One of the biggest TV show’s on the planet right now is Starstruck, created by and starring NZ’s own Rose Matafeo. Here, Rose talks to Capsule about filming season two just as season one was becoming a global hit, the ‘pinch-me moments’ that have kept on coming this year and why it was important to represent a financially realistic OE (e.g. happy but quite broke).
Rose Matafeo got her first inkling that her show Starstruck was a hit when she was recognised in her character’s clothes shortly after the series first debuted in the UK. Because of the pandemic, the filming schedule of Season One had been pushed back to later on in 2020, so she and co-writer Alice Sneddon had already written most of Starstruck season two by the time the first had landed.
“People were recognising us and yelling out, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the show I’ve just watched.’”
“It was really strange to be filming a second series of something that was being enjoyed in real time, over those weeks,” she says on a Zoom call from London. “People were recognising us and yelling out, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the show I’ve just watched.’ It was surreal to have that immediate reaction to it.”
Surreal is fair. Within days of Starstruck coming out – which Rose created, co-wrote and stars in – it was heralded by UK critics as a triumphant, clever tribute to the rom-com. Rose has in the past described Starstruck as a ‘reverse Notting Hill,’ with Rose’s character, Jessie, embarking on a will-they, won’t-they relationship with Handsome Movie Star Tom Kapoor (played by UK actor Nikesh Patel). It’s as funny and as brilliant as it is warm-hearted, which is a hard combination to pull off, but something that Rose has a lot of experience in, with previous work like her stand-up special Horndog, and her movie Baby Done.
After its UK release, the series jumped over to HBO Max in the US (the same streaming service that carries such hits as And Just Like That) to more rave reviews. But Rose laughs that it was a surprise French debut that really made her realise the show was a global success. “It has a French dub, and the person who dubs my voice commented on my Instagram post the other day, saying ‘it’s an honour to be your French dub.’ I was like… ‘Oh my god, this is beautiful.’”
It’s also wonderfully ironic, given that one of the most joyful cruxes of the show is Jessie’s aversion to Tom’s stratospheric level of fame – something that Rose says was a uniquely New Zealand thing to portray. “Her reaction to Tom is very common to New Zealanders in that we’re simultaneously deeply impressed at celebrity and also very cringe about it,” she laughs.
“There are those moments in your life where you suddenly find yourself in a situation where you’re like ‘Hang on, what is this? And how on earth did I get here?’”
That dichotomy played out beautifully with Rose’s recent appearance on The Graham Norton Show, where she was only the second ever New Zealander to grace the guest couches, rather than the infamous red chair. Looking back on it now, Rose says it was definitely a stand-out mark in her career. “There are those moments in your life where you suddenly find yourself in a situation where you’re like ‘Hang on, what is this? And how on earth did I get here?’”
She says the show really does have the ‘cocktail party vibe’ it portrays but she does have one regret. “Unfortunately I didn’t wear my glasses and Kenneth Branagh was very far away from me,” she says, alluding to the show’s socially-distanced set-up. “I was trying to get a read on him, but couldn’t, really,” she laughs.
“Good chemistry is very hard to find – in television and in life!”
One set-up where the chemistry has paid absolute dividends is between Rose and her on-screen leading man, Nikesh Patel. Best known for his previous role in Indian Summers, Nikesh is spot-on perfect as the dreamy movie star and the pair have a swoon-worthy chemistry that is a huge part of the overall rom-com vibes.
The casting process was ‘so long’, Rose says, and when it comes to finding a love interest, absolutely critical in making the show work. ‘It’s so deeply important… good chemistry is very hard to find – in television and in life,” Rose laughs. “So when you find it, you have to grab onto it.”
While the chemistry is rom-com perfect, there was one trope of the genre that Rose was keen to subvert – that of the leading lady who has a humble job but a flash-as-hell apartment. In the show, Jessie is living a very authentic OE life, in that she has three minimum-wage jobs and a flat that is lovely but lived in – and the world’s tiniest room. Her character’s bedroom is “an absolute nightmare to film in,” Rose laughs, because it really is that small.
“We tried really hard to portray as realistic a situation as possible, but also to be able to film in the goddamn house. It was important to show a really happy, lived-in life in London, for a person who isn’t from there but who has tried to create a new home in a country that is so far away from where they were born.”