Paramount Network has been slowly rolling out their original programming, and a part of that initiative includes American Woman, a 30-minute comedy based loosely on the childhood of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Star, Kyle Richards.
Starring Alycia Silverstone, Mena Suvari, and Jennifer Bartels, the show takes a look at women from the 1970s and the issues they dealt with including their sense of self and agency in relationships, employment, parenting, and many other areas.
Bartels stars as Diana, a kind and struggling junior loan officer who lives with her mother, takes pride in her work but finds it difficult to be proud of her job while living alongside the rich and famous, and hopes to find love even as she continues proving to herself she's just as exciting as all of her peers.
We had the opportunity to chat with Jennifer by telephone recently and discovered she's just as charming as Diana. We covered topic ranging from appearing on a start-up network to wearing vintage 1970's fashions. I hope you enjoy excerpts from the discussion, below.
What's it like launching on a new network? Do you feel like you're receiving enough support and promotion and people are finding their way to the show?
Yeah, so I think the show is doing good, and it's just really nice that it's like settling in because it's so hard launching a new network, having a new show that's a period piece and I feel like it's finding its voice. It's gaining a nice allegiance of solid followers. It's a really nice feeling.
It was first meant for TV Land, right?
I mean, that's like public knowledge. Then we were shifted over to Paramount Network, and I've done ... I wrote, produced and starred in a show called, Friends of the People, and it was TruTV's first launch into scripted television.
So, I've been a part of spearheading a new network, and it is difficult, you're shifting, Spike's demographic was all men, and we love men watching our show but you know it's women finding ... You're finding a new network what does that mean? What is this channel?
Then, you're finding this new audience you hope to gain that is a female demographic where once was housed mostly male shows. So, it hasn't been, it's not a breeze, but I feel like this show is up for the challenge and I think it's nice that it's paired with something like Yellowstone because they are so different.
I think it's slow and steady. I mean with most network revamps or starts of new networks it takes time, you just got to be patient. Which I'm an actor, I'm not patient.
It felt like the wait was forever. As a '70s kid, I was so excited about the show, and then there was a delay and even a new network!
Yeah, yeah. Tell me about it, trust me. As the actor in it, I was like, 'Are we serious? Season two Diana is going to be 53 years old which is fine, but she's going to look very different.' Yeah, I think that it has been a long process, even from Kyle, who originally conceived the idea and brought it over with John Wells, I mean it's been years. It's been I think four or five years total. That's what Kyle said in an interview, recently.
Then, I was brought on, I auditioned for it with Alicia, and I was brought on in 2016 and finally, now we're just airing it. So, it's been a long journey, but you know it also is a period piece. Also, we are starting a new network, and there's a lot of shifts, you know, a lot of balls that we were thrown.
In the end, I still think we created a really solid show with some good messages. I think that's how I look at it. Yeah, in a world, I'd love it if we shot it, and then it aired a month later, that would have made my life, but you know, it is what it is.
Did you originally audition for Diana?
That was the role. It was, you know it was interesting because it's a very preliminary script you receive and I don't even ... Did I receive the script? I apologize, I don't remember if I received the script or just the sides, but I went in, and it was interesting because the description of the character was very far removed from what I thought I could bring to it.
Not in a bad way, just it was the working friend, the epitome of LA, she was blond, and I was like, 'This isn't ... Okay, I'm going to do it, I'm an actor, I like to role.' I just kind of went in there and brought what my take on it was which maybe was a little bit of a more cynical side to her, and a little more sarcastic and a little more real and deadpan compared to the energy of the other two in the friendship.
So, I read, and then I got to test for it which is a process in auditioning that's never very fun because you go in with other people and you all sign the contract before you go in to audition.
So, you see how your life could change for the better and then you have to leave that at the door and just audition with Alicia Silverstone you're like, 'All right that's not a lot of pressure.' It was a lot.
It was a really great learning experience, and when I see us, when I see the dynamic of us three together, I'm really proud of it because I didn't see that. I mean, I just saw, you know I have blinders on as an actor I didn't know Mena was attached; I didn't know a lot of the stuff that I know now, and I see the chemistry on screen, and it feels right.
I mean, I know it's genuine because I was there, but it feels genuine as a viewer. It feels like a lot of women can relate to one or many traits of each of these characters. I think that's what's cool is that I guess I brought something different to the table and that made me feel good.
What kind of similarities are you finding between the seventies and today that you didn't expect?
I would say some of the similarities, the big one the fact that having a good support system of friendship and women supporting women, I feel like that's something that transcends time. You know if you do have a good support system and you do have good friends in place, it can really help you.
I think society, over the years has started to peg women against each other at times and I think it's really nice to see that a solid friendship can carry you. I think that's something that's similar.
I found that there were more differences, honestly, in this answer, and there's a lot of things. Even [during American Woman Season 1 Episode 4], the episode where we discover Greg's homosexuality.
Alan is gay as well, and someone tweeted me and said, 'Well why wouldn't Alan have just said to Diana when he drove her home he was gay?' I was like, well I responded back, I was like, 'Well in 1975 that was very difficult to do. You know, we're not where we are now.'
So, I guess that there's a lot of differences, I think that Diana's character, the working woman, I feel like we've come a long way within the workplace.
There are still places to go, but I did a lot of research to really understand the differences between what it was like for a woman's experience in 1975 in the workplace with men.
Style, how you approach things, how you speak, you know the different slang that was or wasn't used and those were the things I learned a lot were more of the differences. Like, sexual harassment wasn't a thing, it was kind of part of the culture.
So, there're things I think that a lot of audience members or viewers would say, 'Well why that? Like that seems so trivial.' It's like, 'Well maybe now it is.' The point of the show it to show you that we weren't always where we are.
That it took a lot of strong people, especially women to kind of stick their head out. To create a noise that now is supporting where we are now. I think there are some similarities, but they're broad. I think the differences are what I really leaned into in the show.
Learning about them and treating them with respect because I'm a kid of the eighties so I wanted to make sure that I did the best I could to be like as true to the character and the time period as possible, I think we all did that. We all studied and we shared emails about different documentaries to watch, so, yeah.
As a 21st Century woman, what advice would you give to Diana?
Oh, I feel like, with Diana, I guess I would say ... Hold on I'm trying to switch you over to my car phone ... I guess with Diana, I don't know, I feel like her point of view and her perspective on things, it's just more about her personality.
I think I would tell her to take more risks when it comes to being in the workplace but, again, if I'm being frank and I'm talking about Diana, there's a lot of choices that she makes that I think support the circumstances she was working with.
So, I don't know what I would change, I mean I guess I could say, 'Go, girl, you tell that boss.' But in reality, she'd probably lose her job. So, you know, or, 'Don't let your mother walk all over you like that.' 'Go to therapy with her.' Sure I'd say things like that.
Based on what she was dealing with at the time, I feel like all three of the women are just doing the best they can with what they have. They all have very different amounts of gold to give but they're all just trying to find their footing.
What about playing dress up in the '70s clothes? Was it fun or were you petrified by what you had to wear?
I loved it. I mean I really like Diana's. We see the evolution of the buttoned-up version of Diana and each episode you start to see her, like, throwing balls at a wall to see what sticks -- whether it's with men, or with work or with going too far at a party, trying to find her own voice. I think the clothes reflected that.
You get to see that. Her hairstyle changes. It's really interesting to see the organic evolution of Diana, but I loved the clothes.
Now, there was no stretch in the clothes. So high-waisted pants fit you high waisted. There was a lot of squishing and tucking, but they looked good on camera. I'm glad I prefer the clothes now. I like that our clothes, nowadays, like look like seventies clothes but they're more comforting for women's bodies.
I feel like we're a little more accepting of body type now as well. Which is cool because now there's stretch and Lycra and spandex. There was not that in any of the clothes I wore. I wouldn't look at sizes. I just wanted to make sure it looked good on camera. That's part of my job, to make it look comfortable.
Yeah, it was fun. Judy Gellman was amazing, and it was all vintage.
Was it all vintage? That's great!
Yeah. There was no phoning it in when it came to props, when it came to the clothes, the lighting and how it was shot. The lens was even used, the same lens was used like in The Graduate, it kind of had a stretched ratio.
I try to learn as much as I could on set because we worked with so many talented people that I was the one asking questions a lot. We tried to really stay true, and I feel like a lot of viewers are like, 'That's exactly what my house looked like.' 'I've been to parties like that.' Or, 'I remember days like that.'
That feels so good that it feels genuine.
Were there any scenes cut from the episodes we've seen so far that you wish viewers had gotten a chance to see?
Yeah, I mean things get cut for time and creative vision changes and what moves the story forward because at this point we're trying to gain an audience and to bring people in and understand these characters.
There's a scene in the bank where Alicia's character, Bonnie, and I go in to try to help her get some financial assistance, and my boss is a real butt hole about it. You see the clear roles of men in power and women and Diana's lack of power in her job position.
When you look at it from the big picture, we still get that essence with Tobias who plays Mr. Bishop and Diana's character in other ways. So, you just, creatively, you can't shoot to show everything but that was a fun scene, that was rich scene.
Any scene I do with Mr. Bishop is great. I'm so in love with him [Tobias Jelinek] as an actor. So, those scenes are really wonderful, and we really see, later in the season, their dynamic shifts and shifts in a kind of cool way.
What can you tease that's on the way?
Diana has a fun time. Diana is really, from what I ... When I started reading the initial script and read through, to where we ended up especially with all of our characters, but Diana is so buttoned up and blocked.
She's almost getting in her own way because there's a lot of elements she's working with from taking care of her mother, still living at home, being a single woman, what does that mean? Being a working woman? She just, she tries to start to play any games she can to find out who she is or to take control of who she is.
So that is kind of a sexy journey you get to see that was very challenging and fun for me because it was new.
I come from doing a lot of comedy so the levels and the rich writing that was given to Diana, it was awesome, it was really cool to be entrusted to play this role. She starts up very buttoned up, and I think throughout the series she loses a few buttons that's what I'll say.
Be sure to check out American Woman Season 1 Episode 5 airing tonight on Paramount Network at 10/9c when Diana has a big night out with Alan (oof), Bonnie is full steam ahead with Adam (aah), and Kathleen emphasizes the importance of self-love (uhh?)!!
I'll have a full review of the episode after, as always! Drop by to read and start a discussion about the excitement.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.