Michaela Coel Centers Survivors in Her New HBO Series
Michaela Coel has never shied away from controversial topics. Whether it’s straddling the line between Christianity and sex in the hilarious Chewing Gum or starring in a show based on the 1994 Rwandan genocide with Black Earth Rising, the 32-year-old multihyphenate has used her talents as an actor and writer to address topics that have historically been whispered in pockets of society rather than blasted on television screens across the world.
Now she’s set to star in her most personal work to date as Arabella in I May Destroy You.
The series tells the story of Arabella Essiedu (Coel), a writer who is at the apex of her career after being labeled “the voice of a generation” and who is in the midst of dealing with the pressures of writing a highly anticipated book. While on a break from her all-nighter of writing, Arabella is spiked with a date rape drug, is sexually assaulted, and goes on a journey of self-discovery that leads her to reassess everything in her life from family and friends to her career.
The raw television series is partially based on Coel’s own experience with sexual assault and is a strong reminder of her talents as she wrote, executively produced, and stars in the HBO drama that presents complex conversations around love, sex, and consent in 2020.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ZORA: The character you play, Arabella, is grappling with instant fame after finding success as a writer. How much of that mirrored your own experience after the success of Chewing Gum?
Michaela Coel: Well, I was never scared about the next thing that I was gonna make. I guess with Arabella, one of the ways we differ is she has a lot of ease with the people who know her work whereas I definitely had a period after Chewing Gum where I became incredibly anxious. It meant my interactions with people I didn’t know who were big supporters of my work were sometimes anxious experiences because life just changed faster than I imagined.
Was it hard to get the show commissioned during a time where the #MeToo movement was increasing as were…