AMC's 'Dietland': Showrunner Marti Noxon and Star Joy Nash on Fat-Shaming, Feminism and Vigilante Justice

Patrick Harbron/AMC

Dietland wants to teach you how to say the word fat. The new dark comedy from AMC—premiering on June 4—is based on Sarai Walker's 2015 best-seller of the same name. The story features a character, Plum Kettle, who is not "heavyset," "chubby" or "curvy." She's fat.

Joy Nash, the actor who plays Plum, weighs 293 pounds. She's fine with fat. In fact, she'll have a problem if you don't use the word. "It's a bit of a litmus test," says Nash. "You only need a euphemism when the truth is so terrible you can't talk about it. There's nothing wrong with being fat."

Dietland is not, in other words, going to be like the first season of This Is Us, which lost points with many in the fat community after Chrissy Metz, its Emmy-winning star, signed a contract with NBC to lose weight along with her character.

Plum might begin the series loathing herself and desperately yearning for weight loss surgery, but she soon joins a feminist empowerment group that espouses turning self-hatred outward. At the same time, a terrorist group, called Jennifer, begins abducting, torturing and killing rapists who got away with it—in one case, dropping a man out of a plane, onto the streets of New York City. Walker's novel, which is about "women's unleashed anger and rage," is not something the author thinks viewers see enough of on TV. "I'm talking Thelma & Louise," she says. "Have young people even seen that movie?"

Marti Noxon, the show's creator, read Dietland in 2016. "I couldn't help wondering, Why haven't women ever taken up arms?" Noxon is a recovering anorexic, so weight issues have preoccupied her since adolescence. "Almost every choice women make, including around food, is filtered through 'Am I good enough?'" Noxon says. "Plum's journey isn't about learning how to love being obese or thin, but how to love how she feels best. If that's being 300 pounds, whose business is it but hers?

From left, Julianna Margulies (Kitty Montgomery), showrunner Marti Noxon and Joy Nash (Plum Kettle) from AMC's "Dietland" at the Vulture Festival on May 19. Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

"One of the sly things about the book," she goes on, "is that it has conventions of a romantic comedy. The cover is a little cute—the main character's name is Plum Kettle, for Chrissakes! But there's a Fight Club quality to it, and it connects on a level of anger I didn't know I had."

Noxon, who is a rape survivor, got her start writing for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the show that popularized the snarky female avenger; she went on to create, among other series, Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce. "I'm no fan of extremism, and Jennifer goes too far—the violence is really over the top," Noxon says, "but it's the philosophical question of when you're starting a revolution, [extremism can] feel necessary. I wanted to take Plum on this journey of who is she going to be in this fight. Is she going to change? Is she going to run away, take a more pacifist route? Or is she going to become a terrorist?"

When Noxon and her largely female Dietland staff were writing the series last July, they were still reeling over the election of Donald Trump, on record as a sexist. They joked that they hoped the president wouldn't be impeached before the show aired, to capitalize on the millions of women equally incensed. They got an even better peg a few months later: Harvey Weinstein. Dietland now seems as if it were written expressly for this moment.

She and her writers (including Walker, who consulted on the show) remained faithful to the book, with a few notable tweaks: When Emmy-winning actress Julianna Margulies joined the show as Plum's beauty magazine boss, the role expanded. And Plum's best friend, the owner of her local café, is now a man. Some fans of the book, however, after viewing the trailer, perceived Nash as a radical departure: She wasn't fat enough.

In fact, the actor is just 7 pounds lighter than Plum, but she was viewed as too attractive to be the victim of incessant bullying. Nash, who, prior to this, had small roles on The Mindy Project and the Twin Peaks revival, admits she hasn't experienced the sort of daily abuse Plum endures. At the same time, she finds the criticism frustrating. "I've gotten that a lot: 'You're not actually fat.' What that says to me is 'When am I allowed to be justified in my bigotry? When am I allowed to really be grossed out by somebody?'"

Joy Nash as Plum Kettle in "Dietland." Patrick Harbron/AMC

Walker, however, was thrilled with the casting. The author had been inspired by "A Fat Rant," a viral YouTube video that Nash made in 2007. In it, the actress—then 224 pounds and considered obese by her doctor—refers to herself as fat, criticizes the lack of plus-size clothing in mainstream stores and deflates the myth of dieting, citing its shockingly low success rates. "Joy's video was one of the first fat-positive things I'd ever seen," Walker says. "It was amazing to someone like me, who had always felt shame about being fat."

At the same time, Walker gets the backlash. "When people were asking me to option the book, I was like, 'Oh my God, this is gonna be like Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit!' That nightmare kept me up at night, and that's been the biggest fear fans of the book have expressed to me. Hollywood's idea of fat is not what most people consider fat."

Nash sees notable improvements for women her size, particularly with shopping options. "When I made 'Fat Rant' 10 years ago, there were two stores that a person over a size 15 could shop at: Lane Bryant and Torrid. Now, there are tons."

Walker is less optimistic. While she thinks the positivity movement is great, "I don't want to overestimate its reach. Fat shaming is a deeply entrenched problem."

While on the Dietland book tour in 2015, the author was attacked by online trolls, subjected to frequent questions about her eating habits and even lectured for being unhealthy. The experience prompted her New York Times op-ed titled "Yes, I'm Fat. It's OK. I Said It," and the author worries Nash may experience similar treatment with her first starring role. "People find happy, fat women threatening," says Walker.

Nash appears unconcerned. Her own confidence began to improve at 18, after reading Marilyn Wann's book FAT!SO? —which doesn't mean she can't relate to her character. "Plum thinks that when she's thin, her life will blossom," she says. "And I used to think, If I can just get a man to love me, then life will start."

At the very least, Nash hopes Dietland "reminds people that life is already happening. Do something with it."

Additional reporting by Mary Kaye Schilling.