Attacking artifice

New series ‘Dietland’ takes on Hollywood’s culture of youth and beauty

‘Getting older, the beauty of it is you don’t really give a shit what people think about you,’ says actress Julianna Margulies

We’ve found your new favorite binge-worthy show.

Julianna Margulies, Joy Nash, and Marti Noxon gave the audience at the Women in the World Summit in New York on Saturday a sneak preview of their new television series Dietland, premiering on AMC on June 4. The show explores aging, misogyny, and rape culture—all wrapped up in a delightfully twisted and addictive black comedy.

Dietland stars Margulies as Kitty Montgomery, a fashion magazine editor obsessed with finding the fountain of youth and “not being left behind,” and Joy Nash as Plum Kettle, a ghostwriter trying to keep her boss happy while also getting involved with feminist organizations working to topple the patriarchy.

The show’s creator, Marti Noxon, who also created Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce and was the lead writer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was initially drawn to the book on which the show is based—its cover image is a cupcake with a grenade pin—for paradoxical reasons. “When I first read the book, it was attractive because as a former anorexic, I’m immediately like ‘ahh’ to anything with the word ‘diet’ in it,” she admitted.

But don’t be confused. “Despite its title, the show doesn’t have much to do with dieting,” said journalist and moderator Cindi Leive. Dietland is about “challenging the status quo in yourself and in the world,” Noxon said.

Nash is the creator of a YouTube series called “Fat Rant” that urged women not to wait until they lost weight to start their lives and take themselves seriously. When she looks at photos of herself from ten or twenty years ago, Nash said, she regrets her own self-criticisms. “I thought all these things were wrong with me,” she said, continuing: “I was so cute. I wasted all that time!”

Julianna Margulies, and Joy Nash, from AMC’S ‘Dietland’ at The 2018 Women In The World Summit in New York City.

Like Kitty, Leive said, many women in Hollywood are embracing not feminism but what she called “faux-minism”: an embrace of all things “woke” simply because they’re trendy.

As Noxon said, “Hollywood is a place of artifice. It’s a place where we build dreams and it’s all about fakery—and that extends to people. Sometimes I feel like a set: Everything in the front looks good and the back is all shit. That’s Hollywood!”

For Noxon, writing Kitty was a newsflash because, as Leive pointed out, she’s not portrayed as an angel, but rather as a human being with the feelings and narcissism of regular people.

As news of the Harvey Weinstein allegations was breaking and the cultural and political landscape began to change, Noxon said people were asking whether the show would still be relevant. “The desire is to go back to normal,” she said, “and we can’t let that happen.”

Still, the pushback in Hollywood to potentially controversial series is very real. Five years ago, Noxon created Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce “as a light comedy to talk about sexual politics and the difficulties between men and women,” but in order to sneak it past fearful network gatekeepers, she had to make it fun and put heels on it.

2018 is different. “Men should rightly be a little terrified,” Noxon said. “It’s really scary how angry I feel. What I mean by that is it’s a real powerful thing to get in touch with, but it can be painful and scary.” The solution, she said, is to open lines of communication between the sexes.

Marti Noxon, Executive Producer, Writer and Director; and actresses Julianna Margulies and Joy Nash, from AMC’S ‘Dietland’, with journalist Cindi Leive at The 2018 Women In The World Summit in New York City.

“For me, getting older, the beauty of it is that you don’t really give a shit what people think about you,” said Margulies. “It’s very liberating. When I started out in this business and was doing red carpets in clothes someone else thought was right, I never felt comfortable. Now, getting older, I’ll say, ‘That’s not comfortable,’ but it took me a long time because I was very insecure and didn’t understand the business.… I’m much more sure of myself at fifty than at age twenty-five. For me, it’s about, if I feel good, then I look good to me, and that’s all that matters.”

As for why she wants to explore these issues now, Noxon said, “My whole operating system from the time I was born was that if I was prettier, I would be precious, and I would be safe … and I wouldn’t get hurt any more.”

“I still struggle with being pretty enough—I’m 52 and when society tells you your vagina is like a tumbleweed and nobody wants you and you’re invisible, it’s very hard,” she continued.

“The word ‘precious’ to me means small,” Margulies responded. “And I think women are roaring with rage because we all wanted to be tiny instead of being seen and heard, and I think the beauty of becoming a woman and [one of the] attributes that happens when you get older is wisdom.”

Women can be bold and big, Margulies said: “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat at my table.”

Additional reporting by Titi Yu.

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