Three ski-masked women storm into a suburban supermarket to rob it blind.
That was the very first scene of NBC’s kinetic Good Girls, and the series has only become more outrageous since then. Those thieves are three overly tasked moms — played by Christina Hendricks, Retta and Mae Whitman — who didn’t realize they’d stolen from (and are still indebted to) drug lords.
In the sophomore season, just wrapping, “They’ve been going through this hellish experience,” Hendricks says, “so it’s really crazy and fun.” It’s also just the kind of series that can bond a cast, and its three leads all say they became friends in a flash. They’ll be spending more time together, as the show has been picked up for season three. Who says crime doesn’t pay?
As the ringleader, it’s up to Hendricks’s steely Beth to square with the bad guys, settle down her heist squad and run a hectic household that would make Mary Poppins proud. As such, the Emmy-nominated actress also serves as the cast’s de facto “cruise director.” She’s the one who organized holiday gifts for the crew, and during a 2017 snowstorm in Atlanta, where the show first shot, she invited Retta and Whitman to her home for a weekend slumber party.
“It was as on the nose as you can imagine,” Hendricks recalls with a laugh. “We ate junk food and we watched a bunch of Sex and the City episodes. Mae had never seen it!” After playing secretary–turned–ad exec Joan on Mad Men for eight years, the Knoxville, Tennessee, native says she didn’t set out to shake up her career. In fact, a different actress was originally cast as Beth because Hendricks had said no.
“I wasn’t convinced that they were going to keep it as dark and weird and quirky as it had been pitched to me,” she explains. “But [series creator] Jenna Bans and NBC promised they’d be true to her vision. And they were true to her word.” She also got a thumbs-up from pal and on-screen sister Whitman, whom she’d met in an elevator when they both worked on Disney’s animated Tinkerbell series years ago.
Hendricks hasn’t looked back: “I get to play the mother, sister, wife, best friend, criminal and victim. There’s always a new challenge and a new surprise. It’s an actor’s dream.”
Do not — repeat, do not — attempt to give Retta any Good Girls spoilers. Unlike her costars, she prefers to be kept in the dark about her own show. “Mae steals scripts from hair and makeup, but I want to know nothin’!” she says. But she’s not above dishing about all things Ruby. Her voice-of-reason character, who used the dirty money to pay for her daughter’s medical care, is a surprise dramatic departure from her role on NBC’s comedy Parks and Recreation.
“Ruby’s got a lot more stresses in her life than Donna Meagle ever did,” she says of the outsized character she played from 2009 to 2015. “She has this moral dilemma. Her husband is pissed because she lied to him. She also has these friends. She doesn’t know who’s her number one.”
Off-screen, the New Jersey native and comedienne (née Marietta Sirleaf) reveals her loyalties lie with the latter: “I don’t have a family life, so, like Ruby, I’m very close to my good girlfriends.” Retta includes Whitman and Hendricks on that list, noting that the three connected at the outset when the series filmed on location in Atlanta.
Now that production has relocated to L.A., where they all live, “We don’t get that down-time, sitting and chatting and laughing and trying to figure out when we’re going to do drinks,” she says wistfully. Still, she adds: “Jenna loves writing us in the same scenes. That’s how we prefer it.”
Whitman knows she has it good on Good. “I keep waiting for them to take me away for having too easy of a job,” she says. “We’ve created an environment that feels really safe and comfortable. We take time to talk things out about what’s working. Even on the days that are hard, everybody around you has your back, and there’s nothing else in the world I could ask for.”
Though younger than her costars, she has plenty of experience. She’s been acting since age six, appearing in such diverse fare as the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day and the NBC dramedy Parenthood. Her five years on that series got her typecast as a wised-up teen, she says. But her single-mom, blue-collar Annie on Good Girls “is a naïve, impulsive adult, and she has an amazing heart,” Whitman notes. “She can be a little bit of a hothead, too, which is one of my favorite things to take on.”
Told that Retta said Whitman is the show lead who’s most like her character, she exclaims, “I’m both flattered and offended!” The chatty and cheerful L.A. native hopes to continue with the series “for a million years” and mature even more. “I hope I continue to grow as an actress,” she says. Pause. “Though I don’t think I’ll get any taller, sadly.”
Good Girls is available on NBC.com, Hulu and Netflix.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2019.