Joanna Garcia on Body Image, Lauren Conrad, and Why You Should Be Watching Privileged

By Sara A. Bibel

From the ads Privileged appears to be just the latest show about the glamorous lives of rich teenagers. In reality, its intelligent, lighthearted tone is more Gilmore Girls than Gossip Girl. Joanna Garcia stars as Megan, an aspiring journalist attempting to pay off her student loans by helping a set of pampered twins get into Duke. Garcia opened up about why she had to play this character, Hills star Lauren Conrad’s upcoming appearance, and the hate mail she received on Reba.

What attracted you to Privileged?
The script grabbed me. I couldn’t forget about it. It took about a month to get all the ducks in a row and figure everything out. Finally I was able to get a meeting with Rina [Mimoun, the series’ Executive Producer] and I fell in love. I told my agents, “No more messing around. Make this deal happen.” So they did.

One of the things I like about this show is its focus on the relationships that women have with each other. Megan has a voice very similar to the one that I have. I believe in women. I’m a fan of women. I treasure my girlfriends. I have a wonderful relationship with my mother. For me this is an opportunity to be a strong, young female voice on television. I think that we need that right now.

Is it frustrating that Privileged has not gotten nearly as much promotion as 90210, and the marketing that you did get make you look more similar to the other CW teen shows than you actually are?

We knew going into it that 90210 was going to get the hype. We were just hoping that people would give our show a chance and tune in and we’d benefit from being their lead-in. The logline for the show is much different than what the show really is. The most exciting part has been knowing that, and then when people actually get to see it, their pleasantly surprised. We really feel strongly about our show. We’re very protective of our show. Creatively speaking, we have a lot of control over our show. We are more than willing to sit back, settle in, and build a fanbase. Having billboards around town would have been nice, but having people tune in for no other reason than curiosity and then liking it is the best thing ever.

This series was based on the novel How To Teach Filthy Rich Girls. How closely does the plot adhere to the book?
Not so closely, from what I understand. I didn’t read the novel because I didn’t want to get my mind muddled. (Interviewer’s note: Megan has a very different family background in the book.) The characters are the same. I think her sister was actually older in the book and she’s younger in the show. We took the premise and ran with it. I think everyone is happy with the direction of the show.

How is working on an hour long drama different from being on the sit-com Reba?
In every way possible! I work fifteen to sixteen hour days. I have a tremendous amount of support. A lot of our producers and creative team are from Ally McBeal. They’re very well equipped at handling a one-character driven show. They’re very protective of me. I’m really enjoying the subtlety of doing a single camera show. It’s creative. It’s technically stimulating. Reba just asked me the other day, “I got a script for a one hour. Do you think I’d enjoy it?” I told her, “No way. You work too hard in your life to go do a one hour show. Stick to the sit-coms and movies. ” There’s no harder working person than Reba. I’ll go on the record with that.

The whole cast of Privileged has great chemistry with each other. How did you manage to make that happen so quickly?
I was nervous, because as I said my deal took a long time to close. By that time, the girls had already been cast. I thought, “What happens if these girls aren’t nice?” Because I am a total girly-girl. From the moment the two them met they were getting manicures together and going to parties. The chemistry between them is undeniable. I think we all loved the project and with that passion for the project we all just sort of fit in. Our show is a relatively new cast and I think there is a lot of excitement for the process and for the opportunity. Anne Archer is so gracious, professional and fun. I thought I’d never get an opportunity to work with people that I cared about like I did on Reba again. The cast of Reba is like family to me. But I feel like I have the opportunity to do that in a different way now.


Television has taken a lot of flack recently for focusing almost exclusively on rich white people. There aren’t many shows like Reba anymore that focus on middle or working class people. How do you feel about that?
For our show in particular, the amount of wealth that these girls have is a great foil to the message that we’re trying to send. We are constantly taking the stance that money can’t buy happiness. Megan’s the central character and her being from the “opposite side of the tracks,” she’s the every girl. The money is a backdrop to a strong female voice that’s saying, “Don’t worry about what designer handbag you have or what your friends are doing. Concentrate on yourself – your intelligence, your wit, your inner beauty.” Megan is an example of that. I think it’s a thing of beauty when the two classes come together and enjoy each other’s company. That, to me, is what our show’s about.

90210 has received a lot of criticism for casting such thin actresses. Do you think television shows targeted to younger viewers have a responsibility to present healthy body images?
This is a subject I feel pretty passionate about. On our show, we’re all very real girls. I don’t think we’re trying to take a stance. We just are what we are. I feel strongly about the blessings I’ve been given in this world and the opportunity to pursue my dream and be on television. I want to be a positive role model to young women. It’s a great feeling to be able to say, “I love my body.” There’s a tremendous health risk that comes with starving yourself and the strain it puts on your heart. One day you could just not wake up. I don’t think many people know that it’s that serious. So if any girls can look at me or any of the girls on our television show and say, “they’re doing what they love and they have healthy eating habits,” I would be really, really proud of that. I don’t feel the need to succumb to any sort of idea of what I should look like.
If you look back at the first years of Reba, I was a little “fluffier.” But every single day I had producers who told me how beautiful I was and how funny I was. I got “fan” mail telling me that I was fat and that they couldn’t believe that I had a job – I guess that would be hate mail. The producers would say, “They’re crazy. We want you here and we like you just the way that you are.” I had a family like that and friends like that too. I was lucky to be given the support within this business to be true to myself. I hope that I can bestow that same confidence on other people, to say, “It’s okay to be any shape or size as long as you’re a good person.” I know that sounds really idealistic, but I hope that I can some way support girls who are struggling with it. I think that we should be more responsible as people on television to portray a healthy image.

What are some of your other favorite television shows?

I love anything on HGTV and any crime scene show. I love Grey’s Anatomy. I tune into Gossip Girl here and there.

What do you do in your rare moments of free time?
I have eleven animals. I have four dogs, four horses, two chickens and a goat. I spend a lot of time up at the barn. My barn is right underneath the Hollywood sign. I enjoy riding my horses. It was really exciting. Last I got to have a girls’ night. I got off work around 7PM. It’s the first time I’ve been out like that since the show premiered. It was nice to meet people that were fans of the show.

Can you give us the scoop on upcoming storylines?
You’re going to meet Megan’s Dad very soon. We’re filming that right now. Anne Archer (Laurel) will get a shot at romance. The girls are going to explore their desire to be famous. More importantly, each episode is really funny and we deal with an issue in a lighthearted way.

Have you shot any especially memorable scenes?
The pool party episode is pretty epic. It was an incredible emotional journey for my character that I was so grateful to be able to sink my teeth into. Megan’s smacked in the face with her sister’s issues, but we had a lot of fun with it. Lauren Conrad did a guest role on it. We were all in pretty little sarongs and bathing suits. We were shooting out in Malibu.

What would you like to see happen to Megan throughout the season?
I like her starting to realize that maybe the way she handled things in the past with her family wasn’t the best way to handle things. I’m already starting to get that in the scripts. We have the opportunity to do fun, exciting, romantic things so I’m excited to see all of our creative writers put their heads together and come up with some really fun stuff.

They live in a huge mansion. Why do the twins share a bedroom?
We answer that in Episode 104, which is the pool party episode.

Who do you think is the right guy for Megan: Charlie or Will?
I think they’re all great and they’re all gorgeous! So I don’t care. Give them all to me! I think Will intrigued Megan. He’s the type of guy that she’s surprised that she likes. I think that you might get to see a nice little romance between the two of them.

What would you say to get somebody who has never seen the Privileged to get them to check it out?

Our show has got a lot of heart. The characters are great and all of our actors are great. It’s a lot different than people think it is. So give us a chance to come into your homes and invest in the characters. I think that people will be pleasantly surprised and excited to see the journey that we’re about to go on.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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