Phoebe Waller-Bridge wants to set a record straight that she never anticipated she would have to set straight. Her wildly successful show Fleabag, though raw and so human that it feels real, is not based on her life or her family.
In the soon-to-be released episode of How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, a podcast where journalist and host Elizabeth Day asks guests to reflect on moments of failure on the path to success, Waller-Bridge revealed that she underestimated the impact the show would have on audiences and in turn the people in her life. “Women can make things up too! It’s not all our diaries!” she told Day, via the Guardian, calling out the common assumption that well-developed, complex characters can only be written by women if they come directly from their personal experiences. Waller-Bridge said she would rather assume that people are presuming the connection because the characters are raw and real rather than viewers believing there is a limit on a female screenwriter’s ability to write anything that wasn’t significantly autobiographical.
It’s not all made-up, though. Yes, Waller-Bridge’s stepmother is an artist, and she did once date a guy who rode a motorcycle, but the inspiration for her work — according to Waller-Bridge — comes from intense self-reflection. “Of course I’m drawing on really personal things and things that echo in real life, but I write about my biggest fears,” she said to Day. “I write about losing my best friend or losing my mum, or not communicating with my dad, or not getting on with his new partner, and all those things are my worst fears...it’s the ‘what if?’.”
However, Waller-Bridge still regrets not anticipating that this could have happened. Fleabag premiered while she was doing a one-woman stage version of the show in New York. The popularity of the series exploded, and she feels like her family took the brunt of the outside guesswork that came with the sudden success. Waller-Bridge has a sister, but their relationship isn’t strained. Her mother is alive and well, and her father is someone she feels very close to, unlike Fleabag’s distant relationship with her father.
“People just assuming so much of it is true. That bleeds into my family’s life when the show’s going out because, weirdly, they are having to defend our family,” said Waller-Bridge.