Makenna James talks American Woman and Harvard University

Photo credit: Jeff Forney -- acquired via Advantage PR
Photo credit: Jeff Forney -- acquired via Advantage PR /

Makenna James is coming into Paramount’s newest series American Woman. Today she discusses the series, working with Alicia Silverstone, and getting into Harvard University.

American Woman is Paramount’s latest production, entering into the 70s. Focused on Alicia Silverstone’s Bonnie Nolan, the story shows one of a mother who has to find her way as a single parent and fairly new to the world of work. Meanwhile, we’ll get to see how that affects her relationship with her children and the message that it sends them in one of the most crucial times for a push for equality.

Makenna James is a rising star and plays Bonnie’s daughter, Becca. While filming the role, James was also in the middle of applying for Harvard University and finishing up school. It may not have been something many students would have attempted, but this amazing young woman has shown that everything is possible when you put your mind to it.

More from Entertainment

James took the time to give Hidden Remote an exclusive interview into her role of Becca, what it was like acting opposite the powerhouses of Silverstone, Mena Survari, Cheyenne Jackson, and more, and offers tips for others wanting to get into an Ivy League University.

Hidden Remote: Can you share a little about your character, Becca, who she is in relation to Bonnie, Kathleen, and Diana? There’s so very little right now available about her.

Makenna James: Of course. Becca is a uniquely dynamic character. For her time, she is wildly progressive and her tenacity is only surpassed by her sarcasm. Becca is strong, forward-thinking, and politically active. She has a complicated dynamic with her mother, Bonnie, a bourgeois socialite played by Alicia Silverstone. Kathleen and Diana, conversely, act as Becca’s surrogate aunts, often caring for her while Bonnie is out trying to provide for the family.

Makenna James
Photo credit: Jeff Forney — acquired via Advantage PR /

HR: What was the auditioning process like for the role? And what made you really want the part?

James: There were many reasons I pursued this part–the 70s, the cast, the premise–but, ultimately, I was attracted to Becca. It is rare to encounter such an impassioned, multi-layered character in her teens. When I saw Becca described as a young Jane Fonda, I was instantly intrigued. As for the auditioning process, it was intensive. I was flying back and forth between New York, where I was conducting an environmental research project, and Los Angeles for the initial read, callbacks, and screen tests.

HR: Is there anything you hope people can take away from your character’s story? Any messages that come across throughout the season?

James: I sincerely hope that the audience is able to look past Becca’s attitude and see that she is struggling. In the midst of all of this uncertainty–her parents separating, an unpredictable financial situation–she feels left behind. Bonnie is not only providing for the family but also coping with and adjusting to her newfound liberation. This leaves little time to assuage Becca’s fears, which–for her–manifests in resentment.

HR: What’s it been like taking yourself to the 70s—a decade you’ve only read about or seen on TV/in movies?

James: A great debt is owed to our fantastic crew because it genuinely felt that you were entering another decade when you walked on set. The colorful wardrobe, dramatic makeup, groovy music–all of it was exciting.

HR: What was it like being on set with some major names in your breakout role?

James: It was such a privilege. Working with Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari, and Cheyenne Jackson was something I had not imagined happening so early in my career. But, I was equally excited to work with Jen Bartels, an amazing comedian who plays Diana, and Lia Ryan McHugh, an acting wunderkind who plays my sister. Not only was this cast extremely talented, they were genuinely nice people.

HR: What’s been the best moment of the whole process? And what lessons have you learned along the way?

James: As a huge fan of 30 Rock and Shameless, collaborating with John Riggi, our creator, and John Wells, our executive producer, was a dream come true. Riggi could not have been more welcoming, and often encouraged me to offer input regarding Becca’s development. In fact, many of my discussions with him led to my interest in creative writing, which I plan on pursuing in college. The entire experience was a huge learning curve–adapting to a new environment, acting for a camera, adjusting your body movements according to the shot, becoming less socially awkward. The list goes on and on.

HR: Do you have any advice for young girls (and even boys) starting out in the business?

James: At the end of the day, acting is meant to be fun. Enjoy yourself. It is easy to get swept up in the professional side of it. Don’t put pressure on yourself to see results–it is far too competitive and far too random. Also, go to college.

HR: Congratulations on getting accepted into Harvard! That must be so exciting for you. Are you still planning to act during your studies or will it all be studies-focus now?

James: Thank you! I am still figuring that out, actually. I will likely take the first two years to completely focus on my studies and narrow down my interests. After that, I might continue acting, but in a more limited capacity. Needless to say, if American Woman continues, I will be thrilled and will somehow figure that all out. I really need to get Yara Shahidi’s number.

HR: How stressful was the application process or did filming help to keep your mind off it?

James: If I’m being honest, the application process was miserable. And, while filming was a wanted reprieve from studying, it ended up resulting in a lot of sleep deprivation. After actual filming, rehearsal, and line memorization, there was only so much time in a day. My coffee addition reached new heights.

Photo credit: Jeff Forney — acquired via Advantage PR
Photo credit: Jeff Forney — acquired via Advantage PR /

HR: What advice would you give someone looking to apply to Harvard or any of the other Ivy League Universities? 

James: Be as authentic as possible in your essays. After getting in the proper range for your SAT/ACT scores and GPA, your essays are the best opportunity to communicate who you are as a person and what you hope to achieve. Above all, if you are determined, you will be successful wherever you end up. Don’t think that your life depends on going to your “dream school.”

HR: Finally, if you could perform any role or do anything in the world, what would your dream be?

James: Oh goodness–there are so many things I hope to do. As a ginormous Marvel/DC nerd, being in one of those films would be epic. I also love this script that hasn’t been developed yet called Sugar in my Veins. But, in this industry, producing/writing/directing my own content after Harvard is the dream.

HR: Thank you, Makenna, and good luck with your studies!

Next: Kaitlyn Bernard talks Stephen King's 1922 and Bonnie & Clyde

Are you excited about American Woman? What are you most looking forward to? Sound out in the comments below.

You can catch Makenna James in American Woman on Thursdays starting June 7 on Paramount.