In April 2014, Christina Hendricks made a casual remark during an interview with Health magazine. In between questions about whether she likes to cook (yes), and whether she follows recipes (sometimes) the Mad Men actress mentioned that she and husband Geoffrey Arend weren’t planning on having children. Her statement was picked up everywhere from Us Weekly to ABC News , in a chain-reaction of headlines that continues to stun Hendricks to this day.
“To me, it was just a matter-of-fact of a conversation we'd had,” Hendricks said in an interview with Refinery29. “It didn't seem like that big of a deal, and then I spoke about it publicly in a few interviews. The comments seemed to grow like wildfire, and reoccur in other articles over and over, and over, as if it was like a defining statement about me.”
She’s not wrong. Take Jennifer Aniston, who has spent the better part of two decades, through two marriages and divorces, battling news stories and rumors about her ability or desire to have kids. It’s an issue the actress has started to own in recent years, but that detail, one of many in a successful life and career, continues to take up a disproportionate amount of space in her biography.
It’s that ingrained cultural assumption that all women must want to become mothers, that Hendricks hopes to challenge with her upcoming movie, Egg (no, not that one), a biting dramedy about motherhood, choice, and the subtleties of female friendships that hits theaters January 18.
Written by Risa Mickenberg, and directed by Marianna Palka, the three-act film (echoing the trimesters of pregnancy) takes place in a Brooklyn loft over the course of a single evening. In a reversal of roles, Hendricks plays eight-months pregnant Karen, who, on the surface, appears to have it all: financial security, the handsome businessman husband (David Alan Basche), and a child on the way. But reunited with Tina (Alysia Reiner), her former best friend from art school, now a successful New York artist, Karen’s insecurities — her own decision to give up art, the nagging suspicion that Don (Basche) is having an affair, and whether or not he even wants to have this child with her in the first place — bubble up to the surface. Likewise, Karen’s arrival throws off typically free-spirited Tina as she struggles to conceal the cracks in her own marriage.
It’s clear from the start that these two women have entirely diverging views on motherhood. (“Do you find that people don’t know what to say to you when they see you’re pregnant?” Tina asks Karen upon seeing her belly. “Actually it’s more like I’m a celebrity,” she responds.) So, when Tina announces that she and husband Wayne (The Deuce’s Gbenga Akinnagbe) are also expecting a child via a surrogate, what was supposed to be a quick catch-up before dinner plans turns into fraught evening of veiled — and then, not-so-veiled — confrontations. The unplanned arrival of surrogate mother Kiki (Anna Camp), herself in in the midst of a personal crisis, only fuels things further as the five lay all of their issues and quirks out in the open.
The result is a searing examination of how class, privilege, money, and freedom of choice intersect. Reiner — who, along with co-star and real-life husband Basche, is also producing — jokes that “if you take art, and commerce, and parenthood, and career, and draw a Venn diagram, this movie explodes where those four meet.”
Egg’s journey from the page to the big screen has been a long one. Mickenberg first wrote the script nearly 15 years ago as a play, in an effort to give voice to perspectives she felt she wasn’t hearing in the public discourse around motherhood.
“It was my internal dialogue,” Mickenberg told Refinery29. “When I was trying to make this decision, I had all these perspectives. I really did want to have children, and I just found that it was impossible for me to do it without having some kind of compromise that I didn’t want to make.”
That message also resonated with Reiner, who read an early version of the screenplay more than a decade ago, when she was trying to decide whether or not to be a mom herself. “The issue that I was bumping up against when I was thinking about being a mother [is] that our society puts so much work towards unconsciously telling women they’re not enough,” she told Refinery29. “If they haven't become a mother, they’re not enough. If they’re not breastfeeding, they’re not enough. If they aren’t working — there’s so many pitfalls in our current establishment that create a lose-lose dynamic for women.”
Years passed, and Reiner and Basche were raising their young daughter, when she ran into Mickenberg on a ferry in October 2016, a month before Donald Trump won the presidential election, catapulting the issue of a woman’s right to choose into an unstable and gloomy future.
Reiner and Hendricks met during the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017, and soon after, the latter got a call from Reiner asking if she’d want to work on the film. And though she originally saw herself playing Tina, Hendricks said the challenge of playing a character with such a different perspective than her own was part of what drew her to the project.
“It makes us ask ourselves a lot of questions about why we have so many ideas and judgments about how other people should raise their children,” she said.
In Egg, those judgements are reflected everywhere: Karen and Don can’t understand why a woman who is able (physically and financially) to have children herself would outsource the pregnancy, while Tina balks at the idea that any woman who wants to be a parent also has to be labeled a mother, with all the baggage that implies. The film’s enclosed setting (almost all the action takes place in Tina and Wayne’s living room) creates an ideal bubble for men and women to voice the kinds of opinions that they wouldn’t usually feel comfortable sharing.
But Egg’s most poignant moments take place when Karen and Tina are alone. It’s then that they can finally drop the personas they’ve carefully cultivated, and can be truly honest. Tina’s “utopian pregnancy” wasn’t her first choice — she’s making a compromise to please the man she loves without sacrificing her ideals. And Karen, at 42, is using her pregnancy as a last resort to fix her relationship. The scenes between them reflect an aspect of female friendship seldom seen on screen: you can love and support your friend, and hate her choices at the same time.
Still, both of those couples are privileged enough to make decisions freed from serious financial considerations. Surrogate Kiki, on the other hand, finds herself carrying a child she’s not sure she wants anymore, for people who appear to be unable to decide how they’re going to proceed. (Still, even so, as a white woman, she has far more choices than a woman of color might.)
Though Camp plays her as a comically ditzy blonde with a penchant for married men, her exaggerated monologue about the “four phases” of womanhood — girlhood, puberty, “vixen” years (20s and early 30s), and motherhood — has more than a kernel of truth to it, at least when it comes to societal expectations.
In the four years since Hendricks gave that Health interview, women choosing not to have children have become more vocal. In 2018 alone, articles on the subject were published in The New York Times (“They Didn’t Have Children And, Most Said, They Don’t Have Regrets”), The Washington Post (“The Child-Free Life: Why So Many American Women Are Choosing Not Have Kids”) and Quartz (“Having Children Is Not The Formula For A Happy Life”), among others.
But a study published in 2017 found that married couples who choose not to have kids still face a significant amount of moral outrage and backlash. It’s something Camp, who married Pitch Perfect costar Skylar Astin in 2016, says she’s still coming to terms with as she decides when, or whether, to become a parent.
“I'm 36, and when I read [the script] I was like, ‘I feel like I am in phase four. Now is my time,’ Camp told Refinery29. “I've been married for two years, and of course the next question I still always get is, ‘When's the baby coming? Where's the baby? Are you going to have a baby?’ As much as we think the world has changed, I'm still definitely getting those questions in 2019 so it hasn't changed that much.”
“I don’t think it’s changed at all,” Reiner said. “That’s why I wanted to make the movie. We haven’t really looked at what it means to be a mother, and allowing everyone the integrity of their own choice around what it means to be a parent — including the desire not to be one.”