The dramedy Fleabag is as joyful and poignant as ever in its second season (streaming at Amazon Prime Video), as the series’ namesake (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) finds herself in a battle with God. As she continues to deal with family and tragedy, which often seem to be one in the same, she meets The Priest (Andrew Scott), who teaches her that there is more than one way to see the world.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, the fabulously talented and undeniably funny Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who is the star, creator, executive producer and writer of the series) talked about how returning to the world of Fleabag felt like coming home, her detour as creator/showrunner on Season 1 of the BBC America series Killing Eve and as the voice of L3-37 in Solo: A Star Wars Story, why writing movies is more aligned with her natural instincts, when she realized that Fleabag was a character that people fell in love with, how the second season evolved, why Andrew Scott was her Priest, trying not to crack up around so many funny cast members, what she loves about the odd family dynamic, and how it felt to hand off Killing Eve to another showrunner.
Collider: Fleabag is a great show, but between Seasons 1 and 2, you took a bit of a detour, as the showrunner of Season 1 of Killing Eve and voicing L3-37 in Solo: A Star Wars Story. What was it like to go back to this world and finally get Season 2 out there?
WALLER-BRIDGE: Oh, just wonderful! It’s just like coming home, actually. This character has grown up and gone on a whole new journey, and I feel like I’ve grown up a bit and gone on a whole new journey in the interim, as well. So, it feels comforting and exciting, at the same time.
Did it feel like as much time had passed as it had?
WALLER-BRIDGE: Even talking about Fleabag this year, whereas last year it was Killing Eve, I’m just like, “God, where has it gone?!” It’s been so intense. It actually feels like this is the end of a cycle, in some ways. Obviously, I have no idea what’s going to happen next. That’s what’s fun. I just know that there’ll be no more Fleabag. This is the end of Fleabag, which makes me really sad. The play in New York is the final punctuation mark. I’m going to write a movie next.
Does that feel like a whole other world?
WALLER-BRIDGE: I actually think it’s more aligned with my natural instincts because I always want to write a one-arc story. The episodic nature of TV is a challenge, with mini-arcs, or mini-movies. My instinct is always to know the beginning, middle and end, and to be able to have a captive audience, and do it all in a couple of hours. That’s exciting.
When did you realize that this was a character that people just didn’t seem to want to let go of?
WALLER-BRIDGE: When my friend showed me a picture of a girl who had Fleabag tattooed on her arm. I was like, “Yes! I can die happy now!” When people started just coming up and talking to me about it, that’s when I really felt it. People wanted to tell me about their lives and how they relate to her, and I got it.
What did you think about someone having a character you created and played tattooed on themselves?
WALLER-BRIDGE: My instinct was like, “I wanna call her! She’s mental!” Why would you do that?! I love it!
What did you want to explore with this second season? Did you know what you wanted to do for Season 2, right off the bad, or did you have to really think about what you were going to do?
WALLER-BRIDGE: I had to really, really think about it. I have a notebook of ideas that I put down, as I’m working on other stuff, so when I was doing Killing Eve, I had a little Fleabag notebook. When I was at the end of Killing Eve, I was like, “I have to start Fleabag now,” and I opened the notebook, and almost 70% of the ideas were about religion. I was like, “This is strange.” So, I knew it was going to be about that. And then, that morphed into this, and all of that energy collected together into this one character of The Priest, and Fleabag meeting a priest. I knew that I wanted it to be about her. She couldn’t hide from the audience, behind the sex comedy element, or being cheeky and deflecting to the camera, because the audience now knows what her secret is. So, she had to open up in a different way, and that was challenging. But I knew that faith and finding meaning was gonna have a big impact on the story.
At what point did you decide who your priest would be?
WALLER-BRIDGE: I knew really early on. The idea of a priest had come up, and there was something risky about Fleabag and the priest because it felt a bit sitcom-y in my head. I loved the idea, but there was the risk that it could be silly. And then, I thought of Andrew [Scott], who I wanted to work with again. We did a play together, years ago, and I’d wanted to work with him again since then. I think he’s an absolute genius actor, and one of the best that we’ve got. And so, I met up with him for a coffee and said, “I’ve got this crazy idea for a character,” and I told him what my ideas were, before it was solidified. And then, we had a five-hour talk. We walked around and talked about everything, and by the end of it, he was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” I was like, “Thank god!,” because if he didn’t, I couldn’t have written that character. It really helps to have an actor in your head.
It’s such an interesting character, and he’s just so good in the role.
WALLER-BRIDGE: He has no limits. In fact, he can be that big, that extraordinary, and that truthful, and yet still feel like a real person. He can play Moriarty, with as insane as that character is, and then go and play somebody so subtle and small, like The Priest. I feel really lucky that we got him.
Are there ever moments when you’re shooting this and you just can’t help but crack up?
WALLER-BRIDGE: Yes, so many! Sian [Clifford], who plays my sister Claire, is so different, in real life, and she so completely transforms when she’s playing Claire. She makes me laugh so much because Claire has hardly any sense of humor, so when she looks at me, she’s totally humorless and I lose it. Andrew was a lot of fun, as well. And Brett Gelman is just a scream to work with, and Olivia Colman. They’re all just such funny people, naturally, so it does get very silly.
Brett Gelman’s character is just so horrible that I wondered why it took Fleabag so long to punch him in the nose.
WALLER-BRIDGE: It felt like that’s what needed to happen, at the end of [Season 1], but then it never got to happen. Strangely, the idea of violence came really early on. I just didn’t realize it was going to be him. When I realized it was him, I was like, “Oh, yes, of course! That makes total sense!”
When you’re doing a show like this, where you’re writing a character for yourself, do you intentionally have her do things that you feel like people have not recognized that you can do, just to show people that you can?
WALLER-BRIDGE: Oh, like a showcase? Like, “Hey, I can sing!” I think I’ve shown my range, as much as I can, but that wasn’t something I set out to do. I suppose it was just the humor that I really wanted to get across.