Halle Berry, Anna Faris, Patricia Arquette Discuss Hollywood's Woman Problem
CBS' actresses and showrunners talk about sexism in Hollywood, pay inequality and being labeled. "The bar is set so high for women and minorities in this business," says 'CSI: Cyber's' Pam Veasey.
"With people responding to my character [in Boyhood] the way the did, I think the message was, audiences want to see women like themselves onscreen instead of the early '30s wife or the great-looking early '40s wife who is just in the background. She's a nice wife, supportive and always happy. Or she is a nag and that's why he has an affair. It's those two options. Always perpetually great-looking supportive wife or the nagging nightmare wife who is the reason he’s cheating. That is so boring. Many times I remember when I was in between jobs or looking for a job, I would say to my agent, 'Well, are there any good parts in that?' 'Well, not for women.' I would say, 'Are there any good parts for men?' 'Oh well, yeah.' I was like, 'Well can that character be a woman? Can you call them and ask, "Can that character be a woman?"' I would do that all the time. It never worked."
Co-creator, producer, Mom
"My mother (Catherine Roskam) was a huge role model for me. She was an extra in The Godfather. But she got tired of waiting for roles and so she started a theater company — The Joe Jefferson Playhouse — and made her own work. It was at the Little Church Around the Corner (an Episcopal church in Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood). When I was 4, she gave up her acting career and went to seminary to become an Episcopal priest, which showed me that women can do anything. It also exposed me to a lot of sexism, seeing what she encountered. She's an amazing preacher, and I remember early on she gave a terrific sermon and a woman at church pulled my father aside and said, 'Now be honest with me, you helped her write that, didn't you?' That anyone asked it would be awful, but that a woman asked it was really unsettling. So I was seeing that when I was 9 years old. People ask if Bonnie (Allison Janney's character in Mom) is modeled after my mother — definitely not. My mom has half a glass of wine and calls it quits. But she definitely is outspoken and is not afraid to use her voice. When I was 19, she became the fifth female bishop in the world. She has shown me that I can do whatever I set my mind to."
"It's a hard nut to crack, this business, but that's for anybody. It's not for the weak or the meek. And it was hard for me. I started almost 25 years ago. Television was different, what women could and could not do was different. And being a person of color, I was making a way out of no way. That was quite different than it is today for women of color. I also came from a modeling and beauty pageant background. And that didn't help at all with my credibility. I had to somehow find ways to shed that persona and to let the industry know that I was to be taken seriously. I had studied [acting], I was not just a model who said, 'Oh, now I want to act because what else do I have to do?' It took me years to build that respect within the community."
"Chris [Pratt, Faris' husband] is buddies with all these actors. They'll do each other favors, they'll go to each other's table reads. And the only times I see actress acquaintances of mine is at events. We don't have a sense of community because we don't get to work with each other often. So I want to start a monthly brunch at my house. No agenda, just actresses hanging out and getting to know each other. Because we don't get that. Instead it's a feeling of being pitted against one another. And if we create a brilliant project, awesome. As women, we definitely have to generate our own work. Part of it is just the sad fact that something like one in every three to four roles [in Hollywood films] is a woman. So men have more opportunity. And you have all these women fighting for the same roles. Financially, studios can be like, 'Well we'll just change out this one for that one and pay her less.' I love that these ideas are gaining momentum. What Patricia Arquette said [at the Oscars] was just jaw-dropping. I was so thrilled to talk to her at [The Hollywood Reporter] photo shoot. I just wanted to give her a big bear hug and be like, 'Let's do this, let's make some money!'"
Creator, executive producer, Madam Secretary
"You only have to look at the numbers to understand that it's a little bit unbalanced. That's not to say that women don't have opportunities. I do think there was certainly a spell where the word 'edge' was used to discriminate against female writers because it was perceived that you couldn't be edgy. I think that so many things have happened recently in television to dispel that notion. You have to push a little harder, but the opportunities are there. It was a bit of a pioneering movement when I first got in; you're very much aware of bringing up the woman front and feeling a little outnumbered. And then I got to see it grow a lot in terms of women reaching powerful positions. There were a couple of backslides, and now it feels like it's coming back again."
Executive producer, Extant
"One of the things that's really important to me and that I stress in the writers room, even with men, is 'family first.' If somebody says, 'I need to go to my kids' school in the afternoon,' I am 100 percent, just go, don't even ask. I feel that is one of my responsibilities as a boss. Yes, it's work. And we love our work and it's important. But at the end of the day, your family is what matters. [Being a mother] gives you perspective and hopefully it makes for kinder, gentler bosses who really have the big picture. Thirty years ago when there were all male bosses, it was so skewed. I can't imagine what it was like to be a woman in the workplace. There was no room to be a human being with a family in those workplaces."
"My manager Jimmy Miller handed [the Madam Secretary script] to me in the eleventh hour. I wasn't ready to do television — especially network television with a 22 [episode season]. And he said, 'Just meet [CBS Entertainment chairman] Nina [Tassler] because you guys will love each other.' It's not my first waltz. I can recognize bullshit from across the table. The [project] that I was about to do I had sent to her and she was like, 'This writing is so far f—ing beneath you. You're going to be bored inside of a goddamn business week.' And I was like, 'Are you f—ing kidding me?! Look at this! That's hilarious!' And she was like whatever. And I said, 'Well, I'm doing it.' And she said, 'I wish you wouldn't.' I said, 'Just read it again.' She goes, 'Fine, I'll read it again and you think about not doing it.' I said fine. That was the first time I had walked into a room and had somebody give an opinion like that. Everywhere else it's like, 'Oh yeah, we love this. I still to this day disagree with her; I still think it was a good piece of work.' My goddaughter is at Yale and a bunch of those girls get together to watch Madam Secretary. They're really into it because that's how we want to be represented. We're not popping pills, we're not snorting something, we're not fucking something — we're successfully doing something and it's enough. It's entertaining enough, it's strong enough, it's sexy enough. I'm like, 'F—, I love you guys!'"
"Before we even signed, my manager [Maryellen Mulcahy at Framework Entertainment] went to [Elementary producer CBS Studios] and said, 'Hey, she'd be interested in [directing] at some point.' And then when we signed on, we said we'd love to [direct an episode in] this first season. And they're like, pass. Like it's a game show: pass. (Laughs.) And the second season she went back again. And they said no. So we had a 22-episode pick up [for season two] and then they added two more episodes. And she went back again. And they had to acquiesce at that point. Now when I say acquiesce, I mean that they enjoy working with me as far as I know. They really have been incredibly encouraging and they were happy to [let me] do it. And oftentimes that's not the case. I'm sure they were nervous. I mean who knows what you're going to get? But they were very enthusiastic about the result and then offered me, without us asking, an episode [to direct] for [season three] and one for next season. So that makes me feel like I've done something right."
Producer, The Good Wife
"I was on the sidelines cheering for Charlize Theron for demanding the same amount as her [male] co-star in [The Huntsman]. What are you doing when you say she gets less? Why would that be? It’s a strange exclamation point on gender equality. It happens all the time. But women are starting to speak out a lot more about it and go public with it. I think it's a little bit easier now to voice your concern about it. But come on — it's 2015 and we're still getting 73 cents to the dollar every man gets. Why?"
Executive producer, Criminal Minds
"We hadn't done a Susan Smith story [who is one of the real-life criminals featured in the show's opening credits sequence]. And so I did some research, and [found] a very similar horrendous story where the mother is obviously the guilty one: She said that somebody pulled her car over, shot everyone in the car, including her. But of course she had a wound in her leg or something. And then she pulls up to the emergency room with her children shot in the car, and three of the four were dead and the other one she obviously thought was dead. They do surgery on the little boy, and when he wakes up from surgery they take the mom in and he starts freaking out. He's hysterical. He was maybe 3 years old, and they got it out of him that mommy is the one who shot everyone. It's a real story! I thought, 'Oh my God, this is crazier than anything any of us would ever dream up. And when I brought it up in the writers room everyone was like, 'We can't do that.' And I was like, 'I know.' And I've never looked again."
Executive producer, CSI: Cyber
"This business tends to label you. Even with my experience I often have to go through two or three interviews to convince someone. Despite your experience as a showrunner they go, 'Hmm, can she write for us?' You kind of want to go, 'I can do this!' And I imagine everybody has to go through the interview. But I feel like with showrunning — woman, man — that you should earn the right to go to the head of the list if you've got the experience. I went through that experience about a year and a half ago. I was interviewing, I was really passionate about the show and wanted to be a part of its beginning, and they picked [a man] who had not run a show before. And I don't immediately assume it's because he's a man. They could have just as easily not liked me. I don't want to say the show because I like the producers. I will say that show is no longer on. As someone who has to deal with diversity issues from two different perspectives — either being an African-American or being a woman — I think it's much harder being an African-American. We develop fewer shows. We're always number four or five on the call sheet. There are very few African-Americans behind the camera. If you name all of the African-Americans who lead a show, barring a few, they've been nominated for an Oscar or won one: Laurence Fishburne, Halle Berry, Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard. Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis should have had opportunities ages ago. The bar's set so high for women and minorities in this business."