‘The Queen’s Gambit’s Marielle Heller & Moses Ingram on Their Roles in Beth’s Story
Left to live at an orphanage in the 1950s, Beth is driven by her own personal demons as well as by a destructive cocktail of narcotics that boost her focus on the game she learns under the tutelage of a janitor. Along the way, Beth encounters various characters including her first friend Jolene (Moses Ingram) who helps her navigate the system at the orphanage where they both reside.
“Jolene is a caretaker, a lover, and someone who is unafraid of who they are and unapologetic about it,” says Ingram. “She sort of says what needs to be said. I think that’s something that Beth really needs from the very beginning,” she adds.
In some ways she is linked to Beth’s addiction to tranquilizers which are supplied by the orphanage and distributed among the girls living there. Attempting to be helpful, she advises when Beth should take the pills she’s given but eventually pulls back on the instructions.
“I think young Jolene is a lot more gelatinous, for lack of a better word,” Ingram reveals. “I think older Jolene is definitely solid.” As the years pass, Jolene remains by Beth’s side until she meets Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller).
“Alma Wheatley is a sad housewife, who’s been locked in an unhappy marriage for many years, and it’s almost like her husband gives her a choice, ‘We could either adopt a dog or adopt a kid, somebody to keep you company. What would you like?'” says Heller, who is better known as a director of films such as The Diary of a Teenage Girl and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
“I end up adopting Beth Harmon and it’s a very unlikely relationship that transpires,” Heller teases. “It’s not immediate and it takes time to build trust, but ultimately Alma and Beth both really need each other.”
While the orphanage allows Beth to learn her skills, being under Alma’s roof allows her freedom to explore her talent professionally. “She sees this thing in Beth, which is that Beth has an opportunity to do something she never was able to do,” Heller says of Alma who she describes as an “alcoholic housewife” that has “never been able to fulfill her dream of being a pianist.”
Through the support these women show Beth, she’s able to succeed in a field that’s male-dominated (like many others). “We never talk about male characters as being unlikable or difficult or complex, but I want my female characters to be as complex as the male characters we see on screen,” Heller says. “I felt like these characters, Beth and Alma particularly, were incredibly complex and were troubled and were difficult and problematic, and that was part of what I liked about it.”
No one is perfect in this story, but there’s definitely small victories here and there for these women. See them for yourselves when The Queen’s Gambit arrives on Netflix.
The Queen’s Gambit, Series Premiere, Friday, October 23, Netflix