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Like A 'Hall Of Mirrors,' TV Duo Dance With Selves On Other Side Of Screen

Real-life best friends Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells star in HBO's <em>Doll & Em</em>, in which fictional versions of themselves try to write an off-Broadway play together.
Courtesy of HBO
Real-life best friends Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells star in HBO's Doll & Em, in which fictional versions of themselves try to write an off-Broadway play together.

Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer are British actresses and best friends — who just happen to also play British actresses and best friends on TV.

In HBO's Doll & Em, fictional (but familiar) versions of each take center stage: A successful actress named Emily invites her childhood friend Dolly to come out to Hollywood to be her personal assistant after a bad breakup.

As they tell NPR's Arun Rath, the second season of the show takes the duo's onscreen meta experiment to a new level. The two play versions of themselves writing a play about versions of themselves. Imagine Russian nesting dolls — or another fitting metaphor Wells offers:

"The show is like a crazy hall of mirrors," she says. "You see people playing us that just goes on and on and on."

Interview Highlights

On how they differ from their characters

Wells: In the show, I am single, I don't have any children. I've left a job working as a waitress and the only really solid important loving thing in my life is my relationship with Em. ...

Mortimer: [Unlike TV Emily,] I don't have nits currently ... although there have been lice problems in the past. Currently I'm free of nits. ... I'm much nicer in real life --

Wells: And that's the truth. What I feel proud of in us writing that character is that we made her be a lovable, sweet person but, you know, who was also insecure and paranoid, and a little bit self-absorbed. As a story, what's interesting is the fact that they don't confide in each other. ... We've got each other's best intentions in real life, whereas it wouldn't be quite so interesting to watch two people saying ...

Mortimer:"I support you in whatever you do."

On writing about themselves

Mortimer: We didn't realize we were writing about our friendship really at all in the first season. It wasn't until afterwards when everyone kept telling us that's what we've done, and when we realized we'd called it Doll & Em.

So the second [season] became kind of a riff on that feeling in a way, so it's taken into an extreme now.

On how the show deals with jealousy

Mortimer: It's such a human emotion, and one that we're all just so deeply embarrassed about but we all feel all the time. We feel it most often towards the people we love most in the world, and for whom ironically you want the best and you want their life to be wonderful and you just care passionately about them.

But when their life is wonderful and when things go brilliantly well for them, of course it inevitably makes you feel a bit sick.

On whether the success of the show has made them self-conscious

Wells: I can only speak for me because, as we say, we've been friends for so long, its fantastically lucky that we got the chance to do this together. We had written other things before and we will write other things again that aren't Doll & Em, so it's a chapter in our friendship and our life.

Because we've been friends forever. It was either going to work or wasn't going to work. And if it wasn't going to work, it was going to be much easier together; and if it was going to work it was going to be much more enjoyable together. So I don't think it has made [us more self-conscious].

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff