Raised By Wolves interview: class, comedy & sex

Caz and Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical sitcom, Raised By Wolves, feat. Helen Monks and Alexa Davies, starts tonight on Channel 4…

After some deliberation, Alexa Davies carefully picks a favourite line from her character in new Channel 4 sitcom Raised By Wolves:

“Fearsome intellect does not look good in shorts”.

And her co-star?

“I like ‘wank away the pain’” nods Helen Monks, beaming.

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There’s your capsule image of Aretha and Germaine Garry, teen sisters played by Davies and Monks in the Midlands-set comedy – two diametrically opposed peas in a crowded, chaotic and very funny pod.

Caitlin Moran, who co-wrote the autobiographically inspired sitcom with sister Caz (their teenage years providing the respective templates for horny, fanciful Germaine and bookish cynic Aretha), has described the pair as life-long rivals in the mould of Batman v the Joker, Sherlock v Moriarty, Badger v…

“Bodger?” offers Monks. Close enough. A rapid-paced discussion ensues (“No. You’re Badger, I’m Moriarty”) which winds down as all good conversations should, with a common declaration of love for Martin Freeman.

I’m talking to Davies and Monks before the Raised By Wolves press launch in one of Channel 4’s fishbowls. Writers Caz and Caitlin are being interviewed in an adjacent glass pod, stopping lovingly from time to time to make obscene gestures at their younger counterparts. 

Filming a sitcom that’s so funny and frank about teenage lust and bodily fluids (in the first episode, one of the numerous Garry sisters starts her period, in episode two they buy knickers, “basically just a drip tray for your bits”) appears to have forged a bond between all involved. Monks hopes it will have the same effect on the show’s audience. “In the sense that it will provoke thoughts of ‘that’s what happened to me’”. 

It’s sure to. The Morans have tapped into the universality of their atypical childhood, creating a winningly honest, joke-filled sitcom creased with winsome charm and pure filth. 

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Here’s what the show’s young leads, Davies and Monks, had to say about comedy, class, sex, investing in the arts, and the erotic allure of Question Time

Let’s talk about how Raised By Wolves puts new patterns of teenage girls on TV. In interviews, Caitlin Moran often comes back to the saying, “I cannot be what I cannot see”.

Alexa Davies: So now everyone can be Germaine and Aretha!

Helen Monks: Please! That would be the best.

It’s important for audiences isn’t it, to see a broader, more varied representation of people on TV?

HM: Television either reflects real life like a mirror, to validate already existing things, or it creates an idealised world which it hopes reality will eventually reflect, and I think Raised By Wolves does both. It validates normal existence in a way that I don’t think has happened on TV before. It validates teenage girls and it normalises teenage sexuality and being working class and none of it is seen as a problem, it’s just real life.

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Caz and Caitlin [Moran] went back and rewrote their childhood to be the best version it could be for them. Them being so clever and witty raises the bar for women as well as reflecting all of these things that already exist. It is new and refreshing, but it shouldn’t be because it’s just normal life.

Germaine and Aretha couldn’t be more different to the teenage girls on say, 90210 or The OC or whatever. They’re new, aren’t they? And that feels like it’s overdue.

AD: I’m trying to think of a good TV show with proper teenage girls…

HM: Veronica Mars! She’s so great.

It’s funny. I don’t think it’s like this big realisation, ‘oh my god, women are underrepresented on TV!’, we all know and we all moan about it. What’s so exciting is that finally something’s being done about it. As great as Caitlin and Caz are, they’re also in this time where it’s a real market product. You’ve got Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and the Broad City girls and Mindy Kaling and this whole generation of funny women.

AD: We’re not standing alone. We’re a part of it.

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Cretins can’t treat funny women as one-offs any more.

HM: Completely. We’re so lucky to be coming up at the time that we are. One thing about being an actor is that you are slightly powerless in the sense where you’re relying on the part being there for you. To be part of this is so unusual and so exciting, and it shouldn’t be. There’s a wave of people who have carved the path and normalised it, we’re just riding on that wave.

AD: We’re joining the line.

How political would you say Raised By Wolves is? Some of Caitlin Moran’s best writing, arguably, is when she’s furious about inequality.

HM: It is political, but in the way that we all are in ordinary life. It’s not preachy and there aren’t big speeches and soliloquies. Our mum, Della [Rebekah Staton], is the character who is very much like ‘everything’s awful and the world’s going to end and fuck the Tories’ and that’s great, but the children are more innocent, they just live in the world that’s been created by politics. We’re all products of it.

AD: My character, Aretha, sort of is [political]. You can tell from things she’s reading and quotes she uses that she’s so informed about it all, but she never gives any massively controversial opinions. She stands by what she believes, but she’s not grandstanding or anything. She’s quite pessimistic about it all.

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HM: Maybe there’s something political in the fact that I wank to the Question Time theme tune?

Brilliant. Let’s talk about that. I don’t know how many interviews you’ve done today and how much you’ve talked about wanking, but do you think that might be the provocative headline for some: Shock Girl Wank Comedy!

AD: It can only be shocking if people take it that way, because we approached it in a very unapologetic way in that this is very real and what happens. Any teenage girl that watches that…

HM: Unless they’re a strawberry…

A strawberry?

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HM: Asexual.

Got you.

AD: Everyone can relate to it, surely, because it’s so real.

HM: Provocative not in the sense that it will cause conjecture and debate, but in the sense that it will provoke thoughts of ‘that’s what happened to me’. While we were filming, we all got so close because it just accidentally means that you all start talking about those things in your own life, and I think that’s what will happen.

Do you hope that’s what the audience will do? Open up ways to talk about this stuff and tell each other which political debate TV shows we all masturbate to?

HM: I hope so. It’s not that teenage girls aren’t already talking about all of this stuff, it’s just normalising the fact that they do. It’s that thing I said about TV either reflecting or… I think that it will make them feel more normal about it, I hope.

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Germaine and Aretha are working class and on benefits in a world where people in situations like theirs are routinely dehumanised in the right-wing press. They’re living under Cameron – not Thatcher as Caz and Caitlin were – and in a world where Benefits Street exists. How, if at all, does Raised By Wolves address that stuff?

HM: Just by presenting things as they are.

AD: We don’t address that we’re poor, that our mother is a single mother… we don’t talk about it, we just get on with it and don’t focus on it, which is what makes it new and different. It’s there, it’s plainly written out, this woman has six children, their granddad smokes a lot of weed, but no-one focuses on it, it’s more about… you’re a girl, you’re having your period.

HM: It’s day-to-day life. [To Alexa] I remember you saying that everything that happens in the show is very unextraordinary but done in this really extraordinary way.

AD: The themes of every episode – this took me ages to click on – episode one: period, episode two: knicker-shopping, episode three: meeting a cousin. It’s so normal, but it’s done in such a funny way. It’s… the word ‘relatable’ has really started to annoy me, but…

HM: Teenagers use it too much these days. It’s true though! I think what you were saying about Benefits Street and the likes of that, the big thing that Caitlin and Caz both say is that working class people are always seen as the outsider, or they’re the broken part of society.

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I grew up on free school meals and the rest of it. That insidious ‘skivers not strivers’ rhetoric is really damaging.

HM: Exactly. And just by presenting working class people who have so many books in their house and who have political conversations, it’s offering a different view.

Social privilege is a big story in the arts at the moment. You’ve got your Redmaynes and Cumberbatches, who are lovely, but they can’t be the only voices we hear… you’re both going to tell me you’re secretly aristocrats now, aren’t you?

AD: Oh God yeah, I’m a princess in Wales.

You are the Princess of Wales I understand?

AD: One day.

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HM: I think it’s an enormous problem. The arts used to be this thing that working class people used to give themselves a voice.

Which is exactly Caitlin Moran’s story, and Julie Walters’, and Kathy Burke’s…

HM: Completely. But that can no longer exist if… In Birmingham, I was part of this thing called The Television Workshop, which was about getting people trained who may not otherwise be able to afford it. It’s got alumni like Felicity Jones, Samantha Morton and Jack McConnell, and the whole point of that was it was funded by BBC and ITV and you auditioned at about the age of eleven or twelve, and it was free training and a casting pool for young people.  But then in 2007, the BBC and ITV cut their funding from the Birmingham branch, which was a sign of the times of how we’re not investing in the arts, but we’re still reaping benefits from them. They still use that workshop to their advantage, but they don’t give it money anymore. People don’t seem to realise it’s a cyclical thing, and they don’t seem to recognise that you need to invest in order to have the product that you’re moaning you don’t have at the moment.

As your characters are based on living, breathing people, did you approach the roles like an impersonation, or take it all from the scripts?

AD: Coming to audition for it [to Helen] you had every bit of research you could possibly find.

HM: Because I was already a massive fan of Caitlin Moran, so I just knew the part.

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AD: Whereas I knew very little about the Morans, I was just sent the script, I took from it what I did, did my thing, and then I met Caz and built from there. [To Helen] It flipped. To start with, you had all of these books to read and all of these interviews and I didn’t have much at all, and then we get to filming the series and I have the woman I’m playing around every single day, which was incredible, so when it came to Aretha, I formed her in my own mind and then was led by Caz Moran. Caz knew a lot about Caitlin for you to delve into.

You’re playing versions of Caitlin and Caz Moran, but Germaine and Aretha are really just two of any number of kids with more imagination than material resources, aren’t they? They’re unusual, but there’s a universality to them too.

HM: I struggle with this a lot, when you play a character you’ve got to not think about the massive overarching social issues. You’ve just got to think about ‘what does this line mean’ and ‘why am I walking over there?’.

AD: How do I say that line?

HM: What is this word?

HM: That’s why Caitlin is such a figurehead, because it’s not about her really ever, even though she’s often her own subject. The things that she writes are so that you can then go away and talk about them with your own friends using her words.

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Her writing is able to articulate thoughts that we all already have?

HM: Or maybe, sometimes you don’t have, but she’s platforming issues that you want discussed and whichever way she does it, it then provokes that conversation. I hope that’s what the programme does. It’s not about the programme preaching political issues, it’s about it platforming those issues and then people in their own lives going away and discussing them. It’s the discourse around the programme that I think will be interesting.

Finally, your characters, Germaine and Aretha, are named after female role models. Who are yours?

AD: Caitlin Moran, Caz Moran, Rebekah Staton.

HM: Outside of those incredible women?

AD: My mum. Tina Fey.

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Any other actors?

AD: Julie Walters I adore, Emma Thompson.

HM: Emma Stone.

AD: Emma Stone is a legend.

HM: And obviously Jennifer Lawrence.

AD: Obviously Jennifer Lawrence.

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AD: She talked about wanting a McDonalds on the red carpet! She talked about how hungry she was and how excited she was that she’s about to get chips. It just starts to change things. It does.

Helen Monk and Alexa Davies, thank you very much!

Raised By Wolves starts tonight, Monday the 16th of March, on Channel 4 at 10pm.

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