TORONTO – It didn’t take much to convince Rosie O’Donnell to play a rabble-rousing reporter on the Global series Bomb Girls.
First of all, the invite came from her good friend Meg Tilly, who stars as munitions factory boss Lorna Corbett on the made-in-Toronto series.
Then there was the female-focused subject matter, which brought to mind another war-era tale about women establishing new roles for themselves outside the home.
“I was really reminded of A League of Their Own which was such a wonderful experience and really meant a lot to so many people,” O’Donnell said during a break from shooting her cameo last November.
O’Donnell co-starred in the 1992 crowd-pleaser about a female baseball league during the Second World War. Bomb Girls follows a group of women who risk their lives to build explosives for Allied forces.
“People didn’t really know that there were all of these women who went and survived and thrived helping the war effort. So I think it’s a wonderful program — it’s so beautifully shot, it looks like an HBO series, it’s really well-written, the acting is phenomenal and as you can see the sets are glorious.”
Sporting a bouffant hairdo, O’Donnell appears as the brash-but-astute Dottie Shannon in Monday’s episode. Dottie blindsides the bomb factory with a controversial article that lays bare the tensions between the men and women who work there.
Like Lorna and the other women at the factory, Dottie finds herself breaking free from traditional gender restrictions to redefine herself in society, O’Donnell said.
But in her drive to be seen as a serious reporter, she brings to light some hard truths for Lorna and the others.
“She was sort of the first feminist in a way, before the feminism movement really took hold, and she was explaining to these women that they were underpaid, that this factory was built on their backs and yet they were not getting compensated for it and that there were dangers everywhere,” explained O’Donnell.
“It’s a great character to play and she really does cause a tremendous amount of change and introspection for Meg’s character, Lorna.”
Tilly said she immediately thought of O’Donnell when she read the script that introduces Dottie. And the more she read, the harder it was to shake her friend’s face from her mind.
Tilly emailed the producers suggesting her pal for the role, expecting them to come up with reasons why it was impossible. But within minutes they responded enthusiastically, asking: Could she approach O’Donnell?
At this point, they had just one week to cast and Tilly doubted she would hear from O’Donnell in time. Again, she was wrong.
“She said, ‘Cool, send me the script,'” Tilly said, marvelling at how easily the whole thing came together. “And then it kind of went from there.”
When the rest of the cast learned they had scored the stage-and-screen star they couldn’t believe it, she added.
“People screamed and laughed and everybody was so excited,” said Tilly.
“It’s a huge boost for the show and I just feel really happy. Everybody loves her. The other day (co-star) Ali (Liebert) and Rosie were having a sing-off with all Broadway tunes…. She’s so gracious and she comes and she’s got the lines and she’s got the character and she’s wonderful to have on the set.”
O’Donnell noted it was the hunky Antonio Cupo, who plays Marco, who got her 10-year-old daughter’s attention when the two watched DVDs of the first season in preparation for the shoot.
“(She) had a lot of questions — like whether or not I would get to kiss Marco,” O’Donnell quipped.
“I said, ‘I don’t think so honey. It’s not in the script.’ She’s like, ‘Well, can you ask them?’ ”
Bemoaning the lack of roles for “50-year-old women,” O’Donnell said she was actively seeking a way to return to TV. She’d love to launch a new talk show.
“I just don’t want to recreate my first show,” she said of the late-’90s staple, The Rosie O’Donnell Show.
“That show worked because it was real, it was authentic. I was 33-years-old, I had a newborn baby … and now I’m a 50-year-old woman who’s been in show business for more than half of my life. I’m in a different place and I don’t have that kind of enthusiasm nor do I want to fake it.”
She dismissed a slew of recent ventures — including those by Ricki Lake, Katie Couric and Jeff Probst — for failing to offer something new to daytime television.
“I don’t think that there’s been a new genre of daytime in 20 years. I think we have to reinvent what it is that people want to talk about and nowadays with the Internet what’s real has to actually be real… There’s (an) authenticity that people are craving now,” said O’Donnell, whose comeback bid on the Oprah Winfrey Network last year was cancelled after five months.
“We can inspire and we can educate and we can explore and share each other’s realities without judgment, without some sort of interrogation and confession which is what is happening often now in interview shows.”
Bomb Girls airs on Global, which is owned by Global News parent company Shaw Media.