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Why Phoebe Waller-Bridge had to fight to cast Sian Clifford in Fleabag

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Moya Crockett
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Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote the part of Fleabag’s uptight sister Claire especially for her best friend Sian Clifford – but she almost didn’t get the role.

If you’re a fan of Fleabag, you’ll know that it’s near-impossible to imagine any actor other than Sian Clifford playing the titular character’s prickly older sister. As Claire, Clifford frequently seems so tightly-wound with rage that you worry she’s going to explode at any minute, and so stiff and brittle that it seems she might shatter into a million pieces. Frequently brusque and cruel, she also has moments of heartbreaking vulnerability – and, for better or worse, is one of the defining figures in Fleabag’s life.

But according to Clifford, she almost didn’t get cast in Fleabag at all. During an appearance on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, Clifford said that Waller-Bridge had to push producers to cast her as Claire in the hit BBC sitcom.

The two women first met and became best friends at drama school in 2003, Clifford explained, and “made a silent pact” that if one of them became successful first, they’d “help the other one out”.

Sian Clifford, who plays Phoebe Waller-Bridge's sister in Fleabag, appears on Channel 4's Sunday Brunch

Sian Clifford, who plays Fleabag’s sister Claire 

Years later, Waller-Bridge wrote the part of Claire in Fleabag with Clifford in mind. However, when it came to developing the show for TV, she still had to persuade the series’ producers that her friend would be right for the part. Although Clifford had been working in theatre for over a decade, she wasn’t yet an established name in TV – something that made the producers nervous.

“She wrote the part for me, [but] she had to fight for me to get an audition,” Clifford said.

“They wanted someone famous, which is often the case. It’s still the case – it’s still the reason I get turned down [for] jobs.”

Despite this, Waller-Bridge “fought my corner and they let me audition,” Clifford said. The two women spent hours preparing Clifford’s audition tape, and it was at that point that the producers “kind of got it”, she continued.

“[Phoebe] sort of said, ‘The rapport that you’ll get between us – because we are like sisters – you can’t get that with another actor. And I want her to do it,’” Clifford said. 

Sian Clifford on Sunday Brunch: Phoebe Waller-Bridge fought to cast me in Fleabag

Fleabag stars Phoebe Waller-Bridge (left), Brett Gelman and Sian Clifford 

Earlier this year, Waller-Bridge said that season two of Fleabag will be its last. Clifford backed this up, despite acknowledging that Waller-Bridge had previously vowed to only make one series of the show. 

“There won’t be a [season] three,” she said. “[Phoebe] has other irons in the fire, and I can’t reveal anything about where this series goes but I think once you reach the end of it, it will feel like the end.”

However, she said she hopes that she’ll get the chance to work with Waller-Bridge on other projects in the future – and shared some moving words about her best friend’s talent.

“I think she’s one of the greatest living writers of our generation,” she said. “I have never read writing like hers. When she was starting to write she’d send me little sketches of scenes, and even that was the best writing I’ve ever read. I really think she’s extraordinary.”

While playing a game on Sunday Brunch, Clifford let slip a swear word – prompting a surge of tweets and articles about the fact that a woman had accidentally cursed on TV. And Clifford, refreshingly, responded in a style that was much more Fleabag than Claire. 

Images: BBC / Getty Images 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, politics and psychology. Carrying a bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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