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The Power Is in the Producing for Elizabeth Moss and the Hollywood Reporter Actress Roundtable

Hollywood Reporter Drama Actress Roundtable cover

It’s hard to imagine certain actresses not having power. After all, their performances are so commanding, their talent so obvious, and their names are so often spoken with reverence. Yet all that doesn’t seem to matter in Hollywood, where being female continues to put them at a disadvantage. Yet as the women of the Hollywood Reporter drama actress roundtable assert, that is finally beginning to change. Thanks, in particular, to the power of producing.

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THR gathered Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale), Angela Bassett (9-1-1), Sandra Oh (Killing Eve), Thandie Newton (Westworld), Claire Foy (The Queen), and Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Deuce) to talk about a range of topics in television, from the gender pay gap to nude scenes. Both of those things have improved significantly as actresses have spoken up more, as Claire Foy did when she discovered that she was being paid less than her co-star, Matt Smith, on Netflix’s The Crown.

However, it seems to be that the real pathway to change is actresses asserting themselves as producers on their projects.

“As one of the only female Executive Producers as well, obviously there’s a weight there,” Moss explains of her role on The Handmaid’s Tale. “I have a perspective that nobody else will have. And that’s so respected, and it’s so appreciated. And that shouldn’t be crazy that it’s appreciated. It should be appreciated. [It should be] totally normal, but it’s nice that it is.”

She goes on to explain how being the show’s lead, as well as an Executive Producer gives her a one-two punch of power, saying that “When you’re leading the show and you’re the face of the show and a lot of people are making a lot of money off of that face and your work, it does put you in an empowered position. It’s not just financial, it’s about other ways of having control and a say, which frankly no one is used to. You start asking for something, and they’re like, Oh right, I guess you could have that. No one has ever asked.”

Bassett is a producer on 9-1-1, and talked about how difficult a thing it is to get used to: power, as opposed to not being seen as “only an actor.” Regarding getting equal pay for women, she says, “I’m probably feeling a little bit more empowered to [fight for equal pay], but for so long it’s just been about wanting to work. And wanting to be paid fairly, sure, and not having a frame of reference of what someone else is getting or the fear of, if you over-reach you’re going to lose the job…You hear, We’re gonna move on if you say no.

For Gyllenhaal, who is a producer on HBO’s The Deuce, her power as a producer allows her to steer the storytelling in a direction that is more empowering for the women watching. She describes an instance where she fought for the right for her character, who is a prostitute, to have a real on-screen orgasm that she enjoyed to contrast with the performative orgasms she uses with clients so that the audience could see and learn the difference.

The writer wrote a scene where Gyllenhaal’s character masturbates after a guy she wanted to sleep with didn’t make her orgasm, and Gyllenhaal “was like, This orgasm needs to be the realest orgasm ever. This needs to be one that takes 30 seconds, that’s very quiet, that’s just about her. I thought about it, and then I went in and did that on TV. And that’s way more vulnerable than the orgasm that’s the performance.” But then she saw a cut of the episode, and that scene had been cut out. So, she wrote “a dissertation by email” to everyone involved explaining why that scene was so important, and they put it back in.

So often, we might see actresses taking on producer roles as “vanity projects,” but the fact is that they are using that to move the needle not just for themselves professionally, but for their peers, and for the women watching and being inspired by, or influenced by their work.

You should definitely check out the entire interview and series of videos associated with the roundtable over at The Hollywood Reporter. It’s an amazing conversation.

(image: The Hollywood Reporter)

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Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.

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