What Made ‘I May Destroy You’s’ Michaela Coel Cry During Lockdown – and Other Art She’s Found Cathartic

·4 min read

Michaela Coel is best known as a creator of great art, with “I May Destroy You” and “Chewing Gum,” but she’s also a consumer. And her taste in movies, television, podcasts and books is as varied in tone as that of her work. Over the last year, Coel dove into heady podcasts and books, but she also made time for Netflix’s zany musical comedy “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”

“I actually was crying my eyes out watching. It’s that moment when [Rachel McAdams] begins to sing in Icelandic, I cried. I’m so pathetic,” she laughs. “We’re all rooting for the little guy, aren’t we? It’s emotional.”

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The tears flowed again when the votes rolled in for McAdams and Will Ferrell’s singing duo and they went from worst to first during the competition. “We’re all rooting for the little guy, aren’t we? It’s emotional,” Coel adds. “My friend called me a knob when I told her. In fact, it was Harriet [Webb], who plays Theo in ‘I May Destroy You.’”

One of the next movies on Coel’s must-see list is “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.” She tells Variety that she hasn’t seen the film yet, but that she’s a big fan of Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. “Power to her,” Coel says of Mumolo. “I’m just very excited that this is her own project.”

Aside from puzzles, games, food and the final season of “Bojack Horseman” (which coincidentally also made Coel cry at its beauty), here’s a few more things the creator consumed during quarantine, as well as some of the creators who inspire her and make her laugh:

Her HBO Network Mates: “Insecure,” “Barry,” “Succession,” “Los Espookys” and “Lovecraft Country

A good chunk of the content she consumed over the last year — from Misha Green’s “Lovecraft Country” to “Los Espookys,” from Julio Torres, Ana Fabrega and Fred Armisen — happens to be on the same network that broadcasts “I May Destroy You.” Of working with HBO, Coel says, “They just make great shows, so it’s incredible that I am on that network.”

“I love ‘Succession.’ I think it’s hilarious and absurd and grotesque and that is the kind of humor that I love the most,” Coel says, praising creator Jesse Armstrong, before gushing over Bill Hader’s comedy “Barry.” “I find [that show] stunning, mind-blowing, genius, just brilliant.”

Coel is also a big fan of Issa Rae and her hit series “Insecure,” noting the distinct and inclusive view of Los Angeles that Rae spotlights on the show. “I’m obviously not from LA, but it’s wonderful to find the threads and find surprising moments of mirroring or reflection,” she explains, sharing that she aimed to give audiences the same opportunity to see themselves reflected by the way she portrays London in “I May Destroy You.”

Podcasts

Coel spent most of her time in quarantine listening to podcasts. Listing off a few of her favorites, she says, “I definitely recommend ‘Rabbit Hole’ [from ‘The New York Times’]. ‘Nice White Parents’ is a fantastic podcast. Esther Perel’s ‘How’s Work?’ — she’s a French therapist and she does one-off sessions, either with married couples or colleagues. Lots of ‘Hidden Brain’ [hosted by] Shankar Vedantam; the Rich Roll podcast. Mark Hyman’s ‘The Doctor’s Farmacy’ — it’s all about health and nutrition and how to try and live well.”

Books

Coel — whose first book, “Misfits: A Personal Manifesto,” will be released in September — also spent a good chunk of the last year reading. One of her top recommendations is Liu Cixin’s sci-fi trilogy, “The Three Body Problem.” “I’m on the last one now and those books, for me, are serious escapism,” Coel shares. “If you want to escape lockdown, these are great books to read. You will be taken out onto a different planet or a different time and that is cool. They’re very dense. It’s taken me like a half a year to read, but when you get to the end of each one, it’s totally worth it.”

Coel also endorses “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” by Jennifer Egan, who she touts as a “masterful writer.” Another new favorite is author Deborah Copaken’s upcoming book “Ladyparts.”

“She’s a writer on Emily in Paris, but she is a brilliant novelist,” Coel says of Copaken, who wrote an op-ed lamenting over “I May Destroy You’s” Golden Globes snub earlier this year. “I got in touch with her this year. And she sent me an early release of her book, and she’s got a brilliant mind and she’s got a really brilliant impressive and quite shocking life.”

Ari Lennox, musician

Coel also looks for inspiration and humor beyond the screen, listing Ari Lennox among her current favorites. “She’s a singer, but she’s very funny,” Coel says. “All of her lyrics are just very humorous, but [on] her most recent album, she’s got skits in between and they’re really funny. She makes me laugh.”

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