Named in InStyle magazine’s annual Rising Star talent portfolio, Simona Brown is making waves in the British acting scene. Her upcoming role in Kiss Me First sees her playing Tess, a woman with bipolar disorder. We caught up with Simona to chat about the challenges of portraying mental illness on-screen, and the importance of shining a light on ‘under-represented perspectives’

Simona Brown

Simona Brown. Photography | Desmond Lingard

You’ve had an amazing career so far, and you’re only just getting started! What are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of my most recent role of Tess in Kiss Me First. It was my first time being a co-lead, so I felt a strong sense of responsibility for this project. I also overcame my mild aquaphobia. I couldn’t swim before filming Kiss Me First, but had to learn for the role, which was a huge milestone for me!

Your character, Tess, has bipolar disorder. Did you do much research for the role?

Yes, I read books, poetry, and watched films and documentaries. I wanted to make her nuanced and relatable, and didn’t want to make her a caricature. When approaching the text, I made sure I didn’t pre-empt her actions, I just listened and responded.

What was the hardest thing for you about portraying Tess?

Every day was different. I suppose that came with its own set of challenges. I was going from one scene being manic and full of childlike energy, to the next being full of angst and even contemplating suicide.

I like thought-provoking storylines. They challenge me to consider different realities.

Do you feel you have a better understanding of bipolar disorder now?

Yes. I had no idea of the pace of bipolar, that the highs and lows could last for as long as a year or more. I also understand that everyone has their own processes and we all deal with mental illness differently.

Do you think your portrayal will help tackle stigma?

I think Tess’s journey will appeal to a wider audience and will give an insight into mental illness from an under-represented perspective. Mental illness is a real taboo in the African-Caribbean community, so I’m happy I had the opportunity to play such a complex role.

You’ve been in a couple of socially conscious TV dramas – was that something you aspired to do?

Being involved with socially conscious projects was definitely an aspiration of mine. I like thought-provoking storylines. They challenge me to consider different realities.

Simona Brown

Photography | Desmond Lingard

Who do you admire?

My mum, of course! She’s one of the strongest people I know. I draw inspiration from my niece and nephew, to trust and follow my instincts, as they do so effortlessly. Also seeing Angela Bassett’s portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It inspired me to act from a young age.

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

I’m really excited about the release of Kiss Me First. Also, I’m currently shooting BBC’s The Little Drummer Girl, so I’m looking forward to rubbing shoulders with director Park Chan-wook. I think he’s brilliant.

‘Kiss Me First’ will air on Channel 4 and Netflix in in the spring.