In Season 4 of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series Black Mirror, a Star Trek-themed episode showcased a brilliant holster of female talents; including none other than Michaela Coel as Shania Lowry. After a brief but memorable appearance in Season 3, Coel returned in a fully meme-able role and continues to go from strength to strength — could we possibly forget her Star Wars cameo?

As creator and star of her Channel 4 comedy Chewing Gum, Coel is carving a path for louder, unafraid voices that celebrate contemporary womanhood. No frills and no holding back, she’s clearly doing something right. She’s now preparing for her debut film role, in Camden-set musical Been So Long. Representing the UK at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival, we caught up with Michaela to talk poetry, Brexit, and how to navigate the world as a young woman with zero chill.

Into the Fold
From Star Wars to the Berlinale – there’s a big difference in the scale of these projects. Do you enjoy both?

Michaela Coel
Both are similar in that you get to meet new people. With all my guys doing cameos in Star Wars, the four of us were working together for a week – it was very intriguing to watch, to be on a spaceship, it’s weird, it’s amazing! And being here is the same, I didn’t know what to expect, I’ve never been to a film festival! It’s so huge, [Been So Long] is my first film. It’s really nice to represent the UK in Europe and be here and have this kind of relationship with people. It’s fun! It’s tiring, but it’s fun, so it’s ok.

ITF
Star Wars pushed your career, but is it also your cup of tea as a moviegoer?

Michaela
As a movie watcher I enjoy Star Wars, as an actor it’s a different skill. I remember watching on set — there’s 60 extras, then you’ve got the actors, they do one line, one line, stop! Back to the beginning. I respect that they’re able to emotionally connect for only two lines, and then do it again and again. When you watch it you don’t see that, so it’s a skill beyond just acting. I don’t know if I have that skill!

ITF
How important is it for you to be in TV shows too? I loved your scene in Black Mirror season 3.

Michaela
That character [Airline Stewardess in Nosedive] – I’m in one scene and it’s the best character I’ve ever played! People always go, ‘what, it was only one scene!’ but she was such a bitch man, it was so fun. It was like, ‘I’m going to ruin your day and I’m going to enjoy it’. And Bryce Dallas Howard is magical to work against. She’s amazing, I did the last day of their whole shoot but it was alive as if it was their first day.

I love television, I love the fact that people don’t have to leave the house to watch it. They can watch it in their pyjamas, they can watch it naked, they don’t have to turn up or buy food, they can just go in the kitchen, they can pause it when they want to pause it, it’s a very different tool. I do love TV very much. And you have six, eight, sometimes 12 episodes to develop a story, and that’s very special. But then I also like the tail of films – it completes. Sometimes we have a sequel, but sometimes we’re very happy with the end of the film, it’s complete. I like both.

ITF
You play outspoken women in your projects, and your Twitter bio ends with ‘zero chill’. As a fellow young woman with zero chill, I want to ask how you think that impacts your career and also your personal life, in terms of the relationship you have with people who follow you?

Michaela
I’ve always been this way since I was really young, I don’t know why I didn’t learn to have a filter. I’m not the most tender of people most of the time. I get why I end up playing these roles, but also what I like about them is that yes they’re very strong, but they’re also very vulnerable. That blends for me as humans, so I get to do both of those. In terms of social media for example, I think it’s important for young people to see someone that isn’t always performing. My room for example is messy, it’s like a war just happened. So I’ll take a picture of me in my room and be like ‘I’m so tidy!’. I think it’s important for people to know that actually people who have careers, awards, they’re also messy, crying sometimes, in pain, they’re depressed too. Too often we present this… thing – and I don’t have any time for that.

ITF
Your family comes from Ghana, how important are your roots to you?

Michaela
Very important. My mum moved to the UK when she was 22. She was very scared of the west when she was young so she cocooned me very much, so I have a very Ghanaian upbringing. That juxtapositioned with being in London, and being very very London in my personality provides a very important mix for me. I went to Ghana for the first time in November and even just getting off the plane and somehow feeling like being at home is special. It’s special for me to have a home far away from the UK.

ITF
How do you feel about this European event in Berlin, in relation to and in terms of Brexit?

Michaela
My feeling is disappointment. That we would choose to do this, and I wonder why we’ve done this. I think it’s partly because we want to feel something, like ‘If I’ve got power, I’m going to press destruct’. To write my second series [of Chewing Gum] I came to Berlin to write for a month, I went to Zurich, I went to Italy to write. So to know that we’ve decided to build an extra ocean… apparently it’s going to happen, but my hope is that we’re able to just cross over and come back and that it’s easy.

ITF
What do you think that young people can practically do to deal with issues like this? Not only Brexit but things like #MeToo, and accepting and challenging privilege?

Michaela
Challenge privilege and also accept privilege – everyone is privileged. I’m privileged, I have a smartphone, I’m therefore a privileged person in comparison to the rest of the world. I think for young people, for artists, out of these awful situations we have to make art. I think some of the best work comes from frustration, from disappointment, from pain. That’s the only hope from the whole thing, to make stories. Like #MeToo for example, let’s make work in response to the awfulness of the world.

ITF
So when you’re happy, you’re not good at making art?

Michaela
Oh no. I’m like, ‘what have I made when I was happy?’ I’m on holiday when I’m happy! I’m not doing this. And if I am happy, if I’m acting, and the part is not so happy, then yeah, I draw nearer to that character, and I have to empathise with the character’s pain. What art doesn’t come from pain? Love comes from knowing that one day you lost it.

ITF
Let’s talk about slam poetry. What are your origins, what is the role of poetry today?

Michaela
I still feel like it’s painfully niche. Poetry, sometimes for me, is like three minutes of venting. You can vent through comedy, you can vent through tears, but it’s concise, and people are patient enough to listen to that thing. I used to do slam poetry for money – because you win money at the end. So you’d perform, perform, but the slams are where I need to get that £50. So I enjoyed it – I love that, it’s like you’re in a ring where there’s no violence. I love it, I’m very connected to my roots as a poet.

I think every piece of dialogue has a rhythm, or you have a chance to make a rhythm or play with that rhythm. Also even just people, together, talking, it’s a rhythm. To find your style compared to the other actor you’re playing with – I love that. I’m also a big fan of classical poetry. John Keates is one of my favourite. Last week I just memorised the Second Coming, I love just being able to, for no reason. I’m just walking round my kitchen washing dishes, just saying some poetry – last week! So yeah, I like poetry.

ITF
Before an actress, you’re a writer. On Chewing Gum, you bring a lot of diverse representation to the screen. Is that a priority for you?

Michaela
I write a lot based on my life experience. I grew up among so many different people – who look different, sound different, speak different languages. It’s all I’ve known. So I can’t write an all-black show, I can’t write an all-female show, because I think I like the variety. Like the pick n mix sweets. The variety is what makes it good. I wouldn’t say I feel a responsibility to do it, it’s something that happens naturally because I have relationships with different kinds of people. So I’m just writing from real life.

ITF
How do you feel about social media, in terms of acting being your craft, but social media being almost as important as that?

Michaela
I think it’s important, you’re right. For me, and I know this isn’t for everyone, what I love is that I don’t have any rules on social media. My only rule is to be honest, to say things that are maybe sometimes controversial, but for me, true. It’s nice to receive messages from people saying, ‘oh my god you said that thing, I feel that thing nobody says that thing’. So to me it doesn’t feel like a job. When I put something on Twitter, it feels like I could have just texted a friend. I don’t read so much the feeds, or press the Discover page on Instagram, because I don’t want to see all the things society wants me to wish I was. I’m happy with my little world.

Follow Ella on Twitter: @ella_kemp