"When I first read the title Trophy Wife I was not interested," she tells TVGuide.com. "I was like I don't want to play a trophy wife. To me, that's just a vapid, no-brains, really uninteresting [character] to watch."
Yes, it's no secret that the title trophy wife is typically one that makes people bristle. "It was part of the idea, actually, to turn that stereotype on its head," co-creator Sarah Haskins says. Adds co-creator Emily Halpern: "What if we do tell the story of a trophy wife but from the point of view of the trophy wife and she's the hero and how would that work?"
In the new ABC comedy Trophy Wife (Tuesday, 9:30/8:30c), Malin Akerman plays the hero — Kate, a formerly hard-partying young woman who is trying to best navigate her new life as a stepmom of three after a whirlwind courtship with an older man, Pete (Bradley Whitford). "I read the script and I went, 'Oh my God, it's really brilliant because she's exactly what everyone, as an outsider, you look in and go there's your trophy wife,' but she's actually really in it for the right reasons," Akerman says. "You want her to survive and win."
Turning a normally vapid and vilified character into someone you're rooting for may seem like a tall order, but it was easy for Haskins — a trophy wife of sorts herself. In 2010, Haskins married her neighbor, a man 20 years her senior who had several children from several previous marriages. "I certainly don't come off as the average trophy wife," Haskins says. ("You're distractingly beautiful," interjects Halpern. "I'm dressed all in Fendi bags," Haskins jokes.) "But it was based on the idea of what if this person really wants to be involved in the family and encounters this blended family with like zero mothering experience, but really wants to do a good job at it?"
For Kate, doing a good job entails not only learning how to be a good stepmother to Hillary, Warren and Bert, but also learning to get along and work with their mothers: Pete's first ex-wife, the controlling Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) and his second ex-wife, the slightly spacey Jackie (Michaela Watkins). "You don't see a lot of shows where you deal with the day-to-day mess after a divorce and all those little details that anyone who is divorced or a divorced parent will get like custody schedules and pick-up and drop-off and leaving things at the wrong house," Haskins says. "I think they're going to be some of the most interesting relationships on the show. We've got three really strong, really great women with three very different points of view. They're all trying to do their best for the kids, so no one is really the villain, but I think they have really different ideas of what the best is."
It was this new spin on the modern family that appealed to executive producer Lee Eisenberg. "I think that it's very real," he says. "You have to exist with these people that you made a choice not to spend the rest of your life with. And now of all a sudden you're still in each others' lives and everyone gets along, but they approach things very differently."
Finding the right actress to put a new spin on the trophy wife stereotype proved to be the truly difficult task. That is, until Akerman came along. "She brought the show back to life essentially. ABC had passed on it once and they couldn't really think who's perfect for this role," Haskins says. "When Malin expressed interest, we were thrilled because she's so funny, she's so likable, and obviously a beautiful woman, so it was like the trifecta of TV."
Like Haskins, Akerman was able to pull from her own life experiences, and her own mixed family, for the role. "I come from a family like that where I have two stepfathers and a stepmother and everyone has gone to each other's weddings," she says. "Because I was the teenager in this split-up family, I'm just taking from my own personal experiences growing up in a diverse family I think has helped a lot. ... We want to show the positive in these diverse families."
Although Kate will be struggling to learn how to be a good mother, she will also be struggling to balance her demanding new married life with her old single life, represented by her single and hard partying best friend Meg (Natalie Morales). "Through Meg we get a sense of who Kate was in the past and the type of life that she led and we will see a little bit of the push-pull ," Halpern says. "It presents Kate's past and then Kate's new future and ... how is she going to bring these lives together? And hopefully, now that Kate's a new mom, we'll see her start to embrace that role and be excited to embrace that role."
But as Kate embraces (step)motherhood and veers even further away from the trophy wife stereotype, do Haskins and Halpern have any second thoughts about that title? Not yet. "It's so catchy and we had a hard time beating it," Haskins says. "We hope that doesn't paint us into a box."
Trophy Wife premieres on Tuesday at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.
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