Acts of courage

Acts of courage

By Michael Pickard
May 7, 2024


Bafta-winning writer and actor Kat Sadler opens up about the real experiences that inspired her dark comedy Such Brave Girls, conquering stage fright and why she put her life on hold to chase her television ambitions.

In her first original series, creator, writer and star Kat Sadler blends her own brand of dark humour with some of her real-life experiences to tell the story of a dysfunctional and chaotic family trying to create a better life for themselves. The result is Such Brave Girls, a six-part series that is laugh-out-loud funny and one of the best comedies – no, series – of the past 12 months.

Exploring life and love in all its ugly chaos, it sees Josie (Sadler), Billie (Sadler’s real sister Lizzie Davidson) and their single mother Deb (Louise Brealey) haphazardly navigate their way through life with nothing but poor judgement, constantly in conflict with one another but united by their desperate attempts to be loved – usually by people who couldn’t care less about them.

After writing for shows such as The Mash Report, Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back and YA drama Tell Me Everything, Sadler found her breakout moment with Such Brave Girls, and her achievements on and off screen were recognised when she won the Emerging Talent: Fiction prize at the recent Bafta Television Craft Awards.

“It’s tough because I almost feel like it’s wrong that it is that [award] because the show was so much like a group effort to make,” Sadler tells DQ. “It’s bittersweet because a win is a win for the show, but I wish everybody’s name was on it. But it’s still amazing to be encouraged in that way, and feel like my voice is being encouraged and that people want to hear what I’ve got to say. It’s a real honour.”

Sadler was inspired to write Such Brave Girls when, at the start of the Covid lockdown in 2020, she and her sister were talking about issues they were both facing. Davidson revealed she was in £20,000 of debt, while Sadler had been struggling with her mental health and was sectioned. Yet when they revealed these secrets to each other, they both started laughing, and Sadler realised that even the darkest situations can be lifted with comedy.

Kat Sadler shows off her Bafta Television Craft Award

She then wrote a pilot script that was commissioned as a BBC Comedy Slice in 2021, before a full series was later greenlit. Filmed in Liverpool, it is produced by Various Artists Limited and A24, with Simon Bird (The Inbetweeners) directing.

“I wanted to bring my perspective into the dialogue we’ve currently got going on about using trauma and personal stories in comedy, and how we twist that and subvert it,” she explains. “That was definitely something I wanted to do, to shift the narrative a little bit and do something slightly different with this show.”

In different hands, Such Brave Girls would have been a full-blown drama, such are the themes that feature in the series and the events that take place, from abortions and absent fathers to struggles with debt and mental health breakdowns. Sadler even wrote some of the first script drafts as if it were a drama, before circling back and rewriting them as a sitcom.

“I still wanted to deal with that stuff,” she says. “I still wanted to feel the emotion of the drama when writing, but then I would try and backtrack on it and be like, ‘OK, but how do I undercut the tension with jokes and make it so it doesn’t feel like we’re going into drama territory?’ I had to do a bit of both and then strip out any sensitivity or nuance to make sure the sitcom lands.”

At the centre of the series are three characters who are in constant conflict with one another, and who find the best way to communicate is by yelling or hurling insults – instantly putting them at odds with most of the “sweet, functional” families Sadler has watched on television. But while the characters may be unsympathetic, unlikeable and even toxic, the audience still roots for them to succeed.

Sadler is the creator, writer and star of BBC series Such Brave Girls

Struggling with depression, Josie is trying to rebel and express her true self but holds herself back as a “spineless, chronic people-pleaser,” which at one stage leaves her in an unwanted relationship with her admirer, Seb (Freddie Meredith), while she confronts her sexuality. In contrast, Billie is chasing a relationship with Nicky (Sam Buchanan), who has much less interest in her, and finds herself competing for his affections with Bianca (Carla Woodcock).

Meanwhile, Deb is desperate to provide a better life for her daughters, so much so that she believes Dev (Paul Bazely) is the answer to their problems.

“I feel like you can follow any character doing anything as long as you understand why it would matter to them that it’s the end of the world if this petty thing doesn’t happen,” Sadler says. “The challenge was to be like, ‘Well, what would happen if they don’t get it? Why is it the end of the world?’ You can push your characters to do anything if the stakes are that high. The game of the series was, ‘How bad can I make things?’”

Using her own experiences as the inspiration for the series, Sadler also challenged herself to write storylines about things she’d actually be really embarrassed to tell people in real life.

“I wanted to subvert the trauma aspect by having a character who is obsessed with trauma and on the quest for sympathy to an almost irritating extent,” she says of Josie. “That then gave me free rein to talk about all the trauma I’d been through, but through the lens of someone who’s really irritating and obsessed with their own trauma.”

The writer says she wouldn’t have felt comfortable discussing some of the topics in the series had they not been based on things she had lived through herself. She even interviewed her mother and sister about some of the challenges they faced and the “most stressful” things they had been through to further ground the series in authenticity.

Sadler stars as Josie, whose sister Billie is played by Sadler’s real-life sibling Lizzie Davidson

“So a lot of that stuff has come from truth,” she adds, “but I don’t think I would have dealt with some of the things that happened to me in the way Josie does. Setting it up in a sitcom story makes it different and just ties everything up at the end, whereas real life is a lot more messy.”

Sadler wrote all six episodes, using Davidson as a sounding board for many of her ideas. Davidson, in turn, would tell her when something wasn’t funny. But there was never a question of bringing other writers on to the project due to the personal nature of the series – “and probably because I’m a control freak,” she jokes.

However, it did mean she gave up her life to write the series, often sleeping in her office and working across weekends. “Because it was my first thing, I was so grateful that I was like, ‘Well, if it doesn’t do well, at least I can say I worked on it until my fingers bled,’ so I really threw myself into it as much as possible,” she says.

“The good thing about doing my own project was there wasn’t really someone to please as if you were writing for a different show. I was doing it for me. It was so freeing, and I could do whatever the hell I wanted to. But at the same time, there were none of those boundaries or the positive reinforcement you get from writing for someone else, so it was really scary.”

While the show’s sense of humour and the put-downs exchanged by Josie, Billie and Deb can be fairly brutal, Sadler admits she’s probably darker than Josie is in Such Brave Girls. “We definitely softened it to be more palatable. Me and my sister are two of the filthiest people you could meet,” she says. “Some of the stuff we say to each other is absolutely atrocious, so it was almost a little bit sanitised. The way we speak is certainly neater than we do in real life, but I was probably a little more restrained, a little bit classier.”

Such Brave Girls also marks Sadler’s acting debut. Having performed stand-up comedy, she was “used to humiliation” but found acting in front of the camera was a completely different skill. “I’m definitely much more from the writing world and had come up through writing jokes for people and additional material on stuff. It was totally fresh to act in something I’d written,” she says.

Louise Brealey and Paul Bazely also star

Nevertheless, she had always wanted to play Josie and overcame her nerves to take on the role. “I got terrible stage fright when I was doing stand-up but, for some reason, making a show like this, I feel more able to act and not be scared about trying to please someone else,” she notes. “It was more for me, so I felt more free, and we had such a lovely team around us that all that stage fright went away. Even if it was there, I channelled it into the character, so it was the ideal situation to try out acting properly for the first time. I couldn’t have had a better environment, and having my sister with me was the ideal scenario.”

Davidson does come from an acting background, but before Such Brave Girls had been working as an entertainer at the London Dungeon and Shrek Adventure attractions, “so both of us had gone through the wringer a bit,” Sadler says. “Me through doing stand-up to crowds that weren’t interested and her playing [serial killer Sweeney Todd’s pie-making accomplice] Mrs Lovett at the London Dungeon for people who weren’t interested. [Making the series] was a welcome break.”

Having now broken into the television industry, and won a Bafta, Sadler admits the path to reach this point has been “bloody tough,” achieved through equal parts luck and determination after stripping back her life so she could solely focus on writing pilot scripts.

“Every spare minute I had I was writing,” she says. “It’s just an exhausting, soul-crushing industry to be in. If you’re not prepared to die for it, it’s honestly not worth it. It’s about having lots of plates spinning so you can’t be disappointed when one doesn’t work out, because so much of this industry is about being disappointed.”.

Sadler found she had to create her own opportunities to get her name and her content seen, but that effort would then lead to further opportunities. A bursary scheme also enabled her to become an in-house comedy writer for BBC Radio 4, which she says helped launch her career because she was no longer held back by having to work other jobs to fund her writing ambitions.

The show is produced by Various Artists Limited and A24

“[Broadcasters] are commissioning more stuff that is coming from backgrounds that are underrepresented on TV, which means it is really exciting to be part of the industry now. But it is about creating your own opportunity,” she says. “That’s the only thing you can do, as the internet and social media has become such a thing. It’s always about putting stuff out there and being brave and trying different things. But ultimately the best you can do is have a really good spec script. That’s all I can do for advice. Have that ready to go and conversations will happen.”

Sadler is now developing new material, while also collecting potential ideas for a second season of Such Brave Girls should it be renewed. In any case, she has gained confidence in her own work thanks to the success of the show, and she hopes those who watched it and identified with any of the struggles facing the characters now know they are not alone.

“I just want them to feel seen,” she says, “or to feel reassured if they do have mental health problems or if the kind of humour that they get is really dark and maybe shocks their friends. You are seen and that’s just part of how we cope, and [I want them] to be reassured by that. Hopefully that has come across.”

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