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Good Girls: How Mae Whitman Is Challenging Motherhood in NBC's Twisty Crime Dramedy

And what we can expect now the heist is over

Megan Vick

NBC's Good Girls is what happens when three moms are forced to turn to the dark side to save their families.

The series was created by Jenna Bans and stars Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman and Retta as two sisters and their best friend who each find themselves pressed against the wall by their cheating, gambling husband, an unexpected custody battle and outrageously priced necessary medication for her daughter, respectively. Together, they hatch a plan to rob their local grocery store, only to find out the store is a money laundering front for the local drug cartel and they find themselves in debt with the scariest men in town.

When Does Good Girls Premiere?

Whitman plays Annie, a young mother who had her daughter Sadie (Izzy Stannard) when she was 17. Izzy is now in middle school and getting bullied by the kids who don't understand why she has short hair and dresses in boy's clothing. As Annie struggles to tread water at her minimum-wage job, overseen by her sexual-harassment-lawsuit-waiting-to-happen boss, she gets surprised by Sadie's father Gregg (Zach Gilford) with a custody suit. It's Annie's idea to rob the grocery store, and her impulsive decision making that helps dig herself, her sister (Hendricks) and her friend (Retta) into deeper trouble.

TV Guide talked to Whitman about the tone-setting first episode, playing the mother of a gender-questioning teen and where Good Girls goes from here.

Mae Whitman, Good Girls​

Mae Whitman, Good Girls

NBC, Josh Stringer/NBC

This heist goes off the rails pretty quickly. How dark is it going to get as these three women try to figure out this situation?

Mae Whitman: It's a tough thing. I think that Jenna was really smart about how she constructed the needs of these women and why they need to be doing what they're doing and how it all builds. To me, I have a very maternal instinct. I would do anything to protect my child and to protect my relationship with my kid. I don't have a kid but that's how I feel I will feel when I have a kid. These woman are all in that place where they are really backed against the wall, which I know a lot of people are feeling that they are right now, and they are in really desperate times, in some ways life or death, with their family. It just feels like they don't have a voice and they have no way out. That sort of pressure cooker kind of combined with our dynamic of characters, which you'll get to know, it becomes a perfect storm.

My character, I think, represents the fantasy element and the blind confidence. She's kind of the person who is like, "Yeah, let's do it! Get some stuff. Do the thing!" She's very cavalier. She has a cavalier blind confidence and leaps before she looks and isn't used to having consequences to her actions. That sort of mixed with the sort of desperation and the justification of it is, "Well, it's an insured grocery store. Nobody gets hurt. It's a small town. It happens all the time. If we do it right and we do it once, then we can fix these issues and never have to worry about it again." The other interesting thing is how morals change and how the justifications we make in our brain as we go and how circumstances go -- that's going to be the interesting journey. For the first time in her life, we're starting to see Annie realize what consequences her actions have as things progress to be more serious. Watching that change take place and watching her have to really focus in on what is important and what does she need to do to keep that in place is going to be a big part of her journey for this season.

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You're continuing your way through the Friday Night Lights cast with Zach Gilford playing your ex. Did you have anything to do with his casting or was that coincidence?

Whitman: Can you believe that for once in my life I can say that I didn't campaign extremely hard? I got lucky on this one because Jenna Bans also created The Family, which Zach Gilford was on. She actually came to me and said, "I'm having this thought. What about Zach for the character?" I was like, "You have no idea how on brand this is for me. I need this so much." It was actually perfect. I am such a Friday Night Lights fan, obviously, but I also specifically love Zach. I have always thought he was so interesting, down to Earth and genuine. There is just something so striking about him.

Getting to work with him was one of my favorite things too because it's representative of so many relationships in high school where I was sort of the wild, crazy, loud one. Especially when you're that age, opposites really attract. I get the feeling that Gregg, his character, was very responsible and quiet and steadfast. They obviously fell deeply in love and they ended up having this child. As the real world kicked in and they hadn't had a chance to discover who they were as human beings, it sort of tore them apart. That sort of initial spark always remained. I think they drive each other crazy but there's a part of them that really needs each other as well.

The way that Sadie'sgender identity is being handled on this show is wonderfully refreshing. What do you hope people take away from how Annie and Sadie are approaching that subject on the show?

Whitman: To me, my whole thing about playing a mother has always been, I am so excited about this character to just be such a supportive and loving mom who is so close to their child. That has always been the most important element to me of their relationship. I think in a way they kind of had a Gilmore Girls relationship growing up. They were best friends and they helped each other grow up in a way. I am just excited to be playing a mom who is completely loving, caring and supportive and aware of her kid. She's able to be best friends. I am just so happy that Izzy is extremely eloquent in the way that he talks about his own journey in real life and on screen. I have to say that Izzy is the most amazing child. He is so sensitive, kind, smart and considerate. He's so intuitive. We really became good friends and we've hung out on the weekends. We went to diners and took walks in the park and talked. I genuinely consider him to be a good friend and I know that we will be forever. I am pretty excited that I get to go on this journey forever.

Does it break your heart a little to see how grown up Sadie has to be to make up for Annie's irresponsible tendancies?

Whitman: Definitely. I think any situation where it's represented the light and the dark is what makes it way more interesting. It is all about balance. As much as I think Annie hates to admit it, it is good for Sadie to have Gregg around because Gregg provides a different side of that coin. I don't think they would ever change anything about their relationship, but it is something to watch to make sure she's still Sadie's mom and not just Sadie's friend. That kind of balance of responsibility is what Annie is really struggling with. Her kid is her entire world so that's really all that matters to her. Her growing-up journey throughout this show is not only reflected in her own world but directly through her kid's eyes. She needs to be a little bit more balanced and present and grow up a little bit to be a better mom to Sadie.

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Is there anything that Annie wouldn't do for Sadie?

Whitman: I don't think there is. Again, how far would you go as a parent? Izzy and I are so close and in some of those scenes where it's a lot more difficult, we would just say to each other, "Could you imagine if we didn't get to hang out?" We'd only met a year ago. That was a big source of the pain for us behind those scenes. It's just genuinely how much of a bummer it would be if we didn't get to be together. Internalizing that and having that be a familial tie, imagining that being the real deal -- I just couldn't handle it. That's not the right answer. That's not the healthier balanced answer, but it's the true one. I really think that I personally would go through any lengths to protect my child. That's, again, a big part of the intrigue of this show is sort of all bets are off. All sorts of pragmatic situations go out the window when you're trying to protect the thing that you love most in the world. That allows things to become really big and extreme because there are no limits.

The final scene of this episode is obviously a very intense one. How is this going to complicate things for Annie and Beth going forward?

Whitman: That scene is maybe my favorite scene maybe in the entire show. I love how you start out on this show and it feels almost like an episode of Parenthood or some sort of family situation. You love it. I hope you'll love it, but you feel like you know the people. You feel like you understand the struggle. You feel like you're sort of there with them and then it escalates into this situation that is really beyond anyone's imagination or control. I think that's always such a fascinating concept that the intense absurdity of these people finding themselves in this nightmare situation that there's really no getting out of and it just keeps spiraling downwards...There is a certain point where you hit a threshold and you really feel like you can't go back. The way that they were able to build this so naturally that there's this crazy, intense turn at the end of the episode that they can't ever go back from, I just found so fascinating. What would you do? All it takes is one instance that's really extreme or intense to take place and your entire life is changed. I was amazed that Jenna was able to do all of that in one episode.

What can we expect next?

Whitman: The great thing about Jenna is that she is amazing with twists and turns. You are going to be so surprised and shocked at what you see in the entire season after this. You're just getting started and every episode is action packed with things that you would never see coming. That's a big part of why I wanted to do this show. You think you're watching one thing and then something so intense happens and you're stuck in it together with your sisters. These three women are now completely bonded forever in a situation that is exclusively their own. They have to carry this situation with them for the rest of their lives and try to iron it out so they can keep living.

Good Girls continues Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.