Felicity Huffman was relieved to finally play someone viewers didn’t hate in ‘American Crime’

The “American Crime” and “Desperate Housewives” star is asked what classic shows she would like to act in.


Felicity Huffman embodied a different kind of housewife in the latest season of network television drama “American Crime” — and she was relieved to finally play someone viewers actually didn’t hate.

The “Desperate Housewives” alumna, a member of showrunner John Ridley’s informal repertory of actors taking on new roles in each season of the acclaimed ABC anthology, portrayed naive housewife Jeanette Hesby, who meets the ire of her wealthy husband (Dallas Roberts) and his family when she discovers the untenable working conditions on their tomato farm after a horrific accident kills several immigrant workers.

“I love a story about a simple housewife. She’s not a heroic housewife. She has an awakening. She struggles and ultimately she fails, and John is great at telling stories about people without a voice,” she said.


But it was still a jump for Huffman, who had never played a character like that before. Unlike her previous Emmy-nominated “American Crime” roles— racist mother Barb Handlin and driven headmistress Leslie Graham — Jeanette, Huffman said, was “the good fairy” of Season 3, which explored the underbelly of immigration and forced labor. Huffman shifted from her oeuvre of hard-edged women who weren’t immediately likable to someone who means well but is completely helpless.

“She’s Glinda the Good. She is the most pure of heart of those characters and I think she has the least agency of all those characters,” she said during a recent visit to The Times’ video studio. “In keeping with the themes of the third season of ‘American Crime,’ she has the smallest voice, she has the least identity.”

It’s a point of view that Huffman tried to make “understandable and empathetic.”

“I was like, ‘I’m trying to do good here’ — so when I finally got to a character where I go, ‘I’m trying to do good here’ and people weren’t going ‘Oh my God, I hate you,’ was a relief.”

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Though at first unaware of the untenable conditions the forced laborers experience, Huffman’s Jeanette understood their lack of autonomy as well. She was shocked by her family’s business-as-usual reaction to the laborers’ conditions as well as the law when she finally decided to divorce her husband.

“She is bludgeoned by the law, which is you have to wait a year. And in that year, your husband isn’t required to pay you anything and she doesn’t have anything in her name. There is something about waking up after 30, 40 years of marriage and going, ‘There’s no me in this we. It’s all the marriage and you.’ I think she felt completely powerless … someone who actually feels invisible.”

Ridley’s raw approach — credited with throwing light into the dark corners of American society — has left a stamp on network television and garnered much acclaim. However, ABC has not renewed the show for another season, though Huffman remains confident that its impact will endure.

“I really hope it does change the face of network TV. I also applaud ABC for having ovaries of steel to go, ‘We’re going to do this and we’re going to do it right.’ I’m very sad it’s over. I think John is a visionary. It’s true, it is hard to watch. There is entertainment and there is art, and I think ‘American Crime’ was more weighted in the art. And the purpose of art is to tell the truth and the purpose of entertainment is to have a good time.”

Watch Huffman’s complete interview below:

The actress plays a sympathetic, powerless character in Season 3. She based the look on photos her sister and friend took of women in North Carolina.

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