Avengers: The Age of Ultron, the sequel to the popular Avengers movie, has been filming the last couple of months, and all of your favorite characters are back: Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Pregnant Black Widow.
Oh wait no, there’s no way an Avenger could be pregnant (wait, can they even get pregnant? Nerd-splainers, help me out here!) because that’s just not what Avengers do. So when Scarlett Johansson, the actress who plays Black Widow, announced she was with child in March of this year, a couple of weeks before filming was to begin, everyone was very concerned about what would happen to the movie. (Oh, and also about Scarlett and her baby, you know.) Would the script be rewritten? Would she be cut out of it? Would they take her out of her sexy black catsuit and put her in a superhero caftan? Would she be fighting crime holding groceries or a giant pillow in front of her the whole time?
Nope! They decided to deal with her pregnancy in a variety of ways: moving around the shooting schedule so that her action scenes happened sooner; shooting more closeups; having a few more body doubles for Scarlett than usual; and by digitally removing her pregnant belly.
That’s a technology we have available?! As reported in The Mirror, “the actress will be wearing a high-tech suit with a green band around her waist which will allow the special effects team to remove any signs of her pregnancy.” This new use of CGI is absolutely fascinating to me because it could singlehandedly keep female actresses from having to worry about getting pregnant during shooting schedules—is this the ultimate example of Leaning In (i.e. just make it look like it’s not happening, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.”)? For years, on-screen and off, women’s pregnancies have been seen as major inconveniences to their professional lives, taking them out of commission for months at a time, and creating visual inconsistencies in our favorite shows and films. While Robert Downey Jr. could impregnate 15 women and still look badass in his red Iron Man suit, before this CGI technology, actresses had three choices: Drop out, have the blessed condition written into the plot, or hide their bumps in an array of amazing and oft-ridiculous ways.
Here are a few of the ways that television shows have worked around the pregnancies of their actresses.
This one is maybe the best. When Kerry Washington got pregnant during production of Season 3 of Scandal, making her character, Olivia Pope, pregnant too was not an option. Instead, the series order was trimmed from 22 to 18 episodes, and the Scandal wardrobe department worked extra hard to keep the incredibly stylish Olivia in clothes that, when pictured head on, looked pretty convincingly non-maternity. They also gave her ginormous purses, put her behind podiums, put human beings’ heads in front of her stomach, and, of course, had her holding a bag of groceries. Because no TV pregnancy is complete without a bag of groceries.
Gillian Anderson became pregnant at the end of the filming of Season 1 of The X-Files, which gave the writers time to figure out what to do with her character for Season 2. The storylines changed tremendously as a result–Scully and Mulder are separated for part of the season, Scully was exiled to a teaching lab (and subsequently, exiled in a lab coat), and when she did appear on-screen, it was in enormous trench coats. Towards the end of the season (spoiler alert), Scully is abducted by aliens and then is returned, comatose, so she got to lie in bed for a few episodes too. They even used her actual pregnant belly as part of the experiments the aliens were doing on her!
How I Met Your Mother
Alyson Hannigan’s pregnancy workaround has to be one of my favorites. Throughout Season 4, both Alyson Hannigan and Cobie Smulders were pregnant, but the writers didn’t want either character to be pregnant, so both women’s expanding bellies were hidden with large handbags and counters. At the end of the season, Alyson’s character Lily competes in a hot dog eating contest, and when she stands up, we see her pregnant belly and everyone starts freaking out about what the hot dog eating contest did to her. Well played, HIMYM.
January Jones got pregnant between Seasons 4 and 5 of Mad Men, and rather than write her pregnancy into the story, the powers-that-be instead covered the rest of January Jones’ Betty Draper in prosthetics to make her look like she’d gained a bunch of weight. Betty’s focus in Season 5 was on her struggle with depression and weight gain in an unhappy marriage, which brought a humanity to the character that wouldn’t have existed without her pregnancy.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
For the entirety of Season 6, the rest of the characters, in proper It’s Always Sunny-style, seemed to completely ignore the fact that Sweet Dee’s belly was rapidly expanding. Actress Kaitlin Olson was pregnant, but no one on the show seemed to notice or care until midway through the season, and then their only concern was which one of them drunkenly got her pregnant. Sweet Dee’s pregnancy was explained away as a surrogacy, so that when she gave birth (with Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” playing, naturally), the gang got to have a moment of sweetness before returning to their vile selves.
No one was ever going to want to see Jenna become a mom, so when Jane Krakoski got pregnant, the 30 Rock producers got super creative with costumes to hide her growing bump, like this incredible dog suit.
In Season 10 of Friends, there is a long story arc about how Monica and Chandler can’t get pregnant and decide to adopt. This story arc was complicated by the fact that Courteney Cox, who plays Monica, was actually pregnant during the filming of this final season of Friends. They couldn’t write her pregnancy into the show, so instead, they went the old-school route of big jackets and creative sitting.
These are some of my favorite pregnancy-hiding stories, but there are tons more. As long as there are female actresses, there will need to be creative ways to deal with their reproductive choices. It may be years before Avengers-level pregnancy-hiding technology helps everyone in entertainment out, and probably it never will, but it’s nice to see a movie willing to spend a little money to work around Scarlett Johansson’s perfectly natural right to be a working woman who procreates.