ABC may be single handedly shooting down the argument that there aren’t strong female-centric series on network television these days, as they are about to debut Red Widow, which comes from acclaimed executive producer Melissa Rosenberg and stars Radha Mitchell as a woman forced to make some tough decisions to save her family. While Mitchell’s Marta is certainly tougher than most, the series is not going to shy away from her flaws or her dark side, characteristics which Rosenberg feels make shaping new characters the most fun.
“I want her to cross all lines. That to me is such a fantastic engine for storytelling. A very moral woman forced to make some really immoral choices to protect her children, and that’s at the center of it, always,” Rosenberg said to LA TV Insider Examiner when we were on set with her in Vancouver* last fall.
“She’s going to have to make some really hard decisions and face some really ugly truths about the people she loves.”
Mitchell echoed the sentiment that the flaws are what makes her Red Widow role fun but also challenging:
“I really like it when the characters are complex and when they do things that are not easily palatable because it’s more of a challenge, I guess, and you have to make these characters relatable. Not everybody is Jesus, basically! That’s reality,” Mitchell said.
The series, based on a Dutch drama, starts when Marta loses her husband to mob violence, and she has to dive back into a life of organized crime she swore to leave behind due to a debt he owed.
“At first she’s kind of just dragged into this debt that she didn’t know that she had. She now owes a couple of million dollars to this guy who will kill her if she doesn’t pay up. So her way of paying is to help with certain deals that he needs to complete, and she doesn’t really know if she’s ever really going to get off the hook. That’s the first thing—before she even has time to think about what really happened [with her husband’s murder],” Mitchell said.
Marta makes a deal with the nefarious Schiller (Goran Visnjic), who controls much of the underbelly in town, but she isn’t some delicate flower who became a victim and is staying here, cowering under his command. Rosenberg shared that Marta “will discover fairly early on that she’s actually kind of good” at this lifestyle, and though it disturbs her as a wife and a mother, it will also “allow her to become more confident.”
“There’s a big difference between Marta in episode one and Marta in episode eight,” Rosenberg said.
“Marta has this philosophy in the beginning of that if she can just keep her kids in the dark, that will protect them from everything she’s doing, and she’s constantly really trying to keep them separate, but what she discovers is that actually puts them in more danger. By them not knowing what to say or where to go or what to do, they end up in exactly the wrong place, saying exactly the wrong thing. Certainly with Gabriel, her oldest son, he is the first to become more and more involved in her life of crime, even though she’s constantly trying to keep him at bay.”
Family is, of course, a great theme within Red Widow, and the idea of who is one’s true family, and who can one truly trust within the family comes into play heavily once Marta starts to consider the circumstances surrounding her husband’s murder. Her growing involvement with Schiller opens her eyes to some things those around her have been doing.
“When she realizes her family isn’t what she thought her family was, it leads to some pretty interesting drama,” Mitchell said.
But even with a strong ensemble surrounding and supporting her, the weight and emotion of Red Widow truly rests of Marta’s—and Mitchell’s—shoulders. The eight-episode first season is her journey to finding and cultivating a side to herself that she previously tried to deny was there. In a way, it is its own version of a coming-of-age story then, for this woman who has been a wife and a mother and is now forced to stand up and take some drastic measures.
“The second episode in is all about ‘How far will you go?’ She starts by ‘Okay, I have to do this little thing…but now I have to do this big thing. I have to use violence; I have to steal; I have to bribe.’ That’s sort of the whole series, how far will this very moral woman go?” Rosenberg said.
Red Widow airs on ABC on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. Be sure to check out our video interview with Mitchell from the Red Widow set.
* Travel and accommodations provided by ABC.
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