'When he leaves both women, he's heartbroken because it's stressful' - the cast of new comedy drama Bliss talk moral crisis
New Sky One comedy drama Bliss centres around a man in a moral crisis - he's living a double life. But, as Georgia Humphreys finds out from the stellar cast, audiences might relate to the situation more than they'd think
Fifteen years of lies. Two sets of wives and kids. One very complicated life. Yep - to say travel writer Andrew Ballard, the protagonist of new Sky One show Bliss, has got himself in a bit of a pickle would be a massive understatement.
But, says Stephen Mangan, his character's situation is actually quite common.
"I met one cabbie who told me his dad had three women on the go," elaborates the 49-year-old. "He had built up lives that the other people didn't know about.
"We can all relate to that in a way. We all have hobbies or read books our partners don't know about. This is that in extremis."
Here, Mangan, and co-stars Jo Hartley and Heather Graham, tell us more about their characters.
Importantly, the show doesn't glorify Andrew's bigamy. "It's not a, 'Wey-hey, I've-got-a-harem' thing," quips London-born Mangan.
"Andrew absolutely loves both women - he's not lying about that at all," continues the star, best known for comedies such as Green Wing and I'm Alan Partridge. "When he leaves each woman, he's heartbroken. He goes around the corner and cries because it's so stressful."
While most people will probably feel more sorry for the wives (called Kim and Denise), who each have no idea the other exists, you may find yourself empathising with Andrew too.
"When I read the scripts, I really liked Andrew's character a lot and that's what I thought was very clever, because you don't want to like this person, do you?" remarks Hartley, who plays Denise and is recognisable from shows such as This Is England.
And it was this approach from writer and director David Cross, star of US comedy Arrested Development, that won The Hangover's Graham over.
"When I first heard the premise, I thought it might be gross and be about this guy boasting about getting all the girls," the 48-year-old admits. "But then I read it, and I instantly loved it."
KIM'S LIFE WITH ANDREW
Graham plays American Kim, who seems "proper and conservative on the surface" but is becoming frustrated with Andrew and decides to pursue her dreams.
However, we'll see Andrew desperately try to dissuade her from this. "He tries to keep her off social media and make sure she doesn't have a lot of friends," explains Wisconsin-born Graham, who people might know best for her role in Boogie Nights. "The less she is out there, the less chance there is of him being found out."
Andrew also tries to keep his children - Christina and Kris, both 15 - off social media. "His worst nightmare is that he thinks his son by one woman might have fallen in love with his daughter by the other," suggests Mangan.
"He's trying to be a good dad," says Graham, "but he's not doing a great job.
"His decisions have turned him into a basket case on the verge of a nervous breakdown."
Andrew's mission to keep his families apart meant Mangan found filming "like having two separate jobs".
"I'd say goodbye to Heather, have a cry for 10 minutes and then do my scenes with Jo," he says.
DENISE'S LIFE WITH ANDREW
Hartley immediately identified with her character, Denise.
"All women are strong, but she is a particularly focused, positive woman," says the actress, who was born in Oldham.
"Her wealthy parents disowned her because of her partying, and now she doesn't drink," she continues. "She's trying to change. She's frustrated, and wants to do something with her life."
"Feisty" Denise doesn't regret having her son, Hartley explains, but she "gets to that point where she's like, 'What's going on? He [Andrew] is never here! Where's my life'?"
You've probably wondered by now how neither wife suspects Andrew of having an affair - and it's often a comically close shave, like in episode one when Andrew worries the two will meet in a restaurant.
But while lonely Denise struggles with how much her husband is away writing his travel books (he actually just uses Google for everything), she genuinely doesn't think that he would cheat.
"I think Denise is quite maladjusted in a lot of ways and she probably is not facing some things herself ... she's never really fulfilled her full potential," remarks Hartley, who, after doing a lot of comedy recently, embraced the chance to do something more serious. "Which isn't Andrew's fault. It's her own fault.
MORE DRAMA TO COME
Mangan blames Andrew's predicament on making a lot of small decisions "motivated by a desire not to upset people" - and it's this the cast thinks will resonate with audiences. "I can relate to being a people pleaser," says Graham. "It can make you crazy, and yet you keep convincing yourself that it's a good thing. Andrew has good intentions, but they only make things much worse."
What do the stars hope would happen to the characters in future?
"I hope she keeps pursuing her dream," says Graham of Kim.
"I also hope Andrew gets discovered. He deserves his comeuppance. He's not having a great time because he's always so anxious, but I hope he does suffer!"
Bliss starts on Sky One on Wednesday, February 14, 10pm