February 2023

Screened | Brianne Howey

Getting Into Character With Ginny + Georgia's Brianne Howey

Photos Joel Griffith | Words Tamara Rappa

Netflix's Ginny + Georgia has been viewed a total of over 504 million hours, and at the crux of all that success, is actress Brianne Howey, who delivers a one-of-kind, head-turning performance as Georgia Miller, the sweet cherry on top of this two-season-to-date series that is defying demographics. Howey was in Europe with her now husband where he was planning to propose, when she got the email to audition for the role. Told that the juicy lead part in the YA series would disappear quickly, and that she should create an audition tape while away, she made the difficult decision to chance it and wait until she returned home. Talking herself out of remorse, she recalled that at the age of 33 she still gets carded, and convinced herself that no one would actually buy her as a mother of two. But Howey was meant for the role of Georgia: single mother with a deeply dark past, abundance of personality, endless energy, slew of survival skills, back pocket wit, gorgeous smile and spot-on Southern drawl that has people believing it's her own (she grew up in California).  At the root of Georgia, is a woman filled with the kind of complexities and contrasting traits that makes fans of all kinds fall in love with her, anticipating, season after season, episode after episode, what could possibly be next?! Home from her trip, Howey was again asked to put herself on tape, worked on it 'within seconds', and landed the part within days. One week ahead of Ginny + Georgia's season two premiere on January 5th, the show returned to its rightful place in Netflix’s top ten, and one day after its premiere episode, this season debuted back at #1 where it originally settled for over two months in 2021. An IMDB Top Breakout Star of 2021, Howey was most recently seen in Fox's The Passage, Hulu's Dollface, The CW’s Batwoman and Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here; her film debut was in Horrible Bosses. We talked to the Tisch grad about her plum role, the fans who call themselves 'Peaches', and her total take on the current season of her latest project, one she describes as her first opportunity to be a part of 'art and argument', with pride.

Georgia is a whirlwind of energy in every scene, and your own energy is much different. What's that like? Georgia can be exhausting at times, that's for sure. She's so ON. We, rarely see Georgia with her mask off, we so rarely see her turned off. It's a luxury she's never been afforded. She's a survivalist in survivor mode. She has to stay one step ahead of everybody, if not, more. She's also so performative, and that's more of the tiring part. She's monologue-ing, she's being sarcastic, she's witty, she's loud, she takes up all of the oxygen in the room. She's 'Go, go, go.' She's like the Energizer bunny. When you're in the rhythm, it's much easier. But sometimes, Monday mornings, I'm like, 'Okay, this is gonna be a big week. Here we go.'

To create such a successful series with complex story lines, one that deals with heavy subjects and real life issues set against an idyllic town, a show that tackles serious topics served alongside this big dose of humor, there's a secret sauce there. Do you remember when it was that you began to absorb that Ginny + Georgia was something extra special?
The language we use a lot on set is 'turning up the dial', 'turning down the dial'. It's this constant push and pull, a give and take of emotion, and of comedy, and of drama. It feels like boot camp in a way. I fell in love with [co star] Antonia [Gentry]. I love working with her. And this has definitely been one of my first roles where I've felt like it was starting more of a conversation. Even more so in season two. It's not just a slice of just pop culture. It has a little bit of everything. We knew, and hoped, and felt; it was special to us. It's not until you get to do things like this interview, get to go talk about the show, when really starts to hit you. You realize, 'Wow, oh my God, this show is is resonating with people.'

You've been asked quite a lot about the topics around mental health that Ginny + Georgia takes on in its story lines, topics like depression, self harm, bulimia, panic attacks. What's it like working closely with Mental Health America to tackle those topics for the show?
It's a dream to have their support. They read the scripts, and then have meetings with the creator and showrunner to look at any adjustments that need to be made. The main goal of working with them is to make sure that nothing is being glorified that shouldn't be glorified. We have a responsibility to talk about these nuanced subjects in ways that make them conversation starters,  to portray people's lived experience in an authentic and honest way. I think it helps normalize conversations, and removes a lot of shame from various situations. It's a cathartic experience to make it, too. It's helped me. It helps you to work through your own grief and trauma. I remember one of our cameramen, after Toni and I did the scene where Georgia discovers Ginny is burning herself in self harm, wrote me this incredible note about a trauma he experienced, and how being a part of making that scene really helped him process. The biggest privilege of one's life; I've never gotten to work on anything that is art and argument in this way.

Ginny + Georgia also takes on the topics of race and racism. How is that addressed behind the scenes? What's important to the show's writers and creator and actors, around the subject?

We're trying to portray everyone's lived experience to the best of our ability, in the most authentic way possible. What's beautiful about the show, is that the more inclusive the show gets, the further and deeper we go, the more people it reaches. It just goes to show that all that inclusivity does is cast a significantly wider net, one that is then significantly more meaningful. It starts in the writer's room, then by the time it gets to set, Toni and I have had super open conversations about our scenes and the dialogue. I've been lucky to experience this safe space we've created amongst one another. Nothing is off the table, and we kinda dive right into the deep end. If there ever any concerns, you obviously bring those up immediately, and they get addressed. It's a very open communication.

Georgia is this intriguing character because she's complex. She's responsible for the deaths of three people, but is she really a murderer? It's not that simple. She's permissive in ways that many parents aren't, but at the same time, she's also very vigilant and protective of her children. Why is it important to the show that Georgia be this character that is almost mysteriously hard to judge? Georgia isn't black and white. She's all the gray in between. That's what makes her relatable. We're all ashamed of certain things we've done. We all have regrets. There are plenty of things we would take back. But it's talking about it that helps unite us. That's part of our humanity. Georgia's gray area comes into play because she's a victim of circumstance. She fell through the cracks of society, and of her family. Nobody has ever looked out for her. The choices she's making, make perfect sense to her.  Georgia didn't finish high school. She's only lived in a few states in the south. She was sexually abused. She got pregnant when she was really young. She's never had parental guidance, a teacher's guidance, she's never been to therapy. She was left to her own devices. And I think that applies to a lot of people. We don't know what we don't know. And you can't judge people for that. Their own life circumstances have gotten them to where they are. What's really interesting about season two, is that Georgia starts to see the differences between her and Ginny, and realizes that there are things that she's been missing.

This season, we discover so much of Georgia's backstory. In a scene from the past, a young Gil says to a young Georgia, 'I can tell a little darkness won't scare you'. What does that mean to you, for her?
Georgia's already experienced it all. Georgia has experienced so much trauma, grief, and darkness. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors with Georgia. She's putting on an act. She's a con woman. She's a magician. In that scene, that's when Georgia first starts to learn some of her con woman ways. Georgia ran away from home. She shot her stepdad in the hand. He was physically and sexually assaulting her. Her mom, due to her substance abuse, wasn't able to be a mother to her. Georgia has seen a lot of darkness, and her main MO in life is to make sure her kids don't see that. That's also why she's so scared of Gil when he shows up this season. Half of what she learned was from Gil, and that's why he's so terrifying.

The theme of remaining tough and detached to get through life is one we see in this family of three, but at one point, Georgia says to Ginny, 'Remember when I told you vulnerability is weakness. Well, I think that may be your superpower.' What does she come to discover about her daughter this season?
She starts to notice Ginny's vulnerability when Ginny's delivering a beautiful poem at Blue Farm. Even though it's at Georgia's cost, it clicks for Georgia in that moment. Telling the truth and being honest does have its positives, even if that may make you appear 'weak'. This defense mechanism Georgia's always used, that she's starting to analyze through Ginny, might actually have some downside. Ginny's the one who convinces her to tell the truth to Paul. Georgia and Ginny are starting to share their own truths. Georgia is almost telling Ginny some full truths about her life. Georgia is leaning into her honesty. Her vulnerability strengthens both her relationships with Paul and Ginny, going against everything in her playbook, up until that point.

The series features a colorful collective of characters, all the different people in and around Wellsbury. What do you think is the most special thing about Ginny + Georgia's array of characters? It may sound cheesy, but there is truly something for everyone, from the characters you see with various mental health struggles; a family with a hearing impaired father; another dealing with terminal illness; even the stories of heartbreak. These are all aspects of real life, being shown through dark comedy. I worked with this director on Exorcist and Passage, and he's still one of my favorites. His name is Jason Ensler. I remember he told me, for one scene we were shooting, that 'life is contrast.' I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. I think about that so much for Georgia, and for the show as a whole. It's contrast, the push and the pull. That is real life.

Georgia's love life is a fun aspect of the show, with her many admirers. During episode nine, Joe finally declares his love for her and she basically admits the same, by saying, 'You know, you said it yourself, there's nothing I don't think of. ' Is that a roundabout admission on her part? What are we seeing in that scene? Her response in that scene goes back to Georgia's survivalist instinct. She's never gotten to think, although it may come across differently, about herself. In her mind, every action she takes is for her children. She's not falling in love for the sake of falling in love because she really can't afford to. She can't see her life any other way. It makes sense for Georgia that Paul is safety, that he's security. He accepts her for who she is. And to Georgia, that's love. And she's only had so many versions of love. Georgia also hasn't had many best friends, or friends in general, right? She had her kids when she was very young,  and was constantly picking up and moving them around. I think her relationship with Joe takes her by surprise; she doesn't even really know what it is. She feels so close to him, she feels so seen by him, she deeply cares about him, they're true friends. This is something that is difficult for Georgia to name or recognize.

At the end of the season, in a particularly jarring scene, we see Georgia's ex, Gil, beat her and threaten her. Her young son, Austin, grabs a gun that Georgia has in the home against her fiance's wishes. We see Austin shoot Gil, as the series tackles two other important and serious topics: physical and emotional abuse, and gun control and gun violence. Was there any concern about how fans might react to seeing a little boy shoot someone with a gun in the home? Eerily relevant, given the recent school shooting of a teacher by a six-year-old boy in this country. Right. It's just devastating. This is where working with the organization Everytown comes into play. We have their support and we rely on them heavily. I think the gun topic is obviously an incredibly sticky subject. There are a lot of subjects around Georgia that are sticky, because she has a lot of social and cultural blinders. And whether we want to admit it or not, that's part of the society we live in, part of our collective humanity. Georgia has plenty to learn, and so do I. I love that we're portraying both sides of the coin, with Paul on one side and Georgia on the other. It's incredibly reflective of where we are today in this country.

This season, Georgia says, 'I survived this long by staying one step ahead.' She also says, 'There's a voice in your gut that's always worth listening to.' Though Georgia is often seen as reckless and careless, one can say that those are two very positive aspects of her outlook.
Absolutely. I think Georgia's fabulous. There are so many pages out of Georgia's book that I feel like I should take, one hundred percent! Because Georgia has never had anyone to rely on, she's had to become incredibly self sufficient. She's had to be her own friend. She's had to pick herself up by her own bootstraps everyday, and keep redefining and reimagining who she is, and why she is who she is.

We were left with an interesting idea to consider at the end of the season. Georgia shares, 'People change either all at once, because life forces something on you, or change chips away at you over time.' Georgia's experienced both, but at different times. Very early on, life changed all at once for her, and it made her who she is for all of the obvious reasons. But what's chipping away at her slowly over time, I think, is Ginny. Everything Georgia's wanted for her life, for her kids to not have to experience anything she's ever backfires in a way. They haven't had to experience those things. They have their own thoughts, opinions, and ideas of the world that drastically differ from Georgia's, and that wasn't part of her plan. She didn't want them to to veer away from her ideology in any way. She just didn't want them to have to experience all this trauma. Granted, they are still experiencing plenty of trauma. But Georgia going to therapy, Ginny talking about emotional intelligence and her vulnerability... is what's slowly chipping away at Georgia. She still has a lot of life to live and a lot of story to tell. I think we all experience both of those aspects of change.

Another final thought that we're left with: 'Georgia's love was our white picket fence, our safety net. There's nothing in the world more powerful than to have Georgia's love.' How do you describe Georgia's love? Georgia's love is her sacrifice, it's moving mountains. It's putting you first and protecting you, and doing whatever it takes to make sure that you're okay.

What does Ginny learn about her mother this season?
I think Ginny has learned about Georgia's limitations. She's expecting more than Georgia's capable of. And in some areas, Georgia's way more capable than Ginny ever expected.

Ginny + Georgia has so many devoted fans. Who loves the show most? Oh my gosh, that's what's crazy. It's defying demographics. It's YA, a Young Adult genre show. Netflix went into it with those intentions. And ultimately, I don't think we can pinpoint it. It's young girls; women; men in their 30''s absolutely all over the place.

What do fans say or share or ask you the most?
  'When is season three?' That's a big one. And a lot of, 'Oh my God, you're not from the South!' Which is always super fun. And a lot about the things that Ginny and Georgia are fighting about, and where they each fall on the matter. Things like that.

If you could write some piece of an ending for Ginny + Georgia, what would it be?
I just want them to keep learning from one another, and I want them to keep having fun. I love the Ginny and Georgia sass and wit, and I also love their tender moments. Because there's so much tension and the stakes are so high, when we get to their tender moments, they're all the more special.

Listen to the extended Story + Rain Talks podcast interview with Brianne Howey on Spotify, Apple, and more.

HAIR: Anthony Campbell | MAKEUP: Robert Sesnek

"I'm watching The Last of Us, I'm obsessed. And I just watched this incredible documentary called Good Night Oppy.  It is the most beautiful story. Matt and I were in tears. I highly recommend it. Also obsessed."

"I had a really fun brunch with my girlfriends over the weekend, and my friend Fiona made Chrissy Teigen's mochi pancakes. I can't stop thinking about them. They're amazing."

"I just finished this book, The New Wilderness. It's a book about climate change, and it's just thrilling. Reading helps to get me out of my head,  especially during the lead up to the show."

"I've been listening to a lot of Etta James, Ann Peebles, and Otis Redding---a lot of soul music. I think because it's been raining so much in LA, and it's been colder than normal. That has been on repeat in our house."

"On the same wavelength of being at home and cozy, I'm very obsessed with candles. I love Diptyque's Roses candle, it smells like heaven. And I love candles by Le Labo, you can't go wrong.  I got another really good one recently, from Salt + Stone."

Watch season two of Ginny + Georgia on Netlfix