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Phoebe Waller-Bridge of 'Fleabag' talks saving guinea pigs and butt sex

You can't do that on television … or can you?

“Fleabag” is a new show that falls somewhere between the quirky, relatable humanity of “Bridget Jones” and the naughty, in-your-face raunchiness of “Girls.” Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who wrote and created the series, is also its female lead — an outwardly confident, beautiful and quite hilarious character who harbors a hidden darkness. We got to chat with Phoebe about the show’s origins and why killing guinea pigs is not cool for TV but anal sex totally is.

How were you initially inspired to write “Fleabag”?
The genesis of [“Fleabag] was that I was asked to write a one-woman show for a 10-minute slot in a London theater by a friend of mine. When that 10 minutes was written, a couple of people said we should take it to Edinburgh, and we got a slot in the Edinburgh festival. She’s a woman who’s just trying to hide something, basically hide a pain and then, on top of all of that, seem like she’s completely together and funny and sexually confident and in control of everything. So much of my 20s was trying to convince people that about myself.

What was it like transitioning from a stage show to television?
Sort of like hitting my head really hard against a wall for a year. The first difficult stage was that I played all the characters in the stage play, so I had to let go of all of them and then handing them over and allowing them to have their own lives. The first thing that I had to suddenly focus on was building these characters lives outside of “Fleabag.”

You mention you felt a lot like this character in your 20s. Is “Fleabag” inspired by real life experiences?
To some degree it was a very personal piece. A lot of the anecdotal things either almost happened to me or did happen to me. Or that I kind of imagined would be hilarious if they happened to me. Like my friends and family are very healthy and alive. There’s a lot of people sort of in it in spirit but no portraits or anything.

Do we ever learn your character’s real name in the show?
Yeah. I knew that “Fleabag” was going to be the title of the play and in turn it would be implied that that’s her name. Yeah, she doesn’t have a name. I kept thinking if I called her something it would be “Sarah” or “Annabelle.”

So this show first premiered overseas on BBC Three in July. Were they cool with you covering raunchier subject matter like anal sex?
They loved it. They love all that stuff. I think there’s been a real appetite for female sexual candor. “Girls” blew the doors open for that kind of thing. It builds to something and it means something and it’s not just her flinging words around for shock value. She uses that candor to gain control. There was one thing they wouldn’t let me do in the play, which was kill the guinea pig.

She killed a guinea pig?
In the play.

Oh my god. Yeah, that wouldn’t fly.

Yeah, they were like you can do whatever you like, but you cannot kill the guinea pig. BBC saved the guinea pig.

That’s a soundbite if I ever heard one. Do you think American audiences are more prudish when it comes to sex?
The thing about "Fleabag" is that it’s the language that’s really explicit. I think that actually does shock people more. What was really important to me was that there’s no kind of nudity or tits or ass in it, because it’s about the power of the language. When she looks directly down the lens and says, "This guy’s about to f— me up the ass," that’s way more shocking to people. I guess they’re using to seeing, like watching people having sex more than we are people just talking to us directly about it.

“Fleabag” premieres on Amazon Prime Video this Friday, Sept. 16.

 

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