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M AY 19, 20 2 1 | E M M Y P R E V I E W + U P F RO N TS

GOING DEEPER

HOW BARRY JENKINS FOUND THE PATH TO THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, AND ITS STAR-MAKING TURN BY THUSO MBEDU

UZO ADUBA

THE DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU NOW

MICHAEL DOUGLAS

ON HIS FILM & TV FAVORITES

THE PARTNERSHIP

ERIN BROCKOVICH & KATEY SAGAL CRISTIN MILIOTI + MATTHEW RHYS + KATORI HALL + ALDIS HODGE

PLUS:


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4

FIRST TAKE Uzo Aduba takes up the mantle of the good doctor in a brand new reimagined season of In Treatment Exploring the art of Sherri Berman Laurence’s Pose makeup and Jess Hall’s WandaVision cinematography On My Screen: Michael Douglas reveals his TV and film favorites and a go-to karaoke song

22

ON THE COVER Barry Jenkins digs deep into the making of The Underground Railroad with its star Thuso Mbedu

36

THE DIALOGUE Cristin Milioti Matthew Rhys Katori Hall Aldis Hodge

52

THE PARTNERSHIP Rebel’s executive producer Erin Brockovich and star Katey Sagal discuss bringing a TV version of Brockovich to life ON THE COVER Barry Jenkins and Thuso Mbedu photographed exclusively for Deadline by Erik Carter ON THIS PAGE Katori Hall photographed by Diane Zhao


“STELLAR CAST” POWERHOUSE PERFORMANCES”

STRONG WRITING”

DIZZYING, DELIGHTFUL”

” SHARP

“BRILLIANT”

“THRILLING SAGA”

“DAZZLING”

” XCELLENT


Pose’s Makeup

p. 10

| Capturing WandaVision p. 10 | Michael Douglas’s screen memories p. 12

With In Treatment Uzo Aduba embodies a heavyweight role that struck close to home BY ANTONIA BLYTH

4

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

COU RT ESY OF H BO

Surgical Precision


ONE OF THE BEST CONTEMPORARY PRESTIGE DRAMAS”

“RIVETING” “CAPTIVATING”

REMINISCENT OF THE BEST CRIME FICTION”

PHENOMENAL” “PROVOCATIVE” “THRILLING

ONE OF THE BEST SHOWS ON TV”

“IDRIS DELIVER[S] AN ELECTRIFIED PERFORMANCE”


but Aduba addresses it as a cathartic experience. “I don’t know why such a story came at this point in my life,” she says. She returns to the question about buried pain that pulled her in from the beginning. And seeing the consequences of Brooke trying to suppress her feelings was useful. “I don’t know why or how healing comes, or what is meant to step into your path to bring that, but I know that being able to identify her pain and loss, and being able to see her having lost track of her pain, that was an education. Loss of any kind is intense. If you don’t know it, I hope you never feel it. If you know it, my heart breaks and stands in support of you.” Aduba’s career and training was also thoroughly aligned with the role. Before her screen breakout in Orange is the New Black, which won her an Emmy for her role as Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren (she won again in 2020 for Mrs. America), Aduba spent years in New York theater. And with its distinctly theatrical, nowhere-tohide, front-facing setup, In Treatment required an actor with the power,

PATIENT PRIVILEGE Aduba as Dr. Brooke Taylor with John Benjamin Hickey as Colin.

presence, and talent to pull that off. Aduba has all three. Although she hadn’t seen it when the role came to her, Aduba was aware

This is the idea that hooked her into her latest role as Dr. Brooke Taylor—a therapist in the grip of bereavement, with her own hidden pain— in HBO’s new incarnation of the hit show In Treatment. The original 2008-2010 series, created by Rodrigo García, had Gabriel Byrne in the chair as Dr. Paul Weston, and gathered multiple awards and massive critical acclaim. Now, after a decade-long hiatus, executive producers Joshua Allen (Empire) and Jennifer Schuur (My Brilliant Friend, Unbelievable) have brought it back with Aduba in the driving seat.

of the original series. “I was a huge fan In Treatment 2.0, actually billed

Byrne, Dianne Wiest, Hope Davis, Blair

set-up to its predecessor: a half-hour

Underwood and Debra Winger. All

format, mostly focused on two char-

these actors I knew who are phenom-

acters seated across from each other,

enal. I had that running through the

minimal scenery, and eviscerating

back of my mind, and as Joshua Allen

stories eked out by a therapist whose

and Jen Schuur were describing the

actual job is to keep their own personal

story to me, I was really captured by

emotions in check. Hence Aduba’s

the story of this therapist’s life. The

musing on what happens to a woman

idea that it’s a show about therapy,

in pain who must always push it aside.

but it’s also a show about therapists. I

It’s hard to miss just how deeply

started thinking, Oh, that’s interesting

Aduba must have identified with

on two fronts. Number one, how much

her character. Just weeks before the

do any of us know about our thera-

intense shoot began—she appears in

pists? And number two, how often do

every single scene—she had lost her

you ever get to watch a session? You

mother with whom she was incredibly

never get to watch people in session,

close. Navigating heart-wrenching

you’re either in the session as the

narratives with deeply introspective

patient, or in the session as a therapist.

and through-provoking dialogue, her

There isn’t an audience.”

character had also just lost a parent

pandemic, the show explores Brooke’s

ing grief. “She was standing in this

experience treating patients both

juncture of pain and loss,” Aduba says.

in the beautiful sprawling house her

this parallel feels cruelly on-the-nose,

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

Set in Los Angeles during the

and was struggling with a consum-

The strangeness and poignancy of

6

of everybody who was on it: Gabriel

as the show’s Season 4, is a similar

late architect father built, and via Zoom, having closed her office for

COU RT ESY OF H BO

“WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LOSE TRACK OF YOUR PAIN?” UZO ADUBA ASKS. WHEN YOU SHOVE YOUR MOST PAINFUL FEELINGS DOWN AND SUPPRESS THEM? HOW WILL THAT COME BACK TO BITE YOU? AND WHO WILL YOU BE?


MORE MAYHEM”“BEST SEASON

LAYERED PERFORMANCES FROM PARDO, CABRAL AND PINO”

“SIMMERING TENSION” BEAUTIFULLY DIRECTED AND ACTED”

“ FIERCE DARK TWISTS LEAD TO GREAT TV” “A DISTINCTIVE BLEND OF

GASOLINE AND ADRENALINE”

...

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

13


the community.” There is, she says, still very much a need to normalize mental health treatment in every community. “Our numbers within the Black community, or people of color community, might be less, but that’s not to somehow suggest then that other communities are just talking about it easily, because no one is. That’s actually the truth. No one’s talking about it. And I hope that, with a show like In Treatment, it might get us, finally, over that last hump.” And Aduba is using her star power in other ways, too. She recently inked a multi-year producing deal with CBS Studios, the first fruits of that being Low Country, in which she plays Shirley Johnson, an openly gay deputy sheriff in South Carolina who takes on a white crime family. Aduba will exec produce, along with Michelle and Robert King. POWER PLAY Dr. Brooke Taylor is “standing in this juncture of pain and loss,” Aduba says.

What else does she want to do with that deal going forward? “The driving force is space creation,” she says. “The stories that have gone unseen. And that doesn’t necessarily mean always reinventing the wheel, and it doesn’t necessarily mean period pieces. It

safety. One particularly prickly patient

she’s had to live as a woman, and as a

is Colin (John Benjamin Hickey),

Black woman in the world, affects how

singular reason for doing it”, Aduba

riences, that are real and authentic,

a middle-aged, former millionaire

she hears words and language. Her

says of taking on the role, “but it

finding space—equal space—to be

entrepreneur-turned-white collar

ears are tuned as a woman in certain

certainly was part of it. There have

captured. That’s what that means to

criminal. As Brooke expertly unspools

ways. Her ears are tuned as a Black

been a lot of films and TV shows that

me. It means standing in support of

his inner tape of resentment and

woman in specific ways.”

have addressed, or tried to tackle,

those stories, and storytellers whose

the conversation of mental health. I

voices have gone unheard, and doing it

Another therapist might possibly

means the voices, faces, bodies, expe-

privilege and misogyny in insidious,

have perceived Colin differently, she

don’t know of any them have been

in a way that remains entertaining, and

deeply-embedded layers, along with

says, “which then provokes a whole

done with someone like myself in this

that still has a universality to it. That

an inherent racism and prejudice he

series of other questions that perhaps

particular chair. And, I guess, a partial

people who aren’t even of that voice

flashes around with horrifying ease,

a different therapist may not ask

motivator was that I’ve played a role,

can hear their voice in it.”

which is quickly followed by hollow

because of how she views the world.”

and been involved in TV shows and

claims of his ‘liberalism’.

roles, where I’m a character that’s

Aduba was stopped by a young Black

as Laila, Brooke’s teenage client, who

dealing with something having to

woman, who told her how much

of the show,” Aduba says. “I thought

engages in a magnetic cat-and-mouse

do with mental health, and it was

seeing her on screen has meant to her.

what was really interesting was exam-

game of evasion with the therapist,

interesting to now be in this project

“I almost started crying,” Aduba says.

ining privilege from someone who, for

before finally opening up about the

where I’m sitting in the opposite chair.

“She was a dark-skinned, Black woman

all intents and purposes, in our public

microaggressions she experiences as

But yes, I think, historically, seeking

with no proximity to Euro-centric

conversation, has all of it, but who has

a woman of color, and the nightmares

treatment within communities of color

beauty, like myself, and she said, ‘You

lost it, and how that plays itself out.

she has of being shot at in the street

has been lower than other groups,

make me feel beautiful.’ That’s what

And what that looks like, and for his

with her grandmother beside her.

particularly in the Black and Latin

she said.”

“I was really glad that it was a part

There is also Quintessa Swindell

Only the day before our interview,

safe space to talk about that being

During HBO’s virtual press tour

community. We’ve seen some increase

in my home. He’s being treated by

earlier this year, Allen and Schuur said

over the years, moving in the direction

do know existing means something,

someone who looks like me, and I think

that showing therapy in the context

of seeking treatment, but I think, for

but because I’m just Uzo living in my

that was really powerful. I also thought

of a diverse cast was a driving force

me, another part was wanting to help

body, you forget. Until somebody—a

there was something really interesting

in this new envisioning of the show.

support and buoy that. To help stoke

real person—says it, and then you

and powerful in why all these stories

“There’s such a stigma attached to it,

a conversation that might normalize

understand. It’s like suddenly it

are important, because what I realized

particularly with [people of] color so it

mental health, destigmatize mental

motivates you all over again, in a wholly

in occupying this seat of a therapist—a

felt important to me personally to put

health discussions, or seeking therapy

different way. It’s the raison d’être; why

Black female therapist—is she’s still

that on television, to show that we all

out. It’s something that has a lot of

I’m doing this.

a human being out in the world. How

need this.”

super-ugly words attached to it within

8

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

She pauses, and collects herself. “I

“It hits different, as they say.” ★

COU RT ESY OF H BO

rage, she pulls out entitlement, white

That destigmatization “wasn’t a


CHARTED TERRITORY At press time, here is how Gold Derby’s experts ranked the Emmy chances in the Best Limited Series Actor and Best Limited Series Actress races. Get up-to-date rankings and make your own predictions at GoldDerby.com

Subcultural Phenomenon

1

Ethan Hawke The Good Lord Bird

17/5

2

Hugh Grant The Undoing

37/10

3

Paul Bettany WandaVision

11/2

4

Lin-Manuel Miranda Hamilton

13/2

5

Jeff Daniels The Comey Rule

8/1

How makeup designer Sherri Berman Laurence presents ball culture and the AIDS crisis in Pose

AS HEAD MAKEUP DESIGNER ON THE FX SERIES POSE, it was vital to Sherri Berman Laurence that she represent the ball culture community in the exact right way. “It was just something that had never been done before and was so groundbreaking,” she says. “I’m happy the world is seeing trans women of color and the LGBTQIA+ world in a different light.” Taking place in New York City, Pose tells the story of ball culture in the gay and trans community, and the raging AIDS crisis. During a ball, the most exciting characters to work on, Berman Laurence says, were the “showstoppers” like Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson). Berman Laurence’s work with Elektra for a fairytale look used, “handmade face appliques and very elaborate Swarovski crystals lining the eyes to create the evil queen.” Even with the focus on the beauty of ball culture, Pose has never shied away from reality. “At any given time on Pose, you could be doing a scene where we’re all dancing behind the monitor at a ball, to the next day being in the hospital where someone is dying of AIDS,” Berman Laurence says. This season expands on the complex and varied appearance of the illness. “There are a lot of different levels of makeup with the AIDS epidemic,” she says. “In Season 3, there’s a lot of protest and we visit Act Up again. There were different people at the protest who would be in different levels of illness from AIDS and some of the characters on the show as well.” —Ryan Fleming

ESTABLISHING SHOTS WandaVision cinematographer Jess Hall on capturing the magic of old sitcoms with updated technology

LIMITED SERIES ACTRESSES Anya Taylor-Joy The Queen’s Gambit

82/25

2

Michaela Coel I May Destroy You

5/1

3

Kate Winslet Mare of Easttown

11/2

4

Cynthia Erivo Genius: Aretha

11/2

5

Elizabeth Olsen WandaVision

13/2

While the tools to film in an old sitcom style still exist, the incompatibility with current technology led to a challenge. “It wasn’t a singular approach,” Hall says. “The camera was the same platform, but

actually execute that on vintage lenses.”

the color science was built individually for

Cinematic Universe style of filming,

Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and

each look. I would identify particular color

WandaVision cinematographer Jess Hall

Vision (Paul Bettany) live through classic

palettes within that era or, if it was black

had to blend high-definition filming with

sitcom tropes together in an idealized

and white, the tonal range, then I’d go into

the style of older sitcoms. “I used 47

suburban home. The cinematography

the color science of the camera. I think

different lenses across the series,” Hall

changes with the setting, as the world

every element of cinematography was

says. “It was going to be a real stretch to

modernizes around them.

present.” —Ryan Fleming

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

ODDS

1

In a departure from the traditional Marvel

10

ODDS

IDEAL WORLD Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany star as Wanda Maximoff and Vision in WandaVision on Disney+.

D I S N E Y+ /COU RT ESY E V ER E TT COLL ECT I ON / E RI C LI E BOWI T Z / FX /S H E RRI B E R M AN L AU RE N CE

LIMITED SERIES ACTORS


On My Screen:

Michael Douglas The Kominsky Method star on his accidental stunt-driving skills, the films that made him cry, and who’d play him in his biopic

NOW IN ITS THIRD AND FINAL SEASON,

hit Netflix comedy The Kominsky Method sees Michael Douglas resume his role as acting teacher Sandy Kominsky, only this time Sandy is without his best friend, king of the sardonic aside, Norman Newlander, played by Alan Arkin. Douglas says it was “delicate doing without Alan for this season”, but that Arkin “did a lot without showing up”, as Norman seems to orchestrate the action even after his departure. With over 40 years of industry experience, both acting and producing—his first foray into the latter being One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975—Douglas is currently relishing work on another installment of the Ant-Man franchise. Here, he muses on his career memories, some film and television favorites, and the advice his dad gave him.

MY FIRST FILM LESSON The very first day of The Streets of San Francisco, the AD said, “Michael, we just need to do a fast shot of you driving the police car around the top of Telegraph Hill.” So, I jumped in the car and Karl Malden was in the other seat. I pride myself on my driving, and I must say, one of the first lessons I learned is be sure that you check out the route maybe once before you just drive it. We flew around Telegraph Hill, we’re at the Fairmont Hotel, came to the end, and all of a sudden, we flew, we just went airborne. We hit the front bumper—bang—and I brought it to a halt and I went, “Oh, geez, I’m going to be fired.” And Karl says, “That’s not driving, that’s movie driving.” Then he said, “Alright, I’m going to back to my trailer to change my underwear.”

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D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

THE BEST ADVICE I HAVE EVER RECEIVED I don’t know if I learned it on the screen, but the first advice that my father [Kirk Douglas] shared with me was the ability to listen. Actors tend to wait for their chance to speak, and then sometimes they’re not necessarily the best listeners, but acting is reacting. And so, listening is an important part. It was advice given to me by my father, but I can’t say it was something that I learned off the bat. I had to remind myself about it.

THE PART I ALWAYS WANTED I never dreamt about a part that I’ve always wanted, I’ve just dealt with the reality of what was in front of me. I was fortunate really early on, with my first production with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to recognize how rare and how valuable a good part was. I knew how upset my father was about not playing R.P. McMurphy in Cuckoo’s Nest, and I could certainly understand it, because that was a great part and they don’t come along that often. I haven’t done a lot of comedy, but I don’t think comedy ever gets the respect that it’s due. You hardly ever see a comedy actor nominated for best actor, when in fact, comedy is much more difficult to do than drama. For me, it was really the chance to work with Paul Reiser and Alan [in The Kominsky Method]. They’re great at comedy, they have > unbelievable timing. Continued on p. 14.

M I CH A E L YAR I S H /N ET FLI X /COURT ESY E VE RE T T CO LL ECT I O N /AX E L LE / BAU E R- G R I FF I N /M EGA

BY ANTONIA BLYT H


THE MOVIES THAT MAKE ME CRY I remember Two for the Road with Albert Finney, one of my favorite actors. When I was a child, I remember the movie Lili with Leslie Caron made me cry a little bit. I cried too when my father was in Lust for Life. I remember when my father cut his ear off. It was such a real performance. It was one of the few performances when both my brother and I forgot it was our father, and we were just terrified, shocked when he cut his ear off…

MY TOUGHEST ROLE I struggled early in my career, almost like a method actor trying to get to that point of true reality. It wasn’t really until later on, with Fatal Attraction, I said, OK, let’s see. So, he’s a lawyer in New York. Well, I could be a lawyer in New York. And he had an extra-marital affair. Well, that’s possible. So, all of a sudden you say, wait a minute, it’s not so much about finding the character, it’s how much the character may be like me. And the hardest thing to do, I think, is to play yourself.

MY MOST TORTURED CO-STAR That would have to be Danny DeVito. Danny and I were roommates together in New York City before we ever began our careers. I took the piss out of him on Romancing the Stone, but he came back to us when he directed War of the Roses. I remember it was the big finale of War of the Roses with us hanging from the chandelier. It was awkward, very uncomfortable. And we got up there and said, “OK, we’re ready.” And Danny said, “OK, that’s lunch.” And they all walked out. They all left the studio. I said, “Guys, yo, yo, yo, hey, guys, guys!” And they left us hanging there for about 15 minutes.

MY MOST QUOTED ROLE Wall Street comes up the most. And then after that it breaks down, there’s a lot of Falling Down that people like, Black Rain, and then of course you get both the Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct stuff.

14

THE MOST FUN I’VE HAD ON SET Probably the Ant-Man films. You’re just such a small part, but you have all the incredible special effects going on and green screens. And you spend half the time putting dots on your face. It was a whole different type of filmmaking. I’ve never done any special effects movies before, or any sort of green screen. Paul Rudd was wonderful, Evangeline [Lilly] was great, and all of the other co-stars. That was a lot of fun. We’re starting at third one now. We’re going to London to do an Ant-Man 3 in July.

MY GUILTY PLEASURE I’m a documentary fiend. I’ve done one period movie my entire career, all of my work is contemporary. I guess it’s sort of reality-based, so I just enjoy documentaries. My Octopus Teacher—I find that so poignant, not only the relationship was extraordinary between him and the octopus, but just the fragility of that man, too, dealing with sort of a breakdown and getting himself back in order.

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WHO’D PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC John Krasinski. Because of his compassion and his humor. Compassion and humor can take you a long way. I sense in him that he makes a conscientious effort where the material is good to try different types of roles. KARAOKE PLAYLIST Oh God, “Silhouettes” by The Rays. [Sings] Silhouettes, silhouettes, silhouettes, silhouettes, silhouettes, silhouettes. Late last night... [laughs].

PARA M OU N T/COU RT ESY E VE R ET T COL LECT IO N/ 2 0 T H CE N TU RY FOX FI L M COR P./ M I C H AE L YAR I S H /N E T F L IX /B E N ROT H ST E IN /M ARV E L ST U DI OS 2 0 1 8 /ST E V E N BE RG M A N /A FF-USA .COM

THE CHARACTER THAT’S MOST LIKE ME Probably Sandy Kominsky, he’s got a lot in common with me. I was trying to work on that, or that kind of simplicity of it. So, I think that was certainly one. And I can’t say he was all like me, but I liked Wonder Boys a lot, I think all the characters in Wonder Boys were well done. But I think Sandy’s pretty damn close to me.


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BARRY JENKINS TURNS TO TELEVISION FOR HIS LATEST PROJECT, A 10-PART ADAPTATION OF COLSON WHITEHEAD’S PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING NOVEL THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, STARRING THUSO MBEDU, WHICH HIT AMAZON PRIME VIDEO LAST WEEK. IT’S HIS MOST AMBITIOUS PROJECT YET, SET ON A GRANDER CANVAS AND WITH MUCH GREATER EMOTIONAL STAKES THAN ANYTHING HE’S TACKLED BEFORE. BUT, AS HE EXPLAINS TO JOE UTICHI, IT’S NO LESS DEEPLY PERSONAL, IN HIS QUEST TO RECONTEXTUALIZE THE STRUGGLE OF HIS ANCESTORS.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY ERIK CARTER FOR DEADLINE 22

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33


B

arry Jenkins is just about ready to switch his phone off. It’s a few days before the reviews for The Underground Railroad hit, and after an epic shoot for the miniseries, and the long road to bring it to screen, he is adjusting to the idea of letting his new show take on a life of its own. But if there’s any anxiety about how those reviews will turn out, it’s misplaced. Indeed, when the embargo finally lifts, the praise is universal. Jenkins’ series adapts Colson Whitehead’s novel, which imagines a literal railway line under the earth to tell its tale of Cora (Thuso Mbedu) and her struggle through the Southern United States to secure her freedom from slavery. And from that heightened premise comes a deep examination of the plight of people forced to run this particular gauntlet in their pursuit of liberty. Cora is chased at every step by a slave catcher named Ridgeway (Joel Edgerton), and the far-reaching horrors of slavery are laid bare at every stop on her journey. Barry Jenkins is acutely aware of the potency of the images he presents in The Underground Railroad. In fact, he says, it’s part of why he chose the medium of television to share them. But while the show is unsparing in detailing the industrial scale of an atrocity that has so rarely been given its due examination in cinema and television, it is also, through the spirit of Cora, a story of hope, resilience, and love. 24

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This story is heartbreaking, both in Colson Whitehead’s novel, and now in this show, and so much is wrapped up in Cora, played by Thuso Mbedu. It’s hard to articulate, so soon after seeing it, what it is precisely that makes following her so enveloping. I apologize, but I’m very happy to have broken your heart with the show [laughs]. It’s interesting what you’re talking about, because I’ve been thinking about it as well. I also don’t know how to articulate some of these things, but I think making the show, and especially making it with all these people, is sort of how I find the language. If it wasn’t for Thuso—if someone else had been the main character—I think what the show was saying would probably be a bit different. I was just jumping through it myself this past weekend. It had been so much damn work that I had to get away from it for a little bit. Watching it now, it’s really amazing, some of the things she communicates through that character. And they’re not intellectual statements, or declarations, questions or reasonings. It’s very emotional and maybe almost spiritual. I’m trying to not be so softheaded when I talk about the show, but it really does feel like it has become something else, just outside and beyond me, which I think makes sense since so many people had to come together to create it. Some of these collaborators go all the way back to your time at Florida State University— producer Adele Romanski, DP James Laxton— and you’ve gathered more since, through the three movies you made before this. It’s nice, the little family that we’ve built. It’s true that we’ve been grabbing people every step of the way from Medicine for Melancholy to Moonlight to If Beale Street Could Talk, and now this. And in a way, I think it’s all been kind of building to this show. The Underground Railroad is by far the biggest thing any of us has ever done. And I mean emotionally as well as literally, even though it’s still quite intimate in spots. It’s hard to find the language to express this, but what the show grapples with to great effect is the price Cora is forced to pay in her quest for

WHAT LIES BENEATH

Top: Thuso Mbedu as Cora. Bottom: William Jackson Harper as Royal.

freedom. Not just the injustice of the cost, but whether that price was worth the struggle. I like this idea of language. I’ve been reading Toni Morrison’s Nobel speech, and it’s all about language. There’s a moment in the show in which Cora plants some seeds. And so, I want to say, does she bury the seeds or does she plant them for the next person that comes through the tunnel behind her, so that when they reach the hilltop, there’d be sustenance there? What I’m the proudest about with the show is that I wanted us to allow ourselves the strength to present images in that way and not editorialize them. Yes, it could be glass-half-full or glass-half-empty. Is she leaving the seeds behind, or is she leaving them for the future? That way, it breaks the cycle.

THERE’S A MOMENT IN WHICH CORA PLANTS SOME SEEDS. AND SO, I WANT TO SAY, DOES SHE BURY THE SEEDS OR DOES SHE PLANT THEM FOR THE NEXT PERSON THAT COMES THROUGH THE TUNNEL BEHIND HER, SO THAT WHEN THEY REACH THE HILLTOP, THERE’D BE SUSTENANCE THERE?” — BARRY J E NKINS D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

25


We see that especially in the character of Homer, played by Chase Dillon. He’s this little Black boy who seems to be totally in lockstep to his slave-catching master. He’s an innocent, and he isn’t wholly corrupted, yet he also isn’t grasping for his own redemption. It’s incredibly complex. Yeah, and to be honest I can’t find the words to articulate what I want to say about Homer myself [laughs]. But see, this is the power of adaptation, because I would never have created a character like him, and yet I also didn’t want to run away from him. I felt it was important to take on the task and to try to escalate the

Leading The Fight South African actress Thuso Mbedu delivers a landmark lead performance in The Underground Railroad that points to the arrival of a major new star

I

f social media is any indication, the fact that Thuso

moments I had to separate myself from the research

Mbedu had 1.3 million Instagram followers even

because it was so heavy,” she says. “It was a lot to take

before her U.S. breakthrough role in The Underground

in, emotionally, but I kept telling myself that everything

Railroad was even released should point to the arrival

I was reading or listening to paled in comparison to the

of a fully formed star. Mbedu’s following comes from her native South

actual lived experience.” She listened to recordings of former slaves and

enigma that is Homer. In working through it with

Africa, where she made a name on television in the soap

read testimonials. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, a

Chase, and by following the breadcrumbs that

opera Scandal in 2015, before receiving an International

1861 autobiography by Harriet Jacobs, helped inform

Colson left us, I think we found a way to take the

Emmy Award nomination in 2017 for her role in the drama

a lot about her approach to Cora. And while she was

character to a place where, at the very least, we

series Is’Thunzi. In fact, it was while she was in the U.S.

heartbroken by the accounts she read, she saw, too,

can understand how he functions in Ridgeway’s

to attend the ceremony that she first heard that Barry

the potential for The Underground Railroad to bring this

life and vision.

Jenkins was casting for a lead in The Underground Rail-

history to new generations. “It excited me, because I

To me, it wasn’t a father/son dynamic. It

road. It’d be a while before she’d meet Francine Maisler,

thought when people back home, and other people,

was this idea of indoctrination and grooming.

who cast the show, and ultimately Jenkins himself, and

watch this show, they’ll come to know of the truth,”

And I think Chase did a great job of both being

before she did, she pored over Colson Whitehead’s novel

Mbedu explains. “One thing we know the system does

present—having the character beholden to

on which the movie is based.

well, because that’s what really worked for apartheid, is

himself—but also being incredibly indoctrinated. He’s a very strange character.

“Mr. Whitehead is able to paint this picture,”

divide and conquer. Even now, in different parts of Africa,

Mbedu says now, of what she found in the pages of The

there’s this division of the Black body so that, as long as

Underground Railroad. “In the moment, I wasn’t able to

we’re apart, we can’t fight the system that oppresses us

The journey that Cora goes on is height-

articulate what it was that drew me to the story or to the

all. As we learn, I think a series like this can be a shift in

ened—by this idea of an actual, physical rail-

character of Cora.”

positive direction.”

road under the ground, for example—but in

She thought about it. Cora’s journey struck her

Mbedu’s star continues to rise. Even before The

placing her in so many different situations,

deeply. She empathized with the idea of this slave

Underground Railroad premiered, she had landed a role

the fundamental macro truth of slavery

woman, ostracized even by her own community, and

alongside Viola Davis in The Woman King, directed by

in this era is laid bare. It got me thinking

how she comes to know and understand herself through

Gina Prince-Bythewood. Davis describes being “mes-

about how infrequently art has grappled

the long journey she goes on. And there was something

merized” by Mbedu, and it’s a refrain repeated in reviews

with it. Without wanting to compare the

about the open-ended conclusion to the story that was

for The Underground Railroad, though Prince-Bythewood

two, or diminish either atrocity in any way,

deeply profound.

had not seen any of her performance in Jenkins’ show

I thought about how the macro cost of the

“My manager called and said, ‘It feels like there’s no

when she was cast, and she describes Mbedu as a

Holocaust, for example, had been much

resolution,’” says Mbedu. “For me, it was a commentary

“generational talent”. The film tells the story of the

more frequently examined.

on today. You can see the parallels that run through it.

woman warriors of Dahomey, a Western African kingdom

When you talk about the notion on this show

There is never a place for a resolution. I knew I wanted

in the 18th and 19th Centuries. “I carry a machete, because

that there are images and a text, and then

to be a part of this project, no matter how small the role

my character kicks ass,” Mbedu laughs.

there’s a subtext, what I liked about having the

might be. It was such an important message.”

She is excited for what the future holds, and keen not

opportunity to tell the story over 10 hours was

We see the bulk of The Underground Railroad’s story

to follow the simple narrative of sacrificing her roots for a

that you could explore metaphor and then the

through Cora’s eyes. And through Mbedu, the complicated

career in America. “I still have my roots in South Africa, and

metaphor beneath the metaphor. There are all

emotion of a desperate fight that so frequently seems

we’ll be shooting The Woman King there, even in my home

these mirrors in the show, which I think allow you

unwinnable runs the gamut in every episode. It required

province [of KwaZulu-Natal], which is a big deal for me.”

to see whatever the emotional or social or politi-

a lot from her, and part of the audition process, she

cal issue or metaphor is that’s in front of you, and

says, was about finding out whether she would have the

international success into meaningful growth for the

you can see it from many different angles.

stamina to author a role like this over a 10-month shoot.

South African film industry. “I’m not fighting for myself;

I want to be careful as well, because I think

“Barry told me that he doesn’t direct the first take,”

Indeed, Mbedu’s ambitions are to translate her

I’m fighting for everybody else,” she insists. “The

every genocide should be viewed through its

Mbedu says. “You make an offer based on what you’ve

resources are there [in South Africa]. The talent is there.

own lens and given its own space and time

come up with from the character and then he guides you

It’s just the misuse of everything. Exploitation of people.

for proper excavation, but I will agree that the

from there. It was amazing working like that, because it

Projects are nothing without the crew, and so I want you

treatment of that particular genocide in arts

felt that the conversation could flow easily. He forced

to be paying them correctly and treating them correctly.

and letters has been robust; profoundly robust.

me, in a way, to step up, not just to sit back and wait for

It’s a collaboration.”

They were making films about the Holocaust

him to tell me what to do, but to make those offers.”

as the Holocaust was still happening, and by

To get herself ready, Mbedu dove headfirst into prep

Jenkins told her, “Network across, don’t network up,” and she has taken it to heart. “I’ve done projects where

the time West Germany had active reparations

work, learning as much as she could about American

I’ve made friends with crew members and we’ve talked

in 1952, there had already been 15 feature films

slavery, which had not been taught to her at school

about, let’s come together to make something. These

about the Holocaust.

in South Africa, as her country was still processing

are the opportunities we have to create for ourselves,

the deep hurt of its own apartheid era. “There were

because we might be the very answer we’re seeking.”

And so, you’re absolutely right, and I think

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THERE WERE MOMENTS I HAD TO SEPARATE MYSELF FROM THE RESEARCH BECAUSE IT WAS SO HEAVY. IT WAS A LOT TO TAKE IN, EMOTIONALLY, BUT I KEPT TELLING MYSELF THAT EVERYTHING I WAS READING OR LISTENING TO PALED IN COMPARISON TO THE ACTUAL LIVED EXPERIENCE.” —T H U S O M B E D U

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

27


perhaps it’s because that atrocity was so front

We don’t have that kind of imagery, or

and center, and it was also a different time

language, or understanding—and we certainly

period. There were the tools that we use to

aren’t taught it—of slavery. Because it was also

create this art, which weren’t in existence at the

a very systemic, militaristic operation. And even

time of this atrocity, so there was almost no way

this show doesn’t scratch the surface, because

to try to recontextualize what that event was.

for all of our 10 episodes, only one-and-a-half

I was thinking just this morning about this idea

of them take place on the plantation. And

of the efficacy of telling this history—of retelling

then, only half of them take place south of the

it—of the need, or the lack of a need, for more of

Mason-Dixon line. Because of that, we’re not

these images. And I do think it’s about recon-

even addressing, as you said, the industrial scale

textualizing how we view this time in American

of slavery.

history and, for me, recontextualizing how we view my ancestors. A case in point for that is Thanksgiving. If that

I do think these genocides don’t just happen. They are systematically enacted, and they are organized. But I don’t think we, as Americans,

holiday is told from a Native American perspec-

have properly conceptualized this system of the

tive, it’s going to be a very different holiday than

conditions of American slavery through these

the one that I grew up having forced upon me.

same terms and prisms.

That’s a very small example, but I think it is an example that shows the justification or the need

A couple years ago, Spike Lee told me that,

to keep telling stories like this.

when he was at NYU Film School in the early

I hope, by the way, that someday somebody

THERE ARE IMAGES AND A TEXT, AND THEN THERE’S A SUBTEXT, WHAT I LIKED ABOUT HAVING THE OPPORTUNITY TO TELL THE STORY OVER 10 HOURS WAS THAT YOU COULD EXPLORE METAPHOR AND THEN THE METAPHOR BENEATH THE METAPHOR.” — BARRY J E NKINS

’80s, he was shown The Birth of a Nation

does make a film that’s titled Thanksgiving, and

with no context for the politics of D.W.

that it tells the real truth of the genocide of the

Griffiths’ movie. That blight looms large in

Native Americans. But I’m going off topic…

the history of this medium. So was I. I think the only context we were given

Well, I think what’s interesting, and frankly

for it was that it was outdated and arcane, but

frightening, is to continue to recognize

this is where the medium comes from.

the industrial scale on which people con-

And it’s interesting, because the creation

structed an apparatus for the infliction of

of those images, that’s not happenstance. It’s

abject brutality upon others.

part of an adjudication of responsibility. We talk

When we talk about the grand scale of an atroc-

about the Holocaust as being systemic, I think

ity—a very organized, systemic scale—I think we

because there’s so much evidence of systemic

now have some understanding of the Holocaust

practice, and of course there were reparations.

through that prism. I watched a documentary

Of course there were. And if we can prove that

called Exterminate All the Brutes, and one of the

this government systematically disenfran-

men who escaped one of the camps, he had a

chised Black folks—that it was organized and

very visual mind, and for the trials, he redrew the

endorsed—then you can adjudicate respon-

architectural plans of what all these facilities

sibility to recompense those people or their

were. It was mind-blowing to see the architec-

descendants. I’m not saying I’m creating art

tural detail that went into building vessels of

working toward that effect, but I do think if the

systemic destruction.

art is very truthful in speaking to the condition,

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SOUTHERN SETTING

Above, from left: Barry Jenkins and Thusuo Mbedu on set; Jenkins directs a scene in a cotton field.


then of course it’s going to serve as one more

a room together, getting organized and going,

think we’re becoming more or less adept

piece of evidence in that ordeal, or in that

“This year you’ll have this show, and then next

at grappling with questions of accuracy

striving towards at least a very frank and honest

year I’ll have that show.” But I do think it’s inter-

in storytelling. The past four years would

acknowledgement.

esting to pop out a wide, 30,000 feet view and

suggest: not really.

kind of observe. You’d assume that maybe we

I was thinking about this the other day, because I

You mention evidence of systemic

were all working on these utopian documents

was talking to a friend from the Bay Area, where

disenfranchisement with regard to the

that were begun during this utopic representa-

I used to live. He works in Silicon Valley at one

Holocaust, but it’s not like there’s a

tion in the White House. But no, I think the

of the big tech companies, and I was thinking

complete vacuum of evidence when it

opposite is true.

about whether those cats understood what was

comes to slavery.

going to happen. People like Bill Gates and Steve

It’s interesting. A lot of things take time. It

It makes you wonder whether true progress

Jobs, when they were young cats creating the

takes time and it takes foundation building. I

can last if it isn’t challenged, say by the four

architecture that basically runs our lives now,

don’t think this show could exist before now—

years that followed the Obama era. Without

if they assumed, “This is going to democratize

and I’m not even talking about the market-

wanting to be bleak about it, perhaps pro-

access to information, so now if you’re willing,

place or the financing of this and that. I don’t

gress can only be permanent once it’s been

you can investigate and understand everything.

know that I would mentally or intellectually be

tested. And once you have that seat at the

It’s going to solve any problem that persists

capable of creating it without the works that

table, being told to give it up is un-hearable.

because of ignorance.” Because that’s not

have come before.

It is un-hearable. And also, too, one of the things

what’s happened, and it’s not what’s happening.

that became very clear over the last four years

Instead, it has allowed us to double down on the

dation building. It’s impossible to tell the story

is the power of storytelling. Because so much of

bits and pieces of truth or not truth that we’re

properly without a certain sense of scale. And I

the power that was wielded in the last four years

prepared to accept, and to disregard anything

think that there are the images that have come

of the last administration, it was all about stories.

that contradicts. It has created an information

before that had to have existed. The work I’ve

If you speak it into existence—if you literally

partisanship to a certain degree. And so, where

done before has had to exist, and the work that

just speak it—you convince people to believe it,

does parable enter into that? I have no idea.

my peers have done before had to have existed.

and it then becomes fact. We have fake news

And so, I do think it has taken time for foun-

Are we becoming more adept in how we

and we had actual facts. And both those things

understand parable, and in that way is parable

think, too, it’s not that there’s a lot of these

were controlled by this person who legislated

gaining power? I don’t think so. But I think we

images, but in the last four, five, or six years,

from story. I think it was a perfect encapsulation

have to keep creating in this way, because some

we’ve had this show, there’s Underground, which

of the inflated power of stories in present day

of the most energizing and powerful congre-

Misha Green made, there was 12 Years a Slave,

America, especially in visual stories.

gations of people happened around parables.

I think we’re on track; we’re on course. I do

and even Watchmen, tangentially, which was

We’re just watching much more than we’re

I’m talking about organized religion. And I’m not

reading these days, unless you consider the

saying this work of art, or these works of art, can

I do think it’s interesting that a lot of those

things we’re reading on social media, which was

function in the same way, or that they should

things, the seeds were planted in the eight years

battleground number one for the man in charge.

aspire to have the same effect on people. But

that a Black man was in the White House. I don’t

And so, I do think because of that, it’s not that it

if there’s a reason parable seems to be more

know if it was because we all sensed that things

has caused a doubling down, but maybe there

prominent in the way it affects people’s lives, I’d

that were normally beneath the surface were

are avenues of story, that in the past some of us

say it’s because of that.

now above the surface and very apparent…

would have been uncomfortable pursuing, that

And the resistance that man faced in trying to

we now realize we must pursue.

related to this.

change, or at least course correct, the system,

Colson says about the show that it’s not a fact-based adaptation of the book, but rather a truth-based adaptation. Not every plot point

maybe encouraged us to go, “No, you know

The power of parable was present at the

in the book is in the show, but the essence of

what, we have to tell more truth. Not ride off into

birth of storytelling. I think it’s something

the book is definitely in the show. And when

the sunset and think everything is solved now.”

you seize on in this show; how you can

we go out and create art, I think we are kind of

We had to actually speak even louder towards

present an artificial construct that can nev-

functioning in a similar way. Can we speak truth?

the truth.

ertheless get to a deeper truth than even

Because there are science fiction stories that

fact could allow. And I wonder whether you

contain more truth than some documentaries.

I don’t know. It’s not like we’re all sitting in

They were approached in a way that was very honest and clear-eyed and very responsible about the information they’re relaying. Same

I THINK WHAT’S REALLY WONDERFUL IS HOW STREAMING HAS OPENED A WHOLE NEW PORTAL UP. I PROBABLY COULDN’T HAVE MADE THIS SHOW IN THIS WAY FIVE YEARS AGO. 10 YEARS AGO, I ABSOLUTELY COULDN’T HAVE. IT’S A REALLY BEAUTIFUL TIME TO BE CREATIVE.”

with horror movies. Many great genre works. I do think this preoccupation with the truth is so vital right now. If you pair that with a very rich excavation of the possibilities of parable, then you can create something that actually moves people, and that might even change perceptions. Or, in the case of this show, the most important goal for me was to recontextualize how we view our ancestors and our relationship to this history.

— BARRY J E NKINS That recontextualization, it’s almost hard

30

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E


to discuss it so shortly after seeing the

and she was riffing, and I was like, “Holy shit,

show, because it’s so big. Really, I want to

that’s a brilliant idea, let’s do it.” It was great.

be having this conversation with you a year from now, when it’s had time to sink in.

You have an episode that runs 20 minutes,

Yes! That would be cool. Because man, after four

and another that runs an hour and 20 min-

and-a-half years, all I want to do is let it out into

utes. You let the story dictate. Now, I think

the world. And make no mistake, I realize I have

the streaming era has allowed for much

to contextualize my motives for making the show

more looseness of form, but it’s rare to see

and exploring this world, because the images

a creator lean into that to such an extreme

are so incendiary. I get it, and I thank you for

degree. Was that a conversation?

having this conversation with me and allowing

It was a conversation, because just like you

me to contextualize these images. But you’re

said, we allowed the show to dictate where the

right, I’d much rather let it out, and then a year

runtime was going to land for each episode, at

from now, after the thing can live and breathe

different stages of the process. The Tennessee

and have some space, let’s talk about it then.

episode was filmed as a single episode and then,

Conversations I have about Moonlight now are so

as we got into the edit, we realized that the char-

interesting because that movie has been allowed

acter of Jasper was so powerful, and the pace of

the space to settle and grow, expand and

storytelling that James and I slipped into on that

contract. Now, when I have a conversation about

shoot in particular was such that this guy could

that movie, I’m like, “Oh shit, I wish I could have

hold a whole episode. So, we go, “Do we make

thought about it that way in the moment.”

one 90-minute episode, or two episodes of 50 or 55 minutes?” And I decided, “Yeah, this is the

So, let’s change tack then and talk about

story of Jasper, and then we’ll come back to the

process. Because I’m really intrigued to ask

story of Ridgeway and Cora.” It was an organic

how you found the writers’ room experience

process, and it was a conversation.

on this show. You’d been in a writers’ room

THE MOST IMPORTANT GOAL FOR ME WAS TO RECONTEXTUALIZE HOW WE VIEW OUR ANCESTORS AND OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THIS HISTORY.” — BARRY J E NKINS

I would like to say that I intentionally went to

before, but what did it offer you on your own

Amazon and said, “This is how long each epi-

project to open that part of the process up?

sode is going to run,” but it didn’t work like that.

What I loved about the writers’ room on this

That said, I think what you’re speaking to is true,

show was that, right now, I’m all about interroga-

which is that the medium has evolved to this

tion. I think ideas should be interrogated. I think

place where a network doesn’t need to impose

images should be interrogated. This book sitting

a format on the show to dictate its shape, and

on our desk, that had won the Pulitzer, it was so

now the characters and the story can dictate.

great for us to feel empowered to interrogate it. I

It was freeing at certain times, because, for

didn’t want to fill the room with a bunch of peo-

example, I can imagine that attaching the story

ple who I felt thought exactly like me, or a bunch

of Fanny Briggs to another episode would have

of people who I thought made things exactly like

been a disservice to the power and the wonder

me. We put together a really great crew, includ-

of discovery of having that be self-contained.

ing two people who had never been in a writer’s

Actually, you’ve reminded me of something.

room, and three people who had never written a

A little piece of history I forget, which is that

script for a show.

we tried to set this up initially in 2016, and

It was really awesome to go through it and

there were multiple places that were just not

see where there were things that, in the book, I

interested in doing a limited series, even. It just

thought wouldn’t work as well in this medium,

wasn’t a thing. Now, four years on, there are so

or things in the periphery of the book that either

many limited series, and I think it’s where some

myself or someone else in the room realized

of the most interesting work is being done. I

would work extremely well in this medium. I think

mean, even something like The Crown, which

it was the earliest stage of us understanding

is technically not a limited series, feels like the

that this wouldn’t be a fact-based adaptation

next iteration of one; a limited series of multiple

but a truth-based one. Our Beale Street adap-

seasons, rather than a traditional series.

tation is much more fact-based by comparison. And figuring out that line was really great. Some of the best ideas in the show, as far as

THE LONGEST JOURNEY

Above, from top: Shiela Atim as Cora's mother Mabel; Chase Dillon as Homer with Joel Edgerton as Ridgeway; and Aaron Pierre as Caesar.

32

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

Delineations like that feel like they’re evaporating faster than we even know how

the departures from the book, were absolutely

to embrace that freedom. Within the form

not mine. There’s a young woman named Allison

and between the mediums. Small Axe, this

Davis, who was a friend of mine I knew in the

year, is a series of movies.

Bay Area. It was her first time in a writers’ room,

Small Axe is such a great example. The organizing

and she’s gone on now and done something like

principle for that series, to me, is just this idea

four other writers’ rooms since we finished and

of truthfulness, taking a truthful approach to

had multiple shows on the air. And all the stuff

representing and honoring his ancestors. It’s

in Tennessee, we were just sitting there one day,

such a simple, refined and gorgeous way to


me with a certain language, I’ll read the first 30 pages. I sat down at about 11:30 at night to read the first 30 pages in bed. And two hours later, I had finished the whole script and I thought, Oh, shit, this is actually pretty good. Two things happened. One was, I asked myself, why did I say it was actually pretty good? Why am I already placing limitations on my connection to this material, or my appropriateness for it? OK, cool. I’ve got to destroy that part of my brain because it has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with what’s outside me. And then, two, as a visual storyteller, I’m obsessed with this whole new aspect to the medium with this CG imagery. I stress-tested it. I sent it to my closest collaborators, and I said, “Am I crazy?” James [Laxton] was like, “No, you’re not crazy, this is fucking awesome.” He goes, “Look, if you plan

BREAKING OUT

From left: Caesar and Cora; Cora escapes the plantation.

to only make these films for the next 20 years, I want no part of it. But if we can go do this, and then get back to doing the shit that we normally do, that sounds awesome.” So, I went back to Disney and we had some

approach the creation of anything. But the idea

imaginable. And yet, I also understood that

talks and I told them—just like I said when we

that this is a frame within which these very

because of the intrinsic power of some of these

started The Underground Railroad—“There’s

disparate plots and stories can be told, they’re

images it would be irresponsible of me, espe-

going to be big action sequences. Nobody

united through truth and perspective, and they

cially knowing the duration of the show, to cre-

is going to come in and direct these action

are films, absolutely.

ate an extremely captive experience. When you

sequences. It’s got to be done in the same

walk into a movie, you surrender yourself. You

aesthetic as the rest of the show.” And they said,

approaches? The shows are united, in the sense

gotta turn your phone off and all those things.

“Of course.” So, I said, “Disney, there might be

that their creators have very specific goals and

But I think it’s important, as far as this show is

lions staring directly into the camera… are you

idiosyncratic approaches, and I think they’re

concerned, to empower the viewer. If there are

OK with that?” They said yes [laughs]. I swear,

taking truth-based approaches to their art. But

certain things that you’re uncomfortable with,

that’s a true story. So, that was pretty cool.

otherwise, how do you define them? And really,

or if you want to watch it and talk about it with

I don’t know that it matters. I think what’s really

someone who makes you feel comfortable, that

too, and this wasn’t the driver, but there was

wonderful is how streaming has opened a whole

power is in your hands.

a thought in my mind. I remember when Ava

How do you compare all these different

new portal up. I probably couldn’t have made

Now, the sacrifice for that is, these images

And then there was one other aspect of it

[DuVernay] did A Wrinkle in Time, that was a

this show in this way five years ago. 10 years ago,

I know can withstand projection on a large

really big deal. Now, so many women, and so

I absolutely couldn’t have. It’s a really beautiful

screen, they’re not getting that. But I have the

many women of color, are directing films at that

time to be creative.

freedom and the privilege to negotiate that

scale. There’s been like five movies made in this

space and to decide, OK, this piece of art I’m

style that these Lion King movies are made.

creating, this is where it needs to live.

But, after we’re done, no one is going to be able

And I’m probably right in guessing that you can express this while still being a

to say, “I don’t know if the director of the $1.5

passionate advocate for the big screen

I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence as a

million urban film can go direct…” No. You can’t

experience. That these two ideas—cinema

Deadline reporter if I didn’t ask you about

say that anymore. Again, that wasn’t the driver,

and the streaming world—don’t need to be

an upcoming project that has me intrigued.

but it’s definitely a part of it.

in competition with one another.

You signed on to direct a prequel to the

Yeah, but I get it. The audience’s skepticism,

CG-animated Lion King movie, and people

excited, man. We’re doing some really cool shit. I

cinema lovers’ skepticism, I absolutely get it.

scratched their heads. It’s so unlike any-

mean, you’ve seen this show. Imagine that same

It’s why I do my best never to reply to people on

thing that you’ve made before. What was

aesthetic applied to virtual lions, and there you

social media who respond to any of things I’m

the draw for you?

have it.

doing with negative energy. Because I know that

Part of the draw was the script, which com-

their response is about much more than me. It’s

pletely took me by surprise. Even when it was

their heads? There were others saying, “Oh, so

about all these things we hold sacred, and it’s

sent to me, I wasn’t sure exactly what it would

this guy goes from winning an Oscar to making

about wanting to protect them.

be until I’d opened it. I grew up watching the first

television? What the hell is up with that?” I will

animated film. I had two nephews that I used to

say this: it’s lonely out there, man. Maybe one

television, at the very least as an exhibition

babysit all the time, and we watched that damn

day I will conform to expectations and just start

medium, is really, really important. I talk about

movie at least 500 times, over the course of

directing all the shit that people want me to

this show, and there are images that I so wish

about 18 months, on VHS. So, I had a relationship

direct. But, for right now, that’s just not the way.

could be projected onto the largest screen

with it, and I was curious. When things come to

It’s not the way. ★

I think the distinction between cinema and

34

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

So, yeah, we’re going down the road, and I’m

And you know what, those people scratching


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Em my P re v ie w 202 1

Cristin Milioti In HBO Max’s Made for Love, the actress inhabits the ultimate toxic modern relationship B Y A N T H O N Y D ’A L E S S A N D R O

Whether it’s an obsessive software developer boss trapping her in a virtual game (Black Mirror), or an overbearing doorman who gets in the way of her love life (Modern Love), Cristin Milioti has some experience examining toxic relationships in her work. Her latest, the HBO Max comedy series Made for Love, sees her playing Hazel Green, wife to tech billionaire Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen). Life appears perfect, except Byron has inserted spyware in her head. Will her deadbeat dad (Ray Romano) and Diane, his synthetic sex doll, be able to save her? Here, Milioti talks Elon Musk, Scorsese, and the fractured parent-child relationship. 36 M // A 6 DDEEAADDLLI INNEE. .CC OO M AW WAARRDDSSLLI INNE E

TECH HEAD Cristin Milioti as Hazel Green in Made For Love, a woman on the run from the husband who implanted a chip in her brain.

COU RT ESY OF H BO M AX


Isn’t it embarrassing that we take out ads begging for consideration?

WEEKNIGHTS 11:35|10:35c


In many ways Hazel feels like a

world—but couples in the public eye

It’s quite a milestone in a young

soul sister to Nanette Cole, your

where I sensed they were in two dif-

actor’s career to nab a role in a

Black Mirror character. Both are

ferent realities. I tried to study their

Martin Scorsese film—The Wolf

trying to flee, and are set on

body language.

of Wall Street. Looking back,

outsmarting domineering men.

One of my favorite things we

When you read Made for Love for

got to do in the show was when

the first time, did that resonate

Dateline comes to interview us as a

with you?

couple. We were really able to show,

Not even remotely did it cross my

even though one may not be able

mind. It was brought to my attention

to put their finger on it when you’re

later when I started doing press for

watching, that these two people are

Made for Love, when people brought

in such stark realities. She is com-

up the parallels that both stories are

pletely cut off from herself, and he

about a woman trying to escape a

thinks everything’s fine, and she is

man and the reality that he’s forced

just grinning and bearing it, and cer-

upon her. But, to me Hazel and

tainly that video of Elon Musk and

Nanette are such wildly different

his wife was very helpful with that.

people, and that’s all I could see. When I’m trying to decide

Did you know in advance how

She is completely cut off from herself, and he thinks everything’s fine, and she is just grinning and bearing it, and certainly that video of Elon Musk and his wife was very helpful with that.

what were some of your most memorable takeaways? When I got that role, it was like one of those phone calls where you pinch yourself. It’s a crazy phone call to get. I tested with Leonardo DiCaprio and [Scorsese] in a room in midtown, and it had been such an out-of-body experience. Something I learned on that set is that Scorsese creates such an environment of freedom, and in fact, if I have one regret about that experience it’s that I didn’t pick up on that sooner. I think I was so

whether to do something, I weigh a

Season 1 would end?

lot of factors, such as the material,

From when I signed on, I always

who the people are that I’m working

knew that the eventual plan for

with, but I also always try to find the

the end of Season 1 was that she

people that I’m going to play. I want

returned, and it had also been that

them to be really different. Nanette

it was going to be something to do

always felt really grounded to me,

with her father Herbert, and that it

whereas with Hazel, there’s the fact

ended with her literally reentering

that she has no idea what she’s feel-

[the marital home] The Hub. I just

ing and that she doesn’t think before

didn’t know the ins and outs of how

she acts. With Nanette, I always felt

we were going to get there, but I was

like she was such a giant brain and

always intrigued by that because it’s

was able to completely outsmart

devastating and also very human.

this guy. Hazel is, I don’t know, Hazel

There was something to me about

is cut off from herself. There’s some-

this continuing cycle of imprisoning

find it together as a group of actors

thing about rediscovering herself,

her without her consent.

with this brilliant director. It’s a

and I think also because I was really

afraid of failing everyone because I’d just never been a part of a movie that big. The first couple things I shot, I look back now and I’m like, “Oh, I wish I’d known that I was in such a safe space to experiment,” and then I figured that out, and then it was amazing because he really is there to get the scene. And this is where too, when you work with someone like that, studios give him the time. I have not experienced that since, the amount of time we could take with a scene to

dream, I miss that.

drawn to the relationship between

I understand there was clever,

her and her estranged father. That

impromptu decision made by

That scene when I find them in the

was also a big centerpiece of it

you to take Byron’s hand in the

car outside of our apartment, we

for me where I was like, oh, wow, I

final shot.

filmed that one scene for 16 hours.

haven’t seen this: two people who

I remember that we tried a bunch

Just one scene, which is unheard

are so similar trying to navigate their

of different things, but there was

of. We did it all night long, and we

fractured parent-child relationship.

something that we all agreed on.

did it 50 times, from all these dif-

I think we did a couple takes of

ferent angles. We really explored it

Made for Love EP Christina Lee

him taking my hand, and then we

and took it apart. He also isn’t pre-

mentioned that there’s a video

were like, “Oh, that feels too on

cious about dialogue. He’s like, “Go

interview between Elon Musk

the nose.” There’s something even

with your gut.”

and his then-wife Talulah Riley

more devastating about her just

which served as some influence

slipping right back into that, right?

feel a little compartmentalized

in the set-up between Hazel and

And it’s devastating, and it also is

because of just the way things are

Byron. Essentially that interview

complex because you’re like, “Well,

edited. We just need this angle,

shows how two people, who are

she’s the one that reaches out.” It’s

then this angle, and then just this

sitting next to each other, are

not like she’s being led back in like

one action sequence is actually six

experiencing two different reali-

a dog on a leash or something. She

different setups of things that are

ties. What were your takeaways

is also complicit in this return, and

20 seconds long. It can feel a little

after watching it?

it was a bit out of her hands, and

disjointed, and that experience felt

I definitely saw that specific one,

it’s just like there’s so many colors

very much like I was just allowed

and then I also watched a lot of

there, and I get really, for lack of a

to let loose. It was great, it was an

footage of—I don’t want to say who

better term, jazzed by ambiguous

honor, and I hope I can work with

because they’re still around in the

moments like that.

him again. ★

38 M // A 6 DDEEAADDLLIINNEE..CC OO M AW WAARRDDSSLLI N I NE E

We would try it every single way.

Sometimes on camera it can


IN ALL CATEGORIES INCLUDING

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E m m y P re v i e w 2 02 1

The Welsh star of HBO’s Perry Mason, talks rotary phones, trilby hats and Season 2 B Y M AT T C A R E Y

Matthew Rhys won the first Emmy of his career for his lead performance in The Americans, a drama set in 1980s D.C. He dialed back to an even earlier era for the latest role to put him into Emmy contention, as the titular character of the reimagined Perry Mason. The HBO series finds Mason in Depression-era Los Angeles, working unsavory cases as a private eye, well before achieving status as a crackerjack defense attorney. The show earned stellar ratings, prompting HBO to order a second season. As Rhys looks forward to resuming production, he discusses Mason, speaking Welsh to his son, and sprouting a lush beard.

40

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

probably offend a great number of

were when you first saw the origi-

people. But on the same hand, it may

nal Perry Mason TV series? Was

also engage an entirely new audience,

it when you were growing up in

as to who this loved TV character is.

Wales? I’d say it’s like a number of classic

How would you describe your

television series, it’s like Columbo

Perry Mason, how you saw him?

or Matlock. You’re very aware that

When I first read the first episode I

you’ve seen them, and then you’re

became excited, like a young, giddy

like, I have no idea when the first one

schoolboy. The reason I got into

was or how old I was or where I was

acting was to live out a number of

standing… It’s like the Rock of Ages.

these fantasies of kind of a Raymond

It’s been around.

Chandler or James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, old school movie stars.

You must have felt some trepi-

And I was like, Oh, I’m going to get my

dation about taking on such an

opportunity to play out those fanta-

iconic character.

sies now. I get to play the fedora and

When I went into the pitch, the pro-

smoke a cigarette and have a witty

ducers were like, “It’s for Perry Mason.”

parting one-liner, as I flick the ciga-

And I was like, “Oh, should you touch

rette. All these things. I got excited

Perry Mason?” But right from the get-

by that, but most of all, the script

go they said, “This is a reimagining.

drew me in enormously. It was a real

We’re not remaking, and these are

page-turner. I’m sorry to use a cliché,

the things we want to do with it. And

but it really was. I wanted to know

here’s why,” and that kind of buoyed

who is behind this. It struck several

me with more confidence to go, OK,

chords for me, so I was really in from

this will be our own original take. We’ll

the get-go.

COU RT ESY OF H BO

Matthew Rhys

Do you remember how old you


Setting modesty aside, why do you think the executive producing team, including Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey, chose you for the part? I truly think that’s a question for them, because I don’t know. Did they watch The Americans? Philip Jennings [in The Americans] was a number of things that I think Perry is too. He’s incredibly troubled by his past, Perry is, Philip was. So, I wonder if they saw The Americans and went, “There’s a lot of similarities there.” I saw Perry straightaway, their version of him, as more of a loner, because he’s an outsider. So, there are certain similar characteristics and traits. A number of pieces you’ve done are set in some earlier era. Do you sometimes think you were born at the wrong time?

On an episode of Live with Kelly

One of the pleasures of the

I do think that. I think I’m in far too

and Ryan you talked about your

series is seeing the city in this

modern an age. As we’ve begun our

son learning Welsh. How’s he doing

earlier time, almost 100 years

conversation, it’s kind of galloping

in his progress with the Welsh

ago. I know you shot some

language?

scenes at the Angels Flight

I only speak to him in Welsh, and he

funicular railway downtown.

understands everything I say. He’ll

It’s the original—I mean, heavily

always answer me in English. He’ll

green screened, because you’re

pepper a few words sometimes

surrounded by modernity now. We

in Welsh, I think just to please me.

used the original car and track, but

But he’s very clear about his Dada’s

we basically banked either side by

language and then there’s Mama’s

green screen.

this kind of charge of technology to me is depressing [laughs]. There are many times I wish I’d lived in a simpler age. I mean, just a couple of decades—in the ’70s would do it. Just landlines. That’s all you need. Not even the answering machine, just the landline. That’s it. Imagine that. Well, I grew up in a time of rotary phones.

The reason I got into acting was to live out a number of these fantasies of kind of a Raymond Chandler or James Cagney.

language. So, he knows very clearly about whose is whose.

Where do you see the character of Perry Mason going, now that

In the Perry Mason off season you

you have a second season?

are sporting a full beard, as you

I’m yet to be a party to the big

did in your unscripted TV series

conversation, because I know

with Matthew Goode, The Wine

they’re busy working on it. It’s kind

Show. I feel like if left to your own

of great, because at the end of

devices your beard might be down

Season 1, Perry begins an entirely

to your knees.

new chapter in his life. Yes, you are

I would love nothing more than to tie

picking up where you left off, to a

You grew up speaking Welsh—do

a knot in my beard at the beginning of

degree, but you’re also beginning

you think speaking two lan-

the day.

something completely new and

So did I. I remember showing the kids on The Americans, the two who played our kids, how to use a rotary phone. They were like, “What is this?” Many of the parts you’ve played require doing an American accent.

guages makes you more attuned

different. Being the person he is,

to speech so that you can adopt

Season 2 of Perry Mason, when will

experiencing the judicial system

accents more readily?

production start up? Do you know

and its obstacles, I think will be very

I’m not sure. I know the Welsh lan-

yet?

interesting.

guage is a very muscular language. So,

That’s an ever-moving set of

I think that’s a great help in the kind

goalposts. It’s been moving steadily

How proud are you of the show?

of acrobatics sometimes you have to

like an iceberg for some time. And I

Incredibly proud. I was incredibly

do inside your mouth. But I think more

think we’re just basically looking at

fortunate that I was asked if I

so my parents are very musical, and I

winter now.

wanted to produce, and I leapt at

think it’s the hearing of a sound that

the chance. And it was humbling

helps me, possibly more than anything

Will you shoot that in LA again?

and eye-opening and exciting to

else. I think I would attribute that to

We will. Yes, we’ll be back among the

be part of the decision-making

being a great help to me.

angels.

processes of every element. ★

42

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

COU RT ESY OF H BO

past me now, with a sense of dread—


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E m m y P re v i e w 2 02 1

STAR TURN Katori Hall, playwright, creator, showrunner and EP of Starz's hit show P-Valley.

Katori Hall The creator, showrunner and EP on P-Valley’s success, her Lionsgate Deal and how she’s zeroing in on potential and promise

critical success, but a commercial one too—what have you made of the huge response? Because I grew up knowing that this culture was important and valid, I

BY NADIA NEOPHY TOU

The show has not only been a

knew that there was an audience for it. And it’s so funny, I would kid to the executives, “Yeah, the number’s

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going to be like 10 million, 20 million.” And they were like, “Girl, those are Super Bowl numbers, be quiet.” But then, boom, I was, like, “Nine million, good, for the first season.” It came out of nowhere for a lot of them, just because they weren’t so connected to the world of strip club culture. And

D I AN E Z H AO

Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, playing sports and running track with her sisters, sowed in Katori Hall the seeds of respect she holds today for women who strip—a respect that runs through her debut series P-Valley. Created from her play, Pussy Valley, the show focuses on the staff of a strip club in the Mississippi Delta, and set a record on the Starz app for the most-viewed series premiere. It also ranked as one of the top five programs in Black households. The series was renewed for a second season, while Hall herself landed an overall deal with Lionsgate.


so, it was one of those things where it

I just remember having conversa-

was kind of a surprise. But I love being

tions four and five times with certain

I know a lot of people are like,

the underdog. I love it, I cherish it,

women, in order to dig in to the truth

“When I watch the show, I got to

because then you get to kind of laugh

as to why they chose to dance. Or,

put on the closed captions,” and I’m

in people’s faces.

how the dance chose them, and to find out those stories as well.

The show reminds us of the sheer

So yeah, very grateful, even

athleticism of pole dancing and

though, when you’re going through it,

stripping—when did decide you

you’re like, “Oh my God, can this suc-

wanted to include that factor?

cess hurry up? Oh my God, where is

Oh, that’s interesting. I grew up doing

it? I’m tired.” But it all paid off, I think.

a lot of sports. So, I did cheerlead-

I’d like to still enjoy it while I’m young.

ing, I did dance, I did track. I even did race walking. And, my sisters were

One of the trademarks of your

athletes, they were both track run-

work is the language that you

ners. So very early on, I understood

use as a tribute to your Southern

that a woman’s body, particularly a

roots. Did that have to change at

Black woman’s body, was capable of

all, in transferring the story from a

so much.

play into a TV series?

I remember, especially when we

There wasn’t a change. Like you said,

continue to be shown to the world.

The hallmark of the Katori Hall universe is there's going to be a kind of ‘slanguage’. There's going to be an embrace of an accent, an embrace of a dialect.

like, “But that’s cool.” I feel that way when I’m watching some Irish stuff or there’s some British that I’m like, “This Cockney is not settling in my ear well.” So, I think language sometimes is a portal into a whole other world, and I was really happy that I was able to keep that part of my work intact. You also worked to make sure that the writers’ room is inclusive — how hard was that? For me, I think I center promise over credit. I center potential. And so, I was in that same position. I never had run a show, and I had only staffed once.

were in our early track days, we would

the hallmark of the Katori Hall uni-

love to look at Flo-Jo and her femi-

verse is that there’s going to be a kind

ninity, right? The nails, and her hair

of ‘slanguage’. There’s going to be an

was always done, and she had her

embrace of accent, an embrace of

makeup, and then her outfit. And so,

dialect, an embracing of slang. I talk

I just grew up with this image of there

like that anyway. And so, it was just

not being a division between strength

this direct reflection of my tongue,

and beauty, or strength and feminin-

and the tongue of my family, and the

an endeavor and a masterclass in

ity. When I would go into strip clubs

tongue of my ancestors, all kind of

risk and chance, when you are pull-

and see these athletic feats that the

mixed into this pot.

ing together people who are all

women were doing, it was no surprise

In theater, they loved, as I call it,

But Starz saw the promise of me. And so I had to, if I was going to do this right and authentically, find people who had a particular lived experience. And oftentimes, those people don’t get staffed on shows. They’re not showrunners. So, it feels like

first-timers.

to me. It was like, “Oh, of course.”

this ‘Shake-a-spur-esque,’ way of

They can be sexual and sensual, and

street language, because theater is

like, I’m a first-time showrunner, and

still be powerful, up on that pole. And

so language-driven. And what I loved

Karena Evans was a first-time pilot

I even tried pole dancing; I went to

is that I was really able to keep all of

director—that was her first foray into

some classes. So yeah, for me, it’s

that intact as we shifted into TV.

narrative. We had a first-time line

always been a part of just the way I

I will say, the reaction sometimes,

I remember our first season, it was

producer. It was so many people’s

live my life; understanding the things

though, it was like, “Oh my God, this

first times, but because it was our

that my body can do, it’s so amazing.

is, like, too true, this is too authentic,”

first time, we didn’t know ‘the rules’.

I can create life, I can give birth. I can

in terms of the language. But I think

And so, we created our own rules,

change the world with my body.

the more the audience’s ears get

even though obviously, there was a

attuned to the Chucalissa sound,

huge learning curve. Don’t get me

Didn’t you spend your 30 birth-

I think people will begin to realize,

wrong. I really think that there’s so

day at a strip club, as well? And

that if they opened their ears a little

much promise, there’s so much

in a way, that foreshadowed how

bit more, there are people all around

potential. And you just have to take

this would become such a big part

them that actually speak in that way.

a huge leap of faith, because I know

of the next 10 years.

And so, by us putting it on this pre-

that’s what has happened to me, my

It’s been an odyssey. That was around

mium cable platform and saying that

entire life.

the time I was doing the really heavy

it’s a worthy form of communication,

research, and went to over 40 clubs.

a valid form of communication, I think

And now, after all the success of

I was just really grateful that I was

it will probably begin to break down

Season 1, you’re going into the

able to really take my time and dig

those assumptions about people

second season of the show as

in. Sometimes you just need time to

who speak this way. They’re not

second-timers.

get to the truth, because oftentimes

dumb, they’re not uneducated, they

I know, I know. And it’s like the first

there’s this façade that people will

just have this beautiful, poetic, lyrical

time. I’m like, “Oh my God, I didn’t

put up.

way of speaking that I think needs to

learn my lesson.” ★

th

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E m m y P re v i e w 2 02 1

RENEGADE MASTER Aldis Hodge stars as Assistant District Attorney DeCourcy Ward in City on a Hill.

Aldis Hodge The City on a Hill star on integrity, moral fiber, and how the show’s ’90s-era societal issues haven’t changed much

corruption—a lot of stuff that we’re thinking about and talking about now more than ever—what

the script? Well, there’s a different sort of responsibility in a way that hits me

Aldis Hodge is on a roll. Following the Oscar-nominated One Night in Miami, there’s the upcoming superhero film Black Adam, a revival of TNT’s television series Leverage, and so much more. Right now, he’s killing it as Assistant District Attorney DeCourcy Ward in Showtime’s City on a Hill. Executive produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the police and law procedural follows Ward’s attempts to clean up corruption in ’90s Boston, as exemplified by Kevin Bacon’s thoroughly bent cop Jackie Rohr. 48

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

personally when it comes to dealing with projects that touch on this subject matter. My primary goal is to touch on the subject matter appropriately. And with a degree of sensitivity towards the people that are going to be primarily affected, which

FRA NC I SCO RO M AN /S HOW T I M E

extreme racism, police brutality,

did you think when you first read

B Y A N T O N I A B LY T H

City on a Hill has some pretty


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is the Black community, so there has

Something that really strikes me

Obviously, you’re not face-to-

to be a voice of authenticity behind

about this show is I keep forget-

face with Kevin’s character all

that. When I first read the script, I

ting it’s set the ’90s, not the

the time, but you guys play two

noticed areas where I felt like I could

present day. Does it seem that

sides of a coin—if DeCourcy is

be effective in helping to mold that

way to you?

narrative with certain points when it

Yes, indeed. What I continually dis-

came to Black culture, and the per-

cuss with the team in terms of how

spective of Black community in the

we approach certain subjects is, I

show. And I was just lucky enough

say, “Guys, we have to realize what

that when I spoke to the creator,

we’re talking about here and now,

Chuck MacLean, and the director of

is still happening today. The only

the episode, and executive producer,

thing that’s really changed is the

Michael Cuesta, and I said, “Guys,

technology.”

here are some of the changes I think

But it’s frustrating how we’re

we should consider making, and this

continually treated, how the law

is why. This is how it will be taken in

continues to work against Black and

terms of the show overall, things that

brown people, how we’re dealing

we want to consider, and how we’re

with police relationships and the

perceived, we might want to look at

abuse of power with certain people,

it this way.” They really opened the

the use of power with certain people,

door to listening to me.

and how there are others who are

That, honestly, is what sold me

trying to change the system. It’s all

on stepping into the show because

still happening today… It’s some-

I knew the show was written really

thing that would have progressed far

well; Chuck MacLean does a fan-

more, but there’s a reason it has not

tastic job, he’s a great writer. But I

progressed in favor of the underdog,

look at a show like, “Alright, five or

and that’s what we have to keep

six years into this, am I going to be

talking about. That’s what DeCourcy

happy going to work on a regular

continues to fight for in the show,

basis? Will I be able to have a stance

because he himself is the underdog.

to be a part of the team, have a say,

It’s frustrating how we’re continually treated, how the law continues to work against Black and brown people, how we’re dealing with the abuse of power.

good, then Jackie is for sure evil. Yeah. I feel like, in truth, there’s always a little bit of good and bad in everybody. It’s a little bit harder to see with somebody like Jackie, but I like the fact that they balance each other out. I think, personally, I’ve always envisioned these two men as being cut from a similar cloth, but they just execute very differently… They’re both two really big beasts; two titans in a ring, sparring and duking it out. That’s why there’s a sense of understanding. They don’t trust each other, but I think there’s a level of respect, to a certain degree. That’s the fun of being able to knock out these characters. I love the way Kevin has built out Jackie Rohr. I also love Decourcy’s relationship with Siobhan (Lauren E. Banks)—what did you draw on to create their dynamic? My sense of the relationship there is, they’re different people, but what does a home and family life look like

be able to really contribute?” And I

DeCourcy is a man with such

for two Black people, especially in

knew that before we even signed the

integrity that even when his wife

this particular time and how they’ve

deal. That was our first conversation

gets shot he won’t let Jackie hurt

managed their relationship along

about culture, about certain things,

the shooter—his moral compass

with their contrasting careers, that

how they’re taken, and my rela-

seems unshakeable.

sometimes pit them against each

tionship with my wife in the show.

Yeah. He’s earnest and raw about

other. Can they still manage their

They really did allow me to have a

what his moral compass actually is.

careers, but put their relationship

voice, which is what made me feel

Now, how he executes his agenda…

above their careers and respect one

comfortable.

He tries to maintain who he is as

another? Put the relationship above

much as possible without letting

the impatience of the goal of the

touching on subject matters like

his environment change him, but

career at the end of the day. That’s

this, when it comes to projects, the

when you’re swimming with sharks,

something we worked on.

door should always be open to those

sometimes you got to be a shark,

who are affected most deeply, most

and that’s the deciding factor. That’s

when it comes to their relation-

immediately, and most personally,

tough for him, because he doesn’t

ship, and when it comes to Siobhan

because we are the ones with the

want to lose who he is, he doesn’t

and how she’s perceived as a Black

honest perspective on how we view

want to play this game and to win it.

woman, because she’s the only

it, how we handle it. And I think also

He wants to beat them at their own

one on the show. So, we’re going

how we can get through it and chal-

game his own way, by maintaining

to have to put her out there. We

lenge it.

who he is, because at the end of the

know that she’s representing the

day, if he becomes them—if he starts

Black female audience. I want them

greater degree of honest perspective

being devious and malicious just to

to have someone to look to that

because it’s a daily lived experience,

win the war—then he’s actually lost

they’re proud of when they watch

and they respected that.

everything. Now, he’s like them.

the show. ★

Generally, when it comes to

We’re always going to have a far

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I’ve been very active and vocal


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UNFORGETTABLE.

A LIFETIME ® ORIGINAL MOVIE

STARRING

DANIELLE BROOKS

N


The

Partnership No.8

In Rebel, creator Krista Vernoff has finally found a winning combination of a compelling central character, loosely inspired by activist Erin Brockovich, with lead actress Katey Sagal, who seems like she was born to play the role of Annie ‘Rebel’ Bello. At times overbearing but always with the plight of the underdog at heart, Rebel takes on corporate, and sometimes individual, injustices while trying to juggle a messy personal life filled with ex-husbands and frustrated children. With a strong all-star cast, including Andy Garcia, John Corbett and Mary McDonnell, the series manages to bring these elements together for a fast-paced, entertaining narrative fitting perfectly into ABC’s powerhouse Thursday night lineup of Grey’s Anatomy and Vernoff’s other showrunner gig, Station 19. In conversation with Stevie Wong, Sagal and Brockovich discuss the bringing together of Rebel and what a great adventure it’s been from the very start. 52

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A BC/ PA M EL A LI T T KY

ERIN BROCKOVICH & KATEY SAGAL


p © Viacom International Inc.


The

Partnership

What was the initial conversation with Krista

about possible things that don’t happen. So you

her upbringing. I want to know where she came from,

Vernoff like about making Rebel into a series?

don’t really invest until it gets closer. And when ABC

what she was like as a little girl,” all the things that

Erin Brokovich: For me I didn’t come in with

called me and said, “Would you meet with Krista,”

I need to do as an actor to build a character. And I

expectations. I learned early on with the film, you can

who I knew from before, she pitched it to me, and

started asking you those questions. And then when

have these great conversations and ideas, but many

then sent me a script and it was just kind of undeni-

you went to the restroom Krista said, “We don’t need

times they don’t come to fruition. And so, when I met

able. And then when I had lunch with her and Erin, it

to know the childhood history, because we’re going

Krista, I became really excited but didn’t want to,

was like a sister talk. Even though I had a lot of faith

to be inspired by her life today.” So I made up my

because then I was like, “Oh, if this doesn’t happen,

in Krista, I was a little skeptical, because she runs two

own little story about why this person is the way she

I’m going to be so disappointed.”

other shows. So I was like, “Krista, can you do this?”

is. But definitely sitting there with Erin, her energy

And she was like, “A hundred percent.”

completely informs what I’m doing.

tion where we felt like soul sisters and understood

Brockovich: Yeah, that’s probably the one thing you

Brockovich: Well you know what I picked up on

the challenges that we’ve been through. I can’t speak

probably can’t do to Krista. Tell her she can’t!

really is the energy that I felt with Katey Sagal and

for Krista but, she made it pretty clear that she didn’t

Sagal: That’s right.

with Krista Vernoff, they just get it. And that’s what

Krista is just fabulous. We had this great connec-

think she could take on another project. But then

excites me about Rebel.

she decided to, and I was like, “Yes.” And imagine my

Katey, because Rebel is loosely based on Erin,

excitement when I heard that Katey Sagal was going

were you observing her during your meetings?

Erin, were you ever worried that the show was

to be involved. I dropped a bunch of F-bombs on

Sagal: Well, I don’t even know if Erin actually picked

going to expose too much of who you are now to

that one.

up on this, but I initially went in thinking, “OK, I want

the public?

Katey Sagal: I too have had many conversations

to know all about her history. I want to know about

Brockovich: Well, yeah. I don’t know if that exists

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A BC/ RAY M ON D L I U

POWER HOUSE Katey Sagal as Annie ‘Rebel’ Bello, a character loosely based on Erin Brockovich, with Andy Garcia as Julian Cruz, the lawyer for whom she consults.


© Viacom International Inc.


The

Partnership

for all of us. I just get into situations where you’re so

Sagal: Yeah, I haven’t really. I’ve played strong

where I look in at 200 frogs in green water and you’re

afraid of being vulnerable. This idea, that we’re just

women with conviction, like Gemma (Sons of

going to tell me that it’s normal and I’m like, “Bullshit.”

supposed to be perfect? I just get so frustrated that

Anarchy), who was an outlaw, would use a gun, and

Sagal: I mean, look at what we have just come out

I want to scream. But, so what? We make mistakes

was very secretive in her maneuvers. But I have never

of. There’s been a whole culture of people saying,

and we’re flawed, and we’re humans and life is

played somebody that is so inspired by what’s right,

“You do not see what you see,” and after a while,

messy. We are so afraid to show that, but we got to

at any means. She’s not always using the correct

people are going to start thinking they’re not seeing

drop that mask. Because I think when you’re real,

approach, she’s not afraid to be impolite or get in

what they’re seeing. But a character like Rebel, and of

somehow it’s easier and things change.

your face or push you harder. What’s most interesting

course Erin, is like, “No, don’t deny what it is that you

Sagal: I don’t think any of the subject matter we’ve

to me about Rebel, and what is most interesting that

are seeing. You are correct. This is wrong. Period.”

touched upon yet has been super autobiographical.

I think is also about Erin, is that they both empower

But I totally agree with Erin, I believe we all have a

people to stand up for themselves, because we can

What is fascinating about Rebel is that she’s so

shadow side and at a certain point showing that

do a lot when it’s more than just one person.

passionate and successful fighting corporate injustice, but sometimes to the detriment of

humanity is what opens the door for ourselves and allows for other people to show their humanity too.

Erin, when you watch a performance like that,

her family life.

how do you feel?

Sagal: I think a lot of that’s a testament to Krista.

Katey, is it true that you think that Rebel is like

Brockovich: God, I love this Rebel! Rebel will just tell

For me, it was very fascinating to play a woman that

no other character you’ve played before?

you, in straight-on, simple language. It’s the moment

has a big work life and also a big family life. Because

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X X X X X XX X X X X

LIFELINE Sagal as Rebel (left) with Mary McDonnell as Helen and Daniella Garcia as Maddie.


© Viacom International Inc.


The

Partnership

LAW CONFERENCE Rebel confronts her daughter Cassidy (Lex Scott Davis) while Cassidy’s aunt Lana (Tamala Jones) looks on.

that is a juggle. I know I do that juggle, and I know a

family, I want you to run.”

I’m totally fine with that. I feel really happy and proud

lot of women that do that juggle, and we don’t do it

Sagal: That is so, so true. What’s interesting about

that I’m getting to play a woman that is this age

perfectly. And shit happens. Children struggle and

Rebel is that as much as her kids have griped about

and is vital, is funny, is sexy and smart. I have a lot of

they will feel neglected through some of that. So in

being neglected, both her eldest son and middle

girlfriends my age who embody these qualities. So

the show, you see the repercussions of a woman try-

daughter go into service work. They both wear that

I’m hoping that the trope changes of older women

ing to juggle all the balls in the air. Something’s bound

stamp of helping other people by being a doctor

not being able to lead the charge. I think that this is a

to bounce, right?

and a lawyer. So that is the real testament to her

step in the right direction.

Brockovich: It is a struggle. I’ve had a recent con-

parenting, that a woman that fights the good fight

Brockovich: I totally hear all that. It is kudos to

versation with my own daughter. Somebody asked

and isn’t home for dinner every night, ends up having

Krista. I mean, I know more hot, awesome, strong,

her if she felt like she’d missed out on something.

children who are also fighting the good fight. That’s

can kick your butt, outrun you, out-think you, out-

And she goes, “Well, I missed my mom, but this is my

a cool thing.

march you, women around my age. And you’re going to define it, and put us in a box because of our age?

and she’s just going to go with it. She’s laser focused

It’s a real testament to the times that we have a

that way.”

primetime series created for a female lead with

It’s like, “Yeah, no.” Look, I began my work in advocacy when I was 30.

no special reference to her age.

I’m going to be 61 in June and I’m going to tell you, I

kids. But I was a single mom, and I had no child sup-

Sagal: It’s a testament to ABC to just say, “You know

could kick that 30-year-old’s butt. Because I have

port. And I had to fight for them, and get out there

what? We’re not going to cast a 45-year-old to play

more wisdom, more strength, more perseverance

and work, so they had food and shelter. I oftentimes

a 62-year-old.” Especially in the world we’re in now,

and more focus on my health. I can be 61, but my

felt really very guilty. So, it was a little bit of a relief

when you have so much conversation about diversity

body feels 35.

for me to see that one of my children said, “I don’t

and equality. I think that ageism in women is another

fault you for that. I did miss you. But I know no one

one of those tropes that needs to be dispelled,

Katey, I read this really interesting quote about

is perfect.” And that’s the thing, that we set up this

because it’s just not true. Krista was worried that

how your career changed once you embraced

idea that it’s all perfect, when none of us are perfect.

Rebel’s age was going to be the biggest hurdle, and

the word ‘yes’. What changes did you see and

I told my kids, “If you meet perfect and normal, as a

it ended up not being that at all. I’m in my 60s and

can you talk about how saying ‘yes’ has helped

I’ve always felt the guilt of not being there with my

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A BC/ T E M M A H AN K IN

mom. She’s like a hound dog. She gets on a scent,


The

Partnership

LINEUP Lana and Rebel join forces with Professor Jason Erickson, played by Dan Bucatinsky.

you in your life generally?

was definitely an inward moment for myself. I was

was a hardworking job. Satisfying, absolutely. But

Sagal: Well the willingness to say yes, to me, is a

never going to know if I didn’t try. I learned that early

hardworking. And, I don’t know. I just kind of feel

sign of humility. The willingness to say yes, is that

on, with my dad, going to college. I was afraid to

like everybody does something. Everybody’s got

you’re opening yourself up to other opportunities

leave. He’s like, “Look, you could always come back.”

something special that they do, I just happen to

that may have not been your original plan. In my

And, it was opening a door. I don’t like to be in a box,

do this, and it doesn’t make me that different from

20s, I had a lot of plans about how I was going to

but at the same time, what was holding me back?

anybody else. I also understand the concept that,

live my life, and this is how it was going to go. And

My own definition of myself, or what others told me

I am not my job. What I do is fun, and I am grateful

only being humbled by certain circumstances in my

I would be. And I felt like I was just ripping all of that

enough to get to do it.

life, did I realize, “You know what? I make plans, God

off of me, and shedding those burdens by saying,

laughs at them, so I’m going to just open it all up.”

‘yes’ that it opened another opportunity.

How will Rebel progress if you make it to a

ties. Number one, just being an actor. People asked

Katey, you’ve has such a successful career but

family life in order?

me to come and audition for this or be on their TV

I always get the impression that you’re much

Brockovich: It would be so great if we get to do

show. And when, the minute I started to say yes,

more focused on being a working actor than on

another season. Listen, life is a continuum, and

and not have to have my idea of how things were

being a celebrity.

things are always unfolding and changing and

going, things just opened up. And I try to live my life

Sagal: Well, yeah, I’m a working actor, and I have

happening. So I believe Rebel will be constantly

that way, now. I try to keep an open mind. I try to

no illusions about celebrity. I’m always incredibly

evolving.

remain humble to the fact that I don’t know, neces-

grateful that anyone ever asks me to do anything

Sagal: Krista with her great team of writers continu-

sarily, what’s right. And, it’s a great concept. It’s

and I really feel like I have been blessed with all

ously surprised me. It’s always sort of different than

helped me in a lot of things. It’s helped me with my

that opportunity. Some of it may come because I

where I think it’s going. So I think that, Season 2, if

parenting. It’s helping me with my work. It’s helped

grew up in this industry. I grew up having parents

we’re lucky enough to get all that will just be more of

me as a person.

that did this, and all I ever saw was my dad coming

the unexpected twists and turns, which makes for

Has saying yes to things, served you also Erin?

home after directing episodic television. And

really interesting entertainment. Rebel will probably

Brockovich: Yeah, absolutely. For me, saying ‘yes’

there was nothing super glamorous about it. It

not learn any lessons though [laughs]. ★

60

D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

A BC/ K AR E N BA LL AR D

Season 2? Will she finally be able to get her

And so, I started saying yes to certain opportuni-


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