- Film & TV
- 29 Oct 19
After rock ‘n’ roll success eluded her – frankly she wasn’t too bothered – Sharon Horgan decided to concentrate on making people laugh. Bong shops, giant turds, Punch & Judy shows, Hollywood legends, that version of ‘Zombie’ and Mic Christopher all feature - in a Hot Press 1,000th issue special- as she talks Stuart Clark through her remarkable career.
If things had panned out a little differently, we could be talking to Sharon Horgan today about her stadium-filling rock ‘n’ roll career rather than the TV shows and films that have made her one of the hottest comedy acting and writing properties on the planet.
“No, Stuart, we couldn’t!” she laughs. “I was the dancer - note dancer rather than singer – in a band put together by the ex-Virgin Prunes drummer, Haa-Lacka Binttii, whose real name is Danny. My style was sort of ‘embarrassed go-go dancer’. I was mates with his girlfriend who was the backing singer and asked me to join for the craic. I was under strict instructions not to go anywhere near the microphone, which reflects my skills – or lack thereof – in that department.”
Sharon was pretty confident that no visual record of her embarrassed go-go dancing existed, but we’ve found a fabulous clip of her aged 18 doing her Binttii thing on a 1988 edition of ‘youf’ programme Jo-Maxi, which can be found at rte.ie/archives.
Having spent the first four years of her life in London, Horgan moved in the mid-‘70s to rural Meath with her parents who swapped running a Tower Hamlet pub for a new life as turkey farmers.
By the time she hit her teens a sizeable chunk of her pocket money was being spent on records – “Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ was my first single and there was a lot of David Bowie and Kate Bush,” Sharon gleefully recalls – and sneaking into gigs.
“There was a really good venue nearby in Drogheda called the Boxing Club where I saw Cactus World News, John Cooper Clarke and lots of having-a-go local bands. I also used to train it into Dublin for the occasional gig, which is where I bought my first copies of Hot Press. That was the magazine you had to read if you wanted to be a proper music nerd.”
Despite her earlier assertions, Sharon’s voice was considered honeyed enough by Tim Burgess to grace the title-track of The Charlatans’ 2017 Different Days album.
“Yeah, it was fucking great!” she enthuses. “I definitely didn’t nail it the first time; there was a bunch of goes. Tim just wanted people he liked or had some sort of connection with on the album. So, I don’t think he really cared whether I could sing or not. He came over a couple of weekends ago for Mic Christopher’s 50th birthday celebration gig in Whelan’s. We did ‘Kids’ together on stage, which was really sweet. Tim’s the greatest.”
Talking a while back on the Lisa Hannigan and Dylan Haskins co-hosted Soundings podcast, Sharon spoke of Mic Christopher being “my good pal, my fellow messer and, for a short time, lover. Somehow we managed to stay pals and not in a bullshit, pretend sort of a way. One day in mid-November 2001 he came to visit me with no warning in my tiny basement flat in Stockwell. He was supporting The Waterboys in Brixton Academy, which was a dream come true for him because he was a Waterboys nut. I went along and watched him on this big stage, performing beautifully. The next morning he left to go on tour round Europe with The Waterboys, and that was the last time I ever saw him because after a gig in Amsterdam he went out for a walk, tripped over and fell down some steps, knocked his head, fell into a coma and never woke up.”
It’s no surprise then that Sharon found the Whelan’s gig deeply affecting.
“As bittersweet as it was, there was a lovely feeling in the room,” she says. “Mic just had this unique warmth and wisdom.”
In one of those weird twists of fate, Sharon recently shot an episode of Amazon’s new romantic comedy anthology, Modern Love, with former Frames bassist-turned-filmmaker John Carney.
“It’s bonkers, isn’t it? I knew Glen obviously because of Mic, but although we have loads of friends in common I don’t think I knew John back in the day. I say ‘think’ because my memory’s not brilliant. But, yeah, he was part of that whole scene, which was the starting point for so many amazing careers.”
Based on the long-running New York Times column of the same name, Modern Love premiered on October 18 with one of her comedy heroes, Tiny Fay, starring in Sharon’s amorous tale.
“That was a ‘pinch yourself’ moment,” she admits. “I’ve watched Mean Girls so many times. I had to stop raving to Tina and Rachel McAdams about it because it’s something they did fifteen years ago. She was the nicest, the funniest and really, really happy to play around with different ideas. John Slattery as well was great. As a relatively new director those kinds of things can feel nerve-wracking, but they made it anything but that.”
She’s told us about her first musical crushes, but who were the people that made Sharon laugh as a kid?
“I loved The Young Ones and Dick Emery who your younger readers will have to look up on YouTube. Family-wise, we’d sit down and watch stuff like Porridge and Rising Damp, both of which were beautifully written. I watched some Freddie Starr recently because he’d passed away and, though a lot of the material hasn’t aged well, that speed up/slow down record thing of his is still funny.”
A scroll through Sharon’s IMDB page – which is insanely long for a relative newcomer – confirms her involvement in 11 TV shows and films in 2019. How the fuck does she organise her diary?
“Sometimes it’s a bit of a mad year and you feel like your head’s going to fall off, and then other years I’m stuck in London just writing. This year has been a bit nuts because I did Catastrophe and Military Wives and This Way Up and Motherland and that musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and, oh yeah, Modern Love. So it was a fucking crazy year. You just need to be ready to get on a plane and have a lot of support from your family.”
February 12, 2019 was a poignant day for Sharon as after four brilliantly funny and moving seasons, Catastrophe bowed out with a final episode that saw Kleenex shares skyrocket.
Asked whether she was sad to bring the curtain down on the show, she shoots back: “Not to sound melodramatic, but I felt a real sense of grief. It was something I’ve been doing for five years. When the final episode went out I had to catch a breath. The response from people snapped me out of it. It was so amazing; I couldn’t have hoped for anything better.”
Running through Sharon’s list in chronological order – she neglected to mention Bob’s Burgers, Divorce, Disenchantment, Frayed and How To Build A Girl, but hey! – brings us to Military Wives, one of those emotional rollercoaster ride Britcoms that director Peter Cattaneo has specialised in since hitting paydirt with The Full Monty.
“I got to work with Kristin Scott Thomas!” Sharon enthuses. “That was definitely an imposter syndrome moment; ‘What am I doing here with this screen goddess?’ We have an argument about a blowjob and get to sing Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’ at the end – there’s a lot of great ‘80s music in it – neither of which are things I thought I’d ever experience. It’s a feel-good story where it’s tough and sad in parts and life affirming in others. I could tell it was a film that was going to reach a really wide audience, and thought, ‘Why not do something with a broader reach?”
Talking recently to Noel Hogan from the Cranberries, he said Dolores O’Riordan would have loved the spectacularly discordant version of ‘Zombie’ that Sharon sings – I use the word loosely – with Aisling Bea in This Way Up.
“Oh man, Aisling and I were genuinely heartbroken when Dolores died. We always knew that if we did something together we would be murdering a Cranberries song at some point. When she passed I deep-dived into all these videos and interviews with her. That beautiful face Dolores had and her little downturned mouth. It was really affecting.”
This Way Up finds Horgan playing second fiddle for once to Bea who she says “cracks me up even when she’s trying to be serious, which isn’t very often. The dynamic of the two sisters, Aine and Shona, isn’t far off what we have in real life. It was incredibly hard keeping a straight face doing ‘Zombie’. I can’t remember the exact number of takes, but it was enough for the crew to stop finding it funny. It was the earnestness of it that kept cracking us up.”
Kicking off its second BBC Two run last week was Motherland, the parenting comedy that draws on Sharon’s own experiences of doing the nursery/school run.
“I get suspicious looks from the other mums who are thinking, ‘Is she going to use me for material?’ It’s good fun but not a super easy show to write because there are so many characters – you have all these stories to weave in – and a high gag rate.”
You’ll have to wait until early 2020 to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which found Sharon notching up more imposter syndrome moments as she filmed scenes with Sarah Lancashire (“She’s great and really ballsy”) and Richard E. Grant (“He’s adorable”).
“I tried to talk myself out of the role after going to see the original West End musical,” she reveals. “I was like, ‘Listen, I can’t really sing and I definitely can’t dance, so you should find somebody else.’ The director, Jonathan Butterall, who’s really nice, wouldn’t take no for an answer so in the end I thought, ‘Fuck it!’ I’m not sure I’m going to be any good in it, but it’s a really spectacular piece of work.”
What’s more surreal – going to the Emmys or chopping up carrots on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and being admonished by the host for saying “Oh shit!” when some of them dropped on to the floor?
“They’re equally surreal,” she laughs. “The first time I went to the Emmys with Rob Delaney we felt like strangers in a strange land. We were able to look around at our favourite TV shows in motion, and also everyone was being so nice to us. It was a bit of a joy. The next time you’re like, ‘ Ugh, this is long and boring.’ The magic wanes a bit.
“It’s the same with meeting all these high-powered executive types,” she continues. “At first you’re like, ‘What the hell? Why are all these people here?’ but now I’ve developed a healthy, cynical suit of armour. My attitude is: ‘If something comes out of it, great…’ That said, I had a meeting a couple of months ago with two extremely famous people, who I won’t name, and spent the whole time thinking, ‘This is fucking nuts!’”
Prepping for This Way Up with Aisling Bea consisted of hanging out and going on the piss together. Was the modus operandi the same when Sharon created Divorce for Sarah Jessica Parker?
“Well, apart from the going on the piss together. I met with her and afterwards went back through all her stuff – I’d of course seen Sex In The City. Then you just do what you do, hand it over and hope for a positive response.”
It’s all a far cry from the wilderness years Sharon spent in London after being cruelly denied a place on Trinity College’s drama course.
“That was my of saying, ‘Fuck you Dublin!’” laughs Sharon who was variously employed as a power shower salesperson, a Jobcentre work coach – she resigned after her manager ordered her to clean up a human turd that had been deposited outside – and an assistant in a Camden bong shop.
“The bong shop was next-door to the Good Mixer, which has the best jukebox in London and is where Blur and Elastica used to hang out during the Britpop craziness. I’d do my shift and then go in there hoping to meet Graham Coxon!
“In the midst of all this, I managed to get my Equity Card doing Punch & Judy with this actor who made all the puppets and put on shows,” she concludes. “It’s fun now that I look back on it, but I shared a very confined space with quite a mad fucker. We took it to Paris, though, and from that all of this has sort of sprung!”
Motherland can be seen every Monday at 9pm on BBC Two. Modern Love makes its Amazon Prime bow on October 18.
- Film & TV
- 25 Apr 23