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JUNE 2, 2021 | EMMY PREVIEW/COMEDY

Desus & Mero and Ziwe are ripping up the rules of late-night and sketch comedy, bringing fresh audiences with them


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FIRST TAKE Jean Smart takes the lead she’s long deserved as powerhouse Vegas comic Deborah Vance in Hacks On My Screen: Home Economics’ Topher Grace reveals his favorite TV and film memories, plus a penchant for karaoke From Demi Lovato to Paris Hilton—the emerging trend of the confessional doc

24

ON THE COVER How Desus & Mero and their protégée Ziwe reshaped the late-night landscape

34

THE DIALOGUE Renée Elise Goldsberry Michiel Huisman Juno Temple Rob McElhenney

50

THE PARTNERSHIP Cobra Kai’s William Zabka and Ralph Macchio dig into the decades-later resurrection of their Karate Kid characters

ON THE COVER Desus, Mero and Ziwe photographed exclusively for Deadline by Andrew Zaeh ON THIS PAGE Renée Elise Goldsberry photographed by Pari Dukovic/Peacock


IN ALL CATEGORIES INCLUDING

TV Guide

OUTSTANDING DOCUMENTARY OR NONFICTION SERIES

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OUTSTANDING HOSTED REALITY OR NONFICTION SERIES

To watch Emmy®-eligible programs from STARZ, visit WWW.STARZFYC.COM and use the password StarzFyc2021 to access all episodes. EXPIRES 8/31/21 Starz and related service marks are the property of Starz Entertainment, LLC. Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult © MMXX Lions Gate Television Inc. All rights reserved. Men In Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham © 2021 Sony Pictures Television Inc. All rights reserved. Emmy® is the trademarked property of ATAS/NATAS. All rights reserved. PBR-28917-21


Nicole Byer Nails It

p. 12

| On My Screen: Topher Grace p. 14 | True Confessions p. 18

Designing Jean With Hacks, Jean Smart elegantly skewers comedy, poignant storytelling and heartfelt humanity

COU RT ESY OF H BO M AX

BY ANTONIA BLYTH

4

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


SMART WOMAN Jean Smart as Deborah Vance in Hacks.

But Hacks is where she really gets to showcase her ability to balance the comedic with the tragic; belly laughs with perfectly-pitched pathos; wise-cracking warmth with wounded loneliness. As Deborah, Smart walks that line so elegantly, so subtly, we never notice her making the switch.

6

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

“Someone asked me recently, ‘How do you switch from comedy to drama

sell-by date. Enter Ava, played by Hannah Ein-

sometimes in the same character in

binder. A hip young writer sent by their

the same show?’” she says. “And I

shared agent to freshen up Deborah’s

guess my answer was basically that

material, Ava has fallen on hard times

that’s what life is… I’m prejudiced

after an ill-advised tweet met with

against people who don’t have a sense

cancel culture, and needs—but does

of humor. There are some people that

not want—to work with Deborah. And

just seem devoid of that. And I am not

Deborah resents an interloper in the

proud of the fact that I just don’t like

world she has fought and scratched

them, or at least I’m prejudiced against

to create for herself. The core of the

them. The most classic example being

show is the evolution of their connec-

our most recent president. I mean, it

tion, and how Deborah’s disappointed,

was almost to the point of being fas-

calcified heart slowly cracks open for

cinating, his complete lack of humor.

the awkward, recalcitrant Ava, whose

It’s such a joyous part of life, you know,

pretenses fall away in the face of

laughing and making people laugh. It’s

developing admiration for her mentor.

like sex.” Like Smart, Deborah is in her late

It’s the snap of Smart and Einbinder’s mutual humor that brings

60s. But unlike Smart, whose career

authentic life to Hacks. And Smart

these days only seems to soar higher,

pushed for Einbinder to be cast.

Deborah is facing the cancellation

“There was just something unique

of her Vegas show dates, her former

and quirky and unexpected about the

flame picking up with a 20-something

way she approached the [audition]

beauty, and the sense that her stand-

scene. I believed that she was a writer.

up material might have passed its

She just wasn’t a typical starlet. And

A NN E M A R IE FOX / H BO M AX

“THERE ISN’T LIGHT WITHOUT DARK, THERE ISN’T COMEDY WITHOUT TRAGEDY,” JEAN SMART SAYS, SITTING BACK IN HER PINK PAISLEY PRINT CHAIR. SHE’S TALKING ABOUT THE VAST VARIETY OF ROLES ON HER RESUME. LATELY, IN HACKS, SHE’S DEBORAH VANCE—A JOAN RIVERS-ESQUE VEGAS STAND-UP COMIC WITH A HOSTING SIDELINE ON QVC, AND IN MARE OF EASTTOWN, ANOTHER HBO SHOW, SHE’S HELEN FAHEY, THE FEISTY, BIGHEARTED MOM TO KATE WINSLET’S BELEAGUERED BLUE COLLAR COP.


VEGAS BABY Smart as Deborah Vance, in character as the stand-up whose dates are threatened.

she was just right there and she would

barely making rent. But you know,

characters. And I remember the

of like, ‘Oh dear. Well we know she’s

react to things in a very natural way,

when you’re young and single you

playwright, who was a gay woman,

good but yikes. What do we do with

a very immediate way. I was just very,

don’t care.”

said she couldn’t understand how I

her?’ You know what I mean?”

She credits her college acting

A year went by without so much as a meeting.

teacher Eve Roberts for reinforcing

had a relationship with a woman. And

echo of the teasing, punchy banter

that drive and self-belief. Roberts was,

I thought, I don’t understand that

between Deborah and Ava, Smart told

Smart says, “an incredible actress. She

because it’s like, how do you play a

nature of an acting career, the

Einbinder she had had a hand in the

was just remarkable.” Smart describes

serial killer? You’re not going to go out

way that acting ability can only be

deal—with a little added exaggeration.

once being given a seven-minute

and, you know...”

perceived subjectively. “That’s art, you

Once Einbinder had the part, in an

“I said, ‘I did go to bat for you. You

scene to do when Roberts knew there

After Smart’s television breakout

Smart muses on the capricious

know?” she says. “It’s not like being a

were only three minutes left in the

Designing Women, an enormous slew

professional athlete where if you are

producers that if they didn’t cast you

class. “I said, ‘Well, we’re not going to

of screen roles followed, from Emmy-

really, really good, you are going to be

I wasn’t going to do the show.’ And

go to be able finish the scene.’ And

winning turns on Frasier and Samantha

very successful. Did you put the ball

she said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘No. What, are

she just was like, ‘No, just start, just

Who? to her nominated guest role in

through the hoop or not? That’s got

you crazy?’ I almost didn’t tell her that

go ahead, just start.’ I was so furious. I

Harry’s Law. But then, after playing

to be very gratifying because pretty

story. I thought, Oh God, Jean, that’s

was so angry. And that was her lesson

crime matriarch Floyd Gerhardt in

much, if you are the best you’re going

just too mean. But I thought if she

in teaching me how to use what I was

Fargo, came a strange, fallow period.

to end up at the top of the heap.”

could stand it she’d survive.”

feeling in the scene. Because she said,

were my first choice. And I told the

Smart has always survived; has always been an actor all her life. No

‘You guys were never better.’” Despite that learning experience,

“Fargo was sort of a game-changer

She also believes there’s a general

in one sense,” she says. “The reviews

disrespect for actors and their art; a

were incredible; the ratings were

way that “infantilizes” actors. “Like

waiting tables, no side gigs, just acting.

Smart largely eschews method acting.

incredible. People just loved the show.

we’re all these overpaid babies [say-

Beginning in the theater, she got role

“I don’t think you necessarily have to

I got personal accolades. I won the

ing] ‘Look at me, look at me!’”

after role. “It sounds horrible to say

experience something to be able to

Critics’ Choice Award and then silence.

that to other actors,” she says. “Not

play it as an actor. I mean, the play

Silence. And I hate to say this, but I

ant instance of this some years ago at

that I was making a great living for a

that started my career in New York

think part of it was because of the way

the Emmys when, as a nominee, she

lot of years in the theater, I was just

City was a play with eight gay female

I looked on the show. I think it was sort

was sent what she calls “the usual

8

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

She recalls a particularly unpleas-

JAK E G I LES N E T T ER / HBO M AX

very impressed with her.”

could play this character if I had never


NO MORE BETS As Deborah Vance, Smart embodies the lead she’s long deserved.

kind of letter” with details of how long

character, using a full-body acting

when he was feeling very defensive in

through every obstacle and glass

winners’ speeches can be and so on.

technique she puts down to her

meetings.”

ceiling as an actress who began

Only this time there was an added

theatrical background. “I sometimes thought about my

Smart was so physically committed

her screen career in 1979, there’s a par-

to the role she fell during shooting and

ticular scene in Hacks so skin-prickling, it gives one pause.

so people must have really been

mom, because she lived to be 94, and

snapped a rib so badly she required

offended. They said, ‘Oh, by the way, if

as you get older, the shoulders kind

five days in hospital. She recalls the

your name is announced and you win

of roll forward, you know? There’s

paramedic who put her in the ambu-

making her life hard, and Deborah

and other people around you in the

obviously a harder time getting up off

lance was disappointed he’d failed to

retorts, “You don’t know what hard

audience jump up to congratulate you

the couch than you used to have. It’s

recognize Kate Winslet and mistook

is. You got plucked off the internet at

or shake your hand or give you a hug,

like the opposite of method acting—

her for Smart’s real-life daughter—an

what? 20? You just got lucky… ‘Good’

ignore them because they’re just trying

the idea of working from the outside

understandable error, since, even now,

is the minimum, ‘good’ is the baseline.

to get their face on camera.’ I thought

in. When you wear certain kinds of

Winslet refers to Smart as ‘Mummy’.

You have to be so much more than

that was so offensive and it showed

clothing, just as we do in real life, it

Next up, Smart has “hopefully

good. And even if you’re great and

me how people think of actors.”

makes us feel differently. And we move

Season 2 of Hacks” she says, although

lucky, you still have to work really fuck-

After the post-Fargo silence, a new

Ava complains that Deborah is

differently. We feel differently about

renewal is yet to be confirmed. “I

ing hard. And even that is not enough.

era emerged. The Daily Beast called it

ourselves. And so, I mean, I love my

mean, HBO likes the show, the audi-

You have to scratch and claw and it

the ‘Jean Smartaissance’—at almost

wardrobe and the costume designer

ence likes the show, the critics like the

never fucking ends. And it doesn’t get

70, Smart is everywhere. Emmy-

was so thrilled because I said to her,

show, so I’m not sure what else would

better. It just gets harder.”

nominated in 2020 for her Watchmen

‘I want a little padding around the

come into play there.” And then there’s

role, and now with these two latest

hips and the butt. That’s how I just

her first ever go-round at producing,

method acting, but with her 120-plus

Emmy-buzzed HBO shows.

see her in my head.’ And so, between

on the film, with the working title of

screen credits, and this powerful

that and the polyester pants and

Miss Macy, based on an NPR podcast,

lead role coming to her only now, she

a stunning gear switch—changing

sweater vests and the bad hair, it just

in which she’ll also play the titular role.

might know a little something about

her movement and physicality to

felt right. Sometimes I would give her

become the tough, weathered mother

high, crossed arms, the way Trump did

In Mare of Easttown, she performs

10

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

While Smart cracks jokes and doesn’t dwell on how she busted

Smart may not be especially into

Deborah’s speech. Long may the Smartaissance continue. ★

JAK E G I LES N E T T ER / HBO M AX

comment. “They never said this again,


“THE MOST PRESCIENT

AND MEANINGFUL DOCUSERIES ABOUT 2020 AMERICA” –INDIEWIRE

“A MUST-SEE” –TIME

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MASTERPIECE” –THE PLAYLIST

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OUTSTANDING DOCUMENTARY OR NONFICTION SERIES OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DOCUMENTARY/NONFICTION PROGRAM STEVE JAMES

ALL THINGS

POWERFUL F O R

YO U R

C O N S I D E R AT I O N

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

Nailed It! Host Nicole Byer on keeping the competition safe and silly during COVID-19 NAILED IT! IS ALL ABOUT SEEING THE FUN IN FAILURE AND, as host of the show, Nicole Byer brings the excitement and levity needed for this Netflix competition series. “It’s nice when people can poke fun at themselves,” Byer says, “and find the humor in something that they tried so hard to make.” Byer and French pastry chef Jacques Torres host this reality competition baking series inspired by the internet trend of people trying and failing to make elaborate cakes. This season, dubbed Nailed It! Double Trouble, has twice the bakers, as the contestants are now in teams of two, which Byer says led to some great pairings. “We had two drag Queens, Lagoona Bloo and Selma Nilla, and they were so fun and effortless to talk to,” she says. “I had a real blast shooting with them.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the end result was any better. “You know, you’d think that things would get done quicker or better or faster,” she says, “but none of that happened. Having someone extra just made it, I think, more fun and silly.” Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Double Trouble had to be distanced, but that didn’t lessen the fun and chaos. “You try to just have as much fun as you can safely,” Byer says. “I think it’s nice that you have your own little bubble now, but I’d love for things to go back to normal.” —Ryan Fleming

AWKWARD NOSTALGIA How production designer Grace Alie turned back the clock to the early 2000s for PEN15

ODDS

1

Jason Sudeikis Ted Lasso

10/3

2

Michael Douglas The Kominsky Method

4/1

3

Anthony Anderson Black-ish

11/2

4

Ted Danson Mr. Mayor

13/2

5

Kenan Thompson Kenan

13/2

COMEDY SERIES ACTRESSES

ODDS

1

Kaley Cuoco The Flight Attendant

18/5

2

Jean Smart Hacks

5/1

3

Tracee Ellis Ross Black-ish

11/2

4

Allison Janney Mom

7/1

5

Jane Levy Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

8/1

season, Alie was able to build replicas of the sets on a stage. “Recreating hardwood floor that doesn’t exist anymore was a fun challenge,” she says. Revisting the most awkward time in any person’s life may feel

As production designer of the Hulu series

cringe comedy series on Hulu, where they

uncomfortable, but Alie found comfort

PEN15, Grace Alie didn’t need to go far

play 13-year-old versions of themselves

in working on a show where characters

for research and inspiration. “A lot of it

in 7th grade in the early 2000s, alongside

navigate the awkwardness of middle

came from my memory,” she says, “and

actual 13-year-old actors. “The biggest

school. “It feels very painful and cringy,

most of my team and crew are around

challenge for Season 1 was the budget,”

but it’s so therapeutic to watch and to

the same age as well.” Maya Erskine and

Alie says. “We had to be really resourceful

relive some of that stuff and know that it’s

Anna Konkle created and star in this

and crafty.” After the success of the first

in the past.” —Ryan Fleming

12

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

TEEN TORMENT Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine star as 13-year-old Anna Kone and Maya Ishii-Peters in PEN15 on Hulu..

N E T FL IX / NI CO LE BYE R /L ARA SO LA N S K I/ HU LU

Double The Trouble

COMEDY SERIES ACTORS


Topher Grace

As he marks a return to sitcoms in Home Economics, the That ’70s Show star shares his life lessons BY JOE UTICHI

TOPHER GRACE HAS HAD A CHARMED FEW YEARS,

with roles in BlacKkKlansman, The Hot Zone and Black Mirror under his belt. And he returns to screens this season with Home Economics, about a group of adult siblings dealing with very different financial situations. It’s his first sitcom lead since breaking through with That ’70s Show more than 20 years ago. Here, he muses on his career memories and recalls some film and TV favorites.

THE PART I ALWAYS WANTED I don’t have a lot of those, but I did try out for Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones. At the time, someone had seen me in a school play, and I’d only been cast in That ’70s Show, and I thought, Oh my god, this is obviously meant to be. I guess I’m less sad I didn’t get that now [laughs]. But I think I’d still have taken it, because it would have been fun. I was there basically because my haircut looked like Jake Lloyd’s, I think. And I’d still love to be in a Star Wars movie someday, but I can’t imagine I’m the right guy for them. I guess I’ll have to make do with riding the ride at Disneyland.

MY FIRST FILM LESSON My mom would only let me watch black and white movies. I wasn’t allowed to watch television as a kid. At the time, I was mad at her, because everyone was talking about whatever happened on The Wonder Years. But I look back now and think that was great. She also took us to MGM Studios in Orlando, which is a fictional mini version of Hollywood. I thought, Could it be this wonderful? When I was cast on That ’70s Show straight out of high school, the set was built so they could close off the whole house, because they wanted to do a long tracking shot in the opening, and it was kind of like that fictional Hollywood experience brought to life. The opposite happened when I did my first movie, Traffic, because Steven Soderbergh comes from documentaries. There wasn’t one light on that film—he used available light—and I’d never shot anything outdoors before. So here I was in dicey parts of Cincinnati, and that was the lesson: sometimes filmmaking is artifice and sometimes it’s reality, and there’s no wrong way to do it.

14

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

MY TOUGHEST ROLE Playing David Duke in BlacKkKlansman wasn’t as hard as doing the research for David Duke, which was just terrible. I read his autobiography, which is basically like his Mein Kampf, and I watched a lot of footage. Watching and reading these things, you feel complicit just by engaging with it. Spike Lee actually maintains a fun set for how heavy the material is, but the research of those two months prior was heavy, and my wife, Ashley, was very kind to just let me be in a funk. Charlottesville happened at that time also, so it was very present in our lives. But when I eventually saw how Spike brought the film together, and how powerfully he said what he was saying, I was so proud to have been a part of it. > Continued on p. 14.

A BC/ T E M M A H AN K IN / USA F I LM S /COU RT ESY EV E RE T T COLL ECT ION /CO LUM B I A P I CTU RES / LUCAS F I LM LT D./ DAV I D L EE / FOC US F EAT U RES

On My Screen:

THE MASTERS I’VE STUDIED Nobody ever takes you aside and says, “Here’s how to wear a costume,” or whatever. But whenever you have a chance to work with great actors at the top of their game you learn by osmosis. Watching Brad Pitt, or Cate Blanchett or Julia Roberts do their thing. I had to take dance lessons with Julia Roberts on Mona Lisa Smile, and just seeing how she handled herself was a lesson for an idiot like me who kept stepping on her feet. The one I really remember was on Traffic, and I was nervous because Soderbergh isn’t the sort of director who tells you what he wants you to do. On maybe the second day of shooting I said, “Should I be doing anything differently?” And he went, “Oh, I don’t know,” and just kind of walked away. Then, one day, he did have a note for me. I must have been really off-base with something, and he made his way toward me as I was standing with Michael Douglas. He was the first big star I’d ever worked with. As Steven came up, Michael just kind of whistled and walked away. It was a while before I realised how gracious that was, because he was such a consummate professional that he knew the moment could be embarrassing for me. So, he stepped away and let me have my time.


THE MOST FUN I’VE HAD ON SET I’m not just saying this: it is truly while doing Home Economics. You can tell, I think, too. Acting is faking it—you should be able to have chemistry with people—but I’ve done things where it just kind of doesn’t come. I remember driving to set on our first day and thinking, Oh man, who knows? But maybe 48 hours later, I was overconfident. Everyone’s individually talented, which I knew going in, but then we all sort of clicked instantly. The last day of shooting Season 1 was like the last day of camp. When you feel comfortable with people like that in comedy, it’s just an elixir. When we got renewed, I’m telling you, you’ve never seen five adults more excited.

MY MOST TORTURED CO-STAR I’ll always be sorry to Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp, who played the parents on That ’70s Show. That was literally my first audition, Wilmer [Valderrama] barely spoke English, Laura [Prepon] and Ashton [Kutcher] had never acted, they were models. Now that I have a bunch of years on me, I can see how brave it was for them to choose these kids who had zero experience. It was brave, and kind of smart because we had the time to really learn, and when we learned, we were fresh and ready to learn. The only people who got caught in the middle of that were these wonderful professionals playing our parents. Every time I see them now I apologize, not for anything in particular, just because I was so green.

THE CHARACTER THAT’S MOST LIKE ME I was very similar to Eric Forman when we were doing That ’70s Show, obviously. And I’m a very different person now, but I think I’m very similar to Tom Hayward in Home Economics. He has twins—I don’t, but we had a second baby during the pandemic—and it was like, is this even acting? I’d be home changing diapers, and then I’d clock in at work and they’d hand me two diapers. I think whenever you’re doing a show like this, where you’re working for so many months out of a year, you can’t help there being crossover with your real life. You steal from it.

MY GUILTY PLEASURE My wife is really into The Bachelor, and she got me into it. Now, when she’s out of town, I’m like, “Well, I’ll just watch it so I can keep up with what you’re watching.” But I’m on an ABC show myself now, so I think I can admit it: I love it. MY MOST QUOTED ROLE Oh, it’s probably people calling me a dumbass from That ’70s Show. It’s not the greatest thing to have yelled at you on the street. But I guess it could be worse. WHO’D PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC Well, I think everyone would agree it should be Harry Styles. I mean, I don’t even have to explain why, it’s so obvious. Everyone knows, why even go into it?

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KARAOKE PLAYLIST I love karaoke. I’m not saying I’m good at it, but I like doing it. But if I’m in a competitive karaoke situation, which breaks out sometimes, especially with me around, then my go-to is “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. I pull up my wife to duet with me. The trick with it is to point out all the cities and things you’re seeing from the magic carpet. Really sell the emotion. “Oh look, there are the pyramids! There’s the Great Wall!” It gets a big crowd.

WALT D I S N E Y CO. /COU RTESY E VE R ET T COL LECT IO N/CA RS EY-WE RN E R /2 0 T H CE N TFOX /ABC /T E M M A H AN KIN /ABC/CRAIG SJO DIN / M EGA AG E N CY/ BU E N A V I STA P I CT U RES

THE MOVIES THAT MAKE ME CRY I’m not a big crier. I went to boarding school at a young age, so you kind of learn not to cry. But I saw Inside Out with my wife on one of our early dates, and that Bing Bong part… Oh man, I was weeping. And when you hold it in a lot, let me tell you, when it goes, it really goes. The faucet turns all the way on. Pixar knows how to get you.


FYC.NETFLIX.COM


TRUE STORY Clockwise from left: Demi Lovato in her docuseries Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil; Paris Hilton in This Is Paris, and Wendy Williams in Wendy Williams: What a Mess!

AN INFLUX OF CONFESSIONAL-STYLE PROJECTS FORMS A NEW FRONTIER IN DOCUMENTARIES BY MATTHEW CAREY

host shares deeply personal stories

woman who languidly dispensed the trademark phrase, “That’s hot.” “I created this brand and this

of past drug use, plastic surgery,

persona and this character, and

and eating disorders. Tears flow as

I’ve been stuck with her ever since,”

Williams recounts being sexually

she admits in the film directed by

assaulted in an incident she describes

Alexandra Dean. “I don’t even know

as date rape.

who I am sometimes. I’m always kind

For the famous women at the

health issues, her evolving sense of

“I never told anybody,” she reveals.

of putting on this facade, like happy,

heart of some of the year’s most

her sexuality, and, shockingly, being

Williams sobs over feeling

perfect life.”

compelling documentaries, there

raped by her drug dealer.

are no secrets. They reveal intimate

“The hardest thing to talk about

details of past trauma and personal

for me was the sexual assault. That

struggles with startling transparency.

was something that I had never

“That was one thing that I was

betrayed by her husband after discov-

The truth was something darker.

ering he had cheated on her for years

The film intimates Hilton created her

and fathered a baby with his mistress.

insouciant character as a response

“Personally, it was very, very

to trauma she suffered while attend-

shared with the world before,” Lovato

freeing and cleansing to tell my story,”

ing a ‘tough love’ boarding school in

very good at,” Demi Lovato confides

says. “The world knew that I had

Williams says. “And there’s not a bit of

Utah; her parents shuttled her there

directly to camera in her docuseries

overdosed—they didn’t know on

the story that was a lie.”

in alarm at her becoming a much-

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil.

what… But when it came to the third

“Hiding the fact that I was addicted

episode, I talked about the sexual

emerging type of nonfiction—the

to crack and heroin.”

assault. The healing that that did

confessional documentary.

Revelations from Lovato cascade

inside of me was so profound and I’m

These new films point to an

In This Is Paris from YouTube Origi-

gossiped-about and photographed party girl in New York. “I was physically, emotionally and psychologically, verbally abused,

throughout the four-part YouTube

so glad I had that opportunity to do

nals, Paris Hilton deliberately breaks

daily” at the school, she shares. “It

Originals series: dealing with bulimia

that. It was really difficult though, I’ll

free of her image as a mondaine

was just so traumatic and something I

and other eating disorders, mental

be honest.”

without a care in the world, the young

just never even wanted to think about

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O BB M E D I A/ YOU T U B E P RE M I UM /COURT ESY E VE RE T T CO L LECTI O N /LI F ET IM E

The Real World

In Lifetime’s documentary Wendy Williams: What a Mess! the talk show


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Y O U R

E M M Y

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XXXXXXXXXXXXX

LET IT OUT Left: Pink with her family in Pink: All I Know So Far. Right: Billie Eilish in Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry

again, or talk about or tell anyone. So,

personal lives requires an embrace of

an entire movement of survivors

and making myself bleed because I

I had no idea that I was ever going to

vulnerability. But along with thera-

coming out and telling their story

thought I deserved it.”

reveal this part of my life.”

peutic value, it gives public figures the

and people writing me and leaving

In the film directed by R.J.

chance to shape their own narrative.

me messages saying, ‘Thank you so

Cutler, Eilish shares her journals

documentary seems to have had a

Social media has likewise helped

much. No one has ever believed me.

which contain ominous drawings, like

genuinely therapeutic effect.

celebrities achieve that end, but

I’m finally being believed.’”

images out of a Tim Burton movie.

“I had no idea of just the power

the confessional documentary goes

The Apple TV+ documentary

of being honest and truthful, what it

further. And there is another benefit

Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry

she has written, with bleak lines

would do and just how many people

to such truth-telling: the opportunity

doesn’t quite fall into the confes-

such as these: “An intense feeling of

could relate to my story,” Hilton

to help those who see the films.

sional documentary mold, however.

the absolute end… I am a void. The

There isn’t necessarily trauma at the

epitome of nothing.”

observes, adding, “I feel like people

“I knew that someone out there

The audience is given a look at poetry

finally understand and respect me

needed to hear what I had to say

very center of it. Yet, it too reaches

and I’m just so grateful for this film...

in my story,” Lovato says, “so that

a remarkable level of intimacy, never

drawing in that notebook,” Cutler

It’s been the most healing experience

it could help prevent them from

more so than when the teenage

recalls. “There was that notebook

of my life.”

possibly going down the same road

singer-songwriter is discussing a

connecting her to her younger self,

that I did.”

depressive side to her personality. At

who was cutting and who had suicidal

one point she talks of harming herself

ideation and a lot of challenges that a

when she was 14 or 15.

lot of young people face. And yes, this

Lovato uses similar wording about her documentary series, directed by Michael D. Ratner. “It was a healing experience for

“I’ve been reached out to by so many other survivors who have been through the same thing as me,” Hilton

“I had razors hidden in places and I

“The day I met her, she was

is one of the great things that Billie

me,” she says, “that I’m so grateful

comments of people who, like her,

had band-aids hidden in a little corner

has contributed as a public figure, the

that I got to do with Michael.”

have endured such abuse at boot

of my room,” Eilish reveals. “I was liter-

normalization of the lack of shame

camp-style schools. “It’s just started

ally locking myself in the bathroom

around these issues, the fact that

Sharing sensitive details of their

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A M AZON /AP P L E T V+ /COU RT ESY E V ER E TT COL LECTI O N

Taking part in a confessional


“A modern twist on arranged marriage.

IT IS CHANGING REALITY TV.” NEW YORK POST

FOR

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REAL WOMEN Left: Britney Spears, in Framing Britney Spears. Below: Amy Schumer in Expecting Amy.

these are things that young people

are reluctant to allow their kids to be

gravidarum, a condition that pro-

World’s a Little Blurry, director R.J.

struggle with, that all people struggle

filmed, but Pink’s young daughter and

duces extreme nausea and vomiting.

Cutler notes he had final cut, but he

with, that depression is not some-

son appear throughout the docu-

thing to be ashamed of, that these

mentary, traveling the world with their

throwing up all day,” she says in one

things can be discussed, and they can

mom during her “Beautiful Trauma”

of her many unvarnished moments.

be discussed openly, and that art can

tour. In voiceover, Pink ponders how

“I resent how much women have

not to the filmmaker,” Cutler insists.

help us find our way through them.

her children’s perception of her may

to suck it the fuck up and act like

“It’s this year in Billie’s life. Absolutely,

We see that in this film.”

change with time.

everything’s fine.”

I respect that the story is hers. I want

“I’m their mom, I’m their friend,

Schumer is an executive producer

sees the finished film as a collaboration between Eilish and himself. “The story belongs to the subject,

to tell it as truthfully as possible… But

to storytelling sets a new standard

but one day they’re going to see

on her series. Wendy Williams and

what we are is engaged in a relation-

for what audiences can expect from

through all of it,” she muses. “They’re

Pink occupy the same roles on

ship [between director and subject].

celebrity-oriented documentaries.

going to see the act, they’re going to

their documentaries. Paris Hilton is

And it’s a relationship based on trust.

It isn’t the conscious image-making

see through the strength and they’re

credited as a producer on her film.

Our goal is for Billie to feel as com-

of quasi-unscripted reality TV soaps

going to find the truth underneath, I

That suggests a degree of authorship

fortable being herself with us as she

like Keeping Up with the Kardashians,

hope. And they’re going to discover

on the projects that wasn’t present in

is with anybody with whom she’s fully

instead it’s something more truly

little Alecia who’s still hiding in here,

the case of another Emmy-contend-

comfortable being herself. Because

authentic and real.

who’s still learning how to heal.”

ing documentary about a pop star,

that’s what we want to film—Billie

Framing Britney Spears. The “Toxic”

being herself.”

Pop singer Pink (real name Alecia

Comedian Amy Schumer takes

Moore) delivers on that promise with

sharing to new levels in her HBO

singer did not participate in that film,

her Amazon Studios documentary

Max docuseries Expecting Amy,

which sets it apart from other confes-

oneself, with all the messiness that

Pink: All I Know So Far, another

about her difficult pregnancy and

sional documentaries.

can entail, is what this few form of

Emmy-contending film. Most stars

resulting struggle with hyperemesis

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In the case of Billie Eilish: The

Being entirely and honestly

documentary is all about. ★

FX / H BO M AX

This no-holds-barred approach

“I just got to Chicago and I’ve been


F O R YO U R E M MY® C O N S I D E R AT I O N

“ENGROSSING AND EXTRAORDINARILY INVOLVING.” THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“THE DIRECTORS’ COMMITMENT TO LETTING THEIR STORIES UNFOLD NATURALLY

LENDS THE SERIES SUCH RARE AUTHENTICITY.” TIME

++++”

NEWSDAY

++++”

THE TELEGRAPH

“EMOTIONALLY NOURISHING. AN EARNEST AND WELL-MEANING EFFORT ON ALL LEVELS.” THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

FYC.NETFLIX.COM


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The landscape of late-night television has stayed largely consistent for 60 years. Enter Desus & Mero, and their protégée Ziwe, who have ripped up the rulebook and rewritten late-night and sketch comedy in a fresh, invigorating way for a generation that had been switching off. Peter White meets all three to find out how they did it. PHOTOGRAPHY BY Andrew Zaeh

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

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L

ate-night television hasn’t changed a great deal since Johnny Carson took over The Tonight Show nearly 60 years ago. There’s been the odd exception, such as Arsenio Hall’s syndicated show finding a young audience and bringing Bill Clinton’s saxophone licks to the country, or Joan Rivers briefly interloping on Fox. However, it’s largely been the preserve of middle-aged white men, wearing suits, joking about the events of the day with a few celebrity guests and sketches thrown in. Enter Desus & Mero, and more recently, their protégée Ziwe. Desus & Mero, otherwise known as Desus Nice and The Kid Mero (or Daniel Baker and Joel Martinez), have brought a louder, more youthskewing, social media-friendly take to the genre, a gonzo, weedsmoking sensibility with fresh kicks. First breaking through via online brand Complex and their Bodega Boys podcast, before scoring a series on Viceland, which ran for over 300 episodes on the hipster network between 2016 and 2018, their profile has risen exponentially over the last couple of years thanks to their eponymous Showtime series, which is now in its third season. The momentum has been growing, and even in the last twelve months they’ve been kicking on, scoring interviews with the likes of Joe Biden, before he became President; Kamala Harris, two months before the election; Dr. Anthony Fauci, two weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic; and most famously, President Barack Obama, preferring to riff about basketball rather than promote his book. Then, there’s Ziwe, otherwise known as Ziwe Fumudoh, who got one of her big breaks as a writer on Desus & Mero, before breaking the internet last summer with her Instagram Live series Baited, where she teased stars such as Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan into answering tricky questions about race. This led to her own six-part series, also on Showtime, which launched in May. Together, the trio are dragging late-night comedy into the 21st Century and appear to be having some fun with it.

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esus & Mero have been tagged as new kids on the block, and while they haven’t been on air as long as Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon, they have already racked up nearly 500 episodes of television as well as some 240 episodes of their podcast. Mero says that while things have been moving quickly for the pair recently, it hasn’t exactly been a “quick ascent to stardom”, as they’ve been “grinding for close to a decade”. Desus adds that it feels like the show has “forward momentum”. When the show launched in February 2019, they became Showtime’s first ever late-night hosts, and last July, ViacomCBS execs gave them a “huge vote of confidence” by moving their show from Monday night to Sunday night, in addition to their existing Thursday night episode. “Late-night is so established and formulaic, and here we come with a deconstructed late-night show, and it’s something that a new generation is used to, similar to TikTok, in little chunks,” Desus says. “We’re spinning late-night on its axis, and people really like that. Shout out to Jimmy Fallon or Trevor Noah, but what they do is different; our show is structured differently to theirs. We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing, we just took the late-night avenue and made it our own and that’s what people appreciate.” Mero adds that comparing their show to Last Week Tonight or The Daily Show is like comparing “apples and oranges”. They embrace a chaos that many other shows hide. “We’re not turning the camera off if Desus is getting his makeup touched up,” says Mero. “It shouldn’t feel like you’re watching a show, it should feel like you’re part of a show and me and Mero are in your living room.” Authenticity is the key to their momentum; the pair are essentially the same gregarious, sometimes obnoxious, Twitter-baiting, New Yorkers that they’ve been since they first

met online a decade ago, except a little more grown up. Simply, it’s not a shtick. “It would be exhausting to be a persona for ten years. We’re not classically trained comedians or actors, we’re trained by the New York City public school system. That’s where we learned comedy. Essentially, this is us all the time,” says Mero. Desus, who jokes that this can be somewhat challenging for those who work with them, adds, “It’s like any friendship or relationship, people grow. When we’re together in the room it feels the same as it always did, it’s the same energy. People think we need to become Desus & Mero before the show… but if this was a job, it would be draining to do.” The Viceland show was essentially the pair of them in the Vice offices chatting and interviewing guests, often in the middle of them, while the Showtime series has afforded them a slightly higher budget, meaning that they can do field pieces and sketches. “It’s scary to a point, because you might make a joke that we should do an interview on top of Mount Everest and then the next day you get a PDF with your flights to Everest,” says Desus. One recent example of this was an interview with Yo-Yo Ma in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the celebrated cellist took the pair to a barbershop. They evidently enjoy getting out into the real world, particularly after having spent more than a year making the show in their own homes. Desus says that it’s these types of moments that mean they’re unlikely to make more than two episodes a week. “You can’t do that if you’re doing the show four days a week,” he says. “You don’t realize how hard it is to make television until you make television. It’s not a burnout thing, it’s about making the best show we can.” Making the best show they can was more of a challenge over the last 14 months, but given that a large part of the appeal of the show is watching the pair banter, Desus &

FRESH TAKE

Top to bottom: Desus Nice and The Kid Mero with Kenan Thompson; Yo-Yo Ma shows the guys how it’s done.

PEOPLE THINK WE NEED TO B E C O M E D E S U S & M ER O B EFO R E T H E S H OW, B U T I F T H I S WA S A J O B , IT WO U LD B E D R AI N I N G TO D O . —DESUS & MERO D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

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AN D R EW ZA E H/S H OWT I M E /G REG EN D R I ES /J OJ O WH I LD E N /S EAC IA PAVAO

Mero was one of the few remotely-produced shows to feel more relevant than ever during the pandemic. Arguably, this has increased their chances of getting nominated for an Emmy in the latenight category. There were whispers last year that they might get nominated, but it feels like if they’re ever going to get on the list, it’s this year—a year in which they’ve also been given an outside chance of hosting the Emmys, given their ViacomCBS connections. But they face tough competition from entrenched nominees such as Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which has won five years in a row; The Daily Show with Trevor Noah; Full Frontal with Samantha Bee; Jimmy Kimmel Live; and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. There’s also competition from the likes of Late Night with Seth Meyers, and the Television Academy voters have had a soft spot for The Late Late Show’s James Corden over the years. Last year, Desus said the snub put the show in “Susan Lucci territory”, and the pair were somewhat ambivalent about missing out. Now, they are clearly aware of what it would mean for the “whole squad”. Desus says, “It’s not about me, it’s about the show and the recognition that comes with working on an Emmy-nominated show. It feels different now.” One of the ways things may have changed now is in how they’ve cemented the show to be a key spot for politicians and other establishment figures. In December, they scored an in-person sit-down with President Barack Obama. While 44 is a noted fan of late-night, and has regularly and recently appeared on the likes of The Late Show, The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and The Late Late Show, his appearance on Desus & Mero felt different. Firstly, while he was ostensibly there to promote his book, A Promised Land, it appeared Obama was more interested in roasting the pair’s New York Knicks or bringing up the controversy around wearing that tan suit, something that Mero said made him look like the “ill-est Remax realty salesman in Carbondale, Michigan”. “I don’t want to say life-changing because that’s very hyperbolic, but to an extent it was,” says Mero. “We had an inkling that he was into us and was a fan but that solidified it.” Obama was evidently aware of the pair, seemingly more than any briefing notes might have indicated. “I’ve known people who work in his administration and he is familiar with us,” adds Desus. “The stuff he brought up wasn’t necessarily on our Wikipedia page. It didn’t feel like we were talking to a former

President, it felt like we were talking to our cool uncle Barry.” Prior to Obama’s appearance, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), who was essentially in charge of the country’s response to the pandemic, made headlines with one of his first late-night interviews at the end of March 2020. Mero says it was clear that Fauci wanted to get his message out to people who didn’t necessarily watch the news every night or who were slightly less trusting of politicians. “The pandemic was crushing the brown and Black communities, so you needed this information, and if it’s your guys delivering the news, I feel it’s a little more palatable and people will take it a little more seriously. It’s like taking sugar with the medicine.” Desus adds that Dr. Fauci’s appearance was also when he was being sidelined by President Trump. “You can have on a million comedians, but if there’s a pandemic and you can get the word out there and help, you’ve got to do that.” Desus & Mero used to shoot with a live audience at the CBS Studio in New York. However, before the pandemic, the pair actually bought their own facility—the old Al Jazeera studio, complete with bulletproof glass. Desus says they’ll go back there fully when they can, and it will mean less of a crunch on production. “The way we work, sometimes we go for hours and go on rants and you don’t want to cut the camera because you’ve got to load in the next show,” he says. “The beauty of it means that we don’t have to break down the set, it’s always there, so that means you can do digital shoots or change things. It’s our space and we can do whatever we want there. It’s our petri dish so we can try things out and when you remove the time stipulation, that allows more creativity to work.” The duo are evidently keen on working on other projects, from acting to writing and producing, or, as Mero says, having a “farm system” where they can bring in young talent to work with. They also recently made the New York Times bestseller list with their life-advice book God-Level Knowledge Darts: Life Lessons from the Bronx, dropped a collaboration with boot company Timberland, and an ice cream deal with OddFellows. Their ice cream range, which was done for charity, has some unusual flavors such as a bacon, egg and cheese tub. This essentially sums up their show. As Desus says, “It’s a weird flavor that you might not be ready for, but once you make the effort and try it, you’re going to love it.”

ON THE SCENE

Top to bottom: With NFL player Julian Edelman in the studio; taking the show out and about; and getting in close with cellist legend Yo-Yo Ma.

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I N T E N T I O N A L LY, I WA N T E D TO S TA N D I N CONTR AST TO T H E J IM MYS AN D THE JOHNS O F L AT E - N I G H T. —Z IWE

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A ND RE W ZA E H /M Y LES LO FT I N /S H OWT IM E / BA RBA RA N I T KE

Z

iwe kicked off her eponymous Showtime series in May by asking Fran Lebowitz whether she hates slow walkers or racism more. And it’s a question that perfectly sums up the emerging comedian. Her eponymous show, Ziwe, lives in the same universe that birthed The Colbert Report and Da Ali G Show; a series with an unusual character picking at the absurdity of politics, culture and society through the lens of comedy. It’s no surprise then that Ziwe got her start after signing up to the Chris Rock Internship at Comedy Central, a gig that helped her get a joke on Stephen Colbert’s right-wing parody series. “I interned there for a week and I was such a chatty intern that I got a joke on the show,” she says. “I was introduced to The Colbert Report when I was 14 in high school and I remember thinking that he’s so rude and you can say anything if it’s a joke.” She says that her wish was for her show to be the daytime talk show version of that senario. “I pull from CBS This Morning and The Oprah Winfrey Show and even a little bit of Ellen. You can really see that I’m satirizing the media at large because I’m so inspired by those shows.” There’s a dichotomy between episodes and guests, where one week, Ziwe is asking Gloria Steinem about white feminism and the next interviewing Rachel Lindsay, who appeared on The Bachelorette, and Eboni K. Williams, who stars in The Real Housewives of New York, before getting into the weeds with New York mayoral candidate Andrew Yang the following week. She calls the character hyperbolic. “It’s ridiculous to ask someone like Fran Lebowitz, who was friends with Toni Morrison, what is worse, slow walkers or racism. That’s a ridiculous question, but in that absurdity comes honesty because she’s thrown off guard and I don’t know if she’s going to lean into that question. I am constantly trying to combine high and low. You talk to Gloria Steinem one week and then you talk to a bachelorette the next, but the bachelorette

ZIWE is also a lawyer and her dad is a federal judge. Things are not as they seem.” Ziwe was a writer for The Rundown with Robin Thede and, as mentioned, Desus & Mero, but she essentially got her own show after Baited became the viral sensation of the summer, putting people such as Alison Roman and Caroline Calloway on the spot with uncomfortable (for them) questions about race. “The show is an amalgamation of the creative that I’ve been doing for the last five to ten years,” she says now. “[My] Instagram Live show blew up and all of a sudden I was the must-see television show on Instagram. With that in mind, I was able to sell a television show.” Showtime took the bait and, after securing the order, she partnered with A24, the hip production and distribution company behind films such as Uncut Gems, Minari and Midsommar. This, she says, was because of the company’s reputation with talent and its interest in aesthetic. The show is hyper-stylized with Ziwe wearing leather knee-high boots and performing in music video-style sketches. “The set feels like Barbie’s dream house and I have a strong POV,” she says. “Intentionally, I wanted to stand in contrast with the Jimmys and the Johns of late-night.” The guests are briefed as to who Ziwe is and that she’s playing a character, in that sense more Colbert than Sacha Baron Cohen. But the character does allow her to have conversations that may be tougher to have without a satirical mask on. Having said that, there’s a strange authenticity behind these absurd interactions. “I am uncomfortable all the time talking about race. Since I was a kid people have been talking to me about race. I was in the mall and people are talking to me about the Black friends they have, and I thought, Who cares? Why are you bringing this up? All of these micro-scenarios that existed all of my life, I thought, What if there was a camera to see how stupid it was, how absurd these conversations were?” It’s about accountability, rather than cancel culture, she says. “We’re not trying to

IN THE PINK

Ziwe in action on the set of her show.

cancel anybody or ruin anybody’s career. We lead with kindness with the hope of making funny, thoughtful comedy.” Ziwe’s six-episode series is being put forward in this year’s Emmys as a variety show, a smart move that will see it go up against the likes of SNL and A Black Lady Sketch Show for a nomination, rather than the plethora of late-night shows. “This is a variety show in the truest sense of the word, because there’s music, guests, field pieces, sketches and fake commercials. I am just making important work that is hopefully funny, so the show is what you interpret, it fits into several genres. It’s stretching the definition of what comedy means,” she adds. Next up, she hopes that the premium network will pick up more episodes and she is already planning her roster of guests. “Is there a season where I interview Hillary Clinton and Kim Kardashian or talk to the Obamas? What’s nice about the show is that I can talk to anyone, I can talk to Duck Dynasty or the President of Morehouse. I just look forward to meeting new people and having more compelling, interesting conversations and constantly pushing the boundaries,” she says. But she’s not all that interested in people knowing too much about her, hoping that she can remain somewhat of an enigma, more Baron Cohen than Colbert in that sense. “I’d like it if you knew nothing about me. Who am I? Why do you care? I want to give people the tools to laugh and to think and give everything a critical eye, including myself. Why is my favorite ice cream important?” D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E

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CHAMELEON

The comedienne in her many guises on Ziwe.

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

proud of who I am, to push the boundaries of jokes and value my culture. Working for them and seeing them practice that, as well as being kind, benevolent employers, was a privilege and I think my show reflects that spontaneity. I don’t think I could have got to that place emotionally if I had not seen them when I was younger and then worked for them for two years.” Desus & Mero are similarly complimentary of their young protégée. Mero says it was evident when she interviewed for the writing job. “It was obvious she could write and perform and carry a show on her own. We knew that was going to be her next step. She was going to write the shit out the park in the writers’ room and then ascend to the Ziwe show, and we love it for her.” Ziwe scoring her own show was like watching “your kid graduate” adds Desus. “She’s our home girl, we’re super proud of her and love her show. The fact that she’s also on Showtime is great because it’d be really bad if she was on another network and then we’d be rivals.” Joking aside, Desus says he was pleased that the network had picked up her show, highlighting its increasing inclusion. “Before we got to Showtime, people were saying it was a very white network, there wasn’t a lot of diversity, but shout out to them for being more accepting and open. If you look at the range of shows now with The Chi and The Good Lord Bird they’re opening and extending their universe. They’re [also] not picking inauthentic voices. It’s easy to just get a Black show; you have to get a show that exists not just because it’s a Black show.” Mero adds that it’s not about “giving the hottest Black person in Hollywood a show” but finding “diamonds in the rough”. “Forget the tokenism, find real voices and put them out there.” ★

AN D R EW ZA E H/G REG EN D R I ES /S H OW TI M E

D

esus & Mero’s move from Viceland to Showtime in 2019 triggered the introduction of a writers’ room for the pair for the first time. Ostensibly designed for sketches and field pieces, rather than a group of monologue writers, the team is a hivemind for the two men, a gang of idea folk who have the duo’s backs. The group consists of experienced writers such as Claire Friedman (SNL), Josh Gondelman (Last Week Tonight), and Mike Pielocik (The Late Show) as well as newcomers such as Robert Kornhauser and Heben Nigatu, plus Julia Young, who is also the voice of God on the show. This group, in fact, just won the Writers Guild Award for comedy/variety, beating Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “That award counts for more because it’s from other writers. It’s like Steph Curry complimenting your shot,” says Desus. “I don’t want the WGA to take away the award… but it doesn’t really feel like a writers’ room. Our writers know how to put things in our voices, and they know what we wouldn’t rock with.” Mero calls the room a “hangout”. One of those that was previously in the hangout, and one of the winners of the WGA award, was Ziwe, who spent two years writing on 75 episodes of the show. Ziwe says that she used to watch Desus & Mero’s show on her computer at work, when she was pretending to be working on spreadsheets. “I would not be here if it wasn’t for the people that were willing to stick their neck out and give me opportunities when there were so many other easier choices.” She calls the pair “brilliant, wild geniuses”. Adding that, “They influenced me to be


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Em my P re v ie w: Com edy

Renée Elise Goldsberry Tony Award winner Renée Elise Goldsberry conquers comedy as ’90s diva Wickie Roy in Girls5eva

With over two decades as an outstanding performer on TV and stage, Renée Elise Goldsberry has found success as a go-to character actor elevating everything she’s worked on from One Life to Live to The Good Wife. But after starring in Broadway’s Hamilton, the Tony Award-winning actress has earned the opportunity to showcase her skills even further with a slew of projects that include a solo album and a stint in the upcoming Marvel series She-Hulk. Goldsberry achieves another career high as the hysterically egocentric Wickie Roy in Meredith Scardino and Tina Fey’s ’90s girl band revival comedy, Girls5eva. 34 M // A 6 DDEEAADDLLI INNEE..CC OO M AW WAARRDDSSLLI N I NE E

H E ID I G U T M AN / P EACO CK

BY S T E V I E WO N G


OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES

Maya Erskine A

Anna Konkle

ORIGINAL


How was Girls5eva gifted to you?

the medium of what my mom calls

own personality after a while?

I think that’s a good word, ‘gift.’ I

“telecons” [laughs]. Fortunately,

I have a sneaking suspicion that if I

don’t know that you can say much

they’re forgiving and they believed

let my children watch the show, they

more about a show created by Mer-

we would show up in person and do

would be like, ‘What’s the big deal

edith Scardino (Unbreakable Kimmy

some justice to their brilliant script.

Schmidt) and executive produced by Tina Fey (30 Rock). They also had

The number of flashbacks for

already attached Sara Bareilles, so

this show is crazy!

it was a trifecta for me. And then I

That was really fun. The nature of

read the pilot script that was such a

the show is unique because we are

big, shiny, beautiful representation

ridiculously going back in time to

of what they were dreaming of. And I

do flashbacks, just because we said

just loved it so much because it was

one line that acknowledged some-

just laugh-out-loud funny.

thing that happened in the past.

Your character name of Wickie

Do you have a favorite out of all

Roy is kind of amazing.

the flashbacks?

It’s so good. If I had known of it ear-

Every single time we got to go back

lier in my career, I might be named

and be 20 years old—once I got over

Wickie Roy and I’d probably be that

the fact that I look nothing like I did

much better. I found out at the

when I was 20, and just kept mov-

end of the season, when Meredith

ing. I did remember the joy and the

Scardino’s sister came to set to visit,

optimism of that time. You know,

that Wickie is the nickname their

where you actually believed that

father uses.

your dreams were all going to come true and how just being in a group

I have a sneaking suspicion that if I let my children watch the show, they would be like, ‘What’s the big deal because that’s you anyway, minus the fact that you never, ever looked that good.’

because that’s you anyway, minus the fact that you never, ever looked that good [laughs].’ I’m going to be honest. I’ve been in a lot of girl groups in my life. I used to be on Ally McBeal with two beautiful women, Sy Smith and Vatrena King, being basically an ‘uh-huh’ girl in matching outfits. And I was a Schuyler Sister [in Hamilton]. No matter how lovely and sweet of a person as I believe I am, you are always thinking, How can I get in the middle of these three girls? I have always suppressed it because I love the other girls so much, and it’s just so unattractive to obviously be fighting for the spotlight. But when we were shooting the video for “Famous 5eva”, James, our choreographer, put Wickie in the back. And I remember thinking, Oh no, Wickie can’t be in the back. So

Wickie has such a special sense

of girls made you want to laugh. It

of self. Did you push for more

felt really healthy to wear it for those

beyond what was in the script?

few minutes. But if I had to pick a

There’s always room to take it a little

particular gag, we spent a tremen-

bit further. I remember having this

dous amount of time trying to figure

idea that a person that is so desper-

out the appropriate level of comedy

ately trying to be noticed amongst

in a music video that came out on

a group of people might hate having

September 10th, called “Quit Fly-

Did your work on the daytime

to always sing in a group. And the

ing Planes at My Heart”. We spent

soap opera One Life to Live pre-

way that she could get some more

all this time doing our little dance

pare you for the roles you’ve

attention is by singing a little bit

moves with our flight attendant

taken on lately?

longer than everyone else. So, yeah,

uniforms and everybody else being

Daytime was my best training

they would let me riff a little bit lon-

really uncomfortable, asking, “Is this

ground. Your character is blind one

ger than anyone else at the end of

too far? Are we ready to laugh about

week, then hunted by a serial killer.

songs and let me be that obnoxious

this yet?”

Whatever it is, the most important

one. All of that stuff was already

by the end of the video, Wickie is at the front center with her hands in the air. Clearly Ashley [Park] is the best dancer of the five of us, but Wickie finds a way to pose in the middle of that number.

lesson that I learned in a soap opera,

baked into the formula—they just let

Which immediately brings to

and it is definitely at play here, is

me play.

mind the amount of crazy songs

how to always win at the rooting

Girls5eva had to sing.

factor. At the end of the day, you

What was the first table read like

“Dream Girlfriends” was already

are the only one responsible for the

for you?

one of our favorites because it had

fact that the audience roots for you.

Terrible! My own journey with Wickie

the most ridiculously hilarious lyrics

So I’ve always learned no matter

kind of matched the character’s

in the world. They doubled down

what I’m doing, I had to make sure

journey in that I felt really good

so hard on these songs. Meredith

that someone would understand

about myself, being a part of the

Scardino is a really great lyricist.

what my character was doing. Even

show and how great I was going to

If she was in any way shy in the

if she was doing something wrong,

be. And then we did the first table

beginning, she got over it because

the audience would on some level

read over Zoom, I left the meeting

the hilarity when she and [EP] Jeff

love her. And that has to happen

and waited for them to call and fire

Richmond are left unchecked is just

for Wickie, because she’s so self-

me. It was so challenging to find

brilliant. If you haven’t listened to

absorbed. It’s her fault this group

Wickie over Zoom because there’s

the full version of “The Splingee” you

broke up in the first place and it

that delay and I wasn’t able to give

have missed something delicious.

could be so unforgivable. But you

them any of the humor that was in their script. So, yeah, I’ll blame

36 M // A 6 DDEEAADDLLI INNEE. .CC OO M AW WAARRDDSSLLI INNE E

have to love her and root for her to Did playing Wickie seep into your

figure everything out. ★


THOUGHT-PROVOKING”“FORCED A CULTURAL RECKONIN

“COMPELLING”

“BLOCKBUSTER” “ ”

HOROUGH, CONSIDERATE AND ENRAGING”

DEVASTATING

ILLUMINATES WITH STARK CLARITY

“POWERFUL”

“HEARTBREAKING”

XCELLENT”


E m m y P re v i e w: Com edy

DEAD MAN Michiel Huisman as Alex Sokolov in The Flight Attendant.

Michiel Huisman The Flight Attendant actor talks playing dead and the “departure” we can expect in Season 2

chorus in The Flight Attendant— you’re challenging Kaley’s character and filling in the blanks for the audience. Was that what attracted you to the part?

BY NADIA NEOPHY TOU

You’re almost like the Greek

There were many things that attracted me to it. First of all, I had never done comedy before, so

38

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

that was something that I’ve been wanting to dip my toes in for a long time because I really enjoy watching comedy. And I also think that as an actor it’s just fun to also sometimes work on some lighter stuff, you know? And so, this seemed to

K ARO LI N A WOJ TAS IK

As an actor, Michiel Huisman has had plenty of opportunities to take on a variety of roles, from the fantasy drama of Game of Thrones to the romantic reverie of The Age of Adeline and the horror of The Haunting of Hill House. But in playing Alex Sokolov in The Flight Attendant—the series optioned, exec-produced by and starring Kaley Cuoco as flight attendant Cassie—the Dutch actor gets to flex a new comedic muscle as the mystery man in a one-night stand gone horribly wrong. Here, he discusses becoming the good-guy hallucination that haunts Cassie.


EXCELLENT VITAL” INSPIRING ” “POWERFUL EXPANSIVE, ENDLESSLY CURIOUS, BIG-HEARTED

PRIDE NAILS IT..

“FX’S

...

“REMARKABLE PERSONAL...SINCERELY MOVING”

HISTORY MADE

“ILLUMINATING”

...SMART...STANDS OUT


be like a great opportunity to do

stuff more. And so, that required a

then after the camera stopped roll-

that and to do it opposite someone

bit of adjusting, I think, for my part.

ing you would look over and then

like Kaley who’s really comfortable

you realize, “Oh, we’re still in a pan-

in the genre. But then I remember

Viewers really get caught up in

reading the first episode and think-

trying to figure out what hap-

ing, Wait, how am I... What’s going to

pened with Cassie that night

happen here? How in God’s name

—how are we going to see that

am I going to play a character that

now play out in the second sea-

dies halfway into the first episode?

son now that the mystery has

Such a bizarre thing, and the sur-

been solved?

real-ness of him being back after he

I can’t really speak to that, but I

dies. But really, it’s not like he’s res-

also think that I represent part

urrected from the dead. It’s really in

of Cassie’s trauma. And over the

her head, and I really liked that. And

course of this first season she needs

I think that when you’re saying it’s

to, or tries to, come to terms with

like the Greek chorus, it is bizarrely

that trauma. And I think Season

enough a little bit like Cassie is hav-

2 will be a bit of a departure from

ing a dialogue with herself, but that

that, and it will be a new adventure,

being me, you know? So, I thought

without wanting to spoil anything.

that that was crazy cool and would be a challenge for me to tackle.

That’s also what makes it such a standout series—it’s more than

demic. Everyone is wearing insane

That’s what I thought was going to be a challenge, to still keep it light and funny, but deal with such heavy subjects, you know? And my killing is by far not the heaviest.

amounts of PPE.” It was a bit surreal. This is so funny. So, Kaley, she’s a tennis player, she used to play tennis as a kid and she’s very good in sports and stuff and a fanatic, she wants to win. And so am I. And I love ping-pong. So, I talked about ping-pong to her a couple of times, and she was like, “I’m going to beat you. Let’s play.” And I’m like, “Dude, I take lessons. You know, I go to a place where I get classes and stuff. You’re not going to win.” So, for her birthday I brought in my teacher. He came to our studio in Brooklyn and gave her a lesson. And we had arranged for a ping-pong table and so we would always, between

It’s also not just any comedy,

a whodunnit; it’s the bigger story

it’s dark comedy and there’s the

of Cassie’s own life.

need to get that tone just right.

Yes. And that’s a real big story and

Yes, absolutely. And that was, I think

a pretty heavy story. So that goes

one of the biggest challenges in

back to what you referred to earlier,

making the show. I think that’s such

the tone of the show, that’s also

a big thing, that I only play a small

what I thought was going to be a

part in. That is really about writing,

challenge, to still keep it light and

you’re good, but you’re not ready.

directing, you know? And I’m glad

funny, but deal with such heavy

Before I know it, it’s eight-five to

we were able to pull it off.

subjects, you know? And my killing

her. I start to focus a bit more and I

is by far not the heaviest.

tense up and make the rookie mis-

You’ve been wanting to do com-

scenes, just run our lines while playing. And then one day, of course, lo and behold, she says, “Let’s play a game.” I’m like, “Really? Come on. We should just keep it nice and friendly.” And I really also thought, you know, I’m going to beat her, like,

take, so she wins. And she puts her

edy for a while—what did you

So, will you, or the hallucination

paddle down and she’s like. “Done.

learn from this experience?

of you, be back?

I’m done. We’re not playing again.”

I think that I learned a lot about

They want me to be incredibly

And I keep bugging her to play again.

being more sensitive to rhythm.

vague about that. I respect that

Then the pandemic hit. After the

Maybe that’s also something that

these writers want to keep it nice

pandemic, we weren’t allowed to

comes with the territory of doing

and vague and then they can sur-

use the ping-pong table anymore.

something that is a bit more in the

prise their audience.

You know what she gave me as a

comedic world. You know, like I just

wrap gift? She had bought me a

had to open up my senses a bit

Production was interrupted by

really nice Tiffany whiskey decanter.

more for the rhythm of a scene and

the pandemic, so what was it

Beautiful. And she had it engraved.

the rhythm of a line. I felt, especially

like to finish shooting?

It says, “Remember when I beat you

in the beginning, Kaley really under-

When we came back to finish the

at ping-pong? Love, Kaley.”

stood that and knew how to drive a

final three episodes, it must’ve been

scene. And I was like hobbling along,

in around September of last year,

Oh man, you’re never going to

and hopefully it got a bit better at a

and the only time that we could

live that down.

certain point. Because yeah, char-

pretend like things were relatively

Yeah. I have to live with that for-

acters probably speak their mind a

normal was when the cameras were

ever. She also posted it on her

bit more in the show. In The Flight

rolling, because then Kaley and I

social media that she won. So, I get

Attendant they’re thinking out loud,

could take off our face masks and

texts from friends like, “What hap-

and on many things that I’ve worked

be within six feet. So, it was strange.

pened?” She’ll never want to play

on before, characters internalized

You would forget about all of it. And

with me again. ★

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


E m m y P re v i e w: Com edy

Making her comedy debut with Ted Lasso, the actress has found the perfect pandemic panacea BY JOE UTIC HI

Juno Temple has never truly done comedy. In fact, with roles in the likes of Atonement, Cracks, Little Birds and Black Mass, to name a few, she has ploughed her field as a specialist in the darkest of darkness, and has relished every moment. She might have been surprised when co-creator Jason Sudeikis texted her with a role in Ted Lasso, but she says she can’t be more grateful for the opportunity it gave her, to explore warmth and light even as the world hurtled towards pandemic and protest. She plays Keeley Jones, a bright soul whose flame gets dimmed by the stereotype of her status as a star footballer’s girlfriend, until it is kindled by an unlikely friendship with the club’s owner, Rebecca.

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

What happened next?

for you; what excited you—and

It was all a quick turnaround because

perhaps terrified you—about tak-

I’d been shooting these other proj-

ing part?

ects. I was just coming from another

I know, right? Normally I’m cast as

project where I play a much darker

very dark, dark characters.

character; Little Birds. I’d gotten back

This one came to me personally

to LA, but my suitcases hadn’t even

through Jason. I got a text from him,

reached me yet before I had to get on

because I’ve known him for a couple

a plane to go and shoot Ted Lasso.

of years. I genuinely thought he’d

I was terrified because the entire

texted the wrong person by accident.

cast that was attached were these

I was like, “Oh, no. He’s going to think

extraordinary people who were all

I’m funny. This’ll be a disaster.” I kept

very good at being funny. I don’t

waiting for him to text again and say,

think of myself remotely as a comedy

“Shit, I meant this for someone else.”

actress. The idea of getting that kind

But that never came. Then I read the

of timing right is just terrifying to me.

pilot, and I thought it was just such a

What was really cool about the first

genius idea. We got together and he

season was I got taught so much by

told me a little bit about the plan for

these brilliant co-stars.

Keeley’s journey from the start to the

Jason was so patient with me,

end of the season. Not in any crazy

when almost every 10 minutes I

detail—that’s always kept quite close

would be like, “I don’t know how

to his chest—but he described the

to make that funny.” He would say,

show he wanted to make in terms of

“Don’t worry; you don’t have to. Just

the British Office meets Friday Night

be you. Just be exactly as you would

Lights. I thought, If he can pull that

be as Keeley and it will all fall into

off, that’s some kind of wizardry.

place.” The writing is so extraordinary

A P P LE T V +

Juno Temple

This character is a new challenge


that you know the character you’re playing intimately. Everything on the show, from the costumes, to the makeup, to the production design, is all

FRIENDS Hannah Waddingham as Rebecca and Temple as Keeley.

set up so beautifully that you’d have to be really bad at your job to fuck it up. You didn’t expect you could play comedy. Over the season, Keeley doesn’t expect she is destined for something greater. And when we meet her, we see the stereotype before we see the person. Did you see a parallel there? Yeah. I love that line in the first season, Keeley talks about when she was 18 she was dating 23 year-olds, and now she’s nearly 30 she’s still dating 23 year-olds. I think there’s something to be said about that period of around 10 years, where social media became a thing. The WAG [Wives And Girfriends;

eyes to her beautiful sexuality and

a hundred times over. But they do

a popular acronym for the partners

that she needs to own it and be aware

bleed. And also, I hope I leave a little

of professional soccer players in the

of the fact that her femininity is the

of myself with each of them, too.

UK] image Is not something we’re

power she gets to put out into the

You definitely learn and grow from

really privy to anymore, because that

world. And it was such a gift to shoot,

it. Acting is like going to the univer-

because Hannah Waddingham, who

sity of humanity. If you don’t learn

plays Rebecca, is a monumental force

from every character, you’re doing it

of nature, and an inspiration to me,

wrong, I think.

all about magazine covers and being papped with their boyfriends in fancy restaurants. She’s already dealing with how to stay relevant given that change, when 10 years previously she was posing in men’s magazines. I think the thing that really turned me on about the conversation I had with Jason was the relationship Keeley would have with Rebecca. We don’t see female friendships like that often enough. They are two women supporting and loving each other, despite being different. Growing up, Thelma and Louise was one of my all-time favorite films. I still watch it, honestly, once every couple of weeks. That’s truly about two women who have each other’s backs, and it’s not about being competitive. It’s about fully encourag-

Getting into the headspace of Keeley during this crazy time to be alive has been special. Keeley has saved my mental health, truly.

as well as being one of my greatest friends in life.

Given your fears at the start about the comedy, were you sur-

You’re currently shooting the sec-

prised by how many moments of

ond season. How has it been to

drama the show allowed?

return to Keeley?

It isn’t so much that I was surprised

I can’t say a word about what hap-

by it, but even with moments I’d

pens [laughs]. But I will say I feel truly

been privy to, like the episode with

grateful to come back. It’s the first

the gala, and the whole beat with

time I’ve ever returned to a character.

Roy, Jamie and Keeley, that was a

I did a TV show a while ago which was

really amazing shoot and it really hit

supposed to go for more seasons,

me like an arrow to the heart when

called Vinyl, but it didn’t. So, this was

Brett [Goldstein] gave that per-

new to me too, and a little daunt-

formance. The joy of watching the

ing. But getting into the headspace

show as an audience member was

of Keeley—who truly is a bundle of

there were so many scenes I wasn’t

light—during this crazy time to be

a part of, and so I got to see all these

alive, where the world is hurting on

incredible performances, and the

ing the woman you love to blossom

so many levels and people are clos-

journeys of these characters, with

and become the greatest version of

ing doors rather than opening their

my girlfriends and guy friends and

herself. I think those relationships need

ears and hearing each other, has been

family. The lesson that Ted Lasso

to be shown as much as humanly pos-

special. Keeley has saved my mental

puts out is don’t judge a book by

sible because they’re the relationships

health, truly.

its cover—there’s a whole novel in

in my life—Juno’s life—that, my god, I would be dead without them.

between, and you’ve got to read it to Do characters always tend to

know someone. It’s something I’m

bleed into your life?

so proud to be a part of because I

she’s tits and ass, and I think Rebecca

I can’t help it. Even with the way you

really believe in that. It probably did

is the one to make her realize that

dress or interact with people; I can’t

have more drama to it than I thought

she’s got a whip-smart brain that she

help but become a little bit method.

it might, but then, as humans, what

could apply to publicity or marketing.

I mean, obviously I’m not really

do we do in dark moments? We

And Keeley really opens Rebecca’s

method, because if I were I’d be dead

laugh through them. ★

So, Keeley, she’s always been told

44

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

A P P LE T V +

was the work of the tabloids. It was


E m m y P re v i e w: Com edy

HORRIBLE BOSS Rob McElhenney as narcissistic ideas man Ian, with some of his Mythic Quest team members.

Rob McElhenney The Mythic Quest co-creator and actor on building real characters and snagging superstar guests

tary series. That sounds exciting. So, you’re going to have cameras in your face even more than usual, I guess. We already have. We’ve been shoot-

B Y M AT T C A R E Y

Congratulations on the documen-

ing for about three months. It’s so uncomfortable to have cameras around. I don’t have any right now,

46

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

which I’m grateful for. The doc crews tell me, “What? You’re an actor. You should be used to it.” And I’m just not. There’s such a big difference between walking onto a stage and knowing where the camera is at all times and also knowing I have control over what goes into the show. And

A P P LE T V +

Rob McElhenney co-created and stars in Mythic Quest—the Apple TV+ comedy series set in the dysfunctional workplace of a fictional gaming company, playing the visionary, if narcissistic, idea man behind the titular online roleplaying game. When he isn’t making hit shows like this or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, McElhenney is busy raising two sons with wife Kaitlin Olson, his Sunny co-star. And he recently took a side job—buying a Welsh soccer club with his pal Ryan Reynolds. FX just announced plans to air a docuseries on McElhenney and Reynolds’s football venture.


F O R

Y O U R

C O N S I D E R A T I O N


this one, I might not. So, it’s a little bit

television, and that is true in the gam-

and ability and not get into what

disconcerting, that’s for sure.

ing industry. And I thought there’s

makes him tick, what makes this

just so much comedy that can be

character tick, especially someone

Mythic Quest is a very funny and

mined from those character dynam-

that is clearly as problematic as C.W.

fast-paced show, and then you

ics. And then also I think there’s just

can hit with episodes that are

a lot of pathos, because everybody is

surprisingly poignant and that

truly passionate about what they’re

plumb interesting depths.

trying to do, and they truly love what

That’s what’s been so much fun for

they’re making, while at the same

me personally, because I’ve been

time they’re probably sacrificing

doing the same show for a long time

something in their per-sonal life to

[It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia].

do so. And I thought, “Wow, that just

And it’s a show I love doing, and

seems like a really rich environment

it’s a show that has a very specific

for a comedy.”

tone. And we play with it a little bit here and there. But there are just

You have two young sons. I’m

certain things that are anathema to

going to take a wild guess that

an episode of Sunny that we really

they’re into gaming.

dive head first into on Mythic Quest.

They are, yes. I wonder if there’s a

And I think the central reason for

human being under the age of 10

that is because we’re creating real

who’s been exposed to the games

human beings. Whereas in the other

who isn’t into video games. It’s

show [Sunny], those characters are

something that they enjoy and it’s

not actually real human beings. And

something I enjoy doing with them, so

if they were, they shouldn’t have a

that’s been a lot of fun.

television show made about them.

We wanted to present real human beings and their trials and tribulations, certainly through the prism of comedy, but still something that resonated.

Longbottom is. That’s why we wrote those series of episodes this year, starting with “Backstory!” and then “Peter”, which is that we wanted to tell the story of, C.W. as a young man and as an older man. And we wanted Murray to shine, which he does. How much pressure are you getting from fans for Charlie Day— one of the co-creators of Mythic Quest and your co-star on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—to show up in an episode? We’ve heard it, and we’ve discussed it, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter. But I will be seeing Mr. Day tomorrow. And then I’ll see him again on Monday for our first day back in the writers’ room on Sunny. So, you are moving forward with

They’re essentially sketches of the

One Mythic Quest actor that

the 15th season of Sunny?

id. They’re animated characters, live-

stands out because of his long

Yep. We start on Monday, in the room,

action cartoon characters, the way

career and Oscar pedigree is F.

and I just can’t wait. I miss these peo-

we think about them. Whereas in

Murray Abraham. In Season 2 you

ple dearly.

Mythic Quest, we wanted to present

got two more Oscar winners to

real human beings and their trials and

join you, Anthony Hopkins and

There are a bunch of key roles for

tribulations, certainly through the

William Hurt. How did F. Murray

women on Mythic Quest, and the

prism of a comedy, but still some-

initially come aboard?

show gets into the challenges

thing that resonated as wholly human

Well, look, what I know about actors,

facing women who work in the

and true to the human condition.

being one myself, is that if you send

gaming industry. Does your expe-

them good material, they respond.

rience being raised by two moms

You’re not necessarily a big gamer

We were very proud of that first

make you more sensitive to these

yourself, right? What about that

episode when we sent it to Murray,

issues than a typical guy?

world captured you as something

and we’re certainly proud of any of

Possibly. It’s hard to say because I

to mine as a workplace comedy?

the scripts that we write. So, when I

only know one experience, and that’s

I realized having toured the studios of

send it to a fellow actor, regardless of

the one that I had growing up. Cer-

[gaming company] Ubisoft in Mon-

how many awards they’ve won, I’m

tainly, it shaped me into the person

treal it’s pretty much like a television

at least pretty confident that we’ve

I am and a lot of the decisions that I

show. It just reminded me so much of

done a good job in conveying the

make. I don’t know if I can point to it

the experience that I have been liv-

story we’d like to convey. And it might

directly. I can say that what we try to

ing through for the last 15 years, and

not line up with what they’re inter-

do is to present an authentic experi-

I just knew I had a lot of experience

ested in doing, but that we’ve done

ence and to make sure that we are

in the field, and I could draw from

our end. And then we make them an

presenting the gaming industry in an

that. There are just so many similari-

offer they can’t refuse.

honest light. And all the things that

ties, people all stuck together from

In the first season, Murray just

different depart-ments, all working

crushes. I mean, he comes in, and

all the things we’re exploring are what

for a common goal. And each one of

he kills every scene comedically. But

people are exploring in the gaming

them recognizing that in this collabo-

when we approached the second

industry. So, anything that you see

ration, that every moving part was

season we thought, Well, it is kind of a

in the show is definitely a product of

truly important. And that is true in

waste to have an actor of his pedigree

that, first and foremost. ★

48

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

we’re talking about on the show and


The

Partnership No.9

When Cobra Kai was first announced as a new series based on the iconic The Karate Kid films, fans were immediately skeptical if the iteration would match up to the legendary status of the original. But creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg made the smart move by not only bringing back the decades-long feud between Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), but also by turning the narrative away from Johnny’s downtrodden point of view seen in the films. The new take and a next generation of talented newcomers has made Cobra Kai one of Netflix’s most popular series on the streamer. In conversation with Stevie Wong, Macchio and Zabka explain the joys of The Karate Kid legacy and being able to revisit their characters through a fresh lens. 50

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

COU RT ESY OF N E TF LI X

RALPH MACCHIO & WILLIAM ZABKA


p


The

Partnership

NO MERCY Left to right: Jacob Bertrand as Hawk, Zabka as Johnny and Xolo Maridueña as Miguel.

How was Cobra Kai initially pitched to you?

chance of possibly tainting the legacy than enhanc-

is that Daniel and Johnny are actually very similar.

William Zabka: The creators, Josh Heald, Jon

ing the legacy. So, we met in New York City and I

Depending on which sensei they went with, is where

Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, emailed me out of the

was stirred by their initial description of, “OK, we’re

their lives went. So just because it was happily ever

blue and said they had a project that they wanted

pitching this story not necessarily through the eyes

after for LaRusso at the onset and down the rabbit

to discuss. I had worked with Josh on Hot Tub Time

of Daniel LaRusso at the onset.” Then I called Billy

hole of hell for poor Johnny Lawrence, when you start

Machine so I assumed it was some comedy that

the next morning to talk about it and we mirrored

flipping these angles, you start seeing the flaws and

was brand new, but they sat me down in a Mexican

each other’s concerns that we wanted to make sure

the good heartedness in both. And I think at this

restaurant and pitched Cobra Kai to me. And so

our characters’ integrity was upheld. But the timing

point of the series, that’s really come to the surface

that’s how I heard about it and I was stirred. Though

was just right. Creed had just come out and was

in a great way.

I had a lot of questions, especially what was the tone

quite successful from a perspective of entering the

Zabka: Johnny Lawrence was the villain of the movie.

of the show, because The Karate Kid is a beloved film

Rocky universe through the eyes of Apollo Creed’s

He got a crane kick to his face, and for 35 years I’ve

for the family. It’s got a good heart and this version

kid. Looking at it now, everything just came together

been carrying the torch of the quintessential ’80s

sounded a little like it’s would go into an R-rated

beyond our expectations.

asshole. So for me, I stepped in very gingerly wanting to make sure that they were going to humanize

reverence for The Karate Kid, and what they pitched

When Cobra Kai started, the biggest surprise

Johnny, that they weren’t going to double down on

was a merger of current and still had the emotion

was seeing Johnny Lawrence as the series

his dickness, that he was going to have a heart and a

and all the sentiment of The Karate Kid mixed in.

underdog. Now that we’re heading into Season

redemption arc, but with layers, and humanity.

Ralph Macchio: I was like, “I’ve heard my share

4, it finally looks like Johnny and Daniel are on

of why we should go back to the well with Daniel

equal footing.

Kid never existed, this show could still exist. Even

LaRusso,” at some point over three decades, but

Macchio: When we started Season 1, Johnny was

though we have The Karate Kid as our backstory,

nothing was ever really interesting. They were always

always the angle into the show and then these

but in many ways, this is a brand new story of two

short sighted, one-off ideas that would have a bigger

characters would flesh out. But what you discover

men trying to make peace with their past, and

52

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

What I love about this show is that if The Karate

COU RT ESY OF N E TF LI X

comedy side. But the guys were super fans and had a


The

Partnership

grow, and fall forward and fail with their differences.

The show really takes its time breaking down

fighting as we’re getting older and older [laughs].

They also need each other and without each other,

every character and where they’re coming from.

It’s tougher, you move a little different, everything

they wouldn’t be where they are. People are really

Zabka: Well, there’s a saying that every bully was

hurts a little bit more. It takes a lot more stretching

connecting with the humanity of these characters.

once a victim. Everybody has a backstory and

and prep. We’re banging forearms together and the

And they’re finding themselves in not just Johnny

everybody has their point of view depending how a

next morning we’re in the makeup trailers saying,

and Daniel, but in all the kids. I think that’s why the

story is told. In the ’80s, we had these classic design

“Hey, I got Macchio-ed, I got Zabka-ed,” pointing out

show is working so well. And that’s really a credit to

stories like Rocky, where you had the bad guy, the

our bruises. The young kids are spectacular, as we

our writers.

good guy and the climactic ending. Today we have

once were. But we work really hard at it. And within

Macchio: Yeah, he’s absolutely right. Because

more of shades of grey and a longer format where we

whatever limitations we may have, it’s a great deal of

whether it’s bullying, whether it’s fathers and sons,

get the chance to dial into all the nuances of these

pride to pull it off the best we can.

the mentorship, or overcoming those obstacles as

characters, which I think is fantastic. Ralph and I talk

Zabka: I think also to the credit of the training that

one of the teenagers in the show, or one of the adult

about it all the time, you can take this show and look

we had. Especially for me in The Karate Kid, I had

characters, they’re all on that journey. And they are

through the prism of any of the characters eyes and

Pat Johnson who really gave me the nuts and bolts

failing and succeeding. For the most part, almost

it works through their point of view. So the writers

of martial arts and my style. It’s all about recall and

every character has good intentions going forward.

made a real point to make these three-dimensional,

muscle memory and it’s really built into us. What

We have our villains. But the blurred lines of LaRusso

deep, honest characters and we have a great cast

we don’t have on the show, which we would love to

and Lawrence as quintessential protagonist hero and

that’s realizing that.

have, is time. We had three months to do the final

bad guy, all that’s peeled away.

fights for The Karate Kid, even the skeleton outfit What was it like for you guys to get back into

fence fight, we had plenty of rehearsals for that. On

even though the adult character still has that heart

fighting shape?

a show with this many fights and as much content

and genuine good intention, you start seeing flaws

Macchio: I actually feel more ready for it finishing

and many characters and storylines, sometimes we’ll

and mistakes in his not so attractive qualities that he

Season 4 than I did in Season 1 where I didn’t have

get one, two days, if that. I’m always surprised when

battles with. And therein lies a very rich adult role for

to do much. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know

I spar with Ralph how strong his blocks are. He has

me the actor, Ralph, to have the opportunity to play.

at what level. It seems they add more and more

legitimate blocks. It feels like a baseball bat to my

Everyone was cheering for that kid in 1984 and

54

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

COU RT ESY OF N E TF LI X

WAX ON Daniel (Macchio) encourages his daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser) to learn karate in their home dojo.


The

Partnership

arms. I’m like, “Dude, chill out on that.” And he’s like,

martial artists, let alone actors. So we’re watching

this guy fishing up the river, going the wrong way, it’s

“Hey, I’m just trying to save my life.”

this happen and it reminds me of what happened to

always funny to watch and it’s super fun to play. One

Macchio: I’m always in defensive mode [laughs].

me. I was a recipient of great training at the origins of

of my favorite scenes is when Aisha (Nichole Brown)

We do have a rapport with each other not only in the

The Karate Kid. And Ralph, his kick exploded all the

walks into the dojo in Season 1 and says, “I’m here to

written word, but in the physical stuff. We always

dojos across the country and in the world.

join karate.” I reply, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept girls in

look in each other’s eyes. It makes a difference

As far as being mentor, I think I’m more like the

the dojo.” And she says, “Why?” I say, “Same reason

because when you’re doing that I could see what

fun camp counsellor. We always try to keep a positive

why there’s no women in the army, it doesn’t make

he’s thinking, it’s really quite special in that way.

set, good attitudes, good work ethic, friendly, fun,

sense, they have tiny hollow bones.” Those lines are

safe, all those things. I don’t get too much in their

just so juicy to play and when you play it straight, it’s

How has it been surrounded by all this younger

business. I try to lead by example, because they’re

just hysterical. I love playing that trajectory of a guy

energy in your cast?

very capable actors. I’m always marvelled at their

that’s learning as he’s going. And I remember what

Macchio: It’s been rewarding for me. It’s something

talent and what they bring to the day. Ralph and I like

it was like before Facebook and the internet and

I wasn’t expecting doing the show. To share a little

to take a pause and let them do all the fighting.

all that. And there was a simplicity about that. So,

bit of the wisdom I may have over the years as an

Macchio: Pull up a chair, take our shoes off, eat

here he’s getting educated into the modern world

actor, a father, a husband, as a man who’s not 20

some babka. They are spectacular. These kids really

and there some trappings with that as well as the

anymore, getting to hand that down and telling those

care and come to work every day with a great sense

benefits.

stories. And then this great young cast that absorbs

of pride. It’s really rewarding in that way.

Macchio: But the thing that I love so much is that

everything and gives back to me, that’s been really

it comes up clueless and innocent because he is in

kind of wonderful going forward.

Johnny is definitely stuck in the ’80s. How has

that time zone in his mind. And it logically makes

Zabka: When we started four years ago, these kids

that been for you to play?

sense from Billy’s perspective. When LaRusso is

were all novices. Now they are growing into young

Zabka: It’s been very fun. He’s very much a cave-

in witness of this, he has to then navigate through

adults. They were me and Ralph when we started

man and an artifact of the ’80s. I have the benefit

the ridiculousness. So therein lies that element of

The Karate Kid. They didn’t know how to lift their leg

because I’ve lived through all the changes. I was

comedy, where once again, don’t shine a light on the

at first, but these kids are turning into legitimate

there before cell phones and computers. But to see

Johnny Lawrence of it all, but play the flip reaction of

56

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

COU RT ESY OF N E TF LI X

WE MEET AGAIN Johnny and Daniel are reunited with Johnny’s former sensei and Daniel’s nemesis, John Kreese, played by Martin Kove.


The

Partnership

BETTER TOGETHER Cobra Kai sees the once rivalrous duo Johnny and Daniel pushed to join forces.

planted in the relevance of today.

Big Bear and they’ve spent the night at my house.

What has it been like to bring these guys

So when they got to come back, it was like a

Speaking of the ’80s, what has been your

back?

reunion. Same with Elisabeth Shue, having worked

favorite tune from the soundtrack?

Macchio: It’s been great. I mean, everyone is on

with her, it was very, very easy to get that chemistry

Macchio: There are lots of good ones, there’s the

their A-game. When any characters from the origi-

back instantly.

REO Speedwagon singalong in Episode 9 of Season

nal films come back, they enhance the story. It’s

1. “Back In Black” by AC/DC peppered here and there,

great for us. It’s just warm and fuzzy because we

What can you say about Season 4?

Queen in almost every season.

love these people and they helped create this story

Macchio: What I’m most looking forward to in the

Zabka: Foreigner. All of these are songs that we grew

that is such a big part of our lives. It also gives the

Daniel/Johnny team up is the challenge. Navigating

up with. I mean, this is a soundtrack of my life. It’s

show such rich credibility beyond just the Johnny/

their varied personalities and stubborn mindsets as

very authentic. And I used to listen to those acts, this

Daniel rivalry. It’s just branched off into so many

they work toward the same endgame. Their history

is not movie-making. That’s just like, a video of my

different areas and characters and storylines.

is nuanced and multi-layered. They are wired so

life from before.

Last season when I went to Okinawa, recon-

differently even though their intentions are aligned.

Macchio: You mean eight tracks.

necting with Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) and Kumiko

Billy and I love diving into the friendship as well

Zabka: And those songs work today, they’re

(Tamlyn Tomita), from how Daniel LaRusso deals

as the rivalry. This is what [executive producer]

anthems. And I love that the new generation of kids

with Johnny Lawrence back in the states. The

Hayden Schlossberg has always called the Ross

are discovering these songs as a great new song. I

essences of yesterday give information for today.

and Rachel element of our show. It makes for great

don’t know, you weren’t even a thought back when

comedy as well as heightened drama within

that song was written.

Zabka: When [director] John Avildsen cast us

Season 4.

Macchio: You see these teenagers wearing the Zep-

for the film, he put a chemistry together with the

Zabka: I was thrilled Johnny and Daniel found

pelin, AC/DC and Metallica shirts. It’s awesome. They

personalities and the people we are, that is still

common ground and aligned themselves at the

talk about the four-quadrant show, right? You have

working. The friendships I made on Karate Kid, the

end of Season 3. “The enemy of my enemy is my

parents and kids and grandparents watching and

Cobra Kais, they’ve been my best friends since the

friend.” It’s a great note and launching point for all

this show has those elements of nostalgia, yet firmly

movie wrapped and we’ve done real road trips to

that’s ahead in the story. ★

58

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

COU RT ESY OF N E TF LI X

the world reacting to him. It really is well executed.


Jurnee Smollett, Jonathan Majors and Mischa Green

Lucia Aniello & Paul W. Downs

HBO Max FYC Drive-In HBO Max returned to real life with events for Genera+ion, Hacks and Lovecraft Country.

Hannah Einbinder

DJ Jadaboo

Daniel, Zelda and Ben Barnz

60

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

J E FF KRAV IT Z / FI LM M AG I C FOR H BO

M AY 1 5 - 2 0 , 2 0 2 1 PA S A D E N A , C A L I F O R N I A


FOR YOUR EMMY® CONSIDERATION IN ALL ELIGIBLE CATEGORIES

“CAPTURES THE RESTLESS LONELINESS OF SUPERSTARDOM” J O N CA R A M A N I CA , TH E N E W YO R K TI M ES

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“EPIC YET BRACINGLY INTIMATE” DAV I D EH R LI C H, I N D I E WI R E

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