Blair Brown who stars in “The Parisian Woman” alongside Uma Thurman and Phillipa Soo, talks to Moneyish about Janet Yellen, Orange Is the New Black and #MeToo
This is how to be a woman in power.
Decades after making her cinematic debut in 1973’s “The Paper Chase,” Blair Brown is still stealing scenes. The 71-year-old had a popular turn as a celebrity inmate on “Orange Is The New Black,” where her character was based on chef Paula Deen and former jailbird Martha Stewart. She’s now on Broadway, where she currently stars alongside lead actress Uma Thurman in “The Parisian Woman,” a play created by former “House of Cards” showrunner Beau Willimon.
In the political noir, which revolves around Thurman using her brains and feminine wiles to get her husband (Josh Lucas) nominated as a federal judge by Donald Trump, Brown stars as Jeanette, an establishment Republican that the President picked to run the Federal Reserve. “She’s not a regular politician nor like [real-life Fed chair] Janet Yellen, who made it in the world of academia,” Brown tells Moneyish. “She’s a southern woman who’s very much a survivor and knows how to make her way in a man’s world.”
Playing such a character, albeit decked out in a beautiful pantsuit courtesy of costume designer Jane Greenwood, was complicated for Brown. Though she grew up in privileged D.C. society and could identify with women in and around politics, she also scoured lists of the most influential women in Washington to figure out what Jeanette might look like. Brown is also a self-admitted “progressive” and though the play takes potshots at Trump— there’s ironic use of “locker room talk” and “fake news”— Willimon wrote Jeanette to give voice to traditional Republicans who have doubts about Trump but lined up behind him due to party loyalty.
“Beau was trying to have a character who was conservative but not mockable,” she says. “He wanted to give a fair shake to old-fashioned Republicans who say they’re not going to turn on the guy and rip the party apart. I don’t believe that, but many people do. And given our divisive time, it’s good to have a character who’s accomplished, but that you disagree with in a Manhattan play.” (Frank Underwood, the corrupt male lead in Willimon’s “House of Cards” remake, is a Democrat.)
Brown’s continued relevance comes despite Hollywood’s famous blindness to older actresses— though that’s eased recently as audiences demand more diverse casting and the likes of Netflix and Amazon Studios open the door for a greater variety of shows. “When you get older, there are fewer parts but they’re far better. Young actresses are by and large playing the same part over and over again.” she says. “‘Orange Is the New Black’ was not possible when I was starting out. I never saw a female director of photography for decades.”
That said, Brown isn’t necessarily hankering after juicy lead roles. “I don’t have the hunger to be in every scene,” she says. “The lead is often the heavy lifter who establishes a sort of ethos. Others upset it and it’s much more fun to be the upsetter than to do the lifting.”
In “OITNB” for instance, her character Judy disrupts the status quo by becoming a queen bee in the penitentiary. “Both Judy and Jeanette are similar in that they’re women who make things happen though they have no one to rely on,” Brown says. “It’s exciting to play females that don’t apologize for being female and aren’t trying to fit in.”
For her part, Brown thinks the reckoning that has hit the show business in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal is long overdue. But she also thinks the conversation needs to include more men and that firmer lines need to be drawn between being made to feel uncomfortable and harassment. “It’s not the same,” she says. “To stop men from having the ability to harass, it’s not just a woman’s issue. It was a misunderstanding of the women’s liberation movement that men felt cut out of women having power. Prosecute those who are prosecutable, but let’s keep the conversation open.”
Her fear, Brown says, is that progress is fragile and a backlash will occur. “I don’t want men to feel like they don’t know how to be friendly to women,” she says.
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