By Lynette Rice
July 20, 2019 at 09:34 PM EDT
Chelsea Lauren/Variety/Shutterstock

Some of TV’s most inspirational and exciting female stars took over San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H on Saturday for EW’s annual Women Who Kick Ass panel, where GLOW’s Betty Gilpin said it best when addressing the quality of female roles on the small screen today.

“Something’s happening on TV. Women are releasing their inner Kraken,” said Gilpin, who was joined on the dais by Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Expanse), Cobie Smulders (Stumptown), Freema Agyeman (New Amsterdam), and Jeri Ryan (Star Trek: Picard). “Killing Eve, Fleabag… for so long female roles were around their journey of brunch. I think it’s been this illusion, like we are all zoning out and looking out the window. I think about throwing a watermelon through a window or driving a van into the river.”

Moderated by EW’s Sarah Rodman, the panel entertained the packed room with stories about their current roles — though sadly, Ryan couldn’t share much about Picard other than, yeah, she’s in it — and sources of inspiration within the industry. Here are some highlights:

On female directors and how different they can be from men: Aghdashloo said it doesn’t make a difference to her. “I look at my directors like my parents: My parents are here teaching me doing it right.” Smulders said she appreciated the “personal relationship” she had with director Pam Fryman from How I Met Your Mother. Gilpin said women in charge are often pressured to meet a certain ideal. “There’s only one type of woman who is allowed on top, a Montessori-type [mom] who has snacks in her purse and says, ‘Let’s sing a song.’ That’s not every leader.”

On acting in high-concept, genre projects: Smulders likes how women are more independent in them and less likely to be coupled off. “There’s no conversation about ‘will they or won’t they?’ It’s about a woman moving in the world and being her own boss,” she said. “That’s something I haven’t done before.” She also likes the fan base that comes with genre roles. “This is my third time in Hall H,” she exclaimed. “It’s such a wonderful thing.” Ryan, meanwhile, appreciates how playing Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager really touched members of the autistic community. “I played a character who was a human, then a machine, then a human again. She didn’t have social skills. She didn’t know personal space boundaries. It was so meaningful for me to hear from people on the autism spectrum who said, ‘Thank you for showing me on screen, showing it’s not just me, that I’m not just the odd ball.’”

On their favorite role models growing up: Smulders said it was her older sister, who always played sports, and Fryman. Agyeman said it was a science teacher at her all-girls parochial school who was “incredibly encouraging and quite harsh.” Gilpin and Ryan said it was their moms.

If they had to cosplay: Ryan would dress up as a random student from Ravenclaw at Hogwarts; Agyeman admitted she used to dress up with her sister as Bajoran humanoids from Star Trek; Smulders would go as Poison Ivy or Xena; Aghdashloo would transform herself into Ryan, the “Queen of Star Trek,” and Gilpin — who’s often mistaken for Jodie Comer — would go as Comer’s character from Killing Eve.

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