As the fight for gender equality rages in domestic politics, Alicia Silverstone wants you to know her new TV series has its finger on the pulse of progression — even though it’s set in 1970s when “women couldn’t even get a loan without a man.”
“You’re going to be excited and turned on by the period, [with] the clothes, the music, the hair, and the jewels… [but] women still haven’t found equal footing, 40 years later,” the actress tells EW about American Woman‘s sustained relevance to contemporary issues. “We’re still talking about equal pay and [asking] how sexy women are allowed to be. Even though we’ve come a long way, it’s cool to see where some of this [liberation] started [with this show].”
The series, co-created by 30 Rock producer John Riggi and Shameless developer John Wells, is slated to premiere at the top of 2018 on the Paramount Network, and takes inspiration from the early life of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Kyle Richards, unfolding in 1975 against the backdrop of the women’s lib movement.
“I play the American Woman, Bonnie Nolan, and she’s a firecracker of a woman. She’s a trailblazer of her time… the period is so vibrant,” Silverstone says of the show, which also stars Mena Suvari, Cheyenne Jackson, and James Tupper. “Sex is oozing out, and everything [for women’s liberation] is bubbling up; they’re burning their bras, and two years before our story [takes place] was Roe v. Wade… One of our teases is ‘Liberation is a bitch.’ [We’re observing] liberation, and then [asking]: How do you deal with it?”
The answer, at least for Bonnie, lies in the character’s dynamic qualities, as she’s a single mother attempting to raise her daughters no her own; that means getting rid of the hired help (she lets go of a housekeeper and a gardener to foster a closer connection to her kids) and taking the reins of her life at all costs.
“Bonnie is sort of a trophy wife. Her job is to be the mommy… she’s a devoted mother and spends her day looking beautiful for her husband when he comes home. That’s what she chose to do. She’s a Beverly Hills woman in a sexy time, but then something happens and everything goes wrong,” she explains. “Even though she’s a trophy wife, she’s smart and feisty, but once she’s crossed, be careful. She’s really dangerous and incredibly unpredictable. That’s what I love: She’s complex.”
While the show has been touted for its ties to Richards’ upbringing, Silverstone says the project actually functions as an amalgam of motherly inspiration.
“A lot of the stories that you’ll see are things that happened to Kyle Richards and her mother, but a lot of it isn’t; it’s taking dramatic license, but the storytelling is so good,” she notes. “My character is inspired by Kyle Richards’ mother, but she’s also inspired by our creator John Riggi’s mom. Like any art form, it then became about everybody’s mom. John Wells, the producer, it’s about his mom, and I used my mom as inspiration. Bonnie is this collective [mother].”
“There’s relief watching her,” Silverstone concludes. “Because this woman loves her kids ferociously, but she’s also really reckless and does really bad things. She’s a contradiction: she’s a wild, ferocious creature, and she’s a badass, but she’s also terrified underneath.”
American Woman premieres in 2018 on the Paramount Network.