Sandra Oh, Kerry Washington, and more
Sandra Oh (Killing Eve) and Kerry Washington (Little Fires Everywhere) discuss not choosing roles based on race. Tessa Thompson (Westworld) and Ramy Youssef (Ramy) speak about bringing more diverse storytelling to the screen. Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies) and Russell Crowe (The Loudest Voice) talk about having time to explore their television characters.
Ramin Setoodeh: Have you everwanted to learn more about your
favorite Hollywood stars?
Kerry Washington: I loved the material,
and I loved the deep exploration.
Ramin: Variety Studio invites you to listen in as today's
biggest actors get real about their work--with Sandra Oh and
Kerry Washington, Tessa Thompsonand Ramy Youssef, and Russell
Crowe and Nicole Kidman.
Ramin: Welcome to "Variety Studio: Actors on Actors."
I'm Ramin Setoodeh.
Even though we aren't instudio this season, we are still
staying connected through greattelevision and some of the best
performances of the year.
Ramin: Sandra Oh and Kerry Washington both became major
stars on TV series created by Shonda Rhimes.
They've now taken control of their careers by also becoming
producers on their latest projects.
Ramin: Sandra Oh, bestknown for "Grey's Anatomy," has
continued her TV career as anintelligence officer who tracks
down an assassin in the thriller series "Killing Eve."
Eve Polastri: Why would your daughter want this?
male: She's not right in the head.
I promise you, this is just a cheap piece of toy --
Eve: Oh, so you won't mind if I just throw it in the street?
male: No, no, no!
What is it?
Ramin: Kerry Washingtonhas moved on from the TV series
"Scandal," to "Little FiresEverywhere," a mini-series which
tackles the themes of race, class, and--you guessed it--
Mia Warren: Because sometimes I don't know.
I don't--I don't know if it was right.
I don't know that, if I had given you the choice, then you
would've chosen me.
female: Come here.
Sandra Oh: Hi, Kerry. Kerry Washington: Hi, Sandra.
Sandra: I am in my house in Los Angeles, and I realize how
useless I am, basically.
I'm just like, "I don't know how to do any of this.
Where is that shadow coming from?
I don't know."
But, again, here we are.
So I'm actually gonna start withasking a question about "Little
Fires Everywhere," which I loved.
I'm so glad you and Reese did it, and I'm interested to know
how you and Reese came togetherand what brought you here.
Kerry: Reese read the book.
Reese read Celeste Ng's beautiful novel, "Little Fires
Everywhere," so she e-mailed me and said, like,
"I found the thing.
I found the thing for us," whichwas a fantastic call to get from
somebody like Reese.
And then I was just in absolute
agreement with her when I read it.
I loved the material, and I loved the deep exploration of
the many paths to motherhood.
We tend to think in such a duality of, like, good mothers
and bad mothers, and we ignore the beautiful spectrum of just
the diversity of ways that we mother.
Sandra: I really loved it, and I really loved how no one
was shying away from, I felt,the potential judgement of what
it would be to make a wrong decision, to be a bad mother.
Kerry: It's so funny because, when I hear you describe it,
truly, it reminds me so much of your extraordinary work
on "Killing Eve."
Like, you were so willing forher to do it wrong, and it felt
so grounded, so real.
At the beginning of the journeyof taking this role, how much of
her arc in her journey did you know ahead of time?
Sandra: I got the pilot thatPhoebe Waller-Bridge wrote, and
I felt like I could see so muchbased on that pilot, but where
it was going to go, no, no, no.
Kerry: You have any idea you would --
these, like, queer icons?
Sandra: No, not at all, not at all.
We were very--we were very isolated in our bubble when we
were doing this, and we shotthis in summer to winter of '17,
so that fall was also Me Too, and at the end of the year,
time's up, but what I felt was,it's like, oh, I'm in the middle
of doing what we want.
Sandra: You know, and that was very, very energizing when
you have such a confirmation that you're on the right path.
And then, regarding the questionabout the LGBTQ community, kind
of, like, embracing it and seeing it, I didn't even see
it--I didn't see it myself because, you know, what you're
doing, you know, when you'replaying the character is, like,
you're just in the search for truth.
Kerry: Is Eve--in the books, is Eve Asian-American?
Sandra: I don't remember himreally describing Eve, you know,
and her race, but I couldtell that, for me, my perception
was--my projection was that she was white.
But while I love the sourcematerial, I didn't really use it
as a touchstone, but most of thethings that I've done have not
been Asian-specific purposefully.
You know, like, when we did a"Grey's," for at least the first
ten seasons, we would not talk about race.
We would not go into race, and that was purposeful.
And, whenever, it was the rightthing to do when it was, but now
my interest is much more in bringing that story in.
But your character and your interpretation of Mia, I was
enthralled by, because I felt like she is so different from
who your persona is.
You're much more of an expressive, emotive,
So how was it playing that character?
Kerry: I loved it, and some of it was
borrowed from my mother.
She's very loving, but she has away of letting information sit
out there without fixing it foryou, and even sometimes testing
you, so she will--I remember when I was a teenager, I would
see her do this all the time.
If people ask her where she'sfrom, her answer will depend on
who you are and what your biases are.
So to a very wealthy, Upper EastSide mother, she might say, "Oh,
I'm from the South Bronx," todisarm them, and then she won't
say anything else.
She'll just let people experience that cognitive
dissonance and allow them tohave their own journey with it,
which is not me at all.
So it was really fun for me totry on some of that confidence,
and I'm so proud of the Writers'Room that we were able to put
together on "Little Fires."
I have to say, Liz Tigelaar, our phenomenal showrunner, she
really filled the room with an eye on diversity in every way.
So we had people who could inform the many various truths
of the story, and we needed that.
Like, there was no way that oneperspective could have written
those four different paths to motherhood and expressions of
motherhood in that time.
Sandra: And I know that--you know, I'm such a fan of Lynn
Shelton, and that she was your overall, kind of, director and
guide on "Little Fires."
Can you speak a little bit aboutyour experience with her and
working with her?
Kerry: Yeah, losing her is so devastating because I feel
like--for so many reasons.
She's a mom, she's just abeautiful person, she's a light.
It's a real tremendous loss.
But her talent, the loss of hertalent also, particularly as a
woman, it's a real devastation.
She came from the independentworld and was courted by all the
big studios and would say, "No,"and, "No," and, "No," because
she wanted to do it her way, which was a path of real
truth and humanity.
So we were so blessed to have her say, "Yes," to us.
She made me also feel like,"Yeah, we just have to make sure
we're continuing to create spaces for women to direct."
Sandra: I really hope for--you know, 'cause patience
in the development in that area--you know what I mean?
I'm hoping that, post-COVID, that, you know, our industry,
and, just, society doesn't retract.
I hope that we don't lose the momentum and the openness
towards developing female talentand nonwhite talent, you know,
because there's a lot of fear going on, rightfully so, and I
really feel, coming through thistime, the stories that we choose
to tell and how we choose to do it is going to become so
essential in the way that we are able to see ourselves.
So, creatively, I am trying to figure out, like, where is my
place and how we are going to open up in the stories that
we're going to tell.
Kerry: I love everything that you just said.
I think it's so important that we stay in a mind-set of
creativity to figure out what'snext and to make sure that it's
contributing to the deepening ofour understanding of each other.
It's gonna be so needed, more needed than ever before.
Ramin: Tessa Thompson andRamy Youssef are actors who are
changing Hollywood by bringing
more inclusive storytelling to the screen.
On the sci-fi drama "Westworld,"Tessa Thompson plays two
characters whose plot-twists keep viewers guessing.
female: Who am I?
female: You know who you are.
female: All this time, pretending.
I feel like I'm changing.
female: Get out. female: No.
Ramin: And on "Ramy,"writer and comedian Ramy Youssef
portrays a 30-something AmericanMuslim living in New Jersey.
Ramy: It's like, the more people I'm with,
the lonelier I feel.
I went to Egypt to try and findsomething, and I just made my
whole life worse.
I want you to be my teacher.
I wanna take the Bay'ah.
I wanna kill my ego.
Ramy Youssef: Tessa, it's so good to meet you.
You also have, just, like, a way cooler chair than I do.
Like, I really wish I had a chair on that level.
So I'm so excited to talk to you 'cause I'm curious for you
getting to play this role and getting to join "Westworld"
when you did.
I'm curious what that was like for you to, kind of, take this
character that has a really cool arc.
Tessa Thompson: Yeah, so itwas interesting 'cause Lisa Joy,
of course, the cocreator of theshow, really wanted my character
to come in and, sort of, shake up the tone.
So that was kind of--I don't know--challenging and
interesting, and my first sceneswere with Jeffrey Wright, and
that was incredible.
And with Anthony Hopkins, youknow, I sort of felt surreal to
work with people that I really admire and also have to occupy
the space, at least, in our scenes where
I have power over them.
That was sort of bizarre.
But I really didn't know anything about where my
character would go.
I had broad ideas, which was like what does power look like
in the future?
Could power look like a young woman?
Can power look like a young woman of color?
So I loved those ideas, but Ireally--I still--I continue not
to know where the show's gonna take me.
But I'm curious for you becauseyou--obviously, the show is
You're pulling from your life.
Is there a pressure, in a way,in terms of those portrayals for
you that they feel accurate?
Ramy: You know, for me, a lotof the process, too, is kind of
separating, okay, I actually don't want this to be too
biographical, especially when we got into the second season.
I kind of have scenes from people in my family or my
community, but then, you know,how do we take them to different
places that people usually hide?
But then, also, really, like,it gets a little tricky because
I'm--you know, this--my show isnot only the only show that's
attempting to show Muslims or that is, you know, speaking
Arabic or any of thesethings in the English language.
It's like the only show that'sdoing that, and you kind of get
into this place where you'relike, "Man, if this is the only
thing people are seeing--"there's an instinct to not wanna
take risks, but then you realizeyou have to, and I think part of
why I was interested in talkingto you too is 'cause, even as
you're talking about playingthis character and you mentioned
playing a woman of color in thisworld that you do, but just what
level of responsibility do you feel playing your roles when,
you know, people are looking atyou representing black women and
representing a diversified viewon screen in the way that at
least we're starting to be able to?
Tessa: I guess I try to encourage myself not to feel a
real responsibility to be anambassador because the truth is,
like, I can only speak to myown experience which is not the
experience of all black women.
In watching your show, I thoughtabout that a lot because there
were so many things that I feellike I wasn't seeing, ever, and
I feel like, when we're able totake risks and really go there
and speak from a place ofhonesty and also a place that's
imaginative, you sort of set people free, you know, because
there's bound to be somebody that, in your portrayal,
Ramy: I wonder, like, how much it factors into the roles
that you're choosing, you know?
Like, 'cause I think there'sthis thing of, like, now you're
in this place where you have the nuance of choice.
How does that influence your decision of what to play?
Tessa: Yeah, I'm curious for you, too, 'cause I definitely
experienced that early on.
You know, you're just auditioning and seeing what
sticks, you know?
But there would be some auditions, where, like, they
were so one-dimensional and, insome cases, kind of offensive,
And so I feel like it--and thetruth is, I just wanted to work,
but I could never really dothose parts very well, and so I
just, kind of, didn't work asmuch in the beginning, and then
I feel like around the time of "Dear White People," right
before that in this film I made,
and the film was talking about that.
It was an interrogation of Hollywood.
The film sort of told us, in a way, that, you know, culture
isn't just represented in media.
Culture is created in media.
And so you create a culturewhere you expect black people to
look and act and think and behave a certain way, and you
perpetuate ideas around them that are harmful actually.
And that's obviously somethingthat we're really talking about
and are really robust right now.
And so that film, for me, sort of changed my trajectory.
It made it okay, in a way, forme to no longer stomach some of
Ramy: I remember that.
I remember seeing that.
I remember seeing the trailer for that movie and immediately
just being like, "Whoa."
It was just something aboutseeing that point of view in the
way it was presented.
You were so good in it.
You know, it just felt like, "Oh, we needed this.
We needed this shift."
And I feel this thing where like, well, you know, anyone
who's basically in any sort ofdifferent group, watching TV, we
grew up watchingourselves either not in it or in
super-marginalized roles, and then we kind of get to a place
where we get to be acting and writing, and we almost kind of
address those things head-on, like a lot of
stuff is happening.
And now what does that next
frontier of storytelling look like?
Almost like just the ability
to really not have to explain ourselves.
It's something that I don'tthink we're really quite there.
Tessa: I have to say though, I have to say though, to your
credit, I feel like something that I really enjoy about your
show is that it's so wildly imaginative.
And that's something that I feelreally excited, actually, about
our generation 'cause I feellike we're still wanting to talk
about ideas of race and gender,but I think we're wanting to
present those ideas in new and exciting ways.
And I think that's what I've really been enjoying about
science fiction in general, in terms of really talking about
human ideas, you know, but talking about it in really
far-out ways, you know?
And I think something that's socool about things that exist in
the future is you also havethe potential to talk about the
world, not just as it might be,but as it could be or should be.
Ramin: Friends and former costars, Russell Crowe and
Nicole Kidman, are two of the biggest Australian actors
working in Hollywood today.
On "The Loudest Voice," RussellCrowe plays the power-hungry CEO
of Fox News, Roger Ailes, whoseempire came crashing down amidst
sexual harassment allegations.
Roger Ailes: And they'reall loyal to me, to me, and they
will walk, and I have a list of50 other names,
and they will walk too.
You think about this, Rupert.
You think about it.
You really wanna blow up a $20billion asset because your trust
fund babies got their panties in a wad over my politics?
female: We need to go.
Ramin: In the second season of "Big Little Lies," Nicole
Kidman returns true Emmy-winningrole as a lawyer protecting the
secrets surrounding her husband's death.
male: Stop being such a--
Celeste Wright: Don't talk to me like that.
You do not talk to me like that.
Just come here. Stop it.
You can't talk to your mother like that.
You can't talk to me like that.
Do you understand that?
It's not right.
Nicole Kidman: How's the quarantining been?
Russell Crowe: As itturns out, I've been practicing
self-isolation for some three decades or more.
I'm quite good at it.
So I wanna jump into somethingthat--from a perspective that is
really interesting for me, and Idon't know the source material.
It was a book yet, "Big Little Lies," is that right?
Nicole: Yeah, the first series was a book, yeah,
Australian author, Liane Moriarty, and then the second
series, she wrote sort of a novella that was never
published, and that's what that was.
The second series was based on that, mm-hmm.
That's some extremely fine writing.
I mean, the book, as a source, being great is one thing, but
that process of being able to distill somebody else's world,
and then put it in a form for the camera--and I was--
it was David E. Kelley, yeah?
He wrote all of it, and then John-Marc Vallee was the first
series, and then Andrea Arnold was the second series.
And in the second series, Lianecame up with, as a catalyst to
get the second series going, this character, Mary Louise,
who's the mother of Perry, who'smy husband, who dies at the end
of the first series, as you've seen, and then so Meryl Streep
comes in, playing my mother-in-law.
Russell: Well, I just think she's so special.
I love what she does.
Tell me about working with Meryl Streep.
Nicole: Every take is different, and she's
So she has brilliant notes.
You would love her.
Russell: So were you surprised at--
of the first series, of Big Little Lies?
Because it seemed to permeateeverywhere all at the same time.
Nicole: I was surprised at the way in which it reached
beyond what was expected 'causewhen it first aired, it was good
in terms of the way, you know, the audiences that watched it,
but it wasn't huge ratings or anything, and then it just
started to snowball, and that's what--I believed in it.
When I saw it, I was like,"Gosh, I think we're sitting on
something really, really good here."
Russell: When you dosomething like that, which, you
know, has its own arc, and it'ssupposed to sort of finish.
How is it then--what is the process?
Is that Bruna then talking with the original writer?
As you said, she sort of wrote this novella.
And then, who broke it down again into her episodes
Nicole: I mean, it was Reese and I, going,
"We wanna do this again."
Laura, Zoe, Shailene, going,"I can't bear to walk away from
this," 'cause we get on.
We just have a great time together.
So it was more just the whole,the group of us, going, "Can we
make this happen?"
And it was like pushing a rock up a mountain, and then it was
we're off--we just suddenly--then
it started moving along.
But so my questionis--you--because that character
that you created with RogerAiles, I mean, a lot of it falls
on the actor--right?--having to--the whole argument because
you--can you rely on where--how do you do that?
Russell: You know, a lot of that, you know, has to be
seeded at the beginning, andthen you have to make sure that
the directors to come are in that same loop.
I had a funny little moment with Stephen Frears, who is a
wonderful fellow, you know.
He came in to direct episode six, and he was asking for a
certain thing to happen, and I questioned him.
I said, "Stephen, that can't happen now because in episode
two, such and such went on, andin episode four, blah-blah," and
Stephen, in his wonderfully dry English tone said, "Well,
Russell, you have me at a disadvantage, you see, because
you have read the script."
Russell: Yeah, anyway, so, he was great to work with.
Man, I'll tell ya, I'd love todo an actual movie with Stephen.
He was wonderful.
But, you know, we seem to havegone into this period of people
looking for a longer narrative.
You know, you can get in and
give people a much more complex world.
Nicole: Did you find having that--the time to
explore the character?
Did you like the--I mean, I love that.
Russell: You got to be able to play--especially if you're
doing a thing like that with Roger, and that's that
particular job, being able to show them ebullient and why
people liked working with him and all these other
complications instead of justthis one thing which might say,
"This man is a monster."
You know, now, ultimately, he gets his comeuppance, but
showing how he created the energy around him that allowed
him to get away with whatever hewanted to do, you know--and you
saw an incredible commercial opportunity, and when you see
that success, I mean, the amountof money that Fox News began to
generate and the power began tohave of people because it had a
certain perspective and wasbeing contrary to what else was
going on, and, you know, theywere writing their own rules as
they went, you know?
I can understand how that wouldbe an exciting journey to be
part of because it would feellike you're breaking new ground,
et cetera, et cetera, you know?
But it's also interesting toput that big story together like
that in that way so you can stand back and understand, you
know, the negative impacts and how it may have even shifted
society in where we are rightnow, and the conversations that
we're having right now is because of the impact of that
one news service.
Nicole: But I loved that youcould see his--the relationship
he had with his wife, which youand Sienna--I mean, and I wanna
say this: You're an unbelievablygenerous actor, and there's very
few men--and I will--and this isso good for you to hear and for
the world to hear--that can getthat--that
can love a woman on the screen.
And we've seen you do it in things like "Gladiator," but
when you love, you love, andyou felt that love on screen for
her, and that's so important, and I don't--I always say this
about you: I say, "Russell can love.
So he can love a woman on screenwhere he will go to the ends of
the earth for that woman."
And that's really powerful.
And I love seeing you do that,and you saw it in this capacity
in such a different way, but it was so important to see it
'cause you saw Roger Ailes capable of being this husband
and loving his child, and, youknow, that part of him that you
would never get to see was golden.
Ramin: We hope you've enjoyed our look inside the world of
actors on actors.
Please join us again next time.
Sandra: Sometimes you glimpseyour face, your face when you're
face is listening, and I'mjust like, "Why am I making that
Tessa: I, as a light-skinned black woman, have a different
experience than, say, some of my counterparts.
female: One moment.
Tessa: Alexa is talking to me.
Russell: I have a subtle signal.
Just do that, right?
That could be your subtle signal.
Sandra: Excuse me, everybody, Kerry and I
are having a conversation.
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