Sian Clifford (‘Fleabag’) on plans to ‘collaborate forever’ with Phoebe Waller-Bridge [Complete Interview Transcript]

Sian Clifford was shocked to receive her first Emmy nomination for Best Comedy Supporting Actress this year for her performance in “Fleabag.” Clifford plays Claire, the neurotic sister of the eponymous Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge).

Clifford recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editors Daniel Montgomery and Susan Wloszczyna about hearing the news of her Emmy nomination, working with Waller-Bridge and what she sees for Claire’s future. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby (Daniel Montgomery): First off, Sian, how did you find out about the nomination and what was your reaction to the recognition not just for you but 11 nominations for the whole show, nominated opposite Olivia Colman and all that?

Sian Clifford: Even just hearing you saying it out loud makes me emotional. I can’t believe it. I’m still stuck to the ceiling. One of our producers messaged me at 8 a.m. L.A. time and said, “Good luck today,” and I knew it was happening but I didn’t know what time. I didn’t know anything about it. I tried to stay away from it and then about 45 minutes later, I genuinely started to get butterflies and I was trying to do some work and I was up and down, I was pacing in my kitchen, I was like, “What’s going on?” Anyway, I just went on Twitter, apropos of nothing, just to dawdle and distract myself and I saw at the top that Phoebe had been nominated, but then I suddenly thought, “Oh, it’s been announced and I haven’t heard anything, then maybe I haven’t.” I Googled it and I went on The Independent’s website and I realized it was happening right then, it was live and I totally freaked out, was like, “I am not watching this.” I realized that my category hadn’t been read out yet so I turned that off and I actually went and meditated and just went really deep within myself and surrendered it completely to the universe and it sounds kind of hokey but that really helped me in times of stress. I was like, “What will be, will be.” All that really mattered to me was that the show was recognized and Phoebe, my darling friend. I was just like, “Let it go. Everything else is a bonus,” and then my agent rang me and I was like, “Hello?” She’s like, “Hello. How are you?” I said, “I’m fine.” Then there was this very dramatic pause and I just started to cry and I said, “I haven’t,” and she was like, “You have.” And I was like, “I haven’t.” And she’s like, “You have.” I fell to my knees, quite honestly and sobbed my little heart out. I’m so blown away. I had absolutely no expectation of it at all, even though there had been some extraordinary press about the show and such kind, generous things written about me. I never anticipated it, which makes it all the sweeter, I think. I just feel so honored and privileged and the fact that the show got so many nominations, it’s just incredible. I’m so thrilled for our team. We worked so hard. We’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve been working on this show for a long time. It’s a really special, special moment for us all.

GD (Daniel): What were your thoughts when you first learned that the second season was even coming about? The first season was very self-contained and it could’ve been its own complete entity and then suddenly a few years later you’re back and filling Claire’s shoes again.

SC: That was amazing. I kind of knew about it for a long time before the rest of the world did. It was quite a difficult secret to keep, especially when people were asking all the time. I’m so thankful. I have to mention Amazon and the BBC here who have been so incredible creatively and affording Phoebe the time and space to make a decision about whether or not she even wanted to pursue a second season. I, of course, really wanted her to. I love playing Claire and I’m sad to see her go. I was always gonna back my friend 100% so I totally understood if she felt that the first season was contained and that’s where it was gonna wrap up. At the same time, I really felt there was potential for more and I’m so, so pleased that she went for it and she did it.

Gold Derby (Susan Wloszczyna): I’m glad to see you smiling because I don’t think you smiled through the whole show.

SC: (Laughs.) I know, right, except when she’s trying to throw Godmother off the scent. I love Claire so much. I relate to her in a really deep way, even though I don’t think we’re much like each other, from what I’ve been told, but I love playing her. It’s such a joy. She treads a very fine line between, I don’t know, comedy and rage. She’s very fun to play but yeah, I think we’re pretty different.

GD (Susan): I know you submitted a different episode but my biggest laugh was your haircut, not at the haircut itself but the fact that you gave them that picture, and he goes, “Where’s the reference,” and it was exactly that but then again, you found a man that actually liked that haircut.

SC: I think a man that just accepts her for who she is. That’s the key. Her and Martin have reached the point of no return where they’re just, in their own way, tearing into each other. In a very quiet way, it was a very destructive relationship. She obviously connects with this other person who wants to celebrate her. It’s a very, very different path she chooses to tread at the end of this season. She goes on such an extraordinary journey. Even in the first episode of Season 2, her journey is extraordinary. Phoebe, I’m so grateful that she did that for me, and she really did that for me because she believes in me. I always say to people, “Find your champions,” because Phoebe Waller-Bridge is mine. I have no greater fan or companion in this world. I’m so, so lucky that all of this has played out how it has.

GD (Daniel): You mentioned Claire’s relationship with her husband, Martin, and as that character is written and acted brilliantly by Brett Gelman, he’s such a loathsome creature in so many ways. What was it like working with Brett Gelman in that role and those relationships and what do you think kept Claire with him for as long as she was?

SC: Brett is amazing. I love working with Brett. We’re very good friends. He was cast very late for Season 1. Honestly, I didn’t know anything of his work, sadly, before we started the show and all I saw was a photograph of him in a Mickey Mouse jumper, which was his IMDb picture at the time. I don’t know if it still is. Honestly, the second that I was the picture, me and Phoebe were like, “That’s him. That’s Martin.” He arrived a few days later. My god, he was cast super, super late so he was really thrown in at the deep end. He was just phenomenal from the get-go. He just understood that character and it’s been such a joy to work with him and to explore that relationship with one another and actually, Season 1 we don’t have a great deal to do with one another. We don’t have that many scenes, although I think it feels like we do. Season 2 we had a fair amount more and of course, we have that awesome showdown in Episode 6. We didn’t have a huge amount to do with each other but we had long, long conversations about them as a couple. For me, where that relationship ends up, of course I have to believe that’s not where it began and that there was love there. It’s just turned into resentment because it’s been failing for a long time. I’ve talked about this a lot as well, I love that Claire comes to that conclusion but on her own terms. Even though Fleabag is obviously really, really encouraging her, in her own subtle little digs, she knows that Fleabag hates Martin, but she needs to come to that discovery on her own and she needs to make that decision on her terms. I think we all have blindspots. We are all guilty of remaining in situations that do not serve us for far too long. We can all relate to that. Might not be the exact same kind of scenario and it might not even be to do with a relationship but there are always things where we don’t wanna look at certain things in our lives. I think Claire clearly isn’t willing to. She wants to bottle it and bury it. She’s just not someone that wants to confront those things but she’s sort of forced to. I’m glad you mentioned the haircut scene because I think that’s a real turning point for Claire and even though Antony says to her,” If you want to change your life, change your life, it’s not gonna happen in here,” I think it does. It does change her life because it forces her to see things from a different perspective.

GD (Daniel): The episode you submitted for Emmy consideration is actually the third episode of the season where Claire is preparing that award ceremony for Belinda, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. We see Claire really in her element, in a sense, but also almost like we’re invading her space and we see her anxieties and some of her insecurities on display. What about that episode really stood out to you for Claire that you felt like it was such a special depiction of her?

SC: I have to say, that was my favorite stuff to film. I felt in my element, as Claire was in hers. I have to say, that episode, certainly my scenes in it, did not change much from early drafts. Phoebe will often tinker with scenes and things as we’re going along but a lot of Episode 3 stayed where it was. I don’t wanna misquote her but I know she has said she finds it quite easy to write for Claire and Fleabag and for me, that episode, the reason that I chose it is I love that opening. It’s like 10 minutes of Claire and Fleabag. I say, “God, this is stressful,” and Fleabag says something about how much I’m loving it and there’s a hint of a smile on my face, and I am. Claire, she’s thriving in that environment and it was so funny to film. I love that episode so much. My favorite scene of the whole series is in that episode and I’m not in it. It’s the box scene that’s right at the end. That exchange between Claire and Fleabag after Fleabag’s connected with Belinda, where she says, “We’re not friends. We’re sisters,” I just think that’s another really special moment in the play and it’s a theme that runs through it. You see it again when our dad says that he loves Fleabag but he doesn’t like her all the time. I think that’s something that we can all relate to with our family members.

GD (Daniel): You’re in a unique situation on the show where you’re working alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge as your co-star, playing sisters, but she’s also the writer and she’s also the producer. So you’re working with her in these different capacities. She obviously wrote your character. What’s it like working with her in those multiple capacities?

SC: It was extraordinary. So special for me. Phoebe and I have been friends for 16 years. We trained together at drama school so to see her trajectory and her growth, it’s just truly, truly… there is no one else in the world that I’m willing to do well more than Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I would say the same. seriously, find your champions. These are the people that will inspire you and also the people that will back you all the way when you’re high and when you’re low. It’s been amazing. It was just magical to collaborate. Effortless. One of the best things that we’ve discovered in hindsight, and we realized this after Season 1, we never ever discussed how to play those sisters, ever. I think it was very obvious to us. She gives me all the credit, I give it all back to her because for me, it’s all in the script. It’s so clear who those people are. So it’s effortless to perform. The challenge is in the more technical aspects of filming with time limitations and things like that. Playing those characters and embodying them and taking them on those journeys is an absolute joy and I can’t overstate that. I do sound like a total sycophant but I absolutely mean it. We plan to collaborate forever, maybe not on another “Fleabag,” unfortunately, but we will continue to work together.

GD (Daniel): If we never get to see Claire again and Fleabag again in another season of the show, we did leave Claire pursuing love in a way that she hasn’t done before. What do you imagine her future looks like after this point?

SC: I don’t think it will be straightforward. That’s not how life works. What I love most about these characters is that they’re human. I always say we’re all flawed but perfectly human and nothing captures that like this show. Maybe she finds Claire at the airport. Maybe she misses him by a whisker. Maybe they reconnect in Finland. Maybe they have a great life together. Maybe they don’t. I don’t know. What matters for me is that Claire is willing to start making choices for herself in a different way that are empowering for her in a way that she hasn’t done before. I think she’s very self-sacrificing as a person up until that point and that she chooses herself I think is a really, really important message to be sending women at this moment in time. That she prioritizes her own happiness and also that she is opening herself up to love. That is the same for Fleabag. I feel very, very hopeful but, of course, their futures will be complicated and messy like all of ours.

GD (Daniel): Well, I wanna congratulate you on your nomination, Sian, and thank you for joining us today.

SC: Thank you so much!

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