Each episode of Apple TV+’s star-studded new anthology Roar is a feminist story wrapped in a surreal narrative. Created by GLOW’s Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, the show swivels between entertaining and forthright in some very bizarre ways. (Check out our ranking of each episode based on their weirdness.) Nicole Kidman’s character, for instance, eats photographs to preserve her memories, while Betty Gilpin’s onscreen persona lives on a shelf as a literal trophy wife. Issa Rae and Fivel Stewart also lead their own episodes, as do four other actors who recently fielded our questions: Cynthia Erivo, Alison Brie, Merritt Wever, and Meera Syal.
Erivo plays new mom Ambia, who struggles with the guilt of going back to work, and it manifests as bite marks all over her body that increasingly get worse until she seeks help. Brie’s Becky is a ghost determined to solve her recent murder, which unfolds into a larger case about violence towards women. Wever portrays Elisa, who feels pressure from her perfectionist, pregnant sister to get married and develops an odd romance with a talking duck that turns toxic. And Syal tackles Anu, a woman who returns her husband to the store to go on a mission of self-discovery. The A.V. Club spoke to Erivo, Brie, Wever, and Syal about what drew them to Roar and their unusual episodes.
The A.V. Club: How did you get to be part of Roar? What was compelling about this particular anthology and the episode that you lead?
Cynthia Erivo: The reason I was drawn to the show is that I loved the idea of each story being singular, but you’re still taking something away from it, learning about women who go through things they maybe shouldn’t have to. My episode was the one sent to me. I fell in love with it. It’s a visceral way to learn about this working mother’s experience, but it’s dealt with empathy. I liked how it’s intriguing, light, and manages to keep my character fabulous.
Alison Brie: I actually knew very little about the show when Liz and Carly reached out. I had just worked with them on GLOW. I would say yes to anything they were doing; I loved working with them and trusted them. I know our goals are aligned in terms of the stories we like to tell. It was exciting. Also when you get a call where they say, “We’re doing this anthology with Nicole Kidman, Cynthia Erivo, and all these other stars, and we want you to star in an episode,” I was immediately in. Thematically as a series, I love the idea of taking ordinary female characters and putting them in extraordinary circumstances. Roar is relatable in terms of the female experience. There was a globally appealing thing to it. It’s surreal but grounded in truth.
Merritt Wever: For my episode, I liked the idea of something so unreal and unbelievable, romancing the duck, but then making it feel real and believable. That’s all our jobs as actors, but I felt in this circumstance, that tension is very heightened. I liked that I had to make this dynamic and relationship between her and the duck feel honest.
Meera Syal: My agent shared the incredible script with me and I thought I’d have to do loads of auditions. But I had a chat with Liz, Carly, and Vera Santamaria, the writer of my episode. By the end of the conversation, they asked me to do it. That never happens. Vera had a clear vision of who she wanted Anu to be; she was kind of based on her mum, also a South Asian who grew up in Britain. I can’t tell you how rare it is to get a part with this much range—the lows and highs of the tragedy and comedy—for a woman who looks like me and is my age. I also liked that Roar was female-driven in terms of the creative team. It’s a women’s gaze from top to bottom, and it’s genre-bending.
AVC: The show has such a bizarre concept in each episode. What was challenging about that aspect?
AB: My episode was a fun challenge because I’ve never played a ghost. I had no idea how that worked, or what doing it would look like. Maybe the biggest challenge was mirroring the character in the sense that; she is dead but trying to connect with the rest of the characters. As the actor, I’m trying to be seen and heard by screaming over everyone’s dialogue because no one can apparently see me. I’m trying to have chemistry with Hugh Dancy [who plays a detective], but he never looks me right in the eye. He’s always looking a little to the side. That felt weird.
MW: Very understandably the stuff with Larry, the duck, is front and center. It’s the flashy thing. There are some real rom-com vibes. I thought the hardest part would be acting opposite a piece of tape or something and the rest would be faked, but the animal was there. It wasn’t fully CGI. A duck was physically present for some scenes and was a very alive listening to my dialogue. It helped that Justin Kirk, who voices Larry, generously came in and stayed scene after scene. He would do his dialogue right off camera, just out of my sightline. I had that focus point too so it was great.
MS: The stuff with returning the husband to the store, and actually being in the store, were actually my favorite bits to shoot. We did them at a Costco. Just seeing a husband’s aisle with a price tag on each of them was hilarious. The store we filmed at was open to customers at the time; a lot of them were sticking their heads to see what we were up to. Some women joked to say “Can we drop off ours here?” It was nice to see the episode already feel relatable.
AVC: How do you think your half-hour lends to Roar’s overall feminist approach and message?
CE: With my episode, I think the watcher understands how visceral the feeling is of motherhood, marriage, career, and home life, all happening at once. Women don’t always have the space to talk about it. It does feel like you’re being eaten alive. It adds to Roar showing a large myriad of things women go through that not everyone understands. What I loved is how the show puts all women as equal, no matter if they’re Black, white, Asian, or of any race. We’re all equal; we navigate these issues; and we’re all a part of the experience.
AB: The themes in my episode are so important about women feeling unseen and violence against women. It was well-written and funny. I liked the balancing act of giving a comedic performance that honors these serious themes we’re talking about. She’s trying to connect with Hugh, but the story then transforms into one about female empowerment and connection with Ego’s character, [who’s a smarter but rookie cop]. It’s a nice way to show how women are intrinsically connected, even if it’s unspoken.
MW: Right alongside the duck is my character’s relationship with her sister, [played by Riki Lindhome]. Larry isolates Elisa from her, and they lose touch. Toxic relationships can be like that. The thing that enables Elisa to finally cut it off with the duck is reconnecting with her sister. It’s the most important relationship that makes her turn her life around. I like that she gets to tell her, “We are different, and that’s okay. You need to respect and support that what I want in my life looks different than what you want for me.” Those are important conversations to have.
MS: Anu is a 60-year-old woman who feels like her life is over. She realizes she can still get a second chance out of her stale marriage. Many women relate to that. I think that feeling of missed opportunities is relatable, and I felt that growing up as a South Asian woman. Not so much with my mom, but with other aunties around me who would feel a sense of unfulfilled potential. I myself didn’t want to wake up one day thinking, “I didn’t try.” I connected with that bit of Anu.
Her story ends up being a little bit of a “be careful what you wish for” situation. But she has a moment of liberation, [and] the message is sometimes it’s good to work on what you have instead of throwing it away. There’s some hope and optimism there.