The opening scenes of HBO Max’s new series I Hate Suzie are completely devoted to the planes of Billie Piper’s face. Her eyes widen. Her mouth stretches. All in celebration and joy about landing a life-changing role. But that happiness is short-lived for Suzie Pickles, a former child star who gets caught in a nude-photo hack. The first ten minutes of the pilot episode sees Suzie through a range of emotions, the camera claustrophobically centering on her face as the full scope of the scandal dawns on her. And this is just the beginning of a series of events that plunges Suzie into all her darkest impulses and threatens to destroy just about everything — including her marriage and her relationship with her best friend/manager — in her life.
Piper, who has been an actor and singer since she was 13, has herself long been in the spotlight. She talked to the Cut about working with co-creator Lucy Prebble again, the gendered nature of exposure, and depicting female friendships that feel real.
How did the idea for I Hate Suzie come about? What was it like to collaborate with Lucy Prebble again, after you two worked on Secret Life of a Call Girl together?
We worked together again like seven years later [after Secret Life of a Call Girl] on a play called The Effect. I’ve been banging on at her for a number of years, insisting that we work together on a TV or film project. I’d pitch ideas to her and ask her to consider. She rejected me a number of times [laughs].
After years of friendship and conversations, we realized that we had an ax to grind and we shared a very similar sense of humor which leans into the darkness a bit. We started to fantasize about creating a show that reflected the shared feelings of our late 20s into our early 30s and this shared common crisis amongst women. Lucy very cleverly came up with the idea of the [phone] hack and then the eight stages of grief.
You’ve been working as an actor and singer since you were 13. Did the plot of I Hate Susie echo your experiences at all?
I think the thing about her [Suzie] being an actress is that everybody now has some sort of smartphone which carries incriminating bits of information — it could be as innocent as some Google search history that somehow could land you in trouble. So it was interesting to us that you don’t need to be an actress anymore. A bit of information could find its way into somebody’s hands, and it could completely destroy your life. The upside of Suzie being an actress is that we could explore a world where that was heightened. But what we were really interested in [exploring] was what it means to be a woman and to have your life turned up upside down — and how it would impact your life in a way that it wouldn’t for a man.
Suzie is such an interesting character because there is so much to be frustrated by her with — she doubles down on blowing up her life, she can be so bad to the people she cares about. What was it like playing her?
This may be pretty exposing, but I just feel like that stuff is real. Lucy and I were really interested in putting a female relationship onscreen that didn’t feel disingenuous. Not very often are female relationships represented in a way that is more than ‘We’re always there for each other.’ That’s great, but there’s so many other things as well. It’s also a very competitive relationship and can be incredibly fraught. It can bring out the best and the worst in you. And it can often be a bit of a blood sport. But that might just be incredibly exposing about our relationship.
Suzie loves being a mother, but has a lot of ambivalence, while Naomi — her best friend — really wants to be a mother and can’t be. The characters explore a lot of tension around motherhood.
There’s a sort of identity crisis that can’t be ignored in your late 20s and early 30s — you’ve realized you’ve been putting on so many different heads to accommodate so many different people and applying yourself accordingly. When you hit 30, you don’t know who you are. I saw it all around me when I hit my 30s. People were questioning [themselves]: I haven’t had a kid yet. I’m not as successful as I want to be. I’m getting divorced again. I can see a pattern in my behavior that needs to be addressed. It all comes out in the 30s.
This interview has been edited and condensed.