Interview Actress, Filmmaker, Activist and Founder of The Happy Vagina, Mika Simmons
Having lost her mother to Stage 4 ovarian cancer aged just 54, Simmons teamed up with her friend, neighbour and research lead for the gynaecological unit at The Royal Marsden, Dr Susannah Banerjee, to support a research project into better treatment of these cancers. She also founded women’s health charity Lady Garden Foundation with a group of phenomenal women to continue to help raise awareness and funds (over £1 million so far) for cutting-edge studies and created her very own platform, The Happy Vagina podcast, now on its fourth season, to celebrate those pioneers and game changers who have made a difference in women’s health, equality and relationships. Previous guests have included presenter Laura Whitmore, FGM campaigner Hibo Wardere and poet Nikita Gill.
Simmons’s achievements are just as impressive when it comes to her film and TV credits too. Her directorial debut Rain Stops Play won the Silver Remi for Best Comedy at the Houston film festival. Whilst her second short film Breach, produced by Sally Wood and starring Joely Richardson, is currently doing the festival rounds to much acclaim. She has also worked on Unforgotten, the BAFTA award-winning Falling Apart and BFI London Film Festival nominee Dictynna Hood’s Us Among the Stones.
As someone astutely sensitive to the interplay between creative disciplines and the human journeys and narratives which make up our life, The Wick was pleased to be in conversation with the visionary Simmons to hear her Muse takes and her plans for the future.
THE WICK: Who is your Monday Muse?
Mika Simmons: It’s Saturday morning and I realise over a very strong coffee that I am struggling to answer this question. I momentarily consider whether I should make something up – something inspiring, funny or that I think might make me seem unique and intelligent. But no, I am a truth seeker and, the truth is, I have always found the concept of favourites insurmountable. And, when it comes to female muses, my list is extremely long and mercurial. Today, I am mostly inspired by women in the arts who have refused to be pigeonholed into one version of themselves, one lane in their career – women who write, produce, design and perform. Women who break the restrictive mould of the patriarchal gaze – from Mary Ann Evans (AKA George Eliot) to Nora Ephron to Jane Campion, Jane Fonda and Gwyneth Paltrow. My muses are anyone who is courageous enough to face their fears, follow their dreams and allow those dreams to change.
TW: Which culturally curious spots do you draw your inspiration from?
MS: I am deeply inspired by nature. I live in central London and feel an immediate surge in creativity when I find a moment to walk in one of our beautiful parks – I’m obsessed with the romance and the drama of The Albert Memorial in Hyde Park – or, even better, escape for the weekend to the beautiful British countryside and take a long walk through a forbidden field. Staying inside and in London town, my favourite spot is without question The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square. It has remained my favourite place since I moved to London to go to drama school in 1997 – for its architecture, the programming and vibe. For me a cultural spot can’t just be beautiful – it has to have a tactile history. The Royal Court was one of the first to stage modern political dramas with John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, which challenged not only the artistic standard in theatre but also the social and political orthodoxy of the day, pushing back the boundaries of what was possible or acceptable. A little-known fact is that in 1968, the Court was fundamental in helping to abolish the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship powers. You will often find me downstairs in the cafe with my laptop, writing and dipping in and out of the plays in its bookshop.
TW: What exciting creative projects are you working on in film and literature right now?
MS: I’ve had an extremely busy year. Being child-free I have the privilege of throwing myself into work and I’m now yielding the fruits. I’ve just finished filming Showtrial for the BBC and World Productions, which will be out later this year. As an actor, I love working with female directors and I learnt a huge amount being on set with Zara Hayes. Then my second short film Breach, produced by Sally Wood and starring Joely Richardson, is currently heading into the festival circuit and being well received. And we are just moving into the fourth season of The Happy Vagina podcast, which is going to focus primarily on the orgasm gap.
TW: What is your proudest achievement to date?
There are many achievements with work and some small accolades but honestly, the thing I am most proud of is I’ve helped a lot of young women. It is extremely satisfying to mentor, both to help the next generation be the greatest humans they can be – to put down the fears that hold them back from following their dreams – but also to hold doors open for them. If you’d asked me to choose a favourite quote, I would’ve been able to do that: “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game,” Toni Morrison.
I believe helping others should be our primary purpose but it’s also a retaliation against the multiple women who have treated me with cruelty throughout my career. I am trying to right their wrong, by doing good – it would be a huge honour to leave behind a small legacy of personal change.