Rose Matafeo on Making 'Starstruck,' the Rom-Com Series You've Been Waiting For

The series feels like a fantasy Deuxmoi blind.

The premise of New Zealand actor-comedian Rose Matafeo's new show Starstruck, now streaming on HBO Max, is something you've absolutely fantasized about. What if you met a movie star on a night out, hooked up, and began a relationship? It's the stuff fan fiction threads and Deuxmoi blinds are made of—but in Starstruck's case, it's not all premieres and Prosecco. Would it be interesting if it was? 

No, instead, Matafeo's character, Jessie, finds the fact that Tom (Nikesh Patel) is famous to be the least attractive thing about him. That's not because he's rude, haughty, or arrogant—quite the opposite, actually. Tom is funny, kind, and, yes, incredibly hot, but the circumstances of his life and Jessie's make for a complicated relationship. There are lots of mixed signals, chance encounters, and fights that resemble what would actually happen if a non-famous person found themself in a situation with an A-lister. The show, even with its glittery logline, is rooted in reality. 

But that doesn't mean it's a drag. Starstruck is hilarious and poignant: the perfect six-episode binge-watch for rom-com lovers. Below, Rose Matafeo—who created Starstruck and co-wrote every episode—discusses the show's origins, celebrity culture in 2021, and how in order to create the dreamiest leading man, you don't have to do much. (Which, honestly, is pretty sad. Do better, dudes.) 

Where did the idea for Starstruck come? 

Rose Matafeo: I came up with a bajillion ideas for TV shows, and most were rejected. A polite no, a polite no, until one stuck. I basically pitched the show after a plane ride back to New Zealand, and it was the last attempt at a pitch of something. It was like, "Not any of those ideas. Do you have another idea? One last idea." And that's the one they went for. I love rom-coms, so it felt like a really natural world to write a story and build a character within. 

But there's a clear celebrity component to it. Where did that come from? 

Celebrity's always on the mind. I'm 29. I was born in 1992, of course pop-culture is my life. I'm a nerd, and I've grown up loving films and television and comedy. It definitely is a mild interest of mine. As a teenager, I used to keep a chart that was my height compared to all the heights of celebrities I loved. I, obviously, am obsessed with Deuxmoi. That's what got me through the pandemic: literally rolling onto my side, picking up my phone, and being like, “All right, who's Nicholas Braun dating now? Where was he spotted?"

Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

I feel like that account is so indicative of how we interact with celebrities today. 

Celebrity operates in such a different way in the age that we live. I think access to celebrities as just normal people is a lot more prevalent in the world we live in, in the sense that you're not writing fan letters to celebrities anymore. You're commenting on Instagram posts. With this story, exploring the idea of, oh, celebrities are just real people who have romantic encounters, particularly with people who aren't necessarily famous. I thought it was really interesting to explore it from that aspect, from the non-famous perspective.

Jessie is such a relatable character. She's 28, which is such a weird age: too old for the sloppiness of your early 20s, but not yet 30. It's an interesting time, for sure. 

There are so many coming of ages in one's life, but people mainly believe it's going from teenage to early 20s. But there is a weird crossover in your late 20s into early 30s, I think. You don't know what you're doing, but you pretend like you do. You are absolutely flying by the seat of your pants and just saying stuff and hoping people think you're old enough to mean it or know what you're talking about.

How much of that character is you?

Jessie is very much me but in a different timeline, in a different universe. Jessie is written as a character as if I moved to the U.K. in my early 20s and didn't do comedy. I'm 29, and I've been so lucky to have an amazing time of it in terms of work and things I've done. [But] I'm still a fucking mess. Apart from work, I am truly a shambles. So it was not a stretch to write Jessie as a bit of a shambles of sorts.

This show has such a fantastical premise yet it's grounded. How did you strike that balance?

Jessie is from New Zealand, as am I. I think there is a particular grounded-ness of someone who's from New Zealand, who isn't necessarily as impressed or taken away by the celebrity of it all. Genuinely, the fact that Tom is a celebrity is the biggest downside to him. Whereas maybe, in other stories, there'd be an intoxicating element of that fame. I really don't think anyone worth talking to would be a kind of person who would go out with someone because they were a celebrity, you know what I mean? That would be a horrible rom-com to watch! You'd be like, “Oh my God, who is this sycophantic freak who loves going to premieres?”

How did you go about creating Tom? Did you pull from different celebrities? He's honestly one of the best male love interests I've seen on screen in a while. 

For his personality, I honestly had to go in the opposite direction of being inspired by male celebrities. Let's be honest, there are so few who are actually interesting. You'll watch press interviews with them, and you're like, “Oh my God.” You either look like you're an asshole or you're boring. That's why we obsess over celebrities who show even the slightest glimmer of personality in press interviews or anything beyond what they do. Because we're like, "Oh, you do have something beyond the stuff you're in."

Nikesh Patel (Tom in Starstruck),

David M. Benett/Getty Images

Tom is quite a generous character who laughs at Jessie's jokes. It's unbelievable the amount of male leads who will be written to not find women funny. I don't know if it's a power dynamic, but it's such a weird thing for that to be a refreshing character trait. Basically, to make Tom dreamy, I just made him laugh at all of Jessie's jokes. That's it. That's all you have to do. You just have to write into the script, "Tom laughs," and everyone goes, "Oh my God. What a hero."  And also, he's okay with period sex! So many people have messaged me about it. They're like, "Oh, he goes down on Jessie, and also he's okay with period sex!!!" Everyone's like, "Oh my God, that's the hottest ... " That's the hottest thing to so many women. 

The bar is so low for men.

It's so, so low. And women had to write that dialogue for them, you know what I mean?

So what can we expect from the second season? Run-ins with the paparazzi? Jessie really dealing with the scrutiny of dating a public figure?

The obstacles are actually interpersonal things. They're things in their personalities that keep them apart, keep them breaking up, and getting together. External obstacles are often fleeting and easily fixed. The things that are hard come from within the characters…because I don't know if we all can relate to the idea of dating a movie star. That being said, I don't want to speak for the wonderful viewers of Starstruck. I have had messages from many middle-aged women, being like, "I was there. I've been there, done that, honey."

Starstruck starts streaming on HBO Max June 10.

This story originally appeared on: Glamour - Author:Christopher Rosa

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