Billie Piper And Lucy Prebble On Friendship, Covid And I Hate Suzie

One of 2020's most talked about shows is up for three BAFTAs this weekend. Here, writer Lucy Prebble and star Billie Piper look back on their friendship...

Billie Piper

by Guy Pewsey |
Updated on

Few women understand the highs and lows of fame better than Billie Piper. When she turned her back on a wildly successful music career at the age of 18, naysayers may have expected never to hear from her again. Instead, she took a break, changed direction and became one of this country’s most popular actors. With roles in Doctor Who and Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, and a spellbinding, Olivier Award- winning performance in Yerma, she has evolved from teen star to national treasure.

She has been joined along the way by regular collaborator and friend Lucy Prebble, the playwright and script writer whose incredible talent has taken her from the West End to the US hit juggernaut Succession. Now, in Sky Atlantic series I Hate Suzie, Billie and Lucy examine fame, its complications and contradictions. The result is an eight-part drama following Suzie (played by Billie), an actor who has intimate pictures stolen in a phone hack. Sharp, witty and keenly observed, it’s set to be your new obsession. Grazia listened in as the friends discussed everything from lockdown to relationships and therapy.

Billie: I cried a lot at the first big speech from Boris [back in March, when the PM told us we would ‘lose loved ones before their time’]. It was the combination of the changes that were announced, that it felt so real and so serious and otherworldly. It felt like we were in wartime. I was very overwhelmed. He looked so scared, and that made me scared.

Lucy: I’ve never had less faith in leaders. I sort of miss Tony Blair’s mug, even though I’m not a Tony fan. At least he had an outline of a human being. I’ve never been so afraid while not trusting authority. It must be hard having kids...

Billie: I’m talking a lot about it with mine. We were doing lots of home schooling on what was going on. If I’m honest, they viewed it as time off school, but there was a noticeable shift in their anxiety. They were more rattled. Maybe because I was rattled. I wasn’t shaking them, going, ‘People are dying! Grandma might die! People we know and love will die.’ But I was imparting my own pathology on them.

Lucy: There’s a part of me that thinks I’ve been in training for lockdown for my whole professional life. My whole life, often, is to be alone for long stretches of time while I write and, when I do leave, it’ll only be to go to the petrol station in my pyjamas. But secretly I feel a lot of anxiety. It came out of nowhere, this feeling that life and death were suddenly present and immediate. I remember talking to you throughout our friendship about finding it quite difficult to deal with anxiety. I don’t know if that’s a female thing, but I see a lot of it in my female friends. And the show looks a lot at that.

Billie: The show came off the back of a lot of conversations we were observing around us, and a lot of those discussions were about shame in women: of feeling trapped, lying, guilt and, I suppose, the stages of trauma that we go through. Women have to lie a lot about who they are, and adapt more and more, just to go to work, to be a mother, to be a lover or friend. Often, you suffer at the hands of that.

Lucy: We needed a storyline to jump off from, which is how we came up with the idea of the photo hack. It’s often women who that happens to, and everyone can relate to being one photograph or one text away from being revealed as different to how people see them. Do you think you’re starting to play different roles as a person?

Billie: I’m spreading myself less thinly than I was. And the roles I’m playing now, I’m doing with more authenticity. I’m more loyal to myself, I’m doing the work that I feel I’ve always wanted to do. I’m in relationships that I’ve always wanted. Friendships, romance: there are things I’ve always wanted to be a part of in a healthy way. But that’s taken until my mid-thirties – and a shitload of therapy – to realise.

Lucy: I think that the thirties are such a fascinating decade for women. When we first met, when we were in our early twenties working on Secret Diary of A Call Girl, I was slightly intimidated, because you were famous and I thought you’d be more high-handed than you were. But I sensed that you cared about doing something interesting and good. We had an odd experience on the show.

Billie: Yeah, we first met to talk about that show at the BBC café. We went through a mini trauma when it came out. It got a lot of attention and was a ratings success, but it was also brutalised in the press. It was a hard pill to stomach. It felt like it was taken out of our hands, and we don’t like that.

Lucy: Who’s more controlling, between you and me?

Billie: You’re more obvious about your controlling. I’m more subtle, but it’s on a par.

Lucy: Writers do tend to be controlling.

Billie: After Secret Diary, I heavily pursued you to work together again. I threw things your way and you said no to all of them.

Lucy: I have a necklace with the word ‘no’ on it, I’m so known for saying it.

Billie: I feel really good about what we’ve achieved with I Hate Suzie. I don’t feel like it cuts any corners. I hate the word ‘unapologetic’, but that’s what it is. It’s at risk of being slightly offensive or aggressive or maybe unlikable, who knows. But I know that you and I could sit down and watch it together and fucking dig it.

Lucy: Unlikable is an interesting word. Are we talking about Suzie as a character?

Billie: The truth is unlikable to a lot of people. It can be quite threatening, quite exposing and, depending on what cloth you’re cut from, it might not be your vibe. But it ticks the boxes for me.

Lucy: I was expecting to get really quite pissed off with you, working together on this, and I was quite prepared for that. I had a conversation with a therapist to get ready for tough times, and it didn’t happen. What I like is that when I go off on one, or get angry about my work, you make fun of me. It’s good to have someone like that. I’d work with you all the time if I could.

Billie: It would be nice to do one job a year together. In recent years the deserved applause of your work everywhere – you’re a big fucking deal – I really relish that. I enjoy saying that I know you. I’ve seen you go through stuff personally, and I’ve seen you come out the other end when – if I’m honest – I didn’t know if you would.

Lucy: Who would have thought that ‘90s pop sensation Billie Piper would be the woman who was really there for me?

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