TBB Talks … Holier Than Thou With Writer Misha Adesanya

Dave’s WriterSlam began as a competition giving diverse and underrepresented writers, producers and talent the opportunity to create a single episode for UKTV …

Writer Misha Adesanya, one of our finalists, has created her very own pilot Holier Than Thou. Misha is from Manchester and growing up seldom saw a reflection of her community and experiences on screen. When she graduated from ALRA North and started auditioning, it became an even more stark reality as she would rarely receive scripts with characters that she truly resonated with. Her semi-autobiographical pilot episode follows three young adults living in Manchester, navigating sex, faith and relationships while attending the conservative, African Evangelical church they were raised in.

We spoke to Misha about Holier than thou, her faith and how important it is to share her lived experience through her work …

Please introduce yourself …

My name is Misha Adesanya. I’m a Nigerian-born, Manc-raised, writer and actor.

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.

Loved.

You are one of the finalists of the WriterSlam competition which gives diverse and underrepresented writers, producers and talent the opportunity to create a single episode for UKTV. Can you tell us about the process of the competition and how you got involved?

A friend messaged me about WriterSlam and I couldn’t believe it was real. It seemed too good to be true. I submitted Holier Than Thou with high hopes and low expectations. I was thrilled when I made the shortlist and in disbelief when I became a finalist. Myself and the other incredible writers spent the following months developing our pilots for UKTV, who subsequently made their final decisions. I’ve been existing in a daze since I found out I won.

You created your own pilot ‘Holier Than Thou‘ what is the premise of the series and where did the idea come from?

Holier Than Thou follows a group of young adults who have grown up in a Nigerian Evangelical church. It’s about the struggle of finding yourself as you find your faith, how the two things can clash and the chaos that ensues. Myself, all my family members and the majority of my friends were shaped by this world and lived out these struggles with varying outcomes. I wrote it for us.

Tomi Ogbaro, Princess Khumalo & Jordan Williams in Holier Than Thou – Image Credit: UKTV / Ricky Darko Photography

What made you want to tell the story and what was the writing process like, what have you learned about yourself as a writer and in what ways has working with UKTV and the WriterSlam benefitted you as a writer?

No single experience has had more of an impact on who I am today than my religious journey so it was the story I had to tell. The initial drafts before I submitted Holier Than Thou for Writerslam were the easiest to write because it was cathartic for me. I was able to process my experiences and create art out of them. Working with UKTV and the production company Big Deal to develop the script for Dave, I needed to be less precious about the story and open to external input. Through that process, I learned that I have a great capacity to collaborate and adapt, I’m far more productive when I have a deadline and I need to place greater value on what I have to offer creatively. The lessons I’ve learned from taking part in this process have been invaluable.

How did you go about selecting the group of people to work alongside you on this project?

UKTV paired me with the production company Big Deal, which put a team together using their expertise. As this was my first time working on a television production in this capacity, it was a major learning experience. Observing how these selections shaped the pilot was incredibly eye-opening for me.

We do not often see stories based around faith especially exploring specifically the African Evangelical church was it hard for you to handle this story with care and deliver it in a way that authentically reflects the lived experience of that community? Were you mindful of this when you made Holier Than Thou?

My faith means the world to me so I have a deep understanding of how complex and delicate exploring religion is. Churches like the ones I grew up attending are flawed institutions full of flawed people who are just navigating life. There is beauty and conflict and humour in that, which I did my best to honour as I wrote it. In the making of Holier Than Thou, I needed to relinquish control and allow for the many creatives involved to bring their own ideas and interpretations to the world, which naturally meant it would deviate from my imagination.

What about your journey, how and why did you want to become a writer?

Being an actor and general lover of film and TV, I was always disheartened by the fact that I rarely came across authentic depictions of the world I’m from. I had loads of ideas, Holier Than Thou being the primary one, and I knew that one day I would write them but I never stopped to seriously focus on writing until the pandemic. I was shielding during lockdown and slowly losing sanity, which ended up being the catalyst for finally writing Holier Than
Thou.

Cyril Nri and Michelle Greenidge in Holier Than Thou – Image Credit: UKTV / Ricky Darko Photography

Who do you hope sees ‘Holier Than Thou‘ and what impact do you hope it has?

Holier Than Thou is full of universal themes such as friendship, morality and love, so I believe audiences can connect to it on that basis. I have always desired to tell stories on screen where people with my niche background get to see ourselves represented authentically and I hope this pilot leads to opportunities and connections that facilitate that.

Alongside the pilot, are you working on anything else?

I’m always acting and writing-wise, I constantly have a million ideas battling for dominance. Currently, I’m fixated on one world that has been my major source of creative expression and joy. So, if a female-driven comedy series about Nigerian weddings would be your kind of thing, I’ve got you!

GETTING TO KNOW YOU …

  • A book you have to have in your collection? Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson, a daily devotional which includes such bangers as “may love be greater in me than the fear of the pain that comes with caring”.

  • A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Colouring Book by Chance The Rapper. An album with the perfect worship to waved ratio.

  • A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of very few things I can watch repeatedly, most of which are cartoons. Childhood nostalgia has me in a chokehold.

  • The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? The earliest productions I can remember seeing were choir performances at church, which, it would seem, did leave a little bit of an impact.

  • What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad: Having to choose just one book. Mad: Having to choose just one album. Glad: Getting to spend time with my former drama teacher turned bestie, who played a massive part in putting me on the path I’m on today.

Holier Than Thou airs Thursday 25th of August on Dave @ 10pm, stream on UKTV Play

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