The star, a multi-Emmy Award-winner who wrote the TV series based on her one-woman play, talked about the projects at New York City’s Town Hall with journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner over the weekend.
“I needed to see that character. And I wanted to act that character. And then I discovered that I could write that character,” Phoebe said, explaining the character Fleabag.
“I feel a sort of burn when I’m writing something that feels truthful and a bit dangerous and writing the play was just a big ol’ burn. And it was driven by that sense of rage. What if I just said onstage what I say to my friend? Or if I just express some of the rage that I have, but turn it up?”
Writing and performing Fleabag was an effort to “stop me becoming her”, Phoebe continued.
The TV series breaks the so-called fourth wall between the actor and audience because Fleabag needed to “be witnessed”, she explained.
“In some ways, the presence of the camera is societal pressure to be something all the time,” she said. “And so, she had the hair, the coat and the lipstick, and she was sorted all the time. It follows you everywhere.”
She continued: “That feeling of being watched and whoever that is or whatever that is for you, I feel like in some ways that’s a difficult thing for us because we need to be witnessed. But at the same time it’s a poisoned chalice because you need to not be witnessed sometimes. You need to be on your own sometimes, but sometimes when we’re not witnessed, we feel like we’re nothing.
“The camera comes into her life and witnesses her so she can put on this, show. [Fleabag] just puts on a show like we all do in life, all the time.”
This helps explain why the Hot Priest, played brilliantly by Andrew Scott in the series, was Fleabag’s perfect match.
“When we meet the priest, for me, God is that for him,” Phoebe said. “I always felt like they are a match for each other because she has the camera all the time going like, ’Tell us more stuff. Don’t give this away.′ He’s got the same thing coming from God. So, they’re both people who have got this very, very tangible sense of something watching them.”
In response to a question about the animated fox that appears at the end of the series two finale, after repeated earlier mentions of the Hot Priest’s fear of foxes, Phoebe said it was just a “random bit.”
“I was as surprised by the fox appearing in the scene as anybody,” she said candidly.
“The best feeling is when I’m writing away and, honestly, I just started laughing because this thing happened. I was writing and he was like, ‘Ah! What is that?’ and I was like, ’I don’t know what it is, let’s find out what it is,’” she said, adding that it’s up to the audience to decide what the fox really means.
As for where Fleabag is now, Phoebe quipped that “she lives by the sea in a bungalow,” and that the Hot Priest came back for her on a donkey. Then she added: “I don’t know.”
“This is one of the most sentimental things I’ve ever felt and I’ve ever said, and I’m sorry if it makes you feel sick, but it’s true,” she said, explaining the emotional wallop she felt during her final two performances of Fleabag when it was a one-woman show at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival.
“I was performing the end and I did start to get really emotional and I was suddenly really hit by the whole journey of the character and then I did, I felt her go. And it was such a lovely feeling because it was like, ‘Ah, we’ve done the right thing we’ve ended the story at the right time,’” she said.
“It was a really magical feeling, feeling her go. I don’t actually know where she is now and I think that’s the right thing for both of us.”
Phoebe’s revelation that Fleabag has left her doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. She had previously confirmed that the series will not return for a third season, telling Entertainment Tonight earlier this year that “it does feel like the story is complete” and that the way it ended felt “right.”
So, if you’ll excuse us, we need to go re-binge both seasons.