This is the BBC. This podcast is supported by advertising outside the UK. Oh, something happened. BBC sounds, music, radio, podcasts. Well, hello, I'm Louis Theroux, and welcome back to another series of my podcast for BBC Radio. For Grounded with Louis through. Is everyone well rested? Yes, covid-19 hasn't gone away.
And because of travel restrictions, neither have I. So I've kept myself busy with a new set of eclectic conversations.
A second helping of the celebrated, the controversial and the occasionally shocking it is counting, which gives me confidence.
As ever, I've been doing the interviews remotely, getting my guests to record their half of the conversations.
I think it's all you need something wrong with your connection or your mic, which some do better than others. And to be fair, I don't always do it brilliantly myself. Hello. We begin with a double BAFTA winning actor who's gone on to create write code to write, produce and star in one of the runaway TV successes of the Year, a series that tackled head on such subjects as sexual assault, the uncompromising. I may destroy you.
Can you hear me? Hi, Larry. How are you doing? I'm doing all right. How are you?
I'm all right. I've just had a stressful fifteen minutes of worrying about leaf blowers and noises outside that I thought would interfere with the recording. It's this whole working from home thing which is equal parts, joyous and nightmarish. Yes. If there's a leaf blower, I'm not the kind of person who is that comfortable going out saying, I know you got a job that pays much less than mine. I know you're oppressed by all sorts of systemic factors, but don't blow any leaves for twenty minutes.
Yeah, as a twenty minutes.
This is a short interview. I didn't realise it's going to be so brief.
Well, I assumed he wasn't going to be blowing them for two hours. That's true. Anyway, listen, this isn't about my horticultural issues.
She is, of course, McKayla Cole, and I'm curious to see how uncompromising our discussion is going to be. Thank you for doing this, how are you doing? I'm doing all right, I'm really happy to be asked to talk with you. I'm a fan. Oh, thanks. Oh, yeah. Honestly, I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to tell you this, but I've loved so many of your documentaries, including you curated some documentaries.
I think it was for BBC a couple of years ago of all the documentaries that inspired you. And I particularly remember one that I think was called Right in My Heart.
Yeah. Paul Watson's documentary about people at the extreme end of alcohol addiction, very hardcore.
I thought, you're going to talk about my documentaries and we talk about Paul Watson, but it came from a good place. No, that was me being needy.
And I'm going to stop doing I can't I went down. I want to right now. Let's what you need.
Well, it's lovely to be complimented by you because I'm such a big fan of you and your series in particular. I may destroy you.
I mean, it felt as though I may destroy you was one of those cultural artifacts that kind of took flight during the pandemic in the lockdown. It came out in June in the lockdown.
You were already famous and appreciated and loved from the previous series, Chewing Gum. But this seems to be next level, if I can use that term in various ways. What's that experience been like, sort of achieving that success in such a weird environment?
Quite strange. I felt like over the two and a half years it took to make sure I was doing something that felt successful every day. And then it goes out. And I think it's also because of the pandemic. I almost felt like I was also watching this show take a whole new life as it met people in their living rooms or in their bedrooms, on their laptops. And it was morphing and growing and becoming a public show. And I also felt like a spectator in a good way.
It kind of made me able to appreciate the success of the show without connecting it to myself.
One thing I read was that you had some concerns before I may destroy you came out because everything was so weird, because there was so much fear and people not knowing what was happening that you thought it might be triggering. You know, was this what the world needed right now?
Yeah, I already knew, of course, the show is triggering, but I thought I knew the general vibe of the world in 2019. So I was okay with putting out the work. And then the world took a turn and it was like super crazy, you know? And so I thought, oh, actually, was this a good idea?
But I think I've come to understand that actually in many ways, some people were ready and willing to receive the show and the content. And not everybody is going to be, but not everybody is ever going to be. And maybe if they are for me, maybe I've made the wrong show. If everybody is just OK with it, I want to dig into.
I may destroy, but I feel like I run the risk of getting to the climax of the conversation too early because it's an extra for people who haven't seen it. The half hour episodes is 12 of them. Right. And it's sort of an exploration of, well, one woman's life who's coming to terms with a sexual assault. But along the way, it's an exploration of different kinds of sexual engagement, which are in varying degrees consensual, bordering on this or nonconsensual.
Having said, I wasn't going to talk about it and I seem to be talking about it, but I'm curious about how Lester, as a young woman of Ghanaian origin working class who grew up in East London without many of the advantages that many people in the TV industry have, you have managed to become a showrunner, the creator, writer, lead performer in a hit show on Channel four and HBO in America, like a huge level of success.
Did you say Channel four? Is it not on Channel four? It's BBC. We're in we're in the same channel.
It's me now chewing with chewing gum. Channel four. Yeah. Yeah. The BBC's so beleaguered, the last thing they need is for me to strip one of their crown jewels. You know what I mean? Out of the coffin. So you managed to do that.
Where was I going? So I'm curious to know about the journey. And I know you've probably talked about this a lot. Are you alright? Just talk a little bit about your origin story. Is that totally boring for you?
I feel like I always have to remember what it is. So so that means it's not boring because I've got to find it what it is. I grew up in Tower Hamlets, which is a relatively poor borough for London, but it was right next to the city of London. So I'm sort of almost straddling two different boroughs, which I always find quite interesting. I grew up looking at the Royal Bank of Scotland, seeing people in suits and briefcases going to work and coming back and living in a totally different reality from those people.
So I think I was always aware that there were other things going on beyond the world around me, but I didn't do any writing of any kind and I didn't know anybody in the industry. My mum was a cleaner while studying to become I think maybe she wanted to be a psychologist, but she found a very lovely home with the NHS. She's a nurse. My dad lived nearby. We never lived together. I had a sister. I have I still have a sister.
She's still here and a half brother. And I went to Catholic school where it was never anywhere on my radar to maybe even think about what I wanted to do later on. I loved school. My mum found a theatre school that would happen on Saturdays for a few hours. And if you were making below a certain income, you could send your kids there for free. So my mum would send us there while she would go into cleaning jobs at banks, she would clean the banks.
And I really enjoyed that for a time. I think I was about six years. I did my GCSE. I studied really, really hard. And when I say studied, I mean, I memorized. I would just memorize the big Akua books from back to front so that I would be able to answer all of the questions and did quite well. Three or four A's and a feebs and a C in maths, which meant I could go to college where I studied English literature, psychology and sociology.
I was always quite interested in human behaviour and any attempt to try to explain us and our patterns.
You did sociology a level, is that what you're saying? Maybe also at GCSE and level, what do they teach you in sociology?
I studied modern history at university, but there was a bit of sociology in it. Things like Karl Marx, Emil Durkheim, Max Faber. Yes.
Was that the kind of thing that load's education we learn about labelling and self-fulfilling prophecies, that if you label a person, often the person who can take on that label and then almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy, they become what the label is. And sometimes you might be lucky to get nice labels and other times you might be unlucky and get labels that severely cripple your chances in life and your future. I'm sure I read a lot about race, about sadism.
Even back then, I remember a time called the color spectrum.
Sadism is a difficult conversation, I would have thought. Something that people are thinking about more, do you think? Definitely, it's something that I have frequently thought about and I think there is a broader conversation happening right now. I think it is a difficult conversation because it all seems to be rooted in this divide and conquer tactic that is centuries old and all seems to go back to when Europeans entered Africa. It seems to have had all these effects, these little sort of trickles of division when it became better to be closer to having skin.
That was the shade of white people. And white power basically seems to be slightly relentless in how it can cause us to divide.
So it is a tricky conversation, but also for me, thinking about different encounters I've had with people of color and then. I mean, my mind's gone to as Rachel Dolezal, right, the American woman. Oh, God, she was white, but then identified very strongly with black history and black culture and announced that she was in fact, if she portrayed herself as being black and she masqueraded as a black person and became head of a chapter of the NAACP in America, very successful performance.
And I think most people found that. I think the term would be problematic. Right.
I love that word because it's overused, isn't it? It's just such a helpfully vague term of kind of disapproval.
If I'd met her, I wouldn't have dared to say, well, you don't look very black to me, do you know what I mean? Because on the off chance that she was an extremely light skinned black person, which I guess is possible.
It's highly possible. Yeah, it would have been an extraordinarily offensive thing for me to say. Do you know what I mean? To get it wrong and say, look, you don't look very you know, I wouldn't have dreamed of seeing it, but she kind of that was the gap she kind of passed through the fear of insensitivity, allowed her to pass herself off as something that she wasn't.
I also just think I wouldn't have doubted her if I you know, and I think this is one of the really fascinating, you know, that's a white person can actually really just do some braids and maybe dress in a way that they have sort of gone. That's the way black Americans dress and can travel into an entirely different world. Entirely different, but a different racial group and adopt the struggle of a different race is really interesting. And, you know, I don't get that kind of tourism.
I can't pretend to be white. I can't have that sort of a tool.
That's not an option now.
But I'm assuming you probably wouldn't want to. I think it's that thing, isn't it?
When you're born with the thing and you love it, you love who you are, you're born as you you love you. And even with the difficulties and problems that come with it, it becomes a part of your identity and that difficulty becomes part of your narrative and who you are. And you don't want to trade it because it's who you are.
Yeah, I think the one thing that occurs to me is that there's one end of the spectrum on which to claim some sort of victim status. Right.
The idea that I'm more virtuous because I've been discriminated against, even if you haven't, you might feel that makes your voice a little louder on that subject, that small portions of society in which that's been Westernized and even someone like Elizabeth Warren in America, she got a lot of stick.
And I think I understand why for saying she was a Native American or part Native American. Yeah.
She presents as someone who's completely white and she seems to come from a world of privilege.
The thing if you walk into a shop and you are followed around by security guards because of what you look like, if you look like Elizabeth Warren and you are part Native American, I don't know how much that is your experience of being alive, because I don't know if anybody looks at Elizabeth Warren and says, oh, there's a Native American in the store, let's follow them. There's a black person in the store. The subconscious biases of how we treat people that look different and look non-white.
I don't know if that exists for her or for Rachel Dolezal unless she puts braids in her hair and Western clothes and she brings that upon herself. And I think you're right in terms of people who have made false allegations about sexual assault is something that I explore a little bit in Episode six of my show. And I I can't instinctively get my head around it, but I want to because I don't know, Lily, I'm trying to figure out why people would do things like that to make it up, maybe because they want pity.
It's an easy way to get empathy. It brings you into a group. It brings you into a community of people who want to care for you because they think you've suffered and you won't care. And you can claim my status.
I mean, it's the flip side of identity politics that you get a voice in the conversation. Right. And even I've been in a small way guilty of it. I was told growing up that I had Native American heritage on my dad's side, that our ancestors were part of the Menominee tribe.
And I thought that was pretty cool, if I'm honest, like I thought, wow, my ancestors struggled with being discriminated against, persecuted, pushed off their land. The same time I saw with a degree of irony, I would sometimes joke, speaking as a Native American, I find that offensive. And then later on, my dad got tested on Ancestry.com or 23. And me, guess how much Native American heritage he has?
How much zero. I was a bit disappointed. It's not a life changing experience, but I relate to the idea of wanting to be part of that conversation. Oh, no, we're obviously ludicrous, but in a small way there was a vanity associated with being attached to a historical. Well, me, too, you know what, I actually did my ancestral DNA as well, and I was hoping for like something to say, but it's 99 percent Guana, one percent Toco, which is next door.
Yeah, yeah. Just, you know, you're from Ghana and that is your lineage. Your lineage is probably very interesting, Louis, just in a way that isn't maybe part of the mainstream conversation right now. Yeah. Thank you for that. And that's OK.
You know, it reminds me of there are some very intelligent white men at the moment who are maybe doing a version of this for themselves, like I am being victimized because I am speaking as a white man about this and they're telling me I can't speak about that. And actually these liberal people are attacking me and my rights and now I'm a victim.
And now I will form a tribe around myself overall, like my strong white man speech, like I'm being denied a voice because of identity politics, often on Twitter as well.
You know, sometimes for these people, the people who feel like they are victims of a clampdown against free speech, I think sometimes having empathy for the people they're talking about is quite useful to maybe understand why other quote unquote, groups might feel threatened to try and look at their lives, to really look and then speak from thinking about that rather than about your free speech. I just think maybe there's a gentleness missing from that camp of the white men just to remember, well, this person is black and that's sociologically comes with so many difficulties.
This person is from the trans community. Aren't they more likely to be murdered than any other, quote unquote, group in the world, just like, oh, fuck to that.
Inactine remember that when you then speak, just try and think about that rather than focus on the fact that they've got an issue with what you said. Why might they have an issue with what you're saying? Gentleness, heart, empathy, thinking, trying to accommodate for who are the people are and where they've come from might just like maybe influence how we say things. I really mess up all the time not thinking about where are the people coming from. And I think it's like a daily.
It's a daily. What is it. I don't want to say a daily battle.
It's a daily challenge, a daily lesson, a daily journey to just try and, you know, speak properly and think and really think, think, think and speak as hard. Well said you were born in Ghana or London, in London town, your mum and dad were separated. Is that right at that point?
No, they met in London and they yeah, they married.
No ships passing in the night. Yeah. But, you know, it's really my dad has always lived nearby and I think it was quite a healthy thing that I was able to know my dad and spend a little bit of time with my dad, but also live in a house that felt quite free. I never got to have that upbringing where you saw parents arguing and fighting. I missed all that. I didn't have any of that. And I think that's a good thing.
My friends who have been in households like that would say it's better that you didn't experience any of that. And I think that's true.
It was just the three of you, you and your sister. Yeah. Yeah. Older.
So there's no stepdad.
There's an episode of I May Destroy You, which seems like it might be based on your upbringing, which Arabella, the main character, goes home for her dad's birthday.
That's right, isn't it? Yeah.
And then the mum's there and you get the feeling that might be the mum was pining for the dad a little bit, was giving the dad a lot of status, even though the dad seemed somewhat semi-detached.
Mm. So it's interesting, isn't it. Yes, it does. It does. And so I have a brother from my dad's side and I have his whole family, but my dad is not with either of those families, but those two families have sort of come together to make one family unit. It's really quite interesting. So I'll do Christmases at my brother's house with his single mum and their family. And that episode almost seems like a fusion of both those families.
So in one way, it's my mom. In another way, it's my step mom. I think that's the thing about the way I write it kind of is both yet maybe none. I don't think my mom finds for my dad at all. So I don't know why. Maybe it's because I pine for my dad and that's why I made the character like that, you know?
Yeah, it's rather touching. I was thinking I wish I could be like that, dad just or wander into, you know, like households and everyone's waiting to eat. Yeah, the big man arrives and you know what I mean.
But I don't think any dad is really like that. I think deep down, when the dinner is done and they're on their way home, there's something else going on. I imagine that to have children and to have not been there is very hard for fathers. I think that even though there is a kind of parody of a big chest high guy, you know, blah, blah, blah, there must be a loneliness that comes with that. Definitely.
You get back what you put in. That's certainly my experience of fatherhood. Yeah. And then sometimes I feel like, well, I'm putting in a lot.
I try to change that narrative. And, you know, I think as I've grown up, I don't know. I think this is part of the beauty of writing is that they say you get what you put in is he said you can't get back in.
So I'm trying to actually give back more than my dad put in, you know, because I think that, like, life was probably really complicated at that time. There is like no money there, immigrants here. I think life, as we've said, is traumatizing for many groups. I think about these groups of young absent fathers. And I go, oh, God, that must have been tricky for so many factors. I love sort of just trying to, like, be there for my dad and allow him to be there for me as a dad, you know, find areas where I need help and let my dad sort of do a little bit of rescuing, you know, oh, dad, I need to get a right here.
And he does it. And I think it makes us both feel really good.
What kind of work was he doing when you were growing up?
Also cleaning. And he was a career for a while, like whatever was before Amazon. And I would ride in his van sometimes while he dropped off deliveries.
You've talked a lot about finding Christianity aged 18. That is quite old, isn't it? In a way. You know, it's when you're 18 that you start questioning it.
That's the more conventional narrative. You joined the dance troupe.
That's right, isn't it? And that turned out without you realizing it, to be a Christian dance troupe.
Yes, dancing to what kind of music, gospel gospel, but modern gospel music, if you're not listening properly, you must don't really realize that they're talking about Jesus just sounds like normal sort of young people music when you listen closely affiliated with, you know, the West African community in any way or what was it what kind of outfit was not really the dance group was just young Diaspora, Londoner's black, but not West African, just black Londoners who were dancing, grooving around for Christ, for Christ.
And you'd go to church every Sunday type of thing.
Yes. I mean, after I made the big conversion, I had sort of learned, you know, how to appear as a Christian. I'd learned the cultural sort of habits and how to appear a certain way. So I was in church doing my you know, I know when it's time to say hallelujah. Amen, brother. Praise be, you know, pray. And in the middle of, like, the worship, which I know you've seen because I've seen most of your documentary.
Thank you, Eric. I'm pandering. We've done it. We got the job done.
You were in the middle of a story.
A girl came and said to me, I've got a message to give you from God. God is telling me that you have done all the outside things, but you haven't got to know him for yourself on the inside conscious.
It really was a message from God.
It was very well done. It was very tailored. I thought, well, technically what she's saying is true, whether I just looked like a faker and I didn't realize how fake I looked or she was following an instinct that she had to do that.
That is just what she wanted to do. And I asked my cousin, I said somebody in church said this to me, a cousin who's like not that, you know, in like the London diaspora. If you're from Ghana, sometimes you just call that person your cousin. It isn't my cousin, but it's my cousin. She was Christian. And she said, well, why don't you pray about it? And I was like, well, how will I know what the answer is?
Should I go back to this church where I met this girl and she said, get on your knees and you ask God and if you're supposed to go back, you will feel something in your heart. So I went on my knees and I asked God, should I go back to the church? And then I decided, OK, I will take whatever is happening now as a feeling in my heart. So I went back to the church and I think it was on the third service.
After every service there is an altar called. So the pastor says, if you don't know Jesus Christ, you'll lose and save. You raise your hand. I felt at that time I did because I developed the habit. I almost forgot. And so then he said on that third service I went to and I looked up to find that my own hand was in the air and he said, Come forward. And I only know this anecdotally, but I ran.
I ran to the altar and I cried. I remember crying. And whenever someone asked me, why were you crying? What I know is that I felt like I lived this life without acknowledging that there was this God that loved me and that saw me as valuable and that made me cry. And they gave me a Bible and now here I am.
So that was the moment. It must have been quite amazing to feel that. And you must have felt with certainty that God was there. Right.
Which is tremendously reassuring. Right. Like, oh, my God, yes. You're not alone. Yes.
Not only are we not alone, it's here. It's in this church. It's in my heart. The message is come the new certainty. Everything is so clear now. The challenges are clear. You know, stay away from sex, don't mock people, don't gamble, don't go to parties, don't drink or don't drink too much. Read the Bible, go to church. Everything was so clear and that was glorious.
Did you ever experience any kind of miracle? What kind of message do you mean by miracle, you mean like seeing tongues, tongues? Yes, you spoke in tongues. The first time I spoke in tongues was in the park. We would do prayer in the park and I spoke in tongues. It's interesting, you know, because obviously I'm not Christian anymore. So it's interesting to look back. I know that I have the fake Christian version, which is the dancer.
Then I have this Christian version, which it's almost like our minds are so powerful that I really believed. And who is to say what any of that means?
Well, I knew that speaking in tongues is something that derives from the acts of the apostles in the New Testament.
The idea is after Jesus had died, the apostles were able to speak many languages without even having to learn them. And people thought they were babbling. And oh, no, it turns out they speak in different languages, in their preaching and evangelizing in languages you don't know, so speak in tongues is technically supposed to be you're not just talking gibberish.
You're actually saying how did people end up speaking a different language that they didn't know yet? Obviously this is the Bible, so it's a miracle. OK, no, no, no miracles. Just interesting exercises and and pushing past the boundaries of, I think, of being a civilized socialist human being, which we also do in drama school. You speak gobbledygook. That's what it's called. You just open your mouth and you speak absolute gobbledygook. It's an exercise.
When you were speaking in tongues, was there any part of you thinking, this isn't real, but I'm just going to go with it or, you know, we are 100 percent in the zone? Yeah.
Yeah, I was I was 100 percent in the zone. Sometimes it really freaks me out. What did it say? Like, oh, there's a running joke.
That's a running joke in the church, actually, because sometimes my experience of being a Christian, we would often take the piss out of each other and out of like pastors. And the pastors would say things like Honda Civic, which is a Honda Civic. This kind of doesn't like that. It just sounds like we just stuck together, Honda Civic, Mercedes Benz, that you can see American evangelists doing it.
There's one called Robert Tilton. They did a compilation. It was a lot of hasta la la la la la la la. Thank you, Jesus. Like that. Yeah.
I feel so bad to actually do it because for Christians it's very real. So there's a part of me that's like, well, you go ahead and do that interpretation. I'm not going to say that by yourself.
I was like, maybe if I do it she'll be more comfortable doing things.
But you know where I am right now.
If you could throw a switch like it sounds like you didn't choose to have a religious experience, nor did you choose to fall away from that. But if you could throw a switch and be back in that headspace, you know, with all the comfort that that gave you, would you do it?
Oh, my gosh. There are parts of it that are so great, but all in all, the problem with flipping the switch is that it comes with a complete disconnection from the reality in which we sit in the world and the reality of science, which is more real. For me, it's difficult because life is so uncertain and that's what makes it such a strange experience to live. But I'm more OK with the uncertainty than with the complete delusion. There's a ceiling on the growth, whereas in real life I can discover things and I can read and I can learn and I can find out.
I was wrong about what I thought before and I was wrong about that and wrong about that. And oh my God, this whole new things come that has made everything I thought before totally invalid. Whereas you can't really do that with Christianity. You can't do it. But it comes with community, which is so lovely, the community, the shared belief, the identity it comes with so much, but at the cost of things that I don't want to lose anymore, which is being OK with the mystery.
Maybe it's a lovely mystery. And within this mystery we can learn things like try and cure diseases without just like praying. We can actually figure out things, you know, and that's quite cool.
Can we talk about how you got your foothold in the industry? Because you were very young when you wrote and starred in your first series, Chewing Gum.
How old were you when it was 2015 that that show came out? So what does that make you? 27, 28? Yeah, that's like not so. Maybe it didn't feel quick, but I guess I think to be.
Yeah, I guess I'm thinking of like actors and sometimes they're very young.
Just be young. But you had written and starred in this series and won two BAFTA for it. Yes.
What was the part that got you there from where you'd been? We've left you and speaking in tongues in a Pentecostal church in East London.
Yes. And whilst doing that, I was becoming a poet. So I was performing poetry everywhere. And, you know, the memory about how this really happened is, to be honest, quite fuzzy. I never often say it's fuzzy, but it is. I somehow ended up in a weekend drama school called I Dance from School through, I think Jaywalker, who is a director, writer from Camden.
He's probably my age as he's older guy, 50 or so. He's older than you were doing. He more or less. Is it fair? Does a mentor do you took you under his wing?
Yeah, he would do a weekly drama school class. And actually he definitely was sort of mentoring me and taking me under his wing because I wouldn't have to pay for the classes. And then at one point he just said, you should go to drama school. And I didn't even know what drama school was like, a full time school thing. And so he said, you know, well, these are three schools. You've got to pay sortition, so save your money and go and try that.
So it feels like Che didn't work too hard and yet had a massive impact on quite a few young people's lives. It was Uncle Charlie, Uncle Charlie just sort of bring you in and wasn't really very hands on at all. I don't think he really stressed to help me. And yet his help was huge.
So I try not to be too linear. You role play chewing gum dreams, right? Which I have seen. But if you wanted to see it, could you see it? Is it possible to see?
I've got no idea. I think maybe the National Theatre may have it in their archives somewhere.
So if we want to because I want to dig into I may destroy you, which is extraordinary for various reasons. Brilliantly acted and beautifully directed and extremely well written. But for my purposes, what's at the heart of it is a kind of ethical exploration of what sex could look like. I'm going to this movie. I'm going to look at my because I wrote a oh yeah, here it is.
It was easy. And you've said I decided to explore the ways consent can be stolen and the strange lines between liberation and exploitation in the modern world, which really resonated with me because I'm interested in what's that word, strange lines and so many of the things I make. I mean, I've got almost pathological habit of looking for the areas where, well, we know this is OK, we know this isn't OK, but where does one thing become the other thing, right?
Yeah. So do you want to talk about how you came to make the series? Is that a good start?
How do I come to make the series in 2016? I was assaulted. I had left my. It's where I was writing the second season of chewing gum to have a drink with a friend. My drink was spiked and then it's a blank and I'm back at my office, much like I repeller in episode one, but with some differences. Yes. And there was a one year and three month investigation to try to find the perpetrators. And it came to a close.
And I was in therapy the whole time. Still see my therapist occasionally now. And I guess something that happens that sort of really does rock your world and shift you off your axis. And maybe I had developed another kind of certainty about how the world was and then it took it away again. I guess when something like that happens, maybe habitually, I want to write about it. So that was where it came from. But as I continue to think about it, I realized that this wasn't just me and this wasn't just a me thing, that there were so many different ways that this theft of consent happens.
Sometimes it's like a magic trick and it leaves the person thinking, how did that happen? Something feels wrong. When did that happen? How do I feel? And when you really look at the aftermath of dealing with these blurry thefts of consent, it can be really damaging. It can have really long term, quite subtle, damaging effects. And I wanted to explore that maybe in a hope that I might also grow past or through some of the damage.
Are you OK if I ask a couple of questions about the assault and depends on what the questions are, how it go? Did they ever catch the person who did it? No. Do you have any memory of the event?
Only, you know, in the show. That's the dude is pretty much what that visualization that becomes a recurring image.
Yes. That's something that was in your head.
Yeah, that's literally all. And the bank being an ATM. So these are the two sort of images that.
It's strange with this guy, the rapist sexual assault person, I don't feel like I'm in the thing with him. I'm not in the memory. And it's literally like a Povey. And he's looking down and sweating and his face is red and there's a banging that that's the memory.
And you mentioned the after effects could be subtle and maybe even unacknowledged like that. You wouldn't even necessarily know.
Yes. Yes. So sometimes you're so focused on what you think the problem is or one problem that you are unaware of or the other little problems, your perception of the world, the threat response that creeps in and can really last for years, and you not realize that it's all connected to trauma. And the therapy that you undertook, was that helpful because there's a maybe fringe, but a real school of thought that says, well, don't go there, you can re traumatized yourself.
Oh, I'm not endorsing that.
I feel really lucky. No, I mean, the good thing for me is that I was thrown into therapy like day three.
I didn't have time to bury it wasn't in a box. Yeah. So it never went in a box. But, you know, I was always so open about what was happening. I mean, not so open. I it took me a long time to tell my mom a bit like in episode 10. But no, I was put into therapy so quickly and I had a really lovely therapist. She was really sort of chilled and gentle and didn't really ever tell me, like, what to do early on, you know, this is what you need to do.
She was just sort of there, just someone that you can cry to and then your feelings out to. I think she's quite helpful. Obviously, there's a lot of work I had to do myself that she was helpful.
And the police in the series, they very likely at some point they seem to take it seriously and appropriately. And other times there's a feeling that perhaps they don't get it with Arabana story or with Kwame's.
With Arabella's. Oh, yeah. Interesting.
I guess something you might as well as I should say, spoiler alert. I should have said that probably 20 minutes ago. Kwame, Arabella's close friend, who's gay, also experiences nonconsensual sex and is not taken quite so seriously. Is that would you say. That's right.
You know, in many ways are blessed, Kwame. I know that these characters are not real, but still because he in many ways experiences it twice. In a way, he's got a hard time and the police are not sympathetic to him at all. But the police are very sympathetic to Arabella.
And I was very lucky in that a lot of people shared their stories with me. And for me, the police were really supportive. I had a female detective and she was really awesome, not because she's female, but because she's awesome. And for a lot of men, a lot of black men, I don't know how ready they would be to go into the police station and talk about sexual assault. And I think it's a fear of a lack of empathy that's I think is real based on some of the things I've heard, the scenarios where I was testing myself as to like, well, how am I reacting to this?
And. You know, what do I make of it? So one of the various forms of complicated hook up that's explored is an encounter Kwame has with a Kwame is black. He hooks up with a white woman. Kwame is gay, but he doesn't inform the woman that he's gay and they have sex. And then afterwards he mentions it and she's really upset and offended.
And Arabela, when she finds out Sister Kwame, like basically that's outrageous. What you did like that is a form of I don't know how you characterize it as a sober to some sort of a socialite does.
I mean, she kind of does go to say, like she basically says everything but calling him a rat, basically.
But I just wondered, like, well, if a gay person has sex with a straight person. Right. Do they have to say, like, is that just one of the rules on that?
I mean, what are the rules?
And I think the more interesting question is, do you think that I as a writer, I'm trying to say if you don't tell someone you're gay when you have sex with them, you're a rapist.
Does that sound like it's not the. I'm saying, oh, it's OK. And this is good and this is bad because as we've discussed, I don't have those labels. What I think is really interesting is how we look at the actions of somebody else. And based on our experiences, we see it's a certain way. And depending on our trauma, we deem the person bad, good, right or wrong. If we look at that really complex thing, which I just love so much, there's a lot going on.
You know, Kwame didn't want to have sex with her. I don't know how much Niloufer. At that moment saw Kwame as a human, I wonder if she saw him more as a black dick that she really wanted and couldn't see his feelings, it's written into the script that he cowers away and says, I don't know if and she pulls him down. Now, what does that look like? You know, this is another gray area. And I think depending on where we are with our trauma, you may watch that piece of fiction and say, but there's nothing wrong with not saying that you're gay.
You don't need to say, OK, no one's even saying that. You need to say no one is saying anything. So it's interesting for me how we respond and how we're triggered instead of just sitting with it, because that's what Arabella does. She doesn't sit with it. You know, she automatically says what you've done is rape. You didn't tell her something the same way that whoever raped me didn't tell me that they were putting something in my drink.
And I'm using all of her experiences to attack Kwame in the way that she does. She can't see that he's broken. It's so complex for me. I love that sequence because actually, when you really watch it and you just sit down and stop using your gut reaction, you realize you don't have an easy opinion. There isn't any right or wrong. The writer isn't trying to be right or wrong or say what's good and bad, or you can just sit there and look at the mess of how we communicate, look at how wrong it's OK.
Look at how we struggle to really read each other and listen. It's so complex.
I love that. Yeah, because in coming to this interview, I was thinking about that Oscar Wilde quote where he says with a huge ladling of irony, the good and happily the bad. And unhappily, that is what fiction means.
And actually what you've done and what I think all the kinds of fiction and even documentary or TV series that I love do is make those categories of good and bad really blurry and make the sort of moral choices extremely difficult. It reminded me of something I read when I was in Israel about a case where a guy had had sex with a woman. The woman was Jewish, a Jewish Israeli. The guy was an Arab Israeli, but he pretended to be Jewish and he was successfully prosecuted for sexual assault.
Wow. And it was raped by deception.
At the time. I thought, well, that doesn't sound right.
And then at the same time, I understand why she felt violated because he wasn't who she thought he was, but it just was so complex, you know what I mean?
That's really interesting. And I wonder whether, depending on our views on Arab people and Palestinians, that verdict changes. I don't know. I'm like, that's really interesting.
I don't I don't I'm not trying to trivialize it either, because to reevaluate an encounter after the fact based on new information is completely valid. Right.
This reminds me of a podcast I listened to yesterday called The Halo Effect. It's on the hidden brain server. Listen to the hidden brain, though.
I've never heard of it. It's too well hidden. I couldn't find it. It talks about the halo effect, which is where we look back on something that's gone wrong with new information. And then we go, well, you should have done this and you should have done that and you should have done this. And that's why it went wrong. But often it's because we have all this information now that we are able to sort of judge the actions of others and say they should have done this or that.
And it's harder if we don't know about the outpouring. If we don't have all this information, it's much harder, you know, for Niloufer going back to the show, she really wanted that black dick.
She literally dragged the man into bed and she had a great time, you know, and then by episode, I think it's episode eleven, she's literally she goes to see him and she calls him a predator. And she says, you know, you should face justice. But at the end of the day, criminals and predators, they never face justice. And so she's using all of this real thing from other situations.
It's a blurry line that goes back to what we were saying at the beginning, which is the idea that it gives you power if you can co-opt the language of victimhood. Yes. And it's very hard to answer to that. And he's just left literally speechless. Right, as she marches on. It's very hard one to come back from.
Yes. Unless, you know, for me, in that moment, there was there's actually a line that I caught that Kwame says after she left for me. Kwame is happy in that moment. You know, he begins at the top of that episode saying, I am not a likable person. And his friends are like, what are you talking about? And he's like, I'm not a nice person. And Ben says, do what you need to do to become the right person.
And then he ends up going to see Niloufer and I think for Kwame. It's like the loose end in his closet. He hasn't got closure from the situation and I think for him, he's done his part and he's done he has tried to explain. He has even apologized. He's even said I wouldn't do anything like that again. Now that I know this can happen, you kick me out of your house and you're crying even after she said some really homophobic stuff.
I'm not going to do that again. And all she says is you are a criminal. You are a predator. He smiles and what he says is winnable.
Abu because he's kind of like uptight. Yeah, I'm talking like she's at that place.
She's been there. The cell phone, her outrage at that point and keeping herself very warm.
Yeah, I saw you said that you have friends, white friends. You say I've got a thing for black guys, right? Absolutely.
You're not a fan of that attitude. Unpack that a little bit, because I could imagine some people think, oh, what's wrong with saying that?
Yeah. So maybe this is just me I really struggle with. I like a particular general group because for me it sounds like you're only part relating to a human. I find it really strange when people say, hey, you know, here's my thing.
I just love South Asian goes South Asian girls. Each of them is a human. And I imagine that they're all probably different and they vary in their feelings, their food, their bodies are different faces. How can you just like a group like that? I find it quite strange. I've always found it really strange. Even when a guy says, you know, for me, I just love black women. And then I'm like, So are you with me because you like me?
Or am I really lucky that I happened to be born black? Because if I wasn't, you wouldn't look twice at me by having this positive discrimination. So what do you think of all the other women? I find it weird, this group thing. But what I have to learn because some of my as in women that I adore in my life, these views, I have to sort of draw a line and go, you know what? I don't have a black dick for you to fetishize.
This is actually none of my business. It's not my black dick that you're desperate for. I'm your friend. And actually, that can be dealt with by the black male community. Maybe a lot of black men have given you permission to fetishize their dick. That's for them to deal with me. You're my friend. When I needed a mattress, you brought me a mattress when I needed a partner to go run in with. You did that for me.
Maybe you're my friend and your fetish with Black Dick is something that is nothing to do with me. You know. Funnily enough, I have a friend who using apps and a lot of this seems to be based off apps and there's sort of a debate around is it racist to choose your hookups based on race and ethnicity?
Right. You know, you put in your data tall, athletic, non-smoker and Asian, you know what I mean?
And then it's like, well, we tend to not apply those racial categories in other aspects of our life, like applying for a job or a roommate. Why is it OK when it comes to sex? And yet it seems like it should be OK to me anyway. It's not like you have to have a quota system. Like imagine if the police came around and said, McKeller, we've checked and you haven't had sex with any white people or Native Americans in more than six months.
That would be insane, wouldn't it?
I think it would be insane. I definitely I'm not saying we should make sure we are diversifying our sex lives. I just think it's important to ask ourselves questions. Maybe, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's whatever. And for some people, this is what they do and maybe they can always find someone that is OK with being fetishized in this way. I don't know. Personally, I hate it. I don't like it.
I know what you mean. And it would be weird. Like, imagine if I saw hypothetically my wife or her ex boyfriends and they all were like six feet or so, quite big noses, glasses. Right.
And I sort of think, oh, I was just the latest iteration of some abstract person she had in her head. Like I was like a demographic kind of algorithm that she was working off, you know what I mean? But it would be weirdly.
Would it be weird or would it be fine? Probably be fine. I'm not that worried about I think it would probably be fine. Don't you think that there is a racial component that maybe intrigues me more? You know, I was once told by a white guy he loves black women because they've got more soul.
Was that on a date? No, no, it wasn't a date. It was actually a distant friend who just only likes black women. They've got more so. Yeah, that's not I think we can agree that's not right. I don't know, but maybe he's a lovely person, you see, maybe she's right. It's tricky. I don't know. I do think it's interesting. It just intrigues me. It doesn't make me mad because it's not my chocolate vagina that you're creeping into, is it?
I'm just intrigued. That's interesting. You know what makes a person have in quotations more.
So what does that mean? It's something that I'm like so curious about. I don't understand it. Do we have more, Louis?
Black women, black people in general? It's always been it's the more acceptable version of natural sense of rhythm, isn't it? Yes, that's it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It is a slippery slope. And I think as we keep sort of going in society, we should just look at the nuances of who we all are. And it feels like a stereotype in some ways to me, which in some ways makes me a little uncomfortable. And I yeah, you are talking about apps that it all begins with the apps.
And I think before the apps it was actually just the way we categorize even in porn. I listen to a really good podcast called The Last Days of August.
Jon Ronson. He's a friend of Grounded. I've always wanted to say that Grounded being the podcast. Jon Ronson is a brilliant writer and a former guest of Grounded and a friend. And he made a series, a two series about the porn industry. And the second one was called The Last Days of August.
Yeah. And I thought it was great. It was great.
And he talked a lot about what are called customs made porn films.
But that was in the first series, though, maybe where you write in and say, I want to see a woman in high heels burning my stamp collection and the about basically do that for you.
And he spoke a lot about the categories, you know, MILF big tits, Ebonie. Yeah. So maybe then it went into the Alps, you know, so before the ABS was that niche porn.
You've described yourself as a romantic.
Yeah, I think I'm probably lying about that. I don't know.
I did some things and I just thought of that as something that she once said in an interview joking.
And that's become the pigeonhole that you reside in. Yes.
Sometimes I feel slightly alienated by. Now I've got a ring, and it's hard for me to connect with the excitement of it, which is what maybe at that point that led me to feel maybe something's wrong with me and I'm a romantic because I can't quite get my head around this holding up hand with the ring. Yeah, I'm the same way.
And I think it got my wires crossed with my wife because I sort of thought that weddings were a bit silly. I thought it's a big show off thing. It's annoying. It's like I love the wedding.
Louis, you're definitely not a romantic. In that case, I think I'm more romantic than you are. The end to that many anecdotes.
Just then I realized actually that a good wedding is really special. And we got married about ten years into our relationship and it was the happiest day of my life.
That's lovely. And I, I like weddings because weddings are the day where you get to come and support the union of two people. And also you get to as in, if you're the couple, plan it together, go through this huge task. And the more you plan, the more the stakes rise, the more this becomes a huge thing. It's an amazing thing to be able to do and to be celebrated. I love a party, so for me a wedding is great.
But I'm also would be so down for, like, bring your own food.
Everybody do it in a pub. Yeah, keep it simple. Yeah.
To not get married into debt and not let the stress of the arrangements get in the way of enjoying it or to enjoy the stress together as a couple because it is stressful.
I think wedding planning is not.
I'm aware that you have to finish by 12. Is that right? Maybe I could talk to you. Oh my God. Don't say for ages.
How comfortable are you talking about your romantic life? Are you single, that kind of thing?
I, I don't really talk about my romantic life. I think it's because I like to keep something for myself that isn't in the public domain. Turn that page. That's the awkward sound of papers to find a different question. OK, that one can go.
There you are, one of Time magazine's 2020 icons. Did you know that I did, I did this pretty cool, pretty cool. I think it's fair to say right now you are having a moment and I'm sure you will have others, but they don't come along all the time.
And I'm wondering, how are you experiencing that?
Is it lots of calls coming in from big shots like Steven Spielberg or J.J. Abrams or Spike Lee or whoever that might be?
Right. Are you feeling it? Is it nice?
Well, I actually changed my email address because it was too much and I don't have an agent at the moment, so it kind of just me and it's too much.
I like writing stories and filming them, and I love to act in projects that I really believe in. And sometimes I couldn't see the wood for the trees.
And I'm not too interested in being caught up in the, you know, euphoria of, you know, you're hot right now. Let's associate with you and somehow claim more power. I don't like it. You know, I'm not very good with flattery, with gifts, with feeling like I'm popular.
I struggle quite a bit with that. And my process is very small. I do one thing at a time. I never work on two things at a time. And I have to really have a deep connection and belief in the thing I'm making. And often that begins with me. So all the opportunities, I think they should probably a lot of the time be redirected to people that want things like that. I'm quite happy just doing my little thing, but I know.
So all the emails that are going to your old email address, what's happening to those folks are about sharing it.
There's also a message that says, hello, this email address is no longer in use for urgent inquiries. Please email. And that's my personal assistant who is really my angel. And her job she's got a very hard job is to not tell me anything. That's quite weird.
Yeah, because I tell you what, I think this is a process that I'm in right now of grieving the end of a big project. I'm sure maybe you experienced this. When you finish a big thing and it becomes the center of your world, then, boom, it's gone. And there's nothing you know, I would work 16 hour days without even realizing that's what I was doing. And now there's sort of like a gaping hole where that work once was.
And it seems so easy to just fill it with the next thing, to fill it with anything to fill it. But instead, I am deciding to sit in this place of actually emptiness and uncertainty a little bit like my choice to not go back to the certainty of Christianity. I'm going to sit in it. I'm going to grieve. I'm going to do things like wake up. I walk for two hours in the morning, I run in the morning.
I meditate, I see my friends, I see my family, all these things that I neglect when I'm working a lot. And when that process is done, I'll begin to think a little bit more about opportunities. And it's never done me bad. Don't look back and say I should have taken that great opportunity. I'm quite happy doing my little thing and not having an agent.
Maybe you don't need one. Is that is that what you're thinking? No, I need to know what you think you did, what happened? Did you fire your agent? No, no, no. The company dissolved. So it's been all in lockdown. But I'm also aware that there is a whole real world out there where there are a lot more destabilizing events happening in people's lives. So I'm OK to sit in this little period for a while.
There's just a lot going on in my current situation. Pales in comparison to. The big picture, I like it, I could talk to you, I could talk to you all day.
Well, you know what? I know that your wrap up talk. I want to say one thing to some of the stuff we've been talking about, sexual assaults in the back of my mind just because I think I've just been reading a lot more about him. Have you heard of this man, Dr. Denis Mukwege?
You had of fellow. Who's Dr. Dennis McQuaig?
Oh, my word. So he works in the DRC and he basically helps repair the wombs of women.
Democratic Republic of Congo. Yes, exactly. The Democratic Republic of Congo, after they have been raped with machetes, raped as a systematic acts of war. And his job is really, really hard. And this is a type of sexual assault that in many ways exists outside of our dialogue about sexual assault and what it means. And I think it's always important to remember that that is happening right now and that there are real heroes. You know, people often say, Mikail, you're doing so much.
But I'm like, there's always Dennis McVicker, who is actually doing a whole you have a great bit where Arabella's talking to her agents about her new idea about assault, where you say something like, my mouth rape.
Does it matter when there's people?
And you know, thing I'm talking about, I know exactly what you're talking about. She says a little rape in the mouth feels something when women are being stoned to death for having mobile phones where people are being systematically. I'm just going to say systematically rape as a weapon of war. But that isn't the actual line. I'm paraphrasing something about she says, Should I be quiet about my experiences in the face of that, or is it a reminder to speak?
Can my shouts help this? Silence screams I hope one day to know which perhaps is why I decided to mention Dennis Moquegua at the end of this, because although people will come to this podcast for you, but some people will come here for me and then I think it's maybe important to redirect them to someone else who is doing things that are very, very, very important. He won a Nobel Peace Prize, I think, a couple of years ago.
And he's interesting with prizes because he once said, what's the point of the prize if it doesn't help me do what I do any better?
Thank you for making time in your busy schedule. Like, I'm not sure how many of the other 20-20 time icons would have done that. I don't know who any of the other ones. Who are the other ones?
You didn't even look. You know what, I'm going to put this on. Have you heard of post writing depression? No, I I'm just grieving, I'm just grieving, I'm not even busy, I'm just sat here running, walking, meditating. I am really just in that artist's depression, a bet I'll be out soon. I just need to go through it.
I'm sorry. Give me a thumbs up.
It's time to invite Paul and Catherine back if they're still there.
You've been listening to Grounded with me, Louis, through my guest and this is the first program of the new series has been McKayla Cole. That was brilliant, right? That was I was about to be brilliant. Oh, could you have a standard of work?
So if you're happy, then that makes me very, very, very, very happy.
This has been a mindless production for BBC Sounds and radio for the program was painstakingly assembled remotely by Catherine Maynard and Paul Kobrick.
Good luck writing that down.
Pull back next week. It's the turn of singer and songwriter Sia. But if you can't wait till then, there's always the first series to catch up on with everyone from Chris O'Dowd, Miriam Margolyes to Kesi and Helena Bonham Carter. Just search for Grounded with Louis through wherever you get your podcasts and subscribe. Hi, sorry for the surprise, but I wanted to sneak in and tell you about a new podcast from Radio four called The Orgasmed called.
So I'm just going to break the ice for us at. My topic is female orgasm. I'm Nazran Tavakoli for and for the last year, I've been investigating a Californian company called One Tast that used to offer classes in something called orgasmic meditation, but maybe turned out to be a sex cult.
Over 10 episodes, I'll be finding out what went on inside one taste, the bizarre group dynamics, the predatory sales tactics and the allegations of abuse that mean the FBI is now making inquiries. But we won't just be talking about one taste. It's also about the wellness industry, about the fine line between healing and harm. And it's about orgasms, lots of them. Find out more on the orgasm cult subscribe now on BBC s.