Screen heroines recall actresses, characters they wanted to emulate
NEW YORK—Braver, grittier and more enlightened TV shows are making a valiant effort to level the playing field in the casting process and achieve greater equality between the sexes—with some of Tinseltown’s most fascinating female actresses raring to prove a point.
At a Netflix event held in New York early this year, when Danielle Brooks (“Orange is the New Black”), Gillian Jacobs (“Love”), Jessica Henwick (“Iron Fist”), Logan Browning (“Dear White People”) and Kate del Castillo (“Ingobernable”) were asked which female characters or actresses they looked up to as they were growing up, their answers were just as appealing—and revelatory—as the career-boosting roles they essay in their respective shows:
DANIELLE BROOKS: I was drawn to anybody who looked like me—so that meant fat and curvy, like Countess Danielle Vaughn (“Moesha”). There weren’t many because, at the time, everyone who was plus-sized was of a different age group. They could sing, they were chocolate, and they had curly hair—so, for me, I was like, “I want to find a way to do what they’re doing!”
JESSICA HENWICK: Honestly? Fa Mulan (the legendary woman warrior in Disney’s 1998 animated feature). Strength isn’t based merely on masculinity. Mulan was inherently strong.
KATE DEL CASTILLO: I loved Orlando (portrayed by a gender-bending Tilda Swinton in the 1992 period drama based on Virginia Woolf’s novel). She’s a very strong character, period. She’s manly in many ways, but she’s also very feminine. I wanted to become an actress because of that movie—and it changed [the course of] my life forever.
GILLIAN JACOBS: I was obsessed with Katharine Hepburn when I was a kid; I read a lot of biographies about her. I admired her as an actress, because she took control of her career in a way that few women did in that era.
She bought a play to produce for herself when people said that she was box-office poison and couldn’t get work. She was an inspiration to me.
(The Oscar-winning actress was declared box-office poison in 1937 after a string of flops. Thereafter, she was reportedly rejected for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” Her studio RKO’s “indifference” to Hepburn’s dire situation compelled her to buy out her contract and “pick up the pieces” by revisiting her Broadway roots to portray the lead role in “The Philadelphia Story,” whose film rights she owned. MGM’s big-screen version paved the way for the legendary actress’ career resurgence.)
LOGAN BROWNING: Sandra Bullock in “Miss Congeniality.” You see her going from being her natural goofy self, to someone saying, “Hey, how you present yourself to the world is the first thing people see.” It doesn’t have to be a fake façade. You can be the most feminine version of yourself, but you can still be goofy.
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