Nicôle Lecky Has the Range

Photo: Monique Rodriquez

The first few minutes of Mood, a BBC-produced series now airing on AMC in the U.S., have the captivating quality of a visual album. But while there are musical numbers throughout, to call this show a musical wouldn’t be exactly correct, according to creator Nicôle Lecky. “There are other television shows where they have comedy and there’s music in it,” she says. “I kept talking about falling into it as naturalistically as possible.” Born from Superhoe, Lecky’s one-woman theatrical production that debuted in 2019 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, her series has drawn comparisons to Fleabag and I May Destroy You. But watching Mood, it becomes clear that this show should be considered in a category of its own.

Lecky can sing, dance, and act her ass off, of course, but she’s also an experienced writer of both television and theater. The series shows off all of those talents and more. While Mood certainly delves into the inner life and personal trauma of its lead character, Sasha (played by Lecky), it is a deeply researched portrayal of modern sex work with music video–esque song interludes seamlessly woven into it. Its depiction of sex work is not a PSA. It’s nonjudgmental and honest — both about how much fun and how dangerous sex work can be. Whether you want to call it a musical or a drama, one thing is for sure: Mood has the range.

How did you first develop Mood?

Initially, the idea came from this website I saw where they trick young women into agreeing to sex work via social media. Some of the women are actually sex workers, but a lot of the women on there are influencers, actresses, dancers … They say, “Here’s ten grand. Fly to Turkey, Dubai,” then they screenshot the whole thing. They shame them by putting them up on this website. It made me feel so compelled to understand who these women were. Initially, I’ll be honest, I was like, Who are these crazy men? What are they doing?

But I wanted to find out who these women were and what the story was behind how you could arrive in that situation, and it spiraled from there. A lot of it was to do with the Instagram Explore page. I felt like everybody on there looked the same. We’re trying to aspire to something — what is that aspiration? Thinking about women and money and when you don’t have money, how do you have agency over your body and so many different things in your life?

What about your main character, Sasha?

Developing her was more of an exploration. I felt like we hadn’t seen a depiction of sex work like this — and hadn’t seen a young, working-class woman who is fairly normal in terms of her upbringing in London. She’s an amalgamation of people I knew at school and people I saw on social media. The important thing I wanted was that she could be anything she wanted to be, but through her circumstances, this is the rabbit hole she’s ended up falling down.

Mood was originally a one-woman show. How did you translate it to television?

Yeah, it was originally me playing everybody that you see on the TV show. The show was on in 2019 at the Royal Court Theatre in London and had a run there. The BBC commissioned a script around the same time the show was commissioned for a full run. So as soon as I finished performing, I sat down to write the pilot. I wrote this thing, because I couldn’t see it anywhere. It was, like, there’s this world on social media that we’re not unpacking, and I guess that resonated.

What was your research process like?

It was lengthy. When I wrote the play, I reached out to people on Snapchat initially. That was the thing that was popping at the time in terms of people privatizing their accounts — and monetizing their accounts by privatizing their Snapchat. Then you could follow them on their public one, and they would say, “Look, PayPal me some money, then I’ll let you in on the private account.” I reached out to some women there, and I spoke to some camgirls. Then when I was developing it further for television, that’s when there was a bit of a turn, I guess, with OnlyFans, and I reached out there. I spoke to more women who were escorting as well. I was talking to people on websites like SeekingArrangement.

I spoke to such a broad spectrum of women — women in the U.K., women in America, women who were working out in the Middle East. There were so many similarities in stories and attitudes. I loved speaking to them. I think, from meeting me, they knew I didn’t have an angle. I’m so grateful for how open people were. There were funny stories and things where I could see how you can stay in a game like this. But equally, there were harrowing personal details that made me cry, frankly.

There is a moment in Mood when Sasha speaks to a more seasoned sex worker who both says the job works for her and gently lets her know that it’s not for everyone. I appreciated that the show didn’t condemn sex work full stop but complicated it.

I’m not trying to say it’s a great thing to do. That’s exactly what Zara, the character, is saying: “For me, it worked out, but it’s not necessarily gonna work out for you. Not every girl is built to do it.” I genuinely think it’s not for me to make those decisions, but depending on who I spoke to, I would think, Oh, she’s got her head screwed on. I totally understand why they’re doing this. Or I would think, Oh my goodness, I want to scoop you up into my arms. Which is a total savior complex, but that is the tricky thing. It isn’t for everybody, and watching Mood, it’s for an audience to make their own mind up.

The show has been out in the U.K. for a while now — what has the response there been like?

Maybe I’m in my own echo chamber. I didn’t read the reviews, so anything I know has been through people telling me in the street or when I’m out and about. What I’ve found fascinating, genuinely, is that depending on who I speak to, they have a totally different perception of what the show is about. Yesterday, I was talking to a woman who I spoke to for the series for research — a sex worker. She told me that she and her friends had gotten together and rewatched it. She had shown it to some of her other friends, and they’re all sex workers. They’re obsessed with the show. They think it’s authentic and not judgmental. But then equally, I meet people who have come up to me, and they’re like, “Thank God, you’ve shown the perils and how you shouldn’t be doing sex work and how terrible it is.” I think it can buy into the politics in a way — whatever gaze you come at it with.

If you are somebody who genuinely won’t change your mind, then you are going to have this dogmatic approach. Anything bad that happens, therefore, to Sasha in the show will confirm that sex work is bad. But I’ve had messages from people where they’re like, “It has changed my mind. I didn’t think about the person behind the photo or why somebody might be doing this.” Those are the comments that are the most reflective of what I’ve wanted for the show.

Sasha, in particular, is coming to terms not just with entering the world of sex work but with the ways she was exploited as a child. How did that come about?

When I was in secondary school, there were a lot of girls in my year and subsequent years who had these much older boyfriends who we thought were so cool at the time. I actually remember a girl at my school going out with a policeman. He was in his 30s. He turned up at the school. People thought it was a little bit weird, but I think she had turned 16, so it wasn’t illegal. There was a lot of that — 14-year-olds going out with 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds.

I wanted to tell the story of this young woman who was lost but talented, and maybe in a different situation, she could have been anything, but she had this trauma that she wasn’t able to unpack, because she hadn’t framed it in her head in a truthful way. She thought she had done something wrong rather than been the victim.

Mood touches on the ways that racism intersects with sex work. Sasha’s experience is different from that of Carly, the white woman who introduces her to sex work, but it’s also different from that of Paris, a sex worker who is a dark-skinned Black woman. I imagine you heard some horrible stories in the course of your research. 

It’s so prevalent. I didn’t actually have to look for it. It was in the fabric of everything. Even on some escorting websites, when I was looking for women to talk to, it would say, “No Asian or Black men,” from the sex worker. They’re actively like, “We don’t take Asian or Black customers.” That was the first time that I was like, Whoa, okay, that’s very, very racist. The racism didn’t surprise me, but the blatant nature of it, how open it was, did a bit. I found it interesting how everybody referred to themselves basically by their race (unless you were white, and it was default), then it was blonde or brunette, and it would be your physicality. Whereas anybody Black or Brown or Asian — you were a food group: caramel, coffee, chocolate, whatever it was. It was all very reduced to your appearance. I would notice that the rates were a lot lower.

Of course, there are Black, Asian, mixed-race escorts that do make a lot of money. Don’t get me wrong. It’s almost like you have to corner a market. I spoke to a woman who is mixed race working in Tokyo, you know? She’s one of few in Tokyo. So she’s kind of like a fetish and is making a lot of money off of that. It’s an incredibly racist industry. I think that the way you are treated depending on your race in many industries is identical, but it’s much more blatant in sex work, because it’s an industry that’s under the radar. It’s very difficult to have policies.

It reminds me of some critique I’ve seen of Grindr — that people feel comfortable being openly racist in their bios there. 

That’s the thing: To them, it’s not racist. It’s a preference. They’re saying, “I want a white girl with blonde hair. And I’m never gonna unpick why I wouldn’t sleep with an Asian woman, but I’m paying, so I can say whatever I want.” It is interesting what people feel they’re entitled to say under the guise of sexual preference.

It’s definitely not the same for Sasha and Carly in this industry. Carly’s leading Sasha wherever, and Sasha is following blindly. Sasha’s got so much bravado, but she’s deeply, deeply naïve and insecure. She needs somebody like Paris to offer her guidance. So many of the sex workers I spoke to were sweet and prepared to share knowledge. I think somebody like Paris tries to do that — but Sasha is under the wing of Carly, so she tries to get more money straight away after she’s been advised not to. Then Paris is the one who gets slapped for it.

I love how naturally music was incorporated into the show. What’s your experience with music, and why was it important for that to be an element of Mood?

I grew up singing — with choirs and singing classes. For a time, I thought maybe I would pursue it, but I was too nervous. My dad was a DJ before he had to get a sensible job to provide for me and my siblings. He played a lot of music. I love every kind of music bar heavy metal — I haven’t yet found the track that got me going. I loved musicals growing up and the soundtracks to films. I was obsessed with Dirty Dancing as a kid. It wasn’t just watching the film — it was really going to town on an album. But people call Mood a musical drama. I would sit in these meetings, and if anybody referred to Mood as a musical, I’d be like, “It’s not a musical!”

It doesn’t have that vibe! 

And I didn’t want that. There are other television shows where they have comedy and there’s music in it — where they stop the action, do this bit of a song, then they go back to it. Or it’s hammy and very big. I kept talking about falling into it as naturalistically as possible. It has to come from Sasha’s perception of weirdness. She has to be conscious that she’s diving into her own inner consciousness.

Can we expect a season two?

I think we have to watch this space, which is a very lame way to not tell you anything. But yeah, “Watch this space” is what I’ll say.

One last thing — I noticed some Love Island cameos in the first episode when Sasha goes to a party that Carly invites her to. 

Why is everyone in America obsessed with Love Island? Oh my God.

It’s so good! And this may upset you, but I feel like it has expanded my understanding of the U.K.

I meet so many Americans that are like, “Do you watch Love Island?” and I assume they’re talking about your version of Love Island, and they’re like, “We’re not watching the American one. We’re watching the U.K. one.”

It’s so much better. 

I hear! I tried to watch an episode of the American one, and I was like, Oh, it’s a bit more earnest than the British one. People are more off the cuff in the English Love Island. I’m actually grateful to Love Island for providing a more rounded cultural experience … ish. Anna Vakili is very seamless in that setting, but most people notice Anna and don’t notice the twins (Jess and Eve Gale), funnily enough. I wanted some influencers at the party. I gave a list, and I was like, “Can we try and get Anna?” I’m very glad you picked up on that.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Nicôle Lecky Has the Range