Develop Your Palate with the Starz Tasty New Series Sweetbitter

Caitlin Fitzgerald is Stunning as Simone in Starz New Series SweetbitterCaitlin Fitzgerald’s television characters are always enhanced by her extraordinary attention to detail and her latest role of Simone in Starz new series Sweetbitter is no exception.

Sweetbitter, based on Stephanie Danler’s 2016 bestselling book of the same name, is a fish-out-of-water tale of 22-year-old Tess, who arrives in New York City ready to pursue a new life. She comes to the Big Apple without friends, family, or even a clear ambition. She just wants a fresh start, and falls down the rabbit hole involving the frantic life of high-end restaurants.

The first of six compelling episodes of Sweetbitter airs on Sunday, May 6.

When Tess (Ella Purnell) is invited to train at one of the best restaurants in the city, she thinks she’s found a steady income and a safe haven.

Swiftly, when she is introduced to the world of drinking, drugs, love, lust, dive bars, and fine dining, she learns to navigate the chaotically alluring, yet punishing life she has stumbled upon.

Tess becomes quickly intoxicated by this world, and the people she meets at the restaurant who end up marking her for life. One rather fickle mentor, Simone, played by Fitzgerald, is a puzzle to the rather native Tess, who looks up to Simone, a poised and refined Renaissance woman, a take-charge woman, who at first appears helpful, but is more frenemy to Tess than friend.

Sweetbitter illuminates the sensory journey of developing a palate. How the sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami threaten, compliment, and ultimately need each other so that we can learn to taste.

A native of Maine, Fitzgerald, who has performed on television, stage and film, performed in two dozen movies including, It’s Complicated, Love Simple, Damsels in Distress, Newlyweds, Like the Water, Adult Beginners, Mercy, All I Wish, and TV’s Gossip Girl, Blue Bloods, New Girl and Code Black.

At age 34, Fitzgerald is best known for her role as Libby Masters in the evocative period drama, the 45-episode Showtime series, Masters of Sex, opposite Michael Sheen. Her performance was stunning as the overlooked wife of legendary sex researcher William Masters, who falls in love with his colleague, Virginia Johnson. Her likeable, poignant, and nuanced portrayal led to critical acclaim.

During a recent chat at a posh Manhattan hotel, Fitzgerald was charming, friendly, thoughtful, and eager to share her excitement about Sweetbitter.

Not only is she enjoying the camaraderie of her co-stars, especially after a few weeks of restaurant boot camp, the show evokes powerful emotions of her days as a waitress, while waiting to land the right role to launch her brilliant acting career.

We discussed the fact that a bad day in New York is unlike a bad day anywhere else.  So, I’m wondering when you arrived in New York, what was the best day, or the worst day you remember.  I ask this because the city is such a major character in this series.

CAITLIN FITZGERALD:  Totally.  I love New York; it’s like a person.  I have this very anthropomorphic relationship with it, but in that way I curse New York, like it’s a lover who’s done me wrong.  I think when you have a bad day in New York, it’s compounded by the fact that it feels so public.  Like, how many times we’ve had breakups on street corners, or wept on the subway.

Please tell me more.

CF: I was a hostess at a 3-star restaurant in Tribeca, and it was a summer that I had made a terrible life choice and was trying to model and wasn’t eating a whole lot.  My job as the hostess was to serve every female guest with a lemon tea cake on her way out the door.  So, I had this really aggressive manager who was really committed to these lemon tea cakes.

What happened next?

CF: Well, I missed a guest, and my manager made me take this thing and run like six blocks down the street to give it to this woman.  When I reached her, she looked at me like I was a lunatic, all the while, I had probably not had enough calories that day.  I remember leaving my shift and grabbing like five of these tea cakes, and just standing on the subway platform, crumbs everywhere, crying and stuffing them into my face.  Its growing moments like that that teach you what you are all about.This role is a very different from other parts that you’ve done before.  So, how did you prepare for your role as Simone in Sweetbitter? 

CF:  Of all the characters in the book Sweetbitter, I relate to Tess, rather than Simone, the most.  I feel that way because I was 21 in 2006 when this story is set and I was actually in New York City, waiting tables, wide-eyed, and making mistakes.  I knew a handful of older women who seemed like they had all the answers, and that they were incredibly poised, and worldly, and I worshiped them.

Sounds a lot like your character’s relationship to Tess.

CF: Yes. So, to play this character felt like getting to embody these women that I had idealized.  I think there are parts of me that are like Simone and parts of me that are not.  She’s a very closed book in a lot of ways, and I hope I’m a slightly more open one.

The relationship between Simone and Tess is incredibly complicated, and the last episode of the six really knocked me over where you kind of say that Tess shouldn’t proceed and get a job at the restaurant, and be able to earn her stripes.  How would you summarize their relationship? It’s like this push-pull.

CF:  I think it’s not one thing; which feels authentic to me in terms of relationships I’ve had with much older women, or much younger women.  There’s a feeling of love there, there’s a feeling of protectiveness, and also of competition, and a bit of a threat. So, I think that’s what is going to hopefully make it compelling for many seasons to come.

Now that you have gone through the boot camp and filming the series, has it changed the way you feel when you go into restaurants?

CF:  Absolutely. It totally changes your view, as does my years of working in the restaurant business.

What was it specifically about the script and the story of these women that really drew you both to the project?  Did you devour the book when it came out in 2016?

CF: I missed it somehow.

 So, when did you become familiar with the Sweetbitter story?

 CF: Well, my manager sent me the book and said ‘they’re making a TV show of this and I’d really think you’d love it, and there’s a part that you’re right for.’  So, I read the book and having graduated college in 2006 in New York City, and working at restaurants here, this felt like my diary; only well-written.

That is exciting.

CF: I said to [novelist] Stephanie [Danler] in my first audition that I think we waited on some of the same people because the characters were so specific.  So, it was this uncanny feeling to read it, of like looking back at my younger self.  I had been living in LA.  I just moved back to New York, and I was full of nostalgia for this city in that time.  I wanted to be a part of this series so badly.What was it like for you telling a story that was set in 2006, because it’s not that long ago, but yet it’s half a lifetime ago.

CF: Ella [Purnell] was 11; and I was 22, so it is all about perspective.

Talk about how different it is in this business today compared to 12 years ago.

 CFFirst of all we have to speak about technology in 2006, and what you were just saying about how this character’s allowed to make mistakes. While it is an incredibly public thing, my experience of coming-of-age in New York was totally different because we weren’t photographing every moment, or trying to make a social media persona. We weren’t worried about how what we did looked to the whole world.

What else is involved?

CF: There was a lot; maybe too much freedom, in the choices we were able to make, and the things we were allowed to do.  I particularly worry about girls’ coming-of-age now, because I can’t imagine what that feels like and all of the pressures they have.

There is a scene in Episode 4, when Tess shows up at Simone’s apartment.  This was a great scene to explore the relationship between the two women. What did you bring to that scene to help develop that relationship and bring the power of that moment?

CF: It’s the first time we see Simone at home.  Until that point I only ever shot at the restaurant and then we see them in that apartment.  And it feels like she’s a closed book, but the front cover cracks a little bit.  I think that was interesting, and we get to see a little of her vulnerability, and the ways that Simone maybe needs Tess as an audience; and as a fan.  It felt really compelling and important in the first season that we get to see that color.

That apartment well defines Simone and what she is all about.

CF: Totally. They were so kind to let me come and see all the things they were choosing for the apartment, because it felt to me that when we get to see the apartment, it has to tell us so much about this person.  Especially, because at the restaurant, you only really ever see Simone in the uniform, so walking into someone’s house reveals so much about them.  Stephanie and I had a lot of fun choosing which books to feature, and what kind of flowers, and even the dishes.  I mean; all of it was amazing.What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps for TV, or movies, or have a big career, and it seems like an impossible dream? 

 CF: I would remind them that it takes a long time.  I remember reading this quote, Audrey Hepburn said that it takes nine years to have a career.  I was reading that just out of college and I was like, ‘Oh, damn!’ It sort of, for me, proved to be true, that it really was at the kind of eight to nine year mark that I thought, ‘Oh, I might actually make a life in this.’

What else is involved?

CF: I think it’s very seductive to believe in overnight success.  And certainly, that happens.  But for 99 percent of the actors I know, it has been years of work and small achievements building on themselves.  I say that working in restaurants actually taught me how to be disciplined and to have stamina for this business.  It’s not easy.  It’s a tremendous amount of hard work.

How is Simone different from your other characters?

 CF: I feel like I’ve played a lot of girls, and Simone is really a woman and has a way of moving in a world that’s very considered and controlled.  That felt like a new and exciting dimension to explore.For further information on Sweetbitter Click Here.

Click here for the trailer.




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