Why Women Kill - Marc Cherry interview

Marc Cherry, the brains behind Desperate Housewives and Devious Maids, is the creator and executive producer of Why Women KIll.

Marc Cherry interview

Ginnifer Goodwin as Beth Ann and Sadie Calvano as April.

How did you come up with the idea for Why Women Kill?

I'd been carrying around an idea for years about a housewife in the 1960s who finds out her husband's cheating. Instead of telling the husband she knows, she befriends his mistress and that starts her on a journey of self discovery. That was the initial idea. Later on, it occurred to me that so much of how we behave and so much of our expectations for happiness are based on the era in which we live. We are told by popular culture and the rules of the day what should make us happy, so I became entranced with comparing three decades of three women and three marriages. Each of these women is dealing with the same problem, but their reactions would be based on the decade in which they lived.

How do you contrast between the stories in the three timelines?

Once we've introduced the stories, I try to find connective tissue in every single episode. These are women who have discovered their husbands are cheating on them, or there's the idea of infidelity or a third person has entered in their relationship - but we bring everything together in the final episode in a really glorious and surprising way. I am very excited for everyone to see what happens. We find a really fascinating way to connect these three characters, but I don't want to spoil it because it's delicious.

How important is the house in which these three couples live?

Pay close attention to the house. The house becomes a symbol of marriage. You can decorate it differently and you can put your own stamp on it, but the fundamentals stay the same. These three women are living in the exact same house at different eras. That's how I connected all their lives. And then, like I say, there will be a big connective reveal at the very end of the 10 episodes.

In the present-day storyline, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Reid Scott play characters in an open marriage. What inspired you to delve into this type of relationship for the show?

I know people in a polyamorous relationship and I'm endlessly confused by the issue, so I thought it would be fun to examine it. When I came up with the idea for the different decades, I started looking at iconic television characters for inspiration. I thought the best way to show a woman in the '60s was to look at actresses like Donna Reed and Harriet Nelson. For the '80s, I was thinking about Joan Collins and Linda Evans. And then I started to think, 'What's the iconic role we see on TV today for women?'

Lucy Liu as Simone and Jack Davenport as Karl.

Lucy Liu as Simone and Jack Davenport as Karl.

Who did you land upon for inspiration?

With the present day, I went a little weird because I was thinking about [women's rights attorney] Gloria Allred. I started to think about what kind of situations a feminist lawyer would be in, and then I started to think about how marriage has changed. The biggest thing that's happening right now for us as a society is people who are in throuples are coming out of the closet. As a member of the gay community, I certainly know more than a few couples who are in open marriages. I thought, 'Well, let's talk about that. What are the complications that come from this? And how does jealousy rear its head in these relationships?' We started to have very honest talks in the writers' room about this new thing that's happening in society. People are being very open about it. They are writing about it and talking about it, so I thought it would be an exciting way to contrast the previous decades, because we're living in a bit of a sexual revolution as far as that goes.

Lucy Liu and Jack Davenport play a married couple in the 1980s storyline. What did you think of their casting?

The idea of having big hair and shoulder pads on Lucy Liu and taking her to the '80s was very attractive to me. I am a big fan of her work. I've watched every episode of Ally McBeal and I thought this would be a nice, fresh way to see Lucy Liu. Fans get to see her have fun in a way that they haven't seen her before. And then there's Jack Davenport... Jack and I almost did a pilot together about seven or eight years ago, but he chose to do Smash instead. I've forgiven him now, but the idea of putting Jack and Lucy together was very exciting to me - and it has turned out so beautifully.

There are fun transitions between the different eras. Are these transitions written into the script at an early stage or do they happen organically?

It takes some work. I try to do the transitions gracefully, so going from one decade to another is elegant - but sometimes it looks a little too much. When I met with Marc Webb, who directed the first two episodes, there were a couple of transitions where he said, "Okay. You're working too hard here." For that reason, we use it sparingly. I did a lot of transitions on Desperate Housewives, but sometimes I can over-use it. Interestingly enough, as the series goes on and we really connect with these three characters, it's not required as much. You are very much aware that you're following these three women and you're in their journey. It was very helpful in the first couple of episodes to introduce the world and make sure everyone was connected - but then we also use the house. Someone will walk into the kitchen and when they walk out, someone else is coming into the dining room in a different decade. It's a writing thing. And I try to use it when necessary.

Reid Scott as Eli and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Taylor.

Reid Scott as Eli and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Taylor.

Will audiences see the DNA of your previous shows, such as Desperate Housewives and Devious Maids, in Why Women Kill?

Absolutely. The Golden Girls, which was the first big show I worked on. That's where my love affair with writing female characters started. There is a whole bunch of rules and the cast will make fun of me for bringing them up. Sometimes one of the cast will do something and I'll say, "No. You're not going to move on that line. Bea Arthur would roll over in her grave if you moved on the joke! Stay put." Those lessons still come out of me, and I am ridiculed for them.

Why do you think you write female characters so well?

I love my mum. In all seriousness, it's down to that. The character of Lynette in Desperate Housewives was based on the fact that my dad would often be away travelling for business. He would go to the Ivory Coast or Saudi Arabia or wherever his company would send him, so it would be us kids with our mum for nine months of the year. When I was really little, I'd sit behind the sofa and play with Lego while my mum had friends over. I would listen to her conversations. I'd listen to how she talked to her friends and the things they would talk about. I was always fascinated by it. My mum has a really funny point of view. She has a dark, funny sense of humour. And I absolutely love her. Because I love her so much and I was so fascinated by her, I really like women.

How much of your mother is in the characters of Why Women Kill?

For me, all of these women have a little of my mother in them. My mum can be a total snob and she can really worry too much about the trappings of her life. She was a wonderful homemaker, so there's that part of her. Some of the strength of Kirby Howell-Baptiste's character in the opening scene with the contractor is my mum. She's capable of that plain talk and strength. I guess all of my characters come out of my mother and I can get really emotional talking about it because I was really blessed.

Alicia Coppola as Sheila and Ginnifer Goodwin as Beth Ann.

Alicia Coppola as Sheila and Ginnifer Goodwin as Beth Ann.

How did your mother guide you through your writing career?

Here's an interesting story... My career ended, for all practical purposes, in 1996 because my writing partner broke up with me. We had worked on The Golden Girls together and then we did the worst sitcom of 1995 called The Crew. It was about flight attendants. It couldn't be worse. And we broke up, and I just could not get work. I booked a little thing there and a little thing there, but I could not make a living. During that time, my mother kept loaning me money. I felt really crappy about it because I was at an age where I should've been able to take care of myself - but then I had this idea about suburban housewives, which she had given me. What's funny is the fact that she had loaned me exactly $100,000 over a period of three and a half years. When I finally sold Desperate Housewives, I sold it for $100,000. I went straight to my mum's home and I wrote her a cheque - and I was feeling really cocky. When I walked in and gave her the cheque, I said to her, "Well, aren't you lucky that you have a son who could figure his way out of trouble." My mother took the cheque, put it in her purse and said, "I'm not lucky. I knew what horse I was betting on."

Why Women Kill and Desperate Housewives are similar in the fact that both first seasons of each show revolve around a murder storyline. Why is that?

When I did Desperate Housewives, I thought it was going to be a half-hour companion to Sex And The City. My first incarnation was, "Well, what happens after the women on Sex And The City stop having sex and they meet someone and settle down? They would get married and move to the suburbs - and then they'd go crazy." When I was writing it, that changed into an hour-long show and the murder aspect followed afterwards. It wasn't in the initial idea.

When did you come up with the idea of a murder storyline for Why Women Kill?

The original idea for this show was about a housewife. I wasn't going to have her kill, but then I saw all of these women with their husbands and I thought it would be a different way to do a mystery. Indeed, there will be three deaths at the end of the series and they will all be committed by women, but it's not necessarily the three women you assume it might be. The victims are not necessarily the three men you think it might be. Interesting enough, not one person will be killed because of infidelity. Infidelity is the starting point for these journeys of self discovery. What becomes the mystery is, 'Who is going to kill and why?' That became the new format for me to play with. That's really where it all started.

How close-ended is the story of the first series?

This storyline will end at the 10 episodes. And if I'm lucky enough to work on the show again, I already have an idea in place of how there will be women and murder in another season - but it would be a totally new way.