Aisha Dee’s character on The Bold Type is a checklist of what you hope to see from a leading woman on television in 2019. Social media director Kat Edison is proud and queer, a woman of color in a management position at a seminal women’s magazine. She is powerful and confident, a 20-something who spends episodes exploring her sexuality and her racial identity. She advocates for a diverse staff and supports her friends, all while navigating the stressful world of work, and making it clear that juggling all of the above isn’t necessarily easy.
In the third season of the show, Kat has even more on deck, including a breakup and a run for city council. To find out about how Dee relates to her character, ELLE.com asked former Cosmopolitan social media director Elisa Benson (the real-life inspiration for the role of Kat!) to get all the details.
I think The Bold Type is part of a larger category of shows with really great roles for women. Do you feel like Hollywood is becoming a better place for young women than it was a decade ago, when you were a teenager and also working as an actress?
Aisha Dee: I’ve witnessed such a profound change in the stories that I’m able to tell, even in the last three to five years. Do you remember the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite? It was a few months later that I started going out for lead roles for the first time in my entire career, despite having been a series regular on many shows and working at that point for seven years. I would consistently [be] playing the best friend to the white lady, and that was a really pivotal moment for me in my career. It’s been really special to see how social media is influencing the media that we see. We have the power to say, “This is what we want to see,” and I think we’re seeing the results of that now.
The Bold Type doesn’t shy away from tackling serious issues; there have been episodes about white privilege and diversity. Is there something on your mind that you would like to see Kat tackle?
I would like Kat to have some queer friends. That’s something I’ve been asking for for a while. I think it would be really interesting and cool to see her in a different kind of space because I think it doesn’t make any sense that she doesn’t have any queer friends yet. I guess she’s newly out, so maybe we’ll see that in season 4, if we get one.
I’d like to explore how Kat identifies, because we haven’t really been specific about her pronouns or anything yet. I think it’s something that she’s still working out herself. But I think as an audience it would be really fun to go on that journey with her in terms of figuring out exactly how she feels about her gender and about her sexuality.
In the first episode of season 3, we see Kat coming to terms with heartbreak, and I think she comes to this realization that felt really universal, which is that your life can be amazing, but you can also be a hot mess. Is there a time you remember feeling that way?
Every single day. That was what really made that the first episode resonate with me personally so much. I feel very blessed and fortunate to be able to do the thing that I love and also pay my rent and also get to meet really cool people and travel and all these things. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also feel insecure sometimes. It doesn’t mean that I don’t also have bad days. And, especially now with things like Instagram, that are just a highlight reel of our lives, it can make you feel kind of separate from everyone else. I hope that [on social media] I’m giving an accurate representation of who I am as a human being moving through the world. Like right now, I am literally sitting on the floor, I’m PMSing so bad, and I have a heating pad on my lower back. And I am experiencing really bad cramps and have cankles because I’ve been wearing heels.
Another big moment in that episode is when Kat gets over her heartbreak by posting a makeup-free selfie and launching the #BeReal campaign on social media. Kat is exposing herself emotionally and physically by going barefaced, but that’s also you as a real person going makeup free. What was that like?
Originally that scene took place at the [episode’s] Betty Who concert. I read the script, and I called up our producers, and I asked if it was okay if I did it at Kat’s apartment with no makeup on. They were like, “Are you sure?” I was like, “Yeah. I want to show everyone my acne scars.” I’m so grateful to have a makeup artist on the show who does such a wonderful job making all of us look so beautiful and that’s wonderful, but it’s not real. I think that there’s a certain power in embracing that. I’m so grateful that I got to do it that way.
I love that you advocated for that. Has that happened before, that you said, “Hey, I just have an opinion about a tweak we can make here?”
All the time. We’re lucky that we have producers and writers that are super collaborative and who have said, “Hey, your opinions are valid. We love when you guys contribute.” I remember my first meeting with the writers in season 1, I went in and said I would love to show my stretch marks on the show. I don’t have many, but I just really wanted to show the stretch marks on my thighs on the show. And I wanted to show my birthmark, and I wanted to have a trans character on the show. So, I’ve gotten two of those things. We do have a non-binary character [who] comes in in season 3. It’s a small moment, but I love that moment. We still have a ways to go, but I love being part of a show where we’re actively striving to be the best that we can and to give people the content that they want to see, because that’s why we made the show in the first place.
It’s ballsy when the show is just starting out, your first meeting sitting down to push for these things. Have you always been that way or has that been something you’ve been able to lean in to over time?
Playing Kat has influenced me in a lot of ways. Seeing how confident and opinionated Kat is has really inspired me to go out and be a champion for other people as well. The older I get, the more I realize that it’s our job to lift up other people; the privilege and the opportunities that we get, we get them so that we can help someone else.
Any other secrets or fun things we should be on the lookout for?
We all know Kat’s going to get into politics. She starts out volunteering for a campaign and ends up running for city council, which is a little bit outlandish, but I think it actually really works considering who Kat is and the world we live in right now, with more young people getting into politics. Also, Adena is coming back. I’m very excited for people to see those episodes.
I just knew that Kat would not be heartbroken for long.
You know, sometimes you have that one ex that never goes away.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The Bold Type airs on Freeform on Tuesdays at 8 P.M. EST.