BARTELS ’03 CHANNELS THE ’70S, FEMALE POWER IN ‘AMERICAN WOMAN’
With her starring role in Paramount Network’s new dramedy “American Woman” alongside Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari, actress and Raleigh native Jennifer Bartels ’03 is enjoying a well-deserved moment in the spotlight that’s been years in the making.
The show is set in 1975 Los Angeles and follows three women struggling with relationships and independence in an era when strong women weren’t the norm. It was inspired by the upbringing of coexecutive producer and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” reality star Kyle Richards.
Bartels, a Millbrook High School graduate, plays Diana, a junior loan officer at a bank who is trying to climb the corporate ladder. She’s a close friend of Silverstone’s character, Bonnie, a housewife who must navigate finding a job and managing finances after leaving her cheating husband. Suvari’s character, Kathleen, is a wealthy businesswoman bankrolling her boyfriend’s career.
“Diana is the friend dealing with the working grind and some levels of misogyny,” Bartels says. “She’s figuring out who she is as a woman and a person.”
Bartels studied articles and documentaries to better embody Diana and the ’70s vibe.
“We tried to educate ourselves to understand the perspective of those women. It shows that we have come far, but still have far to go,” she says.
Bartels learned acting fundamentals at ECU and studied the Meisner acting technique, which stresses spontaneity and honest reactions. She says professors Natalie Stewart, Robert Caprio and the late John Shearin were integral to her career. “They instilled that drive you need to have in this industry and taught me to be prepared, because if you aren’t, there’s someone right behind you ready to go,” she says. “They shaped and pushed me to be where I am today.”
After graduating from ECU with a degree in theatre, Bartels moved to New York, where she sold cellphones by day and took improv classes by night. She landed a gig with the famous comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade and started pursuing more comedy and commercials. In 2012, she moved to Los Angeles, then appeared in “Men in Black 3” and was a member of truTV’s first scripted sketch show, “Friends of the People,” where she served as writer, performer and executive producer for two seasons.
In 2016, she auditioned for “American Woman.” The combination of drama and comedy was a good fit for Bartels.
“As the episodes progressed, they allowed me to go farther with Diana, to run with a lot of things and improvise,” she says.
The reaction to the show from friends and family has been “amazing,” she adds.
“Everyone is so proud. I’ve been getting so much support. I worked really hard and wanted this, and wonderful things have happened.”