Michelle De Swarte Talks … New Comedy ‘Spent’

Michelle De Swarte is a model, actress, standup comedian, writer and producer …

Scouted at just 19 she has walked on some of the world’s most coveted catwalks, modelling for the likes of Burberry, Gucci, Vanity Fair and more. But after ageing out of the industry at just 35 years old, she took an unexpected career segue into the comedy scene and is now a hugely successful stand-up comic.

Taking inspiration from her life and announcing at last year’s BBC Comedy Festival, Michelle created and wrote Spent which follows Mia, a former catwalk model who is on the run, mainly from herself. Long term it’s a story of personal renewal but for now, the stark reality is that her career is over, she’s flat broke and she’s homeless. This is a woman who despite her humble beginnings has become accustomed, possibly even addicted, to the finer things in life. Unfortunately, those lifestyle choices don’t carry much currency when you’re pushing 40 and permanently sofa surfing.

We spoke to Michelle about how she brought Spent to life …

Please introduce yourself …

My name is Michelle De Swarte, I am a standup comic, writer and actor and a producer from South London.

Describe your life right now in a word or one sentence …

Pretty Relaxed.

Spent is your first commission as a writer, how did it come about?

It came about by me making a short film called Voguing to Dancehall that was about me and my friend going to Notting Hill Carnival and grappling with how you navigate a lot of homophobic tracks, but you still want to go and enjoy yourself and then off the back of that Jack Bayles (TV Producer) messaged me on Instagram and asked me if I had any other ideas and I said, ‘yeah I do‘.

Michelle De Swarte as Mia in SPENT

What’s your writing process … Where do you start, character or world-building?

I’ve only just discovered that I even know what my process is, it involves chaining myself to a laptop. That’s my process until something comes about.

You also star in Spent, as Mia please tell us about her character and how her journey evolves for the duration of the season …

Mia’s goals are about keeping up a facade to keep herself emotionally safe, but what she doesn’t realise is that in order to achieve some growth she’s gonna have to admit that things are not what they seem. Mia is charismatic, problematic and hopefully funny and endearing in equal measure. Because she wants to keep up a facade, the goal of her character arc is that she can finally admit to her friends and loved ones the predicament she is in. Without any spoilers, she goes on the scenic route in order to get to somewhere that should be relatively close, interns of an emotional journey.

Writing and acting in a project you came up with … How surreal is this and does being the writer make it any easier to play the character?

Yeah. Being a writer makes it a lot easier to play the character. I don’t have a lot of acting experience but what I have has been very intense because they’ve been big roles. So what’s great about writing is that you do know the character inside out, you know how you want them to be delivered, you know what makes them tick and you know what their backstory is so you don’t have to search for that because you have an innate understanding of who the character is.

Michelle De Swarte as Natasha in The Baby

This is your second leading role your first was in the comedy-thriller ‘The Baby’, in that series you were a 30-something-year-old finding her feet and not conforming to what society expects at that age, in ‘Spent‘ you are closer to your 40s and once again finding your place in the world what is it about playing/writing these characters that intrigues you?

I think it’s just true to life, when I got ‘The Baby’ I was cast from doing standup so maybe that’s just how I read. I think it’s a vibe I’m giving off. It’s something very close to my heart; the struggle of your late thirties.

What were some of the highs, lows and memorable moments on set?

The highs were being able to shoot in Brixton, which is where I grew up. That was amazing especially when I thought about my younger self, on those same streets to be there years later with a whole film crew and skilled and talented actors, elevate in the words that I’d written was an absolute joy.

You started out as a presenter, model and comedian and have never shied away from being open and honest about the experiences in your life. Can you tell us how your career and those particular experiences prepared you for the work you’re doing now?

Life is a funny game, because sometimes you don’t realise that you’re getting great training for whatever the next chapter is and most of the twists and turns of my career have not been planned, other than standup which was planned and was a conscious decision but everything else has been a surprise to myself so sometimes you’re being trained for the next chapter unbeknownst to you.

L-R: Michelle De Swarte & Candice Brathwait, SPENT Screening

If not this, then what? If I didn’t have this career I actually have no idea because every job I’ve had just happened without much planning.

What’s made you Sad, Mad, Glad? Sad, the British weather and the thought of an upcoming election and the choices that we have. Glad, when those clouds do finally crack and the sun does come out. Mad, it seems that no one covers their mouths now when they cough and it drives me up the wall.

What are you watching right now? I just watched the Gene Wilder documentary on Netflix and it’s excellent.

What are you reading right now? bThe List by Yomi Adegoke.

What are you listening to right now? Lexa Gates. I love her.

The last thing you saw on stage? My friend Sydney Washington who is a great New York comic, she came over to do a show at Soho Theatre.

What’s on your bucket list? A Holiday.

Where’s your happy place? Clapham Common with my friends playing frisbee.

Who’s the most important person in your life; who do you rely on the most? Aside from family, my best friend Megan Quashie.

Celebrate someone else … I love Candice Braithwaite. She has got such a positive outlook on life. She makes me feel like a grumpy old man I want to bask in her glory at all times. Let her cast her shadow upon me while she suns herself.

Celebrate yourself … Ok. I’m very excited that my first show is coming out, help me celebrate by watching it.

Whose footsteps are you following in? To all the amazing black and brown women who have trod before me and have made my path a lot easier. Thanks.

What’s Next? A Holiday.

Where can we find you? You can always find comedy clips on Instagram. Probably at a comedy club near you and you can also find me on BBC Two.

Spent will air on BBC iPlayer from Monday 8th July.


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