Phoebe Waller-Bridge on Crashing, social awkwardness and being the Broadchurch barrister

The actress and writer tells Kasia Delgado about her Channel 4 sitcom and why she made her characters' living situations a little more realistic than your average comedy house-share...

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge is terrified. The Broadchurch actress’s first sitcom is two days away from airing on Channel 4 and she feels “completely naked.” But she also sounds deliriously happy that she’s managed to star in a sitcom that she’s also written. “I love doing both things so so much the idea of doing both at the same time bordered on a fantasy for ages,” she says. But shows like Pulling, Catastrophe and Drifters, which all featured the women who wrote them, made her realise it was possible. “Once I saw it as something that could really happen I was like, that has to happen now please.” 

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And it has happened. The 30-year-old writer and actress has created a sitcom about a group of people living in a disused hospital as Property Guardians — and it’s very funny. She spoke to RadioTimes.com about how the series was born, which of her characters she’s most like, and what it was like being part of the Broadchurch buzz. 

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Why did you make your characters Property Guardians rather than just a normal house-share?

Ideally we wanted them to live together but every time we thought about putting them up in a nice house in London, it just seemed so impossible and so unbelievable that these young professionals would be able to all live in a nice flat together at the different stages of their lives and careers.

So we started doing some research into the new phase of flat-sharing and how people are affording to pay rents in London. And down the road from Big Talk [the production studio] there was this huge hospital and it had Protected By Guardians stamped on it. This seemed like the most Zeitgeisty way to talk about how young people are living in the city these days. 

Could you imagine living like that yourself?

On paper, I can. Cheap rent in an amazing part of town! But then when the reality bites that you’re not a tenant, you’re essentially a security guard so you have no rights and the management company has no responsibility to you so you’re basically paying to live as a squatter. The more you think about it, the less appealing it becomes.

There’s a lot of awkwardness. A lot. Does awkwardness feature heavily in your life like it does in mine?

Yes it does. It’s the tragedy of people trying really hard, is what I really love writing. It’s being too embarrassed to just tell the truth and say “I’m just feeling awkward.” People trying to do the right thing and failing seems a very British thing. It’s definitely something I experience a million times on a daily level.

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There are some really strong characters in your sitcom. Do you particularly identify with any of them?

I do feel for Kate [uptight housemate who wants to be cooler] in a big way. The character made me laugh the most when I was writing her. Sam [estate agent] is the arsehole alter ego that I’m hiding somewhere in a corner of my consciousness. That kind of attention-seeking idiot, he’s in there somewhere. 

Did playing Abby, Joe Miller’s barrister, in Broadchurch dramatically change your life? 

There was definitely a shift, but not a massive one. Quite a lot of people were like, “oh my God are you ready?” [for being famous] and I was ready to walk out into the street thinking I’d have to buy a baseball cap. But not many people did recognise me. One woman came up to me on the street and said “oh my God you’re that bitch off the telly!” and I was like, “yay that’s me!”.

Being part of something like Broadchurch, the buzz around it, and how people are desperate to know, was amazing. I was really serious about keeping secrets, I didn’t even tell my mum my character’s name. But lots of other people were like, “oh sorry I accidentally told them the verdict…”.

Can you imagine Crashing having a life beyond this series? Are there more things you’d like to do with these characters?

God I really hope so. There’s so many more inappropriate places I want to put them!

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Crashing begins on Monday 11th January at 10pm on Channel 4