How ‘Starstruck’ creator Rose Matafeo modernized Rom-Com
Photo: Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images
If you’ve seen Rose Matafeo’s Edinburgh Comedy Award special stand-up Horndog, you know she has a lot of opinions about dating and pop culture like how love crystallizes in your body like a Horcrux and why Island of love would be better if the candidates solved a murder like in Index. Matafeo, who started stand-up in her native New Zealand when she was 15, is a natural performer who is able to make audiences wonder if what they see is part of their act. or a real emotional response. As someone who believes that the real definition of excitement is ‘getting 100 percent into something that isn’t worth it’, Matafeo’s comedy invites everyone to fully indulge in their obsessions, even at the risk of being heartbroken. Now, Matafeo has channeled his own obsessions into Starstruck, an HBO Max romantic comedy series and one of the most delicious new shows of the year.
Created by, co-written by and performed by Matafeo, 29, Starstruck follows Jessie, a Kiwi expat who happily passes by London when she realizes that the well-hung dude she just had a one-night stand with is actually a big movie star, Tom Kapoor (Nikesh Patel) . Although the series is most often compared to Notting hillRomantic comedy lover and movie nerd, Matafeo draws inspiration from a range of influences, mixing elements from wacky comedies, Steve Martin and Albert Brooks films from the ’80s and’ 90s, and romantic comedy classics as Bridget Jones Diary, Dreamer, and When Harry meets Sally to create his completely original and utterly charming new series.
The six-episode first season offers everything romantic comedy fans expect – a memorable encounter (in a nightclub bathroom, of all places), catchy banter, and an undeniable chemistry between its two protagonists. But in Starstruck, there are no external obstacles that separate Tom and Jessie, like a secret bet or one of them bankrupting the other. Instead, Jessie and Tom’s deeply ingrained emotional blockages lead to a series of misunderstandings that leave them both cautious and hesitant to engage, while their biting common sense of humor continues to sink them deeper. in love.
Matafeo took a break from working on StarstruckSeason two to talk with Vulture about creating the perfect romantic comedy love interest, why she loves writing about love and her hopes for a new kind of romantic comedy rebirth.
Horndog was very much focused on love, sex and pop culture, and those same themes are reconfigured and explored in new ways Starstruck. What do you think is what always attracts you to these topics in your work?
Laziness. [Laughs.] Pure laziness. And I can’t run away from my own personality. It’s been a really interesting thing – getting older, living into your twenties, trying to experiment with who you are, what other types of people you could be, what other types of things you could be. And then go back to almost 30 and realize that I’m just a nerd and that I will never escape it. So I think I keep revisiting these things because these are the things that obsess me, and I’m a slightly obsessive person. I am a child of the 90s; pop culture is part of my life. Nice to be able to do something like Starstruck, where you feel like you’re adding to pop culture rather than talking about it and thinking enough about it.
When you did Starstruck, what rom-com traditions did you want to honor and what were you eager to do differently?
I think it’s boring that the cute stuff is always going to be part of the romantic comedy lore, and I love that. This is the best part. That and the first kiss or the first fight or something like that. There are so many of these items that I think if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I think a good tension and a good joke is such a huge thing. Having two characters who really have chemistry but are also a little mean to each other at times in an exciting way. Maybe I’m showing my cards too much with the way I’m with relationships, but when someone can give you shit, you’re like, “Holy shit, that’s the sexiest thing.”
It was just a pleasure to try to write two really funny characters. Back then in ’40s romantic comedies and stuff, female characters were allowed to have a lot of good lines, and then somehow or another. [that opportunity] just disappeared. There are some incredibly charming female roles in romantic comedy – and to be honest they have good lines – but men have tended to adopt those lines and women have gotten funny in a physical way, like “Oh my God, I fell in love all the time. It was really cool writing two characters that were just funny, and a female character or a woman who was shamelessly funnier than the guy. It’s by no means a disrespecting Tom or Nikesh, but it’s a little silly that it’s not as common as you think.
I tend to have low expectations of men in romantic comedies, but I knew I was all over Tom the morning after they first slept together when he not only enjoyed the Jessie’s humor, but then tried to outdo her.
You know, what’s so funny is how many times it hurts to write “Tom laughs”. Like, “Tom is making fun of Jessie.” Then you realize, “Damn, I never see a guy making fun of a girl in a romantic comedy.” It’s always like “You’re ridiculous” or like “Oh you. “And I think it hurts to write a character who has to laugh at your jokes, especially when you’re on the show, but it works. It also works because Nikesh is so wonderful at it and he holds his own. honestly it takes a lot of it and it really takes a really amazing performer to be able to take a character like that and not turn it into a dick and be really warm. i dont know why straight men dont get that the most thing. hot thing you can do is laugh at a woman It’s so easy Honestly pretend it’s really the best thing you can do.
I love that after Jessie has slept with Tom, she isn’t obsessed with him and goes on with her life as usual. What was your approach to building the dynamic between these characters?
It wasn’t until we did some of the American press for it and they were like, “Oh, that’s good because the headline is ironic.” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, it is.” It really didn’t occur to me. [The dynamic] comes from what type of character Jessie is. She is sure of herself and knows herself. She is happy to be single in a city and she is happy with her position in life. She’s not upset by meeting a guy like that. On the contrary, he’s chasing her, which is pretty awesome and quite nice to see and certainly unexpected. I love her because her fame is a drag on her. She is not impressed by it. And the fact that she isn’t impressed is what also draws Tom to her, and what makes them orbit each other for this year.
It’s so rare to see interracial couples onscreen one of whom is not white. Was that something you took into account when casting Tom?
With that, we didn’t intentionally pick someone from any race, really, from any past. We were just picking the person who was best for the role, and Nikesh happened to be our guy. For it to happen organically like that, it feels like a really positive step forward in that it feels a little less ticked off, if that makes sense. I say this with appreciation as well that you have to put effort into achieving diversity on screen and behind the camera as well. So there are elements where it’s like yes, you have to consider your cast, consider who you put on and band together from that. It’s also something we don’t necessarily talk about on the show. And I think sometimes when you’re not white, you have this feeling that you have to talk about it. And it becomes part of your character and it becomes part of the story. And that was something really cool about that, is that it’s just two people falling in love. And that’s the kind of advancement you should see on TV, where it doesn’t necessarily – and it can be, because identity is such a huge part of character – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. part of their love story.
I’m a little obsessed with the board game the characters play where they have to guess which celebrity is coming to dinner based on their height, and I saw you used to do that. keep a chart of your height versus celebrities.
I did. Especially with women who are quite tall. Nicole Kidman, taller than me. I really want to meet her someday to see how tall she is compared to me. Cameron Diaz, I think a little shorter. Lots of men who were surprisingly smaller than me, which was kind of sad. But you know, I love my little kings. They still deserve it. Rick Moranis, much shorter. Steve Martin, maybe a little the same size. I have to see him again. I have to redo the table.
You’re already working on season two, and most romantic comedies end where that first season ends. What was it like to find out about the next chapter in Jessie and Tom’s relationship?
It’s very difficult to write a sequel to a romantic comedy, I’ll say that. Especially when you’ve kind of written this story that ties in in some way. But that’s good because I feel like a lot of people want to see what’s going on beyond the story of their will. What’s great is that whatever it is, you’re missing some characters and you kind of want to see what we’ve built all these characters into. [season] one, where they arrive. It’s almost like writing a fan fiction of your own.
I have the impression that between that, Feel good, and High fidelity, we are experiencing a renaissance of romantic comedies with truly unique tones and perspectives. What do you think about the situation of the genre and how it is evolving?
I think romance or romantic comedies were a deeply white, heteronormative genre throughout the ’80s,’ 90s, and 2000s. And I think people are just finding out that people other than two whites – a white man and a white woman – fall in love. And now to see shows and works that reflect such a wide group of people of sexualities, race, gender, everything, I think it’s just exciting. And it’s also exciting to see these things made by people. I think that’s a big, big thing. The people who write and direct and actually create this content themselves rather than being written for is the next step. I’m hoping that a new, regenerated form of romantic comedy that’s a lot more inclusive has a bit of a rebirth now because I want to see them. I want to fucking see them!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.