Erin Darke is an actress who sometimes writes. She's still getting comfortable with calling herself a writer. In Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt, she plays a newspaper researcher named Cindy who's trying to get a writing career off the ground. But between her job at the fictional News of the Week — a place where men get the bylines while women essentially do all of the work — and a controlling, manipulative husband, the obstacles seem endless.
Tired of pouring coffee, running errands, and grabbing sandwiches for the higher-paid male reporters, Darke's Cindy and three female co-workers decide to file a lawsuit against News of the Week for equal opportunity and advancement. Inspired by the women of Newsweek who filed a landmark 1970 gender discrimination lawsuit, the series set in the same year features a charismatic cast of relatable, complex female characters — but none shine as brightly as Cindy.
She’s a sweet, shy fiction writer whose husband has given her a year to gather material for her first novel. “What happens after a year?” the new researcher, Nora Ephron (yes, the Nora Ephron, played here by Grace Gummer), asks. “I get serious and start a family,” Cindy replies.
For Darke, a feminist who’d like to take back the word “feminism,” Cindy's a dream role. MTV News chatted with the actress about working five jobs to support her dream, writing her first screenplay, and finding herself in Cindy, a young woman who doesn’t even have the confidence to look at her own vulva.
Did you always want to be an actor?
Erin Darke: I think my mom had wanted to be an artist when she was young, and her family had very much squashed that idea. So when I was growing up, she was really into letting me try all of the arts. I played eight different instruments. I did pottery. I tried welding for a little while. But it wasn’t until I did a play at this youth theater in Flint that I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life. Ironically, it was a black-light show, which means that I was literally colored in head to toe in black fabric carrying around brightly colored props. I didn’t speak. But somehow, that was the moment.
What was it about that moment that made you want to do more of it?
Darke: It was that sense that you feel like you’re communicating with an audience. You could feel the joy that we were creating. I wanted to be a part of something that creates this. Then I got to speak later, and it was even better!
How did you go from, “This is a fun thing I do,” to “I want to be a professional actor and dedicate my life to this?”
Darke: I was determined. I was homeschooled as a kid, so I had the advantage of realizing that meant that I could finish whenever I finished. I started college when I was 16 because I just wanted to get all that shit over with and get on with my life. I went to college in Flint [in Michigan] because I was 16 and my parents were like, “You can’t leave.” So I graduated with my BFA in theater, worked five jobs over the course of one summer to save up money to move to New York, and spent a lot of years doing off-off-Broadway theater. Theater schools teach you how to act, but they don’t teach you anything about the business, so I got to New York, had no idea what the hell I was doing, and just did anything I could for a really long time.
OK. You’re living in New York, doing off-off-Broadway theater, and you have a desire to know more about the industry. What was the turning point for you?
Darke: At some point, I realized that I needed to know more about the business side of things. I don’t like feeling uneducated about things, and feeling uneducated about my own business felt ridiculous. So I did an internship at a theater casting office — they did a lot of musical theater, and I’m tone-deaf, so it wasn’t a great fit. But then I got an internship at this film and TV casting office, Chrystie Street Casting. I loved it, and before I knew it, I was working full-time as a casting associate. They were so supportive of me also being an actor, so they let me start auditioning for small parts they were casting. I started booking things, and then I got an agent — which helped a lot — and eventually, I started auditioning enough that I started to become a terrible employee at the casting office.
Rejection is a significant part of acting. I have to imagine that working in a casting office made rejection easier for you to handle because you’ve been on the other side of things.
Darke: I definitely have the days where you don’t book a job that you fell in love with, and you cry. But having been on the other side, most actors get told and theoretically know that a lot of the time it’s not personal. There’s so many puzzle pieces being put together for every project. I’ve actually been in the room and seen those decisions get made, so even when I don’t get something, I think it’s strangely easier to deal with because I’ve been the person who didn’t cast someone before.
Good Girls Revolt is a very feminist show, and yet, even in 2016, people are still having a hard time saying the word “feminist.” Why do you think that is?
Darke: I had one interviewer ask me, “I know there are a lot of negative connotations around the word, but do you call yourself a feminist?” And I was like, “Why? Why is feminism a dirty word?” My mother used to make me listen to Helen Reddy’s greatest hits on the way to school every day, so I knew every word to “I Am Woman” by the time I was 7 — of course I’m a feminist. At some point, the word and the idea of feminism became co-opted by other people and other movements. It became a symbol for women who hate men, which is not what feminism is at all. It’s about people, men and women, coming together in a community to fight for the advancement of equal opportunity for both sexes. We need to take back the word “feminism.”
That’s why people call themselves humanists.
Darke: I would love to say that I’m a humanist, but I think the word “feminist” still needs to exist to acknowledge that there’s still a problem. It’s a statement; we’re not equal yet. There’s still a fight to be fought.
I love watching these characters define feminism and the feminist movement for themselves. Cindy feels suffocated by her life and by her husband’s expectations for her to be the perfect wife and mother. For me, even though I’m not married and I don’t have a husband poking holes in my diaphragm, Cindy is the most relatable because who hasn’t felt suffocated by their own life? Do you connect with her the same way?
Darke: I do. I have almost nothing in common with Cindy either, other than a passion for what she does. Pretty much nothing else in Cindy’s life matches up with mine, but I immediately fell in love with her. I did find it relatable that she doesn’t have the confidence to own herself and her own happiness. I have definitely been there in my life, especially when I was younger. In many ways, she’s 12-year-old me and she’s who I would have become if I was never given any confidence.
Watching her confront her own unhappiness with her husband and her life is extremely emotional. There’s this sense of dread that, even during this time of liberation, maybe she won’t get out of that oppressed cycle.
Darke: Changing your mind midway down that road is not easy, especially in 1969. In 1969 and 1970, a woman couldn’t buy a house by herself. She couldn’t have her own mortgage. Divorce laws weren’t passed until 1969, so this was not easy, especially for Cindy, who doesn’t have full ownership of herself as a person yet.
I know that you recently finished your first screenplay and you’re in the process of getting it made into a film. Has that always been a dream of yours?
Darke: When I moved, I found this CD of a movie that my best friend and I made when we were 5 called Two Princesses — about two princesses who got kidnapped and had to do laundry. As a little girl, the punishment of doing laundry was clearly the worst thing that could happen to me. So I guess I’ve always wanted to create my own stories, but writing was one of those things where I thought that I would never actually do it. I respected writers too much, and what they do, to think that I was one of them — and I still feel that way a lot of the time. I still feel uncomfortable calling myself a writer. I’m like, “No, I’m an actor who writes sometimes.”
Why is that?
Darke: Because I do think it’s an incredible skill. As an actor, especially one who’s worked in casting, you read so many scripts, and some of them are terrible. They’re terrible and they’re getting made, and some of them are good but the female role is just painful or underwritten. So after years of that, I had this idea kicking around in my head for two years, and I thought, I’m just going to start writing. If it’s bad, it’s bad. ... Although, now that the script is done, and we’re trying to get it made, it’s under a thousand people’s control.
Do you have a first film memory? One of my very first memories in life is watching Bambi.
Darke: The first movie I ever saw in theaters was Fantasia — remember back when they used to rerelease Fantasia in theaters? My parents took me to see it, and I was blown away. I was terrified of the sorcerer scene.
I was raised on Disney. Do you mind if I ask you how old you are?
Darke: I’m a few years older. I was a 6-year-old right when The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin came out in three consecutive years. If I could have been a Disney princess for every Halloween for five consecutive years, I probably would have — and yet, I never went as a Disney princess for Halloween. Ariel was my favorite princess and it always seemed like such an impractical costume to me because I couldn't figure out how to walk around with a mermaid tail on. But I had weird Halloween costumes as a kid. I found a picture of me, and I was dressed as Lydia from Beetlejuice — of course my best friend was a princess — and I just remember somebody opening the door and saying, “Are you dressed as someone going to a funeral?”
This interview has been condensed and edited.