Britt Robertson on Why Her 'Girlboss' Character Is "Hard to Watch"

"They want to see women in a pretty package. It freaks a lot of people out," the actress tells THR about her brazen leading lady.
Courtesy of Netflix

[Warning: This story contains mild spoilers from season one of Netflix's Girlboss.]

The title character in Netflix's latest original series Girlboss is far from TV's average leading lady.

Inspired by fashion mogul Sophia Amoruso and her book of the same name, the dark comedy stars Britt Robertson (Tomorrowland, The Longest Ride) in the lead role. In the series, which launched Friday, Sophia is at times selfish, ruthless and "nasty" as Robertson admits to The Hollywood Reporter — a nod to Amoruso's real-life clothing line, Nasty Gal.

However, what might make Sophia unlikable to viewers is also what drives her success in building a fashion empire. Over the course of the 13-episode first season, Sophia goes from completely broke (and eating a bagel out of a Dumpster at 23 years old) to then sparking an idea that turns into a booming online fashion retailer thanks in no small part to her unapologetic ways.

The 27-year-old actress says she can relate to Sophia's dramatic highs and lows. "What I've taken from the show is this idea that you don't have to be perfect. You can fail and you can suck," she tells THR. "It takes a brave person to do that and to get up every day and still give it your best shot rather than just cowering with fear."

Robertson also spoke with THR about embracing Sophia's tough-talking ways, what notes she got from the real Sophia and why there's a lack of this type of character on television.

What was it about the character of Sophia that most attracted you to the part?

When I first read the pilot episode, I loved that she was all over the place. It was this very entertaining story combined with this real, dark edginess to her. She applies this humor to her everyday life while simultaneously being an asshole and a weirdo and passionate and driven and stupid at times. She was a very well-rounded character and I thought it would be fun to play all of those things all of the time.

How similar and different are you to Sophia?

We're similar in that we don't necessarily take the traditional route. We're not people who easily give up. We have a similar sense of humor. But also I try to bring the things in my life that I find entertaining or interesting to that character. Once I met Sophia, I tried to take all of the qualities that people respond to with her and how she was able to establish this audience and fan base with her book. I tried to combine what I thought would be fun about the character and what people liked about the real Sophia. It was a balancing act between the real her and the real me and the fictional Sophia.

Have you ever been Dumpster diving?

No! I don't know if I'd do the whole eat a bagel in a Dumpster. I will tell you that running across the Golden Gate Bridge tore my groins. I was not into that. I'm not as bold as she is. I'm not into the idea of getting hurt and eating gross things. That's not where I thrive in life.

What notes did the real Sophia have for you on playing the character?

There's a scene in the second episode where my character yells at the clerk in the vintage store. It's a pretty ridiculous moment and we did it a million different ways because we never know what's going to work in the edit. The cut that they showed her, she said, "I would never, ever, ever scream at a person like that." She was taken aback by how far we went with some of the scenes and character choices, but she was also very forgiving in letting us do that. 

You've spoken out about working closely with executive producer Charlize Theron. What specific notes did she have for you on the character?

After our table read of the first three episodes, she gave me a call and talked me through the read through and sent me a few interviews of Sophia that she thought would be helpful for me to look at. She was also in our rehearsal space everyday leading up to filming. She was very involved in the preproduction aspect. There was one scene at the end of episode two where I'm standing outside in the rain and talking to Shane [Johnny Simmons] about how my life has to be better than this and she gave me a couple of notes on how I could play it. She was like, "Why don't you try one where you're fully breaking down and crumbling? And do one where you force yourself to stay strong, and you just try to not crack." She was always playing around with the direction of the scene to see different flavors and probably testing me to see if I could even do that. 

The series explores themes of successes and failures and female empowerment. As an actress, how do you personally relate to these stories?

Being an actor you're constantly thrust into a world where you're giving people the license to talk about you and have opinions about you and your work. That alone creates a sense of success and failure and ups and downs. I've definitely had that. I've been lucky that I've been doing this for a really long time that it's all normal life to me now and I'm not greatly affected by it. But there was a point in time where I would feel if I failed, I would never be able to recover and it was the end. Whereas now what I've taken from the show is this idea that you don't have to be perfect. You can fail and you can suck. It takes a brave person to do that and to get up every day and still give it your best shot rather than just cowering with fear. 

Theron and series creator Kay Cannon have spoken about when the show was being pitched to town that initial notes from networks was that it needed to be less female-focused. Why do you think that is? What does it mean to you to be the lead of this female-driven series?

I'm sure it was really frustrating for them trying to sell a story based on a book called Girlboss about a woman who started a business when she was very young. It doesn't really make sense to change everything interesting about that story. It's a real testament to the types of women they are that they wouldn't settle for anything less than the story they were willing to tell. To be able to be that girl and play this really complicated and not so likable character at times, it really is an honor. Not only did I have a blast playing her; I don't find that these characters come along very often. 

What makes her unlikable?

It's never something we were conscious of. We weren't like, "Oh my God! How are people going to like her?" In life that does happen where you [think], "How can I appeal to the masses?" But that's not a fun person to watch and that's not who Sophia is. The real Sophia was able to become so successful because she's the girl who would stand up for herself and yell if she had to and throw tantrums and scream. At times she figured out how to get her way in a more kind and respectful manner, but that takes learning and it takes falling to pick yourself up. It's a learning experience and curve for all of us. It's really important to have those types of characters onscreen for people to watch because it makes you feel a little bit better about the life you're living. There are times where she's extremely selfish and she doesn't think of anyone else. She's a living hypocrite in that she'll be really smart about the way she handles things and also really dumb about the way she handles things. She's constantly trying to figure out which technique works for her and how to use different tactics to get what she wants, but it takes a lot of unappealing scenes in order for her to get there.

What makes her different than some of the other leading ladies on TV?

She's nasty! She's ruthless. She's allowed to say, "Suck my balls." and "Suck a dick." It's important that a character like that exists on television because girls can say bad words and girls can be snarky and crude. They can be gross, pick their nose and toot. They're allowed to be rough around the edges. I don't think that that exists on a lot of shows. 

Why is there a lack of having this type of character on TV?

Because it's hard to watch! [Laughs.] When you don't see a surplus of something then it's a little shocking to hear a young girl say, "F— me in the dick." It's hard for people to watch and maybe at times turns people off so people are afraid of it. They don't want to see women in that light. They want to see women in a pretty package. It freaks a lot of people out. 

There's a storyline where Sophia is dedicated to trying to stop getting a bad review. How do reviews impact you personally?

It's hard to avoid my own things that may be criticized. There have been many things that I've done where I'm like, "That sucked!" And then there's terrible reviews and I'm like, "I totally agree! That does suck." [Laughs.] With this show, I really am so proud of it and I hope people like it, but it's also OK if they don't. As long as I'm proud of it, than I'm cool to not look at anything else. 

Do you relate to Sophia? What were some of your favorite moments from the show? Sound off in the comments section below. Girlboss is now streaming on Netflix.

 

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