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Georgia Pritchett always knew she wanted to be a writer and in recent years she’s done just that for a number of high-profile TV series.
The Emmy-winning scribe’s credits range from writing for Armando Iannucci on Veep and The Thick of It, to serving as showrunner and executive producer of Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd’s Apple TV+ series The Shrink Next Door and working as writer and co-executive producer of the HBO hit Succession. There’s even a credit for once working with — and, at one point, being a girl group mediator for — the Spice Girls on Spice World.
Though Pritchett has been a part of several well-known projects and scenes — she suggested that comedic nosebleed scene in Veep — if some aren’t familiar with her, she explains that, for her, anonymity was actually one of the perks of pursuing the writing profession in the first place, noting in her upcoming memoir, “Writing is the perfect job for an anxious person…It is utterly anonymous. Nobody knows what writers look like. Nobody knows their names. Other people literally talk on your behalf. You get to peep out at the world between the lines you’ve written.”
But now with the release of her memoir, My Mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety (HarperOne), out Tuesday, Pritchett is turning the spotlight on herself and sharing stories and recollections from her life and successful career while also chronicling her journey of living with anxiety.
“It’s so nice being anonymous and literally putting your words in other people’s mouths and expressing yourself by stealth. But to suddenly write something direct and personal feels very scary,” Pritchett tells The Hollywood Reporter of writing her memoir.
After being encouraged by her therapist to write down her worries, Pritchett unexpectedly ended up turning those (and other thoughts) into a book instead.
Throughout the candid memoir, Pritchett guides readers through her English upbringing, chronicles how she charted a career path that began with first sending jokes to the Radio 4 comedy show Week Ending, confronts ongoing mental health concerns and reflects on experiencing sexism in a male-dominated British TV industry and the self-loathing she felt after having a #MeToo experience when she was 25-years-old.
“When I was a young woman in the business, I would’ve loved to have had a book like this to read because it’s really hard,” she explains. “I kind of felt the sense of responsibility towards other women to say, ‘This is how it is. And it’s tough and it’s not fair.'”
Ahead of her memoir’s release, Pritchett speaks with THR about sharing her stories, navigating and finding her way in her career, her adoration for Kieran Culkin’s Roman Roy and what’s to come on season four of Succession.
For starters, I was hoping you could walk me through how this memoir came to be. Have you always wanted to write a memoir and at what point did it go from a task from your therapist to write down your thoughts to writing and publishing a book?
I’d always been very sure that I wouldn’t write a book. My agent suggested it a couple of times and I’d laughed scornfully and say the one thing we can be very sure of in this life is that I will never ever write a memoir. And then I think a combination of things [happened], the sort of fact that I’m British and therefore emotionally repressed and not very good at talking about my feelings (laughs) and lockdown, madness, some crazy lapse in judgment, I don’t know some combination of all of those and also just thinking I have a terrible memory. I might just not remember any of this soon, so I should start writing some of it down. I started not really convinced I wanted to keep going, but memory is a really interesting thing. Once you start remembering one thing, it kind of opens other doors and you remember more and more things. While I was writing, I read this really interesting thing about how the brain works and apparently we only remember anything once and after that, we remember remembering it. In a way, we’re all kind of writing our own memoirs all the time. We’re kind of editing and selecting and honing certain kind of anecdotes or origin stories or whatever. I spent so many years as a scriptwriter that in a way it’s [the book] a collection of scenes, it’s a collection of fragments, and that’s partly because I wanted to stay true to the nature of memory and partly just leaning into my limitations as a writer because I hate describing things. (Laughs.)
You write how one of the great things about being a writer is you’re able to be anonymous, but now the release of this memoir puts the spotlight on you. What was it like to turn the tables and write about yourself for an audience?
I have to say it’s horrifying! (Laughs.) It’s so nice being anonymous and literally putting your words in other people’s mouths and expressing yourself by stealth. But to suddenly write something direct and personal feels very scary. I think as I mentioned, I’m British and emotionally repressed and most of my friends and family are also emotionally repressed so we’ve never had conversations about any of this stuff. So I think people who’ve known me most of my life probably don’t know 80 percent of what’s in the book because we’ve just been too polite to mention it.
Have your friends and family read this and, if so, what did they think?
Yeah, they’re pretty surprised. (Laughs.) I believe my parents have read it. Of course, we haven’t had a conversation about it. That’s just how we roll. But other people I know have read it and have expressed surprise. I think these days in particular with social media, it’s so easy to think everyone’s doing better than you. And certainly, from my point of view, being mainly a comedy writer — although I do write drama as well — I felt it was literally my job to be happy and for everything to be great. I think it’s really easy just to think everyone’s doing better than you. I don’t know if it’s a British thing but you are so kind of programmed not to complain, I think, and to just get on with it and not make a fuss. And I suddenly kind of thought, well, I feel like there’s an important distinction to be made between complaining and being honest and telling the truth. When I was a young woman in the business, I would’ve loved to have had a book like this to read because it’s really hard. I kind of felt the sense of responsibility towards other women to say, “This is how it is. And it’s tough and it’s not fair.”
Your memoir chronicles your journey with anxiety, and how you couldn’t find the words to articulate your thoughts or feelings. At what point did you start to register that the feelings and thoughts you were having could be linked to anxiety?
Yeah, anxiety wasn’t talked about. I certainly would worry and people would say to me, “You look worried.” I knew I worried about things, but I suppose I didn’t realize. You don’t know for a while that your experience is different from other people’s experiences. And it was only, as I grew up and realized, “Oh, you know, my friends aren’t constantly measuring their own legs in case they’ve developed Robertson’s giant limb. Not everyone else is doing that. That’s just me.” So obviously I’m different in some way. I kind of thought maybe I’ll grow out of it, but if anything, I grew into it. I’m better at it than ever. (Laughs.)
You also write about finding your voice through writing and how that was the one thing you were sure about. Obviously, there are different forms of writing, so why did you feel pursuing a career in comedy and writing for television was the right path for you?
I had always loved comedy and I’d grown up watching American sitcoms. I was one of those people who would like to watch things again and again, and learn huge chunks and recite them in what is [an] apparently quite irritating way. So I can kind of thought, I love dialogue and I would love to write dialogue and I like the collaborative [nature]. Writing can be a quite solitary thing, and I love the sort of collaborative nature even if you’re not writing a script with other people. You and the actor have this incredible sort of symbiotic relationship and it’s so exciting when they bring something to life. I loved that. And as you say, it was the only thing I’ve never been confused about. So thank goodness! I love writing and I continue to love writing and I think it keeps me sane-ish.
Throughout your memoir, you touch on a variety of moments where some can be more lighthearted and funnier, but then there are others that mark more difficult times. How was it navigating these moments through your writing process, and did you take away anything from revisiting these stories?
I found it really interesting what stays with you, and it’s so interesting that some tiny, apparently inconsequential moment or detail stays with you and seems to take up the same shelf space in your brain as some huge moment where you kind of bump up against some bit of history or some huge kind of newsworthy event. It’s interesting how your memory doesn’t particularly differentiate: They all are just in there and have affected you in kind of different ways. It’s like a little mosaic, isn’t it? The sort of bits that you remember, and goodness knows why those are the bits that you do remember, but they’re so vivid and then everything else is kind of blurry and I just found that interesting and kind of try to lean into that.
When I was reading it felt like readers are able to get snapshots of moments from your life and experiences where some chapters can be short and others more detailed.
Yeah and I think also when you’re very young, you don’t understand. You kind of observe and witness things, but you don’t get the whole picture and you don’t understand the significance of things. I wanted to be really careful not to sort of imbue my past self with sort of adult sensibility or hindsight or anything, but just to be true to the kind of innocence and the quite simple way that you absorb your surroundings as a child.
One of the more difficult and emotional stories you share is your #MeToo experience with someone whom you describe as being one of your comedy heroes at the time. I’d imagine that’s not the easiest to necessarily revisit, but why was it important for you to include that in this memoir?
I did think about that and sort of thought, “Oh, everyone’s done their #MeToo thing.” Then I kind of thought, it’s honest, it happened, it’s happened so many people and so I don’t want to kind of smooth over it or pretend it didn’t happen. And if it’s difficult for people to read, then, you know, it’s difficult for women when it happens to them. And funny enough, he rang me again a few weeks ago so it’s still going on in my life. It’s still going on in the world. If, when that happened to me, there had been a book or people were speaking out about it, that would’ve made a tremendous difference. So again, I just thought, I don’t really want to go there, but I want to for other people’s sake, and I think it’s important to do that.
If you don’t mind me asking, I know that you write about the first time they called you on the phone years later after what happened to apologize and that you kind of brushed it off by saying it was fine, even though it wasn’t. I was curious now that they’re still calling, if you ever shared how you felt with them?
It’s difficult now because he’s lost his memory, so I wouldn’t be able to have a proper conversation, and indeed, I think that’s the problem with this discourse in public is how good a conversation you can have about it still with the people who did it and with other people who are questioning your motives for saying it, or whether you did something wrong in putting yourself in that situation. So it feels pretty symbolic. I don’t think there ever is a kind of happy closure moment. It’s something that shouldn’t have happened, and nothing really can put that right, even a great conversation.
You write about various projects that you have worked on, and I have to mention with transparency that Spice World was a film I watched on repeat many times. You write about working on the film and helping be a mediator, so to speak, when the girls were having an argument. So is it safe for all of us to thank you for saving the day because perhaps we may not have seen the film unless they made up?
Well, I mean, yeah, I hadn’t thought of that, but yes, I was the United Nations of Spice World. Yes, I’m willing to take that. If that’s my legacy, so be it! (Laughs.)
You also write about being put in Scary Spice’s limo when leaving the set only to see a stampede of fans following because they thought it was her in the limo. What was it like feeling like a Spice Girl for that moment?
I wished I could have enjoyed it. I was just so terrified. I never experienced that. (Laughs.) I mean, wow, imagine [if] someone didn’t like you! It was hundreds of people loving her, and it was terrifying. I guess as a kind of pretty shy writer, it was an experience I would never otherwise have had. It was a pretty fascinating glimpse into celebrity, which has only really kind of increased as the years have gone by, and I don’t envy people who are world-famous. It seems really scary and hard.
Another project that you write about is Veep and when working on the show, you saw yourself reflected in the room for the first time because other women were finally in the room. You also write about how you were used to being ignored, overlooked, needing to develop thick skin, and had never known anything else other than working in a male-dominated industry. So when you were finally working with other women, how did that change your perspective on your profession at the time and what could happen in the industry?
It sounds silly, but it absolutely blew my mind. I mean, I love the male writers I’ve been working with, and we are very close. I suppose I didn’t know what I was missing. I was aware that I’d never been in a [writers] room with another woman, but I didn’t kind of know because I hadn’t experienced what that meant. And so to suddenly be in a room with women who looked a bit like me, dressed a bit like me, had similar kinds of frames of reference or life experiences, it just took my breath away. It was so validating in a way I had not expected and so exciting and so good for my confidence and it just made me realize, wow, this is what it’s like being a white man every single minute of every day. It made me really sad for all those people in the world who never see themselves reflected and still who don’t walk in a room and see themselves or turn on the TV and see themselves because it does make such a huge difference.
I think in a way it’s been harder in the U.K. or when I go back to all male rooms [because] now I know what I’m missing. But I’m so glad I’ve had those experiences and those experiences are increasing. In my opinion, some of the best things we’ve had on TV recently are things like Fleabag or This Way Up or I May Destroy You. Those are [from] three women who are actually actors but have felt they’re not given the parts written for them. And so they’ve taken to writing and have made these incredible shows and how incredibly enriching, not just for women or people of color, but for everyone to hear stories that they’re just not hearing. If you get the same type of people writing every show, it’s limiting. It’s just so much more exciting and enriches all of us to hear from different voices. So I really hope that there will be more and more women and more and more people of color and more and more differently able people included on shows because I think the shows benefit and we benefit. It’s a win-win situation.
That’s a really good question. I think, you know, it is definitely different in the U.K. and the U.S. What’s great about America is right from the beginning you’ve had women in the lead of comedies, so right back to Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore — you’ve always had those fantastic characters. And in the U.K., women tend to be nags or slags, either the sort of sensible wife or girlfriend providing the set-up lines or the sort of nosy neighbor or, in dramas, the kind of perfect wife or perfect mother or perfect daughter. What was so good about writing on Veep, in particular having come from the U.K., is that women still had to become perfect in the U.K. So to write for [Julia Louis Dreyfus’] Selina who was so flawed and so monstrous and a terrible mother, was just a joy because it felt like I’d written for all these fascinating male characters who are allowed to have faults and flaws and foibles but that wasn’t something I’d really been able to do with female characters. And now that does feel like it’s changing and it’s such fun to write for all kinds of women and not feel that they have to be role models in some way, just that they have to be believable characters.
Given you write about your experience of being in a male-dominated industry, I was curious what made you ultimately want to work on Succession which is centered on rich white men and who can not necessarily be the most likable characters?
Well, funny enough, when [creator] Jesse Armstrong sort of suggested it, I did kind of think, “I don’t think I want to write for all these rich white men who are destroying our world.” But actually, it’s such a good challenge as a writer because these people who I would normally not want to spend any time with, you have to really dig into their characters and try and kind of understand them and find some compassion for them or, at least, get to a place where their behavior makes some kind of sense. And you are treating them as whole people, not just kind of monsters, but people with damage and vulnerabilities and difficult life experiences. So that’s been really fun and I’ve really enjoyed writing for them. In fact, we just started again yesterday on season four of Succession. So that’s exciting. I’ve missed them cause it’s almost two years since we’ve finished writing season three because of the pandemic.
I know you may not be able to say but is there anything you can tease for what coming in the next season?
I think what’s so great about writing for TV that sort of goes across several seasons is how much time you get to spend with these characters. Roman’s a kind of secret favorite of mine. As we get to know them more, I think you’ll like what’s coming in season four because who would’ve thought when you first saw Roman in that pilot, he was so awful, but now you kind of think, hang on, I feel like he’s the only one who actually loves people. He really loves his dad, he really loves his siblings, he loves Gerri. This is a man who needs some love and that’s exciting as a writer and hopefully as a viewer. This person that just felt unbearable you now realize there’s this vulnerable person with all these issues and all this need. I guess we’ll just keep exploring those relationships, and I think it’s gonna be a good season!
I always feel like in films or television somehow the worst character can actually become the favorite, and because there are so many layers to explore, I’d imagine that makes it fun.
I’m a bit of a softy, but I think Jesse [Armstrong]’s very good at keeping [it so] that they don’t turn into these lovely people. So last season I wrote, with one of the other writers, the birthday party episode [“Too Much Birthday”], where Roman was, again, really awful. I’ve kind of felt ashamed [and thought] “Oh, he’s behaving so badly,” but I think it was important to kind of remind everyone because I think everyone has fallen for him in bits, so you have to kind of remind them that he does some bad things.
It’s worth noting that you’ve worked on series’ that have ties to mental health in some way. In Succession, people can be driven by their insecurity and anxiety, and The Shrink Next Door is also centered on a patient-doctor relationship. How do your own experiences lend you to writing these characters? Is it almost cathartic or therapeutic in a way to write something that could also tie in with something personal?
I think it definitely helps. If you’ve hidden something for a long time, you’re good at spotting when someone else is hiding something, and particularly with the Roy family, that’s very useful. They hide it in a number of different ways. Humor both can be a brilliant coping tool and also quite a dysfunctional way of discussing things. So I think they’re great for that. That family has had some difficult conversations, but it’s always been kind of deflected and jokes and pretending, hiding behind things and denials. So that’s really helpful. I think everyone relates to people who are struggling and are in pain, and everyone as we know, even more after the pandemic, does struggle and does have those very difficult times. And so I think it’s just so useful when creating sort of three-dimensional characters to have all of that in the mix, whether it’s near the surface or buried. It’s just important to make someone feel real and relatable.
Speaking of the pandemic, your memoir is coming at a time when many are, if they haven’t been already, facing struggles with mental health and/or facing difficult times. What do you hope that readers take away from reading about your journey and story in your memoir?
It’s always important to know you are not alone. What was interesting in the pandemic was the entire world went through something the same, and that’s never happened. You know, sometimes a country is dealing with something, but to know that everyone in the world was facing the same thing, I think made it so much easier to talk about and made everyone feel so much better about themselves and their own struggles and more able to be open. I hope that my book is a tiny part of people sort of feeling they can relate to something. They might be able to talk about it, they might feel understood or they might feel less alone. I think that’s really important these days to know that there are other people out there who’ve experienced what you’ve experienced or understand what you’re going through.
This memoir chronicles your journey both personally and professionally. I was curious from when you started your career to now, how have you seen your writing progress? What kind of stories and characters do you find yourself gravitating toward, and how have your experiences impacted that?
I think when I started, I was much more interested in that quite silly comedy or physical comedy or surreal comedy and it was more about just laughter and distraction. I think as time goes on now, it’s much more important to me that things feel truthful and emotional. I obviously want there to be comedy, but it’s so much funnier and more interesting if it comes from a place of truth and what it’s like to be a human. I think now, as I get older, I just want to pick things that actually have a message and are saying something. I love comedy and I love all the types of comedy and I watch all the types of comedy, but for me now, now I suppose I want to be communicating something and for it to be meaningful. I do really believe in comedy as a kind of force of change because I think if you can make people laugh, they let down their defenses and you can change their minds.
Did you take away anything personally from writing this memoir?
I think I did actually. I didn’t particularly expect to. But I think when you are in the midst of the chaos of life, I think it’s really easy to be hard on yourself and kind of think I should be a better writer, a better person, a better mother, partner, whatever it is and when you can look back a little bit objectively and just step out of it, you do kind of find some compassion for yourself and feel less judgmental and sort of think, “Oh yeah, you were trying your best. You were doing what you could with the information you had and the resources you had.” I think [writing] it has actually maybe made me less hard on myself and that’s a big thing. It also made me feel less alone because so many people have said, “I so relate to this part or this part” and it’s like, wow, that’s incredible. And that’s very reassuring and lovely for me to know I’m not a freak or a weirdo. Or I am, but there are other freaks and weirdos out there and that’s a good thing.
My Mess Is a Bit of Life is available on Feb. 8.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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