I Hate You | Interview with Robert Popper (Writer & Creator)

I HATE YOU is a comedy about best friends. Two best friends in their mid 20s – Charlie (TANYA REYNOLDS, Sex Education) and Becca (MELISSA SAINT, Ghosts) and their intense, messy friendship in today’s intense, messy world.  

Popper calls it “edgier and odder” than Friday Night Dinner, yes he write that too!

It’s about the one friend you can say anything to and do anything with: the idiotic in-jokes, and the laughing till you almost puke, as well as the insane bickering and late-night shouting matches.

Where did the idea for I Hate You come from?

Let me have a think. It might have even come from the title. We’d done quite an intense show about an intense family: Friday Night Dinner. And I suppose the germ of that was the way my family and my friends spoke growing up. Like fast, intense, arguing the whole time. Also, they’re quite funny people and I’ve always found funny people interesting, apart from just being funny. I quite like writing about that. Then I started thinking about my friends, that sort of intense friendship you have with your friends growing up, whatever age you are. Similarly, you kind of fit into a certain role but the older you get, the more you start to think, ‘You know what? I love my friends, but they’re like… dicks. I sort of hate my friends. Sometimes.’ I think everyone has that. So I started thinking about intense friendship. It was me saying, ‘I hate my friends,’ quite a lot to my wife — sort of half-jokingly — and I just suddenly thought, ‘I Hate You’ is such a good title for a show.

From that I suddenly thought, a really intense friendship… it would be good to do girls. I really enjoyed writing for the women on Friday Night Dinner. And I just thought, no reason really, that it’d be a nice challenge. And girls are funny. And I want to do that.

What was the timeline?

It was about five years ago, probably, that I started thinking about it. While I was doing Friday Night Dinner I had another file on my computer with ideas that I’d just shove in a folder. At the end of 2018, I think, I pitched it to Channel 4. They gave me a script and I wrote that in probably 2019, a first draft. We made a seven minute little mini pilot thingy. And then we got the series and wrote the series and then shot the series. Boom. Done.

How important is casting and finding the right Charlie and Becca?

So, so important, and we had a brilliant casting director called Rachel Sheridan who was great. We started looking during COVID so it was generally everyone’s self tapes. That is quite hard for actors to keep doing. We got a bunch of people and Tanya [Reynolds] popped up within five seconds. You kind of know if someone’s brilliant first of all, but straightaway I was like, ‘That’s definitely her.’ In her little bit she just threw a scarf on. And just the way she did that and spoke at the same time made us think, ‘You’re brilliant.’ She got the part basically more or less there and then.

And then for Becca [Melissa Saint], we saw 220 girls. We saw everyone. None of them were quite the one. Rachel Sheridan said, ‘I’ve got literally 17 more people I can show you and that is it. Melissa Saint was the 13th. She was doing a scene where she has to eat. And the way she eats Rice Krispies is so sharp and she had such a nice attitude going on there and a screen presence… we knew it was going to be her.  She and Tanya just clicked and have since become best buddies, which is nice. So yeah, the chemistry was immediate. That was a relief.

How important is their chemistry to the success of the show?

The whole thing falls on if you like the pair together. If you like them individually, cool, but together they’re the extra element. It’s like if in Peep Show, they didn’t have a chemistry, that would have been terrible. They just seem to have a natural chemistry and suddenly it all feels real: ‘Oh, I get this friendship. Yeah, I get them.’

There are lots of bonkers ideas and leftfield humour in I Hate You. Where does it all come from?

I mean, everyone works differently to everyone else but I probably do write differently. First of all, I have, like a thing where all my ideas or anything funny that someone says I just stick in a file on my computer. And it’s big. Then I start writing scenes. That’s a good tip someone once gave me – write scenes. Write the dialogue, even if it’s just a few lines, or a few pages. Gradually, you’re sort of practising writing the show without going, ‘Oh, God, I’ve got to write a new show now.’

What about individual catchphrases and hooks — they’re one of your specialities…

You can’t plan to write catchphrases but I suppose I like hooks. When I’m writing, I’m always thinking about 1) Is it funny? Okay, fine. 2) What’s the story? Can people follow it? Or imagine where the stories go? And 3) Stop them turning off. Because they can turn off at any point. So I like to have little hooky things that keep people engaged.

Did you go in with an idea of Charlie and Becca’s characters or did they emerge in the writing?

I think I did have an idea who they were, first of all, broadly speaking, but then when you meet your actors, it changes. You go, ‘Okay, right, they’re really good at that. I can play to that; they can play that,’ and so you write to their strengths. Often people go, ‘How do you think of the characters?’ Well, half the time it’s when funny actors start acting as your character.

You’re a white middle-aged man yet this is a story about twentysomething girls, one white, one black, and their lives. What makes you the right person to be telling it?

I sort of think people are people. I’m not trying to write about issues facing people in the modern world, particularly, I’m just trying to write a funny show with believable people. When I meet people of that age, when they talk, they have the same issues that I had when I was that age. And they’re funny. And women are as funny as men. I’ve got lots of friends that are girls that love arguing, and these are the kinds of things they say and do. So why not?

How did you wind up with a talking horse in the title sequence?

I noticed when I start writing it that shows don’t generally have title sequences anymore. So I wanted to do things differently — and I just thought it’d be funny. I think I thought about it in bed — the girls are doing like a high-end dance thing to camera on this moving walkway and they’ve been told that at the end there’s a pair of curtains that open: don’t worry about what’s behind the curtains. And then there’s a f*cking horse and they have to carry on dancing. All you can see in their eyes is, ‘Don’t look at the horse.’ We did have a real white horse there when they did it.

Introduce Charlie and Becca? Who are they? How are they friends?

Charlie is kind of a miserabilist. Probably. She thinks people are idiots. Becca doesn’t really think anything through, stumbles through life and just always does the wrong thing. Where they met I’ve got no idea, but they’ve got a super intense friendship. I like to think they’ve only known each other for a few years, which is even weirder. But deep down, they just love each other. They have their own thing, their own little lingo, their own shared culture between them.

But also they hate each other. Or they just wind each other up. As the show goes on, particularly in Episode Six, you see that they’ve got real love for each other..

What do they do for a living?

I didn’t want to write, ‘One of them works in a café, one of them works in a pub…’ I wanted them to have quite bespoke, odd jobs. Because sometimes you speak to people and you go, ‘Oh! You do that. Okay…’ One of my wife’s best friends used to work for someone in the art world, a French guy. And she used to work from his flat, which was weird. Because his bedroom was nearby. Every day about one o’clock, he would say, “and now I go to bed,” and he would sleep. I always found that funny. And I thought, I’m gonna use that for Charlie’s job.

Then one of my cousins married someone in the autograph world. I always thought that was interesting. But I just wanted them to do specific jobs. I wanted the whole show to feel very specific, and never general.

There’s a running gag about Charlie and Becca altering a sign offering ‘Dog Adoptions’ to ‘Dog Abortions.’ Where did that come from?

It was something I did actually, when I was in America, Los Angeles, once, with my friend Peter Serafinowicz. We passed that ‘Dog Adoptions’ sign on a blackboard and I just changed it with my finger.

In the first series, Charlie learns the perils of jogging to jazz, Becca tries to seduce her own step-brother, the girls meet a guy who believes humans came from bears, and both start dating older guys – more specifically – men in their seventies. All this plus a lord who keeps a fly as his pet.

MEET THE CAST

THE GIRLS:

CHARLIE (TANYA REYNOLDS – Sex Education)

Charlie is in her mid 20’s. She’s arty and cool without knowing it. She has a razor-sharp tongue, and basically thinks 99% of humans are dickheads. She works for Bob Oxygen (JONNY SWEET) who is a classic autograph dealer. It’s a ridiculous job, and Charlie kinda hates it, but it’s also pretty easy, so she’s kinda fine where her life is at the mo.

Charlie appears in eps 1-6

BECCA (MELISSA SAINT – Ghosts)

Becca, mid 20’s, possesses little or no embarrassment gene, and usually makes the wrong decision in life. She’s just too instinctive. Becca works in a curtain shop, her boss, Mrs Plant (CHETNA PANDYA always wears red). Does she like her job? Like Charlie, she knows it’s kinda ridiculous, but it’s money, and money equals going out and having occasional fun. She also fancies her step-brother, Karl (SHAQUILLE ALI-YEBUAH), which – according to Charlie – should definitely be against the law.

Becca appears in eps 1-6

OTHER CHARACTERS:

MRS PLANT (CHETNA PANDYA – Feel Good)

Becca’s boss at ‘Curtains by A. Plant’, a high-ish end curtain shop. Super strict at work, she has no time for Becca’s antics. But get Mrs Plant out on a night, and give her a couple of drinks, and she is proper trouble.  Mrs Plant only ever dresses in red.

Mrs Plant appears in eps 1, 2, 3, 5

BOB OXYGEN (JONNY SWEET – Together)

Becca’s highly odd and highly posh boss, Bob is the MD of Bob Oxygen Classic Autographs Ltd. Operating out of his rather plush home, he spends most of his team asleep at his desk, while Charlie does all the work.

Bob Oxygen appears in eps 1, 2, 3, 4, 6.

MIRIAM (MADDIE RICE – Fleabag)

Bob Oxygen’s terrifyingly bad-tempered girlfriend, who enjoys nothing more that telling Bob off at full volume. Miriam can’t stand Charlie, and Charlie can’t stand Miriam.

Miriam appears in eps 2, 4, 6.

KARL (SHAQUILLE ALI-YEBUAH – The First Team)

Karl is Becca’s step-brother with purple hair. He’s a personal trainer, and is bouncy and cool, and Becca has the hots for him. Karl, though, has no hots for her. She’s his bloody step-sister for Christ sakes. ‘Stop being sex-creepy’ he regularly tells her. Charlie finds Becca’s Karl obsession worrying to put it mildly.

Karl appears in eps 1, 2, 3, 4, 6.

HARRIET (ABBY RUSSELL – Deep Heat)

Becca’s second best friend  – after Charlie of course – mid 20’s Harriet is an uber opinionated, larger-than-life girl, who puts Charlie’s teeth – and entire body – on edge.  Charlie just can’t understand why Becca is friends with her.

Harriet appears in eps 2 & 3.

BRADLEY (JAMES BRADWELL)

A sweet and innocent chap, Bradley, mid 20’s is in love with Charlie, but the feeling is definitely not mutual. They often bump into each other at the bus stop on their way to work, and Charlie will try any excuse to get away, including ‘I’ve got to see a doctor immediately – I have a really hot chin’. Poor Bradley, says Becca often to Charlie – ‘He only wants to impregnate you’.

Bradley appears in eps 1 & 3.

RYAN (JOE TRACINI – Hollyoaks)

A ball of nervous pent-up energy, Ryan works with Becca in the curtain shop. Plagued by psoriasis – he is always rubbing cream into his elbows – Ryan’s true love is music. Punk music. And he plays in the world’s worst punk band, ‘German Boyfriend’, consisting of just one drummer who always wears a blindfold, and Ryan – on lead vocals and guitar (which has no strings on it). They’re proper shit.

Ryan appears in eps 1, 2 & 5

MATTHEW (HARRY TREVALDWYN – The Bubble)

Charlie’s brother, Harry, 22, is completely spoilt and completely babied by his mum. He’s also next level manipulative, and when Charlie and Matthew are together, things get pretty explosive.

Matthew appears in ep 5

SIMON (VINCENT FRANKLIN – Happy Valley)

Charlie’s dad, late 50’s. A permanently sarcastic man, who relishes winding up Charlie’s mum, Naomi. He also collects military bugles which are scattered all over the house.

Simon appears in ep 5

NAOMI (AMELIA BULLMORE – Gentleman Jack)

Charlie’s tense and rather cold mum. Mid 50’s Naomi finds Charlie’s dad beyond tiresome, but adores Charlie’s brother, Matthew.

Naomi appears in ep 5

ANGELA (CLARE PERKINS – The Outlaws)

Becca’s mum, 50’s. Possessor of a great, dry sense of humour. When Becca starts coming on to her step-brother, (and Angela’s son from another relationship, Karl), Angela shouts at her to ‘Stop being sex-creepy!’

Angela appears in ep 3

LORD GRUTLEY (COLIN MACFARLANE – Outlander)

An oddball Lord, who the girls have to visit to collect a valuable letter signed by Einstein for Charlie’s boss. Lord Grutley is in fact so odd, that he keeps his socks in the fridge, and has a pet fly called Freddy.

Lord Grutley appears in ep 2.

LEONARD (MICHAEL COCHRANE – Downton Abbey)

Extremely charming and worldly older man who Becca goes on a couple of dates with. He’s older, in that he’s 72…

Leonard appears in ep 1.

RALPH (JOSEPH MARCELL – The Fresh Prince of Bel Air)

US sitcom legend, Joseph Marcell (yup – he was Geoffrey Butler in the The Fresh Prince) plays a well-travelled, fascinating older man that Charlie goes out for dinner with. He’s only bloody 75.

Ralph appears in ep 1.

Available on Channel 4 and 4OD

Author Profile

Adam Regan
Adam Regan
Deputy Editor

Features and account management. 3 years media experience. Previously covered features for online and print editions.

Email Adam@MarkMeets.com

Leave a Reply