IT SEEMS FITTING for the bathroom to start. A landmark Fleabag scene — the series that Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote, starred in, and blew with all our hearts, winning Emmys ' armload in the process — takes place in one, with Waller-Bridge's character cracking period jokes as her sister secretly miscarries in the toilet stall. Inside, the rest of the family experience a god-awful dinner in a gloomy, almost mobby restaurant. The bathroom is the sanctum inside the prison, the location where blood flows out of secrecy. So I couldn't help but feel a little nervous at the end of the lunch on a recent afternoon in October, when Waller-Bridge proposed a joint trip to the loo ("We should pee together!"). All, though, was good. "You're still recording?"From the adjacent stall, Waller Bridge joked. Of course not, but the line was her memorably: slightly dirty, very droll, heedless of the fourth wall (and the one separating the toilets). "I should sing or say anything?"She kept washing her face. I actually had to kick her out of the bathroom with her inhibitingly good banter. "I will go, I will go! When I wanted to leave but didn't, it would be scary, isn't it?"She said, her haphazard, lingering voice as the door shut.
We were at The Playwright, a midtown pub and restaurant that maybe no one but Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a sentimental favorite. As a London student completing a summer program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she went there for the first time in 2000. "It's kind of crazy because my sister was 17 years old and I was 15 years old and so hungry for some cool success. We both auditioned and got in, and at the beginning of the meal, my parents let us come, "she said. They lived near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in student housing. "We played every day for a couple of hours and then tore it up," said Waller-Bridge. Their bar was The Playwright, chosen less because of their booze-for - the-job-you-want vibe than because of what Waller-Bridge recognized as a relaxed door policy. Their drink was a cosmopolitan; the crispy calamari was their dinner. "I had a snog right there," said at one point Waller-Bridge, referring to a dark corner of the bar. "And I thought he was homosexual!"We stuck with water a few decades later and debated around salads: Southwest, Caesar shrimp? "Can we both receive and share?"Suggested by Waller-Bridge.
As a one-woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Fleabag launched in 2013. Nominally, it's about a 20-something woman— technically anonymous but widely known as Fleabag — who used to run a guinea pig-themed café with her best friend, and now runs it alone because her best friend died in a horrible way she's still trying to figure out what she's doing. Fleabag's stage version is stronger and darker than the TV version. When I saw Waller-Bridge perform it in London a few months ago, the crowd was in shrieks with a genuinely raunchy line involving a sandwich bun and a hairdresser. Channeling the tooth suitor known as Tube Rodent, she rearranged her face so that without the surgical removal of a jawbone, I would have found it unlikely. Hillary Clinton attended a show last spring in New York and then joined Waller-Bridge for a lunch and a glass of wine. "She was great. I asked her if she could relate to that character, "remembered Waller-Bridge. "She said she didn't do it herself, but she was very interested in the play's roots and my understanding of how women my age felt when I wrote it. I was hyperaware that she was in the crowd, primarily because the guinea pig in the play is called Hilary, which brought a thrilling frisson to the entire performance.
At the conclusion of a month's stay in America, Waller-Bridge was in New York. The trip had started in Los Angeles, where she was attending the Emmys. She was the star of the night, taking home the awards in a comedy series for outstanding lead actress and outstanding writing for a series of comedies. Nine awards were also won by Killing Eve, a voluptuous thriller she produced (her synopsis, "murder, murder, good hair," is as good as any). "Yeah, it just gets ridiculous!"From the end, Waller-Bridge said after Fleabag won an excellent comedy series. "Phoebe honors women and portrays them in their entirety," said Jodie Comer, who for her role as Villanelle, the reckless assassin of Killing Eve, won the lead actress in a drama series. "I think she shows us there are no rules, or at least not to abide by them." Ian Griffiths, the Max Mara creative director, sent models down the runway in tailor-made, secret agents-like separates influenced by Killing Eve and Waller-Bridge, who, he said, "have taken a genre and turned it into something modern." Also, she said, "I keep the right to leave the house in my pyjamas looking like crap." She was wearing sneakers at lunch with a Woody Woodpecker ringer tee and a pair of toffee-colored pants. A blazer from Harris Tweed was lying on her chair's back. "I find dressing difficult every day, just that choice," she said. "You just want it for Steve Jobs."
In the face of roaring success, I told her what an English person is doing. "I think you've probably got one too many gin-and-tonics, and all your mates are taking the piss out of you," she said. Nonetheless, the evidence— in the form of a Waller-Bridge picture taken at an after-party of Emmys — suggests that she is revealing in the excitement of everything, tossing her head back with the undefended elation of someone who trusts in the validity of her achievement. The photo didn't break the internet so much as it inspired the internet to strip off their sweatpants, put on a shimmering gown Monique Lhuillier, and go to court in a high-backed chair that looked like a throne while smoking a cigarette with one hand and holding a cocktail in the other. "People describe Phoebe as really cool, but I don't know, I feel she's not cool," said Andrew Scott, Waller-Bridge's longtime friend, whom she cast in Fleabag as the "hot priest." "Awesome means distant and oblivious, and I think she's the opposite, a boundless life enthusiast."
Waller-Bridge showed up for a hungover debrief in Scott's hotel room the morning after the ceremony. For the record, the after-party drink was a vodka gimlet. "Around a year and a half ago, the gimlet came into my life," said Waller-Bridge. "I've always really wanted a cocktail you've ordered with complete confidence; you know, that thing you order and it's like like, holy shit, she knows what she's doing with her whole life." Even if the photo was awesome, it wasn't pretty much a role model material. I asked Waller-Bridge if she gave permission to post it on Instagram to the friend who took it. "He's just asking for permission," she said. "I was like that, yeah, fuckyeah! Accepted. So it was accepted.
The sense of humor of WALLER-BRIDGE comes from a place of comfort. She grew up with baronets and a member of Parliament in the family tree in Ealing, a genteel suburb of London. ("Is Phoebe Waller-Bridge a Tory?" is one of the questions that arise when you google her. Her answer: "I've never seen that! What a mess! I don't know what's worse — the idea that people write that with hope or fear? No, I'm not a Tory. Proudly not a Tory.") The Waller-Bridge household was a hive of socialism. "Art, talking, laughing, men, and sharing bits of creative work with our parents and friends are and have always been a lot going on," said Isobel Waller-Bridge, the older sister of Phoebe. Until going into venture capital and reinventing himself as a portrait photographer, her father, Michael, co-founded the first European electronic stock market. Her mum, Teresa, is an administrator at London's 700-year-old guild The Ironmongers ' Company. (When Phoebe was divorced in her early twenties.) Waller-Bridge, who also has a younger brother, Jasper, is extremely close to her family. Isobel, a poet, composed Fleabag's music and, more recently, Alexander McQueen's runway show. "We're talking a lot, almost casually— waiting for a bus, going to the shop, making tea cups," said Isobel. "That's always part of our consciousness, and then we're going to inadvertently go down a rabbit hole for hours and usually come out on the other side with something we're excited about."
Waller-Bridge had a guinea pig-themed café of an acting career for a while in her 20s, after graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She's been enticing, listening, having no parts. "I think the most important thing I felt was how I looked — especially in your twenties, when everyone is like,' Cash in on it now because you don't have much time!Remembered Waller-Bridge. "Hair was all." Clearly, as a stunning, privately educated white woman, Waller-Bridge had a lot, virtually everything, to go for her; she admitted that it was "absolutely true" that she did not have resources for others. However, she was discouraged from accessing deeper forms of expression by the need to appear flawless. "How to be safe I had to learn," she said. "I've always tried to do the right kind of action, please."
She started to create her own material, frustrated, even angry with the experience, often working with her best friend, the writer and director Vicky Jones. Waller-Bridge had a few romantic relationships that lasted for a couple of years ("In the meantime I'd go nuts," she recalled), but Jones was her "first love," the person who got her right away, triggering the say-any vulnerability from which inspiration flows. They lived together for years, even after Jones met her fiancé and became pregnant, they continued to share a flat. (Waller-Bridge is an executive producer and acting in the comedy-thriller run by Jones, which will be shown on HBO next year.) Together they founded a theater company called DryWrite. "It was about authors being able to write openly in order to be more courageous, and I was like,' Yeah, when I was 10, I was working on that!Said Waller-Bridge. "You know these things are coming back you've been banging on for so long."
The next day, a BBC executive who saw Fleabag in Edinburgh in 2013 contacted Waller-Bridge's agent and signed it for television adaptation. She wrote Crashing for Channel 4 around the same time, looking like Lulu, a kind of proto-Fleabag who wreaks havoc on her roommates by pushing them to blur divisive facts while strumming a ukulele. Fleabag debuted on Amazon in 2016 after screening in the United Kingdom, completing his second and final season earlier this year. Ballantine will be publishing Fleabag: The Scriptures at the end of November, a completist's vision of a novel, including the full scripts of the series and the commentary on Waller-Bridge.
Fleabag gained several characters in the transition from stage to screen and lost one unexpected plot twist. What remained is a formal rigor that distinguishes the series from the looser, more dramatic work with which it is frequently classified, primarily because it is a young woman who produces it. "I was asked who influenced me as an artist, and I realized that I would always have been somewhat embarrassed to admit it, because it seems so simple, but the Greek plays like that! Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare— all those you don't think you should tell because they're amazing. I own that now, "she said to me. In its visualization of the public and private spaces of our psyches, the distances from front to center, Waller-Bridge is almost architectural. She brings a wrecking ball to the unrecognized community, the unspeakable impulses and fears that people think they carry on their own. Her work feels like first-person television. "One of the most incredible effects she has had on me is that she has also made me have no doubt," said Jenny Robins, the story producer for Waller-Bridge. "I was asking myself, am I doing that? Is it funny? Is it a little dark? Does that hear anybody else? But I'd say anything and everything when I'm working with her and never feel worried about it.
EVERYTHING IN THE ETHER, there is an email draft worth as much as a little plane. It's called "Funnies;" it's not directed at anyone. Waller-Bridge, who recently signed a $20 million annual contract with Amazon, has been adding content for future projects to the draft over the past decade. "I could have a notebook, but I know I'd lose it, so every time I have a series, I'll just write down ideas and pull them out," she said. Post-it notes, which go to a board, are the thoughts. Occasionally, as she did with the Fleabag episode in which Fleabag's girlfriend, Claire, gets a haircut that looks like a semicolon draped over her head, she would create a whole episode to show off a single joke. Waller-Bridge likes to write up to a deadline in bed, sometimes late at night. "She will sometimes write on her machine and then connect to a TV screen in my room, so I can look at what she types as she does," Robins said. (Imagine having a live feed of what's happening in the head of Phoebe Waller-Bridge.)
I love a note; I love pitching, "said Waller-Bridge as we walked through Central Park. After lunch, we would have ended up there, taking Eighth Avenue and eating Peanut Butter M&Ms as we walked out of her house.
"Nevertheless, look at him, he is so old," she said, pointing a retriever. "I prefer ancient puppies. Old dogs have to tell stories." "Many of them will be there, "I said. "Prepare." "I remember. You'll have to put me on a leash. "Waller-Bridge didn't really want to do Fleabag's second season. Harry Bradbeer, who was in charge of the show's two seasons, told me, "She was stumped, stumped, stumped, and depressed. She didn't want to do something that wasn't good enough. "Waller-Bridge had been living with it for the better part of a decade by the time Fleabag became a hit and was solid in her 30s. "Because you're adjusting it's so hard," she said. "You're just trying to write authentically. You've got to write the transition, and it's been like going into the second season, you've got to, you know, inverted commas,' give people what they want.'"Suddenly she said. "My God." I turned to see a woman feeding a squirrel from her hand's palm at the edge of the road.
"I think it's a cashew," concluded Waller-Bridge. "For a squirrel, pretty swanky." We managed to get to the boathouse, but we didn't really give our all to navigate. We rounded a corner at one point, sure we were about to arrive at a glimmering pool, just to end dead at a bunch of dumpsters. "I enjoy being attracted to this part of the park both of us," said Waller-Bridge. "This is the place we need to go, nourishing and soothing."
It wasn't until Waller-Bridge knew that Fleabag's second season had to be a lovestory—"an mature love story, but with adolescent feelings"— that she began to lift her anxiety. (The feelings about the relationship between her character and the hot priest were sufficiently strong to find the word religious on the Pornhub platform after the season premiere spiked by 162%.) On the topic of love: Waller-Bridge married the documentary filmmaker Conor Woodman for three years. She started dating the Irish— British playwright Martin McDonagh following their divorce in 2017. Sensibly, either of them she didn't want to talk about. "In my literary life, I'm a lot braver," she said.
In general terms, we had to think about some form of isolation between friends that could happen in your 30s.
"It's real that way, isn't it? We used to talk so openly, "said Waller-Bridge as we addressed the freeze that happens when people start pairing off and no one wants to admit what's happening inside their relationships. When you're young, she said, the drama in your love life doesn't feel like failure. "The stakes are so small. But then you choose someone who will shape your life in some respects, and who you grow to be, because you are with him all the time, is possibly shaping or molding. And you're looking for the best. You want the best you can, but youwon't— "Someone stopped asking for a selfie that Waller-Bridge warmly coerced.
"I think you're trying to figure out who you are for the first half of your life, and you're kind of knocking on things, checking things all the time, helping you sculpt yourself," she said, picking up the thread. "And then, when you've come as close as you can to sculpting, you're like, don't do it, if it changes me." "It's a much more safe way to move around the world," I said.
"Hey, somebody could just knock off the sculpture's nose," answered Waller-Bridge. She said, self-deprecatingly, "I wouldn't mind a few inches or two to be honest."
Waller-Bridge was unable to get enough of Central Park's animal kingdom. A dog came around at one point and she screamed, "That's what my mother would call a snack!"Once she returned to London, she said, the first thing she wanted to do was to find a rescue dog. She figured she would actually call it a snack. I had chosen not to question Waller-Bridge about, or lack of, her maternal needs. Yet she wanted to know how I felt about having children, and at some point not to reciprocate seemed ungenerous. "I don't know about that," she said. "It's a strange thing. I love children. No, I think there's so much going on. I guess I've become quite a person like see-what-life-throws-at-you. I guess I want to. I love to hang out with kids, good ones, you know.
We were completely positive that we were entering the boathouse. Waller-Bridge spoke of how one of the most beautiful things in the world is to see the banal little moments of bravery— a smile, a quip, a fashionable hat — that people are venturing into an effort to connect. "In any case, I feel like making a joke is a gamble, which is why I respect people who try it," she said. She went on, "If you meet someone for me anyway, one of the things that helps you find out who they are is to sort out what makes them laugh. You know those things that are totally safe for humans to do? Like, outside what clothes you're wearing, or at what restaurant you're at, or what your education was, or whatever. It's just like sex is two naked people, something people do, something that happens all over the world. And what's awesome is that you know that you're totally naked and that you didn't use anything, you just used each other. And that's sweet.
In Hollywood, WALLER-BRIDGE quickly gathered as much momentum as one might expect. There are the Emmys, the appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story, the fact that she was hired by Daniel Craig to punch up No Time to Die, the new James Bond movie. She was chary about the Amazon deal's financial details, while making it clear in an understated fashion that she hadn't left her wanting. She responded when I asked about equal pay, "My agents are very hot on that, and then they know I really feel strongly about it. Yeah, yes, all those discussions have happened. "She's writing a feature film that she wants to direct on the basis of an idea that reached her one morning, like a" bolt out of the blue, "just after Fleabag's end. It's a closely guarded secret that's just what it's about, but Waller-Bridge let it slip that it will require close cooperation with her friend. "I always loved the idea to start with a sound and work backwards," she said. "I'm going to write and go to her a lot of times and say,' Can you score it?And with this one, before I finished the script, she and I talked about the score.
Director Bradbeer of Fleabag told me that Waller-Bridge is treating her work with a "tickle, tickle, slap," seducing the audience with laughter and then hitting them with something surprising in the face. Even though she is known for an inward-focused, intimate comedy, her jokes may have a sly political edge. She first hosted Saturday Night Live two weeks after the Emmys. She noted in her monolog that women are becoming more frank about their sex lives than ever before. "Only straight men are allowed to have a dream these days," she said, holding up a finger of a schoolmarmish. "If you're looking up anything but a woman in the missionary position in her 30s, you're a pervert." It was particularly interesting as a jab at the post-#MeToo period pieces— a nibble on the industry's hand that has just started feeding her so extravagantly. "It's the moment I know something is politically correct that I want to be a little punk," Waller-Bridge told me. He added, "If at least a little bit you don't go messing it up, then what's the point?”
We finally got it to the boathouse. The lake looked perfect, a leaf and light no-filter dropping wonder. We reserved a rowboat in rows. A man was holding a boathouse-provided metal container in front of us with the inside purse of his female companion.
"I'm not going to carry a handbag, so I'm going to carry it in a box," Waller-Bridge said.
We got the boat and got off the plane. Waller-Bridge is, unexpectedly, a great person of larks-and-diversions. (Favorite at the moment: Dobble's card game.) She was normal, raising and dipping the oars like pedaling a bicycle with her hands. She seemed excited to breathe fresh air. New York was a blur of rooms for rehearsals. She would have gone to see Joker in her little bit of free time, which she thought was "absolutely brilliant." "I think the reason people got so upset is that it feels too real, too raw," she said. "I've been watching it and saying to myself, Christ, if it came out a year into the office of Obama, I don't think we'd be so concerned about it.
"Ibiza tortoise!"Waller-Bridge said, steering towards a rock on which the dwindling sun splashed dozens and dozens of tortoises.
We were rowing and rowing. At one point, a stunning conversationalist, Waller-Bridge, told me how the novelist Patricia Highsmith used to smuggle snails in her bra through customs. As the sky clouded, the merriment of her head-girl vanished and she settled into a calm gravity. "I always want to be risky," she said at lunch. I asked what she wanted to do with all the strength she had gained, what kind of tabos her name was now called.
She said there were "far tougher jokes about America" she'd experimented with for the SNL monolog and finally left out, feeling inappropriate. What's it like? "On the abortion laws alone, the kind of thing you can't get around your brain. The idea that the world has gone back in this direction, and actually in some alarming sense, women have a louder voice in so many respects, are more empowered these days, and then we are again oppressed in these other very insidious ways, overt ways. How are you battling this? Because if you rant and rave, you're going to be considered disruptive if you try to make a noise. You've got to be careful. You need to find ways of protesting. I would really like to talk about it. She added, "Often you believe it's braver to say something ridiculous, and that's not always the case. Saying the vulnerable thing is sometimes braver. "She had stopped rowing. We've been in the middle of the lake where it's still and quiet.
"I feel like I could scale up a little bit," she said a couple of seconds later. "I will gradually increase in size with my themes and stuff, and I may feel like I want to start thinking more internationally and more politically. I don't know, but something I can feel bubbling.