After Life‘s star on season 2, seeing a “different side to Ricky”, and how hope is at the centre of the hit show.
Pay attention to the “Trending” and “Popular” section of your Netflix feed, and it’s likely in the last week you will have seen season 2 of After Life topping them both. And it’s not hard to see why. Last year, Ricky Gervais’ unusual screen concoction of pitch-black acerbic humour and tearjerking drama burst upon the public consciousness, winning hearts at every turn. The story followed widower Tony, a journalist so devastated by his wife’s death, his nice-guy persona alters into sneering vehemence – directed at himself and the world around him (but of course, as is the Gervais way, to side-splitting humorous effect).
Fans of Gervais’ genius mind (The Office, Extras) could have predicted the comedy element, but viewers were sidelined by its gut-punch observations about humanity, hope, depression and connection. Full of heart, its message was clear: we are all accountable to each other, and the relationships we have are integral and conducive to the happiness of those around us. And in the current climate, this has never been more timely.
Played by actor Mandeep Dhillon, Sandy is a gentle and unassuming new journalist hired to work under Tony at the local newspaper – and the pair slowly build a compassionate and nurturing bond with each other, giving new meaning to work relationships. Season 2 further delves into this dynamic, as we watch Sandy overcome new obstacles and personal milestones.
With season 3 already confirmed, we caught up with Dhillon and talked about working with Ricky Gervais, relating to her character, and how hope is at the heart of the show…
Congratulations on season 2 of After Life! How did you feel when you found out the show was going to be renewed?
Thank you so much. I was so happy when we got the news season 2 was happening. It’s always fun to know that you get to go back on set with the cast and crew to do it all again.
Did you ever think the show was going to be such a success?
I think with these things you never really know how people will react to them. When you are so close to the project you don’t have fresh eyes anymore so you really have no idea. I think we were all pleasantly surprised with how successful it is.
How is it working with someone as controversial but undoubtedly brilliant like Ricky Gervais? It’s great. Ricky is a great person to work with and a great person to just be around. He is always being silly and joking about, so it’s a fun environment.
How has Sandy’s character grown? How much do you relate to her journey?
From season 1 Sandy’s character has come on in the sense that we get to see into her personal life and the struggles she deals with. When she gets the news that the paper may be shut down it really hits her hard as she is the breadwinner of her family. In my culture we are big on looking after family and all pitching in to help where need be, so it was nice to see this within Sandy’s home too. Although she does deserve a bit of a break.
In season 2 we see Sandy coming across some big milestones – but feeling this sense of inertia – can you relate to this?
I think turning 30 is made out to be a big deal. When we are younger we always say “I want… by the time I’m 30”. I am a big believer of what will be will be and what is for you will never pass you so by I won’t be putting any pressure on myself when I eventually turn 30.
At the heart of the show is this belief that we are all accountable to each other, and that the relationships we have with others are so integral to our happiness – what place do you think the show has in our current climate?
Hope is everything. During this time especially I feel like we have come together as a society and as a race. We are all being effected by the same thing and we all want the best for everyone. I feel like the topic of grief will hit hard during this time with the viewers as sadly a lot of people will be grieving right now because of the pandemic which breaks my heart.
What do you want viewers to take away from the character of Sandy?
I want viewers to take away that its ok to not be ok. It’s ok to get to a point in your life where you question is this it? It’s ok to change and it’s ok to grow. But most importantly it’s ok to allow someone to help you in your times of sadness and pain.
Can you tell us some hilarious or touching moments from filming? Any outtakes where you couldn’t keep it together from laughing?
Oh god there are so many. When it comes to corpsing on set, Ricky is the worst, obviously. Normally I am pretty good at keeping it together but during the scenes with the character Ken Ottley I couldn’t keep a straight face at all. We had to do so many takes of it. Also anything with Brian Gittins is always a struggle to not keep it together. On the flip side some of my most touching moments are the scenes with me and Ricky. We have some beautiful moments on set where we both really connect on a vulnerable level. Those scenes are pretty great because I get to see a different side to Ricky.
Have you had any funny fan interactions since season 1 blew up?
I have had a lot of people stopping me. Usually people would and still do stop me for my role in Some Girls on BBC three. I think the most awkward interaction was in a hospital in Spain where I was visiting a family member. I was having a quiet sad moment and a nurse said “are you Sandy in After Life?” and through tears I replied “yeah, but probably not the best time to take a photo or anything.” Bless her. I did however let her get a photo on another brighter day. Oh, and also in my spin bike class.
How are you dealing with lockdown at the moment and staying positive?
I am doing lockdown alone right now, which I was really apprehensive about at the start but I have found that I am enjoying spending time with me. I am working out every day, luckily my PT is doing live workouts on her instagram @courtneydblack every day which is keeping me fit and healthy. I have therapy one a week virtually, which is working out well and keeping me sane. I am currently writing a series at the moment so the lockdown has given me time to get stuck in.