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.

Behind The Scenes On HBO’s The Girl

Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Alfred Hitchcock built his reputation as cinema’s undisputed master of suspense by using every tool and trick at his disposal to tell tales of powerless peril, circumstance, and betrayal—usually with a lovely blonde starlet front and center.

But the story behind the story has been revealed as appropriately Hitchcockian in its own way, as proven by The Girl, nominated for three Golden Globes for best TV movie or miniseries, best actor in a TV movie for Toby Jones’ portrayal of Hitchcock, and best actress in a TV movie for Sienna Miller’s take on actress Tippi Hedren.

The HBO Films and BBC presentation delves into the rocky relationship the director had at the height of his career with model-turned-actress Hedren during the making of The Birds and Marnie. Hedren’s relationship with Hitchcock, who had long developed a fascination bordering on obsession with his leading ladies, veered from charming and erudite into much darker territory that tested her limits.

Director Julian Jarrold, left, on the set with Sienna Miller.
Director Julian Jarrold, left, on the set with Sienna Miller.

The story, which Gwyneth Hughes scripted based on Donald Spoto’s book Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies, offered a way to explore both Hitchcock’s dark side and his creative impulses, says director Julian Jarrold.

“Hitchcock is such an extraordinary person to investigate based on his personality and his psychology,” says Jarrold, a veteran of British cinema and TV. “The kernel of the story seemed to be about his demons and obsessions, which also seemed to be reflected in his movies.”

To avoid playing just to the caricature of Hitchcock, the filmmakers turned to the chameleon-like qualities of Jones, who previously has played such diverse real-life roles as Truman Capote and Karl Rove. “He’s not ever going to do a straight impersonation,” says Jarrold.

A huge admirer of Hitchcock’s work, Jones says the role was impossible to turn down. “My concern was it would be a hatchet job on Hitchcock,” he says. “But I felt that what Gwyneth had presented in the script was this element of tragedy.”

In Miller, the filmmakers saw many of the same qualities of Hedren, who was a well-established model and independent single mother at the time Hitchcock cast her in The Birds. “There was something intriguing about her, with the kind of life history that she’s had, really, of being able to use that and be able to play against that,” Jarrold says. “She understood this character.”

Miller was drawn to Hedren’s reserved and almost icy, European quality. “I liked playing someone a little more contained than I had (played) in the past,” she says.

Toby Jones, right, plays the Master of Suspense in HBO's The Girl.
Toby Jones, right, plays the Master of Suspense in HBO’s The Girl.

The chance to meet and talk with the real Hedren, who had assisted Hughes in researching the script, was also exciting for the actress. “I’ve played real people before, but never anyone who could critique the performance at the end of it,” says Miller.

The 28-day shoot was set in Cape Town, South Africa, chosen for its resemblance to The Birds’ original shooting location of Bodega Bay, CA, in the mid-1960s. Jarrold says efficiency was the watchword on set, especially with Jones needing to undergo four hours each day of makeup, which included facial prosthetics, a fat suit, and wigs.

Jones studied recordings and footage of the director to get not just the way he moved but his iconic voice, which has elements of everything from cockney to California in it, the actor says. Once he had donned Hitchcock’s iconic suits and begun to speak like him, it was easier to stay in the role as much as 
possible on set.

“Toby would transform himself into Hitch, and we spent the day as those people,” says Miller. “He’s phenomenal, as everyone knows, as an actor, and imposing as Hitchcock. He was staying in character, but not in a way that was indulgent and creepy.”

The work on set was confusing in a fun way, Miller says, with the set itself being a set and having Jones play a director being directed by the real director. There also were moments where the pace of production and the darkening arc of the script made for some tension. “There were definitely moments where it was exhausting and nasty,” says Miller. “I think that isolation that she felt is really unpleasant, but at the same time, I had a real director who was really warm.”

Jones says the South Africa location brought the right amount of intensity to the tale. “To a visitor, there’s a certain uneasiness. You’re trying to work out the politics, and that feeds usefully into the work itself,” he says. “This is an uncomfortable story.”

Hitchcock’s famous directing style had some influence on Jarrold’s approach, but the director says he resisted the temptation to fill the movie with homages. “I wanted to give the atmosphere and feel of his style, the American style if you like,” he says.

He also moved more quickly, filming the famous attic scene from The Birds in a little more than three hours—a scene that took Hitchcock five days. “We just had it running in long shots,” Jarrold says. “It was almost like a live event.”

For Miller, the final nervous hurdle to overcome was when Hedren saw The Girl. “She was very complimentary and very supportive and very relieved,” says Miller. “She sent me this smashing email I will treasure forever.”

Hitchcock Experiences A Revival On The Big and Small Screens

Craig Modderno is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of AwardsLine.

Director Alfred Hitchcock is experiencing something of a revival—32 years after the master of suspense left this mortal coil. Fox Searchlight’s Hitchcock, which stars Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, will open the AFI Fest in early November; Universal just released an elaborate box set, Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, which showcases 13 of his films on Blu-ray; and HBO recently aired The Girl, starring Toby Jones and Sienna Miller, which examines the tempestuous relationship between Hitch and Tippi Hedren.

Hedren, a former model who made her feature-film debut in 1963’s The Birds, was an object of obsession for the director, something she’s only recently begun discussing in detail. Hedren served as an adviser on the HBO movie and recently attended a screening of a redigitalized version of The Birds at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

“When we made The Birds, it was a different time in film history. If there was any tension from the set or people were having affairs, the press agents covered it up,” Hedren explains. “But when Hitch attacked me the first time in the limo right before we arrived on the set, the crew knew what had happened. Then the torture began. He started using real instead of mechanical birds to attack me, and several scenes were in the final cut. It was scary, brutal, and, at times, unsafe.”

Nevertheless, Hedren still has admiration for the man who kept her under his thumb.

“He wouldn’t let me work for any other director while he had me under my 7-year contract,” she says. “(French director) François Truffaut wanted me for the female lead in Fahrenheit 451, and I never found that out until I read it somewhere. Hitchcock was just a lousy, disagreeable man. But if he was here right, now we’d find one thing to agree on: the studio should have rereleased or made The Birds in 3D. It’s the perfect film for that process.”