Jessica Barden is making a splash. The Big Issue arrives on set of new ITVX drama You & Me just as Barden – star of Channel 4’s Bafta-winning drama TheEnd of the F***ing World and Netflix thriller Pieces Of Her – is repeatedly jumping into Brockwell Park Lido in South London with divers and camera operators all around her.
You & Me, the debut drama from writer Jamie Davis, which boasts Russell T Davies among the executive producers, is a modern coming-of-age story set in South London. Across three episodes, Barden and her co-stars Harry Lawtey, Sophia Brown and Lily Newmark navigate the complexities of love and loss and fate, with the always brilliant Julie Hesmondhalgh among the supporting cast. And the Lido is just one of the locations that marks it out as a new generation of London drama.
“It was weirdly cold,” says Barden. “I was jumping in the pool at 2am yesterday as well. I always end up playing these parts where I’m jumping out of a tree or into a cold body of water.
“But it’s great. You wouldn’t get to do that in real life. And also this project films in places we might actually recognise from our lives. Places that are iconic to our generation. So many romantic comedies set in London are filmed at the same old places. It’s always Hampstead Heath or Notting Hill. But ours is probably going to set a new trend of filming in Peckham and Deptford.”
This is a romantic drama with an edge. The love stories depicted are steeped in sorrow and sadness.
“The main thing I loved was that it was this absolutely devastating, but hopeful, rollercoaster of two people’s version of grief,” says Barden.
“I cried my eyes out the first time I read it – but it doesn’t feel like it tortures you. It is very cathartic. And it isn’t a Hollywood ending version of grief. Usually when we are watching things about people dealing with extraordinarily sad things that can happen to us, you see them completely fall apart.
“I think this is a more real version. The one where you have to go to work on Monday – so how are you going to get through the day? That is what I wanted to play in these characters.”
Jessica Barden turns 30 the day after our interview. It’s the perfect moment to reflect on the specific issues facing young adults today.
In the past, coming-of-age films and TV series have told stories of younger protagonists. But these days, key life moments and that coming-of-age movie staple of ‘finding your people’ can be delayed by the cost-of-living crisis, the housing crisis, tuition fees leaving so many young adults paying off the cost of their education for years, the global pandemic that kept young people apart.
“My character Emma is at that point in your 20s where you feel like you get to all these crossroads in your life. Am I going to stay with this person? Am I going to do this job? Are these my friends? Is this my life?” she says.
“And we find out she is also dealing with the loss of her sister. She is navigating her normal life – but all of us have something we are dealing with at home.
“So it is still a coming-of-age story. Just a more realistic one. I’m starting to see that’s a theme of my work. And it’s never the squeaky-clean version, ending with her killing it in the school talent show. Mine are always peppered with tragedy.”
As well as setting the series in a recognisable part of South London, the series also hints at some of the pressures young people face. Sure, their flats and houses are still bigger than most young people can afford. But it at least feels like they live in the same city.
“London is something you have to survive,” says Barden. “The first two years are so hard. You are figuring out what your version of London is like, where you are going to live, who your friends will be. Everyone is fucking struggling.
“Life is not a movie. Or if it is, we need to change our movies and TV shows. Because life is really hard. Especially for young people. And being a young person in London is really stressful. You feel lonely in the city. You are not earning enough money to live here. This is a tough place to live – and our dramas need to be more realistic and reflect that.”
That said, Jessica Barden’s own move to London from her home in Yorkshire was unusual – and unlike her latest alter-ego, she did not wait until her mid-20s to strike out on her own.
“I moved here when I was 16. But it was by accident,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I got the role in Jerusalem and lived three minutes from the Royal Court. My mum came to visit on weekends. We thought it was a summer thing. Then Jerusalem ended up in the West End, and then I was making a movie with Joe Wright. And by the time I was 20 I was living here in a normal way, rather than, like, ‘woah, how do I change a lightbulb?’”
And these days, Jessica Barden lives even further from Northallerton. She has a child with her director husband Max Winkler (son of Happy Days legend Henry) and lives in Los Angeles.
“I do love LA but politically America is on fire at the moment,” Barden says. “I just don’t want my child to turn around to me one day and be like, ‘why do we live here? Why can’t we live in England where I don’t have to do a drill in case there’s a gunman in my school.”
You & Me is streaming on ITVX
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