Emmys Q&A: Jake Johnson

Michael Ausiello is founder and editor in chief of TVLine. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Jake Johnson took Emmy watchers by surprise earlier this year when the New Girl actor elected to exit the supporting actor category in favor of the coveted, competitive lead race (pitting him against such awards heavyweights as Alec Baldwin, Jim Parsons and Jon Cryer). But upon closer inspection, the move was something of a no-brainer. The burgeoning relationship between Johnson’s Nick and Zooey Deschanel’s Jess was the driving force behind the Fox comedy’s stellar second season, and it cemented the actor’s status as a bonafide romantic leading man. In a recent conversation, the 34-year-old Chicago native talks about entering the lead-actor Emmy race, opens up about butting heads with series creator Elizabeth Meriwether, and votes for his favorite Season 2 episode.

Creatively speaking, New Girl managed to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Why do you think that was?
It’s (due to) our writers. I think it got funnier in Season 2, crazier and also more grounded. I didn’t know who my character was at all in the first season. And I would tell that to Liz. I’d be at a table read looking at the script, and I’d go, “So, now Nick does this.” And she’d be like, “Just say the lines; it makes sense.” And when I came back for Season 2, not only did I think Nick was very clear on the page, I thought all of the characters were. I think Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) were very clear in Season 1. And this season I think Nick is. I think Winston (Lamorne Morris) is. I think Cece (Hannah Simone) is. I think the whole show works in a much better way.

Are you relieved Liz didn’t drag out the Nick-Jess romance for six seasons like a lot of other shows would have?
I am. I didn’t want to wait. Because the way I’ve been playing Nick from the pilot was he has feelings for her. To deny that over and over for years—it just didn’t feel as honest. I don’t know if they’re going to (end up) together or not. I don’t think Liz knows. But at least (we’re) being honest about, yes, these two people live together, there’s chemistry… things are gonna happen.

Why did you decide to enter the lead actor race?
Truthfully, Max Greenfield and I were talking about it one day, and he said, “You should consider going out for lead.” And I thought, well, I’m not really the lead. Zooey’s the lead. And he goes, “No, the Nick-Jess (dynamic) is really like (the center of the show).” And we had a big conversation in our trailer about it. And I thought it was interesting, so I threw the idea out to my publicist and we all talked about it, and we all thought it was kind of a fun move.

Should you find yourself with a nomination, do you know which episode you submit?
The “Menzies” episode where Nick (meets serenity guru) Tran, but it’s more silly-ridiculous. I like the funeral episode because it shows the emotional side of Nick. But if I were to pick right now, it would probably be the “Cooler” episode. The one where Nick and Jess have their first kiss.

Are you one of those actors who grew up watching the Emmys? Would a nomination be a dream come true?
It would be an honor come true. Growing up, I remember hearing how certain actors had these accolades in front of their names like, “Three-time Emmy nominee so-and-so,” and I’d be like, “Whoa, that guy must be a very serious actor.” I never imagined one of them being in front of my name as an actor. It would be an honor.

Is there an actor whose career you would like to emulate?
It’s tricky because I’ve already done things that I don’t think they do. Like, I think Mark Ruffalo and Sam Rockwell are very interesting actors, and I really like what they do. But I don’t think I can imagine either of them in the hot tub with Tran. (Laughs.)

Emmys Q&A: Mitch Hurwitz

Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

On May 26 at 12:01 a.m., 15 new episodes of Arrested Development went live on Netflix; probably, by 5 a.m., the series’ legions of fans had exhausted the new supply. The cancellation of Arrested by Fox in 2006, after two seasons, prompted an afterlife of rumors and almost-announcements, as series creator Mitch Hurwitz worked on a feature script of his cult series. Like the fans, Hurwitz didn’t want to let go of his extended band of crazies, the Bluths, either. And then Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, suggested resurrecting the show to Imagine Entertainment’s Ron Howard. “And Ron said, ‘That’s a very nice thought, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen,’” Hurwitz explains. Except it did happen.

How different was the process in working with Netflix?
I wasn’t turning scripts in, because of the nature of the thing. We weren’t shooting one a week. We’d shoot pieces of eight different episodes in any given week. We were shooting 12, 14 pages a day, shooting like crazy.  We screened it at the premiere—it was the first time an audience had seen it, but it was also the first time I’d seen two (episodes) in a row. I’d just been making them and putting them in the pipeline. And I guess that’s the case usually with television. The difference with this one, though, is that it’s all coming out on the same day.  And it will be viewed by some as an eight-hour movie.

Would you have preferred that Netflix do a more gradual roll-out?
I was kind of advocating for a while, how about five a week? And they said, “No, our brand is, we don’t want to chase the traditional things. We don’t chase opening weekends. We want to provide content when people want it, how they want it. We’re a supermarket, not a restaurant.” They didn’t say that, but it’s kind of like that, you know?

Do you care how the episodes are viewed, whether in one sitting or not?
The one thing I really, really, really care about, and it’s just for (the fans’) enjoyment, is that they have to be watched in order. A lot of press got out saying, “Oh, you can watch them in any order.” That was kind of an ambition of mine, and I quickly discovered that the human brain doesn’t work that way. We like stories to have beginnings, middles and ends. It was ambitious, and you try to learn as you go. And what I realized is, particularly with jokes, punchlines are funnier coming after setups. That’s a lot of what we’re doing.

At one point, Showtime was going to resurrect Arrested Development.
What was presented to me was, it’s going to be half the cast, half the fees, half the license fee. At that point it really didn’t make sense to do it. Showtime was great, (but) they didn’t want to spend as much money as we’d spent at Fox, which would have meant paring down the cast and doing a smaller show. And I had never wanted to do that. That had been a longtime struggle, to simplify the show. Not necessarily lose cast members, but, do you have to have a story for every character in every show? I liked the idea of this family all being intertwined.

How was it different writing to a cult audience for a streaming series versus having to worry about ratings on a broadcast or cable network?
Comedy is about an audience. I’ve been working on this for a long time now, so I really had time to go through a lot of the range of what I think people want, the ways in which I want to defy expectation, the ways in which I want to undermine expectation, or reward it. But ultimately it’s all through the filter of my own creativity, obviously. It definitely isn’t pandering. In fact, I did go out of my way to not do the greatest hits. There are some notable absences. But I wouldn’t have done that had I not thought there was a future to this. I have places for things down the road.

Once you got the initial greenlight to create new episodes, did you go out and hire writers?
Because this was still speculative, we did not have the actors’ names on the dotted line. Not because the actors were being recalcitrant or anything, but because they had schedules. They couldn’t just say, “Sure, use me two weeks whenever you want.” Three of my longtime colleagues I brought in: Jim Vallely, Dean Lorey and Richie Rosenstock. I was able to get them to be full-time players, although they still weren’t paid like they would be on a normal show. They had to take a risk too. Then the other people we got as weeklies, and they left. I mean, because we weren’t able to pay competitively what, you know, Community would pay, which is a known quantity, I’d get some of these guys for three weeks and they’d leave. That’s why you see endless names on the credits. Because everybody was there for three weeks and left. (Laughs.) Which almost became harder. I’d have to spend two days just explaining it every time a new writer would come in.

Emmys Q&A: Kat Dennings

After stealing comedic thunder from the goddesses in her 2000 debut as the foul-mouthed Jewish princess Jenny Brier in Sex and the City, Kat Dennings made an impression on the show’s creator, Michael Patrick King. So when King offered Dennings a shot at playing a free-spirited New York waitress in the CBS series 2 Broke Girls, which he cocreated with Whitney Cummings, choosing between film or TV was a little easier for the actress. Kind of a Laverne & Shirley for the millennial set, the series finds Dennings is right at home as Max Black, delivering one-liners in the style of Bea Arthur, Megan Mullally or even Fran Drescher. In fact, since her early teens—and without any acting lessons—Dennings has vamped and deadpanned, a natural talent that’s given her the opportunity to work with director Judd Apatow on The 40-Year-Old Virgin and play a supporting comic-relief role in Marvel’s Thor franchise.

You’ve distinguished yourself as a comedic performer with your deadpan cadence. Did you nurture this over time?
That’s really interesting—I’ve never thought much about that. I guess it’s just how I am. But I know for a fact my older brother Geoffrey is also very much like that. And I worshipped him as a kid, so I give him a little credit.

What was that first Sex and the City audition like?
I was 13 or 14 then, homeschooled, lived in the woods and didn’t have TV. So I had no idea what this show was. (The audition) was six pages of sides; I read it, and Michael said, “Come back tomorrow. Memorized.” And I looked at him, and I was like “Fuck it, I will!” So in the cab on the way back to Penn Station, there was a building covered in the Sex and the City poster, and I thought, “Damn! I just sassed that guy, and this is such a big deal!”

You were joking around?
I was messing with him, but also I was sort of challenging him. Like, “I can do that too.”
Did Michael see you in another project prior to 2 Broke Girls that reminded him of you?
I guess. I’ve never asked. I’ve heard him talk on panels so that’s how I get my information. Maybe Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist?

Tell me about the genesis of 2 Broke Girls.
I think the waitering part and Caroline’s (Beth Behrs) jobs are based on Michael’s experiences. The hoarders episode happened to Michael, as well as the one where we went into this guy’s apartment and found naked pictures of him. The cupcake shop and its demise are based on his sister’s experience. And he loved that as a device, which is really smart.

In discovering Beth Behrs, did they test a number of girls with you?
I was in Florida shooting a really dark film. They called and asked if I could fly back and read, and I’m like, “I’m in Florida. I’m getting raped in a tub. I’m not in a good spot.” And they said, “We get it. Just watch her Funny or Die stuff.” However, they needed to see us together. We got in front of CBS to test, which was one of the most terrifying experiences. I’ve done it a few times. Ninety-five percent of the time no one laughs. You know when you watch those SNL auditions and no one laughs? It’s like that. This was the last step in Beth’s hiring process. Michael loves telling this, but we left that test, and I put my arm around her instinctively.

You were initially inspired by Fran Drescher for your character and then threw that out.
When you start putting someone in the character instead of yourself, it’s muddled. Before we shot the pilot, I was so nervous. It’s a live audience. I watched Jack Black in High Fidelity, and his performance made me feel brave. And I watched The Nanny because she was the only one I could think of who was sort of like that tough Jewish Brooklyn girl. But again, that’s someone else’s character, and I have to develop my own. I kind of ended up imitating my mother because she was a poor girl from Queens who was cool and tough.

Does your delivery of zingers on the show come naturally?
Well, I’ve learned the best way to do it is not to think about it. We’ll get to the show and we’ll do a take, and then the writers rewrite everything. Eighty percent of what airs was given to us the second before we said it. And that’s where they do their best work and gauge what’s funny off the audience. You’re discovering the jokes at the same time as everybody else.

When you read scripts, can you tell the difference between material coming from a male versus a female writer?
Jhoni Marchinko is a legendary sitcom writer, and I can tell her jokes from when she was on Will & Grace. I can tell her flavor on stuff. I mean, Pat (Walsh) and Michael and the male writers are brilliant, but we’re writing for two girls all the time, so having women is essential. Also we have a lot of gay writers, which is a really important voice for our show. It’s just such a perfect melody with all these different instruments.

Emmys Q&A: Allison Williams

Michael Slezak is senior editor of TVLine and an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 12 issue of AwardsLine.

You know those people who brag about not having a television? Girls’ Allison Williams has a handy response for ’em. “I always say very dryly and very honestly, ‘You should invest in one. I’m not even saying you would necessarily like our show. But TV is so good right now.’”
Williams’ awareness of the number of great performances under consideration this Emmy season makes it all the more “exciting and unbelievable” when her name gets floated as a possible contender for supporting actress. And while she’s quick to credit Girls creator and star Lena Dunham—as well as the show’s writers, directors and hair and makeup staff—for helping her bring to life the rudderless Marnie Michaels, Williams admits that “it’s a really fun challenge to play someone who seems to have it all together and yet has this anxiety bubbling beneath the surface. It’s an anxiety she isn’t necessarily aware of herself.”

How did you view Marnie’s season journey overall?
It was really hard. I really feel for her. We are certainly different, but we have enough in common that I look at her and I root for her and I want the best for her. I wish for her that she had something that she was passionate about so that in moments where everything else seems to be unraveling, she could turn to those things that she really truly loves and believes in. But that seems to be another thing that she’s lacking.

One of the more shocking moments of the season was when artist Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone) takes Marnie home from her hostessing job and locks her inside his art installation—a tiny box with walls made of TV sets—and later has sex with her. How do you approach a scene like that?  
The scenes of her crawling into and out of the booth were shot about two months prior to the scene inside the booth—just a little fun fact. The craziest thing about that latter scene was how those old-school TV sets emit quite a bit of static, and that sound is unmistakable. And of course, those images on the screens were just gross. But I’m the kind of person that has to fast-forward parts of True Blood. I get easily queasy.
Anyhow, we shot Marnie’s emergence (from the box) in so many different ways. There was one where I came out and sprinted away. There was a version where he kissed me afterward. But I loved that the one they chose was where Marnie is like, “What the fuck?” You know, total PTSD, and then she says, “You’re so fucking brilliant.” I don’t know if she really means that. She just knows that that’s what she’s supposed to think. She values his perspective on the world because he takes her down, and Marnie has always had this perverse love of people like that.

I loved the scene after Marnie realizes she’s not Booth’s girlfriend, just his paid assistant. We see her bravely lying to Hannah (Lena Dunham) on the phone that everything is perfect and happy.
One of the reasons that scene was heartbreaking was that Marnie is wearing the skeleton of this (expensive) dress that she had bought to impress Booth. She realizes how silly it is, and she’s completely stripped of her dignity. It was really hard to shoot that moment, and it was hard to watch.
We also have to dish the scene where Marnie goes to see her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott) at a work party celebrating his huge success. I loved every post-relationship interaction that Charlie and Marnie had. Those scenes were the most fun for me because if I haven’t been in that situation, my best friends have been in that situation where you’re out of a relationship yet you still want that person in your orbit. It’s not even necessarily a narcissistic thing; it’s just human that you want to be sure that that person is thinking about you, consumed by you. So all of those scenes to me were about that. She’s standing there outside the bathroom and suddenly jabbing Audrey (Gelman), just so subtly while simultaneously trying to make herself seem really cool and nice and understanding. Charlie sees straight through it for most of the party.

She grabs the mic to give the most oblivious performance of Kanye West’s “Stronger.” How did that scene come to such vivid, awkward life?
I knew I had to sing it decently, but not as if I were performing at Carnegie Hall. And what ended up in the episode was recorded live in the moment. It’s not like I recorded it in the studio and then lip-synced it on set. So it was as agonizing as you’d imagine, except I was wearing an earwig, which means I was the only person there who could hear the (music) track. All of those extras who were standing there for every single take, they could only hear my voice a cappella. The looks on their faces were very organic. Anytime I hear (the song) now, I just have this Pavlovian response: Music, blush, embarrassment.

Pete Hammond’s Longform Race Handicap

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.
There is probably no group of Emmy categories that has been more battered and bruised over the years than those of movies and miniseries.
In addition to being combined into a single category in 2011, movies and miniseries almost lost their separate supporting categories earlier this year, but the TV Academy jettisoned the rule change before it ever went into effect. And some anti-movie/mini TV Academy execs have even proposed eliminating movie/minis from the Primetime Emmy telecast, creating a separate show that could be sold to HBO or another cable channel with a vested interest in the format.
Nevertheless, the movie/mini category has seen both ratings and production increase in the last two years, which is fortunate for one simple reason: Movies and minis give the Emmy show true star power. Past winners include prestigious performers like Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Jessica Lange and, last year, Kevin Costner and Julianne Moore. Plus, the contenders change every year, as opposed to regular programming categories like comedy and drama, which often honor the same shows and performers year after year. So now that movies and minis are back in full force, who are the likely frontrunners to triumph this year?

Toby Jones stars as Alfred Hitchcock in HBO's The Girl
Toby Jones stars as Alfred Hitchcock in HBO’s The Girl

Leading the parade again will likely be HBO, particularly with its Cannes Film Festival competition player, Behind the Candelabra, the story of superstar entertainer Liberace and his efforts to hide a relationship with his young lover Scott Thorson. Oscar winners Michael Douglas, sensational as Liberace, and Matt Damon, as Thorson, deliver brave and daring performances. Throw in Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and producer Jerry Weintraub, and you have the recipe for awards success. With the supporting categories restored, there also could be a place for Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe or Debbie Reynolds, who has a strong two-scene cameo as the great entertainer’s Polish mother. The prestige of the Cannes element might help HBO pull off a sweep.
Other HBO movies competing in the category don’t quite have the same cachet, despite equal star power. Phil Spector, which stars Al Pacino as the beleaguered music legend accused of murder, just didn’t draw strong reviews or ratings and is wildly uneven. Pacino will likely nail a nomination because he’s Pacino. Helen Mirren, who plays his defense attorney, also looks likely, with Jeffrey Tambor (who steals the film) a possibility in supporting. The Girl—which presents Alfred Hitchcock as a bit of a pervert in his pursuit of Tippi Hedren (played by Sienna Miller) during the filming of the 1963 classic The Birds and 1964’s Marnie—might have a shot thanks to some fine acting, particularly from Toby Jones as Hitch. However, fans of the legendary director might have a hard time accepting the movie as anything other than a hit job on a man unable to defend himself. Further down on HBO’s list is the heartwarming Hilary Swank-Brenda Blethyn drama, Mary and Martha, which could score noms for one or both of them.

Elisabeth Moss, right, stars in Sundance Channel's Top of the Lake
Elisabeth Moss, right, stars in Sundance Channel’s Top of the Lake.

Among the miniseries contenders, Parade’s End, cowritten by Tom Stoppard, will likely earn a lead actor nom for Benedict Cumberbatch, who is very hot right now. But that one is a bit of a long shot. The most likely mini to gain Emmy traction this year is Sundance Channel’s Top of the Lake, a murder mystery that represents a reunion of star Holly Hunter and writer-director Jane Campion, who both won Oscars for The Piano. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss, way overdue for a win much like other actors in that series, could have a shot in this one, too. Like Candelabra, the miniseries used the prestige of Cannes as a showcase for the project because Campion (like Soderbergh) was a former Palme d’Or winner.
In terms of other minis, History is mounting a giant campaign for The Bible, a 10-hour epic from producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. While critics weren’t exactly doing cartwheels, the numbers don’t lie, which could help this miniseries’ chances. However, this one is a decidedly longer shot than last year’s History behemoth, Hatfields & McCoys, which ended up winning five statuettes including best actor for Kevin Costner and a supporting statuette for Tom Berenger.

Nikki Hahn as Jenny Reynolds and Lily Rabe as Sister Mary Eunice in FX's American Horror Story: Asylum.
Nikki Hahn as Jenny Reynolds and Lily Rabe as Sister Mary Eunice in FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum.

Then, of course, there is FX’s series, American Horror Story, which stirred up controversy last year when it entered as a miniseries, even though it had a pilot and was a regular series on the cable network. Exec producer Ryan Murphy successfully argued that because it was designed as an evolving series, in which the cast plays different roles each season, it really wasn’t fair to include it with the likes of Mad Men or Homeland. There was less competition in the movie/mini area, and American Horror Story picked up 17 nominations in its inaugural season (something it would not have done in drama). It’s a feat the next installment, American Horror Story: Asylum, hopes to repeat this year with last year’s supporting victor Jessica Lange moving up to compete as a lead this time.
Lifetime has a host of potential contenders including the Steel Magnolias remake, whose fine ensemble cast features Queen Latifah and Alfre Woodard; Betty and Coretta, with Angela Bassett and Mary J. Blige; Emmy favorite Jean Smart in Call Me Crazy; and the June Carter Cash biopic Ring of Fire, which stars Jewel as Cash. The big question for Ring of Fire is whether Jewel can do at the Emmys what Reese Witherspoon did at the Oscars in playing the Man in Black’s wife.
Kenneth Branagh reprises his much honored Wallander from PBS, while Laura Linney is a contender for the final four-part installment of the canceled Showtime series The Big C: hereafter (she competed in the comedy series category previously).
One movie that’s unlikely to occupy a nomination slot in any movie/mini category (other than makeup and hairstyling) is the dreadful Lifetime biopic Liz & Dick, which was a ratings winner but a critically lambasted Lindsay Lohan comeback vehicle. If Lohan somehow pulls off a miracle and nabs a nomination, Emmy producers might have to send a live camera out to the Betty Ford Center. Of course, that’s just another reason for keeping the consistently interesting movie and miniseries Emmy categories around for a long time to come. After all, anything could happen for these longform contenders, even though the rest of the races are mostly predictable.

Emmys Q&A: Michael Douglas

David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.

When word first leaked that square-jawed, macho Michael Douglas would star in a biopic 
of Liberace, the swanning pianist famous for garish costumes and flashy keyboard antics, many feared the worst. But HBO’s Behind the Candelabra—directed by Steven Soderbergh and based on a memoir by Liberace’s lover Scott Thorson (played by Matt Damon)—is anything but an exercise in misguided casting. Instead of camping it up, Douglas, who remains best known for his Oscar-winning turn as Wall Street lizard king Gordon Gekko, embraces his inner queen in an audacious and vulnerable performance.

How were you first approached for the role of Liberace—and what appealed to you about the part?
It’s wild. It goes all the way back to 2000, when I was doing Traffic with Steven. One day he says, “Ever thought about playing Liberace?” I thought he was messing with me. But a couple of times on the set I did an imitation, just for fun. Then seven years later, he called and said, “I’m going to be sending you something.” It was the book Behind the Candelabra by Scott Thorson. Jerry Weintraub had acquired it for Steven, Richard LaGravenese had written the screenplay, and Matt Damon wanted to play Scott. It was a great screenplay with a wonderful character for me to eat up the scenery. My whole career has been me playing contemporary characters, so I welcomed the chance to get behind a figure from a different era. It was like painting on a clown face rather than wiping my face raw for a part. It even required appliances and hairpieces and all that.

Did you actually play piano for the film?
I played, but you wouldn’t want to hear it. I told Steven that for any of the musical pieces I have to play, you’ve got to make sure Liberace filmed them. That way I could copy the actions I saw—you know, get your fingers in the right places. Lee (as Liberace was known to his intimates) had a very distinct style. You spend a lot of hours—a whole lot of hours—rehearsing. That probably took the most hours of anything I did for the picture. And it worked out well. I was really happy with it.

Were you ever worried about descending into caricature?
It was a constant struggle. I was always afraid about being over the top. But Lee was over the top. Sometimes I pulled back, and then it didn’t work. It needed that full commitment. But the tone of the picture allows you that breadth. No one was winking at the camera. We really played it pretty straight, for lack of a better word. But it was an issue we were always conscious of.

You are sometimes made to look ridiculous in the film. Did that ever prick your vanity?
One of the things I was happiest about was that pretty soon we lost Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and saw only Lee and Scott. That’s the beauty of playing a character instead of some extension of yourself.

Your sex scenes with Matt Damon are very intimate. Were they hard to shoot, and how did you prepare for them?
Ha! As Matt and I say, we read the same script, and we knew what we had to do. That’s the thrill of acting, the danger of it. Get your Chap-Stick out, and get ready to rumble. You go for it. We’re actors. That’s what we do. I’m not a boxer or fighter, but sometimes I’ve got those scenes to do. We’ve both had our fair share of love scenes to do, so it’s an extension of that. It was tastefully shot. Steven picked the angles well and didn’t linger.

Debbie Reynolds plays Lee’s mother in the film. What was it like working with her?
It was wonderful because she knew Lee really well. She had great stories to tell about him, and both Matt and I cherished the opportunity to hear them. She knew where all the bodies were buried. It was an enjoyable  history lesson.

What was it like working with Steven Soderbergh?
Well, it’s an honor. First of all, he really likes actors, and you can’t say that about every director. Secondly, he’s exceedingly fast, the fastest director I’ve ever worked with. For those of us who like to work fast, that’s good. And he treats you like an adult. He’s a great listener. I just feel really honored to have worked with him a couple of times, and I know a lot of actors who feel that way. He actually shoots his own pictures, so he’s operating the camera as well as the lighting while directing. And he creates this secure, safe world for letting actors do their thing. You feel you can stretch with Steven, rather than withhold or become tighter.

Was there any talk on the set of this being Soderbergh’s last film?
It was talked about in a joking way from time to time. Whenever Matt and I were in a compromised position in the hot tub, we’d say, “This will be great for the final shot of your film career.” Sometimes we’d joke, “We’ll see how long this retirement lasts.” But I think he finished strong with Magic Mike, Contagion and now this. It’s brave filmmaking.

Emmys Q&A: Kerry Washington

Matt Webb Mitovich editor at large of TVLine and an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.

Looking for a female TV character who’s as fierce in her work life as she is in her (messy) love life? It’s been handled. As Olivia Pope on ABC’s Scandal, Kerry Washington—building on a career that has included Oscar-winning films such as Ray and Django Unchained—stands in the eye of a pop-culture storm, fronting a show that drops jaws with astounding frequency, makes Twitter all atwitter and offers, at long last, a chance for a black woman to win a lead drama actress Emmy.

You have said that your decision was not so much to do TV, but to do a Shonda Rhimes show.
Even more so, my decision was to do this show. When I read the script, I was blown away. And knowing that this (was a Rhimes production) reinforced the idea that this could be a really amazing opportunity.

With your first full season behind you, how has the product met the promise?
I will just say that the level of excellence that the people around  me produce on a daily basis continues to astound me. The writing that I’m able to hold in my hands, the level of acting I’m surrounded by, the cinematographers, the costume design—all of it feels like a magical product.

What is Rhimes doing that activates viewers so much?
One of the reasons we (on the cast) like to live-tweet the show is because when we are online with our “gladiators,” the viewers, we get to see from them exactly what we went through at our table reads—the gasps and screams and cries of shock and awe. People are responding to how unpredictable this show is. (Also,) Shonda is not writing the typical archetype of good guy/bad guy. That is part of why you never know whom to trust.

Some choose to view your success through the lens of being among the first African-American actresses to star in a hit TV drama. Do you lament there is still that distinction to be made in 2013? Or do you welcome the opportunity to flag it?
It’s a balance. I feel very proud that we live in a world where this show can be a success, so I think it’s worth noting that progress for all of us to claim and all of us to take responsibility for. We’ve created a place where a black woman can be at the front of the show, but a lot of our success is in how strong of an ensemble it is, and so many people can see themselves in it. We have a lead male who’s Latin. We have two black men. There’s a strong gay character. I look forward to the day when a show like Scandal is a success and it’s not newsworthy. We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there.

Do you think about the significance of possibly earning an Emmy for this role?
I’ve been on the award campaign train several times in my career, with the success of The Last King of Scotland and Ray and Django Unchained. Jamie Foxx and I joke about it, what happens to people when they’re “chasing Oscar.” So I try not to think about my work leaning toward that goal. But it’s interesting that television and the Emmys have been around this long, and (a black woman winning a lead drama actress Emmy) has never happened. I was just beginning to have a career when Halle Berry (won a best actress Oscar)—and not just (as the first) black woman, but a woman of color.

Over the past year, you’ve been seen significantly engaging in the real world’s political conversation.
It’s important for me to be clear that I don’t engage politically because I’m in the public eye. I actually made a promise to myself early on that I would not stop because I was in the public eye, because I feel like it’s my responsibility as an American to be engaged. If my participation encourages other people to participate, no matter what party, I’m glad, because that’s democracy.

Your college major combined theater with anthropology and sociology. How did that inform your skill set?
My mother’s a professor, so the idea of research is something that I grew up around. One of the things I love most about acting are those moments that don’t happen every day, when you truly do something raw and you forget who you are. That’s bliss. The other thing that I really love is the research—pulling articles, learning things, interviewing people, and then you study, study, study, from an anthropological perspective.

Is there an actor you looked up to as you embarked on your career?
The actors that I loved—not even looked up to because I didn’t think I was going to be an actor in any way—were the ones who did comedy and drama, people who worked on the stage and film and television. People like Julie Andrews, Rita Moreno, Diahann Carroll, Barbra Streisand, women who were never limited by just doing movies or just being actors. That’s a part of their longevity.

And if you could give Olivia Pope one piece of advice…
I wonder how things would be different if she had a really great shrink in her life. It’d probably be a lot less interesting!

Q&A: Tim Burton On Frankenweenie

In the final stretch before the Oscar ballot deadline, there’s still hope that voters remain undecided in the animation category. Though Walt Disney has cornered the Oscar slot with three titles, its Frankenweenie stands as an island against the epic Brave and the existential crisis comedy of Wreck-It Ralph. The film is an auteur’s youthful dream short, once buried by the studio that has resuscitated it as a 3D stopmotion feature—the first in black and white. This Frankenstein homage about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life is signature Burton complete with his monster movie motifs, funky production design, and poetic adolescent themes. Many will argue that Burton is long overdue for an Oscar, and God knows, he’s come close: He was previously nominated in the animated category for 2005’s Corpse Bride. His 1994 absurdist biopic Ed Wood garnered a supporting actor win for Martin Landau (as Bela Lugosi) and best makeup, while 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street won best art direction and noms for Johnny Depp as best actor and Colleen Atwood’s costumes. Another appealing Burton attribute for Oscar voters is that he remains an iconoclast among the big-studio directors working today—he’s a visual artist with a spooky canon that appears alienating with its deep subtext, but that lures the masses with its fanciful spins on children’s tales such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. AwardsLine recently spoke to Burton about his career and Frankenweenie’s place in it.

AwardsLine: Why was this the best time to make Frankenweenie as a stopmotion feature? You were just as successful then as you are now and could have conceivably made it in 1993 instead of Nightmare Before Christmas.

Tim Burton: All these projects take a long time. I remember when I first designed Nightmare, it took about 10 years to get that in place because nobody really wanted to do stopmotion, and in a way, there weren’t a lot of facilities that were doing it. We did the Frankenweenie short many years ago, and I never really planned on it being anything else. Over the years, I just kept kind of thinking about the relationship with my dog, but also other monster movies, the kids and teachers from my school, and even the downtown places in Burbank. A lot more thoughts came into Frankenweenie, and it just felt like the right medium for it. It was fun to do the live action thing, but going back and forth and looking at the original drawings (stopmotion) felt like a more pure version to do it. And, again, it was fun to expand on all those kind of memories.

AwardsLine: Was there a specific part of Burbank that you grew up in that you based the setting upon?

Burton: Off Victory Boulevard, Hollywood Way, moving toward North Hollywood, but the flatlands of Burbank. And a little bit of the downtown area, up where the City Hall is, but mainly the flats. There’s also that geography of the flats and then the hill—the sort of up-against-the-mountains kind of thing.  It was based on memories—the starkness of things like the park and even the downtown; we tried to personalize it as much as we could. The original we shot live action in Pasadena, which isn’t really the same kind of feel and look of Burbank. Burbank is kind of a hermetically sealed place. It doesn’t really change much. There are more trees now than there used to be, but it’s kind of the same.

AwardsLine: When you made the original short, where did you see it being placed?

Burton: It was originally meant to go out with an animated feature. It’s like in the old days when animated features were fairly short, they’d have a nature live action short Country Cougar Goes to Hollywood—you know, that kind of “raccoon comes to town” stuff. The idea was it would go out with Pinocchio as a featurette. Then when Disney saw it, they got freaked out by it, and so it didn’t get released. They showed it in front of Pinocchio and nobody had a bad reaction to it, but when Pinocchio and the whale came onscreen, kids were screaming and crying out of the theater. That’s what Disney movies do! So it never got released, but it was still enjoyable to do.

AwardsLine: That’s really bizarre. I was crying and screaming when I saw the whale as a kid, but there was never a Disney short that could trigger such an emotion.

Burton: I know, that’s the weird thing. It’s hard to find logic in things sometimes. That’s why I can’t analyze things too much because it often doesn’t make much sense.

AwardsLine: Well, given whatever hiccup you had with Frankenweenie, you had a really successful run with the studio. How has Disney’s philosophy, or their way of thinking, changed toward avant garde artists such as yourself? How has it changed throughout the years?

Burton: Obviously there’s been different regimes over the years. All different types of people have come in, but they always try to follow some slightly strange Walt philosophy, which gets kind of abstract down the years. But I have to say, on this movie and my recent experiences with them, there were no arguments about the black and white; they seemed to understand it. I think it probably helped that the movie didn’t cost a whole lot; it made it easier to accept the black and white. They were cool about it, and they were very supportive of it, and I’m just always very grateful when that happens. It’s not their usual thing so for me it means a lot.

AwardsLine: What is it that you love about stopmotion? I know 3D makes the art form more amazing.

Burton: Well, I mean I love it. I think of Ray Harryhausen’s work—I knew his name before I knew any actor or director’s names. His films had an impact on me very early on, probably even more than Disney. I think that’s what made me interested in animation: His work. And there’s something that’s old-fashioned and quite beautiful about it. The thing that’s amazing is, it’s like live action but imagined, and it’s tactile. The puppets are usually these beautiful little works of art that move, and to see a character walking in and out of shadows one frame at a time and the lighting, it’s like a real movie. There’s something magical about it. It kind of connects you back to the origins of film, in a way. There’s something about seeing this little inanimate object coming to life that’s just very exciting. That’s why with Nightmare I held out for so long to do it.

AwardsLine: I remember the ParaNorman filmmakers speaking at Deadline’s The Contenders and mentioning that it took them a week to shoot one minute of footage. Is that the same production time for you?

Burton: Oh, yeah.

AwardsLine: Or do you have the benefit of working with several crews?

Burton: No, we had a pretty small crew. I would say there were times that we wouldn’t even get a minute in a week. We had a smaller crew, definitely, than we had on Nightmare or Corpse Bride, for sure.

AwardsLine: Wow. On those films, were you able to do two minutes a week or is that just a crazy schedule?

Burton: No, it depends. It depends on the shots. I mean, it can take up to a week to do a shot, depending on the complexity of it. At most, you’d be lucky to get a couple of shots a day once you get up and running and ramping, and you’re fully into it. Also, sometimes you start out with a slightly smaller crew, and as it goes the people that are assistants actually are quite good at animating, so (you) sort of train people that don’t start out as animators but several months into production they become decent animators. So it kind of changes a little bit.

AwardsLine: So you’ve actually taken on journeymen in stopmotion, and by the end of the film, they’ve become pretty experienced?

Burton: Yes, and it’s actually quite difficult because it’s such a rare find. The people that are good at doing it get lured into the more lucrative computer animation, and/or they go to other companies, so each time I’ve done a project. I’ve had to find people. There’s a few people I’ve worked with that have been consistent, but you have to start from scratch almost each time because, also, it takes time to mount. From Nightmare to Corpse Bride to this, building the puppets takes a lot of R&D. There’s a lot of time: Here’s the drawing, but is the puppet going to work? And there’s a lot of ripping and tearing, and now we have to make this bigger, and you know all that stuff that goes into making (it) that takes up quite a bit of time.

AwardsLine: Well, creative justice has been served and Frankenweenie is nominated for an Oscar. Have you ever tried to make heads or tails of the Academy and the way they vote? Did you ever make a film and say to yourself, “Hey, this could possibly be Oscar worthy”?

Burton: No. I mean, I can’t even target this for children or adults (laughs).  Honestly, I think you can find by our conversation, there are a lot of things that are quite abstract about the whole thing, so I think for me it’s not something that’s in your control. It’s hard to analyze or predict things. I think if I ever had that thought, it would freak me out and I wouldn’t be able to do a project!

AwardsLine: I first saw Pee-wee’s Big Adventure when I was 13, so I’ve grown up with your career and came to embrace your work in the same vein as David Lynch and Terry Gilliam. Each of you had your own distinctive voice, but what you’ve been able to do that they haven’t, is you’ve become widely appreciated and most of your work is mainstream. What do you attribute that to?

Burton: Again, it’s hard for me to analyze it because, as everybody, you have your ups and downs, but it’s funny because I’ve never been able to target. Like I said, from the beginning of my career, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice were on some of the year’s worst Top 10 lists and it’s like, “Whoa!”, you know? So I’m no stranger to bad reviews and things. But then many years later, those two worst movies of the year, “Well those were his two best films,” you know? (laughs). Like, is it going that downhill? Some of the worst movies of the year were my best? I may as well just end it all right now. So I mean it does make it kind of a strange in an Alice in Wonderland kind of world in that way. I find that the most special thing to me is if you’ve connected to people in some way. If someone comes up to you on the street and says something to you and you know it’s meant something to them and it’s connected to some project. That, I find, is amazing. Every movie can go either way and you never can predict it.  That whole MoMA exhibit (on my work)—a lot of people think that I went to MoMA and said, “Hey, would you put my artwork up in your museum?” (But) they came to me, which I was quite surprised about, because it’s not something that I would have ever thought of or even considered. So that was a strange surprise. I liked the curators. I felt my work was in good hands, but again it was not something I was looking for. It was an amazing, interesting surprise.

AwardsLine: Was there ever a filmmaker or studio executive who influenced you in your career and made you trust your voice?

Burton: I’ve had lots of help. To be honest, whatever troubles you’ve had, I’ve also gotten the opportunities to do things. I remember early in my career with Disney, which was a very strange time in the company—there were a couple of executives who were very supportive of me and kind of let me do my own thing. You know when I went to Warner Bros. there was a woman named Bonnie Lee who was an executive who helped me to get to Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. They’re giving you the money, and you try to find people you relate to as much as possible, so I’ve been lucky to have people, especially early on, be supportive and help me along.

AwardsLine: Touching on Johnny Deep for a moment.  You know, I never watched 21 Jump Street…

Burton: (laughs) Yeah, I’ve never seen that.

AwardsLine: Well, Edward Scissorhands was the first time I ever saw him act, and he blew me away.

Burton: I think it probably helped that I hadn’t seen 21 Jump Street (laughs).

AwardsLine: What did you see in Depp early on?

Burton: It was quite simple. I mean, I knew about 21 Jump Street, and I had seen pictures and stuff, and I met him and he just reminded me of what the character was. At the time he was perceived as a teen idol, you know, a Justin Bieber type of guy, but as a person he wasn’t that. So, for me, he mirrored what Edward Scissorhands was: He was something inside, but people treated him a certain way because of the way he looks. So in a weird way, he was the character, because he had those feelings.

AwardsLine: Is he involved early on in the scripts with you, particularly with Dark Shadows? I remember Seth Grahame-Smith mentioning at a Q&A that Depp acted out the character of Barnabas Collins in a development meeting with both of you.

Burton: It depends. Every one has been different. I’m trying to think back.  With Ed Wood, the script was there. I think on Sweeney Todd, I just asked him, before there was a script, if he’d go for it. But usually there’s a script.

AwardsLine: And your next project?

Burton: Yeah, I don’t really know what it is, so don’t bother with that (laughs). Really. Because I just sort of injured myself so I’m just getting through the pain threshold now, so it’s kind of hard to think at the moment. And I don’t really have anything at the moment.

AwardsLine: Jumping back to Frankenweenie, you said you re-created some of your teachers in the film.  And there’s this great homage to the old monster movies: There’s a kid who looks like Igor, the science teacher looks like Vincent Price who I’ve always known has been an idol of yours. Now, did these people in your life actually look like Igor and Vincent Price?

Burton: Oh, yeah. There was definitely a weird girl—I very specifically remember her. And some of the people there were a mixture of types. There was a couple that were maybe like two people that were kind of stuck into one—just the sort of dynamics and the kid politics and the way kids act toward each other and the wise oldies. Again, I just tried to go back and remember all those feelings and the way that other kids felt quite strange to me. So I just tried to capture those feelings of those memories.

AwardsLine: Lastly on the music. Your composer Danny Elfman mentioned that there isn’t a shorthand between the two of you after working together for several years, that each time is like starting anew. What was your take on your musical process together, particularly with Frankenweenie?

Burton: It is funny because I’ve known him since the beginning of my career so it is strange. It doesn’t seem like it’s getting any easier (laughs). I don’t know what that is all about because there is a weird—I mean, I’m not a musician, so it’s hard for me. I do find it hard sometimes to communicate with him, and the easiest thing for me to do is to play him a piece of music, but he doesn’t like that. And I don’t really like doing that either because it’s like, well, most composers don’t like temp scores. On a project like this, it’s the kind of (Bernard Herrmann) stuff that he loves, so there’s that kind of obvious connection there. He grew up loving those old monster movies as well. He got the emotion of the story as well. So it wasn’t that difficult.

Q&A: Hayden Panettiere On Nashville

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Hayden Panettiere, 23, began her career as a child actor on the soaps One Life to Live and Guiding Light, and met an untimely death as Kirby Reed in Scream 4. But she is perhaps best known as Claire Bennet, the high-school cheerleader with supernatural powers on NBC’s Heroes. She’s trying to change that girl-next-door image in ABC’s Nashville, portraying ambitious, conniving country-pop diva Juliette Barnes, youthful nemesis of old-school country star Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton). Apparently the catfight chemistry is working: ABC recently handed the freshman series created by Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise) a full-season order. And both Panettiere and Britton scored big at the Golden Globe nominations: Panettiere netted a nom for best supporting actress in a TV series, miniseries, or motion picture, and Britton is up for best actress in a TV drama.

AwardsLine: This role was a lot to take on with singing. What led you to accept the part of Juliette?
Hayden Panettiere: I love the fact that this character that Callie Khouri created is so multidimensional; there’s so many layers to her. But this was a big deal for me because I really wanted to break away from my character in Heroes. I’m so deeply blessed that I got to play that character, don’t get me wrong, but I knew after that character it would be an uphill battle for people to see me as anything besides the all-American cheerleader.

AwardsLine: As the episodes unfold, we find out Juliette has a dark past that influences her character, but it’s got to be sort of fun to play the bad girl.
Panettiere: Absolutely. But it’s more interesting when you get to play the bad girl with a heart, that back story, that thing that people can find sympathy for.

AwardsLine: What kind of relationship do you and Connie Britton share off camera? Do you try to maintain the tension by staying away from each other?

Panettiere: We definitely are close friends. I feel like the closer you are to somebody, the easier it is to really go after them (on camera) because nobody’s going to take it personally. It may sound silly, because you are acting, but some people are so Method that they won’t develop a relationship with the person they are acting across from. If this show goes on for years, that would be a very difficult person to try not to get along with. We get along brilliantly, and the closer we become, the more fun we have.

AwardsLine: Do you have any favorite “meow” moments?
Panettiere: What we have to say comes off so snarky sometimes! I mean, when they yell, “Cut,” we don’t exactly call each other names, but it cracks me up when Rayna calls me Miss Sparkly Pants.

AwardsLine: If this show lasts for multiple seasons, wouldn’t these two women eventually make peace with each other?
Panettiere: I think you’d be surprised as to the reasoning behind why people don’t get along. I’m not saying I know anything specific, but I have a feeling that there’s something personal, some nerve that Rayna has in her, and at some point people might see that and understand it. But the show does not revolve around this catfight. You cannot survive on a show where the entire thing is revolving around one catfight. You have to bring in something else to sink your teeth into. We have a lot more going on.

AwardsLine: You mention taking on the role because of the multifaceted character Callie Khouri created. What is your impression of her?

Panettiere: She is unbelievable. She is by far one of the coolest but most talented people that I’ve ever come across. I just remember seeing her for the first time, and she was just this long, lean, statuesque woman with the beautiful hair and cream-colored pants and top, these brown riding boots. I just remember being in awe of her, and just how beautiful she was. She has made this show everything that it is. It’s so grounded, and this reality and this world, because Callie has lived in it. She’s experienced it; she’s not somebody who has only heard about it in books and movies.

AwardsLine: With its look at showbiz behind the scenes, does Nashville take its cue from NBC’s Smash?
Panettiere: All of our songs are incorporated into these characters’ daily lives. We don’t break out in song midscene.

AwardsLine: Has anything been said or written about the show that you disagree with?
Panettiere: The only thing that ever kind of drove me crazy was in the beginning there was a lot of speculation that Juliette was completely untalented—it was almost like what was going on behind the scenes of our press was also going on behind the scenes of Juliette’s press. People don’t see her as a true artist, somebody who is talented, they see her as this big moneymaking machine, and she wants so desperately to be respected, for people to know that she is an amazing songwriter and that she can sing. I don’t feel like she would be as interesting a character if she had no talent. She would just be annoying.

Q&A: Jodie Foster On Her Cecil B. DeMille Honor

David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Few stars can rival Jodie Foster’s durability. One has to go back to Hollywood’s golden age—to the likes of Judy Garland—to find those who even approach her successful transition from childhood roles to adult parts. And what other child actor started directing after accomplishing that transition? None. Which is why it’s fitting that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is bestowing on Foster its highest honor, the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

Foster has been with us so long, it’s almost impossible to believe she’s just 50. Amazingly, it’s been 20 years since she won her second best-actress Oscar (for Silence of the Lambs). Her first came three years earlier (for The Accused). But her first Academy Award nomination dates back to 1977, for Taxi Driver, in which she played a young teen prostitute, opposite Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Foster says with typical understatement during a recent phone interview. “And it feels like a long time, but it also feels great. I don’t remember ever starting. My earliest memories are doing commercials and TV. And here comes this celebration of my whole life. So now what? Hopefully there’s more to come.”

There no doubt will be for Foster, who continues to eye both acting and directing projects with an eagerness tempered by discernment. Yet she acknowledges a certain ambivalence regarding her career. “I don’t know if I have the personality for it,” she says. “I’m not sure if I’d not fallen into it, it’s what I’d have done. I mean this mostly as an actor rather than as a director, but I’m one for entirely different reasons from most people. It’s become a psychological evolution. I chose movies based on what I had to learn about myself, not because I had to act. There’s lots of things I’m not interested in, and I don’t want to play parts in those movies.”

Despite the wide range of roles Foster has undertaken and the very different plots of the three films she’s directed, she sees a throughline in her work. “I always feel like I’m making the same movie over and over again,” she says. “Nobody else seems to notice, but I do.” The perspective, though, is markedly different depending on whether Foster is acting or directing. “As an actor, I’m always playing solitary characters,” she says. “But as a director, I’m always making ensemble movies, which focus on lots of people’s lives and how they intertwine. Similar things interest me both as an actor and as a director but in totally different ways. As an actor, I’m attracted to drama; as a director, it’s humor—because it’s the story of my life, and I can’t be that serious about it. Being alone is a big theme in all my movies, both as a director and as an actress.”

Jodie Foster's first major film role was at age 12 opposite Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.
Jodie Foster’s first major film role was at age 12 opposite Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.

The actress credits her mother, Brandy, with laying the groundwork for her transition from family-friendly roles to more serious work, and Taxi Driver (1976) was the turning point. The film’s producer, Michael Phillips, remembers director Martin Scorsese’s determination to cast Foster, an instinct that really paid off. “She was only 12 and kind of shy,” Phillips recalls. “But she was very intelligent and quite mature. She just had the acting chops. She was very natural in the character and seemed unthreatened and undaunted by the sexuality. That was one of the big issues—how comfortable she would be with that material. She was doubled for the sexual material; some of it her sister did. But she was exposed to blood and violence. It was just her politeness that gave away her age. She was impossible not to like and respect, and it was amazing how much self-possession she had at that age.”

By the time Foster appeared in The Accused (1988), there was no denying that a major actress had arrived. Yet she insists that even after she made that film, she had doubts about spending the rest of her life in pictures. “Right after The Accused, I was heading to grad school and thought that was the last of those. Part of me was disappointed in my performance. Then I saw the movie and realized that a lot of it was about fear and a lot was unconscious. And also I thought, Literature doesn’t wake me up at 5 in the morning. So grad school wasn’t going to do that.”

Foster won her second best actress Oscar for Silence of the Lambs.
Foster won her second best actress Oscar for Silence of the Lambs.

Her perseverance in Hollywood was rewarded with The Silence of the Lambs (1991), which won five Academy Awards, including best picture. Jonathan Demme directed Foster to her second best actress Oscar, yet he credits her with helping him shape his conception of the film. “The first time I met Jodie,” Demme says, “we hadn’t started casting yet. But she reached out to express her deep regard for the book. She described it as the story of one young woman desperately trying to save the life of another young woman, with these roadblocks put up by all these men. And something really clicked for me when she said that, and that became the theme that guided me in making the movie, and it impacted endless decisions. I was so moved by what she said that I named my production company Strong Heart in honor of Jodie’s thematic inspiration. I treasure how she oriented me as how best to tell this story.”

Though modest about her two Oscars, Foster willingly acknowledges their impact on her career. “It’s like winning the lottery,” she says. “It doesn’t mean you’re a better person. At the same time, after my first Oscar, I was able to say, ‘OK, I’m doing this incredibly risky thing. I’m going to try and direct.’ It gave me some kind of passport that I might not have had. But I also think the reason you were given the honor is because you played from the heart, not because you followed a rulebook. And you learn you have this great saber, which allows you to make decisions against the tide. Silence of the Lambs was not something people expected me to do. But I loved this book and this character, and the film operates at such a high level. And by the way, I just won an Oscar, so too bad. It was really the best decision I could have made.”

The impact of those wins resonates even now, for the avenues they opened offered Foster a way to remain fulfilled in Hollywood. “I think it’s something I’ll probably do my whole life and also something I need a break from a lot,” she says. “But there’s lots of different ways to tell stories and lots of different ways to make films. I’ve only directed three movies, and I’ve got a lot to learn, and there’s a lot ahead for me there. It’s hard getting movies off the ground—harder and harder every year. My goals are humble as a director. They’re really about having the films as an expression of who I am. As an actor, you can’t really do that. You do it and move on. But directing, well, that’s me. It requires a real 100 percent investment in all levels of the storytelling.”

Foster isn’t shy about owning up to missed opportunities, even if she isn’t eager to mention specific projects. Yet she remains optimistic. “I’ve had a weird career, and I get a lot of grief for it,” she says. “What I choose is just really personal, especially as a director. I can’t just go, ‘I like scuba diving, so let’s do a scuba diving movie.’ It has to be something I would die for. And because it’s the story of your life, there are the popular parts and the parts nobody likes and the parts people don’t understand. But I have to make those movies, too.”

Q&A: Anthony Hopkins On Hitchcock

David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor

When we think of Anthony Hopkins, psychopaths naturally spring to mind. After all, the Welsh actor won an Oscar in 1992 for playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, a career-defining role. But, of course, there’s much more to Sir Anthony than just playing brilliant fictional villains. He’s also displayed a knack for portraying complicated historical figures. In addition to playing Hitler (on TV) and William Bligh, the actor has earned Oscar nominations for playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) and John Quincy Adams in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997). Now, Hopkins has assumed the role of Alfred Hitchcock in Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, which chronicles the development and making of Psycho.

AWARDSLINE: What attracted you to playing Hitchcock?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: The project originally came to me eight years. I met the two producers and thought, Yes, it’s interesting. But who wants to see a film about Alfred Hitchcock? Plus, I didn’t want to put on weight, having just gotten fit. So it never happened. But then it came back around. Sacha Gervasi now had it, and he had such passion and blatant enthusiasm for it. He had no experience directing actors, and I thought that would be a challenge. So I decided to just jump in.

AWARDSLINE: Was it difficult acting in a fat suit?

HOPKINS: Hitchcock wasn’t as heavy when he directed Psycho as he was later. We did some tests to get it right. No one wanted me to disappear behind a lot of makeup. They did it from the chin. My jawbone is completely different from his, so it went from my chin to my neck, and then I had the costume. I spent about an hour and half in makeup each day. I also shaved my head, because I’m quite gray, and Hitchcock used dye—that awful red dye. And then, once you get into the mask, I’m not Alfred Hitchcock; I’m Anthony Hopkins playing the guy. So I used what I could. I wouldn’t go on the set till I was completely dressed. I wouldn’t go on in jeans, even in rehearsal. If you’re going to rehearse a scene, become the character. I wanted to feel the illusion of what I was trying to do, and that’s what I did.

AWARDSLINE: You did an enormous amount with your eyes in this role. Was that a conscious choice?

HOPKINS: Yes, it was. I have blue eyes, so I wore contact lenses, because Hitchcock had hazel eyes. The camera has to see behind the lens. I can’t really describe it. Acting is about listening to the other person. You get a great actor like Helen Mirren, and they do the work, and you listen. So when Richard Portnow as Barney Balaban talks harshly to me, it’s just glaring back that I do. Acting is about listening and reacting. John Wayne was right: Acting is just reacting. You don’t have to do much—as long as you stay out of the way of others. That’s why it works.

AWARDSLINE: Hitchcock is a revered figure in cinema, but this film clearly explores his dark side. Why did that appeal to you?

HOPKINS: It’s not so much dark as it’s the complex side of any personality. Hitchcock was such a master of putting on screen things that made you uneasy. Somebody once asked him what frightened him most, and he said the police. He came from a poor background. I think he understood those fears. He hated the thought of sudden violence. He was always wanting to be in control. And his films reflect that at any moment it can happen—your life is in control and then bam. He had such simpatico with the audience. And he was such a romantic, trapped in that obese body but appreciating beautiful women. We gather from biographies that he and his wife had a business arrangement, but we don’t know. He wasn’t an easy man. Janet Leigh said she had fun going to his house because he was such a practical joker. Once an actress told him that this was her best side, and he responded by saying, “My dear, you’re sitting on your best side.” He told Tony Perkins, “Don’t worry about motivation, my camera will tell you what to do.” Tony Perkins asked if he could chew candy on set, and Hitchcock said, “You can do whatever you like, my boy.” Everyone liked working with him. He didn’t say much as a director, but he was clear and supportive.

AWARDSLINE: You also portrayed Richard Nixon. Is there a thrill to playing someone historically important—and how do you refrain from dipping into caricature?

HOPKINS: Nixon is very much like Hitchcock. Both suffered from insecurities, and I know about insecurities and fears. So I understood Hitchcock at an instinctual level. He felt like an outsider, and so do I. I have a little bit of insight into that, so I like playing those characters.

AWARDSLINE: You won an Oscar more than 20 years ago. How did that change your career?

HOPKINS: It didn’t change anything at all. I remember the night I won the Oscar. I thought, Now I don’t have to do anymore. But then you wake up the next morning, and the Oscar is there, and you have to ask, “Now what do I do?” It can be a curse—some actors never work again after winning—but I don’t think about it. I just continue to do my job and get on with it.

Q&A: Kathleen Kennedy On Lincoln

This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Kathleen Kennedy has worked with Steven Spielberg for more than 30 years, producing boxoffice successes and critical hits in equal measure. But she says that in all that time, one biographical topic came up consistently in their development discussions: “The subject of Lincoln was something that always fascinated both of us,” she says, noting that their current release took 13 years and multiple iterations to make it to theaters. “We were both really surprised that there hadn’t been more done in cinema (on Lincoln) over the years.” With a script from Tony Kushner, their complex—and occasionally humorous—portrayal of the 16th president’s efforts to pass the 13th amendment in the months before his assassination has already hit $100 million domestically and earned seven Golden Globe nominations. Kennedy recently spoke with AwardsLine about Lincoln’s languid path to production and her new role as president of LucasFilm.

AWARDSLINE: Every film has its own set of rules, but what consistently surprises you or keeps you interested when you’re starting a new project?

KATHLEEN KENNEDY: My tastes tend to be eclectic, so if I’m working on something that’s a small budget where the challenge is in all the nuances of trying to literally get it made, that presents its own set of challenges; if I’m making a big effects-driven studio picture, then it’s really more of managing all the moving parts. For something like Lincoln, we knew that this was going to be a difficult movie to get made, even if Steven Spielberg was directing it. And as you can see on the screen, we had many different partners just in trying to get the movie financed.

AWARDSLINE: Can you explain how that all came together?

KENNEDY: In this day and age, you say that you’re doing a movie about Abraham Lincoln, and nobody necessarily sees the opportunity for making lots of money—it’s not like doing Jurassic Park. So that’s something we knew going in, and we began to explore the options of who might step in and share the risk of making the film. It ended up taking almost a year before we put together the necessary partners. Stacey Snider was very involved at DreamWorks in really pulling most of that together while we were making War Horse. And when we came back, we went immediately into prepping Lincoln. I had already had many conversations with everybody in Virginia about being able to use the government buildings in Richmond while they were out of session. That, I knew early on, was going to dictate our shooting schedule. That gave us a goal in terms of knowing when we had to have the financial partners in place.

AWARDSLINE: Was there ever any other actor during this 13-year process of getting Lincoln made that you considered for the title role?

KENNEDY: It’s been in the press that we had conversations with Liam Neeson—this is after Daniel (Day-Lewis) had turned the movie down the first time. And once Tony (Kushner) wrote the script, and Daniel had a chance to read that draft, that’s when he turned around and committed to the project. But the only serious conversation we had with any other actor was with Liam.

AWARDSLINE: A lot has been written about Steven’s almost Method approach to working with the actors on set. Can you talk a little bit about that aspect?

KENNEDY: What was really going on was that Steven recognized very early that this was going to be a movie where it was all about what was going on in front of the camera. It was a movie that was focused predominantly on performances. He didn’t want an environment where there was a lot of chit-chat and conversations going on about what was happening behind the camera or just the kind of socializing that tends to go on when you’ve got a lot of down time. And this was a movie where there was virtually no downtime. There was always focused discussion on what was going on within the scene and within the performances, and conversations with the actors because we have in excess of 149 speaking parts (with) fairly complicated wardrobe and hair and makeup. Steven wanted to know as soon as the actors were ready and on the set, (so) he would be ready to start shooting and take full advantage of the time he had. What’s really interesting about any movie I’ve done with Steven (is) we usually adopt a kind of attitude depending on what the movie is. The closest experience I’ve had was working with Clint Eastwood. I’ve made a couple of movies with Clint, and he runs a set in a similar way. In large part, that comes from the fact that he is an actor, and it’s always the most important thing to Clint that when the actor arrives on the set, things are immediately quiet, and the focus turns to those performances. And that’s exactly what Steven did on this set.

AWARDSLINE: You’re stepping into the role of president of LucasFilm at a time when it’s being acquired by Disney. How will that affect your producing duties? You have a lot of work on your plate.

KENNEDY: (Laughs.) Yeah, it’s a lot on my plate, but it’s been fantastic. I consider it such an honor that George (Lucas) came to me after all these years and asked me if I would take over the company and ensure that his legacy continued. There’s going to be a lot that looks really fun and interesting, and it will still utilize many of the skills that I use as a producer. I don’t envision that a lot will change that dramatically. Many of the movies that I did with Steven over the years involved carrying through a lot of other areas of the business of making movies, and that’s something that I’ll probably end up doing more of. But I’m finding out what the job is right now.