‘Gaslit’ — Series a history lesson for Betty Gilpin

Actress plays Mo Dean in Starz drama

Betty Gilpin

Like a lot of people, Betty Gilpin thought of Watergate as something she learned about in history class, not having lived through perhaps the biggest U.S. scandal of the late 20th century.

But when she landed and subsequently researched the role of Maureen “Mo” Dean, wife of White House Counsel John Dean, in the Starz Sunday limited series “Gaslit,” a few things jumped out to the 35-year-old former “GLOW” actress, not the least of which was how much the way that public figures present themselves have changed since the 1970s.

Call it the reality TV effect.

“Back then, it was sort of your public self was very formal and austere and sort of this stiff, Norman Rockwell version of yourself. The White House was still sort of seen as this distant Camelot,” she says. “And it’s sort of the time when that was getting a little stale and people weren’t trusting it as much. …”

“Whereas now we’re sort of inundated with people being their true, authentic, loud, brash selves in our face, (and back then) Martha Mitchell was sort of refreshing even to people who didn’t agree with her (politics).”

Indeed, Mo Dean and Martha Mitchell, wife of then Attorney General John Mitchell, were two women who weren’t afraid to speak their minds. In the case of Mitchell (played in the series by Julia Roberts), it meant exposing skullduggery in the Nixon administration, for which she paid a heavy price. In the case of Dean, it meant standing by her husband as he delivered damning testimony in hearings that eventually brought down a president.

“They’re really women in 1972 struggling with the obstacles that women of the time dealt with,” Gilpin says, “and I think that’s also why we don’t hear about it. Because even the heroes of the story were racist and sexist and marginalizing the people whose stories should be told.”

Elizabeth Folan Gilpin

Birth date: July 21, 1986

Birthplace: New York City

Family ties: Hails from an acting family headed by father Jack Gilpin (“The Gilded Age”) and mother Ann McDonough (“The Mothman Prophecies”); husband is actor/director Cosmo Pfeil

Alma mater: Has a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts from Fordham University

Television credits include: “Fringe,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Law & Order,” “The Good Wife,” “Medium,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Nurse Jackie,” “The Walker,” “Mercy Street,” “Masters of Sex,” “Elementary,” “American Gods,” “GLOW,” “Roar,” “Three Women” (forthcoming)

Movie credits: “Death in Love” (2008), “True Story” (2015), “Isn’t It Romantic” (2019), “Stuber” (2019), “A Dog’s Journey” (2019), “The Grudge” (2020), “The Hunt” (2020), “The Tomorrow War” (2021)

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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