As a reality show personality, Kyle Richards is no stranger to inviting the public into stories from her life and family. “I feel like on the ‘Housewives,’ my family stuff was really out there,” she says. “When my sister was on the show, that was an automatic opening to things you may not really want out there.”
But her new show, “American Woman,” is a 1970s-set dramedy that she developed based on the life of her mother, Kathleen Richards — a single mom raising three girls in Los Angeles at a time when Richards says “outspoken or strong” women were not popular.
While Richards admits that mining her personal life in public has often been anxiety-producing, she has found a sense of freedom in taking control of the narrative for the scripted series.
“The Housewives has helped me find my voice. I was always a people-pleaser, and coming into a show like this you end up losing that,” she says. “I had it so specific in my head, but unless I’m writing the show, directing the show, starring in the show, it’s never going to be exact. So that was something I had to let go of. I think it makes me feel comfortable in just being OK with flaws and saying nobody’s perfect and nothing’s perfect.”
Richards acted as a child in part because her mother “had a dream she passed down to us,” she says, and in part because there was a need to earn money since her mother, who did not receive alimony, often struggled to pay the bills on her own. But Richards says that while she often had ideas for shows, before she got the “Real Housewives” franchise, “nobody would have listened,” she says.
“‘Housewives’ opened the door for me for people to listen,” she says. “There were people who were fans, and we met, we sat down for lunch, and that’s how ‘American Woman’ came about.”
Since the show is so personal to Richards, she didn’t want to just put her name on the show as some thought she would. “I felt like I needed to be there. Not only do I need to be there to make sure the story’s told the way I see it, but also I wanted to learn every step of the way,” she says.
Richards says she really enjoyed getting into the details of the show, such as picking out the right cars for certain characters to drive, looking at locations, and seeing how the “brilliant” writers expanded upon some of her stories.
“My mom never took her jewelry to a pawn shop, she would have probably rather starved!” Richards laughs about one key difference. “But what is true is my mom did have the pressure of having three children. My father said, ‘Here’s the big house in Bel Air, and the kids are working, acting, so you’re good now.’ So she became our manager, and of course that was frowned upon a lot.”
Richards says that the show will be more interested in exploring her mother’s “experience raising the kids and the kids’ experience of working” than making any particular commentary on Hollywood then versus now.
When Richards thinks about what she wants her own daughters to learn from “American Woman,” she thinks about what her mother wanted to impart on her and her sisters. “To be strong and independent and not have to need a man for anything,” Richards says. “I enjoy the role of being a wife and a mom, but I want my kids to know you don’t need a man for anything and like my mom says in the show, ‘Never allow yourself to be intimidated by a man.’ You always have to stand up for yourself. And what’s going on right now with the #MeToo movement, how much more relevant can you get? What’s happening now is creating change, and maybe more of these shows with really strong female characters can also create change.”