“It’s the little pushes of history, not the big ones,” declares Emmy nominee Zoe Kazan about how the HBO limited series “The Plot Against America” depicts an alternate version of America that descends into unsettling fascism.
“It felt very important to us that it is a slow creep,” she explains. “The series starts out in this slow burn way. This is not about huge social upheaval, it’s about a small gesture that snowballs or permission being granted by our leaders modelling certain kinds of behavior.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Kazan above.
“The Plot Against America” was adapted by writers Ed Burns and David Simon (“The Wire”) from the 2004 novel of the same name by Philip Roth. It stars Kazan as Elizabeth “Bess” Levin, alongside Morgan Spector, Anthony Boyle, John Turturro and Winona Ryder. The story centers on the Levins, a Jewish family grappling with an America in an alternate 1940s lurching towards fascism as a populist anti-Semite demagogue ascends to the White House.
The series is a disturbingly prescient cautionary tale, painting what is an all-too familiar portrait of an America suffocating under racial prejudice, xenophobia and social unrest. “We’re holding a mirror up, we’re not imagining a different version. That spoke really powerfully to me, before the moment we are living in right now,” Kazan explains. “The series is very faithful to the book and my experience reading the book was an almost uncanny experience. I read it in November 2018, we were almost two years into the Trump presidency at that point and I thought ‘oh, our audience is going to think we invented some of this to create stronger parallels to the moment we are living in,'” she says, noting how eerily similar some of the story lines within the series have been to current events.
The version of America depicted in “The Plot Against America” immerses the audience in an uncomfortably familiar alternate reality that we see on a grand scale as fascism sweeps across the country. However, it is also effective on a more granular level, as it allows us to viscerally experience this version of America just as the Levins do. For example, as the President’s abhorrent words and actions gain traction and legitimacy nationwide, Kazan’s character Bess experiences the escalating tensions closer to home as it impacts her family.
“It was interesting for me to be playing this character who is not politically active and she’s activated mostly or motivated mostly by wanting to protect her family. Her sphere is the domestic,” she explains. “It was a real honor and pleasure to get to explore what that’s like and to find dignity in that person and to lend legitimacy to her standpoint. We have such a premium on ‘strong female characters,’ but I think that can be misconstrued as meaning that every female character has to speak their mind kick ass and be Lara Croft but with Gloria Steinem glasses. I just don’t think we’re asking that when we’re asking for strong female representation. We’re asking for representation of a female point of view. That was something I really fought for when we were making this.”
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