“In real life, I don’t wear heels unless it’s absolutely necessary, so in the pilot I was like, ‘You know I feel Kat would wear a lot of sneakers’.” Dee wanted her character to have freedom, and agency. “Anytime I put clothes on, I need to feel like I can move in them,” she says. “Make sure I can move my arms around, cross my legs, get comfy, go up and down stairs. It’s about feeling powerful.”
Then there was the issue of hair. As the daughter of an Anglo-Aussie mother and an African-American father, Dee is blessed with her dad’s fabulous hair. “But for the first couple of seasons I was doing my own hair,” she says, “because no-one else knew how to.”
It’s just one of the myriad examples of the ways people of colour are marginalised – still – in the world of film and television. “It’s not unique to that show,” Dee says. “It’s the case across the industry. And initially I didn’t even think of it as unusual, it’s just how I’ve always done it.” By season three, though – in part inspired by the feistiness of the character she plays – Dee was emboldened to speak up. “To say, hey, this is what I need. I need someone to be able to help me with my hair. I didn’t have the courage to do that before. But you really have to ask for what you want.”
Dee’s career started with The Saddle Club, an Australian/Canadian co-pro, when she was in her early teens. That series set something of a pattern for the actor who, through a mix of good luck and good choices, has worked in range of roles that all, in one way or another, have powerful females at their centre – even her spot in horror anthology Channel Zero.
“To me, it was a story about dealing with addiction and mental illness and two friends trying to help each other out of that,” she says. “So it’s still about female friendship and female agency.”
Initially Dee was sceptical about whether The Bold Type would live up to its promise. “They say they want to do a feminist show, but do they really want to do a feminist show?” As it turns out, though – along with the hair and the clothes and the shoes and the general air of glossy New York fantasy – it’s not just a feminist show, it’s a very modern kind of feminist show. In The Bold Type, the men as much as the women are trying to figure out life, love, and the whole damn thing.
“No matter who you are – race, gender, class – we’re all dealing with the fact that we’ve grown up with the patriarchy looming over us,” Dee says. “No matter who you are or what your walk of life, we’re all trying to relearn how to move through the world.”