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Television

In Netflix’s ‘Gypsy,’ the pursuit to show women can be bad and good

Naomi Watts as Jean Holloway in Netflix’s “Gypsy.” Credit: Alison Cohen Rosa / Netflix
Naomi Watts as Jean Holloway in Netflix’s “Gypsy.”
(Alison Cohen Rosa / Netflix)

First things first: Yes, Lisa Rubin is fully aware that therapists might take issue with her upcoming psychological thriller for Netflix.

In “Gypsy,” Naomi Watts stars as Jean Holloway, a Manhattan-based therapist who is in desperate need of a refresher course on the Hippocratic Oath after she finds herself becoming a little too involved in her patients’ lives. She begins developing illicit relationships with the very people her patients confide in her about in her quest to rediscover herself.

“Look, I hope there’s a lot about Jean that people will relate to,” showrunner Rubin said in a telephone interview, “but absolutely, 100%, what she’s doing with her patients is unethical. I know that. Most therapists are very ethical. It’s a TV show.”

The series also stars Billy Crudup as Michael Holloway, Jean’s husband, who has his own ambiguous relationships.

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Naomi Watts traces her interest in ‘Gypsy’s’ exploration of identity to her childhood »

The 10-episode first season premieres Friday on the streaming service. It marks the first TV series for Hollywood newcomer Rubin.

Lisa Rubin on the set of “Gypsy.”
Lisa Rubin on the set of "Gypsy."
(chase baxter)

She says that, in creating the show, she was interested in exploring forbidden lines in relationships and the complexity of one’s identity.

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“A therapist has all this sort of intimate information about their patient and almost hears endlessly about these people and their lives — they could almost fall in love with these people through the stories,” Rubin said. “There are certain boundaries, emotional boundaries, gray areas that are really interesting because everyone has their own interpretation of what the line is or where the line is.

“And I’ve always been interested by the way people express different parts of themselves,” Rubin continued. “The show is all about identity and who you are and the choices you make. That whole thing of public versus private, who we all pretend to be outwardly in the world versus who we are at our heart and at our core.”

That line crossing in the search for self starts in the pilot when Jean, who feels like an outsider among the suburban types she’s surrounded by, tracks down the ex-girlfriend (Sidney, played by Sophie Cookson) of a patient and strikes up a friendship with blurred lines under the false identity “Diane.” The risks and illicitness of it all is partly what attracts the otherwise buttoned-down Jean.

Sophie Cookson and Naomi Watts in “Gypsy”
Sophie Cookson and Naomi Watts in "Gypsy"
(Alison Cohen Rosa/Netflix)

“It was one of the most interesting dynamics for me when I was constructing the series,” Rubin said. “You have this guy who has this ex-girlfriend and he can’t get over her. He keeps describing her as staring at the sun —she has this sort of power. And Jean wants to feel something like that. Jean is older and is married and has her kid, has her job. Sidney has no responsibility, so it’s sort of this unencumbered life, and Jean recognizes a part of herself that she wishes she had explored. And as she lives more as Diane, she actually becomes more authentic as Jean.”

The chase finds Jean twisted up in manipulation, infidelity and risk of exposure — all of which occur from a female perspective that turns the tables on the antihero narratives that have swept television.

“In a way, we don’t expect this kind of behavior from a woman,” Rubin said. “I wanted to challenge that. This is just showing women who are dimensional — who do good things and bad things. We see the Walter Whites, the Tony Sopranos do things like that, but for whatever reason, society isn’t ready to see women in that way. We put women in boxes and say, OK, you’re a mother, you’re a wife, you’re a therapist — that’s who you are. But what about all those other desires, like, when you were younger — where did all that go?”

It’s something that the 31-year-old writer, a relative unknown whose upcoming projects include adapting the bestselling novel “I Was Here” for New Line and the novel “Food Whore” for DreamWorks, began pondering while listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy” one day. It led to the pilot for the show, which caught the attention of Working Title Films’ president, Liza Chasin. The dominoes fell from there.

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With Working Title producing the series, Chasin brought on “50 Shades of Grey” director Sam Taylor-Johnson to helm the first two installments. Taylor-Johnson, in turn, helped land Watts for the lead role.

“She was always someone I had wanted, but I have every email where agents and people would say, ‘no, she’s not interested in television,’ in red ink,” Rubin recalled. “I want to print them all out now. The show got greenlighted without any attachments. But once we got Sam Taylor-Johnson, she sent [Watts] the script. We ended up meeting. She connected with the role. That was a crazy, amazing thing. I just felt the actress needed to posses the range of believability in all these different worlds — she really has that range.”

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

Twitter: @villarrealy


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