Tuesday, 20 November 2012

In Praise of Women; or a Few Notes on THR Actress Roundtable

I remember at one of the THR Roundtables for TV Actresses Julianna Margulies said something to the effect of the best advice she’d ever gotten was from Warren Beatty, “Don’t do too much of these press things. It lets them [the public] know you too well.” It’s a fair enough comment considering how much overkill could kill a career. Still, my favourite aspect of any major award season has been the opportunity it offers to see actors bump shoulders with each other, specifically the roundtables organised by The Hollywood Reporter and the likes.

Watching these actors relating to each other and discussing various aspects of their crafts – when done well – becomes more than incidental back-patting but presents a much appreciated glimpse into how they think of themselves as performers vis-à-vis their peers. 
It’s always the women’s roundtables which offer the most interesting bits for me, though. (Quelle surprise!) I think at some point we just have to admit that women performers are more interesting than men. The men are never truly bad, per se, but year after year I’m more likely to find witty gems in the women's interactions. They tend to be more passionate. (Case in the point: the bar for great roundtable discussions remains for me the 2010 Film Actress roundtable with HBC, The Bening, Nicole etc).

This year’s roundtable features Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Sally Field (Lincoln), Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea), Naomi Watts (The Impossible), Amy Adams (The Master, Trouble with the Curve), Helen Hunt (The Sessions) and Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone).

The entire hour conversation (go see HERE) is interesting to watch. It doesn’t rank at the top of my favourite roundtables, but there are significant things to ponder on. A few observations on interesting moments below.

There was the constant bend to the narrative of the actresses fighting to get roles and it was a bit like seeing the man behind the curtain seeing where even roles that made them renowned that they seemed SO right for were so difficult for them to get. Rachel (34:00 – 35:00) lobbied hard for her Oscar winning role in Tessa by writing a succession of letters to Fernando Meirelles, which she coyly noted was a very British thing to do. Helen Hunt, too, mentioned how difficult it was for her to get an audition for her Oscar winning role in As Good As It Gets (36:00 – 37:00).

Sally Field had loads to tell and many of the roads in the interview kept leading back to her. Her anecdote on working on “The Flying Nun” and then trying to break into the film industry (28:00 – 31:00) is full of hilarious bits and also some sad ones. For better for worse, Sally’s best asset has always been how naturally spontaneous she comes across and as she stutters for words and talks with her hands (excessively) she seems so indomitably youthful it’s that much harder to believe she’s been in the business for almost 50 years. She mentions that her first attendance at the Golden Globes was to give Dustin Hoffman the “Best Newcomer Award” (!!!) which gives me a brain segue in thinking – I really want that prize back at the Globes, no?
More Sally loveliness. I’ve not seen Lincoln yet but her tale about auditioning and then re-auditioning for the role of Mary Lincoln is just a lovely thing. Again, it’s only evidence of how natural a celebrity she is (I know, I’m a broken record) and it plays up the humility and kindness of Daniel Day Lewis who flew over from Ireland to read with her because he felt it was unfair to have her audition alone. (45:00 – 46:00). Like, if it’s true that narrative helps you win awards – this is a narrative that plays both Sally and Daniel up beautifully.

Anne and Helen also make specific mentions of their films. Helen – especially eloquent – gives a nice pointer about playing real people. (13:00 – 15:00). Usually, she says, meeting the person you’re playing doesn’t necessarily inform your performance in a positive way but the sex surrogate roots of her character for The Sessions was especially intriguing and made all the better by meeting the actual surrogate. She makes a nice distinction between a prostitute and a sex surrogate and constantly mentions throughout how she’s naked for most of the movie. She also, very easily, mentions after slight goading from the interviewer, that she couldn’t really be caught up in worrying about the nudity. The script was good, and the role demanded it. Wise words.

I’ve always been somewhat reticent about Anne Hathaway as a “celebrity” mostly because I’ve never been able to connect with her natural cadence. Her bit on her mother playing Fantine on stage and what that meant for her playing it in the film was a nice touch (10:00 – 11:00), although there seems to be that constant refrain in her interactions that she was more making a deliberate attempt to sell the movie than speak naturally. But that’s probably not fair to her especially considering what she goes on to say later (see #8).

Go below the jump for a great anecdote from Marion, some wise words from Helen and rumination on the evil media from Anne...

If I’m vaguely doubtful of Anne’s naturalness I can’t say the same of Marion. It sounds vaguely mean to say but I love seeing Marion in interviews even as the language barrier sometimes threatens to impede. But, it also makes the things she does say come across as more authentic and she’s probably the actress who contributed the most personal information. One of my favourite bits was her tale of a horrendous film shoot where she had fought for the director who turned out to be awful and then wanting to murder the crew on set in the desert. She speaks about struggling through a crying scene because she just could not summon the necessary emotion, when she got an epiphany….
“I said to myself, try to imagine the director you’re working with is Michael Mann or Rob Marshall. And then I realised that if I don’t trust the director, if I don’t like him – I’m gonna be bad. And I got my French version of the Razzie Award nomination for this movie. And, the thing is, I really wanted to have it. Not that I mean --- I didn’t want to be mean, but I had my acceptance speech planned. Without this director none of this would have been possible.” (55:30 – 57:30
I love this Marion moment because it’s so rare to hear an actor being honest about not enjoying a shoot. It’s such a candid confession (you can see her getting emotional in some bits) and one that does such a nice job of humanising her as a performer giving us insight into how she works which is the best thing about these conversations – or should be – (see #7 below), and knowing my love for Nine I love the Rob Marshall shout out. Segue, Marion got onto my personal Supporting Actress ballot in 2009 for her work in Marshall’s and Mann’s films. (Marion also gives another favourite moment of mine when she says she’d like to play a character like Gollum.)

Another stellar moment was Helen’s astute comment about what gets talked about at these roundtables.
“It’s a bit like when Hillary Clinton was running for president and they’d ask Obama questions on foreign policy and they’d ask her how do you stay healthy on the road. Just these softball questions, and I mean I wanna know the process of these actresses. And yes I get freaked out about the paparazzi and the awards but it’s ultimately where do you put your attention? Because, if we spend too much time talking about things like awards and paparazzi there’s this thing under here like I’m in a room with you, well how do you do what you do? Cause every actress in this room – I pay my money and I buy my popcorn and go…” (42:02 - 42:40)

I love this because it makes me thinks of one thing I didn’t like about this roundtable (see below #8) but it’s also such a wise statement from Helen. Sure, it’s interesting to hear how paparazzi affect their lives – Anne and Amy both give significant details on that, see below – but the ultimate opportunity this roundtable presents is to hear about the women and their work and I’m slightly miffed that neither Rachel, Naomi, Amy nor Rachel were asked questions specific to the films they had this year. Like, how did Marion manage to deal with playing a person with no legs or how did Naomi deal with the harrowing conditions of her film or how did Rachel tap into 50s London? I’m not sure that Galloway and Belloni are expressly to blame, but the roundtable seems somewhat lacking in meat regarding actor craft.

“From this wonderful media that buys pictures of your daughter” that’s a quotation from Anne. Some context, Amy largest contribution in words was opining about how she worries she’ll one day lose her temper with the entitled paparazzi who have taken to taking photos of her daughter. This is something that, for her, encapsulates the uncaring nature of the media. Anne later (38:00 – 40:00) speaks about her experience hosting the Oscars and the way that the darling media spun the fallout of the hosting into being an unmitigated failure. It’s a rocky road to tread especially when she – justifiably – was rankled by a media operative who told her that “this is what you signed up for”. Within the ongoing narrative of what is owed to actors the worm is always turning between a) publicity coming with the territory of being a “star” and b) actors being entitled to unmitigated privacy regardless of fame, etc. I’ll admit, as a former member of the media the lumping of all members of the media as hounds is slightly disconcerting but it is a significant point that makes me go, hmmm…? I sort of hate that in a room of such talent the paparazzi still manages to spoil it with their presence, though. Sigh. Lesson learned, paparazzi destroy everything.

If I’d give out awards to each actress for her work here it’d go like this: Helen gets Most Articulate, Sally gets Most Talkative, Rachel gets Most Laidback, Marion gets Most Sincere, Anne gets most/best Public Relations work (I swear, her every response was like a PR person’s dream in the best and worst ways), Naomi gets Most Genteel and Amy Adams sort of seemed like she didn’t want to be there much. She seemed vaguely distracted in the 2010 Roundtable, but the potent sense of “Get me out of her!” is a lot more overwhelming. Although I loved her little anecdote about cutting out an interview that Naomi had done which inspired her on early in her career. Rachel and Sally are great listeners, especially Sally who talks alot but is constantly nodding and smiling when others speak.

I couldn’t possibly cover everything so go watch the hour long roundtable if you have the chance.  There are interesting things to be said about how women are treated differently, Rachel's performance art days, Naomi on how Mulholland Drive has implicitly helped her land roles and more.

Where do you stand on Anne’s cadence? Natural or stilted? How much will Sally’s narrative help Lincoln in the Oscar race? Surprised by Helen’s astuteness? Impressed with Marion’s honesty?


Squasher88 said...

Anne's natural cadence is lovely. Stop hating!!

Sally should definitely work that narrative comes awards time.

Not surprised by Helen's astuteness. I could never understand all the hate shown towards her. I find her such a warm presence on screen.

Yes, I was impressed by Marion's honesty.

suzy said...

I enjoyed it.

I agree the Actress roundtable offers a lot more than the Actors.

I think there's more depth to explore from the actresses as untimately there's just not enough quality material out there for them to really get their teeth into & shine. It's therefore interesting to hear their fight for decent roles.

Didn't realise Watts had such a strong English accent!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

shane i'm not especially fond of helen's oscar win, but she's always seemed like a warm presence. this roundtable only reinforces that.

suzy YES. naomi's accent strongly veers into being british.

so true about the dept of the women's conversations which is often sorely lacking from the men.

Colin Biggs said...

What a great roundtable. Some years THR leaves me wanting more, but this particular group was fun to listen to.

Paolo said...

I'm trying to find a vague idea of what movie Marion is talking about. And in general, I can't wait for the time when all of them will release tell all books.

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