Q&A with Michaela Watkins

We recently spoke with actress and comedian Michaela Watkins. Michaela recently appeared in an episode of Flip the Script, a series produced by Women in Film that re-creates real-life conversations had by women in the entertainment industry, but with the gender roles reversed. Watch the entire Flip the Script series here.

Michaela currently stars in the hit show Casual on Hulu. She was previously a cast member on the 2008-2009 season of Saturday Night Live and has appeared on The New Adventures of Old Christine, Enlightened, New Girl and Anger Management, among others.

Q: Tell us about Flip the Script. What does the series mean to highlight?

Flip the Script is a series of short episodes that depict actual experiences women have had in Hollywood, except that all of the male roles are played by women and vice versa. By reversing the gender roles, Flip the Script does a great job of making people raise an eyebrow and think, well when you put it like this, now it’s weird. When it’s done well, I think comedy is a really sneaky way to get into people’s consciousness.

It’s an interesting conversation to be having, given everything that’s going on in the industry at the moment. In particular, I think it’s making men look outside of themselves for the first time. I was talking to a male colleague — who is a very successful writer, producer, director and actor — and he said, I’m asking myself all of these questions now about how women experience this industry and it’s making me consider how differently women have to navigate their careers. But I don’t know what I can do. And I said you’re doing the right thing. You’re asking yourself about your entitlement. As women, we never assume anything. When we negotiate, we have to ask ourselves what we are worth. And you’ve never asked that. You just ask for what you want. So that awareness is a start, and it is how things ultimately shift. He also raised the question of professional privilege as it applies to personal relationships. As a single man in a position of influence in the industry, when and who is it appropriate for him to date? These are the right questions for him to be asking, because for women that power dynamic will be front of mind.

Q: Are there any parallels between the scenarios in Flip the Script and your own experience?

I have definitely experienced sexism in my career. Six or seven years ago, I was selling a script I’d co-written, and a male producer told me that it was great, but that women-centric stories don’t do very well and nobody really wants to make them. At the time, I grit my teeth, but I sat there and smiled because I didn’t want to disrupt the process of getting my script made. Now, however, with everything that’s going on in politics and the entertainment industry, I think there’s been a real shift in consciousness about bias and what women actually endure. If that happened to me now I would just say, are you joking? You’re joking. Because if you’re not joking, we’re very much done here.

Q: How have you developed the confidence to speak up?

I would like to say that things have changed since the meeting I had with that producer seven years ago, and that I’m empowered because I’m part of the changing landscape. But I think the truth is I was a bit of a coward. This is a question I struggle with a lot – what is the line? Do we swallow our objections in order to get our projects made and do what is necessary to move women into leadership roles so that we can change things that way? Or do we take a stand on every little thing along the way? Because if I don’t speak up and the person next to me doesn’t speak up, how is anything supposed to change? So I struggle with this because I also understand that the person who is outspoken every step of the way is labeled “hard to work with,” and who wants to be that person?

Q: Have you witnessed anyone in the industry who has successfully spoken up for herself?

I worked on a show with a young actress who is really self-possessed and the kind of person that makes me think, oh, things are going to be okay. She once had concerns with something that had been written for her character, so she said to the producers, I don’t like the script because the sex feels transactional, and I am not interested in telling that story. If I do this, these are the changes that I want to make. And the writers’ room made the changes. It so happens that the writers’ room was led by a woman, who was all too happy to make those changes. But this is a woman who spoke up for herself and got what she needed.

Q: What has your experience on Casual been like?

Casual is an ensemble show about a family, but I’m mostly interested in promoting women’s points of view and trying to shine the light on voices that we don’t normally hear. Last year on the show, seven of ten directors, two of three leads, and five of seven writers were women. Having that sort of representation is rewarding because the people who have furthered my career the most have been women. Jill Soloway, who after writing for years decided to become a director, put me in a film. Lake Bell did the same thing, and Kari Lizer cast me in the New Adventures of Old Christine.

Q: Do you think things are changing for women in Hollywood?

I do think things are changing. We used to think that boys will be boys, and that’s just the way they are. But it’s just not tolerated anymore. I’m glad that we’re having these conversations, and it’s interesting to watch the seeds being planted and see them grow and grow, not just in Hollywood but across industries. And the more we plant, the harder it’s going to be to ignore.