Daisy Haggard on Female Felons: From Villain to Human | Crooked Media
October 15, 2021
With Friends Like These
Daisy Haggard on Female Felons: From Villain to Human

In This Episode

Comedic writer and actress Daisy Haggard joins the show to talk about her work creating the Showtime series “Back To Life,” which follows an underdog female character who returns to her hometown after serving an 18 year prison sentence.


Daisy talks about why she wanted to humanize people struggling for redemption, and what she learned about writing, forgiveness and herself. 




Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox, and welcome to With Friends Like These. This week I am talking to British comedy actress Daisy Haggard. Among other things, she’s the creator, co-writer, and star of Showtime’s “Back to Life,” now in its second season. It has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where reviewers have called it a near-perfect, exceptional, and both extremely funny and tragically sad. Also, Season 2 improves on Season 1 in every way. Now, these reviews aren’t that surprising, given that the show comes from the same producing team as Fleabag, and it somehow combines elements of almost every hit prestige series over the last few years. It’s a true crime-ish seaside town mystery with trenchant social commentary and dark comedy. It is a show about Mary, a 40-year old woman returning to her hometown in the UK after serving an 18-year prison sentence. But that’s not what the show is really about. It’s about forgiveness and memory, sex and getting old, and specifically what it’s like to reenter this fast-moving world after you’ve paid your debt to society. What does it take to start over and is starting over even possible? I’ll discuss all that and more with actress Daisy Haggard.


Ana Marie Cox: Daisy, welcome to the show.


Daisy Haggard: Thank you for having me.


Ana Marie Cox: So right off the top, my first question is what inspired the show? It’s a really specific plotline.


Daisy Haggard: So a lot of things inspired this show. On a very basic level, I was living at home with my parents. So I had to, you know, in my mid-thirties, staying with my mom and dad, being kind of made to feel like a teenager again and being told how to load a dishwasher. So that was one aspect. And then another aspect of it was that I’ve always been really interested in how we vilify women who commit crimes compared to, I think, how we maybe perceive, or sort of our views towards men. I just think there’s a sort of expectation for women to be an angel or the devil. And so I’ve always been really fascinated by that. Not to say that people don’t do terrible things, but just, just, we have an interesting attitude towards that. And so it all came out really with me thinking, what would be, you know, what would it be like if you were a woman in your 30s with no job, no apartment—everyone kind of expects you to have all these things, but then also you had done something really terrible—how hard would that make your life? And so that sort of inspired something that doesn’t really sound like a comedy, but kind of is.


Ana Marie Cox: I have questions about what kind of show it is, actually. On some level, it actually mashes up all of the most favorite genres from prestige TV these days. You know, like, it’s kind of like a true crime mystery. It’s a seaside mystery. It’s a female-centered comedy that has a lot of, let’s say, honest sex in it. And it has a lot of social commentary. And it is both—I say this with love—uncomfortable to watch and yes, occasionally hysterically funny. But you’re really writing a lot of different tones there.


Daisy Haggard: Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely it’s own tone, I think. And it was never, never a cynical move, that’s just because I believe that’s what life’s like, you know? I’ve been around the bed of somebody dying and some, something very funny has happened and I’ve been in, you know, I believe that the reality is that you, you move through with the tones in life, don’t you? Suddenly you slip on a banana skin after breaking up with a boyfriend. You know, anything can happen. And so I really love, I really was desperate to write something that just was bold and confidently all the different things—if that’s what, if that was truthful and right for the story, then that was what we would do.


Ana Marie Cox: Was there a specific case you were thinking about when you thought about Mary’s life story?


Daisy Haggard: No, there wasn’t, actually. I think I just noticed, I just noticed a few, a few different things, whether it—well, I suppose, you know, I suppose I saw the headlines saying Foxy Knoxy about Amanda Knox and thought, gosh they wouldn’t do that about a guy, you know, whatever, you know, regardless of the thing. It was just like, why are we saying Foxy Knoxy? So I suppose things like that inspired the fact that the photograph in the Season 1 of me that we chose for the newspaper photograph was a sort of posing with your teenage friends that you trying to be sexy photo because I thought that’s what the media would do in that situation. But yeah, so that was really it. And then and then it was also those stories you hear when you’re growing up—I don’t know if you have that—but I feel like there’s always the stories, the sort of terrible stories that happened about somebody who’s 18 or 19 and something happens, somebody gets in the car with somebody drinking, or something awful and these people, you know, everybody, there’s always somebody at your school or somebody that somebody’s friend of a friend, sort of tragic stories that kind of haunt you through your life. So that’s something I’ve always thought about because there was somebody we knew when we were young who had a terrible accident that was due to somebody else making a mistake. So those things are sort of part of you, aren’t they? They stay in your head, something, they sort of quite formative. So it is more that. And yeah, it’s a big old mishmash of things.


Ana Marie Cox: I don’t know if you specifically chose 18 for Mary’s age, but I’ve been thinking about it and it’s a real specific marker in our culture, right? Like, 18 is supposedly when you become an adult. There’s a big difference when we think about 17 and we think about 18. So to have her commit this crime at 18, it’s this place where she’s almost a child, right?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: And we might offer more forgiveness to someone who just happened to be a few days younger.


Daisy Haggard: Yeah. And also, it’s the point where I think for me, where I feel like my life began, really. Like I wasn’t happy at school so when I left school, I went, Oh, this is life! You know, this is this is so much easier than that school thing. So I think that was probably a significant part of that decision, was it’s just as you’re about to launch into this chapter, this thing happens and then you have to, you don’t get to do that or live that.


Ana Marie Cox: And you talked about how you were living at home, and that’s one of the things you were thinking about as a grown, grown person living at home, what the experience is of having to kind of re-negotiate your boundaries with your parents. I’m curious if there is anything that you could bring to the other part of Mary’s experience, which is this intense boundary that she has with the world at large, right? Like having to cross into society and re-relate to everything. Now, I know you didn’t spend 18 years in prison but what are the things that you drew from to kind of get to that?


Daisy Haggard: Well, I mean, beyond just sort of as a writer having fun with some of that thinking, you know, what would be really strange now, you know? What is weird? So close your eyes and thinking back to when you in 19 and how now everyone’s just walking along the road staring at their phone. You know? What are the things that you would be like, God, it’s just not like, you know, it’s completely different. So those things were always just really sort of fun to sort of close your eyes and think about. You know what I mean? Whether it be that your, your idol—although she would have known to her rivals have died, it’s not like she’s been in a time capsule, she’s been in prison. It’s, you know, enjoying those moments and things that you would miss out on as much as you, making a comment on the world like the fact that, you know, she says, why is everyone so obsessed with their phones? And she’s slightly attached to some of her teenage memorabilia. So, yeah, those things were just like me and Laura Solon had a lovely, enjoyed just of discussing and thinking about that. And obviously, there’s a bit of some creative license with that because people in prison do not—as I said—they are in the world, they’re not entirely removed from the world, but you can have a bit of fun with finding your crimper again on the other side. And we spoke to women who’d been in prison and people who’ve been in prison and actually asked sort of simple, simple questions like, you know, what was it, what does it feel like, what di you, what was the hardest thing or the strangest thing? And one woman was really interesting about clothes. She said that she was so thrown off by clothes for about a year after coming back because she was so used to the few items that she wore that the choice really threw her. And also she, like Mary, had the choice that she left, that was 10 years ago. You know, that was her choice. She didn’t have any money, so the clothes she had were the clothes she had when she’s gone to prison. So things like that, we enjoyed bringing into the show to make it feel more real, I think.


Ana Marie Cox: And I guess I have to ask about another thing you might have drawn from or had personal experience with, which is, have you ever cut your own bangs?


Daisy Haggard: Yes!


Ana Marie Cox: And if so, what was the result?


Daisy Haggard: Exactly as the show. I very, very stupidly decided to cut my own bangs but not look, my mirror was offset from my sink, to my basin so I basically went over the basin, cut, and then looked at the mirror, screamed, and then went back and did it again. I don’t know why. I didn’t know I was so kind of cleanly. But I did that. And then every time I look back, it was, it was horrendous and I basically did exactly what Mary did.


Ana Marie Cox: And did you actually cut your bangs for the show? I’m curious, did you have to walk around with like the micro fringe?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah. We had a wig in the first season and then the second season I just couldn’t, I couldn’t be bothered to be and make up for that long because I wanted to put my kids, put my kids to bed and let everyone go home early. So I said, come on, guys, let’s do it, just make me look ridiculous, I’ll look ridiculous for six weeks. And at the school gates, I got some brilliant looks. So, yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: I kind of want to go back to the emotional kind of reentry that Mary has, because that’s, I think, the texture of the show for me and I feel like it’s relatable for all of us, even though obviously very few of us have had Mary’s experience.


Daisy Haggard: Yeah, I think that, I think that she’s, I think that it is relatable, isn’t it? Because Mary sort of, she’s the underdog, right? And she’s an innocent in a sense and I think what’s relatable, maybe, with her. She’s an optimist and an innocent, and she’s trying her best in a world that doesn’t really, you know, that’s not making it easy for her. So anyone who’s not, you know, a winner winner, you know, kind of relates to Mary. I relate to Mary. She’s someone who’s just like, I’m going to have a go, I’m going to dip my toe in. And then she gets hurt, but she pulls it, but she gets, but she gets back up again and she goes in and she’s a fighter, really. But she’s definite—you know, it is a fundamentally a show about hope, I think, and forgiveness. And she’s an adult beginner, which I think we can all feel like, right? We don’t, you know, unless you’re some kind of amazing machine person, which I’m definitely not, you know, you constantly feel like, ooh, hello, here I am. You know? And Mary’s like that. But she’s got this sort of energy and optimism, which I think hopefully makes her relatable, and it makes you want her to succeed.


Ana Marie Cox: Oh, you definitely want her to succeed. And I think the other thing, I think this is what you’re saying, which is we’ve all had the experience of trying to enter into just even a small society that’s new, right?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah. Like a new job.


Ana Marie Cox: Mm hmm. And it can feel just as alienating or just as scary. You don’t know the rules. You know? And I wonder, are you like that, like Mary, are you an optimist? Do you dip your toe in and then keep going?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah, I have a big cry, though. I’m not like, I’m not like, I’m an optimist who can go, oh, that didn’t work out [mimics crying]. And then I, but then I seem to come, it seems to, I seem to come back again, if that makes sense. So I’m an optimist, but I’m not unemotional, sort of brazenly strong or anything. I’m an emotional optimist.


[ad break]


Ana Marie Cox: I do want to talk about some other characters on the show that kind of round out our experience of this town and help, you know, illuminate what Mary’s experience is. Her parents are, now I don’t know if there is a stereotype about what parents would be like for someone that has just been released from incarceration, but they’re not that. Whatever I thought,[ laughs] whatever I thought they would be. You know, Oscar is a righteous environmentalist, kind of passionate even—slight spoiler alert for passion—and a little in his own head. Right?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: And Caroline is her mother, and I think I’m not spoiling anything to say she’s having an affair with Mary’s high school boyfriend?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah. In the first season. Yeah, that’s what she’s doing.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. So, some unusual circumstance, right? And I wonder like the pieces that are in play there, I think Caroline is most interesting one to me. Because—how do I say this?—It’s not that she’s not sympathetic, I care about everyone on the show, but she’s a tough love, let’s say.


Daisy Haggard: For sure. For sure. Yeah. She’s very selfish, isn’t she? She behaves in a selfish, in an extremely selfish way.


Ana Marie Cox: What I mean, I guess part of me wonders, you know, you’re a woman and this show is largely created by women, and to put kind of an unsympathetic female character in there, I always appreciate it when women do that, because I think there’s more subtlety there.


Daisy Haggard: I love Caroline, and I love that she’s the sexual character of the show. You know?


Ana Marie Cox: I was going to bring that up too. [laughs]


Daisy Haggard: She one who’s got, she’s got a voracious appetite. You know, everyone would expect it to be the, me, you know? But actually, Mary’s really sort a total innocent and her mom wants sexual satisfaction in her life, and she’s disconnected emotionally, I think, and she’s just, she hasn’t got a purpose and so she’s, her purpose has been about her sexual identity, really, and how to feel, her way of dealing with everything has been to sort of seek pleasure elsewhere. And so the whole, over the span of two seasons, we see her kind of grow up, I think. We see her find her own identity and sort of figure out who she is and what she wants because she doesn’t really know what she’s doing. And it’s only when Mary’s back that she can act, she has, she has to confront really all the things that she’s done wrong and who she really is. But yeah, it felt really, really good, me and Laura felt really excited to write the character that’s the voracious, the sexual one, to be the older woman, and not the older man and not the younger woman. It felt right, and it felt important.


Ana Marie Cox: And she is very sexy. I will say that.


Daisy Haggard: She’s gorgeous!


Ana Marie Cox: She’s like, Yes! She carries it off. Like, totally, I’m believing that a 30-something, you know, 40-something guy would find her hot. Sure. It’s like, it’s completely wrong—I mean, not the ages, but you know, like, it’s not great, morally.


Daisy Haggard: Yeah. I mean, it’s not, it’s very funny because my dad gets, is compared a lot to Oscar. And my mom said somebody asked me if I was like Caroline. [laughs] I said no.


Ana Marie Cox: I, I wasn’t going to go there about your mom. I am curious about Oscar. I actually feel like Oscar may maybe kind of type, I mean, my—it’s interesting to me, he sort of emotionally distant, but he’s also kind of the one of the two of them that seems to have more empathy for Mary’s experience.


Daisy Haggard: Yeah, I think Caroline’s really angry with Mary for what it took from her life. And that’s what comes out in Season 1, she finally explodes. And that’s a brilliant moment, really, because then they can sort of start again because she actually goes: you know what? Yes! You know, I hated you for what you did, kind of thing. And I think that’s really important because then once that said, they can sort of, Mary’s grateful because it’s like, well, now you finally, there’s less repression in this house, you just shouted and cried and told me you hate me. That’s much, much more constructive than bottling everything up. But Oscar is, you know, Oscar is quite, I think he’s able to switch off his emotions. But yeah, he puts it all into the environment, doesn’t he?


Ana Marie Cox: All of it, yeah, all of it. You know, I could ask about each individual character because I am curious and I care about all of them. But I want to know more about the creation of the show because this is your baby. Like you created it, you write it, you’re in it—what has that experience been like for you, to carry something all that way?


Daisy Haggard: It’s been amazing actually. It’s, you know, I look back at the beginning and I think, gosh, it was so, you know, you’re trying to find the tone and the shape and all the things, but it’s been an amazing experience. You know, there’s a million people involved in the creation of a show, you know, I’d like to take all the credit, but that would be a complete lie and very selfish and wrong. Because the truth of it is, is there’s so many people go into making a show and you really learn that when you’re doing what I’ve been doing. You really sort of go, oh, my goodness, if it wasn’t for Chris Sweeney at the beginning when we shot the first taste of tape who sat there patiently with me deciphering my visual, me trying to explain what I wanted it to be and, you know, and then made that happen with that, with the taste of tape that got the commission and then the first season. And then, you know, you have Sarah Hammond and Two Brothers and Harry Williams, and all these people who are kind of sitting there like helping you get this idea out. And then when we got the commission, I was eight months pregnant and just phoned Laura and said, I needed someone else on this, because I wanted to do it all myself and then it became obvious that wasn’t going to be beneficial, really, like the more clever people you can get in the room, the better! So then Laura stepped in and was just amazing. So from the beginning, it’s been this kind of mad and excellent journey of lots of people really, too many to name who just step in, tune in to what you’re doing and then help you get this thing out of your head. And so it’s an incredible experience and like, yeah, I never thought, I didn’t think I was going to have that experience either. I’d kind of almost given up. So, yeah, it’s been amazing.


Ana Marie Cox: I want to talk about the almost giving up part.


Daisy Haggard: Well, I just thought, oh, because I’d had my first kid and I sort of, I tried to write loads of things and no one had wanted anything, and I thought, oh, well, you know, oh, here I go really, I was pushing a pram around the park going, well that’s I might’ve missed that moment, you know? And then just plugged on and you know, Two Brothers amazingly kind of stuck with me and kept saying, ,o, just keep, coming back, keep pitching us ideas. And then one day, you know, I did pitch this idea, which I pitched quite a few strange things to them that they weren’t that [unclear] about. And they were like, oh, now this is interesting. And we all had a very aligned, we sat and discussed the tone and how we’d want it to look. And then suddenly that, you know, that’s, from that little seed it took six years or something from there. But it did then, it did start to be, it started to happen. But yeah, I think there were loads of points where I thought, oh, oh well, I had my shot. So, yeah, so just the fact that it’s even happened is really like, oh my goodness, I can’t believe it. But yeah, and as a woman in film and really enjoying, with the last season, we sort of suddenly turned around one day and we were like, there’s all these amazing women! This is so much, there’s all these kind women in charge. This is brilliant. So it’s been cool.


Ana Marie Cox: Did this idea feel different than others? Because you said you had tried others, you’d pitched a lot of, I think you said, weird or strange things. But did this feel to you like this is the thing that’s going to get made?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah. When I felt like, I felt like when we were talking, because Harry and Sarah, we talked so much about the kind of show we want to make so we knew our inspir—you know, we were on the same page tonally, you know, visually, tonally the kind of things that we really liked. So we talked a lot about that, and this one fits that in a really lovely way because it had, it just had this darkness. But what was, I think as a writer, I’m fundamentally a character writer. I’m not, I’m not a plot writer particularly. I write sort of details and the things I’m obsessed with, the little character-ful moments and human things and people, whether they’re kind or, you know, like it’s just the detail that I think I get really caught up in. And the great thing about this idea was that you could actually, you’ve got the dramatic premise is there and then you can just write relationships, you know? So it did feel right. And then we all talked, developed it and talked about it for ages together, and it just started to kind of take off. But it took years. These things take so long, you know? At one point, Mary had a brother and then she didn’t have a brother.


Ana Marie Cox: I was going to say, I was going to ask you about what kind of significant changes happened along the way.


Daisy Haggard: She had a brother, and then I realized that the relationship I was trying to write for the brother was this really like pal-y relationship and it was like, everyone kept gently saying she wouldn’t have that if she’d been in prison for 18 years. So that, so we had to get rid of the brother, which was sad. But then it was right, because that was a crucial thing because he was one of the big parts, really. But then it was this funny, and then all the focus is on this only child and actually it just worked much better for the show.


Ana Marie Cox: Are you an only child?


Daisy Haggard: No, I’m one of six.


Ana Marie Cox: Oh, wow! Wow. And you come from a showbiz family, right?


Daisy Haggard: Well, my dad’s a director. But it’s funny, it feels like such an un-show-biz family, because the rest of my family and when you’ve got such a big family and if there’s any one of you, it doesn’t feel like show-biz family. Do you know what I mean?


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, sure. I’m not a, a mathematics family. My dad’s a mathematician, so it doesn’t make me a mathematics family.


Daisy Haggard: Yeah, no, exactly. But my yeah, my dad’s a director. My mum’s like an Aussie Australian painter, like sort of stained glass artist and artist. And then everyone else did completely different things. So yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: Well the one thing, though, about having a family member in any profession, let’s say actually, just being close to a profession that’s maybe a little outside most people’s experience. Like I know more about math and like university life than most people, probably, right? Like, and you were exposed to, you know, acting in the arts and scripts in a way that most people aren’t.


Daisy Haggard: Absolutely.


Ana Marie Cox: And my, and my question is, did you always want to do that?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah, I wanted to write. And also, you know, I did all my drawings in the back of scripts. That’s what I drew on. My arty house. My parents were like, don’t watch telly and, you know, just make your own fun, basically. So here’s the, here’s the paper, here’s the pens, see you later. So I would do all my drawings of the back of scripts. So I was always reading these pages of scripts, so I kind of grew up with that, I suppose. And I loved writing. So I’d always write short stories and poems and do terrible plays for my family and make them watch them, and gym routines. So I think, yeah, I wanted to perform and I wanted to write, but I never got into any school plays or anything—


Ana Marie Cox: OK, can you tell me anything about these plays that you performed as a child?


Daisy Haggard: Oh, they were so bad. They were just, there was one, they were just, they were fully improvised. No planning. I think, I said this the other day, [unclear] but I did this, I did this play one day because my dad did a film called “The Mystery of”— sorry, no, that’s my play—my dad did a film called “The Blood on Satan’s Claw.” And it was a bit of a sort of cult kind of hammer horror film, and we had the claw in the dressing up, big pile of dressing up second-hand clothes, and I used to do plays with the claw. And one of them was called the mystery of the Scratched Boob, and it was just me going, oh, there’s a scratch on my boob. And it went on and on and on. And then one day my dad stood up and was like: this is rubbish, it’s not going anywhere! You haven’t got a good story, you’re just talking about scratches on boobs—I’m out. Work on your stories!


[ad break]


Ana Marie Cox: How did you come to craft, in terms of writing? I mean, I wrote really silly things as a child as well. And there comes a point when you realize that writing isn’t just about expressing yourself.


Daisy Haggard: Totally. It’s really hard.


Ana Marie Cox: It is. [laughs]


Daisy Haggard: It is, yeah, I mean, I wrote loads of things it didn’t have any structure. That was my thing, I can do structure at all. I tell you what, Laura Solon has taught me so much because she was amazing with Back to Life. She totally understood it was my baby in that I was going to be a bit annoying and a bit precious about stuff. So she’s got, she had no ego about it. But she is so clever and she was such a sister and such a genius. And she slowly, I feel like by working with her, I’ve really sort of learned so much about, she’d be like, well, that’s not moving forward. And I’d be like, well I don’t understand and then I be like, oh! And now I, you know, I really feel like she taught me so much because she had an understanding of some fundamentals with writing that I just didn’t have, you know? I could write a scene, but I couldn’t really, you know, and then that, you know, and then I started to find myself thinking in the story, and I thought, oh, this is much better. So it’s really hard, writing.


Ana Marie Cox: It is, writing, well is really hard. Writing badly is like, awesome, like . . . [laughs]


Daisy Haggard: Totally.


Ana Marie Cox: I wonder if you can give an example of that, the shaping of something from, you know, an idea, a good idea, a creative idea, to something that is moving a plot forward. I know that might be hard, but like—


Daisy Haggard: I’m trying to think of an example from the show, I’m trying to think like, for instance, she figured out quite early that if we planned it too much, I would not do what we planned. So I, I seem to want to, I seem to, you know, I seem to basically want it to surprise me as much as it would surprise someone else. So there was a moment where we planned something and then I [unclear] you and I’ve just killed the neighbor. She’s just died. And Laura was like, I, sometimes saw Laura’s like the, like the forensic, the person coming in to clean up after you’ve done a murder, she’d be like, all right, Daisy, hand over, I’m going in. Put on her gloves, and then she’d help me make that make, you know, she helped, she’d go, well, you know what? It’s funny. It’s good. It’s surprising. Let’s make it work. You know?


Ana Marie Cox: That’s so interesting, because that’s one of my favorite scenes, actually.


Daisy Haggard: That was my favorite to write because suddenly I was like, oh! She’s dead! It’s like, can we do that and get away with it?


[clip from the show] How are you?–I’m good, thanks.–Fresh start, new beginnings.–Well, it’s a lovely day, so.–Isn’t it? Crisp? Oh, there’s nothing quite like winter sun is there?–Mmm, how are you?–Oh, I feel fabulous. Thank you for asking.–Oh, I’m so glad.–Light as a feather. Clean as a whistle. Insight into out.–Oh!–I do wonder, though sometimes.–Oh, what do you wonder?–I wonder what it’s like being a harlot, a slut, killer, a man-stealer.–All right, you’re obviously having a bad day, so I’m not going to take offense.–Oh, I’m very well right now. Never been better. Just a woman in her prime, taking a good, hard look at a psycho husband-stealing fuck biscuit, casually bathing her sin in the sun, while she should be rotting to death in a prison cell.–Sorry, can you just stop it now? Stop it.–Rot, rot rot. Dirty little prison killer.–You don’t know anything about me. Just leave me alone. Stop being so mean.–You will always be alone.–Oh, fuck off and die! [thump] Anna? Anna?


Ana Marie Cox: It, because it manages to combine a lot of the elements of the show, right, the themes of the show, although Mary doesn’t talk much during it. Although that is kind of fitting too. She gets talked at a lot. And it is a surprise, and it also, it’s a scene that evokes a lot of like discomfort. Right?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: And because the character— I don’t want to say too much about it, I guess.


Daisy Haggard: I think it’s ok. It’s the first season, isn’t it?


Ana Marie Cox: Well, we already, we already—neighbor dies. Spoiler alert for people haven’t—


Daisy Haggard: It’s OK. You don’t know which neighbor. You don’t know which side.


Ana Marie Cox: That’s right. That’s right. But there’s the discomfort of feeling empathy for Mary and all the hatred that she’s subjected to, right?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: And then there’s just like she’s an annoying neighbor, like almost a sitcom trope. Right?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: And then she dies.


Daisy Haggard: And then she just dies, dead.


Ana Marie Cox: Which is funny when it happens.


Daisy Haggard: Shocking.


Ana Marie Cox: But also we go, circle around to like Mary’s plight, right? Like, it can’t be funny for a long time because—


Daisy Haggard: Because it’s her.


Ana Marie Cox: —she’s in all this, it’s her.


Daisy Haggard: Yeah. And if she’s near anybody or anything like that. I mean, I don’t know if you see the second season, but we make it as hard for Mary as we can possibly make it. You know? If you think we give her a hard time in the first one, oh my gosh, [laughs] we really do put her through it. But yeah, because there are things that you know that just can’t happen near somebody who’s been in prison for murder. There’s just things that they can’t be near to or be part of, because if they are, they’re going back in for life and no one’s going to believe them. I think. So, yeah, that’s what that scene does as well, isn’t it?


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah. You mentioned that the show’s about redemption, and it’s about redemption and forgiveness and trust. I think?


Daisy Haggard: Well, people tell me that, and I suppose it pretty much is, isn’t it?


Ana Marie Cox: Oh, well, then you tell me what is it about?


Daisy Haggard: No! No! No! I mean, I think it is. No, no, no. I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, I’m not very, when I’m writing, I don’t really think, I don’t sort of write down themes, if you know what I mean. And then it becomes really apparent that I really care about forgiveness. You know? People are like, God, you really care. And I was like, oh, is it that obvious? Oh, yes, I supposed I do. I’m just not very analytical. But yeah, I think it is. And I think it’s about, you know, second chances and everyone actually in it at some point needs to be forgiven for their behavior, don’t they? I suppose it does, really, it really is about that. It’s pretty much quite heavily about that, whether it’s her month, or the ex-boyfriend or whoever.


Ana Marie Cox: Have you ever done something unforgivable? You don’t have to say what it is?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah, no. I, I don’t, I feel like, I feel like I really care about not doing something unforgivable, probably to like a crazy degree, if that makes sense. Like I’m obsessed with loyalty, I’m obsessed with all those things. I’m sure I have to somebody, but I can’t think of anything. I think if you betray a confidence, I find that, I’ve, you know, I’ve done that before and then felt terrible, you know, because that’s not something I do, do you know what I mean? But I don’t, I haven’t, not in the way that Mary, but yeah, I’m sure I have, but I can’t, I think I’m probably quite obsessed with not doing unforgivable things. I try to live my life as forgivable as possible. How about you?


Ana Marie Cox: Oh, I have. For sure. Well, there’s things that I’ve done that I haven’t forgiven myself for.


Daisy Haggard: Oh, yeah, that’s tough, that one.


Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, I think that’s a lot harder. And that kind of gets me back to another question about Mary, and maybe something that you might want to say something about as well, which is that I think one of the reasons we love her so much is that, is in that optimism, in that I’m going to give it a go, she’s actually really forgiving.


Daisy Haggard: Yes, she is.


Ana Marie Cox: She’s very gracious. She is a very gracious person.


Daisy Haggard: She’s accepting. I think that’s true. She’s very accepting of people’s flaws. And I think the thing about with you not done something unforgivable, that would also relate to how hard you are in yourself, right? So you may be really hard on yourself so you think what you’ve done is unforgivable? I may not be, that’s what I might be like, yeah, I forgive myself everything. It’s no, do know what I mean? It depends on how hard people are on themselves.


Ana Marie Cox: Well, you know, I was going to say, is it sometimes you know, the hardest thing is actually forgiving, right?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: Have you ever forgiven someone, something that was hard?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah, I have, but then I, then I couldn’t, I remember trying to forgive somebody for cheating on me and then finding it, and then, and then realizing that although I had sort of forgiven them, I couldn’t forget, forgetten, forgetten it. I couldn’t forget. And so I remember feeling kind of sad because I was like, I really tried, but I just, something’s going now. You know, I’ve had those moments in life where I’ve tried to forgive. And then also, sometimes someone just does something and I think, oh, no, I don’t think you’re very nice. And then I’ve gone, oh, I’m tougher than I thought, you know? But yeah, it depends, doesn’t it?


Daisy Haggard: And, so you said you go into this show not really like with huge ideas you want to explore—which I think is a great way to approach storytelling, by the way. Like, you’re not like, I want to write about forgiveness. Right?


Daisy Haggard: Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: You’re writing about a character. I wonder if there’s anything that you surprised yourself with as far as the thoughts about forgiveness or about the ways that people hurt each other, the ways that people help each other? Have you learned anything from writing the show besides the nuts and bolts of storytelling, which is super important?


Daisy Haggard: I think that, I think, this is going to sound so cheesy, but I think I learned how much I care about kindness. Like, I was like, I really want to know, and I like, and things having—because even when you’re writing something, you’re crafting it. You’re like, oh, that’s a bit cruel. I want it, I want this to feel warm in the heart of it. And I didn’t know how much I cared about that until we were writing it. Does that make any sense? So I didn’t want it to be clever and shiny. I was like, I know I would choose, I would choose this being low-key, but with a, in the end, people feeling warmth. And like I didn’t realize how much I cared about that. I would choose that over it being cool any second of the day. I think that’s something I felt. And then I think there’s probably other things that after a few year if I watch it again, because I was too close to it still, that’s I’ll go, oh gosh, that’s interesting. I didn’t know that, you know? Oh, I was sort of saying that, we were saying that, why would we say? You know what I mean? I think that will probably happen.


Ana Marie Cox: And do you think you’re a kinder person coming out of the other end of two seasons?


Daisy Haggard: I don’t know. Or maybe, yeah, maybe it combined with like, have some kind of. I don’t know, my kids and suddenly like things, things for me in my head shifting and sort of my personal priorities shifting, you know? Maybe, but I don’t know. But it definitely made, it definitely filled me, I don’t know, it definitely made me feel like, oh, I want this show to be really a human. I want people to feel, you know, because it’s a tough subject, there’s lots of things, but I want them to feel like, that I did feel. I want them to feel warmth at the end.


Ana Marie Cox: Well, thank you so much for coming on this show.


Daisy Haggard: Thank you for having me. Thanks.


Ana Marie Cox: A big thanks to Daisy Haggard for talking to me and for putting a face on a story of redemption. Again, the show is “Back to Life” on Showtime, and the season finale for Season 2 is airing on Monday, October 18. Andy Gardner-Bernstein is our producer. Patrick Antonetti is our audio editor. And please, take care of yourselves.