One night in the mid-Noughties, young drama students Selin Hizli and Daisy May Cooper had a drunken dust-up in a lift. There was shoving. Slurring. No one can really remember what it was about. They were studying at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) at the time. Hizli had got into the prestigious school at just 17, and Cooper, a few years older, found her classmate “precocious, arrogant and gobby”, like “bloody Lily Allen”, as Cooper recently told The Times. “I’ll own that completely,” Hizli tells me now, hooting with laughter. “I love Lily Allen. Anyway, I won Daisy over in the end.”
She certainly did. Around 15 years later, Hizli and Cooper have come together to make a unique, hilarious and unflinching comedy-thriller about the banal frustrations of motherhood, and the magic of female friendship in the face of some Very Badly Behaved Men. Am I Being Unreasonable? is named after an infamous forum on the parenting website Mumsnet, where people discuss topics from whether they have bunions (a recent post was titled “what the F*** is wrong with my foot? *picture attached*”) to how to deal with a partner’s gaslighting. Tonally, the BBC One show is not far off. It follows Nic (Cooper), a woman quite literally haunted by a secret from her past, who doesn’t fancy her husband and has nothing in common with the competitive mums at the school gate. That is until Jen (Hizli) bursts onto the scene with a box of gin at a school fair. Before long, they’re knocking back Sambuca shots and dancing to Bloodhound Gang in Nic’s kitchen. What ensues is a story of the deep, joyous love that can be found in female friendships, wrapped up in an unnerving mystery, as we discover that Jen is hiding a tricky past of her own.
All eyes have been on Cooper to see what she would produce after This Country, the Bafta-winning mockumentary about rural Cotswolds life she made with her brother Charlie. Like that show, Am I Being Unreasonable? finds humour hiding everywhere in the mundane, and has an unapologetic sense of the ridiculous. But this new series is its own beast: it’s about a later stage of life, girl power, and basking in the nostalgia we have for our youth. And it’s full of references you might find on the LoveOfHuns Instagram account: Love Island, Lord Farquaad and the “you won, Jane” guy from Come Dine with Me.
“I’m obsessed with hun culture,” Hizli tells me. She’s sitting cross-legged on her bed, at her home in Deal, Kent, where she lives with her eight-year-old twins. She’s sipping squash from her son’s Spider-Man-stickered flask and wearing a Furby T-shirt, her eyes like saucers, framed by wire-rimmed glasses and a broad smile nudging dimpled cheeks. “We’re that generation of women who are a bit of everything. We’re career women, we have kids, we aren’t feeling we have to shun everything ‘feminine’, but there’s also a laddishness with Daisy and me when we get together. Hun culture is about the fiercely raucous joy of being a woman of a certain age, which isn’t always allowed, so we wanted to give it a more mainstream platform.”
Hizli first pursued acting because she wanted to escape herself. “I’d grown up with a foreign dad [her father is Turkish and her mother is Irish], working class, in a council house, and I always felt out of place,” she says. “All I wanted was to have an English name and fit in, and be blonde, and not have so much hair on my arms. When I acted it was a chance to be someone else for a bit.” She loved Brit School, the famed performing arts college that, like Adele and Tom Holland, she attended as a teenager. But Rada was a different story. “We had this teacher who was really intense and exacting. I needed a really gentle, soft touch and that’s not what that was. That little voice in my head that was already there saying ‘I don’t think you’re quite right for this’ was now being projected at me externally. Rada robbed me of any instinct I had about acting. It was also one of the least creative places I’ve ever been. It was a star factory.”
She has been acting for more than a decade – in shows from the Fred and Rose West drama Appropriate Adult and sleuth series Grantchester to the award-winning comedy Mum – but Am I Being Unreasonable? is Hizli’s first big break. Having had her twins when she was 24, she says she found the industry “so unforgiving” as a young mother. “It’s a horrible way to put it, but having kids was almost like a knockback to my career, and it should not have to be that way at all… work was falling off and falling off – and then the pandemic hit.” Hizli couldn’t have imagined that, coming out of the other side of it, she would have this show. “I feel like a competition winner,” she says. “Like those girls on the speedboat in the Spice Girls movie, singing ‘My Boy Lollipop’. That’s where I’m at right now. Absolutely just happy to be here.”
That might be because her last big chance came to nothing – and it caused a temporary rupture in Hizli and Cooper’s friendship. Hizli was supposed to have a part as the queen bee of Cirencester in This Country. She filmed a pilot when the show was picked up by one channel, but then it got dropped, and Cooper started screening her calls. “I’d call up her house and her mum or boyfriend would be like, ‘Erm, ah, you just missed her, she’s literally just walked out the door,’” says Hizli. Months, or possibly years, later, Hizli eventually found out the whole first series had been commissioned by the BBC, and filmed, and she wasn’t in it. Hizli wrote Cooper an email. “I loved her too much to let the friendship go, but also not to be honest with her about how hurt I was,” she says. “Our friendship is so strong now because we’ve really upset each other before but we’ve got through it. She felt awful and afraid to communicate with me because she felt like she owed me something, but she absolutely didn’t.”
After patching things up, Hizli and Cooper lost touch again for a few years. But in the pandemic, Hizli felt compelled to contact Cooper. “She was one of my few friends who’d had kids already,” says Hizli. “During lockdown, I wanted to reach out and see if she was going through what I was. We found that it was this maddening groundhog day – you get up, you cook, you clean. I’d found myself being like” – she looks around, alarmed, brows furrowed – “‘this is not what was supposed to happen! I’m a modern, young woman!’ The connection Daisy and I found with each other is what we’ve tried to parallel in the show. When Jen and Nic meet, it’s like a love story, because when you find that friend, that person you connect with, it is like falling in love.” Both Cooper and Hizli separated from their children’s fathers during lockdown. “In Daisy, I found this friendship that I didn’t realise how much I was crying out for,” she says. “It also became a way for me to get back into work and into being a creative person, and not someone who is just doing the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing aspects of life. Those things are absolutely vital and important, but for a long time I felt like I wasn’t allowed to say I wanted more than that. And I’d really isolated myself. It is so wonderful and rewarding being a parent, but you are asked to give up so much of who you were before.”
In fact, she was nearly ready to give up her career. “I’d really talked myself out of a place in this industry. I’d told myself I wasn’t posh enough or working class enough, I wasn’t pretty enough or characterful-looking enough, I wasn’t fat enough or thin enough. But I couldn’t have done this show straight after drama school or straight after I had my kids; I had to do it now.” She breaks off for a “squash burp”. “God,” she says, suddenly laughing self-consciously, “who do I think I am? Why am I talking like this? Like a Ted Talk. God, sorry about that.”
Hizli would love to make a second series of Am I Being Unreasonable?, and she and Daisy are considering setting up a writing workshop. “It can feel so intimidating if you don’t have an in and I’d love to nurture new talent, especially women, especially working class women, because there’s so much untapped potential. For so many of those people, it’s about feeling worthy of a place in the industry. Having setbacks at Rada and kids early on in my career, it’s something I’ve had to really work on.”
She smiles, and the dimples come out. “I’m not quite there yet, though. Still feeling like a competition winner.”
‘Am I Being Unreasonable?’ is available in full on BBC iPlayer
Read more of The Independent’s Rising Stars interviews here
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