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Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard: 'Breeders is a comedy, but only just'

"Show me a person who’s not been screamed at by their parents and I’ll show you a unicorn."

Daisy Haggard and Martin Freeman – Big RT Interview
Published: Friday, 8th July 2022 at 9:00 am
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Last we saw Sky's brutal but brilliant comedy-drama Breeders, Martin Freeman's Paul had pushed his son Luke (Alex Eastwood) too far, causing the boy to lash out and hit his hot-tempered father. The latest season begins with Paul living apart from his family in the aftermath, while his partner, Daisy Haggard's Ally, unwittingly neglects their daughter Ava (Eve Prenelle) as she attempts to both keep the peace in the family home and avert a crisis at work.


Paul and Ally are both well-intentioned but far from perfect and it's this tricky balance that appeals to the actors who play them. "Even though we’re very different people, I always kind of empathise with Ally," Haggard tells "She's really well-written, so even if you don’t agree with her, you can relate to what she’s going through."

"I think that's what makes the parts playable and hopefully relatable," agrees her co-star Freeman. "Even if it's something the audience might not do themselves in that particular moment, I think it's all motivated. I don't think they [Paul and Ally] do things which just seemed crazily unbelievable. Whether you would do it yourself or not, I always get why they're doing it."

Breeders started out life as a dream of Freeman's – in the dream, his children were making a terrific amount of noise and though he attempted to rein in his anger, he found himself unable to control his rage and ended up yelling at them. The dream was realised on-screen as the television show's very first scene.

The writers' room for the series has even been described as akin to a "therapy group" where the show's creative team – which includes The Thick of It's Chris Addison and Simon Blackwell – swap stories of where they feel they misstepped as parents. Freeman says it was "always the hope" that this feeling might extend to the show's audience, that Breeders "would be a funny show but that it would also act as something of a comfort for people as well".

"The vast majority of people have bawled at their kids," he says. "I think people who haven't bawled at their kids aren’t with their kids very often. I don’t mean every day, but show me a person who’s not been screamed at by their parents and I’ll show you a unicorn."

As it charts Paul and Ally's parenting challenges, Breeders veers from laugh-out-loud moments to heartbreaking tragedy – sometimes in a single scene – and nailing its complex tone was co-creator Freeman's biggest priority when developing the series. "I'm giving less notes now, because I think this is our strongest series – but most of my notes [early on] would be tonal notes, actually, just about what world we're in. I think we're getting ever closer to it now, to the show that I hoped that we hoped we would be making.

"When we were pitching the show to broadcasters, my thing was always 'it’s a comedy, but only just'."

Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard in Breeders season 3
Sky UK Limited/Avalon

Haggard – who also stars in and co-writes BBC Three's dark comedy Back to Life – says both she and Freeman are "quite instinctive" when it comes to navigating those tonal shifts. "I think it's probably quite natural to both us to switch between something funny and something touching and dramatic. Because that's what life is, isn't it? Often if a scene is difficult to play, it’s because something doesn’t make sense – but because Breeders is so well written, it's usually quite clear."

Freeman's scenes with Alun Armstrong and Joanna Bacon – cast as Paul's eccentric parents Jim and Jackie – are the show's most unabashedly comedic, often helping to break the tension present elsewhere in the series. "It's a very different atmosphere [during filming], because those scenes, for the most part, serve a different function," Freeman says. "They are a bit more, you know, the pressure cooker sort of being released."

The latest season of Breeders will challenge even this status quo, however. "As the series goes on, Jim and Jackie particularly get more serious – they get more of a run at showing different colours on their palette, not just the comedy sidekick sort of thing.

"There's a strand of story that is beautifully done – from the writing department and the acting department and the directing department – involving Jim and Jackie, which is just… yeah, it's great. And it gives them [Armstrong and Bacon] a chance to spread their wings."

Martin Freeman and Alex Eastwood in Breeders season 3
Sky UK Limited/Avalon

Paul and Ally's on-screen offspring are also being challenged with increasingly demanding storylines – Luke and Ava were recast and aged-up considerably between the show's first and second seasons and while this twist wasn't replicated for season 3, the returning Eastwood and Prenelle have evolved and grown as performers, Freeman and Haggard say.

"They were brilliant last series, but they are just a year more competent and experienced... they're just brilliant to work with, just really good actors," she says. "We have to look after them a bit less now," he agrees. "They are a bit more their own people – obviously, they are still much younger but I think they've hit their stride a little bit more, and they're really trusted by the writers. They handle some quite complex, emotional stuff... and they do it remarkably well."

As the new season begins, Freeman's character is struggling in a number of ways with his self-imposed exile from his family, a decision he made at the end of the previous run to give Luke space. "He genuinely misses his family, and he would love to get back there," Freeman explains. "But he's also alone in a lovely house, having whiskey with his feet up. And both those things can exist at the same time. That’s definitely the case with Paul as we find him in series 3."

It's a conflict that's central to the series – loving your kids more than anything whilst also yearning for the days before parental responsibility. "I would die for those kids," Paul tells Ally in the show's first episode. "But often, I also want to kill them." As Freeman suggests, "We can hold more than one thing in our head at once."

Daisy Haggard in Breeders season 3
Sky UK Limited/Avalon

Both Haggard and Freeman have busy schedules beyond Breeders. Right now, she is weighing up a potential third season of the acclaimed Back to Life. "I was very adamant that I didn't want to just accept or start doing season 3 before I knew exactly what it would be," she says. "And if there wasn't something that came to mind, or it couldn't be better than the first two years, then I didn't want to do it. So yeah, that's not happened yet. You want to make sure that each new story you generate is absolutely going to be strong and good and interesting. So until I had that competently in my head, I didn't want to pretend I had it."

Freeman, meanwhile, will be back on our screens shortly as Everett Ross – a role he previously played in 2016 film Captain America: Civil War and 2018's Oscar-winning Black Panther – in the mini-series Marvel's Secret Invasion. His involvement was revealed by Samuel L Jackson – the MCU's Nick Fury – earlier this year, though Freeman himself hasn't addressed it till now.

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"Yeah, I think that's kosher information, isn't it?" he says. "In order not to embarrass Samuel, I will say… I'm not gonna say he's got that totally wrong and he's thinking of Sam Rockwell. So yes, I may very well be [appearing]."

Both, though, are keen to make room for another outing of Breeders in the near future. "I think there's more to do," Freeman says. "I think we can stand a bit more, while still not becoming, you know, Luke and Ava being 45.

"Because they are still young, the characters are 11 and 13, so there’s still loads of growing up to do, actually. So I think that we could do more without being desperately clinging on."

"I think there’s another chapter there," agrees Haggard. "Because the great thing about this story is it’s a family and people get older and change, so there’s so many different stories to tell. I think there's definitely another chapter."

Breeders returns on 13th July 2022, airing on Sky Comedy from 9pm with all three seasons also available to watch via Sky TV and NOW – sign up for Sky TV here.

Visit our Comedy hub for more news, interviews and features, or find something to watch now with our TV Guide.


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