B.K. Cannon has one of the toughest jobs in Hollywood: playing a morally upright character on a Marc Cherry series. As a showrunner Cherry has made his name with deliciously demented series like Desperate Housewives, Devious Maids and Why Women Kill, where plotting, scheming, looking good and burying bodies under pristine suburban lawns are the order of the day. Good guys? They’re definitely an endangered species.
Season 2 of Why Women Kill focuses on the surprisingly lethal drama around a fancy California garden club in 1949, as club boss and femme fatale Rita Castillo (Lana Parrilla, who also spoke with SBS Guide about her experience on the series) faces off against frumpy housewife and would-be member Alma Fillcot (Allison Tolman). Stuck in the middle of this clash, Cannon’s character Dee turns out to be the moral centre – though don’t think her refusal to condone cheating and murder makes her a pushover. “Violence doesn’t bother me,” she tells a customer at her waitressing job, “keep that in mind when you tip me.”
“When I first read the script, I was definitely drawn to Dee right away,” Cannon says via Zoom from Los Angeles. “I think we have a lot of things in common, but what Marc Cherry does beautifully in all of his projects is write female characters with layers and different colours. I felt like I didn’t have to do a whole lot of digging to find the essence of Dee because I do think we’re pretty similar in a lot of ways.”
Like everyone on the series, Dee’s journey is a bit of a roller-coaster. When we first meet her, she’s clearly got a spark – as seen by her relationship with handsome would-be actor Scooter Polarsky (Matthew Daddario) – but she’s also a loving daughter to Alma and Bertram (Nick Frost). When private eye Vern Loomis (Jordane Christie) comes sniffing around, it’s her first clue that things aren’t exactly what they seem, and from there the clues just keep on coming.
“Starting off the season, I had no idea as an actor where we were going,” Cannon says. “Every script was a surprise. In the beginning it’s more about her relationship with the men in her life. Then as the season goes along, she really starts to home in on how strange her family is acting and how other strange things are falling into place. I think she’s the audience viewpoint character in a way – she’s the one drawn into this strange world.”
Dee’s initial relationship is presented as a bit of a shock twist in the first episode, and for Cannon, getting to play against the usual Hollywood type a little was part of the fun.
“Especially as a bigger girl,” she says, “there’s not a whole lot of roles out there that feature women with romantic interests – it’s just not a topic that’s covered very often. So it was very fun for me to be able to play with the different actors.
“I think that Dee is a really great example of a woman who was doing what she wanted without listening to whatever the social pressures of the time were or worrying about the morality of it. I love that we didn’t spend a lot of time on, you know, ‘Oh, should a woman be doing this or not’. She’s living her life as she wants and ultimately, I think she made some pretty good choices romantically.”
When it came time to put herself into a 1940s mindset, the sets and costumes, plus the elaborate hair and make-up she went through each day, helped open a gateway to the past.
“Walking out of the trailer onto the street with the 40s cars and everything, you were really transported. You can do as much research as you want, and you can kind of imagine in your head what it’s going to be like, but until you’re there on the ground, filming and you hear action and you see all the extras, it doesn’t quite hit you.”
Despite all that, there was one area playing Dee where Cannon had to fall back on some good old-fashioned acting.
“I have not had the experience of being a waitress,” she says with a laugh, “so being a waitress actually took some acting for me. There weren’t any real personal experiences I could tap into, so it definitely required me figuring out the basics like ‘Okay, so when I’m a waitress, I’m looking at the customer, now I’m filling cups and I’m taking these dishes’.”
Filming during the pandemic was often challenging – Cannon says the only time she saw another person’s face on set was when they were filming a scene – but getting to work with Allison Tolman was a definite highlight.
“It really was like a once in a lifetime experience,” Cannon says. “She’s not only professional all the time, but she’s so generous as an actor. She’s always there, ready to play, ready to find unexpected moments. And I really feel over our seven months of shooting I learned so much from her. It was so much fun, we were having such a good time with each other that it really felt like it bled into our relationship on screen as well.”
One of the big themes of this season of Why Women Kill is the connection between beauty and power. Rita has beauty, and that gives her power: Alma wants power, and sees her lack of beauty as holding her back. But over the ten episodes, Dee ends up representing a different kind of power – the kind that comes from knowing what you want and being confident in yourself.
“How beauty in general is either weaponised or just used in some way to gain an advantage, especially for women, is a huge part of life, whether you’re in the 40s or current times. I think that is why Dee does remain the kind of moral centre of the series. All of the outside stuff is happening, but she doesn’t allow it to kind of change who she is or alter what she’s going to do.”
The full 10-part season 2 of Why Women Kill is streaming now at SBS On Demand. Double episodes of the new series will also air on SBS VICELAND on Saturday nights from 15 January. Start with season 2's first episode:
You can also catch up with the first season starring Lucy Liu, Ginnifer Goodwin and Kirby Howell-Baptiste, now streaming at SBS On Demand:
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Series creator and show runner Marc Cherry joins Fiona to talk all things 'Why Women Kill', as we get set for the premiere of season two on SBS and On Demand in January. We talk 'Desperate Housewives', the origins of his love of froth and drama, and he many that ways his late mother continues to inspire him. A must listen for fans of 'Why Women Kill', of great TV writing, and 'The Golden Girls'. Catch season one of 'Why Women Kill' at SBS On Demand.