From being in ‘Get Rich’ with 50 Cent to playing a young lawyer from the 1970s — she finds joy in Instagram and the Yankees
Joy Bryant was nervous about meeting the real-life version of the character she portrays in the new Amazon series Good Girls Revolt. Based on Lynn Povich’s 2012 The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, the series is about the fight for gender equality in a 1960s newsroom. Bryant plays Eleanor Holmes Norton as a young lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, and while filming the series’ pilot, Bryant went to Washington, D.C., to meet Norton, who’s been representing the nation’s capital as a member of Congress since 1991. “She’s not going to like me!” Bryant texted a friend while on a train to D.C. She received a blunt yet calming reply: “Mellow out! You both went to Yale. What are you tripping about?” Though Bryant has starred in such films as 2002’s Antwone Fisher, 2005’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ with 50 Cent, 2014’s About Last Night, as well as NBC’s Parenthood (2010-15), until now, she’d never portrayed a “real” person. When she’s not in front of a camera, “Grandma Joy” (as she jokingly calls herself) loves herself some Instagram, but don’t expect to find her on Facebook. She also loves watching tennis — and everything New York sports.
What drew you to the role of Eleanor Holmes Norton in Good Girls Revolt?
I read the book four years ago … I think I found out about it on a blog or something. A cool story, an unknown story, a part of the women’s movement. Loved the book, loved the story. And, of course, Eleanor Holmes Norton. Obviously I knew who she was, but I didn’t know of her involvement [in the Newsweek suit]. I was like, ‘Wow, someone’s gotta make this. TV, film, whatever, someone’s gotta make this. When they do, I am playing Eleanor Holmes Norton.’ That’s what I told myself.
Is it tough to play historical figures? Especially those who are still alive?
There’s a tremendous amount of responsibility. You want to do the best you can to reveal this person, but the fact that this person is an actual person is a tremendous amount of responsibility in that I just want to do right by her. And on a really base level, I just wanted her to like me. I didn’t want her to be like, ‘Oh, God. Why didn’t they get somebody else to play me?‘ I wanted her to be proud of what I did and also feel that we [did] her life justice and her story justice.
What was it like meeting Norton for the first time?
I was intimidated. I was nervous. I was all these things … But the minute we laid eyes on each other, we were like, ‘Ahhh!’ She’s just wonderful.
What’s your favorite throwback TV show?
What’s considered throwback, because I’m kind of OG … Damn, damn, damn! Throwback, I would say Sanford & Son. I would say All in the Family. I would say The Jeffersons, Good Times, basically all of them.
Are you most about Twitter, Snapchat or Facebook? What’s your primary social tribe?
I’m more of an Instagram person. I was kind of late to the whole social media thing. There are things about it that I dig, and understand, but there are some things that I’m kind of like, ‘Huh?‘ I’m not really that active on Twitter because sometimes I get it — and sometimes I don’t really get it. I don’t know how to do Snapchat. I don’t understand. I should, right? I don’t have a Facebook page. I don’t even know how to log on to that. But Instagram is … the one I’m best able to express [myself] visually and also with words. I don’t think I have the bandwidth for other platforms. I get how people do it and that’s so cool, but I’m just trying to return texts and emails in a timely fashion.
What are your favorite teams?
I’m from New York, I live in L.A. I kind of rep New York teams. I don’t know who’s on them. I don’t really care. I’m gonna always root for the Yankees because I grew up in the South Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium, and I used to always go to Yankees games. I’ve always been a Yankees fan. Jets, Giants, sure. But Yankees over the Mets. And Rangers over the Islanders.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
Public Enemy. Let’s see, I was at Yale from ’92 to ’94, and they were at Toad’s Place, either in ’92 or ’93. That was the first concert. I’m still a big Public Enemy fan, but I was a really big Public Enemy fan back in the day — because, who wasn’t.
What is your spirit animal?
What will you always be a champion of?
I will always be a champion of the oppressed.
Where does your courage come from?
My courage comes from my grandmother, who always instilled in me that I can be anything I want to be, and no one is better than me, and I’m no better than anybody else. So if I remember that, I can have some courage. But that’s easier said than done.
Do you think the topics tackled in Good Girls Revolt are still relevant today?
We’ve definitely come very far in the last 45, 50 years, but we have very far to go. And so the great thing about the show is the hopeful thing of, like, ‘This is how far we’ve come! ‘And then it’s like, ‘Damn. This is how far we’ve come?’ Because we’re still here in many ways. The fact that we’re still talking about the fight for reproductive rights, the fact of racism, or seeing black people being murdered by police, it’s still happening live and direct. There are many other aspects of women’s liberation, black liberation and also liberation of the people of color in general, and other marginalized groups, that we’re still having these conversations about. We’re still having this fight.