If you search for #Girlboss in Instagram, you will find almost 5.5 million results. What began as the title of Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso’s 2014 best-selling autobiography has become a beacon, an inspirational slogan for millennial women hoping to harness their own innate power, take charge of their lives, and find professional success by following their own rules and circumventing those dictated by societal norms. And who can blame these followers for taking this phrase as their rallying call? Amoruso’s story of rags-to-riches, dumpster-diving to building a fashion business that had her valued at $280 million in 2016 is immensely seductive (and somehow remains so even despite Amoruso’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2016 and her resignation as executive chairwoman of her company).
It is not surprising, then, that today Netflix is dropping the series Girlboss, a fictionalized version of Amoruso’s story (“very loosely” based on reality, the opening credits warn) which counts Charlize Theron as a producer and Kay Cannon of Pitch Perfect as executive producer and showrunner. The plucky 27-year-old South Carolina native Britt Robertson of Tomorrowland stars as the fictional Sophia, and we open on her impoverished life in San Francisco circa 2006, rife with eviction signs (her neighbor is played by—gasp—RuPaul) and odd jobs. Wild-eyed, by turns charismatic and infuriating, Sophia soon stumbles upon the potent combination of her love and knowledge of vintage clothing and the power of eBay. And thus the makings of a #girlboss begin.
Britt, what was your first reaction to the character of Sophia when you read the script?
I didn’t really know anything about Sophia’s story. I didn’t know facts from fiction or what it was based on or how closely they wanted to stick to the real Sophia. So when I first read the script, I just looked at her. It’s weird the way I approach characters; it’s never like, Oh she’s a passionate character or she’s a tenacious character or she’s angry. I just try to take the material and give it life as best I can and be as honest as I can with each moment that’s provided. And so I didn’t really have many pre-conceived ideas about what I was going to do with it.
And what was it like having that script in your head and meeting the real Sophia for the first time?
So once I met Sophia and I read her book and I watched interviews and whatnot, it was actually far more confusing for me at that point, because I had given this audition and that’s the reason they cast me, I assumed. And then when I met her I was like, This was very different than what I was doing in the room, I wonder if they want me to embrace the real Sophia more so or how are we going to balance that. Then I realized it was more about taking in her essence and her energy and the qualities in her that people really respond to, just sort of honing in on those specific things. And then once we started shooting, I just tried to let all of that go out the window so I didn’t feel super restricted in terms of creating the fictional version of her.
Was she on set a lot and very involved and giving you feedback as you were working?
It was tons of creative freedom in terms of giving me the license to do whatever I wanted. But she was really present early on in terms of creating the spaces and making sure the costume designer was on board with her looks, and she had a really big hand in creating Sophia’s apartment with the production designer. So I think she was a very large part of the early stages in creating the look and tone of the show. But then once we started shooting she sort of took a step back.
Charlize Theron is also a producer. Did she give you any specific advice?
She was a big part of the rehearsal process early on when we were going through the scripts and table reads. And she would be in my rehearsals. But there was no real direct advice, mainly she would send me interviews with Sophia, things she thought would help me channel her. And that was really the only advice she would give me, helping me find the balance between the real Sophia and the one we were trying to create.
How would you describe the fictional Sophia you created in the show?
Well, she changes the first season because it takes place over the course of two years and it’s pretty much an origin story when you first meet her. You see her at rock bottom and you see her struggling and not finding her way and trying to find her place in this world and trying to figure out what she likes and dislikes and her passions. And just trying to find a way to get through life that makes her happy. And as you get to meet her and you go on this journey with her, you see her become a lot of things. That’s what I think is so beautiful about the character we created. You never know which version of her you’re going to get. Which is sort of how I feel like you are in your twenties. Every day you wake up and it’s a new thing. I always compare it to me designing my home currently. Because I’ll look at my living room and hate everything I’ve put in it and want to completely redesign the place because I feel like my tastes are constantly changing. And you’re just a walking hypocrite, essentially. But that’s the beauty of playing her: I try to incorporate all of those things we experience in life. Like frustration and sadness and humor and excitement and passion because she has it all. It just depends on what moment you meet her in.
There’s also a very strong strain of rebellion—against society, adulthood, convention. Were those things you identified with in any way?
It’s not necessarily something I thought about, but now just looking back on it, the thing I identify with the most is the idea that you have to be a very specific type of person. Whether you are a male or female, there are qualities that people attach to certain types of people and it’s like in order to be successful you have to conform to that idea. And it makes you feel inadequate or even unlike yourself. You don’t even recognize who you are because you’re just living in other people’s vision of you. I would identify with the idea of rebelling against that and not wanting to be perfect or someone else’s idea of perfect and it’s okay to suck at life and to fail or to be mean, at times, because that’s how you learn. You figure out, Oh, I get my way not by being mean it’s by respecting others and being honest and humble. But it takes a second to understand how to get your way in the world.
Sophia can be frustrating and brash. And she’s not always the most likeable character. Was that fun, to play someone who isn’t concerned with behaving and what people think of her?
The most fun about it is it’s never the same thing. I had so much freedom to do or be whatever on a regular basis. Because it was never like the Sophia character is this, that, and the other. I never felt restricted in that way so that makes it fun, being able to play the highs and the lows. And layering that with humor is the best time you can ask for.
Her book, her life story have spawned such a movement. Do you see the show as a source of female empowerment?
I always like to say it’s human empowerment. We were talking about the idea of feminism and how the show represents females, and the whole idea is that it’s not necessarily something we should have to talk about in terms of inspiring other females based on female work. Like, these are really cool characters but it just sucks there’s not more of them. Because typically, when there’s a surplus of something it’s like, Oh, you don’t highlight the fact that we’re inspiring women because everyone’s inspiring women! But for me, specifically, in this political climate it’s really important to stand up for yourself and fight for what you believe in and make sure that you have passions in life that you’re fighting for and not just getting run over by whoever is above you. And I think that’s what this show really represents is empowering people and empowering women who feel like, “It can’t be me, cool that chick did it.” And it’s like, No, any chick can do it, any guy can do it, any human with the will and the tenacity that Sophia has can accomplish whatever they set their mind to. And that’s what I think this show really represents. It does show someone who is doing a great job at something business even in a very unconventional way. And you don’t see that so often.
What about with your own career? Is that a sentiment you’ve been able to harness as you’ve grown as an actress and how you want to represent yourself?
It’s weird for me because I’ve been doing this for so long it feels completely normal. But I think you’re right, there are rules with everything, with any path that’s been set previously there’s always a conventional way to get somewhere. I was speaking with [real life] Sophia yesterday and she was like, “You can basically reverse-engineer anything. You can take what someone else has accomplished and see exactly how they’ve gotten there and see exactly what they need and the tools they’ve used and the people they’ve hired in order to get where they are now.” And I thought that was such an interesting sentiment because I never thought about life that way. Taking someone else’s journey and applying it to something I want to be doing as a way to get there more easily. But I don’t know it’s something I ever consider. I just try to make the best decisions in the moment. I’m a bit flighty like that, too. I don’t have a plan. I don’t have long-term goals. I’m just playing it by ear and taking it as I go and figuring it out along the way most of the time. Which probably is a more unconventional route, but it’s what I’ve found I can connect with at this point. We’ll find out if I’ve figured out more later on.
That unconventionality causes Sophia’s father in the show a lot of anxiety. How has that played out with your family life?
I don’t think my family is fully aware of what I do as much as Sophia’s is. Because Sophia is so scattered for so long and really struggling and constantly using her parents as a sounding board for ideas in some respect. For me, since I’ve been doing this since I was 12 I don’t really know any other way. And I’ve always felt like my parents and my family look at me… it’s as if I’m not really making movies. It’s like I’m at camp forever. And then occasionally I come home and I’m like, “Yeah, and this happened and this happened” and they’re like, “Uh huh, yeah, sure.” It doesn’t really affect our relationship or our lives. It doesn’t change anything, really, because we’ve established those dynamics so early on in my life. But I think they just sort of trust me. Which is crazy! But they’ve always just trusted that it will work out for me, hopefully. And if not, then I can come crawling back home at some point.
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