In a coup for FX, Cate Blanchett is set to star as conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly in the limited series “Mrs. America,” recounting the modern history of the women’s movement.
“Mad Men” and “Halt and Catch Fire” alum Dahvi Waller is spearheading the project for FX Productions. Waller and Blanchett will exec produce alongside Stacey Sher and Coco Francini. FX has ordered nine episodes with production set to begin next year.
“Cate Blanchett is one the great actors of our time — and we are truly honored to have her star in “Mrs. America,’ ” said FX CEO John Landgraf. “We have no doubt that Cate is the perfect actor to play the role of Phyllis Schlafly, who was one of the most polarizing and fascinatingly complex figures of the ‘70s for her opposition to and role in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment, which to this day has never been ratified. Dahvi Waller’s scripts are extraordinary, and I’m thrilled to re-unite with my former Jersey TV partner Stacey Sher, and commend her on assembling such a dynamic foursome of gifted, female, artist-producers to take on this timely story.“
FX said the series would explore the rise of feminism and the push for the Equal Rights Amendment through the eyes of both Schlafly, who led the backlash to the work of second-wave feminists including Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, and Jill Ruckelshaus. The show promises to look at how the tension over the female empowerment movement helped changed the political and cultural landscape.
Schlafly waged a campaign against the passage of the ERA as well as against the legalization of abortion and the burgeoning gay rights movement. She was a self-described housewife activist from Illinois who wound up earning a law degree and remained active as a conservative commentator for decades. She died in 2016 at the age of 92.
The high-wattage “Mrs. America” is a notable get for FX at a time when the TV business is riveted to the growth and influence of Netflix as it seeks out A-listers for exclusive programming deals. “Mrs. America” marks Blanchett’s first U.S. TV series role.
The greenlight for “Mrs. America” also comes at a time when women’s empowerment and gender parity concerns have been making headlines for more than a year. The outpouring of testimonials about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace has heightened the national focus on issues of equality and diversity in the workplace, particularly in the entertainment industry.
“I feel privileged to have this opportunity to collaborate with Dahvi, Stacey, and Coco under the robust and fearless FX umbrella,” said Blanchett. “I am extremely excited about delving into the material as there couldn’t be a more appropriate time to peel back the layers of this recent period of history, which couldn’t be more relevant today.”
Blanchett is a six-time Academy Award nominee and two-time winner, known for the wide range of material she has tackled since her career took off in the early 1990s. Blanchett got her start on stage and on TV in her native Australia. She won the supporting actress Oscar for 2005’s “The Aviator” and lead actress for 2014’s “Blue Jasmine.”
She was most recently on screen this summer in Warner Bros.’ heist movie “Ocean’s 8” and the family-friendly thriller “The House With a Clock in Its Walls.” She also served as president of the jury at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
“It is a thrill to have the extraordinary Cate Blanchett bring this controversial woman to life, and I can’t think of a better network for this bold series than FX.” Waller said.
Waller worked on three seasons of AMC’s “Mad Men” and two seasons of another AMC period drama, the 1980s-set “Halt and Catch Fire.” Her other credits include Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman,” ABC’s “Eli Stone” and “Desperate Housewives” and NBC’s “American Odyssey.”
Sher previously worked with Landgraf at Danny DeVito’s Jersey Films. She was a partner and Landgraf ran the television wing before he took the helm of FX in 2004. Francini is a movie veteran who at present serves as VP of Activision Blizzard Studios, where she’s spearheading the effort to develop films and TV shows based on the video game giant’s trove of IP.
“Mrs. America” is another sign of FX’s expansion of its programming slate amid TV’s heightened competition. The cabler, which is poised to change hands from 21st Century Fox to Disney next year, has increasingly been freshening its schedule on a year-round basis with limited-run series and anthology dramas that reinvent themselves every season. There’s no word yet on a target airdate for the series.