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IFTN Talks with Charleigh Bailey, Writer and Star of new RTÉ Comedy Pilot 'Headcases'
06 Sep 2019 : Nathan Griffin
The cast of 'Headcases'
IFTN caught up with Charleigh ('A Date for Mad Mary') ahead of Headcases’ release on RTÉ to talk about the inspiration behind the pilot, working as a debut writer, and the Screen Ireland /RTÉ Scripted Comedy series initiative.

Headcases Hair and Beauty is about to go through some changes. Long-time BFFs, Michelle and Cheryl, are ready to take their business to the next level by purchasing the building. All they need is loan approval. With its misfit congregation of staff and clients, can this Northside Dublin salon hold it together through conflicting management styles, a mean green situation and an errant blow-dry when the lending manager visits the salon? Or will internal drama cut their ambitions short?

Produced by Treasure Entertainment, the Irish production company has announced that the new comedy pilot, created, written and starring Charleigh Bailey alongside Seána Kerslake (Hole in the Ground), will air on RTÉ One this Sunday, 8th September at 22.30 as part of their new drama and comedy season.

Headcases is directed by Hugh O’Connor, whose debut feature film Metal Heart was also produced by Treasure and was released in Irish cinemas this summer. In addition to Charleigh Bailey, Headcases features an all-star Irish cast that includes Seána Kerslake, Shaun Dunne, Hilda Fay, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Sarah Morris, and Shauna Higgins. It is produced by Claire McCaughley for Treasure Entertainment, in association with RTÉ and Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland. Headcases is a comedy pilot funded by RTÉ under their partnership with Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland to support new Irish scripted comedy projects with export potential.

Charleigh first came to prominence for her performance in the IFTA-award winning, A Date for Mad Mary opposite long-time friend and fellow Bow Street graduate, Seána Kerslake. Charleigh also collected the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance in the film at the 2017 IFTA Film and Drama Awards.   

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin spoke with Charleigh ahead of the Headcases broadcast on RTÉ this Sunday.

IFTN: Where did the inspiration for Headcases come from?

Charleigh: “The inspiration for Headcases came from my own experience of working in a hairdressers. Every day felt like an event, the clients and staff always had a story to tell and there was never a dull moment. I also have close friends who are hairdressers and beauticians and listening to their stories for years, I knew if I was ever going to write something it would be set in a hairdressers. There is something so intimate about the relationship between a hairdresser and their client, you find yourself telling your hairdresser things you might not have told your best friend. The hair and beauty world is so rich and characterful making it perfect for TV.”

IFTN: The show marks your first venture into comedic writing, how did you approach the project?

Charleigh: “When I first approached the project I really hadn't a clue of how I was going to do it, all I knew was I wanted to make a show set in a hair and beauty salon on the Northside of Dublin and I wanted it to reflect the world I grew up in and the characters I know so well. I wrote two episodes without thinking about structure or where it might lead to, I let myself just have free reign to discover as I went along. I felt I knew how the characters sounded so well but needed to work on their journeys.” 

“Once Treasure came on board they brought on Barbara Deignan to help me with structure and we did a lot of development work. Sarah Gunn and Claire McCaughley really made me dig deep into the characters’ arcs and back stories which really helped to give each character depth. Although at times, I couldn't understand why everything had to tie in with the plot and had to have a payoff, I'm so glad Rachel O'Flanagan (our script editor) made sure I paid attention to it because I can see now why that is so important. After that it was just redrafting and redrafting until we had our shooting script.” 

IFTN: You feature as creator, writer and actor on the show, how did you strike a balance between these commitments?

Charleigh: “I started writing the pilot in October 2017 and we didn't shoot it until February 2018 so I was able to just focus on writing for most of that time. A director pal of mine had to remind me to switch off from being the writer and focus on playing Cheryl. I had lived in Cheryl's world for so long during the writing process so I felt like she was embedded in me already. I wanted to let all the prep go and just enjoy playing her. Myself and Seána Kerslake are great pals anyway and most of our scenes are just two friends working alongside each other. We didn't have to work on our chemistry because we already get each other so well. After I've done my prep work on my characters I really enjoy working on what they look like, once I had my acrylic nails and tan on, my hair in space buns and the beauticians uniform on I felt like Cheryl instantly.”

IFTN: You mentioned with Seana Kerslake on the series, did you have particular actors in mind for each part when writing the script?

Charleigh: “I still can't believe the cast we have, some of my favourite actors. I saw Hilda Fay play Paula Spencer in "The Woman Who Walked into Doors" when I was a teenager and she blew me away and I've been a fan ever since, so I feel very lucky to have her playing Trish. I had a fair idea of who I wanted for each character but there was a nice surprise with casting Sarah Morris as Aimee and Hilda as Trish. I had never met Sarah before, we got her on tape and she was fantastic. I asked Hilda to read Trish in the read through as we hadn't cast Trish yet and Hilda was just doing it as a favour for me. In the original script, Trish was in her 60's but at the read through Hilda had us all in stitches and really lit up the script, she always gives it her all. I went to Treasure straight after and said, "Please can we change Trish's age and cast Hilda!" They all agreed at how wonderful Hilda was and we cast her shortly after. We also have Shaun Dunne, Shauna Higgins, Neilí Conroy, Caroline Harvey, Andrew Bennett, Ian Lloyd Anderson and the brilliant Ruby Dunne as well. The cast brought more than I could have hoped for, actors really are so special in what they bring to their characters.” 

IFTN: The show is directed by Hugh O’Conor and produced by Claire McCaughley of Treasure Entertainment - How did you find working with them and what did they bring to the show?

Charleigh: “As with every development process, it can be tricky at times to really get your vision across accurately. We struggled for a while to find references and tone as we all felt Headcases was a unique world that we couldn't compare to other shows. I knew I wanted to write a comedy but I wanted it to feel very real and never farcical. I wanted the comedy to come from the characters own natural funniness rather than it being slap stick and played just for laughs. I believe the funniest people are those who don't know they're funny - it's in the characters’ dry wit that we find the comedy.”

“Everyone at Treasure and Claire were very conscious of making sure my voice was clear and the show always reflected my own vision. They told me from the get go if I ever felt something wasn't right or what they were suggesting clashed with my vision I was to let them know. Hugh was very supportive and excited about the project. He respected the world and the choices we all made for our characters, he let us be and just play with our characters. Hugh was very eager to protect my vision and I always felt I could go to him if something didn't sit right with me. He has a fantastic eye and a great instinct.”

IFTN: Can you walk me through your experience of developing this project through the Screen Ireland /RTÉ Scripted Comedy series initiative?

Charleigh: “My experience has been very positive with RTÉ/Screen Ireland. I first applied to the comedy initiative with Treasure back in November 2017. We were then shortlisted along with 10 other projects and given development funding to pitch to RTÉ /Screen Ireland with our pilot scripts, shortly after that 4 projects were funded to have their pilots made. I had never written anything before so to be given the chance to make a pilot and have it air on RTÉ this coming Sunday is incredible. RTÉ really wanted to support me and the world I have created and I think the comedy series initiative is a really great platform to discover new comedy talent and long may it last.”

Headcases will air on Sunday 8th September at 22.30 on RTÉ ONE.

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