MAKENNA James joins us on Close-up Culture ahead of the premiere of new Paramount Network show American Woman.
Q: American Woman premieres 7 June on the Paramount Network. Can you tell us more about your character (Becca) and your role on the show?
A: Becca is rebellious, to say the least. She speaks her mind, has a progressive view of the world, and is extremely passionate. Becca has a complicated relationship with her mother, Bonnie (Alicia Silverstone), and they encounter many roadblocks throughout the series. This friction stems from their differing opinions on Bonnie’s separation with Becca’s father, as well as ideological differences.
Q: You have appeared on numerous shows – including How to Get Away with Murder, Teen Wolf and The Mick – but American Woman is a break-out project for you. How did you find the experience and did you enjoy the opportunity to stay with a character for multiple episodes?
A: Staying in the same character long-term was one of the highlights of the experience. I love adding layers to a character, showcasing aspects of their personality that haven’t been discovered yet. Especially with Becca, a character that can come across as rude and aloof, I felt that adding dynamicism was imperative. Behind her facade of sarcasm, Becca is genuinely struggling. Being able to portray these different dimensions is not an opportunity often afforded in guest-starring appearances.
Q: The show takes place amid the rise of second-wave feminism in the 1970s. Was female empowerment part of the attraction of the show to you?
A: Definitely. Any opportunity to showcase the fortitude of women is a huge bonus, in my book.
Q: American Woman also gave you a chance to work with Alicia Silverstone. How was the time you spent with her and what did you learn?
A: Alicia is one of the nicest people I have had the fortune of working with. We actually ended up bonding after I had a rough day on set. One of our directors was very technical in their instruction, which I had not been accustomed to, resulting in my repeated failure. Alicia came up to me, told me that the process would become routine after a while, not to worry, and to ignore the frustration. She occupies that maternal role very easily.
Q: Alicia has long been vocal about animal rights and environmental causes. Can you tell us about your environmental activism?
A: Of course. I have an emphasis on improving aquatic ecosystems that have been adversely impacted by human actions. One of my proudest moments centered around acid deposition (colloquially known as acid rain) in the Adirondacks. I argued for the cessation of a liming project that was spearheaded by Cornell, which was subsequently ended. But, I’m hoping to expand my work to encompass atmospheric impact, as well as animal endangerment/extinction.
Q: Harvard University is in your near future. How are you feeling about this next step in your life?
A: I could not be more excited, as cliche as that sounds. I have been waiting for this moment since I was eight years old. Getting my collegiate education has always been a major goal of mine. I’m also very enthusiastic about finally being able to explore my academic interests in depth.
Q: Natalie Portman, Edward Norton, Jodie Foster and Tommy Lee Jones all had Ivy League educations and went onto to have great careers in acting. How do you envision your career shaping up after Harvard?
A: As of now, I am not sure. I anticipate returning to the industry after college, but fully intend on using my education to work in other fields (political arena, environmental legislation). I might also consider exploring writing and directing as potential career paths. Right now, I am trying to figure out how I want to divide my time between the two paths. Suffice it to say, I am not going to college for the novelty.
American Woman premieres on the Paramount Network June 7th