Anna Paquin, star of Pop TV and UKTV’s forthcoming dark PR comedy drama Flack, says now is the time for female roles that are “flawed, complicated and interesting” – echoing recent male antiheroes such as Walter White, Don Draper and Tony Soprano.
The True Blood star plays Robyn, a quick-witted London-based U.S. publicity maven whose job it is to put out media fires and manage high-profile and exacting clients, in the six-part series.
The 45-minute drama, which is produced by Episodes producer Hat Trick Productions, is currently in production in London with rising actresses Lydia Wilson (Requiem) and Genevieve Angelson (Good Girls Revolt) appearing alongside Sophie Okonedo and guest stars including Bradley Whitford.
Speaking to Deadline on set, Paquin, says, “I see this era of television as one in which women’s roles are interesting, flawed and complicated, where they’re not necessarily perfect. People are not going to mind that Robyn’s not very sympathetic, they’re going to be enthralled with the story, seeing a real human. There was a real fear [before], that people would switch off if girls weren’t nice, but those girls are boring to watch and don’t reflect who most of us are in general. It’s nice that entertainment is catching up with reality.”
Paquin is co-producing the series through her own production company Casm, which she runs with her husband and True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer. From a script by Oliver Lansley (Whites), it was initially developed for HBO, before being picked up by the CBS and Lionsgate-backed joint venture Pop and Discovery and BBC Studios-backed UKTV’s W.
Lansley says that he wanted to write a character that was based on all of the “dark, complicated and brilliant” women that he’d met. “There was this book that came out called Difficult Men, about the golden age of TV and complicated male protagonists such Don Draper, Walter White and Tony Soprano. I wanted to write a show that the main character would become the character they would put on the cover of Difficult Women.
“I felt, particularly at the time, female characters didn’t get to be as complicated as male characters. If male characters behave a certain way it’s perceived as mysterious and interesting, whereas female characters that behave in a complicated manner, it always had to be excused,” he adds.
Directed by The Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo, the series follows Robyn as she puts out fires for a number of celebrity clients, while also dealing with problems at home. “Robyn is a very skilful PR rep, who has an incredibly complicated personal life that she doesn’t share with anyone, she’s very good at compartmentalizing. When we meet her, she is in the middle of a typical day at work about a client badly behaving. She’s the one that’s willing to go that extra mile at a lot pf personal expense. She’s a can-do girl in a very unconventional world, the non-glamorous side of glamorous people’s lives,” adds Paquin.
Paquin, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Piano in 1994, says that it appeals to her “dark” sense of humor. “Real life can be incredibly funny if you choose to look it that way. What’s the end of the world to one person can be funny to another if you step back a bit. I think like in real life, one uses humor to get through dark, crappy times. The scripts have a great balance of that, it’s the kind of stuff that you wonder if you’re a terrible human being for laughing at but nevertheless there’s stuff in this that has literally made me snort coffee through my nose in front of other people,” she adds.
Flack cuts pretty close to the bone on a number of jokes, such as the reference to Strictly Come Dancing star Tess Daly as “Dead Behind The Eyes” Daly.
She says that she’s enjoying producing the project and that it’s the “natural evolution” of taking more responsibility as an actor. “There’s no such thing as getting a promotion [as an actor], so being more involved in putting together the puzzle at the beginning is something that has been a natural role for me for quite some time because I grew up on set and I like paying attention.”
Flack is the first U.S.-UK co-commission for both Pop and UKTV, the latter’s first scripted drama for its flagship channel W. Hat Trick Productions boss Jimmy Mulville tells Deadline that the trick of co-pros is to find two networks that speak to each other and have a similar aspiration. “I find a lot of British television is either a comedy, and often it looks like it was made in 1976, or if it’s a drama, god forbid it has any jokes in it. Trying to sell a drama with a big degree of comedy in it is hard. What you have in American cable is half hour or hour. I thought Breaking Bad, even though it was very tense, began with a comic perspective,” he adds.
Mulville adds that both Pop and UKTV are “very laissez-faire, they don’t micromanage”. “They’re not constantly on your shoulder saying that door should be green. I’ve had conversations with networks when you’ve had big meetings about hair. I’ve always said ‘you’ve bought the dog, let the dog bark’.”
Justin Rosenblatt, executive vice president of Original Programming, Pop TV, tells Deadline that Lansley’s script was one of the best he’s ever read. “I couldn’t wait to tear into subsequent episodes. The characters fly off the page, the environment is timely, and the storylines strike all the right notes. Flack is a perfect dramedy for Pop, with its bold nature and smartly written plot lines, along with a dream lead Anna Paquin. Once we read the scripts, we moved quickly,” he adds.
The series is expected to air in the UK and U.S. in early 2019.