On Story


A Conversation with Catherine Reitman

This week on On Story, Catherine Reitman discusses her acting career in film and television, bringing the pain and comedy of real-life experiences into her work, and her transition to the role of creator/writer/star of the International Emmy Award-nominated comedy series Workin’ Moms.

AIRED: May 09, 2020 | 0:26:46

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♪ ♪

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- The best response you can have to a payoff in a thriller

is someone goes, "Oh, right, I forgot, of course..."

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[Narrator] On Story offers a look inside

the creative process from today's leading

writers, creators, and filmmakers.

All of our content is recorded live

at Austin Film Festival and at our year-round events.

To view previous episodes, visit OnStory.tv.

[Narrator] On Story is brought to you in part

by the Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation,

a Texas family providing innovative funding since 1979.


[kids screaming]


[witch cackling]

[sirens wail]



[suspenseful music]

[telegraph beeping, typing]

[piano gliss]

From Austin Film Festival, this is On Story.

A look inside the creative process from today's

leading writers, creators, and filmmakers.

This week's On Story,

Workin' Moms creator, Catherine Reitman.

- The story of motherhood seems to only be

a broad comedy with a diaper full of poop hitting the wall,

or a really after school specially dramatic one.

So being able to tell a premium cable feeling dramedy

about the subject matter was really exciting to me.

And it felt like the most honest interpretation

of my experiences as a working mother.

[paper crumples]


[typewriter ding]

[Narrator] In this episode, Catherine Reitman

discusses her acting career in film and television,

bringing the pain and comedy of real life experiences

into her work, and transitioning into the

role of creator, writer, and star

of her International Emmy Award nominated comedy series,

Workin' Moms.

[typewriter ding]

- Can you talk about the inspiration from moving

from your acting career into creating

and producing this project?

- Yeah, totally.

I, um...

I got pregnant and I thought I'd never work again.

I was an actor at the time.

And I got a job.

And my baby happened to be six weeks old

at the time, first baby.

And when you get a gig as an actor you're like,

I won't get married, I'll do everything.

You can have all my bones.

You're just willing to do anything.

This cast was male comedian-heavy,

which was great,

and we got onto the day we were shooting

and on Facebook or on Instagram when you become a mother,

it's all just like people posting pics of themselves

with babies or thank you so much Mom,

and I opened it very stupidly

and I started seeing everyone posting pics

of their relationship with their children

and they rate me garbage macaroni or whatever.

And I was so sad.

I was like overwhelmed,

and I was really trying to trap it down,

and the guys started teasing me.

The guys started being like, don't worry,

I'm sure the baby will call the nanny Mom,

all that kind of stuff.

And, um

yeah, man.

And I thought I'd be able to swing back,

and I started crying,

and it was at like a very inopportune moment

'cause we were on set, about to go, lights, camera,

and I couldn't get it together.

And for those of you who are familiar with my show,

in the first episode, Kate's in this conference room

and they start teasing her,

and she breaks down and cries,

and it's awkward and painful and funny and all the things.

So that was the very first moment of the show.

- Hey, shouldn't you be at home right now putting

your baby to bed or something?

- That's right, Kate, didn't you have a hard out?

- Well, you guys need me here, the work's not done.

- Oh, nice priorities.

- Look my kid's not exactly being robbed of the good life.

You remember the good life Moe?

Breastfeeding off of your poor mother

'til you could tie your own shoes.


He does.

- Once again, I breastfed for a normal amount of time.

- Down girl, we're just messing with you.

- Your baby call your nanny mom yet?

You think she likes that?


[Kate cries]

[Kate cries]

- I got back to the hotel room, I started crying

and I called Phil and I was like,

I don't know [bleep] doing and I'm not myself anymore.

I do not know who I am anymore.

I'm not sexy,

I'm not cute,

I'm not smart,

there's nothing to me anymore.

And it felt very real.

And he said, "I think you gotta write this."

And I was like, no, I'm not a writer, shut up.

And he was like, "No, you have to.

"You gotta take some time

"and just don't worry about the whole shape of an episode.

Just write the scenes."

And I did.

I think I wrote 12 scenes,

and we ended up shooting it,

and cutting it into an eight-minute sizzle

that opened with a "Mommy and Me" scene

that I had experienced, which is also in the show,

and closed with the crying "I Wanna Work" beat.

And we shopped it around.

FX initially picked it up and then passed.

And then everyone kind of passed, it was dead.

And I was like, no one wants to watch a show

about moms, all right.

I guess my instinct about not being worth anything

means something, there's truth in it.

So, we went to Canada and Sally Catto at the CBC,

who's an extraordinary taste maker there,

I don't just say that because she liked my show,

she's responsible for Schitt's Creek

and a lot of shows that are very popular.

And she green-lit it to 13 episodes

based off of an eight-minute sizzle.

Yeah, it's a wow moment.

It's a holy [bleep] moment, it also happened to be...

Yeah give it to her.

[audience clapping]

- This is one of the first shows that I saw,

and I found it when I was three months postpartum,

that really explored that idea of this identity crisis

and kind of what we're up against

from the societal expectations.

- I mean, yeah, that's the concept

and that's the most relatable idea in the show.

It's why, when we couldn't sell it,

I just didn't...

I still don't get it.

I don't get that women who work,

is not, who have children,

who have an identity outside of the house is unrelatable.

But even if you don't look like Kate,

have a car like Kate,

look like Frankie,

have a lover like Frankie,

can you connect with identity crisis?

And I hate the term, "having it all"

because it makes it sound like you're,

it goes back to that selfish thing for me,

like having it all is somehow ordering everything

on the buffet.

It's like, no, you're just asking for a family

and something that's yours,

that's it.

These are very simple, basic, loving,

actually maternal concepts.

So this was something we were trying

to bake in to the show in a way

that didn't feel like medicine.

- Kate, I overheard you're going back to work.

Are you excited?

- Yeah, a little intimidated, I guess.

What's the trick to making all this work?

I'm trynna stay positive, it just, having it all

seems a little...


- I find the key is setting boundaries for yourself.

A good place to start is committing to being home

for the evening routine.

- Okay.

I was really so focused on,

for those of you females in the audience

who have had a female mentor who's broken your heart,

so often you find someone where you're like,

"Oh, that's what it looks like."

That's what it looks like to have it all.

That's what it looks like to do this.

And then you actually get to know them

and you're like, wait, ugh.

And it's really hard to find,

I found in the entertainment industry,

women who were higher up,

who were achieving their dreams,

who were also mothers,

who weren't cruel

or actually kind of pretending to be men.

The wrong kind of men.

I know there's also sensitive,

wonderful, three-dimensional, contemporary men.

[audience laughing]

But, I wanted to really focus on a few,

if you finally met your female role model

and she broke your heart.

And so that's what season one sort of climaxes to.

- I'm sorry,

how am I supposed to continue talking

about cold cuts when my one-year-old

is in the hospital?

You are a mother, what would you do?

- Think about what is important to you,

because this is a slippery slope.

Was I at every school play?


- But this isn't a school play, okay?

- Thank God for you, you have a capable husband at home.

Anyone can be a mother, Kate.

Going to the hospital might ease your guilt

but think about what you lose.

- Wha- Sorry, what exactly would I lose?

How does that break your concept of,

am I still supposed to be a working mother?

Is this what it turns out to be?

Am I supposed to be at home 'cause I'm missing everything?

Some ways I look back and it feels kind of obvious.

It's like the most basic concept of work versus home.

And that's probably a good exploration for season one.

In season two, I think we were far more ambitious,

and a little bit, at the time we loved it,

but we also thought, man, we might lose some audience here

because, it's damaging a really core character

to Kate's world.

[sharp gasping] - It's not okay.


No, no.

- Hey.

[sad music]

- And then, of course, season three if you found out

that your partner had an affair on you

and you were given a fresh, a golden ticket to start over

and do whatever you wanted,

would you take it?

And what that looks like

when you have kids and a family and responsibilities.

And that just made everyone be like, uh!

- I don't know that I can give you what you need.

- Listen, I don't need to be taken care of, I'm good.

But I do think that we'd be good together.

I'd like to see you happy.

I can definitely do better than your current situation.

- Are you pitching me right now?

- Hey, are you gonna tell me it's not a good pitch?

- No.

- So what's it gonna be?

- Kate, what's it gonna be?

Come on.

- Oh, I don't know.

- Kate, come meet me.

- I'll get you anything you want.

- What do you wanna do?

- Chick fings?

♪ A little pain ♪

♪ Is good for you ♪

What's it gonna be?

- I want...

♪ A girl's gotta do, gotta do what a girl's ♪

[typewriter ding]]

- I can think of fewer breeding grounds

for story material than the transition into motherhood

and the changes that that kind of

injects into your life.

- You know, it's funny, a lot of our audience doesn't

have kids and I think it's because the

change is inherent in also just your 30s

and going from, whether you have a kid or not,

or whether you're married or not,

this expectation that you had of yourself

as a teenager, as a child, or even in your 20s,

doesn't usually match up with what you look like

in your 30s.

And I think that the show is also that change,

the change of, I keep saying the term "identity crisis"

'cause it was the big engine of season one.

No, no, no, no, no.

Oh [bleep].

♪ I know what it is, what it is that you like ♪

Easy does it.

Oh, God, all right.

I am killing it.

It doesn't look like what you thought it would look like.

It's messier, it's sloppier, you're failing a lot.

How do we lean into that and showcase that

in a really flawed way?

'Cause the other problem I'm sure,

for any of you who've watched shows

with leading ladies in it,

is they tend to not be very flawed.

Another thing I will just compliment Sally Catto

at the CBC on is she leaned heavy into that.

I said, look, I got a character who's gonna get an abortion.

I got a character who's going to ignore her husband

and lie to him several times.

My leading lady, Kate, is going to be

the most painfully ambitious woman you'll ever see.

And she's not going to sacrifice a [bleep] thing.

And she was like, "Great."

- The board actually feels you're one of our

strongest people and we wanna commend you

on your excellent first couple of days back.

- Really?

Thank you guys.

- Yes, your current situation has actually made you

very relatable to our clientele.

- So much so in fact that we're considering throwing

your hat in the ring to head up the Westwood Foods account.

It's a very, very short list of contenders.

- Wow, that's amazing.

That's the job that works out of Montreal?

- Sure is, you'll be out there for a couple months

of the year.

- I told them you might not be interested.

Most of the women who've become mothers

don't raise their hands as much.

- Oh, well, not this girl,


You try to play the character likably

'cause that definitely lets the audience in.

But we stuck to our guns and I think,

the change that's happening, which is sort of just inherent

in the theme of the structure, it was more of,

how do we make these flawed women continue

to stay on that path?

- Let's talk about the characters,

Kate, Frankie, Anne,

and even Jenny because I feel like they represent

these different archetypes of motherhood

in really powerful ways.

But they're all so full-bodied,

no pun intended,

well-rounded characters.

- Imagine that.


They're all so different.

But they're all mothers and they're all working.

It's like, yeah, it's as if it was a sample

of the population.

Yeah, they're all different aspects of my flaws.

Kate, my uncompromised ambition,

Anne, my unadulterated anger,

Frankie, my identity crisis, my loss, my depression,

and Jenny, vanity.

Vanity is a very [bleep] real part of being a woman

and we ignore it and we pretend it's not real.

And we're too humble for words, myself included,

but then you get pregnant and it's challenged

in the most exceptional way.

And it's a very real part of the identity crisis.

When I see people respond to the character of Jenny

so negatively, it angers me sometimes because I think

it's a real part of every single one of us

whether we like to admit it or not.

- Hey, you have a minute?

- For you, of course.

- I've noticed a significant change in your behavior.

You've really been going above and beyond lately.

I mean, you've turned to your work in early,

you stayed late every night this week.

- So, you're happy with me?

- Yeah.

- Knowing that I have your support makes me feel

like I can do anything.

- Pretty sure my productivity's at an all-time high.

It's worth mentioning.

- Anyway, I was hoping if you had time after work today,

you'd want to have a little--

- Jenny.

- Ian.

- Hey, baby.

[typewriter ding]

- Certainly in season one through three, particular one,

I think our main goal was to just

take from moments in our life.

As much as we were drawing as our experiences as a mother,

we were really talking to, hey, have you ever like gone

to get coffee and they look at you

and they say your name wrong

but you just want to move quickly so you just go with it

and then you become a new person?

It's like little those little idio-syncratic moments

like that became sort of the crux of the show.

But, that being said, there were plenty of moments

where I was having trouble breastfeeding my kid.

My kid did not want to have anything to do with me.

And they day on set, the two twins

who played my sons were asleep,

and my three-month-old,

when we started shooting I had a three-month-old,

who happened to be visiting at that moment,

and I was like, well, it was a breastfeeding scene.

Kind of a relief, I don't have to breastfeed

these nine-month-old twins who I'd met two weeks ago.


You're constantly trying to be brave and vulnerable

and expose it all and at this moment,

someone asked me in an interview the other day,

"When do you know it works?

"When are you sitting in front of your laptop

and you're like, I made it, this is it?"

And I never [bleep] knew that.

I until it aired, was like, people are gonna think

this is the most indulgent thing in the world.

No one's gonna connect with it,

this is only my experience.

That's how specific and scary it was for me.

And, anyway, my kid was visiting set,

it was a breastfeeding scene.

I put him on and I told the two camera women,

I was like, just so you know, he's gonna reject me,

he's gonna scream and cry, it's gonna actually

break my heart and it's gonna be great.

So I said, "Just roll with it.

"If he's screaming and crying and purple in the face,

"don't cut, just go, we'll get it, he'll be fine.

I've got pacifiers for days, let's just get it."

And the scene starts,

the camera starts pushing in,

I put Liam on my breast,

[baby crying]

I know what you need, there you are, I know what you need.

Yes, yes, let's give this one thing another whack.

[baby crying]

It's okay.

Yes, yes, yes.

And he latches on.


And my first instinct is like,

that's not how it's scripted, Liam.


Which by the way is classic Liam.


But he latches on and it completely changes the

last moment of episode two of the first season.

Kate has a win, the first win and you feel great.

And she laughs 'cause I really [bleep] laughed

'cause I was annoyed and also delighted

and also he hasn't fed off of me.

He's actually getting nutrients in real life.

There was moments like that, 'cause my husband's

also in the show with me, there's all these moments

where you're feeling the real life informing the creative.

[typewriter ding]

- Let's go to the bear.

♪ Ain't a fair game ♪

[footsteps skidding in gravel]

[bear huffing]

[bear grumbles]

- Hey, buddy.

[bear growls]

[bear growls]

[bear growls]

[Kate whimpers and screams]


[bear grunts]

- Okay.

- Hey, are you okay?

- Ahhhhhhhh!!!!


- I'm assuming that didn't happen in real life

but if it is,

bad ass.

I'd love to just hear about some of the choices

that you made.

- The bear was a big fight, nobody wanted the bear.

Everyone hated the bear and it was really expensive.

And at this point, we were this tiny little Canadian show.

I lived in Los Angeles where there are bears,

and in Toronto there are no bears.

And I had seen a bear on a run,

I didn't scream at it.

I'm not crazy [laughs].

But I saw a bear and I was pregnant

and I remember thinking,

"Oh, what a great moment that would be,"

because it would be the most primitive

maternal moment.

And I ran back and I'm crying and I'm red

and I'm all excited and I'm like,

"Phil, I saw this bear and can you imagine?"

And he was like, "Are you okay?!"

'Cause I think I was like six months pregnant.

I wrote the scene,

we moved to Toronto

and the network, everyone was like,

well, there are no bears in Toronto, I don't think

it'll be very relatable.

I'm like, it's gonna be the most relatable moment.

And I just kept pushing the idea,

this concept of the battle cry,

the battle cry, the battle cry,

I kept saying it 'cause I said,

"You're gonna have moms standing up off their sofas."

You just have to commit to this concept, that it's the one,

we don't have a lot of fantastical elements

on our show like that, and it is fantastical,

but it's the pilot

and I think it's going to connect people in a way

that just me in the conference room

saying, "I wanna work," won't.

It'll personify all of it.

The bear becomes every enemy to the working mother,

every obstacle,

and they were like, okay,

it's gonna be $50,000.


And we're like, oh, what about a scary deer?


[typewriter ding]

- Every time I see nudity, which is a lot now on TV,

it's 90% of the time, sexualized.

And for me, I think I wanted to be able to control,

we all constantly complain behind the screen

that our bodies are falling apart,

particularly after you have a child, that nothing--

you make these sacrifices and I don't think anyone ever

thinks about it as triumphant.

We're feeding these kids,

we're doing these incredible superhero things

with our bodies by making life.

And by the three of us sitting there, topless,

which was a big battle to get to that moment too.

There's never been nudity on the CBC.

The two actresses had never done nudity.

I'd never done nudity either.

I had a three-month-old at home.

There was a lot going on but I don't regret it for a second.

- I feel like a proud show dog that didn't understand

her days were numbered.

Like, look at these things, it's like chicken skin.

- What are you talking about?

Yours are okay.

- Look, they're not winning any blue ribbons, okay,

but they stuck in there.

They might be a little deflated,

but they're not throwing in the towel.

I like them.

When it aired, there was not one person who pushed back.

And it was hard because I think the biggest complaint

before we had aired it was,

"Well, they don't know your character yet

and they can't see your breasts until they know you."


Right, like, you wanna get to know someone

and then see their nipples.

But when you're naked, it's even that much more vulnerable

and you're having to sort of trust the energy

and your village.

That's another reason to have your husband

be in the village all the time.

[typewriter ding]

- So you brought up directing,

and I do want to come back to that,

directing your own work.

Just curious what this process is like for you,

what you've learned, balancing all of these hats.

- As an actor, it was exhilarating because I got

to play a real person.

I'm usually cast as best friends or [bleep] or caricatures,

which no harm in that, we all need a dead tooth to laugh at.

We need that best friend, I totally understand their purpose

but it was fun to let

my wall down

and sort of play vulnerable.

It's something that doesn't come easily to me,

particularly on camera,

so that was very exciting.

But to do that and direct myself into something

that doesn't come easy to me was complicated.

I think back to season one where I'd be in a scene,

especially if it's an emotional scene,

and I'm trying to give this authentic performance

and draw upon my real experiences,

but I also, like at that conference room table,

the "I Wanna Work" scene, I got six actors around me

who I'm giving direction to through my tears.

So you can imagine, if you're like, and if it's

a two shot, and you're like, would you do that again?

Like, it's really weird.

I have found it impossible to improve as a director

in the scenes that I am in.

- What is it about comedy that you're drawn to?

- That's such a hard question to answer, I don't know why.

I think life's really funny

and I think it's a really nice way to deal with,

life's also really [bleep] hard

and being able to laugh at it has helped me a bit.

And I'm also like, the story of motherhood

seems to only be a broad comedy with a diaper

full of poop hitting the wall

or a really after school specially dramatic one.

So being able to tell a premium cable feeling dramedy

about the subject matter was really exciting to me

and it felt like the most honest interpretation

of my experiences as a working mother.

[typewriter ding]

[Narrator] You've been watching

A Conversation with Catherine Reitman

on On Story.

On Story is part of a growing number of programs

in Austin Film Festival's On Story project,

including the On Story PBS series,

now streaming online,

the On Story radio program,

the On Story podcast,

and the On Story book series,

available where books are sold.

To find out more about On Story and Austin Film Festival,

visit onstory.tv or austinfilmfestival.com.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

[projector clicking]


[typewriter ding]

[projector dies]


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