The ‘Bad Sisters’ cast on the liberating joys of attempted murder

Five women sit at a festive dinner table.
Eve Hewson, from left, Sharon Horgan, Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle and Sarah Greene star in “Bad Sisters.” “People are grateful, delighted and inspired to see all of these incredible female characters,” Duff says.
(Apple TV+)

For her Apple TV+ series “Bad Sisters,” Sharon Horgan adapted the dark Flemish farce “Clan” into a character-centered — and very Irish — comic mystery with disturbing yet empowering contemporary resonance. Writer-producer Horgan (“Catastrophe”) also plays the eldest of the five Garvey sisters, Eva, who since their parents’ deaths has been surrogate mother to tremulous Grace (Anne-Marie Duff), nurse and unfulfilled wife Ursula (Eva Birthistle), eyepatch-sporting lesbian Bibi (Sarah Greene) and still-wild child Becka (Eve Hewson).

Over 10 episodes (the series has recently been picked up for a second season), the others plot and repeatedly bungle attempts to kill Grace’s outwardly pious, but actually conniving and sadistic husband, John Paul (Danish actor Claes Bang), whose controlling abuse is turning their sibling into a ghost of her former self.

“There are great male characters in it,” Horgan is quick to point out, lest members of the weaker sex fear being unloved, during a Zoom meeting each actor has logged onto. “It was really important to show that when you have a villain like John Paul at the heart of it.”


Affectionate sarcasm, serious concerns and the word “lovely” abound as the Celtic ensemble discusses the liberating joys of attempted murder and creating a close, contentious fictional family. Their conversation here has been edited for length and clarity.

Your sisterly rapport just comes off so naturally onscreen. How did that develop?

Sarah Greene: We were really lucky. Dearbhla Walsh, our first locked director, organized for us to have roughly two weeks of rehearsal. We got to see her vision for the look and the vibe of the show, worked through all the scenes together and do lovely things like go swimming in a pool together. It really bonded us, and it flowed very nicely and seamlessly into filming, and we just got closer and closer.

While her sisters are conspiring to kill her husband, Grace is somewhat isolated from the group. Did you ever feel that way?

Anne-Marie Duff: It could be really lonely at times because of that. That’s the nature of abuse, right? Grace had this very controlling husband who made damn sure that [she] never saw [her] family, which meant in the filming process I didn’t get to see the other girls as much. It was weirdly useful. Grace has lost her sense of self. She’s kind of this furious little shape-shifter. The challenge for me was making sure that she felt like a human being, but one that had kind of lost its skin and didn’t recognize themselves.

Ursula’s going through almost as much, especially after J.P. tricks her into sending him an intimate photo when she thinks she’s sexting her lover.


Eva Birthistle: She’s having an extramarital affair; she’s not proud of herself for it, but she feels like she’s with somebody who fully understands her. She’s lamenting her younger adult life, which she didn’t really get to explore because she married young after losing her parents. Then J.P. does that awful deed and blackmails her. It just meant that I had an awful lot to play, which is lovely. Then it was a case of deciding when to play the inner anxiety of a person’s life and when to get caught up in everybody else’s.

Becka’s the least mature, yet has to deal with the greatest guilt when her attempt at killing J.P. turns tragic.

Eve Hewson: It just breaks her in a really painful way. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that she thinks she’s the screw-up, then she’s supposed to have a hero moment and she messes it all up. So it’s a double whammy of guilt and grief. It’s sad, and hard to watch.

Yet you also sell Becka’s fun-loving side. Couldn’t have been easy while shooting under COVID protocols. They were strict, right?

Hewson: We did a sex scene in Becka’s apartment. It was raining outside that day, so the entire crew were in that tiny little room. We did that kissing scene in Episode 5 and clothes were coming off — we were close contact. Then at 11 o’clock that night, I got a call from the COVID supervisor. I was like, “Oh, no, what have I done?” I had all of the symptoms and everything, but I never tested positive — until finally I did a few months ago.

Darkly funny as it is, “Bad Sisters” is at its core a cautionary tale about the dangers of toxic masculinity. Have any of you had experiences with a man as awful as J.P.?


Birthistle: Through many discussions, we all agreed that we’d had some brush with men like that, be it a sister’s or a friend’s boyfriend or an ex-boyfriend. We all knew at least one, but probably many men like that, which is unfortunate but the truth of it. That’s what made it all very relatable and feel so authentic.

Greene: I have had lots of messages from people saying that J.P. reminded them of their ex-husbands or their sister is married to someone like him, and that’s quite frightening.

Sharon Horgan: The responsibility of putting that kind of a relationship onscreen was a lot, but I knew it would pay off. Even though it’s a story that has a lot more going on in it and at times is crazy and madcap, that plotline is so, so real. I think it’s incredibly helpful for people to see it depicted onscreen. And there’s a general catharsis because of the world we’re currently living in. I’m really glad I made J.P. an anti-abortion character.

Duff: Sometimes we can underestimate the ripple effects we can have when we tell a story. You only have to look to Iran to see there’s a real sense of uprising. People are grateful, delighted and inspired to see all of these incredible female characters.