Let’s talk about Lady Phoebe. She is an aristocratic socialite whose every move is followed by paparazzi, but despite what many may assume, she is arguably the kindest person of her friend group. What really stood out to you about her?
When I got this audition and I read the byline of the character and it was like, “She’s famous, and she loves the tabloids, and she’s a party girl,” I was like, “Oh yeah, I know the type.” But then it followed on with “but she’s the loveliest person you’ll ever meet.” I thought it was such a lovely take on… You know we are poking fun at these characters at the end of the day, but it’s really nice that, even though she’s privileged, she’s trying to make good with it, and she shows kindness to everyone that enters her world. And just because she doesn’t step outside of her world doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a bad person. So that was really lovely. And it’s also nice.
I was always happy on set—well, for part one of it. I remember we were all standing around in Sundry House, the set of Sundry House, and one of our directors was like, “And remember, you all hate Joe, or Jonathan. You all suspect him,” and then he went, “Apart from Phoebe!” And I was like, “Aw, that’s just sweet.” And I was like, “See, Penn, I’m your friend.” And he was like, “Yeah, you are friends with a serial killer.” And I was like, “Wait, actually fair point. That makes her even more vulnerable.” That’s the thing I was even more worried about when we were getting the scripts through. … I hope that Joe recognizes that she’s a good person because even the best people in previous [seasons] he has always found fault with them. … I hope that if he can see the goodness of the character, then the audience, in turn, will because we are watching it through Joe’s lens.
It’s true—everyone in the group has their suspicions about Joe except for Phoebe. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know whether it’s just because she’s blindly trusting him for whatever reason because he’s interesting and he’s American and he’s gorgeous. So she’s like, “Great! There’s nothing wrong with you.” So maybe she’s looking at it from a shallow perspective. I don’t know, but I also think he’s shown her kindness, and she’s always been in front of people who have been harder or bitchier. Even the men she surrounds herself with are sometimes as bitchy as the girls. I think she’s so welcoming, and she sees a guy that is not from London, doesn’t have a lot of friends, and she wants to extend this kindness that she has to him, and she feels like he’s this lost little lamb that needs taking under her wing, and she’s got the means to do so. So I think that’s the least of her troubles. It’s like, “Yeah, of course, hang out with us. That’s not an issue. Let me learn about you, and hopefully, you can give me some love that I so desperately need that I’m not getting from anyone else.”
In terms of building the character, did you have any specific people or references in mind?
I had a few. At first, I thought she was going to be a little more Kate Moss, a little more rock and roll. But that’s just because I want to be Kate Moss even though I’m so not cool like Kate Moss. There’s a joke in my friendship group that I’m Kate Moss’s grandma probably, just like an old lady. So I was like, “Yes, she’s like Kate Moss rock and roll!” And they cast me, and I [thought], “Actually no, she’s probably a little more prim and proper.” But I know styling-wise … and actually character-wise also she was very much based on Paris Hilton because it’s the most obvious reference. When you think pink heiress, you think of Paris. You know, Paris is also infamously kind to her fans as well. Not going into spoiler territory, but the way Phoebe deals with her stalker is incredibly kind. Watching Paris’s documentary, she really invites her fans out to meet her, and I can imagine Phoebe probably doing the same thing.
Also, [I was inspired by] our British socialites, especially from the ’90s, who were always photographed just having fun on nights out, being girly girls. They are all just having a white-wine night out, but they are getting photographed doing so and maybe stumbling over to another bar. I drew a lot of references from that. I think Phoebe is alluded to being a party girl, but we don’t really see it on-screen because a lot of it’s about how she interacts with people.
She seems like a fun character to play, especially from a fashion sense. Can you tell me about the wardrobe conversations for Phoebe?
Our costume designer, Sam Perry, is amazing, and I love her. She put me in the coolest stuff I think I’ll ever wear on a TV show. So obviously, the mood board was a lot of Paris Hilton—Paris Hilton and blazer dresses and power suits because, at the end of the day, Phoebe is a businesswoman like Paris Hilton, and they are businesses themselves, so she’s got to take herself seriously sometimes. We had a whole shopping day where it was like walking into Aladdin’s cave of designer dresses, and it was amazing. We wanted her to feel sexy in her clothes but not desperately sexy. She’s sexy because she wants her boyfriend to fancy her and notices he’s slipping away.
We had a whole shopping day for that first dress from the first episode, and I remember the note was something like… Because I tried on so many sparkly dresses and that was one that was quite big for me, the note [said] that it looks like it could fall off at any time, which it did. I feel like I walk around in that dress in the first episode like I’ve got rigor mortis. I was so scared of that dress falling down. I never lift my arms. So yeah, it was just sexy, and even when she’s got a pearl necklace on, it’s a Vivi Westwood. It’s got that little fun—I call her Vivi Westwood like I know her. Rest in peace. You know, it’s fun. She’s always taking something quintessentially British and posh and putting a fun sparkle on it. And even if I’ve got a plain pink dress on, they would put tinsel in my hair. So it was Barbie-fying lots of stuff.