Hit BBC sitcom Fleabag may be returning for a second series, reveals its writer and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
“I’d always seen it as a one-off,” she says. “It feels so fragile. I’d hate to ruin it, to extend it longer than it is, [but] I think I’ve found a way.”
Waller-Bridge was nominated in the Breakthrough category of the RTS Programme Awards 2017, alongside Bake Off’s Nadiya Hussain and documentary-maker Philip Wood, for her work on Fleabag.
Fleabag shot to the top of the must-see TV lists when it was released on BBC Three in 2016, and follows the eponymous character as she struggles to come to terms with a recent, devastating loss of a close friend.
“For me there’s a really fine line between [comedy and tragedy],” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to those moments where you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry.”
“That was a big appeal of writing this show,” she explains. “The idea that [Fleabag] is just constantly trying to make you laugh, and constantly trying to make the audience laugh. It’s so relentless that something has got to give.”
“I felt that, if you could disarm an audience through the laughter then they are left wide open and vulnerable for you to squeeze their heart a bit. And when they’re so wide open, I can’t help but do it,” she adds, chuckling wickedly.
However it’s not all touching moments. “[There was] a feeling writing the show like, what if I looked down the barrel of the camera, that was two-inches away from my face and said, ‘Fuck me up the arse'?” she giggles. “That idea alone just really made me laugh.”
The sitcom arose out of her one-woman stage show which drew notice at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “It was something that people really responded to,” she says.
However the process of adapting the show from stage to screen required, she says, “a radical and painful rethink.”
“The play is confessional, and you have a captive audience. There’s one narrator [so] the audience have to take whatever the character says as read,” Waller-Bridge explains.
“Suddenly when it is dramatised into the real world, I suddenly lost control of so much of the narrator’s – her – hold on the audience.”
That relationship with the audience has been central to the show, she believes. “I wanted the relationship with the audience to have the most important and richest arc over the whole thing.”
Therein lies her problem in creating a second series.
At the end of the final episode of series one, Fleabag runs from the camera when she realises that her secret is out: [SPOILER] that she was responsible for her best friend’s accidental death.
“In my head, she was only ever looking at the camera because she was desperate to confess,” she explains. “I couldn’t think of a way to recreate the relationship with the audience without it feeling like a bit of a cheat. I think I’ve found a way”
However she will not reveal what viewers can expect. “If I can just water the idea for a moment then there might be another,” she reveals cryptically.
In the meantime, Waller-Bridge is working on other projects: namely a “noir spy thriller” series for BBC America called Killing Eve.
The show is based on a series of novels by Luke Jennings, and is about a psychopathic female assassin and the MI6 agent who is tasked with tracking her down in a trans-global game of cat and mouse.
Jumping into the world of espionage was, she says, a daunting prospect, but “once I got away from the idea of it being a genre and just [focused] on the characters themselves, it became less intimidating.”
Although writing is what she is known for, Waller-Bridge started out as an actor. “I always wanted to write and produce and direct and just do everything I could,” she says.
“It was actually not getting any acting jobs that led me to become more proactive as a producer and a writer.”
Now, however, the acting jobs are coming in, and Waller-Bridge’s IMDb page is replete with credits for Broadchurch and the Meryl Streep film The Iron Lady.
Currently, Waller-Bridge is filming the next installment of the Star Wars franchise.
“It’s extraordinary,” she gushes. “You literally walk into a whole other world. It’s very surreal.”
While she remains tight-lipped about any details of the film, it is, she says, sounding six years old, “the coolest thing ever.”
“Imagining yourself as a Star Wars actor is something that people [dream of], well I certainly did. [I] was secretly like, ‘That’d be great but it will never happen.’ It’s literally galaxies away.”
“The other day was literally the coolest day of my life,” she says before pausing. “So annoying that I’m not allowed to talk about it.”
Phoebe Waller-Bridge won the Breakthrough Award and the Writer - Comedy Award at the Royal Television Society Programme Awards 2017.
Click to read an interview with fellow Breakthrough nominee Nadiya Hussain.