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Nicola Coughlan on playing a character with bipolar in Channel 4’s new comedy

Nicola Coughlan as Maggie in Big Mood

The star of a new Channel 4 comedy has spoken about playing a character with a mental health condition ahead of the first episode.

Nicola Coughlan, who you probably know from Bridgerton and Derry Girls, plays Maggie in Big Mood who suffers from depression and bipolar disorder.

In the show, written by Camilla Whitehall, we see Maggie test her 10-year friendship with best mate and bar owner Eddie, played by Lydia West.

When her bipolar makes an unwelcome return Maggie becomes confined to the sofa, never cleans the flat and could not care how she looks.

Eddie tries her best to cheer Maggie up, but she soon realises it’s useless and there’s a much more complicated reason why her best friend is so unhappy.

Coughlan told BBC News: "I really hate vanity on screen.

"I always think as actors, we have the privilege of going to red carpet events and dressing up and having glam teams.

"I'm like, 'Do that in your own time. Don't bring that to the show'."

But the actress has more in common with her character than just the clothes she chooses out of the wardrobe in the mornings.

In 2019 Coughlan told Glamour magazine she used to suffer from depression which was so severe, she "couldn't get out of bed".

She had “strong support” from family and friends who managed to see her through such a difficult time.

Having experience of mental health conditions helped Coughlan play the role of Maggie, but the actress admits it was still a learning curve.

"When we were reading the scripts, I was like, depression - it's really sad. But it's something most people can relate to. It's awful, but that's just the way the world is,” she explained.

"But the manic episodes are something I didn't really understand, and then imagining how it must feel for her to go from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low, how difficult that must be."

Although Bad Mood is not just a dark comedy revolving around mental health, it’s about Maggie.

"She's just a funny woman who happens to have bipolar disorder, so it was more important to me to make her fully feel real,” Coughlan stressed.

"It's quite uncomfortable because antipsychotic medication is a lot less palatable for people to talk about. But I think Camilla's done a brilliant job."

Whitehill said: "It's great the conversation around it has started, but I can't stand the term 'mental health'.

"You don't talk about cancer, saying 'physical health'. It makes no sense.

"Aside from that, it's great we've encouraged conversation around things like depression or anxiety. But there are other mental illnesses and their symptoms can be not as palatable.

"If we're going to open up the conversation, then things should be getting better for very, very unwell people in our society that we're still not helping."

Aside from serious subjects such as bipolar and depression, Bad Mood concentrates on the close, but rocky, relationship between Maggie and Eddie.

"They love each other, but it's too co-dependent," Coughlan told the BBC.

"I think female friends, friendships of any kind, just deserve more representation because the impact they have on our lives are huge.

"Maybe like in the past, you got married at 22 and then you stayed really family oriented. But now friendships remain a huge part of your life, in a way that I think they didn't used to.

"And a rift in a friendship can be as devastating or exciting as in a romantic relationship to me."

She continued: "Maggie is so different. I've never played anyone like this. She's really ballsy and strong and complex.

"It's the kind of role I think a lot of actors who have writer friends really wish they wrote for them.

"I think people will actually take away an awful lot from it."

[ Bad Mood is on Channel 4, Thursdays, at 10pm and available to watch online. ]

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