Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the woman of the moment, collecting three Emmy nominations for writing, producing and acting in “Fleabag.” The Amazon series is nominated for 11 Emmys, while the show she helped create, “Killing Eve,” is nominated for nine.
Waller-Bridge recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editors Daniel Montgomery and Susan Wloszczyna about the recognition she has received for “Fleabag,” her various ideas she came up with for Season 2 and whether there’s a future for the series. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby (Daniel Montgomery): Phoebe, you just swept the Television Critics’ Association Awards this past weekend as we’re recording this. Critics have been really champions of the show from the very beginning. What was that event and that recognition like?
Phoebe Waller-Bridge: That was just extraordinary. We were so supported and happy the whole way through this season by the critics and they’ve been writing such in-depth pieces and such personal pieces about it. It was just the perfect climax to that conversation at the TCAs. We were completely, completely blown away. It was really nice to have some of the gang there as well.
GD (Daniel): You weren’t originally planning to make a second season of the show when the show started. It was one storyline. At what point did you get the spark of inspiration to come back to this character and to this world? What was that spark of inspiration that gave you the story that was to come for Season 2?
PWB: The biggest challenge was the relationship with the camera because the relationship between the camera and Fleabag in Season 1 was actually the most complex and important one to me. She’s invited the audience in under the pretense of showing them a good time and telling them that she’s hilarious and she’s completely fine and on top of it all and actually by the end you realize that she’s brought them in because she’s desperate for them to forgive her for this terrible thing that she’s done, that she’s confessed. By the end of the first season, after she’s confessed she doesn’t look at the camera anymore. So it was really how to bring that back and how she would relate to the camera. She can’t have the same swaggering front that she had from the first season. They now know her secret so there had to be something more vulnerable about that relationship. So once I really sat with that and then realized we had to move on that relationship again by her meeting somebody who could see what she was doing, that would give it a whole new world to play with. But also that she hadn’t learned everything that she needed to learn about herself by the end of the first season, which is something that our director, Harry Bradbeer, said to me quite early on. He said, “Has she learned everything that she could possibly learn?” And actually, by the end of the first season, I felt like she had confessed as much as she could confess but there was still a lot of learning for her and that’s what she does. She learns to hope and she learns to love by the end of the second season.
Gold Derby (Susan Wloszczyna): I was most fascinated by the reunion with your sister in the first episode because I can’t say Fleabag is all fine and good yet but the fact that she cares so much about reuniting with her sister, who was entrusting her version of events, made me happy. As much as I liked the whole hot priest concept, the relationship there, there was something I enjoyed about the two of you seeing eye to eye and being there for each other, and not in a corny way, in a different way.
PWB: Good, good. Yeah. That relationship was one I was most excited to jump back into from the characters in the last season. After that heartbreak that they’ve been through together and the thing that happened between them is probably enough to continue for a lifelong feud. I had to think of something that would immediately explode that and would bring two sisters back together in an instant. Like you say, seeing their love for each other and seeing their potential for their relationship in the future in that split second where Claire admits she’s having this miscarriage and Fleabag looks after her and Claire accepts her sympathy and her help, it’s that little tiny glimmer of what they could be for each other and it had to be that ‘cause otherwise the whole season, I suppose, would just be them slowly coming back to each other. I’m really glad you bought into that.
GD (Susan): I also enjoyed the whole, “I look like a pencil” bit. That was the thing I laughed at most because we’ve all been there where you go to some insane hairdresser and then it turns out it’s her own damn fault that she looks like that. Thank you for that. You chose the first episode for your acting nomination but also for your writing and I wonder why is that the one you chose?
PWB: I feel like in lots of ways it encapsulates the whole season in a really fast-paced way. It’s like a mini-movie in my mind that encapsulates all the different characters, all the different relationships, the promise of the love stories, the interaction between the sisters. Making that felt like making a play and we had to be on the whole time. I’d never had to be Fleabag every single second of the time that we were shooting but around that table, we had to completely embody those characters. I feel like that episode for me is the closest to showing the whole spectrum of her because in later episodes there are the big monologue moments or the big dramatic love story moments but really in terms of the comedy as well it felt like Episode 1 encapsulates both. I’m so proud of everyone’s work on it. I think it’s directed so beautifully and all the actors are so on-point and we’re all supporting each other and I felt so held in the writing and the acting of it. I just feel very proud of that episode.
GD (Daniel): That’s the episode where you introduce the character of the priest. You think of a priest and you think of a very devout kind of person and you find out pretty quickly that he is a little darker, a little edgier, has a mouth on him, is really down to earth in that way. What was that conception like of that character who is like the opposite of Fleabag in a way because he has such religious faith but very much her counterpart in another way?
PWB: I knew that we had to have a character who was a match for Fleabag because in the last season, she can disregard and reduce people to nicknames like Arsehole Guy or Tube Rodent and that was a part of her relationship with herself. She can’t get too close to somebody. I really wanted her to meet somebody who she can’t compartmentalize and she can’t reduce. He’s as complex and as surprising as she is but he also has something that he leans on as much as she leans on the camera and she speaks to her audience. He leans on his faith and he speaks to God. So in some ways they mirror each other. About the character himself of the priest, he had to be a man first before he was a priest. That was the way in. I knew I wanted to write about faith and religion and Fleabag may be finding some sort of way into faith. Then I also wanted her to fall in love. There was this screaming beacon of, “It’s gotta be a priest.” The story was saying it had to be a priest. I was worried about the two sitcom trope-y elements of it. The moment Andrew Scott came into my mind for that role and when I spoke to him for the first time about it we spoke for like four hours about love and relationships and hope and faith and sex and everything. It just felt like Andrew sees the world from so many different perspectives and I knew that he’d bring that to the character and would make him really grounded. Fleabag tries to call him a cool sweary priest. She tries to give him that title at the beginning but he keeps surprising her and he keeps shaking it off so she can’t quite sum him up, and neither can we, hopefully. So he’s kind of mercurial in that way. That’s got so much to do with Andrew’s incredible, beautiful performance of that role.
GD (Susan): You created a fashion trend and that jumpsuit, I’ve looked on Twitter, you can find all sorts of ladies trying it on, all different shapes and sizes. How did you come upon that particular one? I know it was made by a certain manufacturer in London and it’s Topshop prices. It’s not very expensive. I just wondered how did that come about?
PWB: It was very important to me in both seasons that we were wearing clothes that Fleabag could afford. So it was all the high street stuff and all the stuff I wear and my friends wear. Our designer, Ray Holman, he’s got such an extraordinary eye. He can find things on the high street that look like they’re designer. He was bringing all these extraordinary clothes to me and I was saying, “Ray, where did you get this?!” And he was like, “Next,” or, “Topshop.” It was joyous that he had that. He had such talent for that. I knew the first shot of Fleabag that we saw had to be from behind at this posh bathroom mirror but I hadn’t really thought about what she was wearing and suddenly when I was I was in the costume fitting I was thinking, “My god, the back is so important for that opening shot when we see her again,” and Ray had thought about it and Ray was like, “I’ve got a couple of things to show you but then I have a wildcard,” and he pulled out the jumpsuit and we put it on and it was just instant. The back was just so graphic in the way that it’s just sharp lines and there’s a glamour to it but it’s also trousers on a dress and there’s a slit down the middle, which is naughty, but it’s also up there, which is nice. He just completely nailed it. It was Topshop and it was 38 pounds so it was a real find. I could never have anticipated the boom of it and I’ve seen so many pictures of women looking absolutely fantastic in the Fleabag jumpsuit. That was one of the coolest side effects to come out of the show.
GD (Susan): Did they send you any flowers or anything?
PWB: No, actually. I feel like they’ve given me enough. I remember when we first started filming it, we were doing press for “Killing Eve” at the time. I had to go and do a press night and we were filming “Fleabag” at the time and I said, “Can I wear my jumpsuit?” So I have actually worn it out in the real world as well ‘cause I loved it so much. It just fits so well and it’s flattering on everyone and it’s comfortable and it’s stretchy. I cannot recommend it enough.
GD (Daniel): In addition to your nominations for the show, the show also has nominations for Olivia and Sian in the supporting category and Kristin Scott Thomas and Fiona Shaw in the guest category. Fiona Shaw, of course, nominated for “Killing Eve” as well, a role you created there. What was it like bringing her on from that show? What made her right as Fleabag’s counselor? What made you think that was a good fit, ‘cause it really is a good fit?
PWB: Just Fiona, I’d take an ax to anything I’d written if it meant that I could make room for Fiona in it. Earlier on in the schedule, she wasn’t available so the script was slightly different and then she became available later so I brought the scene back and we were doing some reshoots and finally she was available. The thing about Fiona is she can just sit there and she’s already fascinating and she has such a huge brain. For her to play somebody so sharp and so insightful and also completely ridiculous and ludicrous at the same time with just an arched eyebrow or a flicker of her eye, she’s a magician. I’ve never seen anyone do what she did. There’s one moment when she says the main line of the scene when she says to Fleabag that she’s named herself as a girl with an empty heart and no friends and then there’s this beat where Fiona’s entire face changes from intrigued, befuddled counselor to searing, insightful woman who’s about to change Fleabag’s life. There’s this minute change but it’s also seismic. She’s just incredible. She’s so fun to work with as well.
GD (Susan): I wanna ask you about James Bond a little bit because I just wonder are you trying to make the women more interesting? Is that your job?
PWB: (Laughs.) I have actually finished work on it now and yeah, I was brought in for a polish. The story’s still there, there’s some great female characters, great stories there. They’ve all got a lot to do. All of Daniel [Craig]’s Bond girls have been pretty cool. I hope people like them. I think they will. I think they’re really fun and cool. They’ve been fun to polish.
GD (Daniel): You’ve had a chance to work on “Killing Eve.” It seems like it’s a good stepping stone to a Bond world ‘cause you’re in this world of spies and everything like that. But you weren’t front and center working on “Killing Eve” in Season 2 as you were working on “Fleabag” Season 2. What was it like handing it off to Emerald Fennell? Is it difficult to entrust your baby, in a sense, to another writer and another set of hands?
PWB: Trusting your baby to a set of murderous writers is always kind of nerve-wracking. No, I have such huge admiration for Emerald. I knew her really, really well before. She was a friend. She had been developing work with Sid Gentle for a really long time so they knew her really well. It was so exciting that she was taking it on. In some ways, it was so important for each season to have its own voice and its own sense of leadership and the new writers to be able to completely take it for herself. The same thing’s happening for Suzanne [Heathcote]. Emerald did such a fantastic job and she’s nominated, too, along with the “Killing Eve” lot! It’s hard letting go of my responsibility for the characters but there’s also a strange joy in seeing characters you’ve created in the second chapter of their lives and you don’t know what’s gonna happen to them. That’s a very unusual situation but a really joyful one. I’m so, so proud of what everyone did with that and Emerald. I’m really excited for Season 3 as well.
GD (Susan): I wonder what you grew up watching, reading. Where are your influences? I think you have such a unique way of doing things, especially with “Fleabag” that there had to come from somewhere. Obviously, it’s original but there had to be some kind of inspirations for you with breaking the fourth wall.
PWB: Breaking the fourth wall happened because it was originally a one-woman show and I had to look at the audience for that. So I knew it was going to be breaking the fourth wall in the TV show. I mainly watched “House of Cards” and “Alfie” for the references because they were clever because they were really flawed characters. Particularly the original “Alfie,” Michael Caine’s performance, he’s completely impenetrable, his performance, which I thought was so effective. He had this kind of laddie persona and that was really, really useful. Those really helped. There was a few Woody Allen films that I was influenced by as well, early stuff, and then sometimes it’s a book that I’ve read. One of the books to first have a massive impact on me was “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck. There was a moment in that book that I read in my early 20s that I’ve never forgotten when he killed off a character who he had been setting up for four or five chapters. He seemed like an important character. He really embedded him in the story in a way that you never thought anything particularly good or particularly bad would happen to this character. So when he killed him off like that in a sentence in Chapter 10, I was devastated. I was so angry with the book for playing that trick on me and it took me ages to pick it back up and keep reading ‘cause I missed the character so much. I think that really taught me about telling stories when something incidental becomes something massively significant or when some small move or looking to the camera, one look to the camera can betray huge things about the character or one tiny event can change the course of someone’s life. I know as an audience member, those are the moments I look forward to most in stories. I’m always trying to deliver that to the audience for “Fleabag.”
GD (Daniel): Before we let you go, I know there’s no immediate plans to bring back “Fleabag” for a third season but how open is that door if in a year or two years or three years you get another spark of inspiration that says, “Oh, I know where this story can go,” or are you very happy to put the cap on it here?
PWB: I feel like it was her goodbye. The waving really was the big moment for me of actually realizing, “Is it goodbye?” I have this fantasy of her coming back when she’s 50, the camera catching up with her in her mid-40s or something, and me in my mid-40s. That excites me because she would’ve lived a bit. There would be other adventures for her to tell us or experience again. But I do really feel like it’s goodbye. I feel like she doesn’t need her audience anymore. I think she’s grateful, and she says goodbye.
GD (Daniel): Well, I wanna congratulate you on your Emmy nominations and the TCA Awards and thank you so much for joining us.
PWB: Thanks for having me.