“Juice” is a surreal comedy centred around Jamma (Mawaan Rizwan), as he seeks attention amidst the whirlwind of his chaotic family dynamics and tumbles headfirst through the realm of love. His mother, Farida (Shahnaz Rizwan), has a knack for making everything revolve around her. Meanwhile, his father, Saif (Jeff Mirza), remains indifferent, and his brother, Isaac (Nabhaan Rizwan), basks in the spotlight at work – the one domain where Jamma feels accomplished. When he eventually receives affirmation from his boyfriend, Guy (Russell Tovey), he finds himself unable to cope. As Jamma’s emotions reach their zenith, the world around him undergoes a physical transformation.
The series, crafted and scripted by Mawaan Rizwan, was discussed in an interview with Bradford Zone.
What can you tell us about Juice?
Juice is a surreal comedy that follows my character Jamma as he stumbles his way through love. Literally. It’s a very physical show with big set pieces and some unexpectedly moving moments.
How would you best describe your character Jamma?
Jamma is a whirlwind of joy, mischief, anxiety and dance moves. A lot of his actions are driven by his need for good ol’ juicy validation. He loves a clap. But when Guy (Russell Tovey) comes along and presents him with the prospect of actual love, he finds it too confronting.
Tell us more about Jamma’s relationship with Guy.
Guy is a bit older, he’s a therapist with a mortgage and an Aga. He’s from a completely different world but their differences complement each other. Guy gives Jamma emotional stability in an otherwise chaotic life and Jamma is the perfect disruption that will shake up Guy’s routine and reinvigorate his sense of play.
The show has some pretty surreal visual moments, how did you come up with the idea for those?
I didn’t want to make a sitcom where the characters were stood in a room firing one-liners at each other. I wanted to take the audience on a visceral, sensory joyride. I got really excited by the idea that when Jamma’s emotions peak, the world around him should start changing, as a physical manifestation of his feelings. So when he’s anxious the walls start moving in, when he’s feeling playful his bowl hair cut starts spinning. The directors (Rosco5) and I didn’t want to rely on special effects, so all the magical realism was done practically on set. We made puppets, put wheels on furniture, we even built a set within a set so that Jamma could fall out of one scene into a completely different location, all in one take. The whole shoot was like a kid’s wonderland! I can’t believe they let me get away with it!
What was your inspiration behind those?
I’m most excited by filmmakers who break the form and tell stories in an unexpected and visually adventurous way; Bong Joon-Ho, Boots Riley, Buster Keaton are all big influences. In my live shows I use a lot of clowning and physicality and when I imagined how we could televise that, I thought, well, there’s more to play with than just my body; we have a whole set from the makeup department to lighting to set design, they can all be clowning with me. The crew was amazing the way they took the brief and ran with it! Highly skilled adults but with the imagination and creativity of children; that’s what’s helped make the world of Juice so unique.
Do you have a favourite scene or episode from the series?
Episode 5. It’s wild, it’s trippy and there’s a scene with my mum that makes me cry every time.
Any funny or memorable moments on set?
Between takes Emily-Lloyd Saini (Winnie) would always improvise the most random songs. One of them being a song about loving a Mezzanine. When I saw the crew laughing and singing it for the rest of the week, I thought ‘this needs to go in the show, it’s a total earworm’. We ended up doing it in one of the scenes and eventually recording a studio version of the song. It’s now in the official soundtrack of the show.
Did you get to keep any of the props?
I wanted to keep the ball-pool from episode one but couldn’t justify the space it would take up in my tiny flat.
What was it like working with your mum and brother?
I started my career making sketches on YouTube with my mum and brother. We’ve always bonded over jokes and characters and the escapism that comedy brings. It actually helped our relationship a lot.
Did you always have them in mind for Farida and Isaac?
There’s no one else I could imagine in these roles but them. As surreal as it was turning up to work and seeing my mum and brother’s trailer next to mine, it also felt like a full-circle moment.
Was there a little bit of sibling rivalry between you and your brother Nabhaan?
Sibling rivalry?! Me? Never! It is actually very annoying how good Nabhaan is in the show. I mean, I wrote a show about how my family always steals my thunder and now they’re in the show and they really steal my thunder. So you can only imagine how hard it’s been for me.
How was writing on Juice different from other shows you’ve written for?
Oh, it was much harder because I couldn’t step away. The vision for this show was so ambitious and so many people took a risk on me, there was a lot riding on it. It’s way more scary when it’s your own baby. But with big risks comes the potential for something truly original and special. Luckily I was surrounded by people who I completely trusted. Producer Hannah Moulder and directors Behnam and Gideon were the biggest support mechanism a writer could ask for!
Juice started life at the Edinburgh Festival, did you ever think it would become a TV show on the BBC?
It’s been my dream to make a TV show for a very long time. I’ve been pitching stuff for years that has never taken off. But live performance wasn’t a stepping stone to making a TV show, if anything it was something I could always go back to that was consistent and immediate. When the fringe show started catching a buzz with production companies and broadcasters, it felt like stars were aligning and a lot of the skills I’d garnered from various jobs within the industry started coming into play, including the theatrical elements of my performance style.
How did you get Russell Tovey involved?
He randomly came to watch the show at The Edinburgh Fringe in 2018. How about that! Half way through the show I remember thinking what the hell is Russell bloody Tovey doing in the audience? He must have come in by mistake. But the he came backstage after to tell me how much he loved it. He was so lovely – he recommended it to all his followers on social media. When the TV pilot got commissioned, I messaged him on Twitter and that was that! He’s been a dream.
What was your ambition for the series?
I wanted to make something that I myself would watch on television. I love shows where you genuinely have no idea what’s going to happen next. I want the series to entertain, to thrill but to also catch people off guard.
How would you best describe Juice?
A trippy joyride that’s got the adventure and chaos of a cheese-induced dream but the emotional truth of a good therapy session.