‘I Hate Suzie’s Billie Piper: The Phone Hack Takes Suzie ‘Closer to Her Real Self’
Suzie Pickles’ (Billie Piper) life is thrown into chaos as a result of a phone hack in the upcoming HBO Max series.
Co-created by Piper and Lucy Prebble, I Hate Suzie follows the fallout of the “star on the wane” having photos of her leaked and the stages of her trauma as she and best friend and manager Naomi (Leila Farzad) try to keep her life, career, and marriage together. But most importantly, Suzie has to figure out who she is.
Here, Piper previews her character’s identity crisis, the series’ musical elements, and more.
Introduce Suzie. What kind of person is she and what kind of person does she think she is? How does that differ?
Billie Piper: She doesn’t know who she is, so she is a number of people. I would say she’s very much in the white heat of an identity crisis, and the hack, even though it’s awful and exposing and causes her a great amount of trauma, is ultimately taking her closer to her real self by unmasking her.
It seemed like things were going her way for maybe a minute with that Disney gig and then came the hack and everything began spinning out of control. Is there any part of her life that it doesn’t affect?
No, and I think that’s very interesting to me and to Lucy. You cannot get away with something like that as a woman. It’s too damning, it’s too shaming. It shouldn’t be, it’s a sort of personal thing that happens and people take part in all the time, but I think the fallout for a woman is far greater than it is for a man.
It’s almost hard to watch at times because you know what’s going to happen next for Suzie and you just want her to get a break, whether it’s in front of fans at a convention or about a new gig, but it seems like things just keep piling on, right?
Right. I think that’s something that happens in life. It all comes at once, and it all has a really significant and negative impact on the next thing.
Going back to the initial moment she finds out about the hack, I love how she throws her phone and then straightens the bed. Walk me through what’s going through her mind at that moment and then when she has to pretend nothing’s wrong?
Yeah, the throwing the phone thing was Lucy’s idea. She’s experienced that before, whereby you are so horrified that it’s almost like an impulse, just to get it as far away from you as possible. And then going downstairs, knowing that her entire life is going to change in three minutes, it’s incredibly stressful. It’s stressful to play, it’s stressful to watch. And she can’t stop. She just responds badly to everything all the time. All of this is happening around her and she’s just in the middle of it, without any agency over any of it. She is that woman who is responding and she makes some really bad choices, but don’t we all?
What are her relationships with her husband and kid like? How do they change as a result of this hack and her figuring out who she is?
She’s unhappy in her marriage, hence the photos, and I think that even though it’s an awful thing that has happened to her, it makes her realize that she’s in a very dysfunctional and unhappy and slightly depressive relationship where she is punished for making money or being successful or having desires that aren’t just that of being a good mother and a good wife. So she starts to get rid of that stuff and that’s really important for her growth.
You get the feeling that nothing would’ve changed in her marriage if this hadn’t happened, at least not as soon.
No, and those are some of the worst marriages to witness, aren’t they? You know it’s so awful for everyone involved, and yet there’s a sort of codependent attachment and fear, fear of leaving a family, and as a woman, it’s a really big call to leave a guy, a big call to break up a home, and it’s socially still, on some levels, frowned upon.
I absolutely love Suzie’s relationship with her best friend and manager, Naomi.
Yeah, there’s a lot of me and Lucy in that and a lot of Lucy in the role of Naomi. We felt very headstrong about making sure that that female friendship felt very authentic and that means showing it beyond just being girls together or sisterly or whatever. It’s way more toxic than that and there are so many layers to it. It’s also a very competitive relationship. It’s also a very critical relationship. Lucy and I are both self-confessed co-dependent so we wanted to bring that into their friendship as well. And be quite forensic about what it means to be not just a friend but someone who works with you as well.
And the series gets a bit musical, too! Talk about the decision to do that and about singing?
Yeah, I’m always desperate to sing and dance in stuff and because this is a co-creation, I said to Lucy, I want to do that as much as possible. I feel like we could’ve done more, but I was satisfied with where we got to. Both Lucy and I are drawn to big, emotional and psychological things that happen in life but we’re also then excited by those things becoming quite abstract, in a more fantastical way, and I think that’s a lot to do with our history in theater and our love of musicals and big productions.
The episode titles are the stages of grief. Can you talk about framing the series like that?
That was Lucy’s idea because as much as we wanted to talk about this hack, we didn’t want to get into it being who leaked the pictures? It’s not a thriller. We’re not following that story at all. It’s not what we want to see remotely. We wanted to stick with the emotion and have that drive everything, and I think that your late 20s, early 30s feel like a sort of identity crisis, with or without a series of incriminating photos leaked online. It’s sort of what I would describe as a rude awakening and it’s sort of grieving and loss of your sort of shiny self and looking at your life and in your 30s you sort of reflect on — you’ve had enough life to make repetitive mistakes and you’re either where you want to be or you’re not. That becomes all very meaningful in your 30s and so we wanted to use a lot of that content in these stages of grief or trauma, which is what your 30s feel like.
Could we get a second season? I’d love to see what’s next for Suzie.
Thanks, I would love to as well. I think Lucy and I are going to start talking about it in January and just make sure if we’re going to do it again, there’s material there to call from because it’s not autobiographical, but it is 15 years of our friendship in that show and the things that we’ve been through and we’ve been through a lot together. So now that we’re shared a lot of those things, we’re like, what’s next? That needs some thought and that needs some living.
I Hate Suzie, Series Premiere, Thursday, November 19, HBO Max