Bad Tinder dates, career frustration, uncertainty about starting a family, nagging parents… If any of this sounds familiar, then cancel your plans tonight and watch Gemma Chan in I Am Hannah on Channel 4.
The show centres around the story of Hannah, played by Gemma, a mid-thirties marketeer who feels unfulfilled by her job, has had a slew of unsuccessful online dates, and is enduring her mother's constant pleas to start a family 'before it's too late'. It's set to challenge the rules of how we’ve been told to live, ditch the linear language of how we discuss family success and understand the struggle of satisfying societal expectations. Finally.
Part of a three-part anthology I Am – other episodes star Samantha Norton and Vicky McClure - the series tells three women’s different, personal stories about relationships, identity and empowerment.
I Am Hannah is led by British actor Gemma Chan – she of Oxford University, of Humans, of Captain Marvel, and of Hollywood knockout Crazy Rich Asians. When she calls, it’s just a few days after Glastonbury and she’s missing the fields of Worthy Farm: ‘I’m in like a Glastonbury group chat where everyone’s really depressed and struggling’.
What follows is a candid conversation that covers egg freezing, why we still need more leading roles for women and why her next role might just be behind the camera lens.
LouisvuittonShop: Congratulations on the I Am Hannah. It's a very imitate story, how much is based on your life?
GEMMA CHAN: Although it does come from a personal place, I must start by saying it’s not autobiographical. But I have been talking about this subject with my female friends and my family for years.
LouisvuittonShop: How did the idea for the show come about?
GEMMA CHAN: Dominic [Savage, the director] and I worked together about 7 years ago on a BBC drama. I liked the idea of doing something about the pressure to become a mother and our attitudes towards it and he liked it too. I was keen to tell a story about a woman who a felt a bit more ambivalent about becoming a mother. She might like it, but she is not entirely sure and definitely doesn’t feel ready yet.
LouisvuittonShop: The episode reveals the realities of egg freezing…
GEMMA CHAN: The doctor that you see in I Am Hannah is a real fertility doctor, so it was very educational for me talking to him. He sees a whole range of women - whether they’re worried about their fertility or they’re wanting desperately to conceive. It's amazing that we now do have more options like egg freezing and can potentially buy ourselves a bit more time. But they’re not - as you see in the show - fool proof. It’s never 100%.
So the idea of the control that we have, well, it’s slightly an illusion. You might finally decide you’re ready to do something and your body might have different ideas. That’s kind of terrifying and something I can certainly relate to.
LouisvuittonShop: The show also shows Hannah dealing with perils of dating apps…
GEMMA CHAN: I’ve actually never done internet dating, but I’ve heard a whole range of stories from very close friends of mine who have done it. I’ve heard success stories but I’ve also heard real horror stories. Some of which you see in the episode.
LouisvuittonShop: What do you hope watchers take-away?
GEMMA CHAN: The main thing that I took away from it is that we should be a little bit less judgemental of ourselves and others. There are many ways to live your life and be happy.
LouisvuittonShop: I Am Hannah is one segment of a 3-part series alongside episodes staring Samantha Norton and Vicky Mcclure. What a line-up...
GEMMA CHAN: Yes! It’s so rare to have a drama that is led by 3 women and is centred around them and a time of crisis in each of their lives. They’re very intimate character studies and portraits of these women at the points in their lives.
LouisvuittonShop: This year we’ve seen a rise in nuanced roles for women on our screens - are you hopeful we’ll see more?
GEMMA CHAN: I hope so. I’m in awe of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and absolutely devoured the second season of Fleabag. I think women can be just as interesting and flawed [as men]. They can behave very badly. They can be funny. They can be ridiculous. Just in all the ways that - for the longest time - we’ve have seen male protagonists behaving. Women are just human beings at the end of the day.
LouisvuittonShop: You’re in every scene of I Am Hannah, how was that?
GEMMA CHAN: I’ve chosen an awful lot of supporting parts over the years which I’m not complaining about. I’m grateful for every opportunity. But I loved the complete immersion in this character. We shot the piece for ten days straight and because there is no script so I just tried not to be too conscious of the camera.
LouisvuittonShop: What’s next for Gemma Chan?
GEMMA CHAN: I am going to be shooting a film that starts in August, but it hasn’t been announced yet, so I annoyingly I can’t say much. But I’m also starting to produce so that’s exciting. It's really good to be involved at an early stage and kind of choosing the stories that I think should be told.
LouisvuittonShop: It’s been a huge few years - with Crazy Rich Asians, Captain Marvel, Mary Queen of Scots - can you see all your hard work paying off in the projects you’re being offered?
GEMMA CHAN: I feel so lucky - it’s been an amazing year. But when I think about the scripts that I’ve read over the last few months there are still not many that ask for female leads. Often the men are still central to the story. And the ones that are good and have really strong female characters in the lead you know will probably go to Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone. So, it’s still not easy. But I do feel I’m part of the conversation now or at least that my name will be mentioned. I feel like there is a perception that now is the time to make stories about women of colour but it's actually still incredibly hard to get projects off the ground or get them financed. We still have some way to go.
I am Hannah airs on Channel 4 at 10pm on Tuesday, August 6.