Actor Margaret Colin (VEEP, Independence Day) Joins Pretty Much Pop #28 to Take On the Trope of the Alpha Female

What’s the deal with images of pow­er­ful women in media? The trope of the tough-as-nails boss-lady who may or may not have a heart of gold has evolved a lot over the years, but it’s dif­fi­cult to por­tray such a char­ac­ter unob­jec­tion­ably, prob­a­bly due to those all-too-famil­iar dou­ble stan­dards about want­i­ng women in author­i­ty (or, say, run­ning for office) to be assertive but not astrin­gent.

Mar­garet was the female lead in major films includ­ing Inde­pen­dence Day and The Dev­il’s Own, is a main­stay on Broad­way, and has appeared on TV in many roles includ­ing the moth­er of the Gos­sip Girl and as an unscrupu­lous news­cast­er on the final sea­sons of VEEP. Her height and voice have made her a good fit for dom­i­nant-lady roles, and she leads Mark, Eri­ca, and Bri­an through a quick, instruc­tive tour through her work with male direc­tors (e.g. in a pre-Mur­phy-Brown Dianne Eng­lish sit-com), play­ing the lead in three Life­time Net­work movies, on Broad­way as Jack­ie, and oppo­site Har­ri­son Ford, Al Paci­no, Melanie Grif­fith, Michael Shan­non, Wal­lace Shawn, and oth­ers.

Giv­en the lim­i­ta­tions of short-form sto­ry­telling in film, maybe some use of stereo­types is just nec­es­sary to get the gist of a char­ac­ter out quick­ly, but actors can load their per­for­mances with unseen back­sto­ry. We hear about the actor’s role in estab­lish­ing a char­ac­ter vs. the vision of the film­mak­ers or show-run­ners. Also, the rel­a­tive con­ser­vatism of film vs. stage vs. TV in grant­i­ng women cre­ative con­trol, the “fem­i­nine voice,” why women always appar­ent­ly have to trip in movies when chased, and more.

A few resources to get you think­ing about this top­ic:

Some­one’s post­ed a tape of Carousel fea­tur­ing Eri­ca and Mar­garet.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion that you can only hear by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

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