When it comes to writing, Lucy Prebble refuses to play it safe.
“When there’s so much television around, there is a danger that you start to passively, even unconsciously, copy tropes. And you begin to think that that’s what’s right,” she says.
“But actually, it’s not. It’s just what’s familiar, and that doesn’t necessarily make it true or good”.
Having created her first television show at only 26, and now executive producing and writing on Succession, one of the most talked about series of the past few years, Prebble is an expert at creating compelling drama.
With her newest offering, the hugely anticipated series I Hate Suzie, Prebble throws out the established rulebook. Instead, she hopes her original creation will leave the viewer thinking, “God, I don’t know what this is anymore”.
Whatever expectations you bring to I Hate Suzie, Prebble will be sure to subvert them. The series follows Suzie, played by Billie Piper, an actress whose cosy rural life explodes into chaos when she becomes the victim of a phone hack. As photos of her in a compromising position spread across the web, her career, marriage and family life begin to crack under pressure.
Piper calls Prebble her ‘long-term GF’, and the close friends developed the idea for I Hate Suzie over many years of conversations spent therapizing each other.
“Billie and I really wanted to write something about a particular time in one's life when you realise that you can't hide anymore,” Prebble explains.
“I think quite often there's a point for people in their 30s, when they start thinking ‘Oh, shit, I spent my 20s messing about. I don't quite know who I am or what I want’, and you're expected to massively define that.
“I think I was looking for a metaphor for feeling like you were exposed on some level.”
The metaphor came in the form of a phone hack; the exposure of intimate photos symbolising the ultimate unmasking.
Prebble was fascinated by the emotional impact of the infamous iCloud hack of 2014, where the leaked personal photos of a number of celebrity women were made available to the world.
“What I was really interested in was less so the criminal investigation into a technological hacking, but how it affected [the victims] psychologically: their relationships, their work, and what it meant for them on a personal level.”
"If I was going to do my job really well, part of that was being completely creatively responsible"
I Hate Suzie is an intensely visceral window into the mind of a woman in crisis. With her protagonist’s life ripped apart in seconds, Prebble forces the viewer to experience the emotional breakdown alongside Suzie.
“Each of the episodes is trying to say to the viewer that you can’t sit back and watch this in a disassociated and safe way,” she says. “It’s trying to make you complicit in the emotion that it’s expressing.”
The series is not a dystopian fable about the dangers of technology, rather, it holds a mirror up to how we actually live in the information age.
“I’m very aware that in life, the combining of what’s real and what’s not real has become very broken down,” she explains. “There are quite a few different sides to being alive as a woman now, whether it's who you are offline and who you are online, or who you are as a colleague, wife, mother”.
“All of us to some extent, I think, particularly now, have this odd experience of feeling our identities being quite disparate and shattered,” she says.
Prebble uses her trademark dark humour to capture this paradoxical sense of identity. In one scene, Suzie wrestles with a luxurious fur coat while squatting over the toilet, as a glamorous photoshoot awaits outside. “That’s the tone we’re looking for, the glamour and the shit,” Prebble laughs. “Two things that basically can’t coexist. That’s what it’s like to be a woman.”
The series marks the second collaboration between Prebble and Piper since they met working on The Secret Diary of a Call Girl back in 2007. The pair knew they wanted to create a show together again. This time, however, they wanted to be in complete creative control.
“It took me quite a long time to realise that, if I was going to do my job really well, part of that was being completely creatively responsible. Doing something that I myself thought was genuinely good,” Prebble says, “rather than doing something that you think will ‘please your masters’ essentially.”
Prebble describes feeling embarrassed about having to ask if she could come to set when she first started writing for TV, despite creating the show.
In contrast, on I Hate Suzie, Prebble and Piper both executive produced the series and were the key decision makers at every level of production.
“Funny and horrible is kind of Succession’s USP”
Luckily, the TV landscape in Britain has changed over the last ten years, with UK productions now adopting the showrunner model that has proved successful in the US through shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, and more recently, Succession.
Prebble describes “laughing so hard your stomach hurts” during her experience in the Succession writers’ room. Created by Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show), the comedy-drama follows the ultra-rich Roy family and their trials running the biggest media conglomerate in the world.
“It gets really funny and dark and horrible. The comedy and horror that come from the way men humiliate each other,” she laughs. “Funny and horrible is kind of Succession’s USP.”
She cites the ‘swallowing your own load’ incident of Tom’s stag do, and the toe-curling ‘Boar on the floor’ game as two particular instances.
Prebble argues that Succession is at its best when it shows the ridiculous underbelly of things; the weirdness in a world the viewer feels they should be familiar with.
“There were some thoughts when we were doing season one where people thought the relationship between Tom and Shiv didn’t feel right. There were a few thoughts where people said, ‘why would these two people be married?’" she explains. "And what's really fun and I think is part of what makes Succession successful is that, actually, that sort of relationship is really much more interesting and more common than people think."
"There's a slight sadomasochism to the Tom and Shiv dynamic that I think has some truth to it”.
Unconventional relationships abound in Succession, and one particular pairing has captured the hearts of fans: the twisted flirtation between Roman and his elder colleague Gerri.
“Why I think Roman and Gerri’s relationship has come to the fore is that it’s not the standard slightly titillating sex scenes, it’s something much more psychologically complex and ridiculous than that,” she explains.
Will we get to see the Roman and Gerri experience lockdown together in series three? The writers did discuss whether the ongoing pandemic would feature in the upcoming series.
“There were conversations at one point as to whether or not we would feel forced to include [Covid-19], as in, what reality do we need this to be set in? And what does it mean for it to be set in a reality that does or doesn’t reference that,” Prebble says.
For now, with no confirmed date set for Succession to resume filming, we'll will have to wait and see which reality the writers chose.
I Hate Suzie starts on Thursday 27 August on Sky Atlantic at 9pm.