Executive produced by Nicole Kidman and Bruna Papandrea, Apple TV+’s Roar is an eight-part anthology series of darkly comic feminist fables. Starring some of today’s top female talent including Kidman, Cynthia Erivo, Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and Issa Rae, the series was filmed during the pandemic, with every episode shot on locations in Los Angeles, with the exception of Kidman’s episode, which was filmed in Australia.
Spanning genres from magical realism to psychological horror, these eight stand-alone stories feature ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances where women eat photographs, date ducks, and live on shelves like trophies. And yet, their struggles are universal.
Inspired by Irish author Cecelia Ahern’s singularly imaginative story collection of the same name, combined with the creative vision of showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, Roar is a powerful collaboration of today’s most inspiring female storytellers, writers, actors and directors, all deconstructing the manner in which women push back on adversity with resilience, humour and humanity.
Best known for their work on the series GLOW and Orange Is The New Black, teaming up for Roar was an irresistible challenge for Flahive and Mensch – not only to bring Ahern’s thoughtful fables to the screen – but to offer a charged yet grounded vision of what it means to be a woman today. “Part of what drew us to the book was its front-footedness to the idea or the metaphor,” says Flahive. “The stories really stayed with you. In some of the stories, the women don’t even have names, which is not to say that women don’t have identities but they’re these very idea-driven short stories.”
A surprising blend of nuanced reality that is at times hilariously surreal, each standalone episode of this anthology series navigates the complex terrain that makes up the modern woman’s life, from dating and marriage to parenting, career survival and much more. Starring in one of the most memorable episodes of this anthology, Erivo tells FilmInk what drew her to the character of Ambia, a woman who struggles to combine motherhood with career goals in “The Woman Who Found Bite Marks On Her Skin.” “I just loved the idea of making ideas that are usually unspoken or metaphorical and giving them a physical manifestation so that we could see what it is that we’re discussing,” Erivo explains. “We could see what it is that we’re experiencing, and we can see how ludicrous these things are when they’re played out in real life. And because of how strange and wild it is to see it happen, I hope that it makes people want to keep discussing the salve for some of these situations. And so I wanted to be a part of something that would open up discussions and have people see things in a different way.
“I’ve never really been given the chance to play someone that has humour in their bones, and there was something about Ambia that was kind of quirky and humorous, but also grounded at the same time,” Erivo continues. “Also, being able to play someone with my own accent was really fun as well because I rarely get to do that; I rarely get to sound like me. And I just I loved this story, because it explored the plight of black women in motherhood in the workplace, which is rarely explored at all. I loved all the subtleties that ran through the episode right from the very beginning when she’s giving birth and her doctor isn’t really paying attention to her and what she needs.
“And, when we speak about the mortality rates of black women giving birth, we get to explore that in the very first frame of this piece, which to me was like, wild and really awesome to be able to explain and express what that is,” Erivo continues. “Having an exploration of women in these situations is just rarely seen, so I was instantly like, ‘Yes, please. I would like to be a part of this, that’d be great.’ They were very kind to me too, and let me raise my hand to ask if Rashida Jones could direct this episode. I just happened to be a lucky pawn in the game,” says the Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress.
In the episode “The Woman Who Ate Photographs”, Nicole Kidman portrays a daughter seeking the means to archive a family history that is evolving as her mother (Judy Davis) copes with dementia. Kidman’s character literally “eats” photographs as she tries to hold on to her family history at the same time as her mother is losing those memories.
When FilmInk asks Flahive how the Oscar-winning actress was able to crunch through countless photographs, the producer smiles. “We used marzipan and rice paper which was a little chewy. But then the rice paper made a crunching sound we had to take it out in post-production. Nicole had to shove so many in her mouth, and we’d printed the photos on the rice paper so we could really do it and then the dye started to bleed onto her tongue and we were like, ‘Oh, we have to stop and wipe it off.’ Of course, we didn’t know that some of those things would happen because when have you ever printed a photograph on a piece of paper and asked an award winning actress to continue to shove them into her mouth for four hours? But everyone was just so game because they realised just what it did to the story.”
In “The Woman Who Disappeared”, Issa Rae plays an acclaimed writer who is rendered physically invisible during a studio creative meeting; “The Woman Who Was Kept On A Shelf” stars Betty Gilpin as a beautiful woman content on being displayed as a trophy for others to admire; “The Woman Who Was Fed By A Duck,” sees Merritt Wever as an urban single woman who enters into a relationship with … a duck; “The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder” sees Alison Brie play the ghost of a woman murdered in the prime of her life who helps solve the crime; “The Woman Who Returned Her Husband,” features Meera Syal as a frustrated wife who seeks to trade-in her husband for a better model after years of marriage, while “The Girl Who Loved Horses” features Fivel Stewart as a young girl seeking revenge on the man who killed her father, and discovering a healing friendship with a preacher’s daughter in the process.
If Merritt Wever never envisioned having to make out with a duck for a role, then she surprised even herself, and committed to portraying a woman who finds herself in an emotionally abusive relationship with a duck. “The duck ended up being an amazing scene partner because you truly don’t know what’s going to happen. Every second I had to convince it to keep paying attention to me and to stay with me, or else it would leave if I bored it,” laughs the actress best known for her roles in Nurse Jackie, Unbelievable and The Walking Dead.
“The Woman Who Was Fed By A Duck” was one story that the creative team had initially not considered adapting, and it only made it into the cut after one of the show’s writers, Halley Feiffer, brought it to Mensch and Flahive with an impassioned plea to tell this story. “It just felt like that duck was being such a dick to her,” she said. “He was really mansplaining a lot.”
In her role as executive producer, Kidman was also instrumental in cheer-leading this quacky story for inclusion. “Nicole was like, ‘If we’re not doing this one, then why are we doing this show? It’s bold, it’s subversive and we should do it!’ She got everyone on board,” recalls Flahive.
“Nicole cheer-led it,” confirms Mensch. “What’s funny is that even though the duck story seemed like a hard sell, it was one of the clearest from the beginning for us because it’s a topic and a type of relationship that, while it’s really not that fun to dramatise, is really important because a lot of women get themselves in these types of relationships.”
“This story is about a woman who, as the title suggests, is fed by a duck,” says Wever of her character. “She thinks she’s getting fed something good, and it turns out she’s getting fed something bad. What I hope is that by the end, she learns to feed herself.”
Adds Flahive: “If you saw her talking to a duck, falling in love with a duck or being hurt by a duck, you would believe it instantly because that’s just the kind of actor Merritt is. And then after that, it was the technicality of whether we could train seven ducks to do the actions that we needed in the episode! We were doing a bonkers thing, but it’s actually a very grounded story. It’s not a gag. We took this very seriously.”
Unlike anything usually seen on TV or film, Alison Brie instantly responded to her role as a dead woman who solves her own murder in the face of clueless detectives who were never going to find her killer without her help. “I loved Cecelia Ahern’s book which is fantastic and insanely digestible. The stories are really short, between three and twelve pages long, and yet they pack so much punch,” says the GLOW actress. “They’re insightful, poignant and funny, and they really shine a light on the female experience. There’s a lot of optimism to it, which I really like. There’s a lot of self-discovery and self-empowerment that happens within every story. There are characters in the book who are analysing not just how they’re treated within society, but also their own behaviours and their own shortcomings and fears and anxieties and overcoming them. So it’s a really fun read and I connected so much to every story – even ones about women who maybe seem different from myself.”
Roar premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday April 15, 2022