Andie MacDowell is earning deserved attention for her role as Paula in the Netflix series Maid. The show, based on the memoir “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive” by Stephanie Land tackles class, poverty, emotional abuse, and mental health. The 10-episode series pulls all of these themes together, telling the story of a single mother, Alex, who has to navigate poverty in America without a net. MacDowell plays her free-spirited absent mother, who self-medicates her bipolarity through marijuana.
It’s a role that demands the actress to play exhausting highs and the deepest depth of pain opposite her real-life daughter Margaret Qualley. Qualley plays Alex, a young mother who is left fending for herself and her young daughter after leaving an abusive relationship. Some of MacDowell’s most heartbreaking and painful scenes see her go to the breaking point, often during the most heart-shattering exchanges with Alex (Qualley).
Despite the hard edged nature of her character, the actress found empathy, “When you can exude warmth in your crazy meanness, that’s a truly complex character,” said MacDowell. In the hands of someone other than MacDowell, the mother-daughter relationship in all its complication could’ve come off as one-note, but it’s a testament to her skill and the refined writer’s room led by creator Molly Smith Metzler that makes this series a poignant story about a forgotten population.
Andie MacDowell sat down with Awards Radar to talk about her Emmy-worthy role in Maid.
NC: Maid was one of my favorite shows of the season. I thought the show and your portrayal were really terrific.
AM: Well, I’m glad you did. I liked it, too. You know, I think everybody did a great job.
NC: I imagine you always hope a project you’re approaching that you would like the end result.
AM: It’s nice. It always starts with the script, and the script was great — that’s your foundation, and then you hope everything else comes together. Everybody put their heart and soul into it, and we all worked really hard. It ended up touching so many people and having an effect. Even though it’s difficult to watch, loads of people watched it, which is remarkable.
NC: You really got to go big with this role. Paula has a big personality; she’s a complicated person, eccentric, and can be messy, which is what life can sometimes be. It was really great to see you have this role.
AM: Thank you. I appreciate that. I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful feedback. When I go out in public, people just smile at me, and they’re so excited to meet me because they loved Paula. It was interesting to play someone who is so complex and ugly and mean and end up having that reaction. Molly gave me a lot of shimmer as well. I really did love playing her. It was exhausting sometimes because when you shoot a scene, and you don’t shut up, and your energy is super high, you’re doing it all day long, it took a lot of energy.
It made me understand and have so much more empathy because you could think the manic highs could be fun, that you have all this energy, but it’s not fun. It’s hard. It’s painful.
NC: The show does a really good job of unpacking equity as it relates to access to life’s privileges that are just simply not afforded to people who are poverty-stricken.
AM: I think it’s beautifully done for Alex. I loved how they put the money out there. So that you can really register how hard it is for some people just to pump gas. They’re calculating how much gas can I get and still feed my child. Hopefully, it was able to crack open a lot of hearts for people to be more empathetic.
For Paula, I think [people] have so much empathy for her. I was worried because I feel like I did it with so much charisma with how she’s sexually charged towards men that people would not understand this is the heart of the disease. It’s a trait that happens with some people with bipolar, that over-sexualized, inappropriate behavior. It’s part of her disease. Taking care of yourself is hard when you’re not on medication. I feel like the way it was written, Molly gave me so much humor, and I worried that people couldn’t see through it to understand her true suffering.
NC: I think her suffering comes through. You spoke about that frenetic energy, the high highs, and how doing that wasn’t easy but was it easy to access this character? Did she feel familiar to you?
AM: I did have access to her. I’m not bipolar, but I have my own issues. My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but I think she had a deep depression most of the time, and she could be quite manic as well.
People just didn’t go to therapy. It wasn’t talked about, so we have so much more of an understanding — we are much more gentle with people who suffer from mental illness than we used to be…Paula is self-medicating with marijuana, and that’s how she dealt with it…people who are in these positions can’t afford to go to a therapist; it’s not available.
NC: Switching gears, there’s a different kind of mother and daughter intimacy because you’re acting with your actual daughter. It felt lived in and authentic. What was that experience like for you?
AM: It was amazing. First of all, I was extremely honored that my daughter thought of me because the role is so interesting, and she trusted me. She’s said such beautiful things about me that I didn’t even know she felt. So it opened a door for me to see how she truly feels about me, too. I do think that there was a sense of security. Many people asked what it was like to be so cruel to my daughter. I didn’t labor or sit around and worry about that. I knew — because I know her [that] she just cares about the work. She wants to work to be good. So that’s the only thing I cared about.
I felt like I had to go for it — 100% I had to give her all the colors. I couldn’t be subtle. She’s not a subtle person. I would check in with her to be sure I was doing okay. That’s the only thing that I ever did. She always gave me positive feedback.
NC: And within that work, as a mother, did you, in turn, give her advice, or was it a thing where you didn’t want to interfere with her process?
AM: No, I do not give her advice. I don’t do that. I know better than that. I respect her too much. We just charged into battle with everything. That’s what we did. We prepared on our own, and we went at it. That’s what we did, but we didn’t really talk about it afterwards. We let it go. It’s too painful to sit around and over analyze what you’ve done. Once it’s done, it’s done, and you’re on to the next.
NC: I had wondered if the two of you had a mother-daughter debrief about work, but then I thought that might be a little weird.
AM: She was also working. She would start on Monday mornings around 6 am and work all day — 12, 13, 14 hours. The next day it would be a little bit later. And then next day, it would be a little bit later. By Friday, she’d work all night until Saturday morning, and then it would start all over again on Monday at 6 am. She did that every day, every week for at least eight months straight.
I would help her on Sundays. We wouldn’t talk about what we had done, but I would make her soup with loads of vegetables because she was always on the verge of getting sick. She would have some soup, get a massage, I would get a massage, and then we would go over her lines for the week real quick. That’s the only time I ever saw her except for when we were working.
NC: How was the response been from [author] Stephanie Land? Was she available for you?
AM: I didn’t talk to Stephanie until afterward. She’s in Missoula, Montana. Margaret was born in Missoula. We moved away when she was four, but that felt very serendipitous to the both of us; but I connected with Stephanie through Instagram via DMs. She’s super cool. She’s a great writer, and she’s a very warm person.
NC: Before I let you go, I have to say I love your signature gray hair. I love that you’re going for it, and that so many women in Hollywood are going for it right now, too.
AM: I’m really comfortable with where I am. I don’t want to have to pretend like I’m young. I just can’t do it. I don’t have the energy to tell you the truth. I feel more beautiful with a little character and just claiming where I am. I’m getting ready to be a grandmother and I’m just fine with that. Somebody once said to me you’re a very sexy grandmother and I’m just like, I don’t even need it.
Maid is currently out to stream on Netflix
[This interview was edited for length and clarity]