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The cast of Bad Sisters on creating a believable family and the appeal of nasty characters

In the last two decades, pop culture had seen more than its fair share of bad protagonists. From Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa to Cameron Diaz’s Bad Teacher, audiences have delighted in witnessing these immoral characters’ terrible behavior toward people who, let’s be honest, often deserve it.

2022 gives us the latest offering in this trend with the new Apple TV+ series Bad Sisters, which stars some of Ireland’s most talented actors in a darkly comic tale of four sisters who try to protect their emotionally abused sibling from her detestable husband. In an interview with Digital Trends, cast members Anne-Marie Duff (Shameless, Sex Education), Claes Bang (The Square, The Northman), Sarah Greene (Normal People, The Dublin Murders), and Eva Birthistle (The Last Kingdom, Behind Her Eyes) talk about the brilliance of creator and co-star Sharon Horgan’s writing, the challenges of creating a believable family dynamic, and the appeal of playing nasty characters.

Digital Trends: What drew you all to starring in Bad Sisters?

Sarah Greene: Sharon Horgan’s writing. Bad Sisters is a departure from what she usually writes. There’s this element of the murder mystery and working in the thriller genre that was something that I don’t think she’s really explored before. Also, I got to work with an amazing cast of women whom I have been a fan of for a long time, and it was a real honor and privilege to get to play with them every day.

Four sisters look down outside in Bad Sisters.

Anne-Marie Duff: I read the scripts, and they were just so extraordinary. We would have been idiots to say no. It was a real no-brainer, you know?

Eva Birthistle: I agree, it was Sharon’s scripts. I’d be mad to say no to any of that. It was a very easy decision to make.

Claes Bang: Yeah. When I read Bad Sisters for the first time, I thought I’d never, ever read or seen anything like it. I think it was special. The whole construct of the piece was just something else.

I agree. From the opening scene with the post-mortem erection, the show just grabs you.

Duff: [Laughs] Well, if you have that in your show, you’ll get your audience.

Anne-Marie, we’re used to seeing you play strong women like Fiona Gallagher in the original Shameless and Queen Elizabeth I. Grace, your character in Bad Sisters, is the exact opposite of that. She is very vulnerable and fragile. What drew you to her?

Duff: I’m always trying to do things I’ve never done before if I can. Grace is such a caged bird, isn’t she? We don’t really know who she is. And so I found that very intriguing. We meet this person who defines themselves by somebody else’s opinion of them. And so what’s that about? How did she end up there? How did she find herself behind those bars?

I was also fascinated by telling this story of coercion. Quite often, we’ll see abusive relationships that are very physical, but we seldom see coercive relationships that are just as damaging. I was intrigued by how diminished and how reduced this person could be.

Grace is very silent and bullied. How do you play translucent? That was my main challenge. She’s still strong but it’s hidden away in a pocket somewhere and she doesn’t know how to find it.

Eva, your character Ursula seemingly has it all together, but it’s gradually revealed that there’s more going on with her. How do you play a character who has this double life that is slowly revealed to the audience?

Birthistle: I don’t think I have played a character quite like her. When Sharon first came to me with Ursula, I was like, “Oh, I don’t really know who she is.” But then as I got a few more scripts and talked to Sharon about it, I realized she is a woman who’s really struggling with her life and questioning her past decisions. There’s a real vulnerability to her.

It’s really fun to have those things gradually revealed because it reels in the audience. I think as the series progresses, each character and their backstory are shown to be more complex and layered. And that’s an interesting thing for an actor to do to get to play with all those layers.

Two sisters sit next to each other in Bad Sisters.

Claes, John Paul has to be the most unlikable character you’ve played. And that’s saying something as you’ve played Dracula a few years ago and killed Ethan Hawke in The Northman. What is the fascination with you and evil characters?

Bang: Well, I do think I share this compulsion with other actors to play the baddies and the nasties because there is so much more to play with. There’s more room to maneuver in a way. There’s a perverse joy in getting to do and say all these horrible things to people. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps it’s because I don’t do it and I try not to do it in real life.

It’s not only just about the character though; it’s also the whole thing, isn’t it? The scripts are so good and the whole narrative is so developed.

Sarah, Bibi is the most badass out of all the sisters. What was it about her that appealed to you, both on the page and performing as her?

Greene: Well, I was a little bit afraid of her because she has no filter. Her timing when she calls people out or says it how it is can sometimes be really inappropriate. And I found that initially tough to read. I thought she was a bit mean and harsh. But when I started playing her, I found it really refreshing and kind of freeing to play somebody like that. She’s very different from me.

It’s hard to portray a believable family dynamic on-screen at times, but I think all of you accomplished that superbly in Bad Sisters. How did you go about establishing that familial rapport between everybody in the cast?

Duff: Well, we had some rehearsal time, which is unusual for a series. We got to talk about the scenes and we talked a wee bit about the past, you know, trying to create a sense of shared history. We didn’t really focus on it all the time when we were filming.

The audience has to buy this marriage because they have to invest in it being a relationship that’s so damaged that these women need to rescue their sister at any cost.

A man and a woman look at each other in Bad Sisters.

Bang: Both Anne-Marie and I wanted to make sure there was also something in there where you could see what actually drew these people together in the first place. That was important for us to establish. We were always trying to look for little moments of affection so it wasn’t all just nasty behavior.

Duff: Yeah, we would plant moments like I would find him very funny if he made a joke. The audience could then breathe for a second.

Birthistle: I think all of us have siblings so we know those specific dynamics very intimately. So I think we all just relived those dynamics and experiences and brought it to Sharon’s writing. We talked a lot about how different the relationships are with each sister as well as other family dynamics.

Greene: All the sisters don’t all just get along. Some are closer than others. Each sister would speak a different way to each other. Like Ursula would speak to Bibi in a way that Bibi wouldn’t speak to Eva.

Birthistle: It’s all those little details like ways of speaking and looking that really sort of pull it all together and make all the sisters and husbands and children like they are all in a real family.

Bad Sisters’ first two episodes are now streaming on Apple TV+. Each new episode will debut every Friday.

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