Actor Sally Phillips is one of the few Brits in whose home you drink from Moomin mugs. On his Twitter account, he introduces himself as a Finland enthusiast. Still, he has never been to Finland before.
But now he’s here. Phillips has been invited to the Helsinki Script event, where he will be one of Thursday’s keynote speakers. And for a reason. He has broken comedy glass ceilings as a screenwriter and actor.
Phillips seems excited. He praises the Finnish education system, Finnish drama comedies – they are so depressing that they are already profound – and equality.
The enthusiasm for Finland is explained by a role in a TV series ten years ago Madam Vice President (Veep). In it, Phillips played the fictional Prime Minister of Finland, Minna Häkki, a stiff jerk who is not at her best in social situations.
Phillips did a lot of background work for the role: he got himself a dictionary and followed Finnish politicians on social media.
“I watched everything about the then prime minister Jyrki from Katai found on Youtube. I read six books about Finland. I didn’t know anything in advance and I didn’t want to make a mistake.”
The prime minister of Finland became Phillips’ favorite role.
“Everybody here thought my accent was shit. It became its own thing. My accent was like an animal. It started to control me and I didn’t control it,” laughs Phillips.
It was ten years ago. A lot has happened in between. Governments and prime ministers have changed.
“I was really jealous when you got Sanna Marini and New Zealand Jacinda Ardern’s. The cool women of modern politics rely on cooperation. They are hopeful, young and exciting.”
“And Marin knows how to have fun. Unlike our former prime minister. Theresa May dancing is a meme that will stay on the internet until the end of time.”
In entertainment programs, women are basically considered as representatives of the audience.
Phillips the star began to rise from the trailblazer Ride the pony from the comedy series. It belonged to the same wave as Really wonderful or French & Saunderswho made room for women in a male-dominated field.
It’s been twenty years now.
“At that time, men could write series in which they robbed a bank. We were like those women who just hear the gunshots in the parking lot next door. That’s how we felt in relation to the industry.”
According to Phillips, she too had internalized the idea that women are not as funny as men.
“I had impostor syndrome. I thought we were exposed. Everyone realizes that we’re not funny, and women will never be allowed to do comedy again.”
The fear turned out to be unfounded. The series’ oblique humor, absurd, shameless sketches related to everyday situations made its authors and actors stars.
Ride the pony was noted for two Emmy Awards.
On the gender side still matters, Phillips thinks. He has also participated in the British one Grandmaster– program, where comedians are given funny tasks.
He says that he noticed that the image often stays longer with a male comedian, even if his performance does not seem particularly promising.
I did this because it is assumed that men are always funny in the end. Women are considered Grandmaster in entertainment programs like this, basically as representatives of the audience.
“The fact that the picture is always cut to a laughing woman tells about it,” says Phillips.
That’s why he tries to hold his own.
“To make it clear that I’m telling the jokes and I’m not just there to laugh at them.”
Born in 1970
British actor, comedian and producer.
Was creating and scripting the award-winning TV series Ponille kytia (1998–2001), in which he also acted.
Acted in more than 40 films – e.g. in three Bridget Jones adaptations – and in TV series such as Alan Partridge (1997), Miranda (2009–2015) and Mrs. Vice President (2013–2019).
Made the award-winning documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome for the BBC? in 2016.
Phillips sees the same everywhere, be it gender, skin color or disability.
“People don’t get opportunities. They don’t get the chance to train and mature slowly in the katve, but end up directly in the main roles. That’s what happened to us too.”
Phillips is also a producer these days. He has the Captain Dolly production company and wishes to draw attention to the visibility of disabled people in particular.
Recently, he organized a sitcom workshop involving people with Down syndrome.
Comedy has changed since the days when Phillips started. There are things he would no longer laugh at.
“Nowadays I pay attention to the phenomena of the neuro spectrum. I don’t watch Ricky Gervais Derekseries whose main character has learning difficulties. It’s incredibly embarrassing to watch people pretend they have a disability.”
Subject is personal. Phillips has a down boy Olly.
“When Olly was born, I thought that the intelligence of people with down syndrome is lower than others on all levels. But actually it varies. In some matters, Olly is ahead of others.”
The boy turned 18 in August and the future is scary. Phillips hopes that the boy could choose where and with whom he lives, that he would have a job and a spouse.
A video of Olly showing off his biceps is playing on Phillips’ phone. One is called Günther, the other Ram.
“Unbelievable. They have names!”
The birth of Olly changed the family. Sometimes it’s been really difficult, sometimes it’s really fun, says Phillips. Olly has been expelled from school a couple of times.
One time because he refused to stop watering the vegetable garden. The boy didn’t let go of the hose, but entrenched himself behind the garbage, drenched everything and called the principal a fathead.
“It was really fun, even though it didn’t feel like it at the time,” says Phillips.
Helsinki Script event at the Savoy Theater on Thursday, June 8, Phillips will perform at 11:30.
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