TBB Talks … Actress And Writer Isis Davis

Isis Davis is busy!!!

The actress and writer’s work card has been fully booked for the past couple of years. On some pretty impressive projects at that.

She was recently part of the writing team on season 4 of Killing Eve. The script for her original drama pilot Death of a Matriarch has been commissioned by Firebird Pictures. She’s commissioned to write an episode of award-winning author Candice Carty-Williams’ new series Champion for New/Balloon and the BBC. Alongside all of that Davis is Show Runner and Lead Writer on the original series Fast Girls, being developed with Red Productions and Disney.

We mentioned that Davis is also an actress – she just starred in The Secret Garden also starring Julie Walters and Colin Firth.

As we said Isis Davis is busy! We caught up with her to understand how she does it all …

Please introduce yourself

My name is Isis Davis. I’m a Black, mixed race writer and actor and I’m from Ladbroke Grove, West London.

Describe your life right now in a word or a sentence?

A manic, unbelievable, dream-come-true.

We last spoke to you in 2017 you were on a high after your four-part series Draw had been given a BUFF award for screenwriting – you’d been working on Guilt for Lionsgate and Electric Dreams for Channel 4 – when you look back to 2017 and where you are today, what’s been the most significant change or evolution for your career?

As an actor, playing the role of Martha in The Secret Garden opposite Colin Firth and Julie Walters was a real turning point and opened up a lot of doors for me on screen. As a writer, when I got selected as one of the 13 writers selected for The BBC TV Drama Programme, that was when I really started noticing a change and people wanted to start working with me.

Isis Davis as Martha in The Secret Garden – Image Credit: Press

And personally, I remember you saying that during those troubled moments in your younger years, you used your art via writing and poetry to escape – is art still your escape route away from day to day pressures?

No, now art is the day to day pressure! However, it is a blessing that I wouldn’t change for the world because I dreamed to be where I am today and although I’m lucky enough to be juggling a high pressured workload, I love every character that I develop, and every script that I write. I fully immerse myself in each and every world.

You’re still balancing acting and behind the scenes work. The last role that I was made aware of was in Anna Karenina at The Sheffield Crucible … tell us a bit about your role in that project and what the experience was like?

I played Dolly who is Anna Karenina’s sister in law, who is the wife of a serial cheat. Anna Karenina is a period piece but this was a contemporary, very modern version which was nothing like any of us thought it would be. It was incredible working with Anthony Lau who directed. It turned into a production that I was really proud to be a part of. It was my first time back on stage in four years (two of those years being lockdown). It was a big thing because I stared in theatre and being in Anna Karenina reminded me of exactly why I got into this career and what I love about being on stage. It excited me and it reignited that spark and the love I have for live theatre. I can’t wait to do more again soon.

You are able to adapt your acting skills for screen and stage quite seamlessly but where are you most comfortable and which skills in your bag do you have to lean on more when on set or on stage?

I like them both for different reasons. I love the process of theatre. I like working with a company, getting to know people, rehearsing and creating something together and playing off people, the other actors and the audience reactions. With every performance there is change, change in audience, in energy, mood, sometimes technical issues so you have to be front footed and ready to adapt. There are multiple takes on stage. Having said that I respect the process of screen work just as much, and its amazing to be involved in all the elements in television and film making and be able to see a recorded performance and how all of those elements have come together to be enjoyed over and over, sometimes for years and years to come and to know that you are part of that enjoyment that can now be so easily accessed. I’ve been very fortunate to play some great screen roles.

Isis Davis as Dolly in Anna Karenina – Image Credit: Marc Brenner

You’ve also worked in the writing rooms of some big projects, season 4 of Killing Eve being one of them – please tell us how you landed that gig?

When I was part of The BBC writers programme, many production companies were reading my work, scripts I’d already written, and I was very fortunate as so many people wanted to meet with me. Very early on in my writing career I met with Henrietta Colvin at Sid Gentle. At that time she told me about a show that she had in production that BBC America had commissioned, and that is was written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and it was about a female assassin, based on these novels. Little did I know that it would turn into the incredible series that is world renowned Killing Eve. So I already had that connection with Sid Gentle from back in 2017 when I first signed with my literary agent. They then called me about going onto the writers room of Season 4 early on in 2020 whilst I was still finishing off The BBC writers programme but then lockdown hit and everything was put on hold. A few months later, the call came again and they had arranged for the writing team to continue via Zoom, and asked would I still be interested in going on board, and of course I said yes.

And what’s it like coming into such an iconic project like Killing Eve that has a lot of attention and where it’s not your story to tell. You’re lending your voice to a louder one – what was the experience like and how did it work?

I felt totally humbled to be tasked with writing on such an iconic show that is loved by so many people all over the world, a show that the cast have invested so much of themselves in. Killing Eve and the style in which it is written and the way that each individual characters speaks is so unique and specific to the show that you have to encompass that style, envelope the rhythm that the characters have fallen into across the previous series and become part of the process. Working on Killing Eve is not about being brought on to put your own style into an episode, it is about writers who are able to contribute exciting storylines whilst honouring the ebb and flow of the prior series and maintaining the pre existing voices of the characters that tell the story.

You’re also working on the highly anticipated Candice Carty-Williams project Champion – what can you tell us about this – and what’s it like writing on a project that’s possibly more reflective and representative of a world that you know?

I can’t tell you much, other than what is in the press release. It’s about a black family, about black British music. It is very close to my experience. When I received Candice’s script I loved it straight away. Candice and the whole team, all the writers that she has brought on board, Edem, Amir, Emma and the producers, Dani, Dave and Imogen who I have previously worked with on my script Rose, are all so so lovely. I’ve never been on a team like it, we just all completely got it from day one. I felt like I knew the characters straight away; they were my cousins, my Mum, my aunties, I could relate to where they’ve grown up so for me, Champion was a no brainer, I wanted to be on board straight away.

I know you’re working closely with Danielle Scott Haughton at Balloon, does that include working with Candice too – and what’s that working process like and what are you learning about yourself as a writer?

I’m working with them a lot. Candice is incredible, she’s such a lovely person and an amazing writer and this is her baby so it is an honour to be trusted to bring to life on the page what she has created and envisaged. I’ve worked closely with Dani before on my own original script Rose, so I was so pleased to have the chance to work with her again. Developing a script is an intense and precise process so to work with someone as intuitive and as fun and engaging as Dani is always a pleasure, it’s like working with friends rather than doing a job.

What else are you working on right now?

Right now I’m also working on a new green lit show for The BBC, soon to be announced, on which I am writing an episode. I’m working on my own original series called, Death of a Matriarch, with Firebird. I’m writing a show called Your Eyes with Producer Julien Leroux and Development Exec Caroline Amer at Paper Entertainment who produced Tehran that just won an Emmy for Best Drama Series. Your Eyes was a French film which was adapted into a series produced for Netflix France, and I am now adapting it for British and American audiences. Also, still to be announced, this week I have been commissioned as lead writer on a series to be developed by Disney. At this point, I can’t say any more on that … I can’t wait until I can though.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

  • A book you have to have in your collection?Ugly, written by Constance Briscoe
  • A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Nas – God’s Son. I remember vividly listening to it on repeat when I had an old Disc-man and it was the soundtrack to my life back then. “I know I Can” is still one of the songs that I play all the time now, to my kids, because I think its just amazing.
  • A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly?City of God has and will always be my favourite film. However at the other end of the scale, I will happily watch re runs of Modern Family.
  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? – I can’t remember the first, but I remember seeing Fiona Shaw in Mother Courage at The National while I was at college and it just blew me away. I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do.
  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – My kids – all of the above.
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