“Don’t get mad, get everything.”
And they did. But along the way the women of the 1996 film First Wives Club found more than justice after their husbands left them for younger women. Elise (Goldie Hawn), Brenda (Bette Midler) and Annie (Diane Keaton) found sisterhood, friendship and love for themselves.
The hugely successful film grossed $105 million, and in 2015, Hawn spoke out about how the three actresses had been in talks for a sequel, but the studio offered the stars the same deal they had for the first film and would not increase their salaries.
“It was a success, a hit, by all metrics and standards. If there were three men who had made half that money, they would have made 17 movies by now,” said Ryan Michelle Bathe, who will be reviving the film, which also stars Michelle Buteau and Jill Scott, in the form of a television show on BET+, BET’s new streaming platform.
Hawn expressed almost the exact same sentiment in a Time Magazine interview four years ago, before BET decided to pay homage to the cult classic with a series in 2018.
“It was a beautiful project, First Wives Club, and when I found out who the other ladies were, I got so excited and I realized, oh my God, this is gonna work,” said Bathe, who plays Ari, described as a confident, type-A attorney with impeccable style. “I realized it was gonna work when I sat down, we hashed everything out and realized it could be something really extraordinary to work with. Just all of these women of color in the room who were writing, all of these women, everyone in the room, they were all women. We were able to prove if you just give people a shot, amazing things can happen.”
Bathe described the show as a nod to the film, like if both the film and the show were passing one another on the street, they would say, “I see you, girl.”
Bathe’s character, Ari, who she said is most similar to Keaton’s in the original, was on track to make partner, but sidestepped her career to advance her husband’s political ambitions and raise their two kids.
“I hope everyone has a friend in their life like Ari. Everyone either is the Ari of the group or has an Ari in the group. There’s gotta be that person who’s like OK, we’re gonna go do this thing that may or may not be illegal, but we’re sure as hell going to cover our tracks, is everybody ready? Everybody needs that and the friend who is going to bail you out of jail. Not that I ever needed anybody to bail me out of jail yet, knock on wood, I think I’m more the bailer out of jailer person,” she joked.
Similar to the film, a crisis reunited her with her college best friends and she is able to translate her courtroom skills to help the women reclaim their independence and rekindle their friendship, which Bathe believes is the most important aspect of the series.
“I hear a lot of women say, ‘I don’t have female friends,’ and I’m like girl, you are missing out on one of the greatest joys of life and the biggest support,” Bathe said, explaining that she and her costars created their own friendship off-screen full of trust, vulnerability and laughs, to which she told an anecdote from set that she equated to a scene from Sex In The City, another female-driven success that focuses on sisterhood. “Some say women are drama, but yeah, so is life. You can try to avoid drama all you want, but drama’s going to find you and it’s not even drama, it’s just challenge, it’s just life. A life well lived is going to have its ups and downs and challenges, and you need those friendships, those people you can count on no matter what. I think that’s what people are going to be drawn to and I think that’s what Ari and I share, that ride or die for your girl.”
Bathe, who has also starred in This Is Us and Army Wives with husband Sterling K. Brown, said the film and its new adaptation offer audiences timeless themes with a few modern twists, including some Instagram posts.
“You’d be surprised how things know no time, they’re timeless, like the theme of how do I get my life back on track when I have just taken my eye off the ball and focused on things that do not bring me joy and never will bring me joy and I stop focusing on what makes me happy,” said Bathe. “That’s a question that, I don’t care if it’s 1986 or 1996 or 2016 or 2026, that’s always going to be an important question, what happens when I stop putting myself first and I put myself last? Maybe you don’t put yourself first, but can you put yourself third?”
First Wives Club, which filmed some of its scenes on Long Island, is somewhat of a homecoming for Bathe, who said she grew up “up and down the eastern seaboard,” will premiere on BET+ on Sept. 19.
“We’re very excited about this venture BET is embarking on, we’re super thrilled for the world to meet Ari, Bree and Hazel,” Bathe said. “Fortunately, it’s streaming so you can take it down all at once or not.”