sharon rooney, real talk
"We are all humans, no matter who you are, I’m sure even Barack Obama has days when he doesn’t want to get out of bed, because he’s not a robot. We are human, we all feel the same pains as everyone else." The My Mad Fat Diary star tells it like it is.
Tired of being relentlessly typecast, restricted to undertaking ignorant roles which defined her physically but not emotionally and on the brink of quitting acting entirely, Glaswegian actress Sharon Rooney attended an audition to play the main protagonist in E4's BAFTA nominated drama My Mad Fat Diary. Immediately gripped by the multi-dimensional script, Sharon recognised her Northern, 15 year old counterpart, Rae Earl's rare, defiant and unbridled sprit. Sharon kindled aspirations of working as a nurse when she was young; a naturally warm, empathetic and caring person, she breaks into a smile when l enter the room. Her porcelain complexion is rose perfect; her warm inquisitive brown eyes engaging. I want Sharon Rooney to be my friend. Tackling gritty and important issues, the real Rae Earl grew up in the 90s, experiencing severe OCD and spells in psychiatric units, plagued by self loathing and low self esteem. Loud, bold and brave, Rae's beauty lies within her complicated contradictions of clumsy loveliness. Sharon shares strikingly similar character traits. Her instincts are to be nice to everyone. "We went out over Christmas, dinner with the girls, and there was a girl in the toilets washing her hands. I went 'you look really nice' and she looked at me like I'd pulled out a gun, and just said 'what, why?' Why can't we just be nice to each other?"
Growing up particularly close to her family, painfully aware of herself but equally aware of the dysfunctional level of it, Sharon understands Rae because she, like every other girl on the planet, does not always like the way she looks. Such is the delicate beauty of My Mad Fat Diary. Defiant in the face of the beauty industry, My Mad Fat Diary reaches out to women, girls, guys and parents pushing for individuality to be celebrated, not chastised. Weight issues, mental health problems and sexuality are all OK'd within the series' storylines. Expertly dealing with such subject matter, Sharon is regularly contacted by fans of the show reaching out to confide in her. Countless emails assure her she has saved many young girls lives.
When l leave the house to meet Sharon, l am having a bad day. Suffering from alopecia and acne, l share more in common with Sharon than l do any other girl l have watched on television. This interview with her is important to me, personally and professionally. Taking a baby wipe and removing all of her makeup whilst chatting candidly in a room full of strangers before a shoot, l feel humbled by Sharon's strength of character. More inspirational than her ability to truly not give a shit, is Sharon's/Rae's ability to truly care what others think but understand that self-acceptance comes first. "I am a body-dysmorphic without the dysmorphic. I am a bulimic without the sick. I am fat." Rae Earl 2013.
Wikipedia links to Hollyoaks in 'similar' television shows. Unlike the fake, spray tanned glossiness of the Chester locals' facade, My Mad fat Diary was devised to allow audiences to look, feel and behave like real people and still feel loved. i-D caught up with 5 ft 11 Sharon to chat about why she loves Olivia Colman the most for not wearing mascara and how Victoria Wood encouraged her to start writing scripts herself.
Is it empowering to play Rae or does she bring out a greater sense of vulnerability in you?
I think had I not been lucky enough to be surrounded by such great people, a great cast, a great crew, a human would crumble, because you're actually putting yourself out there - no make-up, no nothing, like kinda semi-naked sometimes, even in a swimsuit! I don't like wearing a swimsuit anyway. I don't really know many people who do. It's intimidating, no matter what you look like. But to have a team around you that go 'if you fall, we'll catch you,' meant I never felt scared. I did feel a little empowered because I thought 'no, I can do this and I've been given this opportunity, so I need to take it and run with it.' Had I not been surrounded by such amazing people, I don't think I'd be able to do my job, which is giving everything. I think I would hold back.
You remember scenes like the mega-period, if you were to look into your own teenage years, are there any formative memories of that kind that spring to mind?
That's a really good question, I don't know, because I was really boring. I genuinely was so, so boring. One of my mates started sneaking about with boys, and I was like 'nah, I'm going home. I'm not doing that, that's so naughty.' So now I look back and go 'what did you do with your teenage years, other than just wasting them and being so dull?'
You've said in interviews before, that girls can be the worst to girls, what do you think that that's a symptom of?
One of my mates said the other day, 'I'm going to meet another girl, I better get my face on.' We should just look how we want to look. I like someone if they're a nice person, not because of what they're wearing or what they look like. If someone is an arse, they're an arse. Gender, age, colour, doesn't come into it if they're a nice person or not.
How do you deal with jealousy?
I personally don't believe in jealousy. I wouldn't be jealous of another person. I think we've all got things we need. You have your business and I have mine. I won't lower myself to someone else's standard of being bitter and nasty. I had a friend with amazing legs, I wish I had her legs, but that's not a reason to hate her, she works hard to get her legs, like she's the one going to the gym. I didn't roll out of bed and land a TV show, I worked really hard for it.
You said to the actual writer of My Mad Fat Diary, Rae Earl, that if you could give her any advice it would be that you wished she could have seen herself the way that her friends saw her, what do you think your friends would say to you, if they could offer you advice?
Just do what you want to do, I always think I can't because people look at me. I always try to use that excuse to weedle out of everything or going anywhere on my own. I'm one of those people who have that tendency to think that I'm that important, that everyone is constantly judging me, when really everyone's too busy getting where they're going.
I feel the same way. How do you detach from Rae? Do you ever find yourself slipping into her when you're not filming?
No, because we don't have the same accent, so I think that helps. Sometimes people have a huge problem differentiating us. Even if I speak in my normal accent.
Do you get girls reaching out to you?
Girls and boys, adults as well, which can be hard. I just want to hug them and say it'll be fine - but I don't know, I'm not trained - I don't want to say the right thing or the wrong thing to someone who's already vulnerable. So all I do is point them towards the charities and organisations out there that can properly help them. It's hard not to let it consume you because you feel so responsible to make sure that everyone's okay, but we're never all going to be okay at the same time.
I think that's what's so liberating about what you do, for a girl to be saying 'I'm not okay but I can still be happy'. There can be elements of my life that are so brilliant and there are some elements inside me that I don't understand that are so complicated. That doesn't mean you're absolutely having a mental break down, it doesn't mean that you're absolutely successful, it just normalises something that nobody wants to talk about...
Someone said "it's easy for you, you don't have bad days." I was like "why? Because I work on TV for my job?" I'm still a human. We are all humans, no matter who you are. I'm sure even Barack Obama has days when he doesn't want to get out of bed, because he's not a robot. We are human, we all feel the same pains as everyone else. So I do think it's hard, but it is okay not to be okay, all of the time. How boring would the world be if we didn't feel and learn. Everyone has bad days.
Can you see yourself getting into writing?
I'd really like to write. I've got so many ideas, I just don't know what to do with them. I asked Victoria Wood, I got to meet her and she said lock yourself in a room, no telly, no Twitter, nothing, no Facebook, just you and a bit of paper and a pen.
Series 2 of My Mad Fat Diary begins on Monday 17th February at 10pm on E4.
Text Milly McMahon