She’s perhaps best known for her turn as David Tennant’s companion Donna in “Doctor Who” (a role she’ll reprise on screen this fall) but, for her latest project, Catherine Tate has swapped the Tardis for tiaras. Titled “Queen of Oz,” the new BBC comedy sees Tate play a disgraced British princess who is sent Down Under after screwing up one too many royal engagements.
In the show, Tate plays Princess Georgiana who, after yet another public catastrophe (involving a school visit and plenty of alcohol-induced vomit), is banished to Australia. Tate says she was attracted by the “fish out of water” concept but, despite many royal-related headlines in recent years, is keen to point out that no real royals inspired Georgiana’s character. “I wasn’t thinking of anyone, because it’s nice to create something from scratch,” says the comedian, who co-wrote and stars in the series.
Nor did she study the royals to inform her portrayal. “No, that sounds like a lot of hard work,” says Tate. “[She’s] an entirely fictitious creation.” But Tate sympathize with the pressures of royal life. “It must be awful to be constantly looked at and constantly scrutinized,” she acknowledges, later quipping: “I can imagine nothing worse than having to dedicate your life to the public.”
Tate, who is also regularly recognized by fans for playing Nellie in the U.S. version of “The Office” as well as her own BBC comedy series “The Catherine Tate Show” (for which she inhabited iconic characters such as foul-mouthed grandma Nan and argumentative teenager Lauren), says she first began developing the idea for “Queen of Oz” in 2017, after producer Borga Dorter asked if she wanted to work on a show about a car-crash queen who is exiled abroad. Initially, the series was supposed to be set in Canada but after pitching it to local broadcasters no-one bit (“I still haven’t heard back but it’s not a no,” Tate jokes).
Meanwhile, Tate was enjoying a rave response during a comedy tour in Australia so she suggested to Dorter they move the setting from Canada to Down Under. “And ‘Queen of Oz’ is actually a kind of catchier title,” she points out during a Q&A screening of the new series. Australia’s ABC network expressed interested and soon partnered with the BBC to make the project.
The series launches in the U.K. on June 16 (on BBC One and BBC iPlayer), following in the footsteps of a number of globally-viewed royal events over the past year. The timing was purely accidental, with COVID and the new “Doctor Who” special (which Tate isn’t allowed to discuss) having delayed the “Queen of Oz” shoot until last Fall. But the comedian says she appreciates that the BBC – which led the coverage on Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral last September and King Charles III’s coronation in May – was open to her irreverent take on the monarchy. “I think it’s great that the BBC will hold the reins of being in charge of something as incredible as the coronation, but will also go, I guess, ‘This is a palate-cleanser and it’s a comedy,’” she says.
Asked whether she thinks there’s anything inherently funny about royalty, with all its requisite bowing and scraping, Tate says she doesn’t. “I don’t think there’s anything inherently funny about the monarchy, particularly,” she shrugs. “And it’s probably not the monarchy that makes [the show] funny. I think for us this was just a great idea: that someone has been sent to somewhere they don’t want to go, is very unsuitable and is surrounded by people who don’t help her – they hinder her.” Given the circumstances – and the jetlag – it’s perhaps understandable Princess Georgiana has short shrift for her servants.
And when it comes to her temper, says Tate, the rampaging royal does eventually reign it in – somewhat. “She doesn’t particularly learn a lesson but, of course, she evolves in her story. There’s a softening and a reckoning, but at the heart of it, I felt I had to keep her who she was.”