DIVA meets the star of our favourite new TV series, Trigonometry
BY CARRIE LYELL AND DANIELLE MUSTARDE, IMAGE BY MARK JOHNSON
“It’s a story about love,” actor Thalissa Teixeira begins. “Two people, a couple, open up their spare room to a lodger – and the three of us fall in love.” That’s new BBC Two series Trigonometry in a nutshell: non-fetishised, non-sensationalist, multi-partner love, brilliantly acted, and that’s why we’re so hooked. Director Athina Tsangari’s dramedy thrusts into the world of thirtysomethings Gemma (played by Teixeira), Kieren (Gary Carr) and Ray (Ariane Labed), three people who, it turns out, are “made for each other”.
We’re not the only ones raving about it – this incidentally queer love story is destined for greatness (and ratings), with a prime time spot on BBC Two. “I’m so grateful,” 27-year-old Teixeira tells us. “It’s such a funny thing when you’re expressing something creatively and it goes well.” Haven’t tuned in yet? You’re in for a treat.
DIVA: What was it about Gemma that drew you to her?
THALISSA TEIXEIRA: Gemma is a chef, which drew me towards her. There’s something so useful about the language of love through food, which I really wanted to explore. The heart of Gemma, her role in that world, is the currency of food. Athina Tsangari was really keen on putting a lot of our own selves into the characters and drawing from things that we know to make it really three dimensional. Gemma’s also heart strong, wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s definitely less censored than Kieran [laughs]. Which is a great nuance in the series. It’s quite rare to see a woman splaying her emotions left, right and centre and the man in the relationship being like, “Ok. Let’s think about this and do what truly feels real to us.”
Gemma has bags of agency. She owns her sexuality, and manages to maintain her queerness in what is, to the outside world at least, a heterosexual relationship. It seems Trigonometry has a lot to say about the nature of sexuality and how that’s represented on screen.
It’s funny. We had many conversations, but [Gemma’s sexuality] wasn’t something that we specifically highlighted, in terms of defining it, because there was something so natural about Gemma loving the best person for her. It’s really brilliant to see such strong female sexuality that’s not compromised at all. Athina’s detail is absolutely phenomenal. We talked about sexuality as much as we talked about how we brushed our teeth in the morning, or what meals Gemma might be cooking by how she’s feeling. There’s something so human about the sexuality in this show. It’s so… anti-sexy. [Laughs] But very sexual in the sense of human, every day life.
Trigonometry oozes with tension, and the chemistry between Gemma, Kieran and Ray is palpable. That’s hard enough to create with two actors – never mind three. How did you do it?
There’s a brilliant word in Portuguese, to miss someone even if you’re really close. When we meet Gemma and Kieren, there’s a language of lust and envy and regret and loneliness and then, when Ray turns up, she opens a window for them and the flat becomes massive. They have space to see each other again. That was so similar for us in the casting process. Athina has an amazing sense of what people need from each other. When I met Gary, there was just something instant. And when we met Ariane, our characters made more sense through her. It’s just bliss. They’re phenomenal actors. Ariane has worked with Athina, the incredible film Attenberg was their first project together. I’d seen that before I signed on to Trigonometry, so when I heard that Athina was directing this, I actually wrote her a love letter saying, “I’ve got to play this role!”
We’ve read about this pleading letter. What was it specifically that you were so excited about?
It was a script that represented a section of life that I’d never on screen before. The very minutiae of everyday life in such detail. The characters are completely real to me. There are a vast number of love stories, but this one felt like it was selfless and it was necessary. Not just to tell a story about these three people, but also tell a story about everyone else involved in love; fathers and sisters and adopted parents and mixed race families and families living overseas. That is something that is at the heart of my London; the London I understand. Trigonometry was my life, to be honest.
Unlike other shows about a throuple where one person is often a distraction or an annoyance, with Trigonometry, we’re completely invested in them as a three. How was that done?
We did no research on what it was to be in a polyamorous relationship, because there are no answers. A lot of people want to use the term “modern relationship” but it’s not. It’s ancient. It’s timeless. We just took it step by step. Gemma will see Kieran and Ray talking in a scene, and we’ll see both envy at not being part of that conversation, and also love. Of someone she’s totally in love with – Kieran – falling in love again. How beautiful it is to see that, the relief of what it is to allow someone you love to experience life fully and not feel like you’re holding [them] back. We realised that was the heart of it – that the happiness of everyone around us is the happiness of ourselves.
Another thing we loved is the London flavour of the show. It’s beautiful, but it also explores how hard the city can be to live in. Do you have any London flat share horror stories?
[Laughs] No, actually! My housemates are beautiful people. But no of course, London is a hard place. You’re often distanced from family. The flip side of that is it that you create your own communities; little pockets, little villages. What was so vital in the creation of this is that it’s made by people from all around the world. Athina is Greek, Sean Price Williams [director of photography] is from the US, Ariane’s French, Gary’s from south London, I’m from Brazil slash Buckinghamshire [laughs]. Everyone was from different parts of the world. We made something that feels so London, because that’s how London’s been created.
What will you take away from the experience?
Patience. That’s been my mantra for the past year, actually. Letting things grow on their own. Listening. And allowing yourself to be truly, truly honest with yourself. I have a notebook by my bed, and if I’m feeling something I’ll write it down when I can’t sleep. Sometimes I find myself writing as if someone’s going to read it, [but] then you edit out the stuff that you really feel. It’s a really difficult training to go, “No one is going to open this book, no one is going to read this other than you, really write what you’re feeling.” Then you can express truly what it means to love the person that you’re loving, or the people that you’re loving.
What do you hope people will take away from Trigonometry?
I’m hoping that it’s also going to represent things for people that they haven’t seen yet. Like, the three people who work in the cafe with me, they are all amazing London-based actors, all with different types of backgrounds and different religious ideas, which are underrepresented. It’s also such a relief to see two black people in love for the sake of love [laughs]. That’s really important to me. I mean, how many times do you see black people having sex on screen? I’m hoping that that’s going to be a relief for some people.
This interview originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of DIVA – grab your digital copy right here!