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Brianne Howey On Playing An Antihero Mom On 'Ginny & Georgia'

The star of Netflix's new mother-daughter dramedy talked 'Gilmore Girls' comparisons and how the series makers "created a whole new genre."

Warning: mild spoilers for the first season of Ginny & Georgia ahead.

Ginny and Georgia is everything all at once. Premiering on Netflix Wednesday, February 24, the addicting dramedy, created by first-time showrunner Sarah Lampert, is an amalgamation of genres — blending an emotional mother-daughter story, a classic high school drama, and a slow-burning murder mystery to positively electrifying results. Following a 30-year-old mother and her 15-year-old daughter as they relocate to a swank new suburban town in pursuit of a better life, the show, on the surface, immediately recalls others like Gilmore Girls. But with its dark undercurrent and surprising willingness to have difficult conversations about race, sex, gender, and sexuality, you’ll quickly find Ginny & Georgia to be a far more complex series than any of its predecessors.

At the center of it all is the titular Georgia, a 30-year-old mother with a secret past, a penchant for bending the truth, and a ruthless disposition to stop at nothing when it comes to protecting her children. (In addition to her 15-year-old daughter Ginny, Georgia also has an elementary school-aged son, Austin.) A striking beauty with no qualms about using her femininity to her advantage, Georgia is a certified badass and a memorable addition to the canon of antiheroes.

For Georgia actress Brianne Howey, this element was an immediate selling point — so much so that she was willing to hop straight off a plane from Europe to immediately go in for an audition. After starring in a variety of TV shows — The Exorcist, The Passage, Dollface, I Live With Models, and Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens, just to name a few — Howey landed her first legitimate lead role with Ginny & Georgia. That Georgia happened to be such a layered, complex, and powerful woman was just the icing on the cake.

Ahead of Ginny & Georgia’s Netflix premiere, NYLON hopped on the phone with Howey to talk about what drew her to the character of Georgia, the joy of on-screen rivalries, reliving moments from her own adolescence, love triangles, why mental health therapy should be free, missing high school, and what she would want to see in a possible second season.

How did you get involved with this project?

I was actually out of town when they started casting. I was in Europe. I knew I couldn't be there in person and was so disappointed because the script was incredible. I had never read a character like Georgia. So I asked my team, "Is there any chance that I can go in as soon as I land?" And they were like, "Look, it's highly unlikely the role will still be available. It's too good."

So I came home, and 24 hours later, they reached out and were like, "Can you self-tape immediately?" I jumped at the opportunity, put myself on tape, and two days later, I was in the room with them. A few days after that, I had my chemistry readings with Tony. It felt too good to be true. It was a room full of all women, which I've never had in my experience auditioning. And Tony and I just got to work. We put our sides down, started running the scene, and everything started clicking into place.

What was it about the character of Georgia that drew you in so much?

I think it was the scene where she takes her son to punch his bully behind the tree and gives him that whole monologue. That really did me in. Also, she's just hilarious. She's somehow hilarious and scary, all at the same time. She’s larger than life and I feel like I've never gotten the opportunity to play someone who was so performative. That was really exciting.

Exactly. Georgia is so complicated. She's not exactly a “villain,” but she’s obviously willing to do some rather questionable things to move up in the world and provide a better life for herself and her children. I feel like female characters like these have been pretty rare to come by before now. As an actress in Hollywood, have you seen a gradual shift in the kind of characters that were even available to you?

Absolutely. I think that's why this was so thrilling. I truly feel like I lucked out. It's so common [amongst men]. A lot of my favorite shows — The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad — have these incredible male leads who are these antiheroes, but we love them. But you don't get to see that a lot for women. With Georgia, that's exactly the opportunity we had. [Creator] Sarah [Lampert] and [executive producer] Deb [Fisher] are creative geniuses. When I met her, I couldn't believe Sarah and I were the same age. I was like, "You wrote this? Oh my god!" It feels like a privilege. I felt like so many of my dreams were coming true, honestly.

Brianne Howey in 'Ginny & Georgia,' now on Netflix.Netflix

The parallels to The Sopranos and Breaking Bad are interesting because Georgia is definitely a female antihero. But I think what’s so compelling about this show is that it’s not just “Breaking Bad but starring a woman.” Georgia is a decidedly feminine character — she uses distinctly feminine attributes to her advantage, like her beauty and her sexuality. So much of her character is about her womanhood, but the show presents these things in a way that feels empowering instead of demeaning.

Absolutely. I think you nailed it. It's empowering because Georgia is very aware of the cards she's been dealt in life with her physicality. I love that she very confidently leans into it, as she should, because of course, and also, why not? We are women who also have these desires and fantasies, and it's empowering to own it and not shy away from it. I think the show does a really beautiful job of really leaning into it. As an actor trying to play Georgia, for me, the key was to really commit. I just told myself, We're jumping into the deep end and we're committing to this — and I think that's kind of who Georgia is too. Georgia commits so hard to this house of cards that she's created for her family that even she starts to believe it.

In the past, you've done straight-up comedy with shows like I Live with Models and Dollface, sci-fi with The Passage, and even some horror with The Exorcist. And now, with Ginny & Georgia, you’re in this genreless space. It’s genre-defying in a way.

When we wrapped, I was telling Sarah and Deb, "I think you guys created a whole new genre." In watching every episode, you laugh, you cry, and you blush a little bit. Some of it is very sexy and some of it is really heartbreaking — and it's all so funny. I think it's a true dramedy in that it’s just life. That's what life really is. I think that's why the show is so relatable.

The character of Georgia relies a lot on flashbacks, where she’s played by a totally different actress. How was it trying to make sure that your two characters matched and felt like the same person, even though you’re separated by like 15 years?

Nikki [Roumel] is such a kind soul and a beautiful person inside and out. I absolutely adore her. We started more with just the physicality [of Georgia]. They highlighted her hair to match what mine already was. But the rest was just kind of hanging out. A lot of it was just her instincts. She did a lot of [the character development] on her own, and I was completely blown away by her performance. Actually, I remember when it was Halloween while we were shooting and she dressed up as [my character] Shauna Babcock from The Passage. I just fell in love with her.

The show does a really great job of balancing the worlds of Ginny and Georgia. Ginny obviously has all the high school drama while Georgia has all her career struggles. But I really like the, for lack of a better word, juvenile drama that Georgia has too — specifically with this idea of “mean moms” and your battle with Cynthia Fuller. Within the past couple years, thanks to shows like Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere, we’ve seen this theme of petty drama amongst parents popping up time and again. Was that dynamic as fun to play with as it is for us to watch?

It was so fun! It's some of my favorite stuff to watch too. On my first day of shooting, I got to work with Sabrina [Grdevich], who I adore. We wrapped together also, which always feels very full-circle. Their rivalry is so fun. I love it when she has her meltdown. I love that [their rivalry] parallels Ginny’s [experience] too. They're actually navigating some of the same exact things. They're both “the new girl at school” and they both want to fit in. But they have no idea that the other person is feeling the same way that they do. But yeah, with Cynthia, it’s like, once there are kids in the picture and you're a protective mom, it's just so juicy. The river runs so deep.

On a deeper level, I think the show makes a really compelling case for restructuring the way that we handle and deal with young mothers. I think that a large part of the reason that Georgia finds herself in the situations that she does — and why she has to go down slightly illegal avenues — is because she doesn't have the necessary support to be a mother. So many people in her life want to stop her from being a mother, to take away her custody and whatnot. But like a lot of mothers, no matter the age, she wants to keep her child. But there is no infrastructure to help these young mothers be the best mothers that they can be. Were you thinking about this at all when crafting the character?

A hundred percent. These aren't luxuries that Georgia has been afforded. Those are such poignant parts of the show because it does reflect the world that we live in. Georgia fell through the cracks growing up. No one supported her. No one took care of her. So as an adult, she doesn't have as much respect for the system because the system didn't respect her. No one ever took care of her. She had to be crafty and unconventional in her parenting and her lifestyle because there was quite literally no other option. She doesn't have options.

Similarly, therapy needs to be free. Taking care of our mental health should not be a luxury. Georgia has so much trauma to unravel, but because of the system, she might never truly deal with it in a healthy way. So then, unfortunately, that's what she's imparting onto Ginny. So now, Ginny is going to have a lot of unlearning to do as she comes into herself because Georgia isn't always giving her the healthiest tools, because Georgia doesn't have the healthy tools.

I like that the show presents this idea that there is no single way to be a “good” mother, particularly when it comes to the relationships between mothers and their teenage daughters. Georgia’s relationship with Ginny is much different than Max’s relationship with Ellen, for example. Obviously, teenagers have a somewhat limited view of what they can understand. (Plus, going through puberty is hard anyway.) But looking back to your own adolescence, could you relate to what Ginny was going through at all?

Yeah, completely. There are complete parallels with the way Ginny grew up and the way I grew up. My mom had me at 21. I have a little sister who's five years younger than me. She was a single mom, always working, and we relied heavily on our tribe and our community for help. I think that's why one of my favorite parts of the show is Ginny's relationship with the Bakers, because growing up, my best friends’ families really took me in and showed me some healthier ways of doing things that they do in their family. It’s really shaped who I am today.

Throughout the entire season, both Ginny and Georgia are in their respective love triangles. They are both torn between these different men, who each represent very different things and bring out different sides of them, and the show plays with this idea that it’s often hard to know who is the right choice for you. Why do you think this was such an important theme for the writers to explore in the show?

I think it's just incredibly relatable. Love is such a rich topic, and as we grow up, I think it looks and sounds different to everybody. Who you love and why you love them at 16 might look very different than who you love and why you love them at 30. I think what's really cool about what Sarah and Deb did is that, for the most part with Ginny and Georgia, as they're navigating these fun love triangles, they’re really just navigating themselves. They're really just trying to figure out like, Who am I? Am I lying to myself? They both have a lot of growing up to do.

Though there's plenty of drama to spare, I do think Ginny & Georgia still makes high school look really fun. I’m particularly fond of the Sophomore Sleepover episode, which reminds me of a similar at-school sleepover I had my freshman year. You went to an all-girls Catholic high school in Pasadena and did improv and theater. Could you relate at all to the kind of high school experience that was being depicted in the show?

When we finished watching the show, I turned to my partner and said, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I miss high school. I want to do it again." This show is so much fun. I'm so obsessed with MANG. Because I'm from here [in L.A.], I still see my high school girlfriends almost once a week, and it's such a special, fun relationship.

There were some funny parallels. Like, I had a boyfriend who got caught sneaking into my room. So when there was that scene with Georgia and Marcus, I was internally dying because I couldn't believe the tables had turned and now I’m playing the mom that has to watch this guy sneak into my daughter’s room. Even with the mung bean burgers, I remember my mom would have us pretend we went to church more than we did because she was dating this guy. I was like, "We don't do that. We don't go to church." And she was like, "Shut up! Yes, we do." There were so many moments that spoke directly to my experience in high school. I think it's really going to take people back.

When Ginny & Georgia was first announced, a lot of people were quick to point out its similarity to Gilmore Girls. Obviously, after watching it, it’s clear that this is different. But did you have a familiarity with Gilmore Girls, and if so, were you excited about the opportunity to re-create that dynamic between a young mother and a teenage daughter?

A hundred percent. My mom and I would watch it. We considered ourselves like the Gilmore Girls because she was so young, so that was really exciting. But also, Ginny & Georgia is so tonally different. The messaging is just so, so different. But it's an honor to even get to be compared to them. This is not something I thought I would be getting to do right now.

So much happens in that finale. Are you interested in a possible second season?

Oh, absolutely. We would love nothing more. I don't think their stories are done. I think these women have so much more to say and show.

What would you like to see explored in a potential second season?

I mean, I love a good fish-out-of-water story, and I think that's what's so fun about watching Georgia with someone like Cynthia or even with Paul. I would love to keep leaning into that. I also think there are a plethora of conversations surrounding race and sexuality that Ginny & Georgia could dive into.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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