With comedy gigs on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, performers are missing the stage, but none has been as refreshingly honest about the reasons why as Rose Matafeo. "I guess I just love attention. I can’t help myself, I love it," the 29-year-old comic tells R29 over Zoom. It’s this frank style of funny that has helped make the native New Zealander a rising star in the UK, celebrating the release of her first comedy special, Horndog, and her first feature film, Baby Done, in 2021. But while most of us would put our feet up for the rest of the year, Rose is just getting started, with her first-ever sitcom, Starstruck, on the way to BBC Three this April.
The premise of Starstruck – which Rose co-produced, co-wrote and stars in – feels somewhat like a millennial, gender-flipped version of Notting Hill, telling the story of a successful movie star falling for your average Londoner. But unlike the Richard Curtis hit, the main characters have their 'meet cute' on a drunken New Year’s Eve. What begins as a classic tale of morning-after-the-night-before awkwardness kicks into high gear when Rose’s character, Jesse, realises that the man she is waking up next to is none other than very famous actor Tom Kapoor (Nikesh Patel, Four Weddings and A Funeral).
From here, the series wades into the murky waters of modern dating, discussing everything from keeping in contact with no-good exes to social media-stalking potential partners. Throw in two dead-end jobs and highly strung housemates and the show is pretty much the embodiment of the twentysomething experience. There is one major difference, though: dating a mega celebrity. While you might hope that the series is based on a juicy true story, Rose says that the concept sadly has nothing to do with her real life, coming instead from her longtime fascination with famous people.
"I'm obsessed with celebrity gossip and Instagram accounts like Deux Moi (an addictive account which circulates industry rumours from anonymous sources). I'm obsessed with anecdotes about celebrities from friends of friends. I just really love it and thought it would be a great premise for a rom-com," she says, laughing. "I think it is something that everyone kind of weirdly fantasises about, like, What would it be like if a celebrity fell in love with me? How crazy would that be?"
The main plot point of Starstruck might not be taken from Rose’s own life but the show's focus on millennial dating entanglements is certainly something that she's used to.
"I think it is such a common thing for people in their late 20s, living in a city like London, to be caught up in a situationship," says Rose. The blurry lines between committed and casual relationships are epitomised in the timeframe of Starstruck's six episodes, which take place over the course of a year. "The pace was something that felt real to me, because I think about my own experiences and I'm like, Holy shit, I've been in three-year-long situations with people. It’s like, you sleep together in 2018 and then in 2019 you're like, Oh my god, you exist again...okay?!"
The show is extremely perceptive throughout about modern dating but perhaps nowhere better than in one soon-to-be-memed scene. As the unmistakable sounds of "Return of The Mack" play in the background, we watch Jesse exit a canal boat after a night of satisfying sex, setting out on her walk of joy. Bouncing along the street, high-fiving strangers, she soon breaks into full choreography, using a nearby café chair as a prop. "I think everyone can relate to when you're walking home the day after you've had this weird sort of interesting, exciting experience with someone, and you're in the same clothes, and it is like 6am and you're thinking, This is legit, this is awesome. I feel amazing," says Rose.
This confidence about sex is one of the major reasons Starstruck is such a pleasure to watch, something Rose says was purely a happy accident. "I'm just an oversharer and I have no filter. There wasn’t actually any sort of intentional aim to be sex-positive, it was just purely informed by my opinion as a woman in the world," she says. "I think it’s such a great, wonderful reflection of the world changing that I feel the freedom to see nothing strange about discussing those topics. I'm really optimistic about the fact that that doesn't seem weird to me at all."
Though the show does have an empowered approach to sex, it takes notes from classic comedies, too. Rose is a mega fan of '80s, '90s and 2000s rom-coms. "All of those films 100% created an influence on the show. I think in a way, you take all of those iconic films that you love so much, and then it's kind of a process of filtering it through your own personality," she says. "I think what we did is something slightly new in terms of having a female lead in that situation, and kind of trying to subvert certain tropes of the rom-com genre throughout it."
One of the most important 'updates' is the diversity of the cast, with Starstruck led by two non-white actors. "If you don't look like the people in films or media, you don't realise how much you have to try and use them as a conduit for your own experience," says Rose. "You have to try and see the aspects that you share with that character because I have nothing physically in common with someone like Meg Ryan, for example. When all your life you are shown the same type of character that you have to weasel your way into understanding, it gets so tiring and it gives you a really strange sense of yourself when you don’t see yourself reflected."
With Rose in the driver’s seat when it comes to creating her own TV projects, the potential for more inclusive romantic comedies from her feels ripe. "There are so many decisions and things that happen in those old movies that were just so dated. So now we're able to kind of push the envelope a little bit in terms of what we talk about. Because we have that freedom now on television to do that, to present a less cookie-cutter version of what rom-coms are." With Starstruck already renewed for a second season before the first even airs, it's clear that Rose is part of the new guard of rom-com creators. We, for one, couldn't be more excited.
Starstruck airs on Sunday 25th April on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer