Sally4Ever creator Julia Davis is about to shock you silly

Julia Davis, Catherine Shepherd. Courtesy of Sky. Acquired via HBO PR Medium page.
Julia Davis, Catherine Shepherd. Courtesy of Sky. Acquired via HBO PR Medium page. /

Britain’s Julia Davis makes the leap over the pond with Sally4Ever, a series that offers up kooky sex, bonkers characters, and a ton of laughs.

Julia Davis has a wonderfully weird brain. She’s been a celebrated creative talent in the U.K for years, having created darkly comedic hits such as Nighty Night and Camping. But now, thanks to a deal with HBO, she’s set to cross over the pond with her newest creation, Sally4Ever. Watch out, America. You’ve never seen TV like this before.

Sally4Ever centers on a meek and frustrated woman named Sally (Catherine Shepherd) who is stuck in a middling job and a soul crushing relationship. However, she’s dazzled into a new plane of existence upon meeting a charismatic musician named Emma. Davis portrays Emma as a whirling dervish of narcissistic and hyper-sexual energy, and it becomes quickly apparent that Sally is in way too deep.

Davis is a triple threat on Sally4Ever – writing, starring, and directing. In a conversation with Davis leading up to the U.S. premiere of the series, she offered insights on the inspiration for the series, how she dealt with the blisteringly graphic sex scenes as both a director and an actress, and how American and British comedies differ.

Hidden Remote: How did you come up with the premise of the show?

Julia Davis: Initially it was from working with Catherine [Shepherd] who plays the part of Sally, and Julian [Baratt] who plays the part of Nigel, which begins as quite an innocuous part and then develops over the series. We just kind of improvised a kind of short film idea, and we were mucking around with sketches in a way, and the key idea seemed to be interesting and funny. The idea was that Sally lived in her house; I moved in, I was a lesbian and kind of got involved with her. The seeds were there. A lot of it was to do with wanting to work with Catherine, because I really love her. There’s something really emotional about her and sad and interesting. And then wanting to take it over quite a big canvas in the end because it ends up being a seven episode thing that goes over quite a lot of different areas, really.

HR: The one thing that I kept thinking about as I was watching the episodes is that Sally is just burning her life down because she’s too polite to say anything. 

Julia Davis: I don’t know if that’s more of an English thing than an American thing. I don’t know if a lot of people can sort of relate to that difficulty with knowing what you want or standing up for what you want.

HR: Sally does want this relationship with Emma, but then even when things start to turn, she can’t see her way out. 

Julia Davis: I wanted to explore that and see how much it would take to get her out of anything. And that’s slightly what it explores as it goes over the seven episodes.

HR: It’s interesting because Sally’s life isn’t really amazing when we first meet her either. She’s unhappy with her relationship, and work is okay. She has this conventional life, and then she goes to burn her life down, but it’s not anything that she was too sad to lose to begin with. 

Julia Davis: Having been with that guy for ten years, and obviously we don’t see why she was with him, I hope that the first scene with the mother kind of shows where Sally is coming from. She’s the critical mother who’s saying, ‘you’re not going to do better than this’ or ‘this is your life, so just get on with it’. For me, that’s accounting in a sub-textual way as to why she doesn’t have the confidence. She’s always depressed and doesn’t see any way out of that. She’s sort of a pinball or something, going from place to place without knowing what’s happening.

Julia Davis, Catherine Shepherd. Courtesy of Sky. Acquired via HBO PR Medium page. /

HR: I write often about mental health and addiction issues, and Emma seems to have some sort of severe personality disorder. I know that it’s often very fun for creators to write and portray these types of characters. What inspired her? How did you write her? 

Julia Davis: In most of the stuff I’ve done there seems to be a running theme of a Sally-type character and a sociopathic character. I think I always like to play the sociopathic ones because I’m probably more like the Sally in real life. So it’s kind of a chance for me to feel powerful and play those types of characters who don’t care what anyone else thinks or don’t care about any consequences to their behavior. She may be a sociopath or she may be a narcissist, but in terms of writing it, I see quite a lot of those people around. I think you can absorb that way of being by meeting various people along the way.

HR: As a woman, I love seeing sex portrayed from a female perspective. There are two pretty wild sex scenes right out of the gate in this series. They’re very comedic and gross sometimes, and ultimately it is sex for women, by women. What’s it like to be both an actor and a director of a scene like that?

Julia Davis: Actually, in the end it was really fun and reassuring and good. Both Catherine and I obviously did some stuff, but we had body doubles for most of it. So it was really between the four women how we did it. And the four of us were obviously really nervous. The crew was mostly male on the day of filming those bits, and I remember talking for a long time to the two body doubles and asking them what they would be comfortable with and showing them what I had in mind.

I got a lot of inspiration from the film Blue is the Warmest Color, which was a great film with a lot of very very graphic things in there, and I thought there was some comic potential there in some of those images. It was ultimately fun. The idea that everyone felt safe to play around was great. I haven’t done very many sex scenes, and I know lots of people who have and some have had very tough times of feeling forced to do things or they feel really vulnerable. I didn’t want anyone to endure that.

HR: HBO’s series The Deuce just ended its second season. This year they’ve been highlighting female agency in sex, and they hired mostly female directors to helm those episodes. It’s really great that women are getting more control over how these scenes are portrayed on TV.

Julia Davis: Yeah.  I haven’t seen The Deuce yet, but I was reading a piece where Maggie Gyllenhaal was talking about exactly that. Having someone you can talk to about these sex scenes, checking in to see if you feel safe, or if you agreed to something the day before, maybe on the day of you don’t feel quite comfortable is important. I never want to make someone do something they don’t want to do.

HR: Ultimately, sex can be really funny, which you’ve shown in the first two episodes of Sally4Ever. How do you find the comedy in sex?  

Julia Davis: I think it’s just the way my mind works. [laughs] Whatever I watch, I tend to see the comic side as well for some reason. Last night I was watching The Notebook with my eleven year-old boys. It’s a really sweet, really romantic film, and those sort of traditional love stories do appeal to me, but also I was thinking, god, that scene could be so funny! I think it’s the way my weird brain goes, actually.

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HR: Your show Camping was just adapted into an American version for HBO, and I’ve had an opportunity to watch both series. Through the episodes the storylines are similar, but the comedy is different. To you, what would you say are the main differences between British and American comedy? 

Julia Davis: Well, I don’t know if overall there’s a difference. It’s really hard because say when The Office translated in America, Steve Carell’s portrayal was different and had warmer elements. I love Steve. I would say, on the whole, Americans make more feel-good comedy than we do. The rhythms are so brilliant in American dialogue, which is different from ours. I think the fact that there are teams of writers makes a difference. What can happen here – because there rarely are teams [of writers] – there’s just one person and you’re gonna get a really strong flavor when maybe it could do with some other elements in the recipe.

I guess as well, when it comes down to stuff like the American version of Camping – I’ve only seen the first episode of that one – in Britain, we kind of go all out for just presenting it like it is. If someone’s mean, we’re not explaining why. I think I read something the other day that said we do our comedy lighter but darker. As in, there’s a lightness of touch maybe in terms of us not over explaining why these people are behaving this way. It’s up to you to kind of work it out or enjoy it or whatever.

‘Sally4Ever’ airs Sundays at 10:30/9:30c on HBO.