Pilot season can be a stressful experience for any actor, but for Erin Darke, 2015’s pilot season was particularly depressing. “I was reading these scripts and just being like, ‘Oh my god, what if I have to sign a seven-year contract with this show?” the Kill Your Darlings actress recalls. “It was that feeling of, 'theoretically, I want these jobs, but I don’t actually want any of these jobs.'” Then, two months after pilot season had wrapped, another script landed in her hands: Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt, a show based on Lynn Povich’s book The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace. It was love at first read. “[I was] convinced that I was never going to get it because I loved it too much,” Darke says.
The structure of news magazines in the 1960s was much different than it is today: Male employees were the writers and reporters; they were paired with women, who worked as research assistants and fact checkers, often without getting credit for their work. Povich was one of 46 women working at Newsweek who, in 1970, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that management at the magazine had “systematically discriminated” against its female employees “in both hiring and promotion,” and that the women were “forced to assume a subsidiary role” just because they were female. (In the book, Povich writes that her boss, Harry Waters, explained that when he applied at the magazine, his editor told him, "The best part of the job is that you get to screw the researcher," which, Waters said, “reflected the position of women at the newsmagazines, both literally and figuratively. It reinforced in young women that that’s their position—it’s underneath. That’s as far as they can get.”)
“These women were so highly educated and so intelligent and were actually being used for that intelligence, just not in an equal way,” Darke says. Good Girls Revolt fictionalizes this fight, swapping in News of the Week magazine for Newsweek and featuring female employees in various situations in life fighting for credit and equality.
Darke was called in to audition for Cindy Reston—who, unlike a number of the characters on the show, is a married woman whose life is very neatly planned out. “In some ways, she’s already made all of the decisions to go down that path,” Darke says. “In the pilot, Cindy definitely starts a journey of realizing that this life that she signed herself up for is perhaps not exactly what she wants. For her to change her mind about that and decide she wants something else is not an easy thing.”
Darke loved the idea of being able to play a woman making those tough decisions, and fell in love with the character, who dreams of writing a novel and whose husband has allowed her to work as a caption writer at News of the Week for a couple of years before they start a family. Then, after her initial audition for Cindy, Darke was called back in to read for Jane, one of the magazine’s unmarried research assistants. “When they brought me back in for Jane, I was a little bit like, ‘Well, I still really love the show, and I’m still super excited about it,’” Darke says. But when Pitch Perfect actress Anna Camp was ultimately cast as Jane, Darke landed the role of Cindy—and she was overjoyed.
“I was so happy because I had fallen in love with the character of Cindy,” Darke says. “She’s so different from me, but I think maybe in her I can see this alternate universe version of me where, if I had been raised in a different time by different people, that could be the person I ended up being. Imagine growing up without ever having anyone tell you that you can pursue your dream, and then, as an adult, making that discovery on your own and trying to deal with that. I have so much compassion and love for her in that journey that she’s on because it’s a journey that I didn't have to go on.”
Good Girls Revolt filmed its pilot episode in New York City in August 2015. If the pilot had been filmed for network TV, executives would have decided whether or not to pick it up, but Amazon’s system works differently. In November, the company released Revolt online along with a few other pilots, and asked its users to rate, vote, and comment on the show. That feedback factors into the company’s decision about whether or not to order a pilot to series.
“It was a crazy thing to have the pilot out there, knowing that your future and the future of the show depends on people watching it and liking it,” Darke says. “But there was also something great about it, because most network pilots that don’t get picked up disappear. I shot a pilot a few years ago with David Schwimmer that I loved, and it didn't get picked up. I’ve never seen it. I don’t know anyone who actually ever got to see it. It just disappeared into the ether. This thing that you put all this work into—if it doesn't get picked up, it’s gone. So there was something actually really lovely about the Amazon system and knowing that even if our show didn't get picked up, the pilot would still be out there, and this thing that we had worked so hard on would at least get to be seen.” Revolt’s pilot currently has a rating of 4.6 stars out of five, and the full season—which was shot in Los Angeles—will be available on October 28.
After she booked the show and before filming the pilot, Darke did her research. She read Povich’s book and watched CNN’s series The Sixties and The Seventies. But she still found that there were gaps in her knowledge of that time period, which often spurred other research during filming—especially when the show’s fictional magazine covered real-life events. The pilot, for example, opens with the murder of Meredith Hunter during the Rolling Stones’s set at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969, and other episodes deal with aspects of Vietnam and the Black Panther movement.
“One time we talked about the Tet Offensive ... I realized that I actually didn't know that much about it,” she says. “I think in general, this time period has been one of those things for me. I just had this moment of realizing, holy s***, the things that were happening in this country at the time—I have this broad surface knowledge of them, but did not know the details. There are a few episodes that deal with the Black Panthers. I obviously, theoretically, knew who they were, but I’ve been very interested in them since then because I think there’s a correlation between that and Black Lives Matter today.”
And although it's a period show, certain aspects of Good Girls Revolt will feel familiar, particularly to its female viewers. Women still make less than men in the same jobs, are less likely to be given raises even when they ask for them, and account for less than 5 percent of the CEOs at S&P 500 companies. “I keep telling people that I find the show horrifyingly relevant,” Darke says. “I definitely came out of shooting Good Girls Revolt with a renewed sense of the need to fight for feminism. It was both a reminder for me of how far we’ve come, but also that it’s not done.”
Good Girls Revolt hits Amazon on October 28, 2016.