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Big Age | Interview with Bolu Babalola (Writer And Creator)

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Can you tell us what Big Age is about and describe the four main characters?
Big Age is a friendship based, hang out comedy, set in London following a group of friends and focusing on British Nigerian 25-year-old Ṣadé who is at a crossroads at her life. She has big ambitions to be a writer but is conflicted because of her allegiance to her parents and their dreams for her. She’s trying to decide what to do both for her dreams, against the pressure of parental expectations, especially as a second-generation immigrant daughter.

But this is a story that explores ambition with heart. It’s not cynical ambition. It’s somebody believing in herself and believing that she has something to show the world. And doing that with her friends by her side. The love that is explored in this show isn’t just romantic love, it’s platonic love, it’s familial love, it’s a growing love of self. As we go through the show, the hope is that we’ll see the journey of a young woman coming into her own and being full within her skin, alongside her friends who are exploring themselves as well. So yes, it’s about a group of young people getting to know themselves, supporting each other and, being each other’s own family.

How would you describe the term ‘Big Age’ to those who are unaware of the meaning?
It’s quite hard to directly translate but it’s originated from West African slang, Nigerian slang specifically. It’s something that is said almost as a playful admonishment, but also as a reminder; if somebody is acting immaturely, family and friends generally say ‘why are you acting like this at your big age. And so, in Ṣadé‘s mind, it’s a representation of that – because she’s 25 and because of how’s she’s been brought up, she has an expectation of where she should be in life, at her big age. It’s also a nod to the fact that this is a new era in her life, coming into new adulthood. It’s a new phase of her life where she is shirking off these old expectations on what or who she should be; in the world, her parent’s perception, and discovering her own perception and entering a new age, a big age, a monumental age in her life. Fundamentally, it’s about being 25 and thinking ‘oh no, I’m an adult now and I need to figure out who this adult is, and who am I really’.

And what was your inspiration for writing Big Age?
Not to sound narcissistic, but myself! I came up with a concept when I was 25 – I have a law degree that I wasn’t using, and I was temping in an office and was offered a permanent job. I was thinking that I really needed to make a move to achieve my dreams, I didn’t want to be trapped in a corporate world forever and felt like this was the time to do it. I had massive creative ambitions, but I had no clue how to go about it but knew it was something I had to do, like it was a calling.

I was fortunate enough to have very supportive parents, they never questioned that I wanted to be a writer; according to them, they always knew it was within me. I’m aware that that’s a privilege and that it’s not the norm, especially in my culture, across the older generations. They came to this country with big stable dreams for their children. For me, Big Age is not condemning parents wanting that for their children, it’s understanding that and where they’re coming from and that it comes from love. It’s also understanding that we’re
now in a very different, more evolved world, and though we respect their wishes, it’s time for us to make our own decisions. So, it’s just exploring the nuances of parental expectations versus a younger generations ambition.

So Ṣadé is loosely based on yourself. Are any other main characters inspired by friendships or people that you know?

I think Ṣadé and Dela are the crucial love story within the within the pilot, and yes, it’s loosely based on all my friendships. I guess, their relationship is the amalgamation of all my friends, especially my Black, British female friendships; it’s a sisterhood, it’s just a special connection and communion – we’re moving to the same rhythm, and it’s just this unconditional support. It’s really like they’re your life partners. Big Age is a celebration of friendship, and it’s drawn from my life, but not a narrative copy. None of the characters are directly reflected on somebody singular in my life, but rather all of them.

You are an NY Times and Times best-selling author for your book Love In Colour. How does writing for TV differ from writing a book?
I call myself a storyteller, so, my dedication is to the story. And I love both forms of book writing and script writing equally. I’ve been writing stories since I was a young child and then, at 14, I started writing long form stories – I don’t want to call them novels because they most definitely were not! That form is very natural to me, you can just pick up a piece of paper and just start writing a story.

Writing for TV is a completely different beast, the structure is different, although the basis in storytelling is the same; the structure is different, you have to think about different things, and I find it a really beautiful challenge. I love storytelling, and that part of it comes relatively easy for me but writing for TV brings out a different side of my skill set and makes me hone different techniques and approach storytelling in a different way from writing a book. I am meticulous with all my storytelling, but with script writing, it’s a different kind of meticulous. You must think about different things and think about is this going to come across? How is it going to come across visually – you must show, not tell, whereas in a novel it’s the other way around.

I’m able to bring my descriptiveness and emotional detail into my script writing and even as an exec producer. If I’m given an actor a note, I know exactly the emotion I want to convey because I’m so used to acutely exploring emotion within written texts. I want people to be able to taste the texture, smell the texture from the screen.

Who were your inspirations growing up and now?

I get inspired by so many different people. I get inspired by my peers in the creative field. I read a lot of books, I watch a lot of TV, I am seriously inspired by Yvette Lee Bowser who created Living Single and another couple of sitcoms in the 90s, as a Black woman, and I know how difficult that must have been. I discovered Living Single last year, and it’s one of my favourites shows ever; the humour, the celebration of friendship, they were unapologetically ambitious – especially the women and their friendship. It was so full of love and was about young people creating their own families, and although they suffered from racism, it wasn’t the centre, and it didn’t block their joy or block them from living their life. It was something that they navigated but didn’t block them from their ambitions.

I love Shonda Rhimes who created Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, and wow, there are so many people! Kirsten Kiwi Smith – she’s one of the writers for 10 Things I Hate About You and Legally Blonde, and especially for Legally Blonde. I think that it’s a story that so many people could dismiss, but she took these stories of women and then made them so real, so nuanced and so brilliantly and smartly written. I’m a huge fan of Issa Rae, in the most recent times, she’s told stories of Black people just living their life and it’s not as if they’ve taken their pain, but she’s telling our stories in a really powerful and joyful way. And of course, Beyonce.

Ahh yes, so while you’re on subject of Beyonce, you wrote your thesis on her album Lemonade? What is it about her that you admire specifically?

Oh my, where do I start? I mean, there’s so many things. She is very good at what she does, but you know, it’s very easy to be talented. For me, it’s her dedication and meticulous approach to her craft, the fact that she is all over everything and that she takes risks, the fact that she’s ambitious. She grew up and then grew the confidence to accumulate the power to tell the stories in the way she wanted to tell the stories completely and gain control in terms of censoring Black women and censoring Black people. I’ve watched a lot of her documentaries, and I think she’s very big on working with other people, centering on other people’s talents and incorporating them into the work. She’s a student, she learned how to edit on her own, she learned how to direct on her own.

I think for me, as much as I love Big Age, it’s my baby after all. But what is amazing in bringing Big Age to life is the amount of people that I work with. So many people’s talents coming together to bring so much colour and life to this project. it’s my brilliant director Nosa Eke and my amazing producer, Amy Annette, who both completely understand and share my vision, and make it better. It’s my amazing cast who have not only brought these characters, who have lived with me for years to life, but also brought more to them by making parts of their personality brighter and bigger. So yes, Beyonce is a big inspiration into how I approach my work.

So, in the pilot of Big Age you have the amazing Beverly Knight appearing as a guest star, if Big Age the series comes to life, would you want Beyonce to make an appearance?

That would be the dream.

Getting Beverley Knight was massive – I was and am over the moon. I grew up really admiring her with everything she’s achieved, she’s a massive hero for me. When I found out, my mum and I were jumping around screaming and crying – she’s amazing.

You have a huge following on social media, do you feel pressure to deliver on these platforms or is it now just a natural part of your daily routine?

No, I don’t feel the pressure at all, I think that would be very, very unhealthy, that’s not my approach. My social following wasn’t something that I deliberately went out and amassed. I think it came from talking about things that I enjoy. I’m a writer and so naturally, that is my outlet. I started properly tweeting when I temping, years ago, in my early twenties. I didn’t have a job in media at all. I was looking for ways to just express my creativity, my opinions and I like to share in my joy, if I am excited about something, I want to talk about it and I
think when you are naturally that way, people gravitate to it because people always like talking about things that make them happy.

I talk about rom coms – I love the genre so much. I think that for a long time that genre was considered frivolous and weak, and I think I talk about it in a way that contextualises and intellectualises it and people liked that.

I don’t plan anything I want to talk about, I don’t draft tweets, I don’t wake up and think about what I’m going to share on socials, I tweet what’s in my heart and it’s authentic and I think that’s what people are drawn to. When I start being contrived, what is the point. When it stops being fun then I’ll just stop.

Ṣadé is a strong believer in affirmations – is this something that you can relate to?

I don’t actively have a mantra but in my family, we have this thing where we don’t speak out negativity, we only speak out life, and good things and don’t speak about possible negative outcomes. If you want something good to happen you say it out loud. It means that- God forbid- something unfortunate happens you deal it with hope. Positivity is about retaining hope. So, for all my life, I’ve been living in that positive realm and so many things I say, I end up doing it. I feel like it’s a mental and spiritual thing for me; once I set intentions out in my heart and in my mind, I move according to that, you know.

I think by saying things out loud, writing them down and acting as if they’re going to happen, you start to be proactive without even realising it, you start to work a little bit harder towards that goal. So, for me, the affirmations and manifestations are something that’s kind of embedded into my life and into my heart.

If there was one thing, you’d like viewers to take away from the pilot, what would that be?

Joy, friendship and hope. Ṣadé goes through a range of emotions, but she ends up with hope and I think hope is something that I always want people to carry away from either my books, my shows or anything I create. I think that’s always the hardest thing to cultivate in life and because life is so hard, and I always look for joy and hope. I don’t want to look for more darkness in the world, there’s enough of it. I like to read and watch things that make me happy and that’s what I want to give to other people.

And finally, what else do you have coming up?

Yes, I have a very exciting project coming up that I can’t talk about but watch this space… I do have my new novel, which I’m editing at the moment, called Honey and Spice and it will be out next summer 2022 by Headline both in the UK and the USA, I’m super excited about it. It’s as a campus based rom com focusing on a girl called Kiki and the women who make up the African Caribbean society at the university. She’s one of my favourite heroines, because she just so chaotic, and gives romantic advice to the female populace of her community but doesn’t necessarily take the advice herself. I’m really having fun writing it.