‘Maid’ Emmys FYC panel: Margaret Qualley and Andie MacDowell discuss ‘artistically fulfilling’ limited series [WATCH]

After scoring its first Best Limited Series Emmy win last year with “The Queen’s Gambit,” Netflix is hoping for a repeat victory with “Maid,” a 10-part drama based on the memoir of the same name by Stephanie Land. The series stars Margaret Qualley as Alex Russell, a young mother who leaves her abusive partner and attempts to start her and her daughter’s lives anew. Qualley recently reflected on the experience of making the show during a 2022 Emmys FYC panel hosted by Variety’s Jenelle Riley along with castmates Andie MacDowell and Anika Noni Rose, executive producer/showrunner/writer Molly Smith Metzler, cinematographer/director Quyen Tran, and executive producer/director John Wells. Watch the video Q&A above.

When asked how she prepared for her challenging role, Qualley said her foremost concern was “forging that bond with Rylea [Nevaeh Whittet],” who plays Russell’s toddler daughter, Maddy, because “that was the one thing that… had to be authentic.” The 27-year-old, whose previous TV experience consisted only of supporting parts on “The Leftovers” and “Fosse/Verdon,” went on to discuss how the unfamiliar demands of being a series lead benefitted her performance since she naturally had less time to distance herself from her character.

SEE Andie MacDowell interview: ‘Maid’

MacDowell, Qualley’s actual mother who also plays Russell’s mentally ill mother, Paula, expressed her feelings of gratitude about being able to directly help her daughter through such a tasking job. She also indicated that playing her character helped satisfy her own long-held “curiosity about manic behavior” and praised Metzler’s writing, saying what “made [Paula] such an individual was the humor that Molly gave her.”

Metzler confirmed her intention to inject the dramatic series with doses of “gallows humor” in order to keep from creating a “feel-bad slog.” As she recounted the process of adapting Land’s book, she made it clear that she and her co-writers deliberately kept their lead character “rooted in a comedic point of view” because they “wanted the audience to go on the ride” rather than be turned off by a lecturing tone. When asked how it felt to win a Writers Guild of America award for the series in March, she said “the fact that [other] writers thought we did a good job with the adaptation was wonderful.”

Rose spoke in eloquent detail about the “artistically fulfilling” experience of developing her character, Regina. After being drawn in by the “beautiful writing,” she dove into Regina’s psyche, saying she “was really interested in being able to bring this woman to life because [hers] is a reality for some people and a lot of people don’t know that reality.” She acknowledged the character’s initially “mean and nasty” demeanor but explained that “there’s always a journey that took that [type of] person to that place.”

SEE Emmy Experts Typing: Limited Series battle between 2021 and 2022 shows

Tran has been honing her cinematography craft for nearly two decades, but never tried her hand at directing until Wells gave her a shot with this series’ eighth episode. She admitted that, although the caliber of the cast and crew made her apprehensive, she was comforted by the trust Metzler and Wells demonstrated by giving her full creative freedom, with the latter telling her, “Just turn in the cut that you want.” In the moment, he graciously commended her ability, while Rose expressed that “it was a joy to see a woman step into this [directing] space with such ease.”

Wells, the producer behind such ubiquitous shows as “ER” and “The West Wing,” revealed that he had not planned on directing any “Maid” episodes himself until Metzler convinced him to. Exuding a palpable amount of pride in the project, he stated that, although the COVID-19 pandemic presented great challenges, “it was an extraordinary experience to get to work with all these people and we had a wonderful, difficult, wonderful time.”

Since its October 2021 premiere, “Maid” has proven to be a hit with audiences and critics alike, with Kelly Lawler (USA Today) lauding it as “a blistering portrayal of the realities of poverty” that is “hard to watch at times, but even harder to look away.” Alison Herman (The Ringer) writes that the show is “only asking us to notice what’s already there” with regard to impoverished women and children. Indeed, that was an intention of Metzler’s as well, as her closing panel comments indicated her desire for audiences to finish the show feeling more informed, more empathetic, and possibly inspired to enact change.

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