Variety Studio: Actors on Actors

S12 E4 | FULL EPISODE

Zendaya, Paul Rudd and more

Claire Danes (Homeland) and Damian Lewis (Billions) delve into playing complex characters. Zendaya (Euphoria) and Mj Rodriquez (Pose) discuss underlying themes in their shows. Chris Evans (Defending Jacob) and Paul Rudd (Living with Yourself) talk about moving on from the Avengers franchise to their television series.

AIRED: July 24, 2020 | 0:26:28
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TRANSCRIPT

Ramin Setoodeh: Have you ever wondered what goes into

an award-worthy performance?

Mj Rodriguez: 'Cause I had never done that before.

Zendaya: Right.

Ramin: Variety Studio invites you to listen in as

today's biggest actors talk to each other about their craft.

Claire Danes: Her spirit was still alive because

she was still doing her job.

Ramin: With Claire Danes and Damian Lewis;

Zendaya and Mj Rodriguez; and Chris Evans and Paul Rudd.

Ramin: Welcome to "Variety Studio: Actors on Actors."

I'm Ramin Setoodeh.

Even though we aren't in studiothis season, we are still

staying connected through greattelevision and some of the best

performances of the year.

♪♪♪

Ramin: Claire Danes and Damian Lewis were on-screen

partners in early years of"Homeland," and they still have

a lot to say about the drama which recently wrapped.

On the eighth season of Homeland, Claire Danes

concludes her journey as CIA agent Carrie Mathison.

Carrie Mathison: He says he has a lead.

Can I call him back, please?

male: Carrie, think for a minute.

What would you do if you were trying to recruit him

and he came to you desperate?

Carrie: No. That--

male: You would do exactly this.

You would tell him exactly what he wanted to hear.

Carrie: So you are gonna blow off this lead?

Ramin: And on "Billions," Damian Lewis brings

moral ambiguity and brash likability to the part

of hedge fund mogul Bobby "Axe" Axelrod.

Bobby Axelrod: Capitalism harnesses that better than

any other economic model on earth.

Everything we have is because of capitalism 'cause someone

had an incentive to get up off his--to out-invent,

to out-earn, yes, and to subjugate others.

Damian Lewis: Danesy, hi.

Claire Danes: Hello.

Damian: I'm down a country lane,holding my phone.

I'm in my car somewhere in the English countryside.

Claire: What I find so wonderful about this is that

we spent a good 60% of our work on "Homeland" in a car.

Damian: That is probably true.

Claire: So, anyway, this is simulating

a very familiar experience.

Damian: Yeah, we--exactly.

So, season eight, "Homeland," congratulations.

You've finished eight years of Carrie Mathison,

which must have seemed traumaticat times.

Were you happy with where it ended up for you

in season eight?

Claire: Yeah, I was.

I mean, I loved the overall shape of the final season and,

you know, personally speaking, how aligned Carrie was

with Brody.

I mean, she's been tethered to you from the very beginning,

and this was another way of acknowledging that,

and it just was very elegant storytelling,

I thought, you know.

Really a credit to Alex and his team.

But I thought that was really kind of romantic, actually.

I loved that her spirit was still alive because

she was still doing her job which was the thing

that always made her whole.

She is a true patriot and iswilling to sacrifice everything.

Damian: That's the delicious thing about Carrie

the whole time.

her convictions, her intuition,her instincts was so strong.

Then, always she had to battle with self-doubt.

Claire: Yes, right.

It was so fun delving into "Billions" and seeing

your very robust and amazing afterlife.

I'm really curious what that was like for you.

Damian: They are very differentshows, no question.

Where "Homeland" feels like a--you can apply a, sort of,

Freudian analysis of every moment,

"Billions" feels--it's almost Shakespearean.

It's pre-Freud.

It's evil exists,badness exists, mischief exists,

badness exists just for the funof it sometimes,

and the characters need to be played with an "Avengers"-like

relish sometimes.

Don't ask too many questions.

Don't ask for too much, you knowpsychological background,

or in the Freudian sense, and just play what you have,

and play it.

Play it with relish.

And it does have a sort of-- Axe has a sort of comic strip

invincibility about him which is fun.

That is great fun to play.

Brody, for me, was always a pawn.

He was always--poor Brody.

I always felt sorry for Brody.

He was always a victim.

He was a victim in a larger game, always, always.

Claire: I've always loved howphysical you are as a performer.

You're especially gifted in using your body.

Your viscera and your alphanessis so engaging and enjoyable,

you know?

And you kind of are on his sidedespite how heinous he can be.

Damian: I mean, it's an amazing thing.

We love to see nuanced, complex,ambiguous characters behaving

badly sometimes.

The thing going for Bobby Axelrod, always,

is that he was a blue-collar guy,

that he came from nurses and police chiefs and fire chiefs,

and he's from that background from the Bronx,

from Yonkers, and, you know, that tells a particular side

of the American story, a guy who made it big and made

a lot of money.

Nobody really cares too much how you make it is

what I've realized.

It's just the fact you made it,people seem to like that.

Claire: Yeah.

I also felt--I mean, I loved my partnership

with you on so many levels.

When you left, I was then always looking back to you,

as Carrie, you know, to Brody,and she has these relationships

which are politically oriented,but they're also deeply personal

and involve a lot of intimacy and love,

and it's hard to gauge when that's real or not,

always, and it was between Carrie and Brody as well,

but I think the great surprise to her certainly was that

it was much more real than she had any awareness of.

Damian: You know, Carriedid so many questionable things.

There were times when shewas--times when she was sincere

and times when she was entirely duplicitous,

but you were--you acted her without any sentimentality,

any vanity, and the success of the show really rides

on the back of that rigor that you brought to it.

That was essential that that role was played honestly

like that.

I remember having a conversationwith you.

I think we were talking about acting once in the trailer,

and I remember you just saying--I think you

and I were joshing around, actually, and, you know,

I was saying, "Well, Brody's this, that,

and the other," and you were going,

"No, he's not."

I said, "Yes, he is."

And you said, "Oh, God, you're one of these actors

that probably, like, you defendyour character at all costs."

And I'm sayin', "No, I don't, actually, no,"

and I remember you saying at some point during that

conversation, "Know the story you're telling,"

which is an essential thing forevery young actor to know.

You have to know what part of the story you are there

to fulfill, you know, whilst at the same time,

which is what I believe in about acting,

which is you do advocate for your character.

You must advocate for your character.

Defend them.

Defend them to the hilt.

And what I mean by that is not defend in the real world,

but within the terms of the fiction, of the story,

just offer the best and most credible defense for them,

and then let the audience be judge and jury.

Claire: Yes, yeah.

♪♪♪

Ramin: Zendaya and Mj Rodriguez

are delivering critically acclaimed performances

in two TV dramas that strive for authenticity.

In "Euphoria," Zendaya has movedon from her Disney Channel roots

to play Rue, a teenager whoturns to drugs to numb the pain

of high school.

Rue Bennett: It hurts my heart too much and--

[crying] Just, I--

female: I'm not mad at you.

Rue: Just the worst thing that's happened to me

in a really long time, and I just, I just don't want

anything bad to happen, sojust please don't be mad at me,

okay, Jules?

Let's just don't--

Jules Vaughn: I'm sorry.

Ramin: And on "Pose," Mj Rodriguez plays Blanca,

a trans woman diagnosed with HIV,

who becomes a surrogatemother to a group of LGBTQ youth

rejected by their families in 1990s New York.

Blanca Rodriguez: You know, it's moments like these

that make your life flash right before you.

Crazy thing is it's not my lifeI'm seein' right now.

It's my kids. It's my kids.

♪♪♪

Mj Rodriguez: So, Miss Zendaya,

as you may know, I am an extreme fan of "Euphoria."

I love your work.

I think you are an amazing actress and so versatile.

Zendaya: Thank you so much.

Mj: So what was it like finding Rue and putting her

on the screen?

Zendaya: Oh, like it's the best,you know,

being able to, like, create a character,

and I'm lucky because the creator of our show,

Sam Levinson, has also directed most of the episodes,

but Rue is also kind of, like,loosely based off his own life,

and, really, just a lot of it had to do with just a lot

of conversations with him.

We've become really close.

I talk to him almost every day,and I feel that Rue is kind

of like this beautiful blend ofhim and myself in a weird way.

So, like, everything that she goes through is,

like, painful to, like, go through with her

'cause you just want her to be okay.

And I know she's not a real person,

but she is a real person, I think,

because of the fact that, you know,

that Sam wrote her, and she is so close to him in that way.

And I'm a huge fan of "Pose," by the way.

Mj: Oh.

Zendaya: I think you are also brilliant, and the show is--

it's so fun and heartfelt.

And I guess my questionwould be, how did it come about?

How did it come into your life?

Mj: It was fast-paced.

At first I heard it from a couple of my girlfriends.

They were tellin' me like, "Hey, girl, like,

there's this new show comin' out,

and you should definitely audition for it."

And I was like, "Okay."

Went into testing, and then another audition, and then,

right then and there, it happened,

and it was so fast-paced, but itwas the most beautiful moment

of my life, just going through that process of auditioning

for a television show because I had never done that before.

Ryan Murphy, he was in the roomfor the second testing,

and it was instant chemistry between us.

And then, after that, I rememberreceiving a call from him.

He asked me, "What are you doing, Mj?"

And I said, "I'm watchin' Rihanna's "Wild Thoughts."

And that was the most randomthing I could've ever told him,

but I didn't know what to say 'cause it was Ryan Murphy,

and who gets a call from Ryan Murphy,

you know what I mean?

So it was beautiful, and the journey to Blanca was amazing,

and just being able to delve in her, like,

as I had already done the work on,

how I make sure that she was the compassionate,

caring, loving woman that she was in the breakdown but also

bring pieces of my mother and pieces of me and pieces

of a lot of trans women around,you know, who are around me.

You know, I channel all of that,and I brought that to her,

and it was beautiful.

Zendaya: As far as, like, reactions,

what has been the best part about that?

Mj: Girl, there are so many good parts about it,

but so many different people of different walks of life,

whether they be a part of the LGBTQAI community,

whether they be about the African-American,

whether they be just a part of any kind of community,

they've been so accepting and loving of the true message

which is family.

Zendaya: Sometimes, you know,there's so many things going on

in a show that you forget thatthe underlying thing is family.

And, for us, I think, at the end of the day,

a lot of, you know, a lot is going on in "Euphoria,"

but when you get down to it, a lot of the times,

it's just a love story, and it'smessy, and it's confusing,

and it's scary, you know, but at the end of the day,

it's a love story.

Mj: There's a specific monologuethat you do, Zendaya,

and I was like, "Oh, my God, this girl is actually really

like delving into somebody who is an extreme addict,"

but also someone who dealswith anxiety and who deals with,

just, a multitude of mental illnesses.

It was so beautifully done.

I just wanted to know how in theworld did you muster up all

of that emotion and all of thatanger but also still shine

through with, like, just, like, passion?

Zendaya: That was a tough day.

I was so nervous, like, the whole time I was shooting.

I think it was a reallyemotional moment 'cause I think

that's one of those scenes thatSam Levinson had plucked

from his life, you know?

And so I think it was so important to have, like,

an environment in which you feel that you can go

as far as you can.

But back to what you were saying how,

many times on set--it's tough.

I wanna know how you handle that as a human,

as a person, who has to, at the end of the day,

like, go home and-- [exhaling]

Like, and release from that, and how do you balance

that emotionally?

Mj: The days where it's extremely rough--

I have to be honest--sometimes it's hard to let it go.

And I'm sure you can attest tothis too 'cause I've seen--like

I said, I've watched "Euphoria"at least about three times,

and every single time I see it, I'm like,

"I don't know how Zendaya is doin' this," because Rue is a

complex character, but that's what makes it so beautiful.

I love delving into those moments because at least

somebody can get a piece of whatthat character went through.

It's always good for people to feel those emotions

so that they can, I feel, draw themselves closer

to the characters, but it's hard.

Zendaya: Yeah, absolutely, and when I say, like,

I think of Rue like a little sister,

and all I ever want is for Rue to see the good in herself

because I think she is so self-destructive that she

doesn't believe in lettingbeautiful things happen to her.

Mj: Which leads to my other question.

Okay, so I went to go see "Spider-Man."

You gave such a total differentspin, and, just,

I just wanna knowwhat that was like also swinging

through the concrete jungle?

Describe to me what was that like?

Zendaya: You know, I was lucky because they already,

kind of, wanted to recreate thecharacter and turn her into

a new version of what I think maybe the original Mary Jane

character kind of represented, and so I kind of came into it,

and there was already on the page this kind of,

you know, smart, quick, young girl who, you know,

comes off a bit quirky or offbeat or whatever.

Mj: What was the set like?

'Cause, I mean, that's a marble set, you know.

Zendaya: Most of it was, you know,

it was cool because we got to travel so much.

Like, that last movie, we were,like, all over the place.

I spent most of my timein London, and, like, you know,

when you wake up at, like, 3 in the morning

and you go to work in the middleof London,

running outside theTower of London before it opens,

I get to run in there from, like, these killer drones

that nobody can see 'cause it's not there yet.

You know, it's like that's a very cool life, you know?

That's a fun day at work.

Mj: Well, you turned it.

Zendaya: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

♪♪♪

Ramin: Chris Evans and Paul Rudd,

both stars of Disney's "Avengers" franchise

are now the leads of their own streaming TV shows.

On the drama "Defending Jacob,"Chris Evans is a dad

who will do anything to protecthis teenage son.

Andy Barber: I have to tell you something,

something that's gonna come out.

Laurie Barber: About Jacob?

Andy: About me.

My family. My father.

Ramin: On the comedy "Livingwith Yourself," Paul Rudd takes

on two roles as a disgruntledcopywriter and the upbeat clone

who tries to replace him.

Miles Elliot clone: Well, it's my story too.

I have just as much of a right to it as you do.

Miles Elliot: Excuse me?

Miles clone: At least it's not boring anymore.

Miles: You wrote that lead murdered someone.

Miles clone: So?

Mile: He would never do that.

Miles clone: How do you know?

Miles: Because he's me.

Miles clone: Yeah, no wonder it's boring.

♪♪♪

Paul Rudd: Well, Chris,I'm so happy to be sitting here

talking to you.

Chris Evans: Yeah, me too, buddy.

How you been?

Paul: I've been all right. I've been okay.

I was--you know, I feel as if a full disclosure--

I'm a little hot and sweaty because I thought

that this was in an hour, but it's not.

It's now.

Chris: Hey, man, I like the honesty.

Paul: "Defending Jacob," did you know this book?

How did this whole thing even come about?

Chris: No, I didn't know the book.

I was actually--I was workin' in New York.

I was, like, doin' my show, which you so kindly came

to see me in.

Yeah, my team just brought me the pilot,

and I met with Mark and Morten,and I had some--not concerns,

but when you don't knowwhere the character is gonna go,

you just gotta kind of trust a little bit.

So we had multiple meetings, multiple discussions,

and eventually you just kind of say, you know what?

I like these people.

I just wanna go work with these guys every day,

and they're just, you know, fun people to take risks with.

Paul: Did you know them before?

Had you worked with these people?

Chris: No, I mean, I've seen "Imitation Game,"

which Morten directed so I knewsome of their work,

but it really was just the fact--you know what was great?

Both of them had children aroundthat age, which, obviously,

the show orbits around, so you can feel

the personal connection.

It translates to a great, creative passion.

It's things like that which youcan kind of grasp on and find

the connective tissue to each other when you're dealing

with intangibles out of the gate.

Did you have--'cause one of thebeauties of my gig was Morten,

the director, and Mark, the writer, did all of them.

You know what I mean?

Every single show was they were the writer;

they were the director combo.

Do you have the same thing?

Paul: Exact same thing.

Dayton and Faris, Jonathan Dayton

and Valerie Faris,husband-and-wife directing team.

They did "Little Miss Sunshine,"and documentaries,

and they're terrific.

We kind of sought them out, andthey directed all eight of ours.

Chris: You know, I haven't evensaid this though, but I watched

"Living with Yourself," and it's just--it's fantastic,

and you really are fantastic.

And I said earlier, you are the perfect guy for that role.

Paul: Well, thank you, Chris.

Chris: Did you have something you wanted to say to me?

Paul: No, no, not really.

Chris: That's it? Okay, let's keep it goin'.

Paul: No--I do.

It seems cheap to just kind of reciprocate.

It doesn't seem real, but it's from the heart.

You're fantastic in "Defending Jacob."

Chris: I don't believe you.

Paul: Well, you know it's true.

Chris: See, you sold it. There's that acting.

Paul: No, here's the thing.

You know it's true because everybody talks about how--

Chris: There's that acting.

That's why you're gonna get nominated, Paul.

Paul: Here's the thing.

It's very convincing, and it isan incredibly intense situation

and a character that is really,with each episode,

getting closer and closer to this manic state, I mean,

how hard is it to sustain that frame of mind

for eight episodes?

Chris: Well, God, I mean, the real question--that really

should be yours, especiallygiven the content of your show,

but ostensibly it's an eight-hour movie.

You know, you have to hold thiswhole story in your head

and really kind of turn knobs to really extreme degrees,

you know, from minute to minute,from scene to scene.

I was gonna ask you--I think thething everyone wants to know,

did you get paid double?

Paul: Oh, no, no, I didn't.

Chris: That must've been really hard though.

I mean, I can't imagine having to--

Paul: Well, it was--

Chris: What was the process?

Would you shoot one whole side and then--

Paul: No, it was--you know, one of the great--one of the

appeals that I'm sure that you found this to be true too is,

you know, when you're doin' thiskind of thing a little while,

you wanna try new and exciting things,

and the idea of playing two parts and having scenes

with myself was something I'd never done before.

Chris: Would you have to remember,

"Take one, I did this, so on thereverse, don't forget--"

like little puzzle pieces?

Would you actually have to make, like,

mental notes of the choices you made from take to take?

Paul: I did, I did.

Chris: That's unbelievable.

Paul: And the way that we did itwas I would record the lines.

I would read the scene, act the scene with the sound guy,

and he would just-- on a boom mic,

and then he put it intohis system, and then on an iPad,

we had each line as cues, and so whatever character

was driving the scene, it was the character

that I would film first, and I would then act it,

imagining I was opposite, and I had an earwig in my ear,

and when I would say my line, I would hear myself respond,

but we had somebody off camera hitting the cue on the iPad

that played the other character's response.

And then, once we kind of settled on the take,

I would change over, and I wouldthen watch what we had recorded.

We would be able to line up the shot,

and I just watched what I did, and I tried to remember what

I had done, if I was moving, and it became choreography.

And it was a really cool--

Chris: Also why don't you age? Are you drinking baby blood?

Paul: I most certainly age, especially these days.

Chris: Oh, you know what?

That actually bleeds nicely into this next question.

In terms of Hollywood, you are a part of Marvel,

you're a part of "Friends," and you're in the Apatow crew.

Like, basically, what does it feel like to be awesome?

Paul: Well, that, I definitely don't know.

Chris: No, here's a good question.

Which one are you most proud of?

And just remember who's in the room.

Paul: Well it's interesting because they do seem like

kind of pockets and chapters in life, and I just,

I guess it's just I've been around forever.

But there is a little bit of a,kind of, a "Forrest Gump" feel

to it where I've--

Chris: Yeah.

Paul: For a while, I was in this world that people know,

and then this--but there's a very interesting feeling to be

a part of something that has that kind of profound impact

on pop culture and--

Chris: I was gonna say 'cause even in "The Avengers" world,

it was kind of like, you know, welcoming into the fold,

but very quickly.

Like, I can't imagine you not jelling with a group.

You're like sorbet, just like a palate cleanser.

You know what I mean?

It's an always welcome addition.

Paul: That's the nicest thing anybody's ever said to me,

Chris.

Thank you.

I feel like we're just talking all about me and my career,

and I haven't even--

I mean, my God, we wanna--I wanna talk to you and ask you

all sorts of interesting things.

But, in the meantime, we'll continue with me.

While we're on the topic of "Avengers"--

and, I mean, what is it like for you to play such

an iconic character?

Chris: Well, I mean, from an acting standpoint it was a--

Paul: No, you were saying?

No, keep--keep goin'. Keep goin'.

Chris: Ho-ho, man, that thingcould do a lot of--you could do

a lot of stuff with that thing.

Oh, man, that thing is-- that thing is special.

Paul: Well, let me ask you this.

All right, all right--

Chris: That thing's perfect.

Paul: What is it like for you when you go outside?

What is it like for you if you find yourself where

there's just, like, a bunch of kids around?

Do they just freak out?

Chris: Yeah, a little bit,and it--but it's--that's so nice

'cause I--you know, I don't knowabout you, but, you know,

I grew up with "Star Wars," and I had certain characters

that just meant the world to me,and, you know,

we live in a much different time now.

You know, back when I was young,a celebrity was far away.

You know what I mean?

And actors were only accessiblethrough their work.

And now you have this other channel where you can actually

offer a little bit more of who you are,

which is a tricky, you know, tightrope to walk.

But it is nice to be able to share a little bit extra,

especially playing a characterthat I respect so much in trying

to, you know, create this nexusbetween the work you do

and the impact you might wanna have on kids.

You know, it's so nice to interact with kids,

especially when they walk away feeling something

that the character, kind of, put in their head already.

Paul: "Defending Jacob," how excited are you to do

something that is a different kind of role?

'Cause you played many different kinds of characters.

Chris: Sure.

I'm also not like one of theseguys that--I'm very capricious--

You know what I mean? By nature.

So I wake up one day and want something and then wake up

the next day and want the complete opposite.

So, basically, it's not that I wake up and only wanna

find variety in my performance.

I might find a character that is in the military and is

magnanimous and taciturn and allthese "Captain America"-esque

qualities, but if there's a great director and if there's

a great writer and I just feel like collaborating with them,

then, yeah, I'll pursue it.

So it's--there's a real cocktailof reasons why I choose

to do what I do, but like I said, I could be,

you know, incredibly varied, orI could be incredibly quotidian

for a long time and not really--not mind.

How about yourself, man?

'Cause, I mean, people know youas just the most affable guy

on the planet.

Paul: I don't know, man.

I'm just sitting here thinkin' about all those amazing words

you just used in the last minute.

Chris: Aah-ha-ha.

Paul: "Quotidian," being one of the best.

♪♪♪

Ramin: We hope you've enjoyed our look inside the world

of actors on actors.

Please join us again next time.

♪♪♪

Damian: We don't want the steering wheel.

Okay, here we go.

Chris: But I got that footage of our first day at meeting

with you dancing, and you're right.

Paul: Wow, wow.

Damian: Looks very professional.

Claire: You don't wanna know what's behind the curtain.

Chris: I can't show it. It's way too embarrassing.

Paul: Is it bad?

Chris: Oh, 'cause I'm in it too.

Zendaya: I have beeping happening--[beep].

Paul: Bye.

♪♪♪

...

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