DIVA editor Carrie Lyell shares a cup of tea and slice of Avocado Toast with the cast and crew of our favourite new web series
BY CARRIE LYELL
It’s been a long time coming – four years in the making – but new web series Avocado Toast is more than worth the wait, and even more delicious than we could have hoped.
Created by and starring best friends Heidi Lynch and Perrie Voss, this fresh, vibrant and hella funny 10-part series follows two thirtysomethings going through some Tough Times™. It perfectly captures the millennial experience and is a painfully well observed account of what it is to be a woman in the world today. It’s gorgeous, it’s moving, and, best of all, it’s pretty queer too.
We called Heidi, Perrie and director Sam Coyle to find out more about the show, about friendship, and how the hell you launch something like this in lockdown.
Heidi: So, Avocado Toast season two! Oh wait, season one…
Perrie: Oh my god, slow down! [Laughs]
Sam: Is there a season two already, Heidi!?
Heidi: [Laughs] It’s because it’s our second interview with Carrie. It must be season two by now…
Well, yes, it’s been a while in the making. Four years, is that right?
Perrie: Yeah, it’s almost five years. This summer, it’ll be five years, I think. That’s crazy.
It must feel pretty wild that it’s about to be unleashed.
Heidi: It really does. Sam has been working on this with us since long before we had any money to pay her. To confirm the fact that it was actually going to happen!
Sam, how did you come to be involved?
Sam: Perrie and I had done a play together years and years ago. Since then, I’ve transitioned to directing. Perrie reached out to me about three years ago and said, “Hey, we have this trailer and we’re looking for directors”. I had an interview with them and then it went on from there. It felt like a very natural collaboration. I guess I have a little more experience – I had created my own shorts and I had done a feature before, and had been studying story for a while – so I could see it from an outside perspective. Sometimes it’s hard when it’s your own story, so that’s mostly what I added. That outside voice. Being the audience, ultimately.
Were the three of you always on the same page, or did you have times when you disagreed?
Sam: Everybody is going towards the same objective. But I think when it is a personal story, it is harder to stray from. As I say, I have an outside opinion, I may suggest something. But it’s like, “Oh, that isn’t how it happened in real life”. That was probably where we navigated the most – what’s best for audiences or staying true to your own story. But I think for the most part I felt like we were really on the same page.
Heidi: It grew over time too. Initially, I didn’t know Sam at all. Perrie knew Sam but I didn’t. I met Sam as she was going through my scripts and telling me what she thought. I didn’t know anything about her.
Sam: And I had big opinions! [Laughs]
Heidi: She has very big opinions and so do I! It shouldn’t matter, but with such a personal story it kind of does. I didn’t know Sam’s sexuality. I didn’t know her backstory. I found out things about Sam a year in that I wish I had known initially, because of my desire to protect a bisexual story. We had like feedback along the way like, why will anyone care? It’s 2018, it’s 2019. People are bi, who cares? But I really needed to see this story when I was figuring stuff out. I do think we do need to tell a bisexual coming out story and tell some more of them, too. Then I found out along the way that Sam and I have a lot in common in terms of that stuff. I didn’t know that going in, so when she would give notes, I’d be like, “No, well, that’s not what bisexuality is!” She would never be like, “Heidi I could probably tell you a bit about what I think it is too!”
Why did you think Sam was the right director to bring this story to life?
Heidi: She helped us stay on the story, which was incredible. The other reason Sam was the perfect director is that her mom is/was an actor. She has the same desire and passion to create roles for women who are older than 40 that express love and sex and sexuality, and to try to create some vivacious women of that age group. So she was a millennial director who really like took care of the baby boomer storyline and wanted to push that, which was great.
PERRIE’S SOUND CUTS OUT
Heidi: Oh no. Technology is being an absolute dick today. [Laughs]
Sam: This is a test for Carrie, a lip reading one.
Heidi: If only we all signed!
Sam: Something about a big something…
Perrie: Can you guys hear me? Yes! Amazing!
Heidi: Back to your question Carrie. Why was Sam the best director?
Sam: The silence was because she had to think really hard.
Did you create a glitch so you didn’t have to answer the question?
Perrie: [Laughs] When Sam transitioned into directing, I was keeping an eye on what she was doing and the work she was creating. She has such an incredible way of telling people’s stories through film and everything she creates is so beautiful. She really understands people’s hearts and so because this was so close to Heidi’s and my heart… I loved the gentleness that she was able to look at our stories with, without inserting herself too far in. She would let us tell the story with our writing. Although, like she said, she has big opinions, she wouldn’t make us feel like our story was any less than. It was an obvious choice for me. When we finally were able to meet with her, we knew. She’s our girl, for sure.
It’s been a rollercoaster getting to this point, hasn’t it?
Heidi: Yes! We had made our trailer and we were getting ready to do that all over again, which DIVA helped us with by promoting. That was for this one grant that we had applied for the year before. We made it to phase two but then we didn’t get it. So we applied again and we got that which was incredible, but we had this long trajectory plan that a lot of other things were dependent on to get us the rest of the money to get the whole picture. We were very lucky to have a massive financial commitment from a friend of mine as an executive producer, which got the ball rolling with the grants. So then we had two pieces of the puzzle. We did not get the third piece of the puzzle, so we were completely bummed. I literally sat on a rug in London, England, with a glass of scotch, crying at the floor.
Sounds like my normal Friday night.
Heidi: [Laughs] I could not physically raise my head to make eye contact with Faye [Marsay, Heidi’s girlfriend and co-star] and my flatmate. I actually uttered the words, “I just don’t fit in in the world!” It was one of the saddest moments of my life. These four years, for nothing. Then we got this call out of the blue. They were like, “Hey, this other show defaulted. They couldn’t get their shit together. Here’s the money”. Overnight, all of a sudden, we could afford all the crew, all the shots, everything that we wanted to do. Still on quite a tight budget, but we could move forward and that was incredible. And we got another piece of the puzzle that we didn’t expect to get, so we are in a great position. But we didn’t get that piece until we’d already shot. It honestly went from polar opposites. From nothing, to everything.
Perrie: It was such a rollercoaster, Carrie. My god. We hit the lowest lows that we’ve ever hit thinking we were never going to make this show, and then got all of the funding at the end in the most like roundabout way. Like Heidi, I had my own experience, sitting on my balcony like, “What’s the point of anything?” So yeah, it’s been a ride.
And just when you think the ride is ending and you can relax, a global pandemic comes along and knocks us all on our arses.
Heidi: Obviously they are things in the world going on that are much more important. We are actually in an incredible position because our content was already made, and the work that we need to do can all be done online. But it was definitely a bit anticlimactic. Our editors and Sam had been working for three months and then couldn’t even go for a drink [to celebrate]. We had this photoshoot set up for your article that got cancelled. Perrie and I were going to be in Vegas for her birthday, and that obviously got cancelled. But we’re healthy, we have roofs over our heads and we have food. In the grand scheme of things, we’re extremely fortunate. We’re very lucky that we’re not in production right now and having that cancelled, and lucky that we get to launch our show at a time where people are home and on their phones constantly. We’re hoping the show can make people smile and feel connected, even though we’re so disconnected.
We know that LGBTQI people have higher rates of poor mental health and are suffering disproportionately because of lockdown measures. Is that something weighing on your mind at the moment?
Heidi: I’m thinking about people who don’t feel safe in their home. Young people, figuring things out, being stuck with their parents if they’re not in a place where they can communicate. I think in some ways, that’s why the show is genius, because it’s something that people can watch with their parents. I have fantasies of Avocado Toast starting conversations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Being in isolation with your family, if you are, could prompt that.
PERRIE’S SOUND CUTS OUT AGAIN
Heidi: Oh no! [Laughs] What is going on? I love your cute little face. Oh no. She’s like, “I didn’t touch anything”.
Sam: That sucks.
Heidi: I thought she was being very quiet. [Laughs] Shall we try Zoom? Let’s try Zoom.
TWO MINUTES LATER…
Heidi: Everybody’s here! The gang’s all here. Okay Perrie, is there anything you’d like to say?
Perrie: I would love to say a lot, so buckle up. [Laughs] I was just joining in on what Heidi was saying. We made this show because we felt alone going through those instances in our lives. If we can make other people feel seen, heard, connected, that’s such a gift. Obviously, both of us as producers, we want to make this a hit, but it really is just made for people who might need to see themselves on screen.
The show is brilliant, by the way. But surreal, too. A time when people could still touch each other, and go to bars…
Sam: We were in very tight quarters shooting this. In our first location, we had to get to know each other so well! There wasn’t even room to go to the washroom. Somebody posted a photo and was like, “What were we thinking!?” You just have such different terms of thinking, being in those condensed areas now, and breathing all on each other! So it’s definitely nostalgic in that way.
Perrie: It’s amazing watching playback now. I’m like, oh god. We didn’t even think about it. It wasn’t even a thought. Definitely, like Sam said, it’s nostalgic. Back in the day, five months ago… [Laughs]
Heidi: That’s part of the badass nature of being on a crew. You’re in very close quarters, you’re all up in each other’s space. It’s going to be very different to work on a production eventually, at some time in the future, and to see how the world’s changed and see how everything’s done differently.
I’m reluctant to talk about Faye because I know you’re in separate countries at the moment and I don’t want to send you down a despair spiral Heidi, but what was it like working with each other on this? How did you find acting alongside your real life girlfriend?
Heidi: Wonderful. Honestly. The most amazing part was what a great crew member she is. What a great helper she is. I know she only did the part because I’m her partner but she cleaned locations for us, loaded out, in the winter. She hates the snow. She’s such a team member. Getting to work with her and getting to work with Brenda [Robins], who plays Perrie’s character’s mom, and watching the energy they bring to a set, how they have no ego… It was such a nice reminder that being a diva – heh heh heh – does not make you a better actor. Making everything about yourself and having hissy fits… You can be an incredible actor and be such a team player. Faye brings 100% to every crew she’s ever on. I know that because she’s friends with every makeup artist she’s ever had and runners from every show she’s been on call her when they have a problem. And she answers. She was an incredible support. And she’s such a good actor. It was very fun.
Sam, what was it like for you directing a real couple? Is it no work at all? Or does it make things a bit more difficult?
Sam: No, it was super easy. Because Faye is such a talented actor, I wanted to give her notes and work with her, but it was it was very easy because they knew their relationship inside and out and they just had to kind of go back to an earlier time, really. It was a breeze. There was really not that much to pull out of it because it was already there.
Heidi, how are you and Faye coping with being separated at the moment? Any tips for other queer couples in lockdown LDRs?
Heidi: I just made her like a care package with random crap in it. I’m gonna go mail her today. I’ve tried to put as many weird things in as possible to make her smile. It’s gonna be so heavy – it’ll cost me like a month’s rent. [Laughs] We’re trying to do stuff together like have wine on Fridays, have dinner together and read the same book. Yeah, it’s cute. I wrote her a little poem on a scroll and put it in her care package. [Laughs] She’s like, “Heidi, we’re like engaged, you don’t have to try so hard.”
On a lighter note. What are some of the funniest moments from the production that stand out for you?
Heidi: I know what you’re going to say.
Perrie: Can I tell it? [Laughs]
Heidi: I’m gonna tell you what really happened. But go ahead.
Perrie: We were in the gym, doing a scene where Molly is forced to teach gym one day. She’s standing in the gym, and Sam had set this amazing scene up. We had these dodgeball style balls flying across the frame. It looks amazing. There were a few of us on the sides, pitching balls to add to more chaos. I was gonna throw the ball at Molly, Heidi’s character. I was hitting her in the shoulder and then she’s like, “You can hit it at my face”. I was like, okay. I don’t know what world I was living in. But…
Heidi: In the script, the ball is supposed to hit Molly in the head. So I thought she was going to throw it at my head. But she’s doing the most pitiful throws. It was like barely touching my shoulder.
Perrie: I didn’t want to hurt her!
Heidi: The crew were laughing at Perrie. This is what amped her up, too. They’re like, “Perrie, that’s not a throw!”
Perrie: I was, okay. I can throw. [Laughs] I could have sworn someone was like, [aggressively] “Put some heat on it!”
Heidi: That never happened.
Perrie: Not only did I do one at her face, I whipped it and it just went, boof. Like that. It’s the shot. It’s the money shot.
Heidi: I had a headache for three hours! When the crew members do an impression of what Perrie looks like, they do demon eyes and a shot-putt as hard as you can at something.
Perrie: I was just focused! But anyway, it’s amazing and you’ll get to see it in in real time because that’s the shot we used.
Heidi: The shot is really good.
Perrie: I felt bad though.
Worth the concussion and lasting brain damage?
Perrie: [Laughs] I mean, I nailed it, so. That was a highlight for me. We watched that playback several times.
As we’ve touched on, it’s been a real rollercoaster getting to the point that you are now. What were some of the most challenging bits of the production itself?
Perrie: We were all working like really long hours. Especially the core team. Heidi and Sam, our cinematographer Cam and I. There was so much going on, so much to keep track of. It was a relatively small budget, we’re all exhausted, it’s the middle of winter in Canada, there are snowstorms. We were all stressed out at different moments for different reasons and still having to keep the ship running with smiles and stuff was not always easy. But we all loved it overall, and we all learned a lot.
Heidi: We chose to write, produce, act, all at the same time, on our first project. It was a lot. It gave me pause and made me really reflect. We could probably write four novels about all the things that we’ve learned about ourselves and about working with others. It’s like a breakup, where the next person you date gets to benefit from everything you learn! I’m so proud of what we pulled off. I think we have done an incredible job. But I also know the next time I work on something, I’m going to be starting lightyears ahead.
Sam: One of the things I found the most frustrating were things that are out of your control. One day when we were shooting outside, there was just so much noise. A train is going by and we were on a flight path, so there are flights every two seconds, and it was a Sunday, so there are families with a one-year-old trying to walk them for the first time… You’re hearing all that in the background. And it was a very emotional scene; a very heartfelt scene. That was the one day that I was like, “I’m gonna fucking flip!”
Perrie: We entered into a very ambitious project in every single element. A lot of people are like, “We’ll film it in one house because it’s one location and have three characters”. We were like, “We want 75 actors and 63 locations and we are shooting it in the winter!” [Laughs] We did not make this easy on ourselves from the get go. When people said we could do fewer locations, we were like, [angrily] “That’s not our vision!”
Heidi: Also, the music in the show is gonna be rad. We licensed 32 songs and the contracts to licence those songs have taken me about four months.
I tried to use one song in one video one time, and decided I’d never do it again.
Heidi: Isn’t it a nightmare? Our head producer was like, “Heidi, I use one song per episode maybe”. And Sam and I were like, “No, this show is gonna be rad. We’re gonna have tons of artists…” And we do. We pulled it off. It took so much work. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. But we have amazing songs and playlists.
You’ve set the bar quite high for season two then! In some of those challenging moments, when you had to dig deep, did you have a mantra or something else that kept you going?
Perrie: It’s actually based on something you said, Sam. Right off the bat, on one of our first days, she said, “This might get tough, but let’s all remember, we’re making art”. In really hard moments, I was like, “This is what you fought for, for four years. This, this is what you wanted. So sit in it”. I’ve heard people on their wedding days have to keep reminding themselves, it’s their wedding. This is the day that you want to remember. So I was just trying to remember that. This is what we fought for. And this is the art we’re making.
Sam: Yeah, definitely. The art is always at the forefront for me. You know, it’s not brain surgery. There is no life or death, so I think it takes off the stakes, or the pressure. You know, if we lose a location. Okay, great. Let’s find another one. Move forward and not ruminate. Keep going forward, as opposed to asking, “Why did that happen?” It happens. The other point is I don’t take a lot of things personally. I think that’s the biggest thing, and where a lot of upset and heartache and pain comes from, when you take it and internalise it. I’m like, “Okay, that person’s having a bad day. Next”.
Can you tell me how to do that, please? Can you teach me?
Perrie: Yeah, seriously.
Heidi: It is an art and also, it’s contagious. Being around Sam working that way, if you’re smart, it makes you observe and clock it and go, I need to learn how to do that, because it’s the only way to keep the ship going. As Sam said, she had a lot more experience than us on being on set and creating something with a group. There’s stuff that happened on Avocado Toast season one that I will never let happen again, from my end. And I won’t work with people who work that way ever again, because it can sacrifice the art. As Sam says, it’s not rocket science. We have to find a way to be our higher selves and put the art first. I think I’ve really learned how to do that and the proof is in the pudding.
At its heart, Avocado Toast is a story about female friendship, and women supporting women. Who are the women who inspire you?
Sam: My mom. I get a lot of my patience from her. She operates from place of kindness for other people and the love of growth in the artist. I’ve watched that over the years and adapted, or adopted, a lot of those same sentiments. She is so open and warm. I think I have a lot of harder edges than she does, but I can only like aspire to her kind of empathy and process. In terms of directing style, it’s Jill Soloway. Transparent was a massive inspiration for the show. I read a couple interviews where they were talking about how they conduct their set, and ultimately said that you don’t have to be an asshole to get what you want. I think about that a lot. What am I bringing as a woman? I’m bringing my empathy and trying to bring no ego. Everybody has a voice on set. As director, if someone comes to you with a problem, you listen to it ego free and let them be heard and then deal with it. And so I brought a lot of that. And I still follow that; their advice.
Perrie: I don’t know if I’m if I’m inspired by one single woman, if I’m honest. But I am inspired by women in our sphere who I’m watching create stuff from the ground up. Sam is one of those people. Heidi’s one of those people. But there are other people who are filmmakers, creating series and writing. Watching these women fight for their stories to be made, that’s what I keep getting inspired by. Behind the camera, in front of the camera, I can look at them and say, well, they did it. They’re making it happen.
Heidi: I could definitely gush about my mom and Faye for days, as we all know. And you two. But I’m going to talk about… Geena Davis! [Laughs] I have been obsessed with Thelma And Louise since before I was old enough to comprehend what it was talking about. We do a little homage to Thelma And Louise in Avocado Toast, too. Not massively, but we’re in a vintage car and we’re two girls escaping our lives. The Geena Davis Institute is really where my whole being is at right now. The work they’re doing is incredible. I saw the documentary This Changes Everything at Sky Cinema in London right before I left with Women In Television And Film London. It’s really hard to be the person, especially as an artist, who has to get super political and data-oriented and put your neck out there and say, “Hey guys, there’s a fucking problem”. Because it makes you a difficult woman. I’m sure it’s influenced her working life, putting herself out there. But the work that she’s doing is so important for the next generation of little girls. She’s affected Disney’s gender parity. She’s the reason the FX network changed their hiring policies and had their best Emmy year afterwards. She’s amazing. She’s starting the conversations that will get all of our projects more funding and more eyes on it. So I am completely inspired by and grateful to her.
What will you all be doing 18 May, when the show drops?
Heidi: Do we do like a virtual screening party the day before for the cast and crew? Send everyone money to go to the liquor store and get themselves wine? I might just take a day off from the internet on 18 May and rejoin the world on the 19th to give myself a pause. I honestly feel like I’ve been running a marathon for four years with Avocado Toast, which has been pleasurable in so many ways. But yeah. I think that’s what I might do.
Perrie: I think it’s gonna be very overwhelming that day, to be very honest with you. I’ll probably laugh and then cry and then sleep. I honestly don’t know, I might just be numb. It’s been a fucking marathon. Like Heidi said. It’s hard for me to say exactly where I’m going to be at on that day. I think I’m going to be feeling a lot of things.
Sam: I’ll be celebrating! Buy a bottle of champagne and pop it.
Champagne and whisky on the rug…
Heidi: It will not be a whisky on the rug day!
That’s a celebration. I’m Scottish. That’s how we roll. So, we’re all in lockdown life at the moment, which is kind of a bummer. But there’s some optimism too, a sense that this is an opportunity to shape the world we want to see. What does that look like for each of you?
Sam: I hope this will give people a little more empathy for neighbours. I hope we slow down and think about the people who are out there who might need a check in and might need a conversation. Empathy. We’re all in this together. That’s my hope.
Heidi: I mean, it hasn’t happened for me yet, because I’m distracting myself with work, but I hope that it influences the world’s work/life balance. You can leave work at 4.30 and be with your kids for an extra hour. I’m teaching my nephew and four nieces a drama class every day at 11am, and I’m watching my brothers spend so much more time with their children. They are both incredible fathers, raising really strong-willed, incredible daughters. My one brother built my niece a sword and a shield, and they do sword fighting every morning at 9am. I’m so happy for those kids to get that quality time with their parents.
Perrie: For me, it’s a combination of things. Even though we’re like more connected now than ever because of the internet, there’s been a lack of connection throughout society. People are sort of out for themselves a lot of the time, just focusing on their needs and their wants, me me me, I’m first. This shows us we’re all so connected. Like Sam was saying, think of your neighbours and remember that sometimes, kindness is actually the biggest gift you can offer somebody. If there’s a weak part of our society, then we’re all weak.
Avocado Toast is streaming on Amazon Prime from 18 May
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