The broke-to-boss brilliance of Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is on fire right now. Between writing the critically acclaimed show Killing Eve (which aired its jaw-dropping finale over the weekend), starring as L3-37 in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the recent airing of the second season of her beloved comedy Fleabag, Waller-Bridge is one of the most exciting new voices in the industry.
Waller-Bridge’s current success is so clearcut and her career trajectory so seemingly effortless that it would be easy to mistake the writer and actor as someone who found her success immediately and with barely any struggle. Inspirational to anyone in the industry currently struggling to make their mark and be noticed, the truth about Waller-Bridge’s career trajectory isn’t quite as simple as left school, wrote a script, got famous.
A self-described “posh” girl who thought her opulent British accent and “curly hair” would immediately translate into “a Shakespearean career”, Waller-Bridge instead graduated from prestigious stage school Rada and didn’t “get a job for two years”. Worse still, the career she was striving for in comedy was apparently only offering two piss-poor options: “Girl the main guy wants to fuck, or girl the main guy totally does not want to fuck.”
According to The Guardian, by the time Waller-Bridge met her Fleabag co-creator Vicky Jones she was “broke, demoralised, and angry,” prompting them to create their own theater company DryWrite where they spent two years staging plays by new writers. “My whole career is basically down to Vicky,” Waller-Bridge told the newspaper.
After she started landing roles in theater, film, and on television (including performances in productions like The Iron Lady, The Cafe, and Broadchurch), Waller-Bridge developed a theatre production called Fleabag, which she took to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 at the urging of Jones.
From there a TV production company quickly signed Waller-Bridge to write a pilot of what became the British comedy series Crashing and her career was catapulted from that moment forward, “and then it just never stopped. Crashing rolled over into Fleabag, and Fleabag went berserk.”
Even Killing Eve – arguably one of the most popular and groundbreaking TV shows of recent years – came together as a result of the Fleabag stage show as opposed to the success of the eventual series. As Variety pointed out, Killing Eve executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle united author Luke Jennings (who wrote the books upon which the series is based) with Waller-Bridge regarding a potential adaptation.
Following a matinee performance of Fleabag, Jennings reached out to the writer about her working on a potential adaptation of his works for the screen. “He texted me to say, ‘Can we have some falafel and talk about psychopaths?,’ and that’s how it started.”
According to president and general manager of BBC America Sarah Barnett:
Waller-Bridge’s singular voice made her stand out as a key component for making the show as brilliant as it is – Phoebe was the bull’s-eye for us. As we developed the show we became more and more excited about the potential to do something really quite daring. In a world of over 400 scripted shows, if you don’t stand out with something new, different, and original, you are never going to cut through.
Waller-Bridge’s broke-to-boss story is inspiring in itself, but there’s also something about this particular sentiment of Barnett’s that should spark some inspiration for anyone currently struggling to be noticed within the industry. In a world of over 400 scripts and countless more people performing the roles within those scripts, everyone has to find that unique quality of their own in order to “cut through”.
Waller-Bridge managed to cut through with her pitch black comedy style spotlighted in Fleabag and in exploring a bold female perspective in her writing that’s as raw and dark as it is just refreshingly honest and relatable. Every creator has to find their own niche with which to stand out from the crowd just as Waller-Bridge did and continues to do – a woman who went from broke to boss and made it look way easier than it actually is.