What's Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Next Act?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the mind behind Fleabag and Killing Eve is just getting started.
By Mark W. Wright
OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.
In a British invasion kind of Emmys on Sunday, no star shone brighter than Liverpool’s own Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the 34-year-old creator and star of the hit Amazon/BBC series Fleabag.
As she stepped onto the Microsoft Theater stage in Los Angeles for the second of her three Emmy wins — in the upset of the night, topping all-time-great Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Veep for best actress in a comedy series — she appeared to be in utter disbelief. Nervously smiling from ear to ear, all Waller-Bridge could let out was, “Noooooo! Oh, my God! Nooo … thank you. Um … I find acting really hard and really painful,” she said, breaking into a nervous giggle. It was a shoutout to her first acceptance speech of the night for writing in a comedy series, when she called writing “really hard and really painful.”
Funny Waller-Bridge would say that; she makes both look quite easy in her role as Fleabag, which makes dysfunctional look good and oh-so authentic.
Her Emmy speeches were infused with that same authenticity as if she wasn’t even trying to be funny. Stepping on stage to snag her third trophy, for best comedy series, Waller-Bridge blurted out: “Well, this is just getting ridiculous.”
In all, Fleabag would win four awards on the night (Harry Bradbeer also won for directing) — a genuine shock considering its high-level competition from Veep, Barry, last year’s Emmy darling The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and more. (Louis-Dreyfus was this close to becoming the most decorated Emmys performer of all time, had she won a ninth award for her role as Selina Meyer on Veep.)
“I was hugely surprised,” Sandro Monetti, editor-in-chief of Filmmaker magazine, told CNN, referencing Veep’s dominance and calling Waller-Bridge’s story “inspirational.”
While it seems Waller-Bridge is relatively new on the Hollywood scene, she’s been low-key grindin’ — her first credited role was in 2009’s TV series Doctors. She has also starred in short films including The Reward (2009) and Meconium (2011), and portrayed Chloe in the Sky1 series The Cafe (2011-2013).
I’m always satisfying my own appetite. So I guess that means transgressive women, friendships, pain. I love pain.
In 2013, though, the training wheels came off; that’s when Fleabag — deriving from Waller-Bridge’s family nickname of Flea — was turned into a one-woman show, and won the Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival. It’s been nonstop ever since for Waller-Bridge. In 2014, she received an Olivier nomination for Fleabag, and the next year appeared in the second series of Broadchurch.
Writing and starring roles for Crashing — a comedy-drama following the lives of six 20-somethings living as property guardians in a hospital — followed, and in 2016 the six-part series of Fleabag was screened on BBC Three.
Meanwhile, she was creating the smash hit Killing Eve, for which Jodie Comer took home best actress in a drama series on Sunday. Waller-Bridge served as Killing Eve’s head writer for season one before passing the pen to Emerald Fennell for season two of the serial killer chase revolving around two female protagonists.
In both Killing Eve and Fleabag, Waller-Bridge displayed a willingness to trample on gender stereotypes regarding violence and sex — and in the process earned legions of loyal fans. “I write from the point of view of what I’d like to watch,” she told The Guardian last year. “I’m always satisfying my own appetite. So I guess that means transgressive women, friendships, pain. I love pain.”
Most painful for Fleabag fanatics? Waller-Bridge is closing the door on a third season. “To be honest, this just feels like the most beautiful, beautiful way to say goodbye to it, actually,” Waller-Bridge told reporters in the Emmys afterglow on Sunday night. “It does feel like the story is complete.”
Waller-Bridge’s next act begins as a co-writer role on the next James Bond film. (The Guardian reported that Waller-Bridge was brought in to pep up the script at the request of Daniel Craig, 007 himself.)
Waller-Bridge has hinted at making a Killing Eve cameo in season three, but by the sounds of it, it could be short-lived. “I was like, I am going to write myself a part so that I can be murdered by Jodie,” she said.
As for topping Fleabag, that will be tough to do — and fans will surely miss the title character’s angry, witty, (sometimes) confused and sexy iterations while she tried to live her best life in London.
“It’s so nice to hear that so many people loved [Fleabag],” she said. “I’m a bit like, ‘Aw, damn it, maybe she shouldn’t have waved goodbye at the end,’ but it does feel right. It feels right to go out on a high, and you can’t get higher than this.”