'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' Star on the Final Season and Weird Sex Scenes

"Having a grown man sitting on your lap with a diaper on and you having to feed him his bottle, that felt slightly out there," Billie Piper tells THR.
Ed Miller/Showtime

Showtime’s racy series "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," starring British actress Billie Piper as Belle (or Hannah), debuts its final season Thursday night in the U.S. But for Piper, also known for her role on British time-bender "Doctor Who," it’s time for a new chapter to begin. The actress, having just returned to London from a work trip to Los Angeles, and spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her post-Secret Diary plans, the most unforgettable scene and why she’s ready to make a splash on American television.

The Hollywood Reporter: Do you recall any challenges filming this last season of Secret Diary of a Call Girl?

Billie Piper: Oh yeah, endless challenges. The stories become slightly more fantastical and slightly more out there. Knowing it was our last season was a challenge in itself because you wanted to go for it more than ever really and make it funnier and deeper and richer, more frightening, more strange, more heightened. And also, when having spent time with call girls, the question that they all get quite stuck on is do they choose their profession over life and love. Something more real and something committed and emotional. It’s interesting to see where they go and which way the character of Belle goes. All of those moments felt quite challenging.

THR: Was there a particular scene that was difficult?

Piper: I always find the sex scenes challenging because it’s the last thing you really want to be doing and also you have to be very matter of fact about it. Some of the story lines are quite strange, perverse, slightly out there, and the challenge then becomes how to do that and make it palatable. Like the scene with the guy [dressed] like a baby and that kind of stuff is tricky because obviously, it’s very funny, but it’s also kind of strange. You want to handle it correctly. You don’t want it to become icky, terribly dark.

THR: And your character has a new role in the new season, becoming a madam and taking over for [Cherie Lunghi’s Stephanie]. Was that a different experience?

Piper: It’s a hard thing for Belle to do because she’s reluctant to manage other girls in the world of prostitution. I think morally, that’s the point where she draws the line. She knows how to handle her business, putting people forward accordingly is not something I think she is very keen on doing. And also, it has massive legal implications so for the character, yeah totally, I think it became a completely stressful addition to the rest of her life.

THR: What was the most memorable experience filming this last season?

Piper: To be honest, the whole thing was crazy. Trying to put your finger on one ... I found the guy with the baby stuff, like I said before, was really wild. Having a grown man sitting on your lap with a diaper on and you having to feed him his bottle, that felt slightly out there and was slightly uncomfortable. But then, hilarious also. I knew the actor who was doing it and he’s a dad and Shakespearean trained, it was quite funny seeing someone of that kind of acting caliber in their diaper and even seeing his son. Poor guy.

THR: Do you think Secret Diary could have lasted another season?

Piper: I think it’s run its natural course, to be perfectly honest. Of course, if you had brilliant writers, there’s always some story to be told, but when it starts to feel like you’re treading on old ground or it gets too out there. It gets slightly more mad this year than ever before, but you kind of want to leave on a high.

THR: Have you seen a change from when you first started in the industry to where you are now?

Piper: Yes, I really do see a difference. I see that things are getting made a lot faster for less money and there are a lot less opportunity, I think, for actors. There’s not a lot of work in the U.K. I mean, that’s why everyone’s moving to America because that’s where the work seems to be. But it definitely feels like a lot more of a slog to get a gig these days. I suppose that’s a lot to do with our current climate and financial messes. I certainly see that people seem to have to work harder with a lot less time. And also the subjects of things people are talking about, the stories are wanting to tell, that’s really changed too. There is a pool of work that is really, really thought-provoking and really real. The extreme side is that is the enormous budgeted studio productions that’s basically all green screen. I think there’s two extremes.

It’s the same way with TV. Thanks to cable because that’s where our TV show sits. The TV shows get racier and racier and more thought-provoking. There are really good roles for women in them and they often have female leads and that’s really good for a girl.

THR: Would you ever make the transition to a U.S. television series?

Piper: The thing about cable is that it’s constantly year-round, but if the right thing comes along and I get the opportunity to be cast in it, then I’d love to do that.

THR: What aspects of the British TV industry would you like to change?

Piper: I really like the way Americans encourage their team to excel in other areas of the production. I like the way that if you’re on a long-running show and you know it inside-out and you often have an option to produce or direct. I think that’s really brilliant with the American approach. I quite like British sensibilities. We can learn from each other. I executive produced Secret Diary this year and the year before. And you can [expand your role on shows in the U.K.], people are a lot more reluctant to do it, and I think it’s because there’s no time, there’s no money. People panic that it’s not going to be handled in the way it might be handled with an established director.

THR: What’s coming up for you?

Piper: I’m just trying to find a job. We’re back to the drawing board. It is what it is. It’s frustrating, it’s tiring. [Laughs] It’s desperate. You slightly lose your mind. You have no confidence and you have too much confidence. It’s an endless frustration, really. That’s the nature of the beast. You have to suck it up and get on with it. 

Secret Diary of a Call Girl premieres Thursday at 10:30 p.m. on Showtime.