On the day Aisling Bea found out she had won a Bafta Craft award last year, she had been knocked off her bike and felt lucky to be alive.
"It definitely put the Bafta into perspective," recalls the Kildare-born comedian, actress and writer, 37. "The awards were virtual, due to lockdown, so I won watching it in my sling and flip flops, in the garden with a few pals – and it ended up feeling far more special as a result."
The Breakthrough Talent win was for her work on This Way Up, which she created and also stars in. She plays the lead character, Irish immigrant Aine, who works as an English-as-a-foreign-language (Tefl) teacher in London.
The first series of the uplifting and moving Channel 4 comedy saw Aine leaving rehab and attempting to rebuild her life – with the help of her sister Shona (Sharon Horgan) – following a "teeny little nervous breakdown".
The six new episodes pick up from the finale of series one, and there are plenty more ups and downs for the pair, from Aine’s complicated situation with one of her employers, Richard (Tobias Menzies), to Shona’s upcoming nuptials to Vish (Aasif Mandvi) – which she’s going through with, despite that stolen kiss with her business partner, Charlotte.
Expect lots of brilliantly hilarious sibling scenes – once again, This Way Up focuses on Aine and Shona’s unshakable bond, and how they always have each other, even in the darkest moments.
Another reason why the first series resonated so much with viewers, was its authentic exploration of themes such as loneliness and vulnerability.
Mental health is an issue Bea has discussed previously in her stand-up routines, and in 2017, she also wrote a piece for The Guardian about her father, who took his own life when she was three years old.
Asked about what she hopes people will take from series two, the star – real name Aisling Cliodhnadh O’Sullivan – says: "Truthfully, I hope if you have had a rough lockdown or year, I hope you feel seen, I hope you feel hopeful and like it’s worth battling through and giving it a go.
"I hope you identify with the show and see that there is a value and nobility to the middle ground of health, where you don’t have to be a millionaire to be a good person or have a good life, and that you are not supposed to be happy all the time, but that is OK."
Horgan – known for shows such as Pulling and Catastrophe, which she also co-wrote – agrees with this sentiment. "I think there’s a real message of hope in it," suggests the 50-year-old Irish star.
"It’s hard-hitting when it needs to be, but even when there are tough subjects being discussed, or scenes enacted, there is a message of hope.
"This series sends a message to hold on to life, because it’s precious. I think maybe, after the year we’ve all had, it’s a good message to put out there."
Bea, who has appeared on most major UK panel shows, and also had a role in hit ITV drama Quiz last year, confides that "shooting the show in the winter during a national lockdown was incredibly difficult on many levels".
"But one moment I remember laughing my head off was with my brilliant make-up designer Lisa Kennedy who also did series one. She kept me sane during the shoot and when we were shooting the sauna scene, which is the opening of episode one, Lisa had to cover me in red make-up to make me look hot and sweaty from the sauna.
"And because there was a shot from above, that included painting my arse red, so I was down on all fours in a swimsuit during the winter in a pandemic, while they wore medical masks and painted my arse red."
The show is made by Merman, Horgan’s production company with Clelia Mountford, and everything took longer, due to the strict health and safety guidelines.
"Making sure our cast and crew were absolutely safe, both on and off set, was a priority," continues Horgan. "But people who were part of the production lost loved ones, and there were times when it was overwhelming to be living through that and trying to just 'go to work. Also, all the crew having their faces covered – so you can’t see smiles – created a distance. It was all rather strange and difficult."
Covid-19 affected some of the show’s narrative too. Mandvi was in New York at the time of filming and couldn’t fly back to the UK, so this series sees Vish and Shona having to do long-distance, while he is abroad for work, giving the show – which is also airing in the US this month on Hulu – a more international feel.
"I think it worked really well and it helped to foreshadow what was to come," notes Horgan. "In the series, the pandemic hasn’t hit, but it’s around the corner. The distance between Vish and Shona and the fact that their relationship only took place over the phone and online added to the relevancy of the show."
Asked for her favourite Shona moment, Horgan teases an upcoming scene in series two where Shona and Aine try on wedding dresses.
"Herself and Aine get a bit drunk whilst they try on different styles and they’re giddy – it felt so real. I never did that for my own wedding because I got married in a suit – like Shona plans to in the end – which might have had an impact on the scene."
It certainly wasn’t a difficult process for the dynamic duo to return to these roles after a two-year break between series.
"I know how she walks, talks and dresses very easily, I know her inside out," Bea says of Aine. "I know all of my characters way better now than I did in series one."
It was easy for Horgan to recapture the essence of Shona: "She’s not that far from who I am, but she has an extra layer of neuroses, because of her sister’s situation.
"And then, of course, there’s the banter between the sisters. That’s what Shona exists for, to bounce off her Aine, her sister – that makes it so easy to slip back into her world."
This Way Up returns to Channel 4 on Wednesday July 14.
Source: Press Association