What happens when good girls go bad? They decide to rob a local grocery store and set off a chain reaction that leads them into a whole lot more trouble than they bargained for. Cast members Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman, and Retta, along with EP Jenna Bans took the stage at the NBC Winter Press Tour to preview NBC’s new dramedy, Good Girls.
Good Girls premieres February 26th, and airs Mondays at 10-11 p.m. ET on NBC.
For Jenna, there are obviously limits to how edgy and dark and violent you can be on network television. Have there been any moments where you couldn’t do something you wanted to do or had to find a creative solution?
Jenna Bans: I think that’s just part of making television in terms of problem solving and finding creative solutions to things, but I have to say, on this one, because of the tone of the show, it definitely leans into the fun and the comedy and the chemistry between these three women. There really hasn’t been anything that was deemed too “not network” for us to do. We both sort of pushed the envelope and, at the same time, really fit into our little unique tone and little unique space we sort of carved out for ourselves in the network field. So I guess the short answer would be “no.” On this one it’s been sort of smooth sailing, because I think we fit into really a sweet spot that doesn’t feel like either network or total streaming either. We’re kind of our own unique animal.
Your characters are resourceful, but do these use their skills for something more than self-gain?
Mae Whitman: That’s one thing I really loved about the show right away was sort of it brings up the question of morals and justification systems and what is good and what’s evil and sort of what would you do, how far would you go to protect your family, what are the intentions behind these characters’ motives in doing what they do. In every episode there’s a question that comes up of a moral justification or something that we end up giving a little bit more away and a little bit more away of the things that we’re able to justify I think that’s going to be a really fun thing for us, to see how far into that we go and how sort of deep into the question of is what they’re doing right or wrong and who are they hurting in the process, and who are they saving in the process. The way Jenna writes is so amazing. There’s so much. It’s just action packed with emotion and action, all these different issues keep coming up. At least for me, I look forward to reading every single script because there’s something in there that brings up a real question that’s really a debatable situation.
Jenna Bans: I also think these characters tell themselves they’re doing it for good, because that’s what they need to tell themselves to go rob a grocery store, being people that, until this point in their lives, have never crossed the line and have never done anything illegal. Whether it is for good I think is something the audience sort of has to decide. We don’t really put a moral judgment on it one way or another. We sort of leave it up to the audience to decide. But they’re definitely sort of breaking rules, at least laws.
Christina Hendricks: Definitely illegal.
While working on this, how many times did Thelma and Louise come to mind?
Christina Hendricks: Early on it came up, and storywise, I don’t think it necessarily applies, but I think what people are responding to is the chemistry and the camaraderie of these women and these powerful women together, so that makes sense to me. We have had a bit of that.
Jenna Bans: I think the idea of women being sort of backed into a corner and forced to take their power back in a way that is shocking, maybe, and desperate, it applies. But I think for “Good Girls,” we definitely feel like we’ve carved out our own little space in the creative world, and I think the blend of the comedy and that desperation is sort of what makes us unique. And tonally, it’s a fun tightrope we get to walk every episode and make sure we’re telling these stories in a really grounded, relatable way.
Mae Whitman: I love you saying it’s women taking their power back, that, to me, is what “Thelma and Louise” is about. That’s what this is about. It’s that feeling of, like you’re saying, when you get backed into a corner, and you actually are able to make a change in your life. A lot of people in the world feel stuck. A lot of women feel stuck in these situations, and you sort of… it happens to everyone. You sort of just see your whole life playing out in this one way, and like Thelma and Louise, we make changes, and we change our lives, and we…
Jenna Bans: Do something drastic.
Mae Whitman: You do something pretty drastic, but yes. So it’s pretty amazing to be able to play something like that.
Why did you choose kidney disease, and is there a $10,000 silver bullet out there that people don’t know about?
Jenna Bans: Well, there is. The medicine is specific to this type of kidney disease that the character of Sara, Retta’s daughter in the show, has. It doesn’t work for all kidney disease. It’s a very specific condition that I’m blanking on the name. Something anemia, so please look it up before you quote me on it. It’s a really expensive medicine. It’s one of the most expensive medicines out there. When I was researching the pilot, [I] chose the medicine first and then the condition second, because I wanted there to be this, like you said, almost silver bullet for her daughter that she just couldn’t afford. Any way she put her family finances together, it would come up in a big fat negative. She could not afford the medicine. It’s call[ed] eculizumab, is the generic form of it, I believe. It works for a very specific condition that this character of Sara has in the show.
Retta: And everybody battles with pronouncing it.
Jenna Bans: Everybody that comes on the show says, “What do I have to say?”
Do you think twice about going grocery shopping since you’ve shot the pilot?
Christina Hendricks: Oddly.
Retta: Grocery shopping?
Christina Hendricks: Actually, there is a funny story. When we were shooting that scene, I had a little break, and I went to the knitting store, and got calls from them saying, “There’s actually someone outside actually trying to rob the store” while we were in the store.
Mae Whitman: While we were filming. They were in ski masks, and they were, like, “Get to the ground! There’s somebody outside with a gun!” And you’re, like, throwing things in the air.
Jenna Bans: I never heard this.
Mae Whitman: We had to shut down.
Retta: We weren’t there. Because you were shooting something else.
Christina Hendricks: I’m on grocery delivery now anyway.
Jenna Bans: It’s safer that way to do grocery delivery.
How will we things evolve for these characters over the first season?
Jenna Bans: Well, I’ll just say in terms of keeping the viewers interested every week. Obviously, “Good Girls” is about these three women who, through some desperate circumstances, are pushed to rob a grocery store, and the story sort of organically spools out from there. They get in way more trouble than they ever sort of imagined and they spend a lot of the first season trying to get out of that trouble. But in terms of keeping the viewers interested, one of the most magical things I realized when we were cutting the episodes was you put these three actresses in a room together… and I’m a huge fan of improv, especially on these shows… and some of the funniest, the most interesting scenes are when they’re just sort of shooting the shit about any subject at all. It feels like those friends you have in your hometown where you haven’t seen them for 20 years, but when you go home for Christmas break, it’s like you never spent any time apart at all. That’s what I feel like when I’m watching the show with them. I hope the viewers feel the same. The show really becomes about these characters trying to balance their personal lives and their friendships with each other, which really get tested by the circumstances they’re in throughout the first episode. They’re trying to keep going with life as normal. They have families. They have kids. They have responsibilities. At the same time, they’re in a whole buttload of trouble from what they started in the pilot. So it sort of becomes more and more fraught and it’s a little bit of a snowball effect rolling towards the end of the first season. I think we have two more episodes to shoot, two and a half more episodes, and it only gets more complicated. I’ll say that.
Mae Whitman: Nobody does twists and turns in a beautiful, elegant, amazing way like Jenna. The second a new script comes out, they can attest, I devour it. I stop whatever I’m doing and I’m just like, “Uhhhh.”
Retta: She steals it from people. I’m like, “How did you read the next episode?” She’s like, “I got it from hair and makeup.”
Can you talk a little bit about Jenna’s voice and what attracted you to her form of storytelling?
Mae Whitman: When I first read this script, I thought it was so amazing, and we were talking about this last night. But, to me, one thing that I loved is how Jenna’s able to create a whole world without it ever feeling preachy or feeling, like, exhausting to have to learn about…
Mae Whitman: …exposition, yeah. I was amazed at how much was packed into that pilot episode, but I really felt like I knew all the people. I understood the people. I felt like I understood their histories together. The chemistry was there. I didn’t need all this extra setting up or babying. She’s able to build a world that is so full and deep while also having it be this crazy, action packed situation. So you jump right into all the action and the twists and turns. I thought it was just incredible, because to me it felt almost like a family show that you have already watched for years and you know all the people and you understand and you’ve seen them grow and then it takes this crazy action turn. So, for me, just the layers that Jenna is able to achieve and the way that she puts words in our mouth literally are… I mean, I feel like you know my voice better than anybody. Like, the scripts come out and it’s just the words like flow so well.
Jenna Bans: It’s totally a collaboration, because these ladies will add to lines and make them their own in a way that’s a hundred times better than I ever could have written. No, it’s been really fun, because you don’t always get to do that on every show, and some shows lend themselves to improv and playing around on set more than other shows. This one is a total improv-fest of fun, and I think that really helps it keep… makes it feel real and grounded and, along with your performances, makes it seem like these are real characters, because we’re not beholden to every little word and every little line. They can make it their own.
What does Jenna has in common with some of the other writers on television you’ve had the chance to work with before?
Retta: It is rare that I read a pilot and I cry or I’m into it. It usually takes a couple of readings, and I’m like, well, if so and so plays it … I have to put a lot of things together before I say OK, this could be great. It’s rare. Very rare. I mean, there are great films that I’ve seen, but I read the scripts and I was like (high pitched) “I don’t know.” I have to know who’s playing parts and know their vibe and just have so much more information and then sit and look at this piece of paper and be like, OK, this will work for me. This is the first time that I’ve read a script and was like, fuck. I remember because my manager said, he’s like, “Read the script. She wants to meet with you. If you like it, call us back.” I read it, and I immediately called him back. I was like, “Yeah, let’s meet with her.” He’s like, “You could get …” I was like, “Bruh, just set it up. I’m in. I’m alllll in.” I can’t put into words what it is that she does. Mae has already done that. I just know I’ve read it. I was like boom, all good. We talked on Skype and I was like, “When are we shooting this shit?” I was like, “Because I’m not going to lose this job.” So I was all in from the first, the first reading. And then, the third the fact I cried every time I read it. I cried at the same spots every time.
Christina Hendricks: It’s incredibly genuine and it feels so natural when you read a script, when you say the lines and they just come out and flow out of your mouth and you don’t stop and go wait. It feels like real people. The words are real. The emotions are real. The tone is tricky. You know, we do go from very, very serious stuff into funny things, and we just try to make sure that we honor what Jenna’s written and that we play every moment as real, that you honor each one of those moments as real. Sometimes they’re over the top, hysterical, and bizarre. The characters are funny people, so when they experience these crazy things, it can be funny because they’re inherently funny, weird, quirky women.
For Christina, this is the second woman you’ve played who’s had to make morally compromising choices in order to secure her financial future. What about this woman and the way she makes this choice appealed to you versus maybe the way Joan approached her decision in “Mad Men”?
Christina Hendricks: Well, they were for similar reasons. However, I feel like Beth, in this situation, is making these decisions to protect her family and secure a home for them, and things, initially. But then, I think the difference is that she enjoys it and then it becomes a little something for her and it starts to become selfish, where I think Joan’s situation was very specific and it was sort of a one and done kind of thing. And Beth has decided, “This kind of makes me feel good. I like the adrenaline. I like the power.” So it’s quite different in that way.
Does this series take characters that we’ve normally seen on the sidelines or in supporting roles and make them the stars of the story?
Mae Whitman: I feel like that’s my whole vibe, man. I feel like I’m always like the girl that’s like the weird girl. That’s been my dream, to be able to be this person and give a voice to all the girls and boys and everybody who feels like they’ve sort of been cast aside or their stories aren’t told. That’s my dream come true and I love… again, one thing I love about this show is it’s a show with three interesting people as the leads. They happen to be badass women and they happen to be all these things. But these people are so interesting and different and creative and strong and, like we were saying, funny and absurd and so much of the comedy of it comes from the absurdity of their reactions, because the characters are so complex and it’s not your average, you know, normal person in the lead that doesn’t really have a strong personality or whatever. It’s like three very strong personalities, and again, it’s a dream come true to be able to play that unapologetically and have them be flawed and not apologize for that and just let them be real people and give, like, exactly what you’re saying, give people that maybe haven’t been able to be in the spotlight, have those stories be told, because, to me, those are the most interesting stories.
Retta: For me, I’ve obviously gotten great gigs in the last couple of years, but generally it was a receptionist or a meter maid or the nurse. I was always aiding or helping someone else. Or at least that’s what I was offered. Those were the opportunities, and she was always funny. When I got “Girlfriend’s Guide,” I got to do a little more. I loved that show because it was funny but it had heart. Then when Jenna asked me to do this, I was like, holy shit, I get to be a person. It was the first time I felt I got to play a person with love in her life, who outside of dealing with the problems of her sick child, is happy. That’s nice. I mean, now, once the pilot’s over, now she’s stressed. Crazy stressed.
Mae Whitman: It was nice for a minute.
Retta: It’s nice to get that one-month of drug medicine for her daughter, and now she’s hella stressed and dealing with some shady characters.
Why do you think it took so long to find a character that’s like a person for you?
Retta: Because as a large black woman in Hollywood, you tend to get stuck in certain tropes and it takes someone with a broader vision to know that people are people. It doesn’t matter what size, what color, and they all experience things. In the last five years of TV, we’re finally getting, you know, these options for different people. That May, that March was when I got my chance.
What is the backstory behind the title, “Good Girls”?
Jenna Bans: It was the title from the very beginning, I think from the moment I even went into NBC to pitch the show. The title is ironic, to give you a simple answer. “Good Girls” sort of gives you an image of that simple, little sweet girl who sort of never does anything wrong, who follows the rules. It’s something my parents in Minnesota used to always say to me. I would be mad about some injustice at school or something and they’d be like, “Just be a good girl about it. Like, don’t stress about it.” So to me it always rang in my ears as sort of what you were supposed to do. That’s where I came from. It’s sort of full of contradictions, the title, because they’re sort of anything but. They’re women, first of all, as you pointed out. Secondly, “good” has so many meanings. Are they good at what they start doing in the pilot, in the series, which is sort of embarking on this life of criminal activity. Yeah, they’re kind of good at it, so it works on that level. It also sort of contradicts the image of this perfect wife and mother that’s just going to stay quiet and sort of follow the rules and not raise her voice and not make a stink about anything. It was sort of a play on that. We talked about changing it at one point just because there are some other shows out there at the time that had “Girls” in the title. But then we sort of danced around and we were sort of like, no, this sort of encapsulated everything we’re really trying to say with the show. So we doubled down and stuck with it.
Christina Hendricks: It’s a big middle finger to the phrase.
Jenna Bans: It is. It is. That’s a good way of putting it. It’s a big middle finger to the phrase. I should have just said that and stopped.
Christina, after “Mad Men,” I’m sure there were many opportunities that came your way. What were the considerations for you in deciding what your next series move was going to be?
Christina Hendricks: It’s tricky. You read a lot of things and it’s quite obvious that you’re not interested. Before a show like that, you take who wants you, you know? You’re just trying to get a job. Then that opens so many doors and, of course, created so many opportunities, so then all of a sudden you have the pressure of choosing, which is almost a greater pressure than before just trying to get a job. It takes something really, really special. I was worried about being on network television. I was worried… because when I read the script, it was so edgy and cool and dark and I said if they can keep doing that. And we had many discussions and we had many discussions with our wonderful folks at NBC and with Jenna. And I was like, “You have to promise… you have to promise me that you’re not going to back down from this and that this is what it’s going to be.” Everyone was excited about it and they knew exactly what the tone was and they knew exactly what they wanted it to be and that’s the place they wanted to be in. And they have. They’ve maintained it the whole time. And so when I read it and it was that special and that fun and I thought and I could also just feel myself in the role. I thought this is what I want to do every day. This is something that seems so fun to do. I can always tell when I want to do something, when I can jump in and I see it through the character’s eyes right away. So for all of those reasons, I’m here.
Does the show lean more toward serialized or episodic storytelling?
Jenna Bans: I would say it’s actually pretty serialized. I have to give props to NBC, because there was never a point where they said could you make it more procedural or could you make it more close ended? It’s just not. I would say it’s a balance between the trouble they get themselves… these characters get themselves into in the pilot and dealing with their personal lives and dealing with their relationships with each other. At its heart, I think more and more towards the end of this first season… we’re on Episode 8 or something right now. I’ve come to realize that “Good Girls” is essentially a love story but it’s between these three women. Two of them are sisters, but they’re all sisters, which we actually give voice to in the last episode we’re shooting. So it is serialized. It takes cues from shows like “Parenthood” in that there’s ongoing storylines that you’re following week to week and you’ve got to keep up and I hope people do. But we’re sort of just being who we are and hoping people will want to come back every week.
Jenna, besides Ruby’s character, all of the men currently on the series are quite schmucks and undesirable. What’s the outlook for the male characters?
Jenna Bans: That’s a great question. I would say you’re probably right in the pilot. Christina Hendricks’s husband, played by Matt Lillard so charmingly, because he could have been an even bigger schmuck if he wasn’t played by Matt Lillard, I think, and Mae Whitman’s, Annie’s ex husband Greg, played by Zach Gilford, give them a lot of shit, give these two women a lot of shit. I would say as the series goes on, we have attempted to make them even more complex, make them even more complicated. We’ve done stories where you see things more from their point of view, where you see where Zach Gilford is coming from. So it’s not a, oh, the character of Annie, Mae Whitman’s character, is a hundred percent right and we hate where Zach Gilford’s coming from. We try to make issues such as parenting and marriage more complicated than she’s right and he’s wrong. So I guess the short answer is we do de schmuck them a bit as we go on in the first season, and I think both Zach Gilford and Matt Lillard also get a lot of credit for making those characters really multidimensional and interesting, not just one note.
Mae, for you to get back into a series after “Parenthood,” what were the considerations for you?
Mae Whitman: When you sign on, you’re essentially signing yourself into a new family, possibly, when you sign on to do a show. Especially like a show like “Parenthood,” like you’re saying, I went from a petulant teenager to a petulant adult. Really, though, Amber totally grew up, became a mother, went through all these things. It was a full life lived in a very sensitive and delicate way. So much of this project… and I did. I wanted to go on. It was a personal promise to myself that when I did move on to another show that I would want to be somewhere that was that honest and that complex and that where I could tell a genuine story that would help people and that people could relate to, that it would communicate a message that was important and empowering. For me, when this came along, just everything about it, I mean, honestly, NBC is my home. I loved being here. Over the years with “Parenthood” as well, we were given so much love and understanding and freedom to tell stories honestly. Honesty was always encouraged. So to me it felt… I was so happy to come back home to NBC.
And especially again with this character, something that was a big part of it for me was she’s so different from than anything I’ve ever played. I’ve always been the wise beyond her years teenager. This character is so different than that. She is very wild and irresponsible and lives very much in the moment. For me to sort of play that character and access that part of myself while still being able to be so grounded and having a show that’s action packed and adventure filled but is mainly at its core, like Jenna, says a love story with people and that’s honest and kind and true and considerate. We talked about it yesterday, but I’ve never walked off set once feeling like something felt false or didn’t ring true or wasn’t important or didn’t have our full heart in every scene. So to me, the pairing of being at NBC, telling a story that was female driven, that was female empowerment, and getting to work with this group of people and getting to work with Jenna, it just felt like it was a dream come true, really. I feel so happy and so lucky to be here, and I’m really excited.