Not all of today’s stars dazzle with their talent, but there are, thank goodness, a few astounding exceptions. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is one of them, a model example of someone who has made the world fall in love with her through the sheer strength of her art. People first began to talk about her three years ago, when Britain’s Channel 4 began broadcasting a highly sexed, acid generational comedy, Crashing, which was a sort of rude homage to Friends. But it was a few months later, when Fleabag began showing on a rival channel, that things began to hot up, slowly at first but soon surely and irresistibly.
Today the tall 30-something brunette has become one of Britain and Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses and screenwriters, the dizzying, disconcerting personality behind two series that have been watched the world over – Fleabag and Killing Eve – as well as heaps of stylish projects, including a feisty android character role in the last Star Wars film. For Waller-Bridge’s is an approach that is both faithful to and radically different from the traditions of British humour: faithful because she bases her comedy situations in the shame and panic that arise out of them; different because her viewpoint is that of a woman who shows the world her demons, analysing her anxiety with raw honesty and inventing a whole other world through a series of perfectly put rejoinders. Like this example: “It’s easier to manage being single than being in a relationship.”
In the mid aughts, Waller-Bridge was more inclined to believe in her unlucky star. Following a childhood spent acting with brio in school plays, and after graduating from RADA in London, she found herself up against a wall, unemployed for several years, broken by an acting school that had a reputation for building strong careers. “I went to Rada thinking I was quite a good actor and came out thinking I was appalling,” she afterwards explained. It was then that she met Vicky Jones, who would become her creative partner (the pair still work together) and would help her unleash her true voice. The duo started by founding a theatre company in London, DryWrite, which showcased young authors. Finding few roles that suited her, and seeing that the sort of dramas she wanted to watch were not being written by anyone else, Waller-Bridge began frenetically writing a series of short plays, which included a ten-page script that would become the first version of Fleabag.