fb-pixel Skip to main content

Sharon Horgan has the goods on ‘Bad Sisters’

From left: Eve Hewson, Sharon Horgan, Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle, and Sarah Greene in “Bad Sisters.”Apple TV+

Sharon Horgan grew up with four siblings in a close Irish family. Over the past decade, Horgan has been a creative force on shows like “Catastrophe,” “Divorce,” “Motherland,” and “Shining Vale,” demonstrating a flair for excavating the messiness of a character’s interior turmoil while finding the dark comedy in the mundane of everyday existence.

So when Apple TV+ wanted to adapt the Flemish series “Clan,” in which a group of sisters plot the demise of a particularly heinous brother-in-law, Horgan leaped at the chance. She set the series, now called “Bad Sisters,” in Ireland and reworked the story line to match her sensibility.


The series, premiering Friday, opens with John Paul (or J.P.) already dead. In the present, a misfit pair of half-brothers (Brian Gleeson and Daryl McCormack) must prove something untoward happened to him in a desperate effort to salvage their family insurance business. In flashbacks, we see the events leading up to J.P.’s end.

Horgan, 52, stars as Eva, the eldest sister, who is childless but who often treats her siblings as if she’s the parent. Anne-Marie Duff plays Grace, who is shrinking in the shadow of the bullying J.P. (Claes Bang). He not only gaslights her but takes malevolent pleasure in tormenting the other sisters. He undermines Eva’s shot at promotion at the architecture firm where they both work. He discovers that Ursula (Eva Birthistle) is having an affair and blackmails her. His recklessness has caused Bibi (Sarah Greene) grievous physical harm, and he has purposely wrecked the business plan for Becka’s (Eve Hewson) massage studio.

From left: Sarah Greene, Claes Bang, Anne-Marie Duff, and Eva Birthistle in “Bad Sisters.”Apple TV+

The sisters (except Grace) gradually realize that the only solution is offing this awful man. But their attempts at murder mostly go foul, destroying property, killing a pet, blinding an innocent man. For all that, the show, while paced as a thriller, remains mordantly funny and is a revealing character study of this tight-knit clan. In other words, typical Sharon Horgan.


She spoke by video from her home in the United Kingdom recently.

Q. Do you usually think of characters and their struggles first and then build their stories, or vice versa?

A. Usually it’s characters and their struggles first. With “Catastrophe” Rob Delaney and I would think of who we wanted those people to be — even for the secondary characters we’d dig into who they were first — and then we’d think about how they’d respond to different scenarios and build the story out from there. When you start with character, then story sort of finds you.

It’s different with “Bad Sisters” because we’re adapting a show. I did want to reimagine it quite a bit, especially in terms of how Irishness and the Irish family play a part and what it means to be an outsider in a small town in Ireland, and the role religion plays. But in the writers’ room it was all about who these girls were and who they were to each other and their standing within the family.

Q. J.P. is supremely awful. Was there any hesitancy in piling on the horrific traits, or was it the ideal way of both providing for dark comedy and calling attention to damage done by self-absorbed and privileged white men.

A. It was a tricky line to tread. It worked for the genre, to make it entertaining that he just got worse and worse. The sisters are sort of doing versions of the same thing every week but it gets bigger and crazier so the only way the story could work would be for him to become a bigger and bigger monster. Then you’ll stay on board with the sisters and want him dead more than you did at the beginning.


There’s a reality TV show here called “Love Island,” where young men and young women pair up and you see terrible patterns of coercive behavior, gaslighting. But behaviors that might seem controlling but not catastrophic are really unhealthy when you break down a woman like that.

And in reality, with a lot of abusive relationships it is very hidden. For us it made sense that what you’re shown to begin with is just the tip of the iceberg and it will only get worse, because often that’s what happens.

Q. Your shows seem to be getting darker thematically. Is that your worldview changing?

A. I think all our worldviews are getting darker, aren’t they? I don’t know anyone who’s in a normal life situation right now. Even those friends in solid situations are questioning everything now.

Q. Was creating a thriller something you’d wanted to do?

A. This adaptation just fell into my lap. I don’t think I’d have taken on a thriller. I love writing about family, about love and hate. But it’s great to push myself out of my comfort zone. I went into this having no clue how to attack a thriller. It’s a completely different way of thinking. Your brain starts working in a different way and it’s fun.


I hope I’ve grown as a writer. I think so.

Sharon Horgan in "Bad Sisters."Apple TV+

Q. “Bad Sisters” is also clever visually and sonically fascinating, from the credit sequence on. How involved were you with all those details?

A. All over it to the point of distraction. “Who By Fire” by Leonard Cohen popped into my head for the credits. I’m a fan of his and it’s a perfect song, listing ways to die, but I wanted a female vocal, and I wanted it to be influenced by Appalachia folk music, and I love Bulgarian choral sounds because they’re so female. I was involved with the songs and music all the way through. It’s hugely time consuming but one of the most fun bits feeding the atmosphere of the show, and you get to pretend to be a musician and pretend you know what you’re on about. And you always learn something.

Q. So are you a bit like Eva, staying in control, not letting go?

A. I would say yes. Sometimes it’s unnecessary. Sometimes I feel I need to be in three places at once and I probably don’t. But it really helps even if it is a bit of a stretch. To my mind it makes a difference to have one voice looking down on the whole thing and dealing with the micro as well as the macro. You get hung up on the small stuff but it makes something really quality.


Q. You’re running this show, writing “Shining Vale,” executive producing “Housebroken, acting in other series and movies like “Together.” Do you sleep?

A. Oh, I sleep, that’s really important. But I am good at using my time well. Sometimes I love working on something to the bone for three years, but sometimes it’s amazing to create an idea like “Shining Vale” and then you find the right people and just let it go. And doing films, that feels like a busman’s holiday — you go off for six weeks and do your thing and then it’s someone else’s problem. So it always sounds like I’m more of a lunatic than I am.

Interview has been edited and condensed.