Tracey as Betty Friedan
Tracey spoke to the Los Angeles Times about her Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie Emmy nomination for Mrs. America. This is Tracey's 27th Emmy nomination (7 wins) ...
Where are you right now? I am standing in a garden in Sussex, I have been in lockdown in England with my grandson who has no regard for social distancing, being 18 months old. I have been very, very occupied. I am so, so lucky to have a Yorkshire terrier and an 18-month-old.
How did you feel when you heard the news? I was at the vet’s with the dog when my son called me to say I had a nomination. It’s a lovely, lovely thing. I wanted to be a part of this part so badly. They cast me last. It drove me mad. I was like, “Give me the part!” It’s like they were buying a car, they were kicking the tires for months. I said, “Oh, God. Get someone else. Let me off the hook here.”
I just love Betty Friedan. When I would come to America I would see her on the TV; I read “The Feminine Mystique” in my 20s. I was just very, very proud to be part of this group and to play an iconic American woman like this.
And I’ll be really honest, to have the academy recognize me in a dramatic role today — I was really surprised and really thrilled. I have been very, very lucky in the comedic world, and it’s lovely. But some people say, “Oh you are just going to do an impersonation of somebody? You’re a comedian.” No, I started out as an actress.
Your performance recast Friedan in a sympathetic, human light. When you’re going to play somebody like this, you look at all the stuff that’s available on YouTube. They’re making speeches and [she switches into Betty’s more strained voice], “It’s them being bold and pontificating and being strident.” [Returns to her regular voice.] You think, what were they like in real life? Those moments on a Tuesday morning having coffee with Ms. Magazine, not getting on with Gloria Steinem. It’s finding those quieter, vulnerable moments.
I think Betty was vulnerable. She was from [Peoria, Ill.,] and became a big star. I loved all that stuff they had me do on “The Tonight Show.” She would go on TV in the ’60s and say things like, [Betty voice again] “No woman has an orgasm cleaning the kitchen floor.” I was just like, “Wow. I always wanted to say outrageous things in the ’80s, but she did it first.” That was the public face. “Mrs. America” shows the private face.
Betty repeatedly mispronounces the name Schlafly throughout the show. Was that something you picked up from your research? It was a hard name to pronounce. I think she did used to mispronounce it on purpose. At my toughest moments — it sounds very dramatic and actressy — but I would try to summon her in my funny little beige plastic-lined trailer. I would say, “Oh, Betty, I want to be worthy of playing you! They said they had the toughest time casting this role. [Betty voice] You gotta help me, Betty!” I think she bloody helped me. I think she’d be bloody proud of me. She was tough on everyone and tough on herself, but she was extraordinary.