Ben Affleck, Sacha Baron Cohen and more
Watch Ben Affleck (“The Way Back”) speaking with Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7”); Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) with Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”) and Jared Leto (“The Little Things”) in conversation with John David Washington (“Malcolm & Marie”).
Ben Affleck: Every day I came home so happy.
Sacha Baron Cohen: Yeah, yeah.
Ramin Setoodeh: Who better to get inside an actor's
head than another actor.
Jarred Leto: Holy guacamole, what a performance.
Ramin: Variety Studio invites you to listen in as some of
today's biggest stars talk to each other about their craft.
Leslie Odom, Jr.: In order to tell these stories truthfully,
we offer ourselves up.
Ramin: With Ben Affleck and Sacha Baron Cohen,
Andra Day, and Leslie Odom, Jr., and Jarred Leto,
and John David Washington.
Ramin: Welcome to "Variety Studio Actors on Actors."
I'm Ramin Setoodeh.
We're not in our studio this season,
but we still have a great lineup for you with virtual
conversations and lots of revelations.
Ben Affleck and Sacha Baron Cohen both took on roles
recently that show them being unguarded and personal.
In "The Way Back," Ben Affleck plays a high school basketball
coach struggling with alcoholism,
a topic that is close to his own life.
Ben: I made a lot of bad decisions, Brandon.
I got a lot of regret.
Went away from basketball, got into a different life,
got into drugs.
Spent a lot of time hurtingmyself trying to hurt my father.
Ramin: In "Borat Subsequent MovieFilm," Sacha Baron Cohen
returns as the gonzo journalist from Kazakstan.
Sacha: I do not see anybody on the street.
male: Everybody's at home.
They're telling 'em to stay inside,
so they don't spread this virus.
Sacha: There's a virus?
Male: Yes, they'rewanting everybody to quarantine.
Sacha: I do not have nowhere else to go.
Could I stay in your home?
Ramin: And, in "The Trial of the Chicago 7," he steps into
the shoes of 1960's political activist,
Sacha: Keep it moving, Dave and I are gonna stay and
make Tom's bail.
male: Back to the park.
Sacha: I don't carry money, do you?
male: I do, I'm a grown man.
Ben: Hello. Sacha: How are you, man?
Ben: Good, how are you doing?
Sacha: Yeah, I'm not bad.
Ben: Alright, the amazing thing about "Borat" from the
first time I saw it to this movie is that it's such
an interesting acting lesson.
Because if you look at what happens in those scenes,
and the things you say, and how provocative it is,
and how shocking and off it is,the degree to which people don't
react is really surprising.
To which people are, like, willing to either--I mean,
what do you ascribe it to?
Like, wanting to please, or isit that people just don't react
in the way that we like to think they would react,
you know what I mean?
Sacha: Well, yeah, I mean, it's interesting.
I mean, sometimes they react exactly how you think
they would react.
And not only that, they often perform in the way that
It's an interesting acting lesson,
because you see how somebodyreacts in a real-life situation
where you'd probably think if a performer did that,
an actor did that, you'd go, "Oh,
that's complete overacting," where people go--you know,
people put their hands over their mouths and shake their
head, you know.
So, people in the real world often behave like over-the-top
And even when people are suspicious,
they literallystart going like that, you know.
They squint their eyes, look you up,
they look you up and down, and it's interesting.
That kind of melodramatic acting is kind of--that's
actually--that's realistic acting.
Ben: I bet, did anybody do anything when you when through
the, I guess it was CPAC with the klan outfit, or no?
Or was it some--when you were in the klan robes.
How did you get in there and dothat, pull that off?
Sacha: So with CPAC, the vice president was speaking,
so that's the same level ofsecret service as the president.
You know, that day I had to getin the makeup chair at 1:00 in
the morning in a motel.
You know, I have a prosthetics team that we'd flown over from
England to transform me into Donald Trump,
you know, which is a six-hour process.
Then you're wearing a massive fat suit,
then I have to go through different layers of security,
get fake ID, you know.
So, there's all this kind of stuff.
By the way, when they wanded me down,
the wand goes over me, and thenbasically goes over my stomach,
then it goes, "Beep."
And the guy says, "What is that?"
And I go, "It's my pacemaker," and he goes,
"Oh, okay," and then he carries on wanding me,
and then it goes down to my belly,
and it beeps again.
And he goes, "What's that?"
You know, and I'm really tense,and I think we're
gonna be busted.
The moment they touch my belly,they're gonna know that I'm
wearing a fat suit, and he goes, "Well,
what is that?"
And I didn't know what to say, I was completely stumped.
And he looks at me, and he goes, "Oh, that's
the wire leading to the pacemaker, right?"
I was like, "Yeah, obviously."
He goes, "Alright, come through."
Am I allowed to ask you questions about you or not?
Ben: Well, we'll get to that, we'll get to that.
Sacha: Alright, we'll get to you,
we'll get to you.
Ben: I'm reallyactually, genuinely curious how,
like, you go from sort of controlling,
being part of the writing process,
having the ability to, like, completely improvise fluidly,
to working with Aaron Sorkin, who I've never worked with,
but who has a reputation for, like,
wanting the script's integrity to be,
you know, delivered as written.
Is it difficult for you to thengo work with a guy like Sorkin,
or do you find it kind of liberating because you don't
have to think of anything exceptexactly what the lines are?
Sacha: Listen, I was--I'd belying if I said I wasn't nervous
to work with Aaron, because he's the greatest
And, you know, for me, I did wonder,
I was like, "Why are you casting me?"
You know, a well-known improvisor,
to deliver specific lines.
You know, I spent probably about two months pitching him
And Aaron was very nice enough to humor me and let me pitch
certain lines, and each time he'd say,
"Thank you, but no."
It was actually quite liberating,
because I thought, "Okay, I'm just going to concentrate on
different variations of that particular line.
I knew I would have, you know, sometimes two,
three takes, and so I thought, "I'd better make sure that the
first take is perfect for him."
Once the director says they've got it,
that's when I really relaxed.
That's when I relaxed, and that's when I can really do
Yeah, so with "The Way Back," how did you prepare
for that role?
Ben: You know, this was a little bit atypical for me,
but, you know, I've kind of changed as an actor.
My approach particularlyfrom before and after I started
directing, because it was really instructive.
I learned more about acting fromdirecting than I did from
acting classes and being an actor.
Because there's something reallyvaluable about being on the
other side and seeing what works,
and seeing what doesn't, and seeing what you can do
editorially, and also just getting used to the sound
of your own stupid voice, and, like,
you know, you kind of just get, like,
jaded to it, and you finally get over some of that
And I feel like my own acting, at least by my own standards,
has gotten better the more-as I've gotten older,
and had more life experiences, and gone through more things,
and just had more stuff to sort of access.
And with a role like that, I mean,
I am an alcoholic, so I understood,
to a certain extent, the alcoholism,
but, you know, I haven't lost a child,
I mean, this guy's had a very different life from mine.
And, you know, what happened for me was that it just,
like, I find with roles, I find this even as a director,
like, I don't know what the experience is like for you,
but something either sort of clicks in,
you identify with it, you kind of inherently understand
the character, and when it's at its best, it's easy.
If you just sort of get out of your own way of
self-consciousness, like, that does so much of the work for
you and creates so many of those feelings, you know?
Sacha: So, like, are you conjuring up prior memories,
or are you just reacting towhat you're seeing on that set?
Ben: Like, there are definite things in the movie to which
I attributed, like, you know, personal events or feelings
from my own life.
You know, this means X, I associate this with Y,
and not necessarily obvious things.
Like, I once read an acting bookwhen I was nerdily into acting
and reading every book I could find,
which talked about how, like, don't think of a real event in
your own life that was painful, or ecstatic,
or whatever it is, the way the scene is,
but that the mind storesemotional memories differently,
so find the memory of somethingthat you saw or that sort of
associated with that, but not directly associated with that,
and that will allow the feelingto sort of come in the back door
of the brain.
And for me, in this movie, because the script was
so well-written, and the other actors were so good,
and the whole thing felt so real and authentic to me,
that it was, like, really, like wonderful.
It's a really depressing story about this guy who loses
his kid, he's divorced, he's an alcoholic,
and yet every day I came home so happy.
It really just reconnected me with what I was really
interested about acting, kind of in the first place.
There were these youngbasketball players in the movie,
and there was 12 of them, and they were all incredible and
spent all their time talking about,
like, this audition they went to,
and that casting director, and this agent,
and being around that just reminded me of that point
in life when all you wanna do is, like, get a part, and
get a line, and do this thing for its own sake, you know?
And it was really wonderful in that way, you know.
It was very, like, you know what?
I wanna do this. This is the thing I wanna do.
Ramin: Andra Day and Leslie Odom, Jr.
stretched their vocal cords to play music icons.
Andra Day delivers her first on-screen performance in
"The United States vs. Billie Holiday,"
as the jazz singer with the courage to stand
up to societal norms.
Andra Day: They don't want no names,
they wanna destroy me.
He wants me to stop singing what's in my soul.
Ramin: "One Night in Miami," based on the play of the same
name, stars Leslie Odom, Jr.as Sam Cooke during a fictional
night in 1964, and the meeting of four influential black men.
♪ Go easy on me, baby doll.
♪ Do me this service, break my fall. ♪
female: What, that sounds great.
Leslie: If I was singing it, maybe,
but not for L.C.
Andra: Leslie Odom, Jr. this is, like, such a pleasure and
a huge, huge, huge honor for me.
Leslie: My pleasure, let's get it crackin',
I got questions for you.
I wanna ask you if you believe that projects,
movies find their way to usbecause there is something we're
supposed to learn, or somethingwe have to work through?
What did you have to work through?
Or what did this project give you that you needed?
Andra: I mean, fear, as simple as that sounds.
Fear was a huge thing I had to work through.
I mean, in "United States vs. Billie Holiday,"
Billie Holiday is essentially doing something
which seems simple but it's not.
Being a black woman in the '30s, '40s,
and '50s, you know, that alone made me appreciate,
accept, and just really love, love,
love the resilience of women, black women,
people of color, pre the reinvigorated civil rights,
you know what I mean?
There was no support system at that time.
Leslie: Billie seemed to be a part of Andra,
so was this a role, was this aproject that you kind of always
thought, "I'll play her one day," or?
Andra Day: Hell no.
I love her.
She is my biggest inspiration musically,
and just her character, everything,
but I never, ever thought I would play her.
I never thought I was correct to play her.
Leslie: And can you tell me a little bit about
Andra: Obviously I'm a huge fan of her music,
so I'd basically heard, like, her entire catalog,
you know, at that point.
So, you know, reading everythingI could get my hands on,
listening to ever interview, and apparently I exhausted
the internet of Billie Holiday photos.
Apparently the internet willtell you that you've reached the
end, and I was like, "What the hell does this mean,
I reached the end?"
Leslie: The internet was like,
"We don't have no more photos, okay?
You can't refresh no more."
Andra: But when I saw you were playing Sam Cooke,
I literally hollered at my mom, and I was like--I yelled
upstairs, I was like, "Mom, he's playing Sam Cooke."
She was like, "Really?"
But because again, I feel likethere's so much mystery in that
man's life, you know what I mean?
At least I think, surrounding, you know,
his death, and his life, and his activism,
and so how was that?
Did you learn stuff about him that you were kind of like,
wow, blown away by him beingable to accomplish these things?
Leslie: What I learned about him was what was,
you know, what was underneath that exterior.
You know, everybody talks about Sam.
You know, he wasn't nothing to play with,
you know, and I knew that that's what we could show,
the powder keg, you know, of that hotel room and those
exchanges with Malcolm and the fellas.
That I could show something that Sam would not
have shown back then.
Because also, the way he maintained stardom was a
whole different thing back then.
You know, back then it really was a manicured,
So Sam was brilliant at that.
Andra: I'm curious, so the banter between your character
and between Malcolm's character and Sam,
like, in some of those arguments,
are you kind of like, "I'msiding a little more with Sam,"
sort of unbiased of the character.
Am I siding a little more with Sam,
am I siding a little more with Malcolm in this?
Leslie: That's a great question,
and it really speaks to the power of Kemp's script,
to brother Kemp's script, because he really did
He weighted them, you know, sothat they-because that's the way
you really can have, you know, fireworks,
if both people are right a little bit, or a lot.
But because of the way we shot it,
thank goodness, you know, we ended up shooting a lot of
that interrogation stuff, is what I called it, first.
You know, so I spent a week, like,
I felt Sam a lot in that moment.
Like, I just got to New Orleans,we just started shooting this
thing, and he is, you know, for days just like,
you know, "What are you doing," and calling me names,
and you're not doing enough, you know what I mean?
And you know, I mean, there's really nowhere
for that stuff to go.
Man, in order to tell these stories truthfully,
we offer ourselves up, which means that,
you know, my little pride was hurt.
My feelings were hurt, and I was tight,
and I was angry, and I was hurt, and all those things.
And like you said, I used it.
Andra: I think, again, with Billie,
I think the similarity betweenBillie and between Sam Cooke is
that they were fighting in their own way,
you know what I mean?
They were fighting the way that they knew how,
according to their DNA and who they were.
You know, there were cards, the NAACP had cards,
basically, with write-ups of her bad behavior,
you know what I mean?
She's integrating audiences.
She's talking about lynching in America.
Like, we are more aware of it because of her willingness
to sacrifice her life.
And these are stories that were untold about her,
and the same thing with Sam Cooke.
I didn't know he owned all of those masters.
I didn't know he had a label andwas signing all of these people.
Because I think those contributions are meant
to not be heard.
I have another question.
How did you come to get the rolein "Hamilton," and how did it
change your life?
You know, not just, like, your visibility,
but just you, if it affected you,
you know what I mean, as a person in the way you move
in the world now, you know?
Leslie: I got the role, you know,
I got an email from Lin-ManuelMiranda asking if I wanted to do
a reading of something called "The Hamilton Mixtape."
And I very much wanted to do that.
And the piece of art that brought me to the path was
a show called "Rent," which was the Hamilton of its day.
I just always thought, "Wouldn'tit be amazing to be a part of
a piece of art like that?"
You know, something that is culturally relevant,
artistically fulfilling, and commercially successful.
And "Hamilton" delivered on that again,
and again, and again.
So, it's changed my life, and I will be associated with it
forever, and that is my pleasure, truly.
Andra: That's amazing.
What a blessing.
Ramin: Through their risk-taking careers,
Jarred Leto and John David Washington continue to impress
with high-wire performances.
In "The Little Things," Jarred Leto steals the show as an
evasive suspect in a series of dark crimes.
Jarred: It's not for sale.
Denzel Washington: All I need to do is take a look.
Jarred: You must really like my car.
Denzel: I do.
Ramin: John David Washingtonspent the early days of the 2020
pandemic making "Malcolm andMarie," a black and white drama
about a director who argues withhis girlfriend on the night of
his big movie premier.
John David Washington: That's what this all is about.
Your whole speech about fake films,
you just need a reason to be needed.
Because if I don't need you, then what the hell am I doing
with you, Marie?
You want control, because you can't imagine the reason I'm
with you is because I love you.
John David: Man, what's up?
I am very excited to be doing this with you, man.
I've been watching you for years.
Jarred: Thanks so much, man. I feel the same.
And, you know, just right off the bat,
I have to say "Malcolm and Marie" was just,
holy guacamole, what a performance.
It blew me away.
John David: I gotta say, I can't believe you're saying
this right now.
This is crazy that you're telling me this,
and I'm even talking to you about acting right now.
But I wanted to know just, I gotto see "Little Things," and
you were terrifying.
I mean, from everything from your walk, your gait, the gut.
As soon as you stepped into frame,
I'm like, "Oh, he's-we're into something.
There's some stuff going on up there."
And I just wanted to know what drew you to that project?
What drew you to the role, to the character,
and what was your process goinginto such a terrifying dude?
Jarred: I really loved John Lee Hancock's movie,
"The Founder," and you know, I read the script,
and it's funny, I originally said no.
I didn't think it was the right thing to do.
But John and I met, and I was just taken with him.
I thought he was just such a--he's a phenomenal writer
and a director, and I decided to jump into this
really bizarre character.
Even from his name, Albert Sparma,
he was just so off.
Everything about him was off.
I thought this could be fun to play a guy who doesn't really
fit into the world quite so nicely.
But I did think as scary or as dark as he was,
I did kind of fall in love with him in a weird way.
I found that he had, you know, kind of a really fun sense
of humor, and I don't know, I found him endearing
in some bizarre way.
But there aren't a lot of thesekind of roles that come along.
Like, I think of Anthony Hopkinsin "Silence of the Lambs," where
you just get to kind of chew up the scenery a little bit.
But yeah, the director, the writing,
the cast, you know, I'd put DP as well for me.
There's nothing better than working with one of these
And speaking of DPs, "Malcolm and Marie," I mean one of the
most beautiful, if not the mostbeautiful black and white films
I've ever seen.
I mean, those shots are just gorgeous.
John David: Thank you, it looked fantastic.
And you know, the process of "Malcolm and Marie," you know,
given that, you know, we shot this in the middle of
a pandemic, so, you know, it was sort of,
you know, one band, one sound.
We were doing this for the industry,
in a way, because we felt like alot of industry was looking at
us, being able to how we are even gonna get this off.
But we were all on the same page,
and Sam and Marcel, our DPs, Sam Levinson,
the director, you know, had an idea of putting these two
characters in a film like this, you know.
And when I found out they wereshooting it in black and white,
I got really excited, because I'm just thinking about the
historical value for African-Americans and black
and white film, and to reallycelebrate people that look like
us in black and white, you know, in a story like this.
I leapt at the chance.
I was really excited to be able to go there.
Jarred: It's really, really beautiful,
and I mean, it's just a classic, American,
independent film, and I really think it has a chance to live
amongst some of the great American films.
And such an intimate movie.
It's almost uncomfortable sometimes,
like, between you two, you know.
I mean, at some point, like, you're literally-you guys are
sharing moments that are rarely seen on screen.
John David: Yeah, I have to ask you,
you were talking about freedom to sort of ad lib and create
within, you know, the film that you're doing,
talking about "Little Things."
There's a particular scenethat's coming to mind right now
in the interrogation room, and it was getting really
contentious, to where it becamephysically apparent that there
was something going on between you and
Mr. Washington's character.
Was that blocked?
Was that something that justkind of happened due to the vibe
that was going on?
Like, help me-break that down for me,
please, because it wasa very intense moment, you know?
Jarred: Yeah, and the whole thing was intense,
and I showed up ready for war, you know?
I showed up ready, because I knew I had to be on my A game,
and I came in over-prepared, you know,
on the first day.
I should have worn a diaper, because it was rather
intimidating, you know, and I was in my zone,
but I noticed very quickly, like,
the smallest change, or gesture, or improvisation,
and Mr. Washington was, boom, he was right there with me.
He was right there with me.
I'd make a joke, rather than just kind of like,
you know, he was just so fluid, so flexible.
He gave me a great gift.
He gave me the freedom to take risk,
to be as brave as I wanted to,and he met me more than halfway
in every moment.
So, I felt like I came in and got to get in the ring with
one of the greats.
So, tell me about working with Zendaya.
Did you guys know each other before?
John David: I met Sam at Sundance 2018,
and I had a film there, but hekind of cold-called me and read
me, like, ten pages of the script,
and I was like, "Oh, my God, this is insane."
You know, because they have such a great chemistry,
Sam and Zendaya.
I mean, she's a phenomenal actress.
You know, she's so giving, she makes you feel like everything
is gonna be alright, like there's no way you can
fail in this.
She gives everybody around her so much confidence,
and she's so free-flowing.
And like you said about, you know,
that twinkle in Mr. Washington's eye,
about your ad libbing, it's the same thing.
Like, every time we'd find something or go somewhere that
might go too left, she wasguaranteeing me through a look,
you know, that you're good, you're gonna be okay.
And I with her, as well, I just felt so safe and
protected with her.
She's a phenomenal talent.
And we were just, you know, going back and forth,
like a tennis match.
It was so much fun.
Ramin: We hope you've enjoyed our look inside the world
of "Actors on Actors."
Please join us again next time.
Ben: You, too, obviously, you can go to the bathroom,
Sacha: Thank you very much.
I need a shower, I smell.
I can't stand the stink of me.
All right, okay. Sorry, okay.
Leslie: I'm on, well, I'm in the middle of the interview
Yeah, yeah, okay.
Love her, I love her.
John David: So--
Jared: Welcome back.
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