AnnaSophia Robb for Playboy

AnnaSophia Robb Sees Through the Fairy Tale

The star of 'The Act' tells Playboy about sexual liberation, Instagram goals and making mistakes

(Styling: Yael Quint)

AnnaSophia Robb isn’t oblivious about gender inequality; it’s just that female resistance is all she’s ever known. The 25-year-old grew up with both her mom and dad wearing the pants in the family, and came of age on-screen in the 2008 indie film Sleepwalking, alongside the “powerful and commanding” Charlize Theron. She also remembers being 6 years old and dressing up as Britney Spears for Halloween, at a time when the pop star found power in owning her sexuality. Then, at just 19 and 20 years old, Robb also challenged patriarchal standards when she starred as feminist icon and budding sexpert Carrie Bradshaw in The Carrie Diaries.

The actress was a student at New York University when she had an a-ha moment at the height of Donald Trump’s presidential run. “It was all the feminist courses I was taking and everything I was reading during the campaign,” Robb shares to Playboy. “I was like, Whoa. There are areas where equality is not a given, even though that was my very privileged experience.” Now that she recognizes the disparity, she is excited to be a part of the modern feminist revolution. “I feel very fortunate that this is the time that I graduated and entered into.”
In her latest role, the actress gets to reckon with female power and oppression on The Act, Hulu’s new true-crime series. She stars as Lacey, the short shorts-wearing, serial boyfriend-having neighbor of Gypsy Rose (Joey King) and her mom, Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette). On the surface, Lacey is a typical teenage girl—into makeup, boys and the occasional blunt—but to Gypsy, she’s everything she longs to be. As with the real-life Gypsy, we’re introduced to a young, homeschooled girl bound to a wheelchair and suffering from a number of illnesses and allergies that prevent her from even swallowing food. But we soon learn that Dee Dee has Munchausen syndrome by proxy and has been passing her daughter off as much younger and far less capable than she really is, imprisoning her in her own body and home. That is, until Gypsy meets Lacey, who becomes a catalyst to her sexual awakening, inciting her to want to free herself from her mom’s grip and prove to the world and herself that she is just as desirable and consequentially as powerful—shocking both her neighborhood and the audience.

“There’s a disassociation we make with people who are disabled. We strip them of their sexuality and sexual desires,” Robb explains. “I think Lacey is guilty of that as well, and that’s part of the reveal and the tragedy. A woman coming of age and exploring her sexuality is innate [throughout the series]. That’s part of maturing. The Act shows what can happen when that is repressed.”
If you followed the news headlines or watched the 2017 documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, you already know that Gypsy ultimately gets her internet-turned-IRL boyfriend to kill her mother in order to separate from her. The Act explores the role perception plays in the story through opposing female gazes that heighten the desperation of Gypsy’s final retaliation.

“Lacey saw Gypsy as quiet and without friends,” says Robb, who's also known for starring in films like Soul Surfer and Race to Witch Mountain. “Then we see Lacey in high school surrounded by her friends, smoking pot, getting a tattoo. She’s doing all the things that a ‘normal’ high school student would do. The dichotomy is really important because Gypsy’s watching Lacey do all these things that she’s not allowed to do. Then you watch that shift throughout the series.”
The world throws a lot of opinions at you, and you have to be able to discern what's true. There needs to be room to make mistakes and figure out what you want to stand for.
The Act brilliantly examines the way social media influences how both women see themselves and the realities of sexuality and romance. A sheltered girl like Gypsy, who can’t talk to her mom about sex, teaches herself about men and her own body through porn and YouTube tutorials on kissing. The social-media age has also shaped girls like Lacey, the embodiment of a sexually liberated young woman who continually chases fabricated images of men. “Men inform so much of the story and the decision-making, like Gypsy’s obsession with a fairy tale,” Robb says. “Gypsy and Lacey bond over not having a dad and feeling unwanted. It’s why Lacey always has a boyfriend, and she’s always talking about boys. It’s something that Gypsy wants so badly, but they’re not real. They’re Prince Charming figures.”

Though social media has warped how both women view sexuality, it gives Gypsy a power she didn’t have before to find the man of her dreams—no matter how delusional that may be. For a psychologically stunted girl like Gypsy, it gives her the opportunity to turn her love of cosplay into sexual role-play where she is dominant.
“The show is the antithesis of what a fairy tale looks like,” Robb explains. “We have these very active female characters who are not waiting to be rescued. But the dichotomy of Gypsy is that she wants to be a princess. She wears princess dresses and very sexual costumes. It’s empowering her. The fantasy is giving her an escape. It’s the same for Lacey: She doesn’t like her situation at home, so she moves out. She gets an apartment and a job. She dreams of this role she wants to play and this glamorous life she’s envisioned. She frees herself.”

The trajectory for both characters highlights the often transactional relationship between sexuality and freedom, amplifying it in the era of social media when impressionable girls are struggling to find their own voices and determine their images. Robb sees the pros and cons of an Instagram-obsessed world. “It’s complicated,” she says. “Beyoncé is amazing and so empowering. I cry when I listen to her sometimes. I think pop stars and public people have a responsibility. We have some really great role models, but we also have some really shitty ones. It makes me sad that people try to look like the Kardashians because they’re not real. It’s a lot of plastic surgery.”

Still, Robb credits social media for being a valuable tool for impressionable young women like Lacey and Gypsy to come of age in a healthy way and challenge traditional principles. “I think having these spaces to talk and ask questions is important for developing our psyches and what we believe about ourselves,” she says. “The world throws a lot of opinions at you, and you have to be able to discern what’s true. I think there needs to be room to make mistakes and figure out what you want to stand for.”

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