Amazon’s new comedy “Fleabag” takes liberal license in breaking the fourth wall, but some of those breaks will come in very unpredictable fashion.
The series hails from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who stars as the titular character and penned all six episodes. Fleabag is an “angry and rage-y” single woman trying to navigate life and relationships in London, Waller-Bridge said. The series has already bowed in the U.K. on the BBC3 digital service.
Waller-Bridge created the character about three years ago for a one-woman show that won laurels at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, among other kudos.
“Fleabag” stemmed from a period when Waller-Bridge felt “confused about feminism and how to be a good feminist,” she said Sunday during Amazon’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour at the Beverly Hilton.
It was also a period when she found herself in debates with friends “about how much sex women should or shouldn’t be having.” When Waller-Bridge was approached to do something on stage, “this very naughty, dark character came up very quickly,” she said.
“Fleabag” director Harry Bradbeer, who helmed all six episodes, said the show’s use of straight-into-the-camera “confessional” moments are a perfect fit with the selfie generation.
“She’s reaching out to that generation in a very dynamic, confrontational way and a kind of seductive way,” he said. “Those looks at the camera have very subtle differences and different impacts.”
As the series progresses, “she starts to not want the camera to see her at all,” Bradbeer added. “She tries to run away from the camera and it stays with her. As the drama escalates that particular conceit is used in a very different way.”
A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Waller-Bridge has a number of TV and stage credits in the U.K. but is a new face for American viewers. She’s well aware that her accent gives her a lot of leeway to make Fleabag outrageous.
“It’s well known that Americans love the British,” Waller-Bridge said. “You can be sort of naughty and as filthy as you like and people will still think you’re charming.”
Waller-Bridge credits Bradbeer as the key collaborator in helping her shape the scripts that were written in what she called an “unstructured” way.
“I was writing ‘Fleabag’ so sporadically,” she said. “Certain scenes would come out that would end up in episode four and then I’d spend the rest of the day writing episode two.”
That approach and the highly autobiographical nature of the story would make it hard for Waller-Bridge to bring in other writers if the show continues. “I’d probably have another stab at it on my own,” she said of a potential season two.
Bradbeer said Waller-Bridge’s complete control of the script made production much smoother.
“Having the writer-performer there working you can change things on the day, you can improvise,” he said. “You don’t have to call an executive or writer to get things done.”
Despite the narcissistic nature of her TV alter ego, Waller-Bridge herself is a Luddite when it comes to social media. She has no plans to join Twitter et al despite the launch of “Fleabag.”
“I feel like it’s safer away,” she grinned.
(Pictured: Phoebe Waller-Bridge)