Flack interview - Oliver Lansley (writer)

Creator and writer Oliver Lansley reveals the inspiration behind Flack and explains how we all PR our life to some degree.

Flack interview - Oliver Lansley (writer)

Where did the idea for Flack come from?

I read a book called Difficult Men about male protagonists who are complex - think of Breaking Bad, The Sopranos or Mad Men. Then I had lunch with a producer and said I wanted to write a show where the lead could be on the cover of a book called Difficult Women. It would be about complex female protagonists, and you wouldn't have to make apologies for them. No one watched Mad Men and said, "But is Don Draper likable enough?" I wanted to write something about messy, complicated women. I know plenty of them in real life, and I think it's really important to see them on screen.

Why does the drama's setting in the world of PR work so well?

People might think of PR as just an Ab Fab world of air kissing, but of course it's much more than that. After the last couple of years, in which our understanding has grown of the way the media manipulates us, it's become a very interesting subject. We're starting to wake up to the fact that most of the stuff we see in the media is not real. We are realising how much control and craft goes into the media we consume.

Someone is controlling the agenda. Who are those people and why are they doing it? Famous people are constantly doing things that need managing. As a PR, you have to be an incredible caretaker. In Flack, that ties in with the idea of the face we show the world and the face we don't. The series is lifting the lid on the dark arts.

Are we all PRs to a degree?

Yes, we all do it. Everyone on Instagram is PR'ing their life every single day. We post images of a beautiful sunshine with the caption, "Loving life!", but we're actually on an awful commute to work. We live in an age where we're all creating myths about ourselves. PR used to be just for movie stars. Now we're all creating personas online. On Instagram, Twitter and Tindr, we're building a picture of a person who's not necessarily us. It's not the person who wakes up at 1am and can't get back to sleep because they're sitting up on their own, feeling sad about the world. We all have to wear different faces during the day. We wouldn't tell the boss about the argument we had with our partner that morning. We all control the image we give to the world. Robyn just does it at a more heightened level!

How does the job affect Robyn?

As a PR, she spends the whole day lying and spinning and twisting the truth, and she's brilliant at it. Then she goes home and is not supposed to use any of those tools. That contrast felt like fun. Robyn is addicted to her lifestyle and the way work makes her feel. She thrives on adrenaline. She feels like a god when she is controlling people's lives. But then she goes home and struggles to lead an ordinary life.

How does that struggle manifest itself for Robyn?

It's the same with a lot of high-powered people. They think, "I have saved the world, and now I have to go home and eat baked beans." That never feels enough for those people. So they have to create drama in their own lives to keep that sense of excitement going. There is a pattern in Robyn's life that's self-destructive. Whenever anything gets too safe, she throws a hand grenade into her life. When she's on form, she's like the sun. But when she turns on you, things can get very difficult. That's hard to be around.

Does the moral duality of the PR world make for compelling drama?

Definitely. It's a fascinating subject because PR can be both good and bad. It protects people who shouldn't be protected, but also exposes people who should be exposed. Robyn is brilliant at what she does, but what she does is questionable. That's the paradox at the heart of Flack. It's such a fascinating world to deal with.

What does Anna bring to the role of Robyn?

She's such a brilliant actress. She has that movie star quality. When you put a camera on her, she doesn't have to do anything, and immediately you see layers of depth to her, which for a character like this is so important. Anna shows us the face Robyn presents to the world, but also allows us to see what's going on behind that. She is constantly struggling with her private and public faces, with what she's presenting and with what she's feeling. Because she's so good at concealing, no one really knows what Robyn is feeling.

What else distinguishes Anna's performance in Flack?

She's been brave enough to play a female lead who makes decisions you may not always like. That bravery alone is fantastic. But Anna is also very in tune with the fact that Robyn is really complicated. In addition, as much as anyone, Anna knows this world. She's won an Oscar and has starred in the biggest TV show in the world for ten years. If she says, "This feels real," that gives Flack real integrity.

Was it important that all the leads in Flack are female?

Yes. It's an incredible ensemble and they're all different. It felt very important to have a show led by women, but it's not waving a banner. It's not about them being women. It's about humans dealing with life.

What have been the most challenging scenes in Flack to shoot?

I've written many scenes of Robyn looking in the bathroom mirror because that's one of the few times we see her real face and not her PR face. However, Anna hates doing those scenes - they're so hard to film because of the reflections from the mirror. One day, to capture a bathroom scene, we had three crew members in the shower, two in the bath and one behind the toilet. That was quite a day!