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Some TV writers do edgy relationship comedies. Some do slick espionage dramas. Not a lot do both.
In fact, it’s hard to think of anyone besides Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the 32-year-old British actress-playwright-showrunner behind BBC America breakout Killing Eve, starring Sandra Oh as a secret agent chasing a psycho female assassin, as well as Amazon’s Fleabag, in which Waller-Bridge plays a sort of darker, more twisted Bridget Jones (season two starts shooting in London this August). “I’ve kind of been in a Killing Eve–Fleabag sandwich,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter of her busy year. “I’m mostly in my pajamas under the duvet with my laptop trying to figure out what to write next.”
Actually, she gets out from under the duvet on occasion; she found time to play what sounds like a pivotal part in Solo: A Star Wars Story, though you won’t actually see her face onscreen. “I play a droid called L3,” she says. “I do the movements and the voice, but they spent a lot of money removing any tiny bit of evidence of my real body or face.”
Below, THR talks with Britain’s buzziest, most exhausted TV creator.
With Fleabag and now Killing Eve such big hits, are you getting offers to write TV shows for Hollywood?
There’s definitely more opportunities. But I was writing Fleabag and then Killing Eve came along and then that overlapped with the second season of Fleabag, so I really haven’t had a chance to think about anything else. But, yes, there are more opportunities now. Next year will be when I’ll have time to actually take advantage of some of these opportunities. I really desperately want to write and direct my own movie. That’s my next goal.
Do you have a film in mind? Any ideas?
I’m just kind of keeping my mind open. That’s my way of saying that my mind has been bled dry after Fleabag and Killing Eve these past couple of years. I’m hoping to take a little time out and then something will pop up. I’m hoping to eventually reconnect with my imagination.
Fleabag and Killing Eve couldn’t be more different. One’s a dark, twisted relationship comedy and the other is an international espionage thriller. Did you have any trouble switching lanes? Was anyone skeptical you could switch genres?
It was really just a chorus of encouragement. I think it helped that Fleabag had such a dramatic arc to it, even though it was disguised as a comedy. It was really a testament to [Killing Eve producer] Sally Woodward Gentle and Luke Jennings, who wrote the [Killing Eve] novels. They were shopping around for a writer to do the TV show and Sally had seen Fleabag when it was a play and she thought it’d be a left-field idea to have me do it and I’m eternally grateful for that. When they first gave it to me I was doing something else and said I couldn’t do it, but then I read the books and I wasn’t sure when I’d get another opportunity to do something like this, so I just jumped on it.
Going from comedy to drama — did you feel like you were exercising a different writer’s muscle? Or are the two shows more similar than they appear?
They are definitely similar in that once I committed to these characters it was all about making them as real as I could make them. In some ways, they’re [inverse opposites]. Killing Eve is a drama with witty characters and Fleabag is a comedy that reveals itself to have characters with a darker interior. But doing the espionage stuff and having to write about the international impact of an assassination — that was definitely exercising a different muscle. But the good thing is there’s blueprint after blueprint for espionage thrillers. There’s such a rich history of them. So I just took from the ones that I loved as an audience member and just gave them a little twist and tweak and made sure the characters had a little humor.
What about the second season of Fleabag? Do you have a storyline yet?
I change my mind every five minutes. I’m very brutal with my own process. I throw everything away very quickly and then I have to go out and rummage through the rubbish in the middle of the night to try to find a bit I’d written a week ago. I’m trying to come up with a story but it’s been a challenge because I felt the original story had come to completion. It had started as a play and it had one story arc. I lived the play for years before writing it and I honed it with an audience. So I had to crack that open and find a new way to talk about this woman’s experience. And I’ve got months to do it instead of years. Love a challenge!
Let’s talk about Star Wars. How’d you end up in the film?
Chris Miller and Phil Lord — who were directing before Ron Howard came on — had seen Fleabag. They watch a lot of comedy, thank God. So they were the ones that brought me in. I don’t think there’s an actor in the world who ever expects to get a call from the Star Wars casting director, least of all me. So I was thrilled.
Who are you playing? What can you say about L3?
She’s a self-made droid. She created herself out of lots of other broken-down droids. So she’s a sort of mongrel. Very independent. She’s got the spirit of a warrior. She’s very sarcastic and acerbic. She’s got a very close but edgy relationship with Donald Glover’s Lando. They’re two peas in a pod, despite all the bickering.
Can you see any of you in the part? Or are you completely turned into a robot?
No, you can’t see any of me. I have a big green sock over my body [for greenscreen photography] and then the costume got built over the top of me. It was actually very liberating, wearing a big green sock with eye holes and then [ending up] looking like a big battery. And it was very funny when all the posters came out and I’d point them out to my parents, “There I am! I’m the robot!”
Killing Eve airs Sundays on BBC America.
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