Why Hollywood Is Entrusting Its Biggest Action Franchises to Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Between James Bond, Indiana Jones and "Star Wars," the "Fleabag" star has quickly transitioned to an A-list action hero

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Cannes for a screening of "Solo : A Star Wars Story" in 2018
Waller-Bridge in Cannes for a screening of "Solo : A Star Wars Story" in 2018
Loic Venance/AFP/Getty

Anybody who saw Fleabag knew this was bound to happen eventually.

In the few short years since the beloved series completed its second and final season and earned creator/star Phoebe Waller-Bridge just about every award under the sun (including, for those keeping score at home, three Emmys, two Golden Globes, two Critics’ Choice Awards, a BAFTA and a SAG Award), she’s become a bonafide A-lister, following the Chris Pratt career trajectory from endearingly quirky TV stardom to huge roles in legacy action and adventure franchises.

Last week it was announced that Waller-Bridge will be starring opposite Harrison Ford in the as-yet-untitled fifth Indiana Jones movie, due out July 29, 2022. That, of course, comes on the heels of the news that she’ll play opposite Donald Glover in a new reboot of Mr. and Mrs. Smith for Amazon’s Prime Video. She also has her hands in the long-delayed new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, where she was brought in as a screenwriter at the behest of Daniel Craig to polish up the script. And let’s not forget she joined another legacy action franchise back in 2018 with her role as a droid in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

In many ways, it makes sense. Waller-Bridge has demonstrated her prowess within the genre with Killing Eve, the critically acclaimed spy series on which she served as showrunner and head writer. And she’s more than demonstrated — through Fleabag as well as talk show appearances and her recent role in Harry Styles’s “Treat People With Kindness” video — that she’s got the necessary charisma to carry a Hollywood blockbuster. And of course, crossover from one franchise to another is natural. (Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen will also star in Indiana Jones 5.) Still, for those familiar with Fleabag‘s wry, nuanced sensibility, watching her in a big, loud action flick might seem a little strange.

What do studios have to gain from bringing her onto long-running franchises like Bond and Indiana Jones? Besides the fact that she’s massively talented, Waller-Bridge brings with her a certain fresh perspective that these series — which are 59 and 40 years old, respectively — lack. Getting her involved not only signals that these movie institutions are still hip and relevant, but also demonstrates a willingness to evolve and push back against the claims that they’re just relics of toxic masculinity. Neither series has aged particularly well in that regard, thanks to their tough-guy lead characters’ questionable treatment of women (Do we need to remind you how 007 assaults a woman literally named Pussy Galore?), and as we find ourselves in an era when Hollywood is finally beginning to address its lack of diversity (both in front of and behind the camera), audiences are perhaps slightly less interested in another story about a middle-aged white guy with a savior complex.

Despite that, Bond star Daniel Craig pushed back at the notion that Waller-Bridge was a diversity hire after it was suggested by a reporter during a 2019 interview with the Sunday Times. “Look, we’re having a conversation about Phoebe’s gender here, which is fucking ridiculous,” he said. “She’s a great writer. Why shouldn’t we get Phoebe onto Bond?”

“I know where you’re going, but I don’t actually want to have that conversation,” he continued. “I know what you’re trying to do, but it’s wrong. It’s absolutely wrong. She’s a fucking great writer. One of the best English writers around. I said, ‘Can we get her on the film?’ That’s where I came from.”

Waller-Bridge, who is just the second woman in Bond history to be credited on a script, made an important point in an interview with Deadline that year, insisting that the series is as relevant as ever and noting that Bond himself doesn’t necessarily have to suddenly become a feminist as long as the film itself treats women respectfully.

“There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not [the Bond franchise] is relevant now because of who he is and the way he treats women. I think that’s bollocks,” she said. “I think he’s absolutely relevant now. It has just got to grow. It has just got to evolve, and the important thing is that the film treats the women properly. He doesn’t have to. He needs to be true to this character.”

Of course, both Craig and Waller-Bridge have a movie to sell, so we should perhaps take what they said with a grain of salt, but they both offer compelling arguments. It doesn’t matter why she was brought aboard all of these blockbuster franchises; she’s there now, she’s absolutely deserving, and she’s clearly got some great ideas about how to modernize them while staying true to the spirit of the originals. We still have to wait and see what her contributions to these films actually look like, but in the meantime we’re counting down the days until we can watch our new favorite new adventure star in action.

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