'Dawson's Creek' and Julie Delpy: Rose Matafeo's Inspirations for 'Starstruck'
The swoony HBO Max rom com is back with homages to 'His Girl Friday' and 'The Simpsons'
When the first season of Rose Matafeo's delightful series Starstruck dropped it was easily described as something of a gender switched Notting Hill. On New Year's Eve, Jessie (Matafeo) hooks up with Tom (Nikesh Patel) and realizes he's actually a very famous movie star. Over the course of the first six episodes, Jessie and Tom have the adorable messy experience of figuring out whether they should be together, professional status and other roadblocks notwithstanding. By the end, she's skipping her flight back home to New Zealand and they are recreating the end of The Graduate on a bus. Now, in season 2, which debuts March 24 on HBO Max, Matafeo is looking beyond familiar rom com tropes to figure out what happens after two people have decided they want to be with each other but are still driving each other a little bit mad. Shortly before the release, Matafeo hopped on the phone with us to chat about what was inspiring her this time around.
His Girl Friday
Both Jessie and her creator/portrayer are classic film nerds, and Matafeo has found ways to work her own opinions into the series, including her wild take that Bringing Up Baby is overrated. Jessie works at a cinema and hosts a discussion club with some eager older ladies. Meanwhile, Matafeo managed to work some of her biggest influences into the series as Easter Eggs.
The first series is, I guess, the blueprint of a lot of rom coms, what they usually are, which is missed connections and coming into each other's lives and not knowing if the other person likes you. And I think because that's been clearly confirmed by the end, series 2 is very much tackling the actual reality of being in a relationship. Maybe I'm just a cynical bitch, but I don't find relationships terribly interesting all the time. So just watching people be happy is very boring and there's no stakes to that.
There's a reference to His Girl Friday. That's the film they're showing in episode four. And I keep trying to get people to add this to IMDB trivia. The scene where Jessie's ex-boyfriend comes and offers her a job, the audio is the scene in His Girl Friday where Cary Grant is trying to get Rosalind Russell to come back and work at the paper. That relationship was a real big inspiration for the Ben character. The Philadelphia Story as well, C.K. Dexter Haven of course. It's that annoying ex where usually they end up back together with them. Spoiler alert, that does not happen [in the show] because you realize that they're actually a nightmare. That's such a trope, the ex-husband that drove you crazy, but you have to end up together with him. But the reality of that is that's terrible. Don't be with someone who drives you crazy. That's awful. So that was a definite inspiration, I think.
Something like Barefoot in the Park was quite a cool example of newlywed new love with the arguments that happen. I love the combination of people arguing like crazy, but also basically having sex mad as well. I'm so deeply attracted to you but also I could throw something at you right now.
Among the women she considers reference points, Matafeo cites the real (Shirley MacLaine) and the fictional (Jo March from Little Women), but she reserves some of her effusiveness for French star Julie Delpy.
I think the Before Sunrise trilogy has always been an inspiration. And particularly, I realize maybe in retrospect [because of] Julie Delpy. Because I think in the series, Jessie is a very flawed character, but you like her, hopefully. I think there are a lot of spaces for flawed female characters in television, but it's strangely always something to write about. Like, "Oh, Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown. Wow, she vapes a lot. She's pretty fucked up." But flaws are what makes the character complex, and so that just more reflects how underwritten female characters are. Because often they're only one dimensional, or they're there to be the moral compass of the story or the mother or the person you go to to get advice. And I think Julie Delpy would always play characters who are just absolutely mad and they would do unpredictable things and they were impulsive and they were interesting and quite challenging. I think characters like Jessie are inspired by those roles. She doesn't always make the right decision. It doesn't make her a bad person, but also she doesn't need to be a good person necessarily either.
I don't always agree with what Julie Delpy says, but I think she's just fiercely creative, and I think she doesn't wait to be put in stuff. She makes her own stuff. I think she's really inspirational as a director and a writer. I always wanted to be directing and writing and stuff. I think it's sitting very comfortably in her power in that she knows what she wants.
During lockdown, Matafeo retreated into the warm embrace of Dawson's Creek, and The WB series proved a good reminder of why we turn to love stories.
I was massively back into Dawson's Creek, actually. And you know what? That really helped. It also helped me get over the embarrassment—not embarrassment—but sometimes there is a cringe element to writing a rom com in that you go, "I feel pathetic. I'm fucking single. I'm writing a rom com, these fantasies of romance and love." And you watch Dawson's Creek and you're like, that's what it's about. That is what it's all about. You've got to make these aspirational love stories, because it's the juice of life. There's a reason why it's just the best show ever. It's addictive. I think maybe it's just my personal taste, but I love stories about love. And yeah, it really got me into an amazing vibe. It was very much season 3, 4 I think, Pacey and Joey are just getting together. I'm a Jen and Jack ship. Their friendship, come on. What a gorgeous friendship. Of course I'm a Pacey girl. But then it's so funny because once they got together, it was a bit like, eh. It was an interesting exercise in trying to keep that storyline going. Because it's just fucking electric, the lead up to them getting together. It's insane.
Magic Mike Live
In the premiere episode, Jessie goes to Magic Mike Live. It was a case of art imitating life.
At this point I feel like I work PR for Magic Mike Live. I attended Magic Mike Live not once, but twice. Probably one of the last shows before the pandemic I went to. I took Alice [Snedden], another writer on the show, to that one. When we were writing series two, she wrote a lot of pitches for what happened in the first episode, one of which was that I lightly get hit by a car, which I was like, let's not do that. It ended at Magic Mike and I was like, all right. And we did it. We managed to shoot it at the actual venue of Magic Mike, who were very accommodating. And then months after we made the entire show, Alice was like, "Yeah, I really wrote that in as a joke. I didn't think we'd actually do it. Yeah, it was really surprising." It's an incredibly important cultural touchstone, and a lot of people should appreciate Magic Mike for what it is, which is actually art. Not the first one, Magic Mike XXL is far superior.
The season 2 finale features a waterlogged confession of love that calls to mind Bridget Jones's Diary and wet-shirted Colin Firth in the BBC Pride and Prejudice, but for Matafeo it was more an homage to The Simpsons, specifically the episode "Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily."
Originally we wanted to do it in the canal, but then it ended up canals are even more fiercely polluted than ponds. Not to say that we didn't have to regularly test the water so I wouldn't get, I don't know, giardia or a bird flu. We were looking for a grand gesture. Originally we wanted two boats chasing each other down a canal. They were like, "It's slightly Mission: Impossible vibes. We might not budget for that." But I think we were always looking for something kind of grandiose, but in that undercut, slightly British rom com way.
Also, the forecast was for beautiful sun for that entire day and it ended up pissing down. So what was supposed to be this amazing moment where I looked somewhat nice, I look like a fucking drowned rat. My hair is flat, I've been rained on, just the worst days of filming of all time. You know what it reminds me the most of, to be honest, weirdly? The biggest reference is you know when in The Simpsons where Bart and Lisa and Maggie have to go live with the Flanders? And then at the very end, when they're about to get baptized and Maggie has to choose between the Flanders and the Simpsons, and Homer is just in water just looking like absolute shit? That's what I feel like was for me, personally, the biggest reference of like, why would you want to end up with this girl? She's drunk in the water; she's covered in bird shit.