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.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Anna Paquin (who’s also an executive producer on the series) talked about why Flack caught her attention when it first came her way about five years ago, the reason she never wanted to let the project go, the slight changes they needed to make, why she enjoys producing projects and collaborating with her husband, actor Stephen Moyer, whether she feels this is a fair representation of the cutthroat world of celebrity PR, and the joy of getting to work with this bad-ass team of women. She also talked about the experience she had playing one of Robert DeNiro’s daughters in The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese.
Collider: When Flack came your way, what was your initial impression of the project? Was this character always this developed and seemingly fun?
ANNA PAQUIN: The project came to me and our company about five years ago, and there were already two or three scripts written, and the entire plot of the series was arced out already, so the character was very well developed. The opening scene of the first episode pretty much had me, from the get-go. It’s intense, dark and funny, and it sets the tone of the show very quickly. I was just very into it.
Was there anything that changed, in those five years, or did it pretty much stay what you first read?
PAQUIN: There were things that needed to change. The way that news is consumed and processed, with the internet and social media, has changed a lot of different logistics of what a PR job entails. But as far as the overall arcs, themes, ideas and storylines, those pretty much stayed as they were. For example, you can’t have people getting a text saying, “Oh, hey, this happened,” because now they just get a Google alert. We just went through and updated the show with contemporary media.
It’s amazing how fast all of that changes.
PAQUIN: I know! You think that five years isn’t that long, but what was very contemporary, five years ago, suddenly feels a bit dated. But, that was a quick fix.
In the five years before this went into production, was Flack something that you always had in the back of your mind, throughout that time, or was there something specific that brought you back to it now?
PAQUIN: We started developing it a while ago, we got a deal over at HBO, and we worked on it there for awhile. They didn’t pick it up, and then it just went onto the shelf and we moved on to do other things, but it was always that one thing where the writing was just so good and that’s so rare. I know this probably sounds crazy, but so many projects go into production without great scripts. They’re the actual building blocks of entertainment, but so often, things get written as you go. That’s fine, but it’s so exciting when you find material where you’re just really excited about the words on the page, and this one was very much the one that we weren’t willing to just let go of. I can’t actually remember, off the top of my head, exactly what the timeframe was, but it was only three or four months of trying to take another step at getting it set up, until we were in production, and prepping and shooting. It all went very, very quickly, once we put the life back into it, and that was very exciting.
You produced this series with your husband, Stephen Moyer, and you also worked as a producer on the film that he directed. What do you guys enjoy about working together, in that capacity, and developing projects together, and not just working as actors?
PAQUIN: We share very similar tastes, as far as material that speaks to us, in different ways. And we both have very strong knowledge of what goes into production, just from sheer number of years experience on sets. It’s a pretty organic transition for us, as far as having met working together and now taking on more aspects of production together. He’s the other side of my brain. I know what he’s gonna like and not like, and he knows what I’m gonna like and not like. We think for each other pretty well. We’re very lucky.
This show is fun because it gives viewers a look into the cutthroat world of celebrity PR, and it’s really, really cutthroat. Do you feel like this is a fair representation of that world and that there are people actually like this, or does this feel like a very heightened version?
PAQUIN: I think this is a fair representation of aspects of that world. There are plenty of us, like myself, who exist in the public eye, and go to work, do our jobs, promote our work, and don’t really require a scandal fixer, but I absolutely believe and know that these people do exist. For everything that appears in a gossip magazine, I’m sure there was a whole herd of people trying to make sure that it didn’t happen. I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience with that and that side of it, but I’ve certainly seen it in the periphery.
When you were figuring out who this woman was and how you wanted to play her, did you not find it necessary to look at specific publicists that you had heard about? Did you look more at professional women, in general?
PAQUIN: Honestly, I don’t think that I’ve ever really based any character on any one person. That’s just not really my process. I know that sounds awfully pretentious, but I stuck more with what was on the page, and then the discussions that I had with the other creators and creative people on it, as opposed to going, “Oh, I think this is just like so and so,” and then trying to put somebody else’s personality onto a character. I’m sure that I can’t help but be influenced by people that I’ve met, and little bits of things that I’ve seen or that I absorb. I approach each character like it’s a completely blank slate, and just get creative from scratch.
It seems like, if you’re going to have a character that’s as ruthless at her job as Robyn is, then you have to have an even more ruthless boss, and I love that character so much. How much fun was that relationship to play, and how much fun was it to see what Sophie Okonedo did with that character?
PAQUIN: It was so much fun. It was almost criminal, how fun those scenes were, where she’s just slicing us up, like she’s a scalpel, with such disdain, control and poise. It’s amazing. Sophie is extraordinarily talented, which I knew already, but she’s so sweet and nice, and then she morphs into Caroline and she’s terrifying. Basically, she did most of the work for me, Lydia [Wilson] and Rebecca [Benson], the little office trio. You don’t really have to dig deep to find the appropriate reaction for that dialogue. You can just sit there, listen and feel your heart drop into your stomach, and the job is done.
I love this bad-ass team of women because they’re just so much fun to watch. Was it fun to have such an awesome group of women on this?
PAQUIN: Yes, it really was. And you know, I love men. I love working with men. I’ve had many, many years of wonderful experiences on very male-dominated sets. But it’s really nice, for a change, to get to feel what it’s like when the power dynamic has been reversed and the boys are coming in to play the husbands, the boyfriends, and the guest stars. The main ensemble is being help up by three incredibly powerful women, and that was fun.
You also played one of Robert De Niro’s daughters in The Irishman, which Martin Scorsese directed. What’s it like to be on a set and have the experience of working with people like that?
PAQUIN: It’s extraordinarily cool. It’s all of these really, really huge gods of my business, all on one job, and I got to go play, too. I was incredibly excited and happy to be there, and it was exactly as cool as it sounds. I have no shame. I’m not gonna pretend and be like, “Oh, yeah, no big deal.” No, it was fucking awesome! I was hugely geeking out over how cool it was, and just how lucky I am to get to be part of something like that. I’m very, very lucky.
Flack airs on Thursday nights on Pop TV.