and I love Albert Brooks; they would write themselves into these romantic comedies because they were in the position to do that.

“And I think that it’s so cool to be in the position to be able to do that myself, and put a lot of myself into the character.

“It’s like the Sliding Doors version of me if I had not done comedy.”

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Jessie and Tom first meet on a night out, and Matafeo admits that “it was a really, really odd thing to do, in the middle of a global pandemic, have this scene with so many very Covid-tested SAs [supporting actors] behind you, in a fake nightclub atmosphere”.

“But they’d get some music pumping to get us in the mood,” she continues, animatedly. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I am in the club. This is so surreal!’ “So, I enjoyed it for every moment that I could, in a fake way. But I think we pulled it off – it looks really very convincing.”

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Jessie’s outfit for those scenes is striking – a gorgeous, multi-coloured sequined dress, which Matafeo says is from fashion brand Biba.

“What’s great about that dress is that while we were making the show, it was when Strictly Come Dancing was on – I was obsessed, and then watching like old Strictly ‘best of’ compilations.

“And [Strictly presenter] Tess Daly was wearing that very dress and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m in incredible company’.”

Seeing as it turns out she is a big Strictly fan, could we ever see Matafeo competing for the glitterball trophy one day?

“This is my long-term plan,” says the effervescent star, laughing.

“Post-50 – I’ll need to get my body back into shape. I’ll have brutalised it for 20 years, but Strictly is gonna be my comeback.

“I will have some aches and pains, but it’ll be fine, we’ll push past it and I’ll be the Bill Bailey vibe – ‘Good on them for doing it’. I will be on Strictly in 2041.”

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Starstruck explores the complications of dating someone famous, and Matafeo, who was previously in a relationship with the British comic James Acaster, says she is pretty lucky when it comes to being in the public eye because she has got “relative anonymity – particularly in this country”.

But, she adds: “Don’t get me wrong – I want my big break. And it better be coming!”

“Also, I’m starting to direct more and get into that aspect of it. So I think I’m lucky in that I can see stuff going more behind the scenes a little bit.

“But I’m really bad at self-promotion. I need to get better at it. I think it’s essential in this economy, and the world we live in.”

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Another topic we touch on is the way women in her industry are perceived.

“Female comedy is not a genre,” she notes. “I think female writers, creators, directors and producers having that control should be far more prevalent.

“We – rightly so – celebrate Michaela Coel and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and you’re like, ‘Wow, look at those women doing so much amazing stuff’.

“But it’s like, they should not be the exception. They should not be viewed as an anomaly, and it needs to be that that is on our screen all the time.

“The interesting thing as well is, I’ve found sometimes that these people get lumped together because of their gender, and you’re like, ‘Oh, we are all making very different stuff’.”

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Matafeo was not only the writer and lead star but also an executive producer on Starstruck, and “it’s just been a joy”, she enthuses.

“It’s stressful as hell, but it’s the thing I love doing. I love making TV, I love making stuff.”

As for the future, she says she will always keep performing live stand-up in her back pocket.

“I think I’d miss it if I didn’t do it,” she says. “But, the world’s my oyster. I have no expectations.

“Honestly, I think the thing that the last year has taught you is you can’t predict the future, so you’ve just got to go with the flow.”

Rose Matafeo’s Starstruck is on BBC One on Monday April 26, and available on BBC Three from Sunday April 25.

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