Billie Piper: the true stories behind Rare Beasts, I Hate Suzie season 2 and why she won't self-direct again
Interview by James King
Billie Piper is in the middle of a photoshoot when she escapes to a storage room to chat to HELLO! - but her jam-packed day is nothing new for the incredibly busy actress. Having written, directed and starred in her new film, Rare Beasts, while raising three children, Billie has mastered the art of having a seriously hectic schedule.
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Indeed, art imitates life in the new drama, which was released on Friday. The Doctor Who star has revealed that much of the inspiration was drawn from her own friends having similar experiences to her character, who she describes as "a woman in her mid-thirties, single mum, professional woman... trying to navigate modern love and modern feminism and this sort of 'have it all' culture".
In our new exclusive interview for HELLO! Spotlight, Billie revealed the challenges behind directing herself in a film, and admits that it is something that she would be reluctant to do again, her advice for anyone hoping to make it in the industry, and her feelings about spending the past year in lockdown...
Lovely to see you! Can you tell us a little about Rare Beasts and what it's all about?
Rare Beasts is about a woman in her mid-thirties, single mum, professional woman, I guess trying to navigate modern love and modern feminism and this sort of 'have it all' culture which I think we need to be a bit more honest about - about how people are faring.
WATCH: HELLO!'s resident film critic James King chats Rare Beasts with Billie Piper
So it's something that is personal to you?
It was born out of a period of time where I was observing a lot of friends having this sort of experience and crisis and yet the messaging was, 'You can do it all, you can be super successful and have a really meaningful relationship with your kids, a passionate love affair with your partner,' and all I could see were people unravelling. I didn't see the success story of all of that and I just knew I wanted to talk honestly about what that actually looks like. So it comes from my late twenties and early thirties when I started to see that fallout.
There's a lot going on in the background! Is this for a photoshoot?
It's not the most glamorous! It's the storage room I think for all of the props - I've just been doing a shooting for Rare Beasts promotion - which is why I'm in this stock room... The glamour is fleeting, I'll tell you that. There's a lot of this but there are some shiny moments that feel fun!
Speaking of the film, you are writer, director, and leading actor! How was it with those three roles and dealing with family and friends?
It's always the same, whenever I'm working, my personal life falls apart. So I didn't seem my kids a great deal even though they'd often come to set and hang out a bit there but it was snatched moments. I was also pregnant and about to have my third child so I would say that it was a pretty full-on experience and one that meant that I didn't have a life beyond set.
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That's very true of acting but this was a whole new level and actually being in it on reflection was a real oversight because more than anything I wanted to sit back and be with the actors rather than be in three different headspaces at any given moment. I didn't feel like I could enjoy it as much as I would have liked it in terms of directing.
Would you do it again?
I would never direct myself in anything again I don't think! Unless it was a small part where someone else pulled out at the last minute, otherwise no. But I'd love to direct again - and write and direct - that is something I would like to continue doing throughout my career.
Going back to Doctor Who or Secret Diary and your other projects, was it a case that you were on the shows thinking, 'I'd really like to direct these'?
I started to write the film and I've always loved writing since I was a little kid, but I didn't start taking it seriously until I was in my late twenties and then I made a conscious effort to carve out time and commit to it, I had a burning desire to talk about things but it couldn't just be a sideline or a hobby. I really enjoyed that and I could see every frame in my head. I'm a huge fan of films and directors and dance and choreography and all of that has fed into Rare Beasts. It was just about finding my confidence and my conviction.
Where would you say your drive comes from?
I've had a lot of interests, I'm quite a curious person but actually, I am just getting to the point where I look back and thinking, 'What has driven all of this?' and I wonder whether it's just anxiety! It might sound quite reductive but I do sit and think how and why and I wonder if a lot of it comes from an anxious mind and restlessness.
What would you say to people who are watching this wanting to write and direct their own movie?
I would say absolutely go for it, this is the perfect time to be creating your own content. Everyone is doing it at some level. We have the technology, the means, there are so many stories to tell and everyone is so open and looking for different stories.
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People are experimenting more and it just feels like, to me, it's not really enough anymore to be an actor for hire, you can be of course, but it just makes sense to make your own material, if you have that in you, if you want to, and the world is a bit more receptive. So I would say if you've got an axe to grind, create your own content! You could put it on YouTube as a starting point. Work stories, try things out, do it on your iPhone in the beginning and see where it lands you. I'm loathed to tell people to go to drama school or film school, there are merits in both, but I think now is the time to be doing your own thing.
What can you tell us about I Hate Suzie season two?
Nothing! I can't tell you anything about that right now apart from that we are delighted and we think we've got a good idea but it's taken us a while to find the next phase of Suzie. We don't want to string it out as a serial thing where we're not really caring about the story or the story stops having legs, so we're looking for new and bold ways of telling the story and creating form and that takes time and a lot of living. That's another thing I'd say to people who are aspiring actors, directors and writers - you have to live hard! It will only serve your work well. It's hard to say now though when we've been confined to our houses.
How have the last 12 months been for you with the various states of lockdown?
It's been up and down! I think lockdown one felt frightening but also there was something quite exciting and different about it, and simple, paring back felt really good and being home with the family was really wonderful. Lockdown three [was] a completely different story.
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