"What happens when you ask women to fit themselves in smaller, narrower boxes professionally or into a particular type of intelligence matched with a particular type of beauty?" Mackenzie Davis asks ET while perched on the edge of a chair in the Bowery Hotel lounge in New York City. The actress, most recently seen on Netflix's Black Mirror and AMC's Halt and Catch Fire, is explaining how Always Shine fits into the ongoing discussion about sexism and gender disparity in Hollywood. "All of these reinforced images and ideas are getting shouted at you all the time. At a certain point, if you don't fit in that box you're going to explode because it can't contain you anymore. And this movie is about the explosion."
More specifically, the new psychological drama directed by Sophia Takal (in select theaters Nov. 25) tells the story of two actresses with differing degrees of success (and different standards set for themselves) -- played by Davis and Masters of Sex star Caitlin FitzGerald -- attempting to reconnect after years of jealousy and competition. As their feelings fester, it becomes clear their senses of self-worth are dictated by external cultural constructs, causing them to lose hold of their own identities.
"It's sort of this bullshit fairy tale that emblematizes a very old-fashioned version of female beauty and feminine gender behavior," Davis says of the reality that extends offscreen in this film.
While Davis hasn't found herself trapped in the rom-com world that so many before her have, including her What If co-star Zoe Kazan, she does get her fair share of "strong female character types" thanks to her role as Cameron Howe on Halt and Catch Fire. But Davis says those roles -- just another trope -- "can actually be as flat as not-strong female characters because it's still an undigested version of what a woman feels like."
As for the series, which was recently renewed for a fourth and final season, Davis is happy it's coming to an end. "I feel so grateful to AMC for sticking with the show," she says, thankful the characters on the show don't have an opportunity to become unrealistic or repetitive. "But I don't think you need seventy hours of television to tell our story."
"It's nice to show a snapshot of the world," Davis continues, adding that it's scary to commit to TV: "You're signing up for a potential six or seven years of your life and it's really not up to you how long that goes."
But another show that has fans buzzing is Netflix's Black Mirror. In addition to Anna in Always Shine, Mackenzie found her character in the season three episode "San Junipero" something different to play. "That was so thrilling," she says of being asked to play Yorkie, a shy woman instantly attracted to the flashy and confident Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), whom she chases through time to be with. "I didn't even know it was an option for me to work on that show."
The episode's October release came as GLAAD reported it's dangerous for lesbian characters on TV, with many of their arcs ending in tragedy. In "San Junipero," Yorkie and Kelly eventually find each other and eternal happiness.
Davis approached it purely through the story's emotional through line, and wasn't aware of the larger context or impact until after the episode was released. "I've learned so much about the episode and the world in which it exists and what it means in the great community since watching," she says. "It's really good to be part of the conversation of a culture I'm not part of and which you need to be invited to. This has been an invitation to hear about concerns that don't impact me but are concerns that matter to me nonetheless."