In AMC's Dietland, fans get to see Julianna Margulies like they've never seen her before as the ambitious, cruel, and self-centered Kitty Montgomery. According to an interview Margulies gave to AMC, Kitty from Dietland is based on a real person. The series comes from the 2015 fiction book by Sarai Walker, and the author told the ER and The Good Wife actor that Kitty was inspired by an actual person. Unlike some other media executives in books, movies, and TV, who Kitty is based on is not made 100 percent clear to the audience — but that doesn't make her feel any less familiar.
Dietland isn't the first time a Kitty Montgomery has been on scripted TV. Margulies' character shares the same name as Greg's mom on Dharma & Greg. While both of those Kittys share a snobby sensibility, Margulies' Kitty has more of a Miranda Priestly vibe. The antagonist of The Devil Wears Prada is widely accepted to be partially based on the editor-in-chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour. But the person who inspired Kitty doesn't seem to be public knowledge. Yet, similar to how The Devil Wears Prada author Lauren Weisberger worked at Vogue, the author of Dietland had real-life work experience in the magazine industry. Walker used to write for Seventeen and Mademoiselle, so perhaps she had come across someone like Daisy Chain editor Kitty in those days.
Kitty is the editor for all women's titles for the conglomerate Austen Media on the show, but the teen magazine Daisy Chain seems to be her biggest point of pride. She calls the young readers of Daisy Chain, "my girls." However, it's really Kitty's employee, Alicia "Plum" Kettle, who answers the letters to the editor as a ghostwriter. Kitty is fixated on outward appearances and shows her disdain for Plum's weight in a horrible, passive-aggressive manner.
In an interview with Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, Walker said that Plum is loosely based on her. "She has a dash of me in her — I don't think I can deny that! — but she's mostly a fictional creation who doesn't have a significant connection to any real person," Walker said. And, according to Margulies, Walker also took from her own life as she was fleshing out Kitty. Margulies told AMC:
"I asked Sarai what her idea was when she was writing Kitty. She told me she's actually based on a real-life person and that the first character she wrote in the book was Kitty because it had the most profound effect on her in her life. What I wanted to do, most of all, was not make her an Anna Wintour or Glenda Bailey or Grace Coddington. Even though I read everything I could on them, I wanted to fit her into this world that Plum is living in and weigh the balance of what Plum is going through with the balance of what Kitty is going through."
Despite some of the basic similarities between The Devil Wears Prada and Dietland, it's interesting to note that Margulies specifically stated that she didn't base her portrayal on Wintour, Bailey (editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar), or Coddington (creative director of Vogue). After all, Dietland is not just about Kitty's glossy world. Showrunner Marti Noxon has said that the series is "Devil Wears Prada meets Fight Club." And Walker has also been very vocal about how Fight Club inspired Dietland, like in a 2015 interview with NPR.
Although Margulies didn't use real-life women magazine executives as a template for Kitty, she has noted that there's another real person who Kitty reminds her of. In a BUILD Series interview, Margulies compared Kitty to Donald Trump. "I don't want friends like Kitty Montgomery. She's the biggest narcissist and just has no meter. She just wants to win and she always wants to be on top. Whether it's right or wrong, she doesn't care. It's about the result," Margulies said. When BUILD host Ricky Camilleri alluded to the fact that her description sounds like the president, Margulies agreed. "I'm happy to say it. Yeah, she's a little bit like Trump. In that she has no empathy and she's a pathological liar. She just wants to believe her own hype," she said.
Margulies certainly plays a nasty — and, at times, bitterly funny — antagonist on Dietland. But the actor didn't want Kitty to be strictly a caricature. "I think she truly believes she's a wonderful person, but she's such a narcissist she can't see anything wrong with how she acts," Margulies said in an interview with E! News. "She's cutthroat, but then playing her and seeing how she had to fight her way to get to where she is — and at the end of the day, even though she has brought this magazine from 0 to 100 in less than a year, she still has to answer to an all white male board, most of them over 60. So I got to understand her fight a little better, but yeah, I usually play the girl with the heart on the sleeve. And Kitty, I'm not sure if there's a heart even inside."
Dietland viewers may be intrigued by who exactly inspired Walker to create Kitty — especially since the author noted in an interview with Grok Nation that Kitty's a much bigger character in the TV show than in the book. But as Margulies embodies this poisonous Dietland villain, she's so entrancing that the "who" doesn't really matter. All that matters is that people like Kitty exist and that the group trying to recruit Plum on Dietland aren't going to stand for it anymore.