Star-studded Roar Is Apple’s Dramatic New Anthology

Nicole Kidman, Issa Rae and more head up an anthology that delves into the female experience with absurdist aplomb

Nicole Kidman, Issa Rae and more head up an anthology that delves into the female experience with absurdist aplomb

When GLOW creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch started thinking about adapting Irish novelist Cecelia Ahern’s book of deliciously visual and absurdist short stories about women navigating society, they faced an unusual dilemma. While Ahern’s vivid descriptions were like catnip to the two writer-producers, they knew the setup alone would not be enough to keep an audience peeled to the eight half-hour episodes. “‘The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf’ is one of the most striking visuals, but in telling the story of what is basically a literalization of a trophy wife, do we have something to say besides the image? Is there more there for us? Because if there’s not, then it’ll feel empty,” explains Flahive. “What are we trying to provoke besides just hitting you with the image? What are we using the literalization or the magical realism for?”

RoarApple TV+In Roar the television series, Flahive, Mensch and their female collaborators take Ahern’s material to the next level, hitting universal notes through some truly unique experiences. Take, for example, “The Woman Who Was Fed by a Duck,” where Godless Emmy-winner Merritt Wever’s character Elisa, whose dating life leaves much to be desired, strikes up a conversation with a duck in the park (voiced by Weeds alum Justin Kirk) and the two begin a relationship that soon turns toxic. In Ahern’s book, Elisa merely gets a talking to by the bird, but Mozart in the Jungle and Kidding writer Halley Feiffer saw beyond the duck’s “helpful” nature. “Halley was like, ‘The duck is really mansplainy,’ and I just started thinking about Elisa getting into a relationship with a duck who was terrible,” says Flahive. “We went on that ride and somehow convinced everybody, with the help of [executive producer] Nicole Kidman, who was cheerleading that story in particular, that we were going to push it that far and see if we could do it.”

RoarApple TV+Wever, a longtime friend of the two creators since their days on Nurse Jackie, was immediately onboard for the project. Yet, while fully supportive of Flahive’s directorial debut, Wever didn’t think working with a real-life duck would be a picnic in the park. “I thought that we were going to be grabbing little snippets whenever we could, that we’d get a few lines out and the duck would run away or the duck would crap or the duck would start to speak,” she says. “I really thought that was going to be the challenge of the shoot—and it wasn’t. Really quickly, we found our sweet spot. I would be talking to this live duck—that is very much an alive creature, listening to me, looking at me and making head movements as if he’s responding to what he hears. And right off camera, we have Justin Kirk, day after day, take after take, acting with me like I would with any normal scene partner.”

RoarApple TV+Being able to make one episode of the anthology series—which also stars Issa Rae, Cynthia Erivo, Betty Gilpin, Alison Brie and Kidman herself—was a way for Wever to try something new without commitment. “I read it and was like, ‘It’s a way to do something that’s a risk and that’s challenging but in a bite-sized piece,’” says Wever. “One of the pros of an anthology series for actors is that sometimes they’re given the opportunity to do something really different but it’s palatable time-wise.”

For Flahive and Mensch, who are no strangers to serialized television, it was also a way to expand their professional horizons. “The catnip was, ‘This is going to look so different. We’re going to get to play so differently,’” recalls Flahive. “Each episode is going to have its own thing—which is a different pressure as a writer than carrying something from beginning to end in a series. You’re like, ‘I have to nail this in this episode. And now I have to nail this in this episode. And even though I nailed those two, if we don’t nail this in this episode…’ That was the joy and the pain of making the show.”

RoarApple TV+While Wever hopes the fantastical and comedic elements of the show will lower the threshold into stories about issues that can normally be hard to digest, Flahive is eager for these feminist fables to not be seen just as female stories. “They’re stories with females at the centre, but I don’t ever call an anthology series with men at the centre a male anthology series,” says the writer. “It’s tricky, because I’m very proud that we’re centring these all-female protagonists. And yet I think this series is for everybody. Making it with all-female directors and making sure we have a diverse slate of people all around the crew supporting those stories also felt meaningful to us. But that would be the case if I was making a show with a bunch of male protagonists. That doesn’t change.”

Roar debuts Friday, April 15th on Apple TV+