For a star under 40, Anna Paquin is exceedingly accomplished: She won a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar at 11 years old for her role in The Piano; starred in one of HBO’s biggest hit series, True Blood; and played teen superhero Rogue in four films of the blockbuster X-Men franchise.
On her latest series, Pop’s Flack, Paquin is responsible for saving celebrity reputations from turmoil, sometimes recovering their stardom from boredom or plateaued intrigue. She plays Robyn, a take-no-s— publicist for the biggest crisis-management — sorry, challenge-management — company (aka public relations firm) in England.
The lurid scandals and frenzied social media fallout Robyn deals with on Flack feel undeniably timely, but Paquin, who also executive produces the series, promises that Robyn is “absolutely not” based on her Hollywood experiences with publicists or public relations reps. Creator Oliver Lansley told reporters at the show’s Television Critics Association panel in February that Paquin’s character is actually an amalgamation of people he’s met, not just publicists.
“All of the stories came from a nugget of truth,” Langsley said of the nightmare scenarios Robyn has to manage, from Freudian slips to botched cosmetics and extramarital affairs.
Robyn and her fellow publicists regularly trade personal information for professional security, something Lansley said is quite common in the industry. Flack is all about how celebrity clients trade one scandal for another, conveniently wielding shame and sympathy to protect or regain their status.
Ahead of Flack’s premiere, Paquin shared what she admires about Robyn and hinted just how wild the show’s ride will be. But first, she tells us what shows she deems binge-worthy.
Oh, I don’t have any… I don’t even know what day or time things are on, but I’m presuming it’s either when my children are going to bed or when I already would like to be asleep.
I like documentaries. The darker the subject matter, the better. I’m a big true crime [fan].
Are you going to watch new Ted Bundy special on Netflix?
I’ve already watched it. It’s fascinating, if you’re into that genre. But I also listen to those podcasts about stuff like that so…
Like Dirty John?
Oh my god, that was great. But again, I didn’t know it was a TV show until I listened to the podcast and I was like, “Oh, I feel like there’s posters up for some, is it the same thing?” I’m a little bit in my mother bubble.
We are currently watching Escape at Dannemora… We’re up to episode five, so if you’ve seen the rest of it, don’t spoil it.
Flack. I’m serious. If I wasn’t in it, this would be a show I would be obsessed with. I mean, that opening scene’s pretty killer, right?
Sophie-Marie for Rotten Tomatoes: What drew you to the character of Robyn?
What’s not to love? I mean, she’s talented, smart, troubled and really good at her job — and morally ambiguous in all kinds of ways that I think are very real, raw, and authentic. And she gets some really, incredibly fun, smart, well-written dialogue. It kind of ticks all the boxes for me.
What makes her so good at a job that requires her to kind of walk a moral line, or jump right off the moral cliff, so often?
She had a really f—-d up childhood, you know? I mean, she basically raised her younger sister because their mother was mentally unwell. … You end up finding out more about that as the series goes on. But there’s also kind of a fight to survive-ness, like, “I will do whatever I need to do because I don’t have a safety net.”
She’s someone who has grown up in a household where mood stability was not a given and the ground rules changed all the time, because that’s the nature of living with someone who’s an addict or who has mental health issues. So that’s not abnormal for her. So, one sister ends up with this sort of perfect, by-the-book family life and [Robyn] ends up [being] someone who isn’t really sure who she is without the job of making other people’s illusions a reality.
I really love that reading of her character.
Yeah. And I would argue that what she does, she believes she’s doing for the right reasons. When she is lying to people in her private life, it’s because she doesn’t want to hurt people. She doesn’t want to be a source of pain.
It’s just that the world doesn’t really work like that. And when people find out, they’re not always happy that you protected them from the truth. Sometimes they’re absolutely irate that you thought that they couldn’t handle it or that you disrespected them in that way. And she’s kind of just keeping her head above the water, really.
Do you consider her an anti-heroine?
I guess it kind of depends how you define that. I mean, I guess? But I feel like that’s a sort of very broad term… I don’t think she’s like any other sort of woman I’ve seen on a TV show, so I’d kind of like to put her in her own little category by herself.
How does social media complicate her job and place the show in the current moment?
That’s actually a really interesting question because when these scripts were originally being developed, it was kind of before the social media bubble had really hit. So, one of the things we had to do in development, right before production, was go back in and do surgery on them so that the nature of the news cycle was up-to-date with what it actually is — which is “it happened three seconds ago, it’s already gone viral.”
What that does for plot is: creates a level of urgency to everything — there’s always a ticking clock. The scripts were wonderful before that was an element of it, but as far as just sort of upping the stakes, and keeping everyone’s heart racing just a little bit faster, and your audience going on the ride with you, where it is urgent now. Some of these crises are very fluffy to your average person who works really hard for a living and doesn’t have anything handed to them. It’s like, “Oh, really? You had plastic surgery and people found out? Poor you.” But to [the celebrities Robyn represents], it is the most important thing in the world.
I think that the addition of the way the internet and social media has changed the news cycle has only actually helped the show.
This show is pretty serious, but it’s billed as a dramedy. How would you describe Flack’s sense of humor?
Smart. Darker than dark. And delicious.
That’s true. It’s very rewarding.
Yes. It’s unapologetic. We do not color inside the lines.
That’s what makes it so…
It’s so much fun.
One minute you’re laughing at something and you feel like, “Am I a terrible person for laughing at this?” And then there’s some sort of emotional punch that you didn’t see coming. We have a very talented writer, Oli Lansley, who created this series, and that’s all him.
The show could very easily have slipped into a procedural format —
Absolutely. It was very important to us that it not just be a procedural show. It’s fun, but its not as interesting. Getting to know the person and understand why they’re making the choices they are. There’s episodes later on where there’s some crisis happening at work, but there’s this whole other s—storm happening in her private life. The two impact each other.
[Sometimes], you end up making choices and your private life or your work life that maybe are compromised because of each other and it’s just more interesting because that’s real life.
Any good professional, you try not to bring your private life to work, but there’s some things that sometimes something’s gonna give.
You’ve done fantasy with True Blood, mystery with Bellevue, and now you’re in a dramedy. Do you have a favorite genre to work in?
No, I like smart material. I like good dialogue. I like interesting plot. I don’t really mind what beat, genre, context, medium it is… Talent is talent.
Do you watch your own shows?
Well, I mean, yes. I produced this, so I’ve seen every single frame of every single second that we’ve shot several hundred times. I’m not someone who, if I didn’t have a reason to, would seek out watching my own work because I don’t really enjoy staring at my face on screen.
Flack premieres Thursday, February 21 at 10 p.m. on Pop.