The lovely Anjula Mutanda is a TV psychologist and a great example of how having an expertise can lead to an on-screen role as a TV expert. We worked together on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ where she was our regular psychologist presenting a variety of features, strands and phone-ins on self-help, helping viewers to solve personal problems. Anjula has just finished working on a new television series that delves into the lives of men and women who are, for various reasons, hiding a part of their body from the world.
She agreed to tell us about her experience on Discovery channel’s ‘My Naked Secret’ but first I asked her how she got into television in the first place:
“I got into TV by accident actually! I was working in the city and was just going on maternity leave, when my clinical supervisor mentioned that a TV show were looking for on-screen psychologists for a new show. I had never considered TV as a career, but went a long for the screen test and got it. Little did I know that a very small expert role on the very first series of Big Brother would launch me into a brand new and very unexpected direction!”
Tell us a bit about your role as a psychology expert on TV.
“The most exciting thing about getting a project like this is the challenge and the sheer adventure of meeting and working with new people. I’m like a kid in a candy store and can never wait to get started.
I hold a very privileged position as an expert presenter. It’s not just about getting the pieces to camera right (something I have yet to master), nor is it simply about finding a way to communicate that won’t put an audience to sleep because I can’t stop using complicated jargon – it’s about so much more!
I wear multiple hats – expert, presenter, confidant, advisor, friend, director, make-up artist, soothe-sayer… and I love all my roles. Before we even film a second, I have to ensure that I have all the relevant information about the contributors, and have a clear understanding of what I can offer them. I spend hours in discussions with PDs coming up with visual exercises that the contributors can do in order to make their emotional journey have a positive impact on their lives.
I love the creativity of this process and I have learned to see the show from the director’s point of view- so that I understand how to communicate the story visually. However, if it’s suggested to me that a contributor should bungee jump from Tower bridge just because “ it’ll look amazing”, then I do put my foot down and say no way!
Bossy! Yes I am!”
Being responsible for a contributor’s mental well-being must important in your role.
“Meeting a contributor, still makes me very nervous – why? Because this is a human being putting their trust in me, and hoping that I can help them. I’m also extremely aware that how I behave when the camera is switched off is actually more important than when we’re rolling.
Contributors listen to what you say, how you hold yourself and how you treat each other. They tune in to you and become hyper aware of anxieties, or any tensions in the room. I always feel blessed whenever I work with teams who are sensitive to the contributors’ needs and respect them implicitly. Not always easy to do, when you’ve been filming for days and days, when things go wrong with locations and people drop out for unforeseen reasons. The team on this shoot were exceptional – from the runner to the series producer, to the make-up artist – everyone was incredible!
I too can be hyper sensitive and a bit like a mother hen-worrying, clucking away, and fussing that everything should run smoothly- it’s the downside of being a perfectionist control- freak! On our first studio day filming, I noticed a pile of glossy women’s magazines, and asked for them to be removed because I felt very strongly that people who have body issues, shouldn’t have to be confronted with images of pin- thin air brushed perfection! Was I being a bit much? Well maybe, but I wanted my contributors to feel safe and cared for at all times”.
What are the differences from your perspective between location and studio filming?
“Studio filming is great, because I’m treated like a pampered pooch, and spoiled rotten in the make-up chair – even more important to me since I got the memo explaining we are now filming in HD (which highlights imperfections far more!). Mind you, I don’t know why I bother ‘cos as soon as my contributors start sharing their stories with me, I’m doing the ugly cry – you know the one – sobbing uncontrollably with snot flying out of my nose!
Filming on location is a whole other beast! It sounds glamorous. A chair with your name on it, latte in hand, a couple of make-up vans and your own private space for rest and relaxation. I wish! It’s often on the side of a hill blowing a gale, or down an alleyway that smells of pee! I may have been camera ready 4 hours ago, but after endless re-takes because we’re losing the light, or I can’t remember my cue, I end up with vertical hair, a shiny forehead and sweat patches to match.
Someone once advised me to sellotape my hair down so that we could get a decent head shot. I must have looked so horrified, because they never suggested it again!
Let’s not forget the presenter’s favourite scenario! Just when you’ve got your lines straight in your head, and finally managed to walk down the street, delivering your lines to perfection, some dufus drives past shouting, “hello mum!” forcing us to start all over again. Why??!!!”
How important is it for you to look good on screen?
“My TV vanity is focused on my heels! When will I learn that just because I’m 5ft 4inches I don’t always have to wear the highest of stilts?
Doing some filming in Liverpool, I decided to dress up a bit. The Albert Dock after all is a gorgeous location but mostly cobbled stones. I put on my 5 inch heels, and wobbled up and down the dock. The camera man asked if I was ok as I kept swerving off to the side and hanging on to my lovely contributor for dear life. She very kindly offered me some flats that she had in her bag. I of course declined, as my pride and height would be sorely bruised”.
What are the best bits for you?
“Sometimes you just get a poignant moment. Whilst we were taking a break from filming, a woman walked past me, then stopped. She recognised me from my time on ‘This Morning’.
She came up to me, and hugged me saying, “you’re just the person I needed to see today. You see I feel so lost and lonely without my kids – my heart is breaking”. I just hugged her and told her she was so brave – but I felt so helpless. It was hard to hear a snippet of someone’s troubled life, and then watch them disappear into the distance.
Oh how I love making telly – the highs and the lows; the funny and sad moments. Someone should make a show about what really happens behind the scenes – it’s often so much more powerful than anything you get to see on the television screen.”
Thank you, Anjula, TV expert and super psychologist!
Where to find Anjula’s new TV series:
My Naked Secret
Discovery Real Time – Sundays from 9th October, 10.00pm and 10.30pm
My Naked Secret is a new 12 part series which tells the personal stories of people who are hiding physical abnormalities underneath their clothes and make up which they are ashamed of, and which are stopping them being happy. Featuring conditions such as: excess skin, man boobs, tumours on the body and extreme facial hair on a woman.
In each episode of My Naked Secret we meet one person with a different condition who is about to embark on a transformative and emotional journey in search of acceptance of their body. This will mean addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of their secret body- through the mediums of surgery and an on screen psychotherapist to help them work through their inner demons as well as their body issues.
You can get more information about the series here: http://health.discovery.com/tv/my-naked-secret/