With reboots abounding all over television, the much requested reboot ofThe First Wives Clubdefinitely stands on it’s own. As a tentpole program for the recently launched BET+ streaming service, expectations are high, but the cast and crew have delivered and beyond. Taking the original and putting a 2019 twist on it, the three primary actresses are African American women (Jill Scott, Ryan Michelle Bathe, and Michelle Buteau) and has Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver yielding her pen on the project. Freshened up and undeniably smart, The First Wives Club pays homage to the original now classic film, yet more than stands on its own. I had the privilege of sitting down with Ryan Michelle Bathe (Ari) and while we dove into the world of The First Wives Club, we also talked about what she sees on her own vision board for her career, why it’s crucial to “talk more” and how, as we enter 2020, the LGBT community and African American women are truly shaping the culture.
Michael Cook: Your role on the BET+ reboot of The First Wives Club is so incredibly well written and the show as a whole is extremely smart!
Ryan Michelle Bathe: Thank you for saying that. That is what actually attracted me to it in the first place. There was a crispness and a wit to it. It’s smart and I like that.
MC: Your character of Ari is loosely based on Diane Keaton’s character, with some definite changes. One thing about the show that sets this version of The First Wives Club apart is that it is not automatically obvious as to which character each woman is based on until you actually dive into the women as characters.
RMB: Yes, absolutely. It feels very much like a rough sketch and then we fill it in with the beautiful details. By the end it’s like “ohhh”! We have definitely evolved, and I think in the original film, Goldie Hawn is the only one actually still pursuing her career. I think one is a homemaker and the other has given up a law career. In our world, I have given up my law career, but it has been very recent and I have given it up to work with my husband and not actually stay at home. We have the frazzled mom with two young kids, who is also a surgeon, and then we have our resident diva, and her whole story and world. I don’t want to say that we have modernized it, I think that is a simple way of saying it. I think that we have filled it in. This is picking up right where The First Wives Club would look like.
MC: FromArmy WivestoBrothers and Sisters, you have thrived as part of an ensemble piece. What do you think it is about First Wives Club, which is both an ensemble, but has an intimate piece, that sets it apart?
RMB: The reason that it feels intimate is because there is a fourth character, and the fourth character is the relationship between the three women. We have this really intangible spirit moving through and it is that chemistry and that inexplicable way that we have been able to capture what real friendships and what real sisterhoods are like. We are able to project that into people’s homes. I think that is why it feels so intimate, because the three of us were able to develop a real and intimate relationship of our own.
MC: We are in an era of entertainment right now where movies and televisions that showcase ensembles of women is truly something that is showing that it is able to be successful on its own. What is it like to be part of that renaissance of women supporting women?
RMB: I give so much credit to Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, I give credit to these women who not only showed up, but they stayed in the game. They stayed in the game long enough to say “hey guess what, Baby Mama,that was not a fluke” they were able toshow and prove. I really give all of those women credit, people like Wanda Sykes, the women who could very easily have taken their money and gone off and said “I’m done”. It’s hard; and to their credit they do not talk about the struggles, nobody wants to be seen as whining and all of that stuff. I guarantee you, it is a struggle and it is a fight to convince a room full of men why this particular joke is funny. Ultimately, its not for you, you’re not gonna get it! (laughs).
MC: We definitely are at a moment culturally where gay men and African American women are truly setting the tone for entertainment in this culture, don’t you think?
RMB: That is what I love about shows like Pose, it reminds people, don’t forget where you got your culture. The “Yass queen”, that stuff came from black and brown young people in New York City who had fo find a way, a way to be seen and heard. With nothing, they managed to give us the culture. I think that we are now having a moment where the intersectionality of the African American community and the LGBT communities get it, that is the culture right there. Especially black women, because we basically run Twitter (laughs).
MC: When did you know that acting was going to be what you were going to be doing and that it was going to be your true passion?
RMB: You know, I knew that acting was going to be my passion for as long as I can remember. Some version of acting or performing, I have only ever wanted to spend my life singing and acting and and dancing on stages, that is all I have ever really wanted to do. I don’t know when I knew that it could be a career; you get older and when I was in high school I don’t think that I saw a way forward. I knew that I wanted to go to college, but I did not know a lot of people at that time that had gone to college. if you were going to be in the entertainment field, you had to pack up, move to New York and find a five hundred dollar apartment in Brooklyn, which is impossible now (laughs). It was very much an unfolding.
MC: So many people have that one person who truly believes in them and gives them the confidence to believe in themselves. Did you have that person?
RMB: I did. When I got to college, there was a woman named Venus Opal Reese and she lives in San Diego now and is still doing amazing and wonderful things. She was actually getting her PHD in directing at that time. There were not very many women of color, and I think she was the only black woman. I happened to be in the drama department, I don’t know what I was doing, but she saw me at one end of the hallway. “You-I Need You” she said. I told her that she did not even know if I could act. She looked me up and down and said “you can act”; that was my senior year. She told me that I was an artist, and that I always needed to find a way to be an artist. She encouraged me to apply for drama schools and she showed me a path of an incredible academic, this incredible mind, and also of an artist. She is the person, the one that showed me “oohhh I had been waiting to see that this was possible”. I had seen it before, we had a wonderful professor at Stanford, his name is Harry Elam, but it still felt very academic. I always wondered how you marry these two things; and I found a way. It really just takes one person, out of a thousand naysayers.
MC: We love you and we love your husband, This Is Us star Sterling K Brown just as much. You are both on emotionally charged programs with emotionally charged performances. How do you leave it at the office so to speak and simply be a married couple?
RMB: You know, I think it’s just practice. I think when you first start out in your career or not even at first, for many years, it was about bad auditions or about heartbreaks, or maybe good auditions and you still did not get the part or maybe you got close. Over time, we had to learn to cycle through things and the cycle just got quicker and quicker. There was a time that it would have taken me a week to get up off of the couch, then it took four days, then it took three days, and then I was like “okay, I don’t even need to get on the couch, it was horrible and when I get home, I’m good”. I think that has been the practice with how to just deal with a very emotional business. If you think about it, you are putting yourself on the line every time you go on an audition. You are putting yourself on the line and sometimes you aren’t getting anything back and sometimes you get a little bit back. Nine times out of ten, just because of how this works, you aren’t going to get the job. Hopefully, you do consistently amazing work in the room and then you get a shot to do consistently amazing work in front of the camera. I think that practice has made it very easy for us. That part is easy, its easy to go to a very emotionally charged set and then when you get home, be cool. We have a certain amount of security now, we know that we have made it to the point where we can do what we want to do. We have the jobs that give us the opportunity to do what we want to do.
MC: Everyone in their mind has their vision board as to what they see for their careers. What do you want to realize for yourself?
RMB: So much! The first thing is, my podcast. I really want to get my podcast up and running. I have an idea for how I want it to be and who I want to be on it. There are so many things that I am interested in, so I am just trying to figure out an umbrella of sorts so I can get everything that I want to talk about on a podcast under that umbrella. It is probably going to be something like “Trump is going to kill us all”, and in addition to someone breaking down the Ukraine business, but while we are doing that, can someone show me how to put on my eyelashes? I want to look good, I want the picture of me to be “she looks fabulous”! I want that definitely. I have done two one-woman shows already, and I think it is time for a third cabaret. I have not had the inspiration for what that is going to be yet, but that is in the works. I actually just found a musical director this morning, so fingers crossed. Lastly, I would love to do a show with Sterling. Even if we are not on It, I would love to create something for his production company or through my own production company. p
I have some ideas for some shows that I used to love growing up and that we don’t have a space for anymore. Like Brothers and Sisters for example. There was a time where there was a space for that good ABC drama/dramedy, Ally McBeal type show and I want to see that brought back in some way. There is an unrequited love, and you watch it and think “will they or won’t they, will they get together” we just don’t have that anymore right now and I would love to see that. What is going on in television right now is amazing, and I would love to do something that has that uplifting feel. Where you get to sit down every week and wonder if people are going to fall in love!
MC: What would the Ryan Michelle Bathe of today tell the Ryan Michelle Bathe that first walked into the The First Wives Club set? In a short period of time, a great deal has probably changed.
RMB: A lot has changed, yes. I would tell her that it is okay to stand her ground. I would tell her that even though you think you talk too much, talk more. I would say that leadership looks like many different things and it is okay to find your way into what leadership looks like for you in this particular arena. Give yourself a little bit more grace. I would also tell myself to not lose the password for the wifi (laughs). That is the advice I would give to that girl!
Art Courtesy of BET
The First Wives Club is streaming now on BET+