Variety Studio: Actors on Actors

S12 E2 | FULL EPISODE

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.

AIRED: July 17, 2020 | 0:26:26
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TRANSCRIPT

♪♪♪

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!

Eve: Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho.

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--

more scandal.

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.

Kerry: Yes.

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,

open person.

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

semi-autobiographical, right?

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,

feels seen.

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,

you know?

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

those portrayals.

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.

Ramy: Mm.

♪♪♪

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: Roger--

Roger: What?

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.

Russell: Right.

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?

Nicole: 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

off-the-charts smart.

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

after that?

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."

Nicole: What?

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.

It's true.

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

face, listening?"

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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