Though HBO’s Winning Time largely focuses on the men’s basketball team and the mostly male executives and coaches within the organization, it does not fail to show the organization’s women, as well as the key women in the lives of Jerry Buss and Magic Johnson.
Shadow and Act spoke to series stars Gaby Hoffmann (Clare Rothman), Hadley Robinson (Jeanie Buss), Sally Field (Jessie Buss) and Tamera Tomakili (Cookie Kelly) about the series, specifically being women in a particularly male-dominated series about a men’s sport.
Hoffmann’s Rothman is the main woman executive at the Los Angeles Lakers and sets the stage for women like Robinson’s Buss and Molly Gordon’s Linda Zafrani to have prominent roles as time goes on.
“I think that Claire’s an interesting one to talk about in these terms because she is the only woman who is at this kind of higher level on the insider track of this all-boys club,” Hoffmann told us. “And she has been navigating it for so many years when we first meet her. And she knows what she’s doing. You know, she knows the rules of the game, though they’re changing as Buss enters the scene. So I feel like she is kind of representing in a lot of ways, the woman’s experience in this very specific area where you have to really know your place in order to remain in that room. She’s constantly making calculations about just how much she can do and say– yet still be able to express her intelligence and her creativity and her capabilities. It’s a really fine line that she’s always walking. And she’s f****g nailed over these years. It’s a unique female experience for that time.”
Speaking from that same perspective in regards to her character, Robinson added, “I think Jeanie is watching it happen to Claire almost more than experiencing it herself, and she’s watching and she’s almost making alterations and being like, ‘OK, how can I avoid this?’ And then Claire, once she’s gained her trust, she opens up and sort of does give little pieces of advice like, ‘This is what I’ve been through [and] this is what you have to watch out for.’ And she also obviously gets advice from Jessie, so she’s in a pretty lucky position. Given all these strong females in her life who are sort of giving her the tricks of the trade.”
Speaking of Jessie Buss, Field spoke about how they crafted the character of Jerry Buss’ mother during this era, though in actuality, she was not alive at the time.
She explained, “We had a lot of license with Jessie because there’s not a lot of real information on her. We have some key dates and things that happened, and we look at ultimately what Jerry became. So we have to know that the main parental influence in his life was Jessie, so she had to fit into what he ultimately was. And we just sort of backtracked from all of that. As they say, she was the thorn in his side and the love of his life. So they had a kind of lovingly combative relationship, or at least that’s what we invented– that they love each other through sort of combating with each other.”
On playing who we now know as Cookie Johnson, but then Cookie Kelly, Tomakili wanted to sink her teeth into someone who a lot of people may not know much about.
“I think a lot of a lot of people see her as just like the devoted, loyal wife, but knowing the world that these men are in [and] knowing how the world gives them everything fame, fortune…they have everything at their fingertips–what kind of partner is paired with that kind of person? And it has to be someone who is strong someone, someone who understands what it means to hustle, someone who has to kind of let go and surrender. Being able to read her memoir and watch interviews about her and learn about her family and her parents, where they’ve come from… all that..it makes up who she is. And like it was so fun and juicy to play with.”
Check out the full interviews below. The season finale of Winning Time airs Sunday night on HBO.