What Happens When Your Marriage Becomes Internet ‘Relationship Goals’

Ryan MIchelle Bathe

Ryan Michelle Bathe dishes on Sterling K. Brown and her new show “The First Wives Club”

Ryan Michelle Bathe doesn’t take anything in her life for granted. The actress and self-described “classic overachiever” is a graduate of Stanford University, where she met her husband, actor Sterling K. Brown. Ryan now stars in BET+’s reboot of the film The First Wives Club, where she plays a version of Diane Keaton’s iconic character. We chatted about what it was like stepping into this role, the eerie similarities between her marriage and her husband’s onscreen love on the NBC series This Is Us, and why she thinks she deserves a finder’s fee for introducing her husband to actress Kerry Washington.

Katie Couric: You met your husband, actor Sterling K. Brown, when you lived in the same dorm at Stanford — which reminds us of how his “This Is Us” character Randall met his wife Beth. Are there any other parallels between your real life relationship and their TV love?

Ryan Michelle Bathe: There are. As I watch the show, and I watch how their relationship is unfolding, I feel like my relationship with Sterling and Randall’s relationship with Beth are sort of blending into each other. Beth can be very pragmatic, and I feel like I’m very much that way in our relationship. Sterling is definitely the goofy one with the kids, both on the show and in real life. Meeting at college freshman year — that’s just like us. And of course, Beth is the hip one in the couple, just like me. You can quote me on that: “Ryan is more hip than Sterling!” If Sterling heard this, he would say “Ryan, the fact that you’re even using the word ‘hip’ shows how un-hip you actually are.” But I’m bringing “hip” back.

You two have been referred to as “relationship goals,” as you always seem to be having the absolute best time together. How does that feel?

It stresses me out — to no end. When I was in high school, I was a classic overachiever, and my mom would always brag about me. I would tell her, “Mom, STOP. You’re putting a target on my back. I don’t want anyone to think they have to be jealous.” It feels a little bit like that.

I’m not the type of person who will tell you I got into college. I won’t tell you if I got a job, until it’s official and the ink is dry. I don’t know if it’s because I’m superstitious, but I do feel like I need to stay quiet about good things. When it’s definite, then you can celebrate. But obviously I’m in the midst of my marriage. There’s no point where we’ll say, “Well, now we can tell people our story.” Because our relationship is continually evolving. Every day, there’s a layer that’s added to our story together. And so that idea of “relationship goals” is a little nerve-racking.

It’s very flattering, but our relationship takes work, just like everybody else’s. The real goal is to never take each other for granted — which I don’t think Sterling and I ever do, particularly now that there’s so much more attention paid to our relationship. But sometimes we look at each other and we’re like, “People want to be like us? Okay, guess we gotta keep it together!”

You have two little boys: Andrew, 8, and Amaré, 4. Do they take more after you, or after their dad?

It depends on the day. There are times when I look at Andrew and I’m like, “Oh my God, he is his father.” I often joke that I need to take a maternity test. But he’s getting to the age now where he laughs at my jokes, and loves pretending he’s on the red carpet. Right now, Andrew is convinced he is going to become a professional football player. And Amaré… we don’t know where he came from! Ask me in a year. Amaré is his own little thing — he’s such an individual. But as Andrew always says, “He’s just Amaré!”

You’re outnumbered by boys in your house… so was it a dream to work on a show like “The First Wives Club,” where you got to be surrounded by female energy for a bit?

One thousand percent. It was amazing. Every episode was directed by a woman — I’ve never experienced that before in my career! The show stars three women; our showrunner was a woman. There was a lot of female empowerment on set — we really got to revel in the female gaze. Not that I mind being outnumbered by boys, but it was nice to be in the majority for a change!

In “The First Wives Club,” you play a version of Diane Keaton’s iconic character from the film. Were you a fan of the film before, and did you ever envision yourself playing that role?

I absolutely was a fan of the movie. Who wasn’t? How could you watch that movie and not be a fan? Those characters become seared into your memory. They are all iconic. And those actresses — Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler — did such an amazing job bringing them all to life, so I would have taken any one of them.

Honestly, I probably would have cast myself as the Goldie Hawn character, only because she is absolutely ridiculous, and that’s a little bit how I see myself sometimes. I am really nothing like Ari, my character. I am such a goofball. I started my career in theater in New York — and New Yorkers know how to eat, and they know how to laugh really loudly. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I would look around and I’d be the only person with a mouth full of food, and I’d be laughing loudly. I’d go to an event and be like, “Guys! Do you see these rows and rows of sushi? Why is no one else eating?”

Although the storyline of “The First Wives Club” series is somewhat different from the film, it still has the same heart. Why do you think this story is so timeless?

It’s because we’d been starved for representation for so long. With the advent of premium and streaming platforms, we now have these wonderful female-led shows, like Big Little Lies, and Fleabag, and Killing Eve. Now we get to add our show into that pantheon. It’s the beginning of something that’s long overdue.

When the film came out in 1996, we hadn’t seen many movies about fully fleshed-out characters who happened to be women. To see their ups and downs, and see them interact with each other, and have these incredible relationships with each other. The throughline in the film, and now in our show, is sisterhood and friendship. In our show, we get to see this story unfold through three women of color, who are all different sizes, and that’s wonderful, because that’s what life is.

Next year, you and Nnamdi Asomugha — who is married to Kerry Washington — will appear in the film “Sylvie” together. Can you tell us about this film?

It’s a period piece, so it had me at “hello.” It’s set in the late ’50s and ’60s when jazz was ruling Harlem. It’s directed by Eugene Ashe, who knows this world very well because that’s where he grew up. The film is a really lovely snapshot of that world, told through the lens of a love story. It follows these two young people and their star-crossed romance that spans a couple of decades. It’s precious and beautiful and thoughtful. I think audiences are going to go crazy when they see this movie.

Is it true that after working with Nnamdi, you actually introduced Kerry Washington to your own husband… and now she and Sterling are going to appear in a movie together next year?

Shouldn’t I get a producer credit or a finder’s fee for this? Nnamdi is producing Sylvie, and he was nice enough to ask me to be in his film. After all of my hard work, Sterling was like, “Hey, do you think you could call Nnamdi and get Kerry’s number for me so I can talk to her about this thing, Shadow Force?”

Let me tell you: Behind every strong man, there is an even stronger woman who is doing all the hard work. So I did all of the hard work by introducing those two, and it worked out! That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. They are lovely, by the way — Kerry and Nnamdi. And Shadow Force is going to be great. Not as good as Sylvie of course… but it’ll be great.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This article originally appeared on Medium.com

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