South London screenwriter Tess Morris has had a big 2015. First came the release of her debut film, Man Up starring Simon Pegg, and now she has been named on an important industry list recognising up-and-coming talent.

Released in May, Man Up is about single, thirty-something Nancy from Wandsworth (US actress Lake Bell, who incidentally studied at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup) who is mistaken for the blind date Jack (Simon Pegg) has been waiting for under the clock at Waterloo station – and she decides to go with it.

The film has been credited with breathing new life into the romantic comedy and Tess – a rom-com enthusiast and lecturer on comedy and screenwriting at Royal Holloway University – has become a kind of unofficial spokesman for the genre.

Earlier this month, she was included in Bafta’s Breakthrough Brits for 2015 – a list of a dozen up-and-coming creatives in film, TV and gaming which included seven south Londoners.

Last year, Kingston actor Tom Holland was similarly named as one to watch and subsequently went on to be cast as Spider-Man.

We caught up with Tess to talk about Man Up, the acclaim and her south London roots.

Congratulations. How did you feel about becoming one of this year's Bafta Breakthrough Brits?

I felt brilliant! And very validated. As I write mainly romantic comedy and comedy, it’s always nice to get some recognition for that, especially of course, from Bafta.

What does being a Breakthrough Brit entail, what opportunities does it present? 

It entails lots of amazing stuff, like meeting with people in the industry who you’ve always admired and respected - I’ve aimed quite high, in terms of who I want to meet! It’s also a great opportunity to take advantage of all the Bafta screenings and events, which are always excellent.

I understand you wrote Man Up on spec – how did you find the process of writing it and what made you bite the bullet and write your first feature screenplay?

I did indeed write it on spec - and I loved doing that, and is something I will definitely do again.

It was a very liberating experience - I had no-one expecting anything from it, apart from me, of course.

It was also very much a last chance saloon script - I’d been writing for about 13 years, and just felt like I wasn’t really getting anywhere.

I said to my friends and family, if this doesn’t work, I’ll go out and get a proper job. I had no idea what I actually meant by that.

Your Local Guardian:

How much of the film was inspired by your own life?

72%…. 78%? Oh so much of my own life. I always think, write WHO you know, not just what.

And I obviously really know myself. Also, a man did come up to me, when I was standing under the clock at Waterloo Station, and think I was his blind date. So I used that as the premise for the film, and then channelled all my failed dating and relationships into the script.

How did you become a screenwriter? It’s not the kind of job you find on jobsite…

I did a Film & TV degree, and while I was studying, I won the Lloyds Bank Channel Four Film Challenge, for a short film I wrote called Beer Goggles.

After I left uni, I actually became a journalist for a few years, as I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to write in some form.

I used to interview lots of the Hollyoaks cast, and found out that they were looking for new writers. So I interviewed, wrote a trial script, went to storyline meetings, and they finally hired me.


Wandsworth and south London both feature in the film, why did you choose to set it here?

Because I am born and bred there. I love London… tired of London, tired of life, and all that!

And I really wanted to show London in its true, rainy, sweaty, drunken form. I’ve always loved Soho, and the South Bank is my all-time favourite place in London. Cannot get enough it.

And Wandsworth is where I was born, and where I still live, so that was a way to show a more suburban side of my home town. It’s such a great city, and I wanted to show my version of it.

How important has south west London been to your life?

So important! My Dad is originally actually from South East London - Blackheath - and we moved to Wandsworth in 1978, and we’ve never left.

My parents also had an antique shop on the Wandsworth Bridge Road for about 20 years. I went to school in South London, all my formative years were spent there.

Once the film got picked up, how easily did it come together? It’s got a great cast and director, so presumably it took a while?

It always takes a while - Man Up was about four years, from script to screen, which is actually quite fast for a film.

We got Simon Pegg about a year into the process, when I’d worked on the script some more, and then Ben Palmer, our brilliant director, came on board about six months after him, and finally, we found our Nancy, in Lake, about three months after that.

Your Local Guardian:

How involved were you on set – what was the filming process like? What was it like working with Ben, Simon and Lake?

I was there for pretty much all of the filming, and it was incredible. Not sure I have ever been happier. Working with all the crew, every single one of them, was the best time of my life. It was like the happiest, loveliest family ever.

Rory Kinnear is particularly funny as Sean. Was he inspired by someone you know?

Another South London boy! Well, he lives here now, anyway. Ah, Sean, he is inspired by no-one in particular, but also, kind of everyone.

We’ve all had a crush who doesn’t crush on us back… And Sean just takes it a little further than most, ha.

Since Man Up was released, you have been a key voice standing up for the romantic comedy genre. Why did you want to do that and why do you think it has become unfairly maligned?

Yes, that just kind of happened! It was really when people started to ask me the question ‘are you bringing back the romantic comedy?’ and I’d find myself going into this huge lecture, about how it has never really gone away, and why do people always have a go at it, unlike no other genre of film.

And then it all kind of escalated from there, ha. I am now rolled out every time my beloved genre needs defending, and that is a role I am very happy to play.

How has your life changed since Man Up came out? What’s been the coolest thing that’s happened as a consequence of your success?

It hasn’t changed much, really! I mean, the coolest thing is that I now have lots of work, and paid work. And that I am friends with Simon Pegg, that’s lovely.

And that I get to keep working with Big Talk, who are such a great British filmmaking machine. I’ve also loved meeting lots of new people on my travels with Man Up - people are my thing, I can’t write without them.

What’s next for you?

I really need a proper holiday. But before that, I’m writing a new rom com for Big Talk and BBC Films, and a TV pilot for Lucky Giant/NBC, and at some point, I will sleep and recover and write another spec. It worked so well for me last time!

The Bafta Breakthrough Brits were announced on November 10 at the Burberry flagship, 121 Regent Street. For more info visit