Episode 1149 - Kerry WashingtonWTF with Marc Maron
- 666 views
- 17 Aug 2020
Kerry Washington has a lot to talk about with Marc, but it’s appropriate that they spend the first portion of their conversation singing the praises of Lynn Shelton. Kerry talks about what Lynn brought to Little Fires Everywhere, but they also discuss how the treatment of race was different on the show than it was in the book and why that adjustment was so important to Kerry. She tells Marc about her childhood in the Bronx, her feeling of being “the other” in high school, and her determination to tell stories that amplify voices that are otherwise unheard.
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The. All right, let's do this, how are you? What the fuck is what the fuck buddies? What the fuck? Nix what's happening? My name is Marc Maron. I'm an alcoholic. My name is Mark. I'm a drug addict and alcoholic. My name is Mark David Maron. I am the son of Barry and Tobi Marin of New Jersey.
Who are you? Who the fuck are you?
I bet you that questions being answered as each day in isolation and self reflection churns.
On every day we wake up and we're like, here it comes again.
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We were ahead of the curve and it went nowhere. It's great to be ahead of the curve and then stop. And then the curve happens and then you can't get in. Sorry you were ahead of the curve when you stop. But now the curve has come full circle and no one gives a fuck about you in this particular medium.
Good luck starting from the bottom again. Anyway, just coffee. Yeah, they have. If you get the WTF blend, we get a little something on the back end. I think still. I don't know. I don't know what's happening.
It's amazing how small my life has gotten and how little I continue to know. By the way, Kerry Washington is on the show today. Kerry Washington, she you might know her from scandal, Django Unchained, little fires everywhere.
And now as a producer and director, an Emmy nominated actor, producer and so.
Well, what's what can we do that? Hey, Google. Are you on?
I'm here. What can I do for you?
Can you tell me where Kerry Washington was born?
Kerry Washington was born on January 31st, 1977, and her full name is Kerry Morissa Washington. Kerry Washington was born in the Bronx.
Thank you. Isn't that amazing? Isn't that like I actually just interview that, right.
All right. Let's get in it. So. I don't want to say that my special was good, and I don't even want to say that it necessarily was in any way prophetic, but I'm happy with it.
I am happy with my special and times fun, which you can watch on Netflix, which is still very watchable.
I would say the last two to reel and end times fun on Netflix are the best work I've ever done and maybe the last work I do in that medium.
So and I'm OK with that. But I didn't anticipate this. I did not anticipate. This is coming from Accu Weather in northern California. Northern California was alerted to a rare tornado warning, unlike any other, by the National Weather Service. Wait for it. A fire, tornado, a fucking fire, tornado.
The Reno office of the National Weather Service knew the mixture of 60 mile per hour winds with pyro, cumulonimbus, pyro, cumulonimbus clouds from the loyalty and wildfire could produce a fire induced tornado.
The forecasters warn the conditions pose an extremely dangerous situation for firefighters. Fuck, man, my heart goes out to those guys. That is a tough job. Thank God they're doing it.
The loyalty in fire to the east of Sierra Valley exploded most impressively this afternoon with a very large pyro cumulus. And reports of fire tornadoes now continues of a better word than impressively. I mean, I understand that these weather nerds get excited, but I mean, the oil, literally, the loyalty and fire to the east of the sheer valley exploded most impressively. How about most menacingly or most horrifyingly impressively, put aside the fire nerd.
New thing, excitement when you're talking about a fucking fire, tornado, fire or tornado.
Add that to the list of, hey, maybe this is happening.
But the sky is on fire is a bit from my my special. And yeah, that's all I'm going to say, fire, tornadoes. I. Watch the Rush documentary on Netflix, some of you know how I feel about Rush, I'm mostly the worst. I'm just mostly dismissive.
I don't say they suck, really. I just you know, I know they're great musicians. I know they're their own thing. Look, they were very much around when I was a kid. I you know, some of you know that I used to work for a catering company that catered the Rush concert. And I had to go get drive up into the my manager's house a half hour to get Alex. We've seen a fan so he would be comfortable in his dressing room while he noodled around and his a classical guitar warming up.
And I thought he was a dick. But now I watched the documentary. If I got anything out of it, it's that I have I had a the wrong perception of him.
As a guy who had to go do something for his boss to accommodate this guitar player, I just assumed that Zach's name, Alex Lifeson Leaf's and that he was kind of a dick, but is not.
That's the one thing I got out of the Rush documentary. Here's what I got out of it, because people talk, you know, they asked me about Russia, ask me when I talk to, you know, get he's a Jew, he's the son of Holocaust survivors.
You know, they're they're the back story is interesting. They're all interesting. I didn't know that Neil Peart wrote a lot of the songs. You know, these concept records, they were around when I was a kid. They were popular with a certain. Look, they're a great band to a certain type of person, I am not that type of person. I'm not going to pass judgment. I'm not going to say who those people are. But you know who you are and the people who know, you know who you are, you're rush people.
And that's OK. They're there on the spectrum. I don't mean the autistic spectrum, I mean the nerd spectrum, you know, the Dungeons and Dungeons and Dragons maybe on the outside, the pro wrestling, but, you know, they somewhere fall in between Dungeons and Dragons and pro wrestling on the nerd spectrum. That's all I'm saying about Rush, I don't I don't need the stories, I don't you know, I I understand the honesty of the outsider and the journey of the heart through a fairy tale story.
Look, man, I'm bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom.
But I get it.
But I will say that I came away from the documentary with a deeper respect and understanding and appreciation and even I like the guys about Rush did not inspire me to revisit their music.
The jury's in on that, but that's just a taste, that's my own personal taste.
OK, can we leave it at that? Hey, Google, what year was Rush 21 12, recorded twelve, was recorded in February 1976. Its centerpiece is a 20 minute title track, a futuristic science fiction song that takes up the entire.
OK, thank you. There you go. See, that's where that's where they lose me. 20 minutes. Science fiction song. All right, Kerry Washington.
She's nominated for four Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Actress in a limited series or movie for Little Fires Everywhere, which Lynn Shelton directed a few of, was an executive producer.
And she's nominated in three different categories as a producer. Outstanding limited series for Little Fires Everywhere, outstanding television movie for American Son and outstanding variety, special for live in front of a studio audience. This is me and Kerry Washington coming up.
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Oh oh. I'm all that like whirlwind of press that we've been doing lately.
This is the thing my husband's most excited about. Just, you know, really is the only podcast that matters for him.
This is maybe like fresh air. Oh that's nice. Yeah.
I got a fan in your husband. That's nice. Yeah.
Well why don't we, I mean I wouldn't mind starting with that just so you know, you know, if I'm going to cry, we can do it, you know, up front, you know, with little fires.
I mean, obviously you had a big role in producing it. And, you know, I was here and with Lynn through the whole process.
But what was that process? How did how was working with Lynn Shelton and how did she get that job?
Oh, man, I didn't think you were going to dive right into that, but I'm asking you why.
Yeah, because, like, what happens is if I put it off, you know, and then, like, if I start crying, then whenever it's going to happen, it's going to happen.
But I go straight in because I heard about, like, you know, I know what it was like, you know, when she come home from a day at work and how exciting it was and working with you and working with Reese and all the kids, I mean, I just heard it from her perspective and from her point of view. But I know there was something about going into it because I saw all the effort she put into putting together the pitch to get the job.
So we had a huge problem. Right. The problem we had in making this show was we were telling a lot of different narratives. We were telling a story about a lot of different kinds of people thrown into a situation where they had to deal with each other, people with vastly different world views and places of perspective.
And so cool finding a director, you can you can create a writer's room that holds space for all of this perspective, finding a director who could hold all of that vision and all of those different entry points and with the right amount of love and also vision and ability to execute creatively, it was really challenging. I mean, it was like and it was stressful to be like, how do we find that we would rather it be a woman because this is such a woman centered story.
How do we find that person? And Lynn? Literally walked into the room and solve our problem. She was the answer. She just was the answer. And she came in. I have it. I keep it in my like in my closet next to the other precious objects. She she created this amazing look. Look. Yeah, I know.
I saw you were probably there as she was getting images and pasting and she wrote this beautiful, beautiful.
And it just was like, you know, in our in our challenge of how do you translate this brilliant novel to take something that's two dimensional and turn it into a visual medium. Again, he presented this book of visual imagery that was like, oh, she's on this. Like she's she's already ahead of us in figuring out the how. And then she proceeded to and will never forget it. She proceeded to walk us through all of the important characters and explain how she could relate to their life experience in this.
And it was so generous because she was telling us stories about her childhood, about how when she became a mother, about her marriage, about her relationship now, about all of these different entry points for how she understood how she knew these characters and and what they were going through. And so it was like she she said, I mean, I remember the relief of sitting there and we were all crying in the meeting because we were all sharing our personal stories.
And I just remember thinking like this, we're we're done.
We got to make this show and was like in you putting together the character of MIA.
Did did wins experiences. She was a photographer, she was sort of an artist, she kind of did that New York thing for a while. Did she did you guys talk about that?
Yeah, absolutely. There was a lot of that was in the book. Yeah. And her her love of visual artists and how they work. And the art itself was so evident in that meeting. And yeah, it felt like we all had a love for the 90s, which she she had a love for that New York in the 90s and that time in art, you know, that's the approach to realism. And she just really she related to all of that.
And I think there was a bit of a connection between the way that Mia worked as a visual artist and the way that little works or worked as a filmmaker in terms of like looking for the truth. Yeah, looking for real. Right. And not afraid to reveal the things that society might say is unattractive, that that that raw truth is what's most beautiful. I think that that was so much of how Lynn worked as a filmmaker. So to have me articulate those values as a visual artist, I think was part of an expression of Lynn.
I thought that I thought that the show came out great. Did you? I really did. And, you know, we had two other directors on the project and but they they worked within the visual vocabulary that we had set up.
Like she set up culture. Right.
And so I guess that's what they that's what the the the director who does the first one does, right? That's right.
And particularly for Lynn, because she she did the first one in the middle and she did our finale. She really was. She set the tone for it. For the show. Yeah, she was our partner are closer. She us challenging.
It was a big show. What to do to show the fire. I mean, just the fire that was going to do the fire.
And then there's the the whole the whole the whole piece of burning the the artwork to the big picture that took some doing so fun.
I mean, that's what I that's one of the fun things too, about working with Lynn. I just want to keep saying is, is that she's so in love with the process of filmmaking, right. And so, like, it's and that kind of thing is contagious.
And it's so important on a show like this where the hours are long, the material is challenging. It was a hard show to do its period, and that's in the nineties. But her like she was so happy at Video Village with her headphones on and like, you just felt like, oh, she's in her sweet spot. And I know she had lots of sweet spots because I know how much she loved life and loved being a mom. And but you could see that that sitting in Video Village.
Yeah. It was like her zone with her hat on. Yes, exactly.
So but now you like directing. You know, I've done it a little bit and I don't I don't feel it takes a certain person to do it.
And I know that you're doing it more, you know, after acting for so for so long, you know, what is it about directing, especially directing TV that that compels you to to to want to do that?
You know, I don't. It's interesting. I'm not and I think this is true, Lynn, too, because I love that Lynn was the director and said, no, I'm not. Oh, yeah. She really only did things that spoke to her. Right. So it's a huge compliment that she was so drawn to our show because our standards were so high. And I I think there's a little bit of that belief system for me. And I'm I'm not at this point.
I don't I'm not so bitten by the directing bug that I want to just be directing all the time, be a director for different shows and works that muscle. But on shows that I really love, I'm drawn to be a part of the team that makes it happen. Like it's like watching a winning basketball team. Like if it's a show you're like, Oh, I'd love to come and write, you know, especially in television. It's like you're you're not unless you're doing what Lynn did in directing the pilot, you're really coming in to say like, oh, there's a vision here.
Sure. I love it. I'm I have so much respect for it. I'd love to come in and help.
Yeah. And also, you get you get to sort of learn on the job. Yeah.
You know, it's already got to look and they got a good DP and, you know, you want to kind of, you know, an easy birth into direct.
Yes, that's right. That's right.
And I have had been learning so much, working on shows that I love. And so I just keep doing that until I feel like I have something of my own to say as a director.
Do you do you understand the sort of like the line above the line or below the line or where?
Yeah, right. Right there. I was confused and I'm still confused.
I mean, I imagine I think I can wrap my brain around it, but I can't I you know, it all seems complicated to me.
Yeah, but you got all that.
Basically, I'm also like as an actor, I've always been really nosy and like really curious about what other people are doing and how to do it and and a little bit with a lens toward like, how can we be as efficient as possible, but mostly a lens through like how can we be as successful in telling the story we're trying to tell. So I think that has made me want to have my my hands on more than just acting, because I really I enjoy the team effort.
I enjoy I enjoy that. So I really love working with Lynn because like me, she understood that team morale was so important to getting it done. Yeah. Driving toward excellence and reaching for excellence, but also being kind and considerate of your fellow artists.
And she's definitely was that. Yeah. And there was a lot of people on that shoot out of people involved.
And like that was the cooks in the kitchen. Yeah. And that's a big shift because she, you know, she's doing her little movies and there's nobody there's no comedy there, you know, that she has to walk back to. Yup.
I know that that was challenging also because it's not your normal committee. It's like very opinionated. Carrie Washington and Reese Witherspoon and our very limited partners in our companies and our very opinionated showrunner. We are in all of us are coming to it with our different perspectives about what's most important. And she was it for you?
What what was most important?
There were a couple of things for me, but I think the decision to make me and Pearl Black was a huge undertaking. It couldn't be just like it wasn't just switching a Crayola crayon. It really impacted the story that we were they weren't black in the book.
No, I didn't know that. So that is getting that right, making sure that that adjustment impacted the narrative in the right ways was really important.
Oh my God, how do you even have a show if they weren't black? Because it's a lot about class and I get it. But, you know, I mean, but but those characters, because they're black and form, you know, the sort of elements of of race and class, you know, which which are not conversations we had in this country, but, you know, classes never had.
And racism is, you know, a difficult conversation for most people.
Yeah. And how they are connected. Oh, yeah. That's the most taboo. Right.
So getting all of that right with honoring what Celeste had presented in the novel that was so brilliant around class and parenting and identity and history and secrets and family like all of that, getting that right, but also making sure that we were honoring this adjustment around race and and protecting it. And that was that was super important to me. Wow. And also similar to me, like making sure that we were taking care of the baby character as well. I think in the ways that that Nia takes care of baby.
And in the novel, I think I carry really responsible for taking care of a Lulu, but also of taking care of that storyline and making sure that we were telling it in the right way.
And this is the oh, the the Asian woman baby. Yes. Right. Yes. That that was a very you know, that your your character's probably it seems that the most it's interesting that you have Reese doing her thing, you know, with the limitations that she's created in that character to define it. And then you're you know, your blind spots are different. But there's a sort of anger at the core of both of these characters. And, you know, using you using B.V. as is sort of this this this way to fight.
That's right, right, and and then risk failing to, you know, to to bring her kids to fight really on her behalf and her using her friend, the woman that's adopted Rosemarie's character is more you think that.
So it was like we were both working through these kind of avatars to battle each other around values and identity and class.
You know, it's very interesting that, like, you know, just when you say that, like that these characters weren't black to begin with in the way that there was sort of an ease in which the children, you know, kind of connected without judgment, you know, that there wasn't a lot of that, but there was.
So, you know, it wasn't unspoken among the adults, but the kids just sort of like kind of moved through that those those race dynamics without really paying that much attention to them.
And that's what kids do. Yeah. Until they get taught otherwise from us. Right. And it's it's funny. We had extraordinarily talented kids. That cast was so, so good. But the performances we got out of them were in large part because of Lynn. I mean, she really invested because each each and every one of those actors, even the most experienced of them, they.
They surprised themselves with the deaths of work that they were able to bring forward, and it required that the show require that it was really intensely beautiful work that they were able to to create. And Lynn, she built like a container for them to explore and work on character and do their actor's homework.
Yeah, she'll get it out of you.
Yeah. Yeah. And she did. And it's not easy with kids. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It seemed like they really liked her.
So where did you where were you. A kid. What do you come from.
So I come from New York City. From the Bronx where I grew up. And now what part of the Bronx. You know, the Bronx. A little.
I mean, I used to I lived in New York. And I know like when you go there, I know there are some beautiful parts of the Bronx and I know there's some rougher blocks. I know there is a sort of middle.
I'm from the middle. And so I'm not from Riverdale, but I'm not from the South Bronx. I'm kind of like the central east Bronx with your family there for years. My mom grew up in the Bronx. My mom grew up in the South Bronx and her parents were immigrants. They came to this country from Jamaica through Ellis Island.
Do you remember your grandparents? I do. I remember my grandmother on my mom's side. My grandfather passed when my mother was a teenager.
Did she have that kind of presence of a Jamaican person?
My grandmother? Yeah. Yes. But she was very you know, Jamaica was colonized by the Brits. And so there's a lot of Jamaicans who are like that. Like my grandmother had a picture of the queen hanging in her apartment. She was very, very British. Jamaican. Yeah. They had tea every single day. She wasn't wealthy, but she she I don't by any means. She came, you know, she had show money when she came through Ellis Island to prove that she had cash, but it was money borrowed from another family member that she had to give away.
So she got here. So she but but she was culturally very British, West Indian and very formal and stoic, very stoic, which my mother is as well. Oh, really? Yeah. They both have that like my mother. My mother has a real elegance about her and she's a retired professor of education. She's very smart.
And that's so but stoic because like, you know, you're like the fucking opposite of. Oh, I know. I joke that my mother spent her whole life trying to figure out how to not have a feeling. Yeah.
And then she had this kid who was just like a walking, like a walking feeling. And she it was her and it was a nightmare. But because my mom was an educator, she was like, I think a lot of this was unconscious. But she she was like, I don't know how to process these feelings. So you're going to go and do that children's theater company thing? Oh, there's lots of feelings at the Boys and Girls Club with the with the children's theatre shows and not have them at home.
So that was sort of what happened. I have I had these creative outlets where I could be this crazy theatre kid with all of these big feeling.
But you always had that because I mean you I mean, when I watch you, it's interesting because I've seen you in many things.
And I went and I watched I watched American son and I watched a fires. I've seen you in Giang. I've seen you in other movies. But it was interesting because I watch confirmation as well. And it's a it was interesting to see you play somebody that existed.
You know, because, like, as I when I watch you act, I mean, even though the characters are different, you know, I can see you go through many emotions in any moment.
Yeah. It's the way you do it because you're that engaged emotionally.
But the work of playing and NIDA, you really you had to sort of like you couldn't do it in public and you couldn't do the the the the Kerry tricks.
It's true. It's know she's very and I love her.
I mean, I still talk to this doctor this weekend.
It's great. You did a great job. Oh, thank you.
I mean, she's so funny. It's one of the greatest compliments I've ever had in my life as an artist is when we finished that movie, she said, I didn't know I had a walk until I saw you do my walk. I guess I have a lie. I said, You absolutely have a walk.
Are you kidding me? She was like, I didn't know until I saw you do it. And I said, Oh, my goodness, that's me. So it was fun. It was fun to play somebody so called in and reserved it like she's just bubbling inside all the time with. But the lid stays on. Yeah. You know, it was a really good exercise for me particularly. In the middle of the scandal is because Olivia Pope is so expressive and so big and wields all her power.
And so Anita was the opposite.
How much did you have to do with creating that character? How much? I mean, obviously, it's your character on Scandal, but was there a lot of input in terms of who that person would be to to sort of carry that show?
Yeah, I felt like it felt like a dance, like a marriage between myself and Shonda, but never linguistically, like the words were always hers. Right. But how I embody them and the choices like I mean and in fact, it was a dance between Shonda and I and dare I say, little Paolo, who also did costumes on little fire.
She was our costume designer and scandal. And the wardrobe really was such a vital way of how I express to Olivia was sure. Lynne and I were also really, really hands on in creating that character. But but all the words came from Shonda.
So you went to the theatre school when you were like it was in kindergarten. Did you start or was that children's theatre is what you did?
It was just like an after school, basically. I was in there was one in the Bronx called Happy Medium. That was a Bronx Children's Theatre company where we did like Pinocchio and the Velveteen Rabbit played a rabbit or a boat. And and then there was another really amazing children's theater company in New York City called Today that's been around forever.
What's it called?
And it is today a day, OK. And so I joined that company when I was about 12. And I also did a lot of theater and education, were working with, like adolescent health centers, creating content. This was in the early nineties. So creating content around safer sex issues and homosexuality and drug abuse like peer to peer education group theatre. So I did that work for almost a decade with.
Did that start when you were in high school? Yes, I joined that company when I was just before my 14th birthday. The company had started theatre, I think now it's called Night Star.
And and that work was really amazing because what we did was we created the show ourselves, wrote the skits that we would do in different schools and community centers and church basements. And but after we did the show, then we would stay in character and talk to the audience. And how we really got the information across to audiences was by engaging in conversation with them. And we'd say, well, you come up and show me how to do it. But we stayed in character.
And so that was some of the most intense actor training that I got, really, because sort of like what to did with these kids. It was like, do I know everything about this character? Do I know what my favorite breakfast is? Do I know how I go to sleep or what book I'm reading or how I met my boyfriend or if his mother likes me or not? Like, have I really done all of my actor's homework so that I can engage with an audience member?
And when they ask me a question, I know how to respond organically. Right.
And it's ostensibly this is to teach kids about the topic of the show. It's an educational thing. That's right.
And so, like so a lot of these kids are probably looking at you and they're learning about what you want them to learn about. But they're also probably getting off on the idea of acting as well. So you're inspiring them to to not only have safer sex or whatever the the agenda was, but they're probably getting a kick out of the idea that you're holding onto these you playing grown up characters?
No, we were playing teenagers. So like, for example, we do a scene, we're in the scene. I'm playing a six year old girl. And my boyfriend really wants to be had sex, but he doesn't want to use a condom. And I'm trying to talk him into using a condom. And the scene ends kind of open ended. It's unresolved. Yeah. And then we go on to the next scene. And so then in the Q&A portion, I'm like, well, what should I do?
What should I say to him? Should I like what will what are my wrist like? You're really engaging up there.
Have you met anybody in your adult life who come up to you and said, I saw you in one of those shows years ago?
Not recently because it was in New York. So when I when I was an adult living in New York, like working in a restaurant and do teaching, like all of my side hustles, I used to meet people who who have seen that show.
Wait a minute, you had a yoga side hustle?
Oh, yeah, I had financially, but I did.
I went so after undergraduate school, I actually lived in India for a while.
OK, so. So you graduate high school. Did you do plays in high school? I did.
I did. So I did that professional theatre company. I'll be high school. The Educational Theatre Company. Yeah. Right. Yeah.
And then I, I got the agent when I was like 13. Really I did I. There was one of those totally like I stumbled into it, a friend of a friend was really good friends with a casting director and I read for her for something. And she was like, well, you're too young for this role, but you should really have an agent. And so I didn't know what any of this meant. Like, I didn't know that I had struck gold by being exposed to this these connections.
But so I got an agent and I sent my mom would let me audition as long as my grades didn't drop. Right. And she was the opposite of the stage. Mom, like my agent used to call the apartment and my mom was on the phone and it was about an audition. She would say, like, I am not Carrie's secretary, like callback.
And my God, your mother, she wants to go on an audition. She has to manage it herself.
She's tough. Yeah, but I did.
And did you did you do any film or television work? I did.
I did like an actress in ABC after school special when I was like 14 or 15.
What was that character that was like a friend of a friend? I think it was like best friend number one or something and stimulate our characters.
And and I got I did a couple of commercials that were really impactful financially for my family. We were living in the Bronx for a working working class or working. What would your dad do? My dad was a real estate broker up there. Yeah, in the Bronx Hustle and Apartments.
Yes, exactly. Mostly rentals. Yeah, and how many siblings you got? I'm an only. Oh, you're one of them, I suppose. A rare creature bugs.
But I will say my mom was one of seven. So I have a lot of cousins. And like we like in the summers, we all live together in upstate New York. And so I was really close to my cousins.
But like, what is the pressure of the only child? Because I've talked to a few only children. And every time I talk to him just trying to be empathetic, I try to picture myself as an only child. And for me, for some reason, it causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in and the whole idea of like, well, I'm the only one, so I'd better not disappoint them, but no one really validates that. Or is that true?
That's absolutely true. That was that's totally my experience. And I now I don't worry about it as much now as they're my guest house and covid like they're there. They are.
They are. Well, that's nice. But for most of my life there is the combination of like a lot of pressure that you have to fulfill all the dreams. And also there's nobody to, like, distract them. You know, it's not like if you break a lamp, they're off yelling at another kid. So they don't notice, like, so much attention, which is good. I think the level of attention might to have my mother's attention served me in many ways in terms of my intellect and knowing that I matter to her.
And I think that's a really profound thing for a kid to know.
Yeah, I guess it's like when you're the only one, it's pretty apparent you would be pretty apparent if you didn't. And probably for a parent if you do.
But it's nice that you know enough that she was emotionally detached, but that did not imply that she did not care about you. Yes.
And it's also like I didn't I don't even know that I would have said that she was emotionally detached. I just feel like. She is she's just not expressive, so, like, I know she's probably right, right.
Yeah, but it's like what we were watching a movie the other night and I turned to them and I was like, isn't this amazing?
It's a movie that I hadn't seen before that they had. Isn't this amazing? No response. Isn't this amazing? I mean, this is classic only child. No response. Is this amazing?
And my mom turned and said, yeah, yeah, back to the movie. And my husband laughed.
So he was like, I just got every window into your child's life that I ever needed and took three times and bigger and bigger each time.
It was The Lion King, like the live action lion. Things that they had. But I was like, the lions are talking to each other is the technology of it.
Yeah. So was that one of the reasons why it seems like I don't know if it's overachieving, but it seems like you had a very kind of eclectic approach to, you know, your education, what you wanted to do. So what you do all this acting in high school and then what happens?
I mean, were they were they supportive or did they want you to do that? Did they think it was a life that they were?
My mother's worst nightmare was that I was going to pursue acting professionally. That's what it sounds like. Yeah. Like what a nightmare.
Because she didn't they just they didn't want to have a starving artist for a child and they didn't want those worries. For me, that classic idea of like, I just don't want you to suffer. I don't you start.
Yeah, it's concerned. Usually it's not judgment. Yeah. Yeah. And and so I really I didn't I applied to a bunch of conservative schools like Carnegie Mellon and NYU, but I knew I was going to go to any of those schools. I had to go somewhere where I was going to get a liberal arts degree so that when I graduated, I wouldn't have an option. Right. And I actually want to go to GW in D.C. on an acting scholarship, which was like the best of all worlds, because I didn't even have to major in acting, but I had to keep a certain number of acting credits each semester and I was required to audition for every single production.
I didn't have a choice on whether or not I wanted to do a play. I like being on the basketball games play like you're just you're in the coach classes when you're up. Yeah. And so that was really good training for me also because it was it really taught me a lot about auditioning and sort of auditioning with detachment. And what's mine is mine. And what is it. Is it. And it was also the first time, even though I had worked professionally as a kid, like, yes, it was the first time in my life that I that I thought I am paying for my education through my talent, quote unquote, like this.
Maybe this is something that I should think about long term pursuing, because obviously people aren't willing to give me a lot of money like I'm doing.
That's a good that's a nice lesson to reveal itself to you like that. I don't know that I would have thought that, like, you know, like I tricked these people.
I wonder if I was a little bit of that. Like, these people are going to pay for my education.
And all you have to do is stand up on the stage and say, all right, great, OK, Mom, do that for the rest of my life.
Tell me where to stand. I'll be I'll find my life if you're going to give me money to do that. Great, great.
I'm so glad I have this talent because now I could enjoy my life.
Well, that's well, that's a great realization to have. What what did you study that you studied?
I invented a major I invented this interdisciplinary major because I was really obsessed with this idea, I think because I did all that sort of arts activism, educational theater stuff in high school. Right. And I was really, really fascinated with the idea of how performance impacts culture and and also like what we so there were a couple of things in my in my sort of life of an artist. I was really interested in how performance in culture, like what performance says about us as a society, how we can shift society and culture through narrative.
So what what performance reveals to us about culture?
Like when you say performance, what did that cover?
Well, like like when we're doing these shows in these high schools, it was so fascinating to me that that we were able to shift ideology and behavior of young people by being there. And what did it take to be their mirror? We had to look like them and sound like them. And the music that we used in our show had to be the music that they were listening to in their pop radio stations, like just that examination of the power of the mirror and showing people who they want to be and who they don't want.
They can be like all of those dynamics and the. Also, in my personal life, I was actually going through an experience very similar to Pearl and little fires in that I'm in seventh grade, I left my public school in the Bronx and I started going to this very, very elite private high school in Manhattan and sort of experiencing all the culture shock of what that meant and looks like.
And I saw the primary element of that where I mean, like what was the primary element that you recognized, where you were you otherwise?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it was like it was culture shock for me to go to this school and to see how these kids lives. And and I started to think about also kind of I think unconsciously at first, but consciously as I got older, the performative of identity in everyday life, sort of that off idea of, you know, you perform your identity through how you dress and how you walk and the words you use and and the ways that you express yourself.
Because the the people that I grew up with in the Bronx, I would get on the subway for thirty five minutes, but they were countries apart. They were worlds unto themselves. How people dressed and ate and talked in the Bronx, in my neighborhood, my family, my friends, versus how people talked and ate and dressed in this place that I went to school eight hours a day. They were universes apart. Sure. And so that also started to make me think about, like, who am I?
How do I hold on to myself in both spaces? What parts of myself are authentic to me? What parts are performance like? All of that was sort of tough for me.
That sounds like every morning for me. Really.
Exactly. Me do with some day.
And so so in a sense, this this major you created was along with your experience acting and learning that stuff was a way to sort of answer some fundamental questions about yourself.
Which is answer fundamental questions about myself and also to explore fundamental curiosities about what it means, like what the power of narrative is and what was a major what was it how what was it was it was called performance studies.
OK, and I sort of based it on two different graduate programs. This was from my undergraduate degree. Right. There was a graduate program at the time at Northwestern and a graduate program at NYU, both around performance states. There were slightly different programs. The program at Northwestern was a little bit more like anthropology, sociology based, and the program at NYU was a little bit more dramatic and an art like fine art space. And so I sort of combined influences from both of those programs to pick courses at GW in sociology and anthropology and and theater and psychology.
And so I combined all of those classes together to form the speaker.
And did you find that it successfully addressed your questions and the education you wanted? I think in a lot of ways it did. I mean, it definitely. I mean, in some ways, I think it served its purpose because I finished college, right? I was able to study the things that I cared about and I left school with a liberal arts degree so I could go and substitute teach as one of my side muscles, you know, which you can't do with a fine arts degree.
Sure. And it taught me how to think critically.
And a lot of these areas, yeah, I ended up doing that with my college education. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. And then, you know, towards the end of it, I stayed five years undergrad. I was sort of like, you know, I looked at all my courses and I'm like, well, what have I got?
What did I get, what did I do here?
And then you got like two more semesters and like one or two classes away from a film cret minor. I'll do that. And then then I'm like right up against the English major. Good.
And you just go. That's right. That's right.
Because like, if you're not looking for, you know, some sort of practical education that will lead to a job, you know, it's sort of an expressive thing that you're doing in a way. Yeah.
And I do think it has served me like I think about even, you know, earlier in my career taking on a character like Della B Robinson and Ray Ray Charles is why there were so many people I remember in my peer group at the time saying, like, why would she stay? Like, why would that woman say he's cheating on her doing drugs like she needs to get out of there. But for me, like I had the background of sociology and history and psychology to say, like, here's why she stayed like her option in nineteen fifty whatever to leave.
She has no education. Like what are the psychological issues. She's dealing with it make her feel like she has to say like to use some of those. Sure.
I mean in those, in those questions are there are similar questions in the Anita Hill story really in terms of why she didn't act sooner.
And then also like in you know, I would imagine that so much of that experience, like I can't imagine really in hearing what you're saying about your personal life, what you actually performing American son must have been like every day, you know, to to lose an only child, to also deal with, you know, elements of of trying to of struggling with identity for whatever reason, and then the elements of of, you know, private education versus public education.
I mean, it sounds like all of that stuff was just like up on fire in that show. So that must have been quite a pinnacle of some kind in terms of performing.
Yeah, it really was. I mean, I just left my guts out on the stage and and then on our soundstage making the film every single performance. Yeah. Know ripped me apart that song. That was something else. Man And who played that?
Police detective Eugene Bruckmann. He's like a. Like a classic theater actor, like it's like he's worked with August Wilson, he's worked with the greats, Eugene Lee is like a black theater treasure. Right. And so he lied when he said yes to us. Yeah. I was just so over the moon and and every night, no matter where I was in that performance, when he came on stage, I knew I could land the plane, like no matter how I had been able to, like, really hook into the performance or not.
When he walked on that stage, I was like, we're going to land this plane and it's going to be devastating and it's going to. But he's going to make it happen.
No, I felt that. I mean, I felt because like the lead was good and the other cop was good. You're great. And, you know, I could see you kind of putting this stuff out there and then, like, he comes in out of nowhere and just sort of like the focus, but eviscerates it's crazy.
And the way he lays it out at the end, it's like, oh, my God.
But it's like that's the way it would have went down. I mean, how else is that going a guy in it? Because there's a way to read his his you know what? He's telling the story at the end of what happened as as something almost vindictive, given the scene before. But it's just matter of fact.
That's right. That's right.
So before like I know we're on a time budget here. So I wanted to talk about something I've never talked about with anybody because I always forget you studied with Michael Howard.
I did. I did. To you did.
And no one I can never I almost always forget his name. I was there for like three or four months.
Wow. But like, it's such a unique etc.. Like one of those old he's like this he I didn't know what, you know, where he came from or why he came from. But he seemed kind of Strausberg adjacent like he he modeled himself after what was sort of some kind of classic old Jewish method trip.
Yup. But like when you got out of college, like, I didn't we didn't get the trip to India. How long were you in India?
I was in India for like eight months. Doing what?
So I studied in South India, I studied traditional Indian theater and culture, it was sort of like the real world, India. It was a program out of University of Wisconsin at Madison.
You did graduate. You were went to graduate school.
No, this was sort of my postgraduate study work. And it was a bunch of scholars, students who we all went and we were studying traditional Indian arts in the morning and in the afternoon we were sitting mulayam the language together and we would have these incredible guest speakers come and lecture to us in our house and we would go to these cultural events and trips. And we all lived in this house together. It was amazing. So I studied yoga, OK, and Payet, which is this traditional Indian martial art, I'm fascinated with India and I know nothing about it.
It's a very mystical place to me, just from like, I don't know, the music, the colors, the food, but I don't know anything.
And it was massive for me because I was like I was also at a point in my life where I was really deep into a spiritual journey for myself, like really figuring out what God was for me. And did you figure that out?
It's a it's a daily unfolding. It's like any relationship. It requires daily maintenance and listening that struggle for self and struggle for God.
Those are rough ones. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
But they you know, I grew up in the Bronx. There's like a liquor store on every corner and there's there's a temple on every corner. There's it's like there's so much grounding in God, like interwoven God is like sort of a sad juxtaposition.
So this was in between graduating from undergrad and going and starting and then you come back to New York and that's when you start studying with Michael. How how long do you study?
I I met Michael actually halfway through college. Halfway through undergrad. I did I did the Summer Conservatory and Michael Howard studios. And that summer was the summer that I was like, you know what, I think I'm going to try to do this acting thing because I spent the whole summer in a conservatory with other actors and I loved it just doing acting all day, every day, all day long.
And I was like, this is it like this is I love this is my happy place. And so then I went back and finished my last two years of undergraduate school, went to India and then came back and just like hit the pavement, trying to get work as an actor. But I would take my study and my other movement classes and whatever else I could get at the studio with Michael, with Michael, and also with his protege, Larry Singer.
It's so funny because had such weird memories, I can't even really remember when it was it must have been like, you know, in the early 90s. You know, I don't know why I ended up at Michael Howard. Maybe a girlfriend I had was there.
But like, I, I, I just like it was that culture of, you know, almost, you know, acting teacher as as cult leader almost that there was this.
Yeah. People were loving, but it was a very loving environment. No, no. I thought he was great. Yeah. Yeah. He felt like I sound just like somebody in the cult. Right. No, no.
I don't know, like a lot of people don't know about him, but he's like he's a sweetheart of a cranky Jew, you know, and and, you know, as a younger, more angry Jew, like, I can trust the the sort of sensitive, cranky Jew to guide me a bit.
And there were a couple of moments in that class that I that I really remember. And and so that that was the journey. So you were, you know, doing restaurant work, doing scene working.
And that's just when you hit the pavement trying to act.
Yeah, I gave myself after I graduated from college, I gave myself one year. I said, if I can get some sort of significant, meaningful acting job in this year, then I'll let myself continue to pursue it. And if I don't, then I got to give it up and I got to go to law school or grad school or something.
And you tell your parents that were you like, this is the deal.
I don't even remember whether I told them or not that it was the deal I made with myself. I probably did, as you say, I must have. I was always justifying and making them comfortable with my choice.
So now you're up for this Emmy. You're working a lot. You've worked with great directors, and it seems like you're putting a lot of your focus into producing.
Like I didn't get to watch the fight, but what what is it that you're interested in putting out in the world now?
I mean I mean, little fires is one thing, but as a producer, as somebody who has a little juice and a little power.
Yeah, I think I mean, I think little fires is really I'm I'm as proud of my our nomination as a producer as I am as an actor. So little fires. And I have to say on that morning I was like unpacking my groceries and wiping down. Groceries, as we do in covid, to put them away, and then my phone started blowing up and I was like celebrating and continuing to put the groceries away and my publicist called me and she said, Lynn got nominated and I just lost my shit.
Like, that was when I just. Was like, I had everything, I just I was so grateful for her, her acknowledgement in that way because she really put her whole heart into that show. Yeah. So I guess I want to I want to tell stories that. That invite us to really see each other, you know, that for me is the thing I feel like that's the power of film and television and theater, is that it's a space where we can really we can create space to see each other and really hear it.
Right. Is that like.
Yeah, it should be like it's like going back to what you wanted to learn early on about mirroring and about, you know, the relationship between performance and culture and how do they feed each other.
Is that like I read that you were you put a discussion guide in the playbill of American Son.
Now, like, what was the impulse to do that when you thought to do that or whoever thought to do that?
What were you concerned about?
You know, I was I knew how I felt when I got to the end of that show, when I got to the end of that script, that play when I read it. And I just thought for us to put this out in the world, we have to take some responsibility and helping people process it. But we're ripping open wounds. And I want to give people a tool box to be able to do something with all of those feelings. As I said, I feel like, oh, I was being my mom.
Like, you can have those feelings, but let's make sure you're doing it in a constructive way. And I just I wanted to make sure the opportunity to have people step into Kendra's life, enter into that nightmare of a night, or the opportunity to have people, like, really get to know Elaina and Nia and baby and like that that that shouldn't be taken lightly. That that's people are in relationship with these characters and with these circumstances.
And I just realized that, like, in the way that was structured, like I didn't realize it until you just mentioned that, that the way her story is laid out in the way and just the context of of of what's going on, it is designed to enable people that live completely different lives and that woman have empathy for her.
If they see it, that's right, that's right, yeah, right. And for people who see themselves in her to feel seen and valued and that they matter. And so all of that to me is really precious work that I don't take lightly and that I want to be responsible in how we manage. There are some shows that rip your heart open know you think of a show like Hamilton, for example, Hamilton rips your heart out of your chest, but by the end of the show, there's resolve and you get to walk out feeling like at peace.
Yeah. And they're singing, you know, and yes, there's and there's that.
But our show didn't have any singing and it didn't have resolve. It was like, here's the nightmare deal with an American son.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And a little fires, too. I mean, there was some resolve, but that's there's those characters. Go on.
Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Well, great work.
You're doing great work. And congratulations on the nomination and both of them. And however, how many how many are there.
Three or two too. I have four.
You have producing, acting and acting in something you know, three eight producing and one acting.
Great. Good job. Yeah.
I hope you went. Oh yeah. And I hope Lynn wins one. Oh so great to talk to you.
I pray for Linton's when I just want that for her because I know she's up there celebrating with your hat on in that big laugh and yeah I know, I know it all means so much to her.
I have the hat so she, she, she doesn't have the hat. I've got it. She has her own version up there. She does. Oh yeah. She's, she has all the clothes she wants. Yeah.
And it'll mean so much to young filmmakers.
I feel like she was such a heroic independent filmmaker that to have her rewarded in this way would mean so much to filmmakers who make her feel nervous about really having their own voice in their own.
I think that's true. I think it'd be great if they set up a sort of a grant. You know, some people say yeah and yeah. And her parents would love it. It would be it would be great for everybody, her son, her ex-husband, every movie, you know, the family.
It would be a sweet thing for everybody to take care of yourself. And thanks for talking.
Thank you. Thank you. You too. Thanks for having me. OK, that was me and Carrie, very charming, very talented person, great actress. She does everything. She's also nominated for four Emmy Awards actress in a limited series, outstanding television movie, Outstanding Variety, Special and Outstanding Limited series.
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