Inspired by the real-life upbringing of co-executive producer Kyle Richards (The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) and set during the rise of feminism in the ‘70s, the Paramount Network half-hour series American Woman follows Bonnie (Alicia Silverstone), a mother who’s struggling to raise her two daughters after leaving her husband. While discovering your own independence in a world reluctant to give it is never easy, Bonnie has the help of her two best friends, Kathleen (Mena Suvari) and Diana (Jennifer Bartels), to make her way through it all.
During this sit-down interview with Collider, co-stars Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari talked about the appeal of this project, what interested them in their characters, how the story and character journeys grew, over the season, the transition of changing showrunners during the season, what they enjoy about the friendship between these women, and how these women are inspirational.
Collider: Alicia, what was the appeal of this project for you?
ALICIA SILVERSTONE: When I read it, I loved my character. I just thought, “What an exciting, juicy part that some lucky girl gets to do.” And then, they said they wanted it to be me, and I was like, “Oh, okay.” I went and met with them and had questions, and the answers they gave, gave me the chills. I got really inspired by (show creator) John Riggi and very inspired by (co-executive producer) Kyle Richards’ stories about her mother. My character is inspired by her mother. It just felt like a really exciting, juicy part to sink your teeth into, and then the world kept growing. Reading it, I wasn’t really thinking about this woman’s emotional journey, which she has to go through. She gets her whole world taken out from underneath her, and then has to fight to put her life back together and survive. The ‘70s were such an interesting time. We’ve come a long way, in many areas, but in some areas, we haven’t. I was so excited about the journey that I would get to go on. The world we’re in was so incredible.
Mena, what was your reaction, when you read this?
MENA SUVARI: When it came to me, I just got the pilot, and then I was able to sit down with John Riggi and (co-executive producer) Jinny Howe, who talked a lot about the inspiration for this show. I had never met Kyle before, and I didn’t know much about her life, but right off the bat, I was really interested in it being a female-centric show. And then, for me, personally, I was just really looking forward to taking on a character like Kathleen because it just felt like I was able to work a bit more in the comedic space, and I’d always wanted to do that. Not only are these characters well-rounded, but with Kathleen’s journey and with how dynamic it was, it was just something that I had never really come across before.
As the season played out, did the story grow in ways that you didn’t expect?
SILVERSTONE: I don’t know. I”m a mother, and where you spend your time is so crucial. I’d done a show, years ago, that was an hour-long show, and the time commitment was so involved. With this, I knew that I was going to maybe get like a day a week [off] because of the other ladies’ storylines, so I said to the producers, “Okay, it’s only three months. I think I can handle it.” But once we started shooting, I was like, “I never want this to end!” I just didn’t. And then, when I was doing it, I was just so inspired, every day, by the storyline and with what my character got to do. Our show has an amazing beginning, a good solid middle, and the end is off the charts. It’s really exciting, what happens. I was particularly moved by Mena’s storyline with Cheyenne Jackson. It’s such an interesting thing that’s going on, with the heartbreak. They’re both struggling so hard. He’s gay, at the front of it, but she doesn’t know he’s gay. She’s not quite fulfilled, and he’s not quite fulfilled, but they both love each other so much. The way they act it is so beautiful. The way it’s written is so beautiful. It’s really moving. I really loved that. So, that was a fun surprise for me. I’m not in those scenes, so I got to just enjoy them, and they were beautiful.
SUVARI: Once I was given the pilot, and then they talked about where Kathleen’s journey would go, I was just really lucky. It’s just gotta be really crippling, if you’re not enjoying what you’re already a part of. There’s so much trust involved with taking on a project, but I loved it. This was the first time I had like a real Season 1 experience, sitting down and having a table-reading, every week. And so, it was really awesome to see what they were coming up with. I really admire the way that they structured everything, and there was so much. I was really blown away by how much they address in just 22 minutes. They did such a beautiful job with the storylines for these characters and these really deep moments, but then there’s always an uplifting moment that brings it around. I just felt like that’s such a delicate dance, but obviously you can do it with people like John Wells and John Riggi behind it.