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Katherine Ryan on dramatizing the 'lucid feminism' of her mother-daughter bond

Actor Katherine Ryan as Katherine in “The Duchess” is shown in this undated handout photo. Ryan's relationship with her daughter inspired the love story at the centre of her new semi-autobiographical sitcom. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Netflix, Oliver Upton *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Canadian comedian Katherine Ryan worked hard to give her daughter a lavish British lifestyle — a home in London, a pony and admission to a posh girls’ school that would set her up for success.

But what does the tween want? To move back to Ryan’s hometown of Sarnia, a small city by the Ontario-Michigan border, so she can take part in the Canadian traditions her mother routinely skewers in her stand-up sets.

“I’ve just married my high school sweetheart and he is from Sarnia. And so annoyingly, my daughter loves his family,” Ryan, 37, said in a recent Zoom interview.

“She loves the idea of Sarnia, and she wants to walk to Tim Hortons. And I am livid.”

Ryan’s close — if at times contentious — relationship with her daughter inspired the love story at the centre of her new semi-autobiographical sitcom, “The Duchess.”

The Netflix series stars Ryan as a shamelessly self-assured single mother, who out of devotion to her daughter, Olive, decides to try to give her a sibling. However, her mission to get pregnant may come at the expense of her romantic prospects, or even force her to overcome her revulsion towards Olive’s layabout father.

While the show has its fair share of raunchy humour, Ryan said there was never a doubt in her mind that the mother-daughter bond would serve as the emotional crux of the story, because it’s true to her own.

“My daughter, from the time she was an infant, always treated me like a human being, and vice versa,” said Ryan.

“She’s able to separate my creative life from my life as her mother, and she’s always understood so many things. We just have a very naturally lucid feminism about our relationship.”

Ryan’s feminist sensibilities course through “The Duchess” in what she sees as a rebuttal to traditional rom-com gender roles.

Too often onscreen, women are reduced to lovesick damsels pining after men who give nothing back but abuse, said Ryan.

In “The Duchess,” she wanted to invert that dynamic. The protagonist’s love interest, Evan, is a clingy casualty of a commitment-phobic woman. Another male character is deprived of lines because it would defeat his purpose as “decoration.”

Ryan appreciates that her portrayal of women as autonomous beings may be unsettling to some. She just doesn’t care.

“I think the patriarchy are very easily threatened in general. And they should be, because deep down I think they know they are living off borrowed, antiquated time,” she said.

I think it’s very sad actually that there is a certain type of man who feels that if we don’t legally need him, then we wouldn’t want him around.”

Ryan said she’s raising her daughter to be her own person. But like her fictional counterpart, Ryan admitted she’s having some trouble letting her little girl grow up and away from her.

“I am suffering big time from empty nest syndrome,” she said.

“It’s really hurtful for me that my daughter’s going to high school and that she doesn’t want to hang out with me as much as she used to. And that’s hard. I miss our relationship.”

“The Duchess” starts streaming on Netflix on Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2020.

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press