Writer Created 'Fleabag' By Looking At What She Loved, Then Taking It Away

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In the show, Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, right) copes with the death of her best friend, Boo (Jenny Rainsford). Before Boo died, the two ran a guinea pig-themed cafe together.

Fleabag is the name of a British comedy that tackles intimacy, feminism and womanhood. Writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge created the show and plays its main character, also named Fleabag.

"She's a young woman living in London," Waller-Bridge tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "The relationship that she treasures most in the world, treasured most in the world, was that with her best friend who she recently lost in a terrible accident."

Fleabag copes with that loss by breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the camera. "She tries to keep her life humorous and amusing for the benefit of this audience that she has invited in," Waller-Bridge says. " ... And eventually that relationship starts to break down in itself and she starts to regret bringing the audience in in the first place — because, of course, she has these secrets and these feelings of grief and misery underneath all the comedy."


Interview Highlights

On how she named the show

It's a word that I'm really close to because it's actually my family nickname — well, Flea is my family nickname. And it was actually a real pain the ass when I realized that Fleabag was the perfect name for this show in my mind, because, you know, I felt like I was slapping my own name on it. It just begs certain questions about the rest of the show.

On how she came up with the show's premise

Well, I have a best friend [Vicky Jones]. And when I found her and we found our friendship, I just suddenly felt so much more invincible in the world. And I felt like she understood me and would forgive me my kind of weird, quirky thoughts and personality traits and all those kinds of things, and me her as well. And it was so glorious to me. And my biggest fear — and I always end up writing my worst fears, really — my biggest fear was what would happen if I lost her now?

And the moment I came up with that idea and we sat there, I was like, "What if she had a best friend that had died?" Both me and Vicky were like, "Oh no, that's a horrible story." And I was like, "Yeah, I love it. I love it." Every time I'd say something and Vicky's face would scrunch up and go, "No, that's horrible," I'd be like, "Haha, brilliant, it's going in." And then that informed a lot of it. And just seeing things that I loved in my life and imagining if I wasn't lucky enough to have them — kind of sadomasochistic, really.

On deciding to give Fleabag an active sex life

I was attracted to the idea of creating a character who does just have a lot of sex and doesn't need to kind of explain it away. So that was the first impulse was just, yeah, she just likes having a shag occasionally.

But then in order to deepen the character I did have to kind of analyze that a little bit more. And I think there's a bit in episode two when she says that she loves everything about sex: the drama of it, the performance of it, the kind of build up to it — but she doesn't actually like the feeling of it. And that is, I think, at the heart of what's complicated [about] the character. ... The moment that it's about sex, it's incredibly clear, and that's a relief for her and a release. So she's like, the moment she sees desire, you know, flutter across somebody's eyes, she's like, "I know this game. I know what we're doing here. I just need to do this; that person will do that; we'll end up having sex and then I'm in control. I am desired." And for a short moment, you know, she has agency over her life.

On how Fleabag's feelings about sex change by the end of the show

She just feels the pressure of being sexual and being sexually attractive so much more that it's kind of become innate in her character. And my fear for so long about younger women, especially today, was that they would feel like a vital part of being a woman and especially a young woman is how sexually attractive you are. And I wanted to create a character that kind of was the walking example of how that can go wrong, because she does feel like that I think.

On the audience never really learning the root of Fleabag's pain

I felt for a long time that if there was an explanation, if I could easily explain away Fleabag's emptiness or sadness, I felt like I'd be betraying her own complexity, really. But some people are just susceptible to feeling certain things that others aren't. And I feel so often that stories of angry young men are often unexplained, and actually so often when there's a broken, damaged woman it's because at the end you go, "Oh right, oh, it's because she was abused. That's why." Or, you know, she was abandoned or she was raped. ... I was really determined to make sure that she didn't have the one reason.

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