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Sex, Secrets & a Big Decision: Billie Piper Teases End of 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl'

by AOL TV Staff, posted Apr 7th 2011 3:30PM
After three years of steamy romps, big secrets and heavy questions, Showtime's 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' is about to hang up the lingerie forever.

Based on the anonymous autobiography of escort Belle de Jour, 'Secret Diary' has traced the trials, tribulations and, yes, titillation of high-end call-girl Hannah Baxter's (aka Belle) life in London. What has kept the series from crossing the line from guilty pleasure to soft porn has been, among other things, its balance between Hannah, lovely girl-next-door by day, and her alter-ego Belle, leading lady of the night. As the titular star, Billie Piper has ushered Belle over countless hurdles, from revealing her profession to her best friend, Ben (Iddo Goldberg), to falling for her editor, Duncan (James D'Arcy).

In its fourth and final season (premiering Thursday, April 7, 10:30PM ET), Belle faces a new set of challenges, starting with the sudden stewardship of her boss Stephanie's (Cherie Lunghi) escort business and daughter Poppy (Lily James) when Stephanie finds herself behind bars. Perhaps the toughest question, though, is the one that's been there from the start: whether to continue her life as a call-girl, with all its glamour, money and freedom, or to finally commit to Ben, with all the mundane components that make up a "normal" life.

Piper spoke with us about the "bittersweet" completion of the series, the "slightly flawed" notion of modern feminism, how she's handled playing a sex worker for four years, and what's next for Belle -- and for herself.

TV Squad: What has been different about this past season for you, personally, and what has it been like moving on from it?
Billie Piper: The last season to film was just so much fun, more fun than ever -- I think because we had this gung-ho nature to it, and [we were] wanting to go out on a bang, and slightly more bells and whistles, and it's more heightened and more fantastical than it's ever been before. But at the heart of the story is that burning question, whether [Belle] will choose real love and commitment and emotion and children and something slightly more ordinary to working as a prostitute. And so it was quite full of ideas and emotion. It was just a blast, and now I feel slightly bereft that it's done.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Billie PiperThe show's new energy and sense of fun are clear in the first few episodes of the season. What kinds of new challenges were wrapped into that for you?
It's all a lot of challenges. The comedy is quite challenging, because you want to make it real, but palatable, and then have a little twist at the edge. There was a scene with the baby guy [spoiler alert: one of Belle's clients role-plays as a baby], I found that concept ... I just thought, "I can't do that. It's just wrong." And then I met up with the writers and we researched the story, and it turns out these people exist and it's not really a sexual thing, it's more about being taken care of and mothered and cradled and being submissive. But when we were shooting I found it quite hard to keep a straight face.

Some of the tensions that have run through the series are heightened this season. Early on, for example, there's the scene with Ben's mom calling Hannah out on her idea of feminism. How do you view Hannah's her role as a feminist, per se, versus how she sees herself?
I think it's hard, isn't it, because it's such a sticky subject matter. When I first started playing that role, when I first read the script, I found it very hard to believe that those kind of women in that profession really [could be feminists]. I was quite judgmental about it. I thought "I'm not entirely sure that there's any way that you could be that way and feel liberated and independent and call yourself an out-and-out feminist." It's a very gray area.

What happens with the character of Belle is that it starts off being, "This is who I am, this is what I am, it's all fine, I'm in control," to feeling like she questions her ideas of feminism, and mostly down to the relationships that she forms with Ben and other people. It's something she starts to question more and more. Actually nowadays, it's really hard to define feminism in a way, because it's hard saying "we're strong women, we're career women, we make our own cash, and [yet] we wear provocative clothes, and say provocative things," and the whole idea feels slightly flawed now to some extent.

What Belle's very extraordinary life encapsulates for a lot of women watching is the tension between this idea of independence versus the "normalcy" that Ben represents -- and the compromises one has to make therein. How do you view that dynamic?
It is a massive kind of compromise. In one breath it's like "this is my life" and, on the surface, very enviable, but it would take a certain kind of person to be able to do that as a profession. And as much as [it looks] like it can be easy, I think [Belle] has to be wrapped in a lot of emotional binding. She has to be stand-alone and compartmentalize her life. And as much as I'd like to have that amazing wardrobe, I wouldn't want it in place of feeling extreme love, and comfort and [being] faithful and loyal to one person.

In terms of your character's specific experiences in Season 4, Belle now has Poppy in her life. What kind of role will she play for Belle?
She's the fresh eye. She's the one with opinions. She's not living that [prostitute's life], she's shocked by it, and she questions it, and she's the most real part of that dynamic. I think that's quite needed when you're dealing with something like this, to be the eyes and ears ...

Is that going to change for Poppy? Is she going to grow to embrace these ways, or will she be able to maintain her naiveté in the thick of all this?
I'm not sure she entirely approves. But her mother has amounted to something she has to come to terms with, and I think you have to see where it goes ...

As for Poppy's mother, Stephanie: Is jail going to change her?
More than jail changing her, I think her daughter is the one to change her.

Ben & Hannah, 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl'Ben of course has his struggles that continue. How will we see him evolve, and maybe too where he'll crack?
Yeah, he loses it. He wants to be with [Hannah], he lays himself bare ... and I think he reaches a point where he can't handle it anymore. And he lets her know what he thinks about it.

'Secret Diary' has seen four seasons and been a big investment of time for you. What has the experience been like, working on the series and getting to know your character?
It's been an absolute joy and pleasure to be able to play a role like that. Those kinds of roles are few and far between, and to do the comedy, and drama, and the slightly fantastical, and also to be around and present on set all the time. ... It's also been quite stressful because of the subject, and some people can get upset about it, and you feel bad about that, like you're not being responsible. So it's a real emotional roller-coaster. But I wouldn't change any of it for the world.

In terms of your sense of responsibility, was it something you were able to make peace with? And if so, how did you ultimately make peace with it?
I don't know that I have 100 percent successfully. I just have to get on with it, and expect people know that I'm an actress, and I'm not a poster girl for prostitution, and that it's a story, and it's one person's story, and that it's not applicable to every prostitute's life. So you just have to be very realistic about it, and also know how you feel about that subject.

Now that it's all wrapped, what's next for you, and what types of projects are you looking for?
It will be really hard to find anything like that, but I'd love to do more cable work, because I think the roles there are brilliant. I'd love to do maybe independent film -- we're looking to develop and produce things in the U.K. It's a busy time, and an exciting time, and it's nice to have freedom to start over.

Interview by Anna Diamond.

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