Why Women Kill - Ginnifer Goodwin interview

Ginnifer Goodwin plays Beth Ann Stanton, a subservient wife living in the 1960s.

Ginnifer Goodwin interview

How would you describe Why Women Kill?

Why Women Kill is the story of three women living in the same house, but in three different eras. Each of these women is navigating infidelity in their marriages in different ways, which are defined by the time period in which we live. Our boundaries and obstacles are all very era-specific. This has been one of the greatest creative experiences of my life. [Why Women Kill creator and executive producer] Marc Cherry is a genius.

How do the women deal with infidelity differently in each era?

As a show, we are saying that the emotional lives of our characters are consistent and not era-specific; that their needs are not era-specific, but their opportunities are definitely limited by the time period in which they live. Whether that is a universal truth or not, I certainly believe it. I imagine the stakes would be very different for someone like my character, Beth Ann, in the 1960s to someone from today. Beth Ann was traumatised by something in the 1950s, so her growth was stunted. You'll learn about this over the course of the series. In that sense, you could say that Beth Ann is the perfect 1950s housewife living in 1963. She was raised to believe that her only opportunity in life was to take care of a wealthy man and to hope that he would always provide for her. No matter what he may do to her, that is her survival mechanism. To me, the stakes appear to have been higher back then because of all of the boundaries and limitations. For example, Beth Ann would not have had another source of income, apart from her husband. She didn't have any skills or talents or education or outlets. She was completely dependent upon this man - but it's interesting to watch the story in the 1980s and the present day to see how that differs. It's also interesting to look at why these women in the later eras choose to stay in their relationships given the fact that they have more opportunities and more outlets and more options for leaving. That's something we explore as the series goes on.

What have we lost from the 1960s that would help us today?

As a cast, we were told that we all handled our down-time on set very differently, which is hilariously definitive. Apparently, those of us who are representing the 1960s were unintentionally found sitting in our chairs reading books in our down-time. I would be knitting, crocheting and doing crossword puzzles, or reading plays. Sam [Jaegar, who plays Beth Ann's husband Rob Stanton] was always buried in a book and our supporting actors would do similar things. Apparently, the 1980s cast would sit on their cell phones and the 2019 team were always sitting on their laptops. It's fascinating, but it made me think a lot about how communication was so different back then. A lot of my scenes involved going into the middle of the street to find a neighbour and we discover that a lot more time was spent on very simple tasks. I think we have lost a sense of presence and awareness about the world today. We don't make eye contact today because of what's happened in the world of communication. We probably find it very novel to go outside and have conversation with a neighbour right now. It rarely happens.

What can you tease about the murder storyline in the show?

We are going to mislead you about who gets killed and why - but once you get to the end of the season, you will see the breadcrumb trail that we left you from the very first episode. At the end, everything will fall into place. You will keep getting pieces of the puzzle as the story progresses, but I don't think the audience will get ahead of it because life is too complicated for that. Once everything falls into place, you'll see that we have been giving you the truths the whole time - or the truths as soon as the characters know about them. This is a free-standing 10-hour movie. You will get answers to your questions.

Is there any interaction between the three women in each era?

No. On set, we were often ships passing in the night. I didn't get to see my co-stars much, which was due to the way things were scheduled. We'd shoot the 1960s one day and then shoot the 1980s the next day, so it had been the dreamiest schedule for a mother like me. Occasionally, there would be a day where all of us would be on set to shoot different exterior scenes at the house - but that was rare. Those days would be very trippy for me because I had been exclusively living in this heightened, theatrical and very stylised world of the 1960s, but then they would switch out all the cars and the 80s would be there. And then they would switch it out again and it would be 2019.

Marc Cherry is famous for creating female-led shows, such as Desperate Housewives. What DNA from his other shows will we see in Why Women Kill?

We're all bringing a little of our favourite beloved characters and series to Why Women Kill. I was a big Desperate Housewives fan and I can clearly feel the Marc Cherry-ness of the show. At the same time, I feel like he's been able to spread his wings in a new way with Why Women Kill. I think the scripts are really well written. While everything is stylised and theatrical, Marc's done a very good job of making these characters grayer and grayer and grayer as the series goes on. They become messier and messier and messier, and therefore they are more realistic and more relatable. I think we're going to give you a false sense of security with Why Women Kill and then we will really drop you on your butts. It's going to be an incredible ride.

What do you think of Marc Cherry's work?

To be honest, I am shocked at how prolifically he writes well-developed and complicated women. He is able to understand the way we think in a way that I find to be un-paralleled. He is a genius. I am utterly in awe of him. He seems to understand female relationships with other females, but that is seemingly impossible because he's not a woman surrounded by female friends. He shows all of the different ways in which women love each other in a really gorgeous light. I can't think of another example of a writer who is able to do that.

What research did you tackle in terms of finding the mannerisms and speech patterns of a character from the 1960s?

I don't know if it's because I come from drama school and the theatre, but I am far more comfortable in this setting than other eras. I feel like I have to work a different muscle when I'm playing someone modern. I'm good with limitations. I like being put in a box and then having to figure out how to rage against it and get out. That's a challenge that I really thrive on, which we don't have in modern settings in the same way.

Which of the three eras of the show would you most like to live in?

I am a very nostalgic person. I always felt like I was meant to live in another era, but it would probably be before the 1960s. I love the fact that I was able to step into the 1960s every day for five months, but I was also very happy to take off Beth Ann at the end of the day. I was very happy to go home to my family, where I feel like I'm on an equal footing with my husband. At home, we co-parent in every way. We are both very hard workers. We both have opportunities to be individuals and we don't use each other to define ourselves. At the end of the day, I am really happy to be a modern woman.

How much of your character's homemaking skills do you possess?

I am a little bit crafty and I love to cook, but I am not a Suzy Homemaker. I love playing Suzy Homemakers - but in real life, I will choose to make a roast dinner or I will choose to use a slow cooker over anything complicated. When I think about raising my children, I think a lot about the memories that I'm going to leave them with, which is why the adventures we go on throughout the day are very important to me. I also think the fact that we have home-cooked meals is very important because I think that feeding is an expression of love. Plus, I love having that time with them sitting at the dinner table. It's important to me that I know where their food came from and that they are getting what they need. That's part of how I love them. I understand that part of caretaking, for sure. I am a homebody, but I could not make my life about serving in the way that Beth Ann does in the 1960s. No way. That's not me.