How Personal Connection Lead to Story Selection for Apple TV Plus' 'Roar'

Co-creator and co-showrunner Liz Flahive talks about adapting 'Roar,' including how executive producer and actor Nicole Kidman inspired them to go big.
by Danielle Turchiano — 

Cynthia Erivo in 'Roar'

Apple TV+

The old adage says to write what you know, and that can go for adaptations of others' writing, too.

That approach proved fruitful for Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, the creators and showrunners of Roar, Apple TV+'s anthological adaptation of Cecelia Ahern's 2018 short story collection of the same title. The collection features 30 individual stories about different women and the unique issues they struggle with, from dematerializing as one ages, to feeling so embarrassed about an action that the woman is swallowed by a literal black hole. The first season of the series, though, only consists of eight episodes, which Flahive, Mensch, and their writers Vera Santamaria, Janine Nabers, and Halley Feiffer selected based on their own personal connection to the material.

A story that Flahive says was very personal to both her and Mensch was "The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin." This woman (played by Cynthia Erivo) is returning to work after her second maternity leave, feeling constant pressure to be on the top of her game professionally while also being a supermom and spending a lot of time with her husband (played by Jake Johnson) and two young children, and it manifests as literal, bloody markings on her body.

"We can access some real easy maternal guilt every day of the week, and it just felt like a really interesting challenge for us to dig into a horror vibe, which was something we had never done. It was a great push and a stretch for us and very satisfying, frankly, to work that out in that way, creatively," she tells Metacritic.

The showrunners started there but then sent their writers the book and told them to "pick a few stories you actually respond to and then let's talk."

"We kicked those around and landed on the ones that felt very right for them, and then Carly and I went back to the book and chose some others. And also, we wanted to give ourselves the challenge of, 'OK can you write some that are inspired by the book?'" Flahive continues.


Issa Rae in 'Roar'

Apple TV+

In that vein, Ahern's "The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared," about a middle-aged woman with a genetic condition that caused people to be unable to see her as she got older, became "The Woman Who Disappeared," about a Black woman (played by Issa Rae) trying to rise in the ranks of Hollywood but not being seen by the white executives with whom she is meeting. Nabers wrote this episode.

"We played with the idea of keeping age a part of it, but it made the metaphor a little murky. It became more clearly a Hollywood cautionary tale about commodification of Black art in the wake of Black Lives Matter," Flahive says. "There's something about the crispness and the clarity of these jumping off points that lets you have your fun and lets you get messier in other ways, which we thought was really cool."

Feiffer picked out "The Woman Who Was Fed by a Duck," which Flahive admits neither she nor Mensch "really cared about" until Feiffer contextualized it for them. "She was like, 'That duck was mansplaining and toxic and it made me think about what if the woman got into a thing with a toxic duck.' And we were like, 'Huh. Can we do that?'" Flahive recalls.

The answer, of course, is yes. That episode stars Merritt Wever and Justin Kirk as the voice of the duck Wever's character connects with in the park, moves into her home, and starts a romantic relationship with.


Merritt Wever in 'Roar'

Apple TV+

"Everyone was a little nervous about the duck episode, and it was [executive producer and actor] Nicole Kidman who was like, 'Look, if we're not doing something like this, then why are we doing the show?' which buoyed everybody," Flahive admits.

Ahern's source material is magically-realistic fairy tales, and Flahive and Mensch kept that tone intact for their series, but Flahive notes, they "didn't want to totally run away with a magical realism circus, because if you do, for me, sometimes that stuff can become a little cold or a little distancing [and] you lose the grounded, emotional thread."

At the same time, though, she knew that bringing metaphors to life might allow the audience to have "a more open dialogue," even with themselves. Because of this — and because they were dealing in big, emotional themes and issues that women have faced since the beginning of time, from the aforementioned abusive relationships, to murder, dissatisfaction, and being seen as property — that was not a responsibility Flahive nor the rest of the team behind the show took lightly.

"When I think about 'The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf,' Carly and I had conversations where we were like, 'Look, this a very cool visual, but we have [to have] something complicated to say,'" Flahive explains. "We had to have something deeper to grapple with. There's so much we impose on female characters. And when Betty Gilpin sits on the shelf, there are 800 things going on at once, which made it messier, made it more complex."


Betty Gilpin in 'Roar'

Apple TV+

"The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf" stars Gilpin as a woman who agrees to spend her days on a human-size shelf in her husband's (played by Daniel Dae Kim) home office so he can see her at all times and, ideally, appreciate her as a piece of art. But when he gets busy and doesn't look at her all of the time, things take a turn.

"It let us have conversations about the male gaze, but also about what it's like when you want to be looked at. There was a point where we were standing on set and Daniel Dae Kim was like, 'Go up there and let me love you,' and Carly and I were so beat after filming and being with our children, we were like, 'We'll get on the shelf!'" Flahive says with a laugh.

The other stories Flahive, Mensch, and team adapted from Ahern's book are "The Woman Who Ate Photographs," starring Kidman as the titular woman who literally ingests her family's memories; "The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder," starring Alison Brie as a ghost who uncovers a secret dark side to someone she thought she knew well, posthumously, of course; "The Woman Who Returned Her Husband," starring Meera Syal as a woman who is dissatisfied with the life and relationship she has had and looks for a spousal exchange; and "The Girl Who Loved Horses," starring Fivel Stewart as a young woman on a revenge journey.

"It was hard but thrilling because we'd never done this before, and then in eight days, we were gonna do something new," Flahive says of creating each unique episode.

Roar is


Get to know Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch:
Prior to creating and running, Roar, Flahive and Mensch also created and ran GLOW (Metascore: 82) and were writers and producers on Nurse Jackie (75). Flahive also previously worked as a writer-producer on Homeland (81), while Mensch was a writer and a producer on Weeds (71) and Orange Is the New Black (80).