Phoebe Waller-Bridge reveals 'nefarious agenda' in Indiana Jones role

British TV star makes Hollywood debut as quick-witted Helena in the franchise's finale, but things are not quite as they seem on the surface

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Yes, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny does have all the familiar appeal of the Raiders of the Lost Ark archives.

Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones is still the world’s coolest archaeologist (on screen or off) and a little more grizzled than in his 2008 outing in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; the Nazis have returned, this time in the shape of a former member who works for Nasa in 1960s America; and Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are back working behind the scenes, this time as executive producers.

However, as with any good sequel, there’s just as much fun to be had with the new. Few elements of Dial of Destiny are as enjoyable as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fast-talking, wise-cracking Helena Shaw – Indy’s goddaughter.

Waller-Bridge, best known for her starring role in the Bafta-winning BBC comedy Fleabag, brings a whirlwind of chaos, humour and drama as Helena.

Her arrival comes as Indy's life reaches a crossroads, with the world around him looking increasingly unfamiliar and unfriendly, as well as forced retirement looming as a result. Could she be just the tonic he needs? “She's the right person to come into his life at this time, because it feels like he's in a bit of an emotional cul-de-sac in his life,” says Waller-Bridge.

“He's living in a time where the focus has shifted – people are looking to the future, to the Moon, and there isn't as much passion for what he is passionate about. So she brings a breeze of joy from his past, and the relationship he had with her father and, of course, she brings a passion for archaeology.”

Helena also brings some adventure back into Indy’s life as the pair set off in search of the mysterious dial, but things are not quite as they seem on the surface.

“She lights him up again, and she's very clever for doing that because she actually has her own nefarious agenda,” Waller-Bridge teases.

Helena is no two-dimensional token female lead, an element of the role that undoubtedly appealed. But when writer and director James Mangold told her he had beloved Hollywood star Barbara Stanwyck – star of Hollywood's Golden Age and a long-time heroine of Waller-Bridge – in mind when he created Helena, the actress was initially daunted.

“She’s an idol of mine, and that’s both a blessing and a curse,” she says. “There's something so fresh and charming about her but then, particularly in a film like The Lady Eve, she's also morally questionable. There was also something very modern about the way that she communicated and performed.”

These were all elements that Waller-Bridge tried to bring to the role.

“Helena feels like a modern woman, in terms of the time that we were coming into,” she explains. “She has this fierce independence and she's carved this place out in the world for herself, and refuses to need anybody else. She’s so much fun, but tough as hell. That essence seems to be captured in every single performance Barbara Stanwyck ever gave, so I sort of clung to that throughout.”

Waller-Bridge may have looked to a legend from Hollywood history for some of the inspiration for her character, but she didn’t need to look far across the set to see a genuine legend of modern Tinseltown in the shape of Ford.

The actor, 80, has starred in some of Hollywood’s most popular films and franchises, including Star Wars, Blade Runner, Witness (earning an Oscar nomination), American Graffiti and, of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

On screen, Indy struggles to act as a mentor, in the traditional sense, to the chaotic and headstrong Helena. Off-screen, however, the storied actor was able to offer more of a guiding hand to the actress playing her. Despite her glittering career on TV, both as a writer and actress, she is making her debut in Hollywood as a lead.

With that in mind, one particular piece of advice from one of film's best-known leading stars to her was: “'You have to really care until the camera turns on, and then you have to stop caring, because if they can see you caring then you've lost it,'” Waller-Bridge recounts about Ford's words.

She adds: “I think that works just to, sort of, snap you out of something just before you start the work so you don't care too much in the moment.”

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is out in UAE cinemas now

Updated: June 30, 2023, 1:05 PM