From show creator Oliver Lansley, the six-episode dramedy Flack (airing on Pop TV) follows Robyn (Anna Paquin), a sharp and witty crisis PR strategist who can find a way to solve absolutely anything that her high-profile clients from the worlds of entertainment, fashion and sports throw her way. With a highly critical boss (played with delicious delight by Sophie Okonedo), a foul-mouthed best friend and colleague (Lydia Wilson) and an eager new intern (Rebecca Benson) enabling her, and her sister (Genevieve Angelson) as the only voice of reason among the chaos, it’s not likely that Robyn will ever put getting her own life in order ahead of her clients’ needs.
While at the Pop TV portion of the TCA Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actress Sophie Okonedo about the appeal of Flack, playing such a fun scene-stealing character, the differences between her and Caroline, her moral code or lack thereof, and working with such an incredible group of women, headed by actress/producer Anna Paquin. She also talked about what she looks for in a project, her love of doing theater (she most recently played Cleopatra, opposite Ralph Fiennes in Antony and Cleopatra), the fun of working in a fantastical world like that of Hellboy, and what she’d still like to do, in the future.
Collider: You are so terrific in this show! This seems like one of those characters that is just so incredibly fun to play.
SOPHIE OKONEDO: Oh, thank you! That’s exactly right.
Did you know how much you’d get to play with this character and what kind of a scene-stealer she would be?
OKONEDO: I know! Thank you! It’s really hard to see how you come across, but I could see that she was really fun. It was all in the writing. The writing was so good. The script was like that, and it didn’t change. There were no new pages coming, each day. It more or less just stayed the same, which is so unusual. Normally, you get pink, yellow and red pages, every day. With this, I read it, and then we filmed it. There were very little changes. It was already complete and done.
When this came your way, what was it about this project that most interested you?
OKONEDO: Immediately, I loved it. I started reading it and, with the first page of my dialogue, I was like, “She’s gotta be mad! I hope the rest of it is as good.” It’s just a really exciting, confrontational, naughty, funny, bold piece. It’s highly entertaining. When you read it, it’s a page-turner, so was hoping that the series would be the same. It was just really fun. I think great television is always when you have characters where you don’t necessarily agree with what they’re doing, but you’re fascinated and you love it, at the same time.
Since it is a bit tricky, was the tone of this easily apparent?
OKONEDO: It has a lot of tones. Essentially, it made me laugh, but then, there’s a really poignant moment in it. I love that. I love the drama. These characters are just human, in an extreme way. They have all of the elements of human nature, which is that they sometimes mean well, but then, sometimes, they’re absolutely awful to each other, or they make really bad choices. I think everyone can relate to that, at some point in their lives. Most people have thought, “I wish I hadn’t chosen that ‘cause that was a bit silly.”
This character is fun because she’s a bit of a mystery and it feels like anything could be possible with her.
OKONEDO: Yeah, I have a lot of thoughts about that. I have lots of thoughts about how she came to be the kind of person she is. She’s very driven, and you get little snippets of her.
Did you ever wonder what she does on her weekends?
OKONEDO: Oh, yeah, I always think about everything. I’m not gonna give it away ‘cause it’s quite nice, having secrets. Half the fun with her is what people can imagine. Who would be her partner? Does she have one? Does she eat? I like to keep my ideas to myself ‘cause it’s more fun to see what people layer on her. She’s an enigma.
Is she someone that you would ever want to be friends with, or are you glad that you just get to play her and leave her on set?
OKONEDO: I feel I would quite enjoy meeting her at a dinner party. She wouldn’t be your best friend, and you probably wouldn’t like to work for her, at all, but I find her quite fun, as a character. She’d be quite interesting to meet. She’s very stylish. We have such a good costume designer. I put on the clothes and I think, “Okay, here she is.” Caroline should bring her own brand of clothing out. I want to keep up with Caroline. She spends a lot on her own clothes. She’s immaculate, at all times. That’s not like me, in real life, at all. I’m normally in my jogging bottoms, same as everybody else.
What do you think her job requirements are? How do you think she’s assembled these people that work for her?
OKONEDO: For her to get to where she is, you have to have a real drive to get to that place, and it has to be a drive where, no matter what else is in the way, you will just bulldoze straight through it to get to what you want. She’s also a high achiever and has high expectations of her staff. If they don’t meet it, they’re out. She doesn’t really care what you’ve been up to, morally. She’s morally bankrupt. She doesn’t really have a thing with being morally right or wrong. For her, it’s just, “Get the fucking job done!” That’s her. Whether that falls apart, at some point in her life, I don’t know. Right now, at this point in time, if you look at what her morals are, she doesn’t get into that. Everyone has emotions, but hers are pushed so deep down that you’d have to get 20 people to dig them out.
Do you feel like she has her own moral code?
OKONEDO: I think it has to do with perfectionism and her work. She really wants to do the absolute, which is what she sees as being the highest achievement. She’s happy to switch sides, if it feels convenient, to accomplish that. There are actually moments where she’s glad things have happened. No one is totally without total morals. She’s quite glad sometimes, when people get their comeuppance.
What’s it been like to work with the amazing group of women in this cast?
OKONEDO: We kept going, “Wow!” When I started reading the script, before I knew who the cast was, I was like, “That’s a really good female part! Ooh, that one is, too!” And they just kept coming. Everyone got really happy on set ‘cause everyone had really good parts. Normally, there’s one good part, and then everyone else is just filling the scenery, so it was really good that everybody was on the level. Everyone is a really good actor. Even for the small parts, and people who had two scenes, I thought they were so good. We shot quite fast, so it was intense, but at the same time, if you didn’t have a laugh during this, you were doing something wrong. We enjoyed our characters.
What was it like to work with Anna Paquin, as a co-star and a producer on the series?
OKONEDO: She was hands-on with us all. She just wanted us all to be happy and feel we had a really good environment to do our best in. That was her major concern. She wanted us to have anything that we needed. I don’t know how she juggles it all with kids. She really does a lot and is hugely energetic, from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. She’s definitely a warrior.
Were there ever times when things were so outrageous that you wondered how you were going to pull something off?
OKONEDO: I don’t worry about those things. I just love it. The more outrageous, the better. Some of it is so outrageous that it makes you think, “I wonder if that’s true.” I thought that, all the time. I was like, “I’m sure these things have happened.” It’s crazy! Someone will write a story, one day. But, I really enjoyed. I was always like, “Bring it on!” I love drama that pushes right to the edge.
At this point in your career, what excites you about a project? What is it that you look for?
OKONEDO: Story, story, story. Although, sometimes you might see something more experimental and the story is not quite there yet, but the people around you are really interesting to work with. I come from the theater, so it’s about the story and the script, but sometimes the script isn’t all the way there yet, so you have to look around the project to see how to approach it.
Do you want to continue to work between film, TV and theater?
OKONEDO: Yeah. I get bored, so I like to do different things. I’m like a gypsy, so I like traveling and trying different things. I did Antony and Cleopatra on stage (at the National Theatre in London) for six months, with Ralph Fiennes, which was intense, but I loved it. It was the role of a lifetime.
What was that experience like? How did you even approach doing something like that?
OKONEDO: It was an enormous amount of preparation, for probably about a year. It’s a lot for a play ‘cause you also have the language of Shakespeare, which is complex, but when you crack it, it unleashes so much. There’s nothing that’s not in human nature, that’s not in Shakespeare. It’s incredible in doing Shakespeare, every night. It never gets boring. The sentences are so compact, and there’s’ so much in a sentence. You keep unlocking new pathways, within just two lines. Once you become proficient, you don’t even notice that you’re speaking the words of Shakespeare. The audience also shouldn’t notice. They should think that you’re speaking their language. If they don’t understand you, then you’re doing it wrong. You need to see a good production. Ralph is amazing at it. He’s a British Shakespearean speaker, and I got to play with him for six months, which was great.
What surprised you about the experience, playing such an iconic character like that?
OKONEDO: It just constantly surprised me, day after day, the depth of where I could go with it. That was definitely my favorite experience, so far, in my acting career.
Are you looking to do stage again soon, or would you like to take a break?
OKONEDO: I’m gonna have a break. It’s so tiring. I’ve done four years of it. I did Crucible on Broadway. I did A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway. I did Edward Albee (The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?) in the West End in London. I went from show to show, so now I’m having a little break. Doing eight shows a week is so tiring.
And somewhere, in the middle of all that, you did Hellboy.
OKONEDO: Yeah, I wanted to mix it up. That was really fun. I don’t know how much I can say about it ‘cause they’re secretive with these things, but I had an enjoyable time, playing that character. It was totally different from anything that I’ve done. And my part was all done in just one bit, so I could go in, smash it and go.
At least you didn’t have to go through all of the hours and hours of make-up and prosthetics, like David Harbour did to play Hellboy.
OKONEDO: I had some, with my eyes and some stuff.
What do you enjoy about playing a character like that, who’s in such a fantastical world, versus playing a character totally in the real world, like the one in Flack?
OKONEDO: I like characters that I can have a lot of fun with. There’s something so enjoyable about doing characters that are quite rich and fun, and rich in the quality of the characteristics, not monetarily. I like to switch it up. I like to do different things. Cleopatra was funny. That’s a very funny part, if you read the text properly. I used to get a lot of laughs, and that was very fun. Shakespeare liked to make people laugh and then cry, the next moment.
OKONEDO: There are loads. There are so many. There are lots of plays that I’d still like to do, but I won’t be doing theater for a year or two. I want to just keep pushing the boundaries, as well. Even with Shakespeare, I’d like experience in the male roles. I’d like to switch it around. There’s lots to be done there. I haven’t done Tennessee Williams. That would be great. There are lots of different things. There are always new plays being written, right now, and the new films being written, right now, with glorious parts. It’s interesting to think about how a part can be changed around, perhaps to suit me or somebody else. I don’t want to fit in one box. I never want to be someone who does just funny stuff, sad stuff, or classical stuff. I don’t really think ahead. I think about today, and that’s it. I hardly make any plans. I have no strategy for my career. I don’t plan it, at all.
Flack airs on Thursday nights on Pop TV.