Kirby Howell-Baptiste says she's offering a new and improved take on a beloved character in the Disney live-action comedy Cruella.
The film, centered on the backstory of aspiring fashion designer Estella -- who later becomes the notorious criminal known as Cruella de Vil -- also follows Howell-Baptiste as Anita Darling, Estella's childhood friend and a well-known journalist. Howell-Baptiste tells ABC Audio that the Anita in Cruella is very different from the one portrayed in Disney's 101 Dalmatians.
"What I think was really interesting about Anita's story that we haven't been shown -- is that... people are familiar with them being school friends, but... what's really nice to see was how their relationship blossomed," she says. "It came from Anita recognizing that Estella is kind of an outsider, but also having a lot of compassion and a lot of sympathy for her."
Aside from shining a light on Anita's early beginnings, the U.K. actress says the comedy crime-drama also gives her character a voice and career that wasn't explored in previous films.
"Seeing Anita in her job... I think it's so lovely to see her doing the things she loves," Howell-Baptiste says. "[Because] I think in the past we've only really seen her as sort of a mother and a homemaker. [So] seeing [and] showing her life before that, I think is really, really validating."
Part of that validation, Howell-Baptiste says, is being able to tell women that life doesn't necessarily "start at motherhood."
"Or at least that's the way you see it when you're a kid," she explains. "Like you feel your parents' life started with you, but what's really lovely is showing who they were before that."
Cruella, also starring Emma Stone, is now available in theaters and on Disney+ through Premier Access.