TV actresses Jennifer Lopez, Regina King, Sarah Paulson, Constance Zimmer, Kerry Washington, Kirsten Dunst and Juliana Marguiles dazzle the rosy cover of The Hollywood Reporter‘s latest issue.
The actresses gathered for the magazine’s actress roundtable to talk about the challenges they’ve faced as leading ladies in Hollywood.
Jennifer Lopez has been saddled with the reputation of a diva for much of her career. Sarah Paulson has yet to land a leading-lady role without being asked to dye her naturally brown hair blond. And Julianna Margulies likely still would be fighting for acceptance into the Producers Guild had her seven-season drama, The Good Wife, not already concluded its run. Such is the plight of today’s working actresses, even those at the top of their game.
In late March, THR gathered seven such women — Margulies, 49; Lopez, 46 (NBC’sShades of Blue); Paulson, 41 (FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,American Horror Story: Hotel); Kirsten Dunst, 34 (FX’s Fargo); Regina King, 45 (ABC’sAmerican Crime, HBO’s The Leftovers); Kerry Washington, 39 (ABC’s Scandal, HBO’sConfirmation); and Constance Zimmer, 45 (Lifetime’s UnREAL) — for a candid conversation about the roles they will (and won’t) strip down for, the scenes that required them to call their lawyers and the need to love their characters, even if their audience does not.
On The People v. O.J. Simpson, Sarah plays Marcia Clark, who became a victim of rather grotesque sexism. She’s told she has to change her look, dress in more feminine style, smile more, change her hair. As actresses, what have been the most overtly sexist things you’ve experienced in your careers?
KERRY WASHINGTON I’m in this very surreal environment right now having Shonda Rhimes as my boss, where it’s almost the opposite. It is specified in scripts that guys take their shirts off all the time.
JULIANNA MARGULIES Is it really?
WASHINGTON The guys are naked all the time! And she has said to all the women on the show: “You want to do a love scene in a parka? You just let me know.” So it’s this weird, like, reparations moment where the girls get to do what they want to do and the guys get to do what they want to do, but they know what Shonda wants them to do.
CONSTANCE ZIMMER On UnREAL, we have two female leads, female showrunners and writers, and it’s very driven toward us being empowered, which is definitely different. We can treat the men a bit like how we may have been treated earlier in our careers or just as women in general. It’s fun to watch the tables be turned and to see the guys on set eating lettuce. (Laughter.)
SARAH PAULSON I’ve never been asked to play the [romantic] leading lady without having to be a blonde.
Are you naturally a brunette?
PAULSON Yes. I don’t mind it, I like the blond — but to be told that in order to be considered a romantic lady opposite some hunky guy, I need to have long blond hair that looked very L.A. Real Housewives? It does do something to your brain. You go, “Gosh, so the way I came into the world is not as appealing as it would be if I were altered in some way?” That’s a funny message to extend to a person. And that’s the other thing: I did it. I put the extensions in, I blonded it up.
MARGULIES Well, you’ve got to pay your rent! (Laughs.)
JENNIFER LOPEZ I’ve always been fascinated by how much more well-behaved we have to be than men.
In what way?
LOPEZ I got a moniker of being “the diva,” which I never felt I deserved — which I don’t deserve — because I’ve always been a hard worker, on time, doing what I’m supposed to do, and getting that label because you reach a certain amount of success …
PAULSON And you care about something enough to give your opinion.
LOPEZ Or even sometimes I felt crippled to voice my opinion, especially because certain directors and the boys’ club that they form can make you feel like, “Oh, I can’t say anything.” I was always fascinated by how I could see [a man] being late or being belligerent to a crew and it being totally acceptable; meanwhile, I’d show up 15 minutes late and be berated. And you watch this happen over and over and over again. Like, we’re not allowed to have certain opinions or even be passionate about something, or they’ll be like, “God, she’s really difficult.” It’s like, “Am I? Am I difficult because I care?”
Along those lines, Julia Louis-Dreyfus talked recently about fighting to get a producing credit on her television shows, and she wondered whether that fight would have been as great and as long if she were a man. Are those things you felt you had to fight for, and, if so, is gender a factor?
MARGULIES I didn’t have to fight to get it from my showrunners; they were thrilled because the writers room was in Los Angeles so I was their eyes on set. It was the Producers Guild that gave me a hard time. To try to prove my job to them in order for them to accept me as a producer? I still don’t think I’m in the Producers Guild, and it’s been three years.
MARGULIES And I can’t tell you what I do as a producer on that show and the fires I put out. I’ll see something happening, and I’ll immediately turn off my actor hat and go, “OK, this isn’t going to work for you, let’s figure it out.” But they send you lists to fill out. “Are you a part of the budget? Are you a part of the … ?” And I go, “Well, no, because that was already in place, but I do this, this and this.” None of that’s on there at all, and so they call it a vanity title, which is incredibly insulting.
WASHINGTON It’s something I made a choice not to fight for at Scandal because I really like the dynamics of our cast and the way we interact with the writers and producers as is, and I didn’t feel like it was something that I needed there. But Confirmation was a different story because I was part of that from the very beginning, before we had a script. I was on as an executive producer, and I said to my co-producers, “If you want me on as a vanity producer, I’m not interested in doing this project with you. I have real opinions and passionate ideas about how this is supposed to go.”
For more from the ladies’ insightful conversation, head on over to THR.