Erinn Westbrook Discusses “Insatiable” Criticisms Of Fat-Shaming As The Netflix Series Premieres Its Second Season

Erinn WestbrookPhoto Credit: Shane McCauley

Erinn Westbrook is adamant: You need to watch her Netflix series, “Insatiable,” to fully understand it. The black comedy-drama series that is based on the 2014 “New York Times” article “The Pageant King of Alabama” by Jeff Chu centers on Patty, an angry teenage outcast played by Debby Ryan, who, after losing a considerable amount of weight, seeks revenge on the classmates who scorned her. The first season was Netflix’s ninth most original binged series of the year. Though there was concern that the series condoned fat-shaming, Westbrook is setting the record straight. Here, the Harvard University-educated actress—whom many will recognize from her work on “Glee”, “Jane the Virgin” and “Awkward,” eloquently shares why her series isn’t about negativity, but rather, promotes the fact that beauty comes in many forms.

Erinn WestbrookPhoto Credit: Shane McCauley

“Insatiable” was one of Netflix Originals’ most binged shows of 2018. Why do you think this show resonated with the audience?

“Insatiable” is a crazy, wild ride that tackles real issues through dark comedy. There is so much about this series that is over-the-top. At the same time, we find the characters within our story to be extremely relatable. They are all fighting for something, hiding something, trying to fill voids. They’re all on journeys of self-discovery and they make some serious mistakes along the way. Don’t we all? Aren’t we all just trying to figure it out? I think that every viewer can find something to relate to within this series and that relatability factor, paired with a very unique, exaggerated and sometimes, twisted sense of humor is probably why people not only tuned in, but also, stuck around and watched the show to the very end.

The show drew some criticism for it’s fat-shaming content. How do you think the show addresses this subject matter and what is the message that it’s trying to convey? What are your thoughts on the fat-shaming criticism?

I think the people who watched the trailer had every right to feel what they felt about it based on what they saw initially. In that 90-second trailer, people witnessed an overweight girl “become” skinny. With her new body, she is suddenly seen as “hot” and popular and is able to seek revenge on all the people who wronged her when she wasn’t thin. Viewers of this trailer were reminded of cliché, harmful, body-negative narratives from the past and questioned why Patty had to lose weight in order to “have it all.” And, the answer is: she didn’t. That’s what the trailer did not (and could not) show you, because then we wouldn’t really have the show our creator envisioned. When people finally watched Insatiable, in its entirety, a lot of that fat-shaming criticism went away and many people actually started to defend the series and what it was all about. “Insatiable” promotes the fact that beauty comes in many forms, and combats the need for external validation from other people. The most important thing is to be comfortable with, and proud of, who you are inside; something that each character on the show struggles with in his or her own way. Patty’s journey, along with the journeys of the other characters, resonates with people. Ultimately, I am grateful that an important dialogue was started because of this show and that so many people do understand, now that they’ve watched the whole series, what “Insatiable” is all about.

Erinn WestbrookPhoto Credit: Shane McCauley
At the end of season one, your character, Magnolia, narrowly escapes death. What is in store for her for this upcoming season?

She sure did narrowly escape death – that was a close one! Quite a bit is in store for Magnolia this season. Clearly, she’s been through a lot. She dipped in and out of the pageant world, went to rehab for substance abuse, found out that she has a half-sister, that her dad is gay and that her ex-boyfriend, Brick, is involved with her frenemy, Patty. Just when we thought she might have been through enough, in a climactic series of events, Mags ends up in Christian’s trunk and is inadvertently involved in a murder scheme. Her whole world is pretty much upside down at the end of season one. All of what happened last season, will be addressed this season. There is a so much to clean up and a lot to figure out.

The pageant world has been depicted numerous times on film and television. How is “Insatiable” different from these other portrayals?

All of our characters are insatiable for something or someone (hence the very fitting title). There is an insatiability that is inherent to the pageant world. So, I feel like the pageant world is actually being used symbolically to push the overall message of the show. It is a fitting backdrop for our world to have. Insatiable is definitely campy and dark. It has a very specific sense of humor that I haven’t really seen elsewhere. Our showrunner, Lauren Gussis, used to write for “Dexter” and many viewers assert they see hints of that show in ours. There are also the aforementioned issues that are being addressed throughout the series. Insatiable can be a a fun to binge, guilty pleasure, taken at face value, or viewers can go deeper than that and watch with a more discerning eye. It’s really up to them. Interestingly, two of the main players on our show are loosely based on real people. Bob Armstrong is inspired by lawyer-turned-pageant coach, Bill Alverson, and Patty Bladell is someone our showrunner, Lauren Gussis, based off of her younger self, and some of the thoughts and emotions she had growing up. We have people involved with the show who are including bits and pieces of their stories so, knowing that, it really feels personal and hits close to home for many people. There is a lot embedded within the series that makes this a very unique depiction.

Do you have any sort of pageant past? If not, what were your thoughts/experiences with the pageant world growing up?

I was never a pageant girl, but I was always so fascinated by that entire world. Pageant queens all seemed to have the perfect hair, the perfect walk, the perfect answers to tough questions. It really felt like they had it all together. But, it’s important to remember that behind the perfect smiles, they’re human beings with challenges just like the rest of us. It’s been a ride to play Magnolia—who is initially seen as one of these “perfect pageant princesses.” I got to dig deeper. To prepare for this show, I ordered a bunch of books about pageant life, worked with a phenomenal pageant coach, Bill Alverson, and spent time with real pageant queens. A few of us attended the “Miss Teen America” beauty pageant and hung out with the contestants leading up to the big event. It was so interesting and helpful to hear from those girls. Those conversations and experiences helped me build, and humanize, Magnolia.

Erinn WestbrookPhoto Credit: Shane McCauley

Which past project has been the most positive experience and why?

That is such a hard question! I have taken something positive from each project of which I’ve been a part. However, I will say, one of the most formative experiences for me was playing the role of “Bree” on “Glee.” It was my first big job. The audition process was pretty grueling, but it made ultimately getting the role that much more rewarding. That show had a crazy schedule, too. I was running from the recording studio, to dance rehearsals and then to set. I actually had to memorize one of, if not the, longest monologues ever written for that series on one of my first weeks. It was intense! I enjoyed every second, though, because I was doing so much of what I love on one project. I was exhausted in the very best way. I have had casting directors say that if I could “survive” that production schedule, then I was well-prepared for pretty much any project. I agree with that. “Glee” gave me a reinvigorated sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. I left ready for whatever came next.

What’s next—project-wise and just life-wise?

I am currently filming on FOX’s third season of “The Resident” as “Adaku Eze.” Last season, we saw Adaku survive a very intense form of breast cancer. This season, she’s pregnant. Fingers crossed for an easy pregnancy, but, on a medical procedural drama, things aren’t often smooth-sailing. This is different from any other role I’ve played and viewers really seem to be invested in Adaku’s health and the health of her baby. I am looking forward to continuing her story. Other than filming down in Georgia, I am writing more often, and I am taking on the most important role of my personal life so far: a wife! I got married in August and I am enjoying all the fun, early moments of marriage with my husband, Andrew.