"Women are actually sharing their f— ups and failures and fears," Cate Blanchett says in this week's issue of PEOPLE

By Scott Huver and Eric Todisco
April 22, 2020 10:00 AM
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Credit: Sabrina Lantos/FX

Cate Blanchett is witnessing feminism from a whole different perspective in her latest role as conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly on Mrs. America.

The critically acclaimed FX on Hulu limited series explores the late Schlafly’s (Blanchett) campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would have guaranteed equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. Schlafly’s efforts are opposed in the series by feminist supports Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman) and Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba).

In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, Blanchett, 50, shares how she managed to get into character, despite having staunch opposing political views to Schlafly.

“In the end, no matter whether the character only exists in a script form or they’re a real person, I think you have to look at what they do,” the Oscar winner says. “She did a lot of contradictory things. She said a lot of contradictory things. So you allow those contradictions to exist, smash them together and thrust it out to an audience.”

  • For more from Cate Blanchett, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

“My function was not to judge her,” the actress adds. “It was to place her as well roundly as I could, so that she could be a foil for the other people and that you get a sense of the complexity of what it is to be a female in the 1970s or in 2020.”

Cate Blanchett, Phyllis Schlafly
| Credit: Sabrina Lantos/FX; CBS via Getty Images

Stacey Sher, a producer on Mrs. America, says she was motivated to tell Schlafly’s story to highlight both sides of the political argument and the change — or lack thereof — they each had on society

“We tend to think of progress as linear and moving forward,” Sher says. “That is the cycle of how things change — is that we take a step forward and we take a step back, and it moves in cycles. If we understand the cycles, I think we can maybe anticipate them better.”

She also praises “one of Phyllis’ true geniuses of marketing,” which was “flipping [the anti-feminist perspective] script from anti to pro. Because she really did that,” says Sher.

Creator Dahvi Waller says while researching the 1970s to conceive the dialogue for the series, she was surprised at how similar conversations were back then to today.

“I’m like, am I reading the New York Times from today or am I reading a newspaper from the ’70s?” Waller says. “The conversations, they haven’t changed much in 50 years and I don’t know whether to be distressed — how distressed to be by them.”

Credit: Sabrina Lantos/FX

Blanchett, an avid feminist, says that she was oftentimes criticized for her left-leaning views while growing up. But today, she is proud of how far the feminist movement has come.

“Women are actually sharing their f— ups and failures and fears, and actually kind of moving forward together and really relishing what we’re really good at,” she says.

“I do think that the women are really making the elbow room, not only for themselves, but for each other,” Blanchett adds. “I think it’s really important to go back and witness how that happened within a system and what the system was like and how we can all together change the system to make it better for everybody.”

For Waller, “dear friend” and Thelma & Louise writer Callie Khouri helped her discover her feminism.

“I used the phrase, ‘I’m not a feminist, but —’ and she just stopped me in my tracks and said, ‘Do you believe this? Do you believe this? Do you believe this? Do you believe this?’ And I answered every question, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘You’re a feminist. Stop being ashamed to use the word. It’s not a dirty word,’ ” Waller recalls.

Credit: Sabrina Lantos/FX

And while they fall on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Blanchett notes that Schlafly “worked exceptionally hard” to create the legacy she’s left today.

“She was very studious, very bright and I think she got where she got because of her own hard work,” Blanchett says. “No favors. She didn’t really owe anyone anything.”

The first three episodes of Mrs. America are available now on FX on Hulu. New episodes will be released weekly on Wednesdays.