Mrs. America is taking audiences back in time with Cate Blanchett leading a star-studded ensemble about the real-life battle over the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The two-time Oscar and Golden Globe winner portrays Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative constitutional lawyer and opponent of the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution intended to grant equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex.
Written by Mad Men’s Dahvi Waller, the series recounts the 1970s feminist movement and the unexpected backlash led by Schlafly, aka “the sweetheart of the silent majority.” While viewers get an inside look into Schlafly’s rise within the political arena, it’s not a biopic focused solely on her story. “It’s about the various sections of the women’s movement,” Blanchett said in a conversation with reporters. “There was an equal and opposite traditional women’s movement as there was the feminist women’s movement.”
Rose Byrne, who portrays political activist Gloria Steinem, says the show is “successful in exploring both of these sides and the characters on both of these sides as they both try to speak their point of view and what they’re trying to achieve.” With that said, each episode also spotlights key players on both sides of the fight, such as politician and first woman to run for president Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba) and former White House special assistant Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks).
With Mrs. America now streaming, ET has put together a visual guide, breaking down who is playing who on the FX on Hulu series.
Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly
As part of her fight against the ERA, Schlafly founded the conservative interest group, Eagle Forum, and was the organizer of the “STOP ERA” campaign. During that time, the matriarch to six children also pursued a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.
“Cate is the perfect person to play anything,” executive producer Stacey Sher says of the actress, who is tasked with embodying the conservative political figure. For her part, Blanchett approached the role with a sense of discovery. “A large part of why I wanted to do this series was to work out what made her tick and how she could think in such a binary way,” the actress explains.
Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem
A journalist and social political activist, Steinem rose to prominence as a spokeswoman for the American feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, just as the battle over the ERA was heating up. In addition to writing for New York magazine, she also co-founded Ms. magazine.
While Byrne did not reach out to Steinem about her portrayal on the series, the actress relied on Waller’s extensive research to bring her to life as accurately as possible. “Like anything, I just wanted to make her as complex as we could and maybe as flawed as we could, like, any living human being who’s been under that scrutiny,” she explains. “The show’s over 10 years -- it was really important to try to track her embracing of being the face of the movement.”
Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug
Abzug was a U.S. Representative, lawyer and a leader of the Women's Movement. In addition to co-founding the National Women's Political Caucus, she was appointed to co-chair the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year and presided over the 1977 National Women's Conference.
“I'm happy for people to see what women did back in the ‘70s to fight for equal rights,” Martindale says of the series. “Young women don't really know how much work we did.”
While Martindale worked with a dialect coach to match Abzug’s distinct way of talking, it wasn’t until she put on the wig and her iconic hat that the actress felt like she was “someone else,” she says, adding that it was “really fantastic” seeing all her co-stars transformed into their respective roles.
Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm
During her time in politics, Chisholm broke a lot of barriers as the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress as a representative of New York's 12th congressional district. In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party's nomination for president of the United States as well as the first woman to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
“It was humbling without question to play Shirley Chisholm,” Aduba says. “What she represented, what she did historically as being the first black woman, black person to ever run for the highest office in the land. And at that time, you know, she's standing just outside the window of when the Civil Rights Voting Act was passed. She's a woman of such command and power and force, it was awesome.”
Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan
Friedan was a leading figure in the U.S. women's movement and author of the 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, which helped spark the second wave of American feminism. She also co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) and organized the nationwide Women's Strike for Equality and later helped establish the National Women's Political Caucus.
“I'm just so proud to play her and, you know, I summon her sometimes: ‘Come and fill me with your wisdom and your chutzpah,’” Ullman says, adding she had “a wonderful time” shooting the series. “It's been a joy to be a part of and we had so much fun together.”
Elizabeth Banks as Jill Ruckelshaus
Ruckelshaus is a former special assistant to the White House and was head of the White House Office of Women's Programs and served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. She’s also one the founders of the National Women's Political Caucus.
Ari Graynor as Brenda Feigen-Fasteau
Feigen was the National Legislative Vice President for the National Organization for Women and she also coordinated the U.S Senate testimony for the Equal Rights Amendment. In addition to her work on the Hill, she also practiced law before going on to found the Feigen Law Group in 2001.
Melanie Lynskey as Rosemary Thomson
Thomson was a close friend of Schlafly and was enlisted to fight the ERA. She also served as the head of the Eagle Foundation.
Rounding out the ensemble cast are John Slattery as Schlafly’s husband, Fred; Jeanne Tripplehorn as her sister, Eleanor; James Marsden as politician Phil Crane; Bria Henderson as Ms. editor Margaret Sloan; Adam Brody as lawyer Marc Feigen-Fasteau; Jay Ellis as Frank Thomas; with Sarah Paulson as Alice and Kayli Carter as Pamela, two original characters who are supportive of the fight against the ERA.