Jess Commons | Deputy Editor | Sunday, 21 February 2016

Fresh Meat\\\'s Charlotte Ritchie And Zawe Ashton: \\\'The Worse The Character, The More The Fun\\\'

Fresh Meat's Charlotte Ritchie And Zawe Ashton: 'The Worse The Character, The More The Fun'

The Debrief: As the last (boo) series of Fresh Meat gets underway, we speak to Vod and Oregon about what it's all been like.

Everyone's favourite group of useless students are back in school - for one more season only -before Manchester's Medlock University releases the no-doubt ill-prepared group consisting of Vod, JP, Oregon, Josie, Kingsley and Howard into the real world. God help us, everyone.

Fresh Meat, the on-the-nose Channel 4 comedy that's been making sharp commentary student life since 2009, has finally reached its last series. Over the years we've had Jack Whitehall's character JP try (and fail) to shag every woman that made the mistake of walking into his eye line, Josie and Kingsley break up and get back together more times than Ross and Rachel, the wide-eyed Oregon have an affair with her lecturer Tony Shales and the hapless Vod beg, borrow and steal her way through student debt.

We caught up with Charlotte Ritchie - who plays Oregon, and Zawe Ashton (Vod), ahead of this last series to see what it's been like being part of one of TV's most iconic shows.

 So guys – where did we leave you at the end of season three?
Charlotte: So we left Oregon having won the (student) presidency and Vod being her vice president and they were basically screwed over by the last president Allison. The point is, Vod is not on the scene anymore and Oregon is delusional about her powers.

I mean, it sounds like so much has changed.
Charlotte: Haha yes. It’s a real shift.

And Vod’s got more even more money troubles?
 Zawe: The money troubles have got worse and worse and also, she’s being plagued with these question marks about what going to happen with her leaving university. It’s really put the frighteners on her so we see her in a really different state than before.

Ah, the third year freak out – a classic university tradition.
Charlotte: Yes! Also I think two or three years after university people also have breakdowns because they’ve basically jumped into whatever they could possibly do to get a job.

Oh yes, been there too. Being a grown-up is fun isn’t it? How well do you reckon you know these characters now?
Zawe: Episodic TV is notoriously brutal because just when you think ‘I’ve got this, I know this character’ you can pick up the script for series four and you die in the first episode – or your character suddenly transitions from a woman to a man.

Is there stuff you still hate filming?
Charlotte: You have to work it. I remember I had it when it was a stage direction – it’s Jack (Whitehall’s) favourite moment which has ever happened all the way though filming. It was a direction about Tony Shales and Oregon having sex and it was really particular. I’d just started and I did not want to do a sex scene with a man who is at least 20 years older than me. It was very scary. I read it and it was quite vivid and I was like ‘OHHHHHH’. I think you just have to adapt – in the end you’re just at the mercy of what the writers decide. They’re good though – you can negotiate. This one didn’t happen in the end – we didn’t film it.

There’s so much stuff in the show that’s right on the line between being funny or offensive – how do you get it to stay on the right side?
Charlotte: I like it when people say awful things, but the worse the character the more the fun. Like JP’s whole monologue about people from the North and how he says anyone’s a taxi in the North for a price – it just makes be laugh because it’s not Jack or the characters saying that, it’s people like JP. They’re representing the types of people who say those awful things. It’s like Oregon complaining that her life has been too good so she can’t write any drama is obviously really offensive to anyone that’s had a hard life but it’s not really, because she’s an idiot.

Have you guys managed to figure anything out about yourselves through stuff your character's done?
Charlotte: A lot. Oregon is a very anxious character and it was nice to play someone who really should give less of a shit all the time. It teaches you to relax.
Zawe: For me as Zawe (playing Vod) there’s a level of self-consciousness that you don’t have to have. I don’t need to think about having good skin because I‘m a student that eats like crap. There are elements of her that I know are inside me but I just can’t have them come out on a daily basis.

So much has changed for students since you guys started – tuition fees, lad behaviour… how much have you guys taken this into context?
Zawe: This season felt like one of the time where the age of these characters hit you in the face. We went for a drink in Manchester (where the show is filmed) and there was this student band playing and they were just so young and into it and they just wanted it so much and we were all just like ‘Oh my God, this is the age of our characters.’ But the student debt and the fees and the changing face of Manchester have also definitely filtered in.

And how about the changing face of lad behaviour at universities? Did the guys have to check their characters?
Charlotte: To be honest, the men in the show are not macho. There’s such a pressure to be a certain way but what’s lovely (about the show) is that you see all the boys at home - they’re not just boys you see always out on the town competing to be alpha male. Interestingly the boys talk about romance and issues with their boy friends and Josie more than our characters do. The boys are sensitive and it’s nice to show that side. The women are strong, the men are very sensitive, you don’t feel that there’s a gender thing there – it’s good.
Zawe: Yeah, the boys are in our context as much as we’re in theirs.
Charlotte: There’s not a male gaze – as far as I can see.

Yeah – it is nice that there are three real female characters in the show that spend time talking about things other than men.
Charlotte: There’s lots of male writers as well – which is a testament to them.
Zawe: We probably spend more time telling the boys on the show to please come off their periods!

Fresh Meat, Season 4 starts January 5th at 10PM on Channel 4

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Tags: TV We\'re Unashamedly Watching, TV That Matters, TV