Stephanie Laing

Stephanie Laing

Amazon Studios/Dignity Productions Ltd
 Melia Kreiling, James Corden, Sally Hawkins and Colin Morgan in Mammals

Melia Kreiling, James Corden, Sally Hawkins and Colin Morgan in Mammals

Amazon Studios/Dignity Productions Ltd
Fill 1
Fill 1
November 29, 2022
In The Mix

Stephanie Laing Explores Existence

In Prime Video's Mammals, a director delves into the absurdities of modern life.

Robert Abele

There aren't many scenarios in which a video of whales in a threesome helps secure one a job. But Stephanie Laing had a feeling sending evidence of this little-known ocean intimacy would bolster her chances to direct all six episodes of the comedy–drama Mammals, a look at the mystery of relationships (the human kind) from acclaimed writer Jez Butterworth (Britannia). And she was right.

"It's a dissection of a marriage," Laing says of the series, now streaming on Prime Video. "So I was just looking into the symbolism and metaphors. I thought that was very interesting [about whales]. And we were very much on the same page."

"We" includes star–executive producer James Corden, who plays Jamie Buckingham, a rising London chef in a state of stress and upheaval that engulfs wife Amandine (Melia Kreiling, Filthy Rich), best friend Jeff (Colin Morgan, Humans) and Jeff's spouse, Lue (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water).

With elements of tragedy, farce and suspense — and yes, an appearance by whales (though not that way) — the project appealed to Laing's taste for what's skewed in the human condition. She'd recently directed two darkly comic series: Made for Love and Physical. Made is no more, but she's returning for the third season of Physical.

"There's a recognition of the absurdity of the lives we live now, how emotional and funny and ridiculous they can be," Laing says of Mammals, on which she's also a coexecutive producer. "I've always had that lens. I'm into honoring the flawed nature of all characters. My point of view would not be something straight down the middle. If I were looking at a beautiful house, it would be slightly to the left. And then I'd think, what's behind it?"

Laing started out producing on HBO shows (four Tracey Ullman projects and Eastbound & Down), then became the first American to direct Veep, thanks to encouragement from creator Armando Iannucci and star Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

"That really launched me," says Laing, who's won an Emmy for Veep and also for Tracey Takes On.... When preparing to make her first short film, she got advice from another early supporter, director David Gordon Green. "He said, 'Make it a hard story to tell. Don't pick the easy route.' I've always followed that." (Her short film was about a serial killer, so... advice taken!)

Now she's on a roll, working with writers and actors to balance laughs and dread, tension and release, the happy and the sad. On Physical, she's unpacking the empowerment dream and on Mammals, it's what comes after "I do." Give Laing a mix of tones and she's in her element: "I really like a frame that's saying two different things."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #12, 2022, under the title, "Human Errors."

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