Both Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck both took great care in approaching the character of Phyllis Schlafly in the FX limited series, “Mrs. America.” For Boden, directing Cate Blanchett as Schlafly and showing her evolution into an anti-feminist crusader was something that she truly relished. “It’s really such a beautiful thing about making this as a limited series because you get to meet the Phyllis Schlafly that is not the person who we end the series with,” she tells us in our recent webchat (watch the video above). What Boden found just as intriguing was the idea that Schlafly could have gone down a very different road based on the events that are shown in the first episode: “In the pilot, how we approached it is this is the story of a woman and what happens to her over the course of the pilot could just as easily turned her into a feminist as what she ends up becoming.”
“Mrs. America” chronicles the multi-year battle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment into the U.S. Constitution. It does this through the viewpoint of Schlafly and her Stop E.R.A. organization as well as through the perspective of leading figures of the women’s movement including Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Rep. Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) and Rep. Shirely Chisholm (Uzo Aduba). Boden and Fleck have been working together since they met in college. Their first feature was 2006’s “Half Nelson,” which they both co-wrote and Fleck directed and the film went on to earn a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Ryan Gosling. Most recently they both wrote and directed last year’s blockbuster “Captain Marvel.”
While both consider themselves to be politically active, Boden and Fleck were not very familiar with the history of the E.R.A. Boden was familiar with some of the figures but getting to work on the series acquainted her with others that she had no idea about such as Ruckelshaus. “But doing the deep dive, not just into the beats of history, but into the archival footage of these women speaking, that was really incredibly enjoyable,” she says. Fleck echoed that sentiment about getting to learn about these fascinating figures. “To learn the history of it was really a gift for me to jump in and learn about so many wonderful women that you’re not typically taught in your school upbringing.”
Having just come off “Captain Marvel,” which takes place in the 1990s, the team was really happy to continue working on a period project. As Boden describes it, “We have always loved ’70s movies so much that I think when ‘Mrs. America’ showed up in our inbox and it was like, ‘Now we actually get to make a ‘70s movie!’” Fleck added that there was one specific aspect of doing a period series that made him particularly excited. “From a storytelling perspective, being in the ‘90s or the ‘70s and not having cell phones is such a gift because nowadays there’s so many plots that are decided when someone gets on their phone… It doesn’t sound cinematic, but I’m telling you, to not solve problems with a cell phone is huge.”
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