Phoebe Waller-Bridge: the writer making James Bond ‘a little bit twisted’

Receive free Phoebe Waller-Bridge updates

A writer best known for such lines as “I sometimes worry I wouldn’t be such a feminist if I had bigger tits” is perhaps not a natural fit for a secret agent hell-bent on saving the world from bioterrorism.

Yet it was this introspection that drew the creators of James Bond to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the actor and writer who came to public attention with Fleabag, a darkly comedic play and TV show about a young woman wrestling with grief and dysfunction. The 36-year-old, whose guiding principle is to “write as if you’re not afraid”, was brought in two years ago to inject depth and wit to the script for No Time to Die, the latest Bond movie, which was released this week.

As well as lucrative Hollywood wages, Waller-Bridge has said she was attracted by the opportunity to make Bond “a little bit twisted” and giving him “real character nuance which is all I really care about . . . I got to really play with these characters”. Brushing off the idea Waller-Bridge had been brought in as a token woman, Craig put it simply: “She’s a fucking great writer. One of the best English writers around.” Nonetheless, there are no wandering hands in this film except in the direction of a respectful shake for a job well done.

That the multibillion-pound global Bond machine would go after Waller-Bridge, who also created the 2018 BBC spy thriller Killing Eve, is a sign of her stratospheric rise. Last year she signed a deal with Amazon Studios reported to be worth $20m a year. Jennifer Salke, the head of the tech giant’s studios, called her “a virtuoso on multiple fronts including writing, acting and producing . . . [with a] brilliant mind to dazzle and delight our global audience”.

Born to an affluent family (her father co-founded the City’s first fully electronic share market, the Tradepoint Stock Exchange, and her mother worked at the Ironmongers’ Guild), her enthusiasm for performing sent her to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. It damped her creativity. “The world suddenly becomes incredibly small when you’re at drama school,” she told the FT in 2016. “It’s about getting a job and getting an agent.”

The spark returned in 2007 when she met Vicky Jones, a director, who became her best friend. The pair pushed each other to experiment, later setting up DryWrite, a theatre production company. Waller-Bridge says the friendship was hugely influential on her one-woman play, Fleabag, which chronicles a young woman’s grief, love and desires.

She then developed and starred in the 2016 TV series commissioned by BBC3, which gained a cult following. Viewers and critics liked the mix of dark humour, the melancholy of grief and the brutal honesty about sex. It was picked up by Amazon, and followed by a second series that saw Fleabag fall in love with a “hot priest”, winning multiple awards including a Bafta for best female comedy performance, four Primetime Emmys and two Golden Globes.

The success meant that Fleabag — and Waller-Bridge — found themselves in the uncomfortable position of becoming a voice of a generation. Conservative columnist Melanie Phillips wrote with damning praise: “The fact that she’s held a mirror up to the modern condition so brilliantly . . . doesn’t make the reflection any more acceptable.” Such hype — as with Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO and author Sally Rooney — is always untenable but especially so for a well-spoken character from a vast London terraced house, leaking cash on a guinea pig-themed café.

Waller-Bridge’s journey from the BBC to Hollywood and Amazon has also made her the latest poster-girl for the British creative brain drain. Tim Davie, the director-general of the BBC, recently warned that the public broadcaster is under pressure from US streaming services and is wrestling with its position in the world — like Bond himself. “If you are a successful writer or an actor or a director the demands on you have never been greater, and there are the opportunities for transformational wealth.”

Yet tech giants’ demands can prove difficult. Michaela Coel recently revealed that she turned down a lucrative offer from Netflix for her drama I May Destroy You, going instead with the BBC to ensure “full creative control and the rights to the work”. Ryan Murphy, the US writer and producer behind American Horror Story and Pose, has been criticised for the deteriorating quality of his shows after a $300m deal with Netflix.

The marriage between quirky creativity and mega budgets can be fraught. Waller-Bridge, who stars opposite Harrison Ford in the fifth instalment of Indiana Jones, has been coy about her contributions to the latest Bond film. Those hoping to find Fleabag will be disappointed. The secret agent retains some of his old cheesiness (of an exploding watch, he says “it really blew my mind”). Yet the central speech by sinister villain Lyutsifer Safin contained a reminder of Waller-Bridge’s protagonist: “I just think I want someone to tell me how to live my life . . . because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong.”

With the conversation turning with indecent haste to Daniel Craig’s replacement, (James Norton, Tom Hardy, Regé-Jean Page are currently receiving honourable mentions), the perennial question of whether Bond should be a woman has re-emerged, this time with added culture wars panic.

Waller-Bridge dismissed the idea of “Jane” Bond, instead suggesting, “We just need to cook up someone to rival him”. A tantalising proposition indeed.

[email protected]

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button