Every once in a while a person just has to scream it loud, “I’m a journo and I’m proud!” The following is a sampling of celebrities I have interviewed, talked to, and photographed at New York City red carpet events,Q&A press events, and exclusive interviews. Oh, and as of today, my YouTube Channel stats are up to 1,089,950 minutes watched and 937,714 views. Not bad for a self-employed writer, eh?
Woody Allen, Moran Atias, Alec Baldwin, Roseanne Barr, Kim Basinger, Angela Bassett, Jamie Bell, Mayim Bialik, Prince Lorenzo Borghese, Kate Bosworth, Lorraine Bracco, Abigail Breslin, Jeff Bridges, Adam Brody, Albert Brooks, Zlatko Buric, Gerard Butler, Rose Byrne, Lizzy Caplan, Patricia Clarkson, Glenn Close, Laverne Cox, Billy Crudup, Penélope Cruz, Rory Culkin, Willem Dafoe, Paul Dalio, Rosario Dawson, Robert De Niro, Kirsten Dunst, Aaron Eckhart, Peter Facinelli, Michael Fassbender, Abel Ferrara, Ralph Fiennes, Isla Fisher, Ciaran Foy, James Franco, Antoine Fuqua, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julia Garner, Paul Giamatti, Alex Gibney, Terry Gilliam, Domhnall Gleeson, Shep Gordon, Ryan Gosling, Maggie Grace, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Paul Haggis, Tom Hardy, Lucas Hedges, Katherine Heigl, Jonah Hill, Emile Hirsch, Katie Holmes, Gavin Hood, Vanessa Hudgens, Holly Hunter, Oscar Isaac, Allison Janney, Richard Jenkins, Felicity Jones, Jason Katims, Zoe Kazan, Catherine Keener, Jack Kesy, Sir Ben Kingsley, Luke Kirby, Kevin Kline, Steven Knight, Shia LaBeouf, Christine Lahti, Peter Landesman, Frank Langella, Jill Larson, Juliette Lewis, Liana Liberato, Ray Liotta, Justin Long, Kevin Macdonald, Dylan McDermott, Mads Mikkelsen, Helen Mirren, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Erroll Morris, David Morse, Viggo Mortensen, Cillian Murphy, Kumail Nanjiani
Edward James Olmos, Elizabeth Olsen, Ellen Page, Josh Pais, Vanessa Paradis, Nate Parker, Aaron Paul, Bernadette Peters, Oliver Platt, Carrie Preston, Richard Pryor, Jr., Kathleen Quinlan, Daniel Radcliff, James Ransone, Jeremy Renner, Jason Ritter, Eric Roberts, Ray Romano, Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder, Susan Sarandon, Peter Sarsgaard, John Sayles, Liev Schreiber, Adam Scott, Kristin Scott Thomas, Michael Shannon, Alia Shawkat, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard, Christian Slater, Mira Sorvino, Paul Sorvino, Steven Spielberg, Kristen Stewart, Sir Patrick Stewart, Jerry Stiller, Juno Temple, Fred Thompson, Uma Thurman, Lily Tomlin, John Turturro, Sofia Vergara, Alicia Vikander, Sam Waterston, Naomi Watts, Forest Whitaker, Michael K. Williams, Patrick Wilson, Nicolas Winding Refn, Nat Wolff, Elijah Wood, Evan Rachel Wood, Bob Zappa
Ridley Scott directs the true crime thriller, All the Money in the World. David Scarpa wrote the screenplay based on John Pearson’s book and the movie boasts an all-star cast. Kevin Spacey is unrecognizable as J. Paul Getty. Michelle Williams plays the terrified mother of kidnapped Getty (Charlie Plummer). Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) is a security man employed by the senior Getty.
Getty, III spent his young life in Rome where his father was head of the Italian branch of the Getty’s family oil biz. But his Dad left when he was 9. By the age of 15 young Getty had been expelled from 7 schools and was a drug-taking, thrill-seeking partier.
At 3am, July 10, 1973 in Rome’s Piazza Farnese, Getty was kidnapped. He was pistol-whipped in the head, forced into a car and taken to a cave in Calabria. The kidnappers sent a ransom note demanding $17 million. Because Getty had been a rebellious kid who’d actually joked about staging his own kidnapping, when the ransom note arrived Getty’s family thought it might be a trick to get money from his notoriously tightwadded Dad.
The very real kidnappers blindfolded 16-year-old Getty and held him prisoner. He was beaten, tortured and tied to a stake. In November 1973, another ransom note was sent, this time to a daily newspaper but due to an Italian postal strike at the time it arrived 3 weeks late. The envelope contained a lock of Getty’s hair and his now partially-rotted sliced ear and a type-written note, “This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits.”
That finally convinced Getty’s father to ask his tycoon Dad for the money but was refused. Getty’s grandfather argued, “If I pay one penny now, then I will have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” Getty’s father agreed to pay the ransom, but begrudgingly. He negotiated! He ended up paying $2.9 million and his son—held captive for 138 days—was freed on December 15, 1973. Some of the kidnappers (an ex-con, a hospital orderly, a carpenter and an olive oil dealer) were caught but most of the ransom was never recovered. Getty’s father demanded that he pay back the ransom money plus 4 percent interest.
Getty married his 5-months-pregnant bride in 1974. His grandfather’s family trust barred him from marrying until he was 26. Because Getty was only 18 when he married he was cut off from the family’s money. In 1977, Getty had an operation to rebuild his mutilated ear. Getty and his wife had only one son before they divorced in 1993.
Getty’s twisted life turned worse. He was an alcoholic and drug addict—not that surprising, or even unusual—but one night in 1981 after combining valium, methadone and alcohol he suffered liver failure and a stroke. Getty was left a quadriplegic, unable to speak and nearly blind. He was 25 years old.
Getty’s father, also a drug addict, and also cut off from the family funds, said that Getty’s stroke was his own fault and refused to pay the astronomical medical bills. Getty needed round-the-clock care to be spoon-fed, changed and washed. His only means of communication were high-pitched screams.
The Getty brood took family dysfunction to epic extremes. In addition to Getty’s father’s heroin addiction, his sister Aileen Getty, was diagnosed HIV positive in 1985. She’s been in 7 institutions, had 12 shock treatments, 7 miscarriages, anorexia and was a self mutilator. Aileen is one of the longest survivors with the AIDS virus.
Getty was nursed for years by his devoted mother and a team of caregivers. He’d been gravely ill for much of that time. Getty died at the age of 54. He is survived by 2 children, son Balthazar and stepdaughter Anna, and 6 grandchildren. He’s also survived by his mother and 4 siblings: Getty Images co-founder Mark Getty, prominent AIDS activist Aileen Getty, Ariadne Getty and his half-brother Tara Getty. His actor son, Paul Balthazar Getty, has the letters BZAR tattooed on the fingers of his right hand. That seems a fitting way to end this heartbreaking tale of a mentally disturbed dynasty.
You’ll recognize familiar female icons in his cartoons that include Snow White, Marge Simpson, Jessica Rabbit, Wilma Flintstone and more. It was an honor to speak to this male artist who cares so much about causes that are important to women. His numerous series cover timely and controversial topics that include breast cancer, domestic violence, physical disability and anorexia. He asks his viewers to rethink and redefine our rigid notions of beauty.
Dorri Olds: What inspired your breast cancer survivors cartoon series?
AleXsandro Palombo: Every woman is beautiful, even after a mastectomy, and women should know that. I put order to the codes of beauty. A few years ago, a colleague of mine died from breast cancer. I think you really have to invest great energy in the prevention and create more awareness. If caught early, you can win upon this disease. The acceptance of your own body mutilated by a mastectomy is one of the most devastating moments of the disease. You must be very strong to be able to react psychologically and accept the new appearance of your body. My message is one of hope and courage. I believe that we must create awareness to young people and teach health education. Breast cancer is a disease that can affect younger women, too.
What sparked your Disney princesses with disabilities series?
I had a rare form of cancer. After the surgery to remove it, parts of my own body remained paralyzed. For the last few years it has been difficult for me to move because I spend a lot of time in the hospital for rehabilitation. My best therapy for life’s illness is art. I wanted to give visibility to a problem that affects a great amount of people all over the world. It’s a message against discrimination, a message to redefine the standards of beauty.
The major industries of marketing and media impose a false perfection. Diversity is not allowed. When you are a big company like Disney, you have a great responsibility toward the children that watch and learn from the messages you launch. Including, for example, a disabled protagonist who can surely create acceptance in a world where disabled children suffer all forms of discrimination and humiliation. Disability is part of our world, but unfortunately, too many people think that it is something ugly that you have to hide.
What inspired your series on domestic abuse victims?
We live in a society where women are treated like objects. In advertising campaigns, in the fashion magazines, in the TV, there’s a continuous bombardment of this type of “women as objects,” and personally I find it humiliating. We must begin to reverse this trend. We must subvert it, because if you don’t educate people to respect women, then everything will continue to be superficial.
Have you ever seen a very normal couple walking on the street, and then with a glimpse of the women’s face, you see she is bruised? In many cases, monsters are apparently very normal people. And in too many cases, women are ashamed to ask for help. Sometimes they believe that it’s their own fault, and they feel trapped in silence, and the violence goes on undisturbed. Look at the Indian women that are fighting against male abuse. They are very courageous, and I very much admire them all.
It should be men that fight against the men who abuse women all over the world. The law must ensure that these individuals are severely punished. We must never lower our attention to this important problem. There are no women immune to the violence, even if they are strong. I want my social artwork to slap faces with reality and be an inspiration to fight violence.
What inspired your cartoons of fashion icons like Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld?
I hope to convince them to ban the use of real fur because it’s a massacre that cannot be accepted by a civil and modern society.
Can you explain your #FreeGaza project?
It’s horrific that the people of Gaza are forced to live in an inhuman condition, enclosed in a fence, and that’s why I strongly condemn the Palestinian terrorists of Hamas. Their violence against the Israeli people is unacceptable.
When did you first become interested in activism?
I started to be an activist when I was 14. I was a volunteer in dogs shelters, I brought food to hundreds of dogs. Then the Red Cross. Then I volunteered in the Italian Marines for two years; I have participated in important international peacekeeping missions. I’ve seen so much despair and suffering … mine is a vocation that comes from deep inside.
Are you concerned that Disney could sue you?
No. These are the stars of our time, popular icons just like some big stars. I draw them with my language and my imagination, just like Andy Warhol did with some divas and socialites in his day. I am a contemporary artist who explores the society. The cult of celebrity is an important part of my work, but my art also focuses on the social aspects of society and fights for the right of expression, freedom and equality. I’m an activist who always faces strong and controversial issues through art with my own artistic language. I mix color, iconic cartoon characters, satirism, humor, realism and surrealism. This way, I try to entertain and make people reflect in the same time. My artworks are like a mirror, the cultural expression of the society in which we live.
Do you exhibit your artwork in the United States?
For now I prefer the Internet. That is by far the largest gallery in the world.
Kirsten Dunst is the topic for the cover article of Honeysuckle Magazine. This tribute piece is in the print issue titled “HERS.” We are celebrating women. Check out the fabulous design by Naomi Rosenblatt, Editor-in-Chief.
Hollywood has convinced so many women to fix their “imperfections.” Not Kirsten Dunst. When the actress showed up on the set of her first Spider-Man movie, she was told to get her crooked teeth straightened. Dunst refused. “I was like, ‘No, my teeth are cool!’” Now, at age 35, Dunst has once again delivered a fi rm “No” to a filmmaker’s request. She was asked to drop some pounds for her role as Miss Edwina in the new Southern gothic thriller, The Beguiled, but Dunst said (I’m paraphrasing here), “Nope, not gonna happen.”
Oh, the irony—it was her close friend and long-time collaborator, director Sofia Coppola, who asked Dunst to slim down. Yet it was also Coppola who advised a sixteen-year-old Dunst never to change her teeth during their first work project, 1999’s The Virgin Suicides. That was the film that some would argue really put Dunst on the Hollywood movies map. In 2006, Coppola also directed Dunst in Marie Antoinette.
The Beguiled is Dunst and Coppola’s third time making a film together. It is a remake of the 1971 movie starring Clint Eastwood, and both films are based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan. The scenes are lusty and tense, and loaded with director Coppola’s love of atmosphere and high drama. It’s a thriller that takes place in Virginia during the Civil War.
In the opener, young Miss Amy (Oona Laurence), is out picking mushrooms when she spots a Yankee soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell). He is suffering with a badly wounded leg. She feels sorry for him and helps him back to a plantation that used to be a boarding school for girls. During wartime, it has become a shelter for six women. Dunst’s character, Miss Edwina, is a school teacher. Miss Martha, the headmistress, is played by Nicole Kidman, who teeter-totters between seemingly very good and kind, and capable of dastardly deeds. Elle Fanning plays one of the students.
With six women living under duress, McBurney’s arrival creates quite a stir. He’s not a particularly good guy in that he manipulates the women and pits them against each other by using his seductive wiles. While the women tend to his wounds, a houseful of sexual electricity sizzles. I must say, it is so refreshing to see a female director’s decision to keep all of the women clothed, but turn the man into a bare sex object. There is humor amidst the intensity.
Recently, Dunst appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. After congratulating her on both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her role in the FX series, Fargo, Fallon urged Dunst to dish on her engagement to Fargo co-star Jesse Plemons. A blushing Dunst said that she really wanted to keep things private—especially because her fiancé and their families were watching. She confirmed the engagement and added that she was glad that she and Plemons had become really good friends first.
Fallon, continuing to press for more juicy deets, pointed out how amazing it was that by agreeing to work on that television show, Dunst met the guy she is going to marry. The actress threw her arms up in the air in mock exasperation and said, “Yes, that is amazing. I’ll name my kid Fargo Season 2.”
Her great sense of humor and quick smile are endearing and I feel lucky to have witnessed them up close when I interviewed Dunst myself on a few occasions related to her earlier movies. In 2014, I chatted with Dunst, alongside her sexy co-star Viggo Mortensen. That film, The Two Faces of January, opens with Colette (Dunst) and her husband, Chester MacFarland (Mortensen) looking very well-off, gorgeous and Great Gatsby-ish. We see them enjoying a carefree vacation in Greece, looking happy and in love. While sightseeing at the Acropolis, they meet Rydal (Oscar Isaac), a young American working as a tour guide. Rydal is dazzling gullible tourists right out of their dough, when suddenly he spots Colette and Chester. The opportunist first noticed Collette for her beauty, but then immediately sizes her up as another potential patsy. What Rydal doesn’t realize is that the slick and dangerous Chester had already been spying on the conman.
When I interviewed The Two Faces of January director and screenwriter, Hossein Amini, I asked him how he had chosen Dunst to play Collette. “I’d seen her in so many movies,” he said. “What I was really struck by is how smart she is. She has this extraordinary intuitive sense of a scene. She knows what’s going to work and what’s not. I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up being a fantastic director. There’s an intelligence and sensitivity and almost telepathic understanding of the people she’s working with.”
Oh, how right Amini was! Dunst will be making her feature film directing debut in 2018 with The Bell Jar, an adaptation of the only novel by poet Sylvia Plath. Dakota Fanning will play the lead role of Esther Greenwood, the semi-autobiographical Plath character who descends into mental illness. Dunst and Nellie Kim co-wrote the screenplay. She has cast her fiancé Plemons to star opposite Fanning.
Dunst told me one of her reasons for doing that film was that she’d met Viggo before. Dunst shot him her signature dimpled smiled and said, “We were also both in On the Road, but we didn’t have any work together.” She mentioned that Mortensen also knew her then-boyfriend, On the Road co-star, Garrett Hedlund. She added that she’d also already known Isaac. “I immediately felt like I trust, and feel comfortable, with these people, which is very rare to happen.”
When I asked about challenges during the making of that film, Dunst said, “Sometimes for me, I felt like it was all about the boys. Sometimes Colette is objectified, since she’s the only female. But I wanted to be a part of this film because I loved the script so much, and Viggo was already attached.” She explained, “I wanted to make Colette as much of a character as I could. But it’s also about the guys, so that was probably the hardest thing for me—I wanted to make her as full as possible, when she could have easily just been a throw-away character.”
She added, “What’s interesting is that when I watch movies that are only about boys, and there aren’t any interesting female characters, I don’t really end up liking it that much.”
An earlier time I met with Dunst was in 2012, a year after she had finished Melancholia and really wanted to do a comedy. “I hadn’t done one in a while,” she said. “People don’t see you in that light unless you’re a comedic actress,” she said. “I didn’t want be pigeonholed in any type of mood, because I got a lot of scripts after Melancholia that were heady, weird, depressing. I’m like, I’m not gonna repeat this again. It’s boring for me and for everyone else, too.”
That’s how she decided on the edgy Bachelorette, which was released the following year. “I got this script, Lizzy [Caplan] was attached to and met Leslye [Headland, the director] and then I was like, this is hilarious and I would love to go completely opposite and be in this project.”
Due to the title of the movie, she mentioned the reality television show, The Bachelorette. “I like those TV shows,” said Dunst. “They’re just so ridiculous; everyone vying for a rose.” She laughed, flashing that awesome smile. “It’s so dramatic,” she said. “It’s just amazing trash television that you can watch with your mom and grandma on a Monday night!”
Dunst enjoyed her character in Bachelorette. “We look like a mess in the end of the movie,” she said. Isla Fisher chimed in, “We’re bad people doing bad things and, frankly, it’s not glossed over.” Dunst agreed and said, “I think that’s refreshing.”
Bachelorette won Official Selection at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and also starred Isla Fisher and Rebel Wilson. When I interviewed director Headland, she bounced right into a midtown Manhattan hotel room, talking fast with her blonde hair flying. She has a deep ballsy laugh yet also projects an endearing, almost childlike, vulnerability. Headlund said, “Meeting Kirsten was nerve-wracking. I remember driving to meet her and I’d smoked like 37 cigarettes and had like 18 shots of espresso. I just really wanted her to do this movie and I didn’t know what I should do to get her to say yes. Directors that I look up to—like Kubrick and Altman—have reputations of being manipulators but I’m so not like that. I’m such an open book. I thought I was going to really have to talk her into doing it.”
Much to Headlund’s delight, Dunst happily signed on. “It was a gift from God that Kirsten, who I was a huge fan of, liked the character,” said the director.
Dunst is doing all right for herself, eh? This A-lister began her career as a three-year-old child fashion model for TV commercials. She signed on with Ford and Elite modeling agencies. At age six she was in her first feature film, New York Stories, where she appeared in Woody Allen’s section titled, Oedipus Wrecks. A year after that, she co-starred with Tom Hanks in 1990s Bonfire of the Vanities. Her biggest movie breakthrough came in 1994, when Dunst was 11 and played Claudia in Interview with the Vampire with Brad Pitt.
On September 15, you’ll be able to catch Dunst in A24’s arty and haunting thriller, Woodshock. She plays Theresa, an isolated, grief-stricken woman who becomes paranoid after taking a powerful, reality-twisting drug. The film is the directing debut for Los Angeles fashion designers and screenwriting sisters, Kate and Laura Mulleavy. Until its release, you can check out the movie’s psychedelic, trippy trailer.
“It’s kind of your job as an actress to define what kind of things you want to do, and the types of people you want to surround yourself with,” Dunst told me. “It’s really your taste and what you want because everything is out there. It’s just how you go about your own process and what’s true to who you are and what you want to put out in the world.”
For all of her strength, smarts, and success, we celebrate Kirsten Dunst as the woman with the HERS spirit for this issue of Honeysuckle Magazine.
Photo: Diane Russo — Written for Honeysuckle Magazine • HERS issue • PDF
Women Who Kill is a feature film written and directed by Ingrid Jungermann who also stars as main character Morgan, a commitment-phobe. While screening the film, I fell in love with Jungermann’s striking face. Angular and piercing it grabs you and becomes more and more intriguing via her black-as-soot humor and deadpan delivery. Her long, lean model build is perfect for a movie screen but it’s her wit and quirks that stand out most of all.
I was thrilled to land an exclusive interview with Jungermann. It was right after the July 4 holiday when she returned to her native NYC. Despite exhaustion—and directly due to my pleading—the rising star made time for the interview. It did not take any convincing for my editors to say she was perfect for this HER issue of Honeysuckle.
Women Who Kill debuted at Tribeca Film Festival in 2016 and received the jury award for Best Screenplay. Indiewire described it as the “Best Lesbian Horror-Comedy Ever.” I have to agree. The film racked up a slew of awards at film festivals: Best Screenplay at Outfest; and Weekend. It won Best Narrative Feature at Indie Street; Seattle TWIST Queer; Melbourne Queer; and Oslo Fusion International. It also received Honorable Mention for Outstanding First Feature at Frameline.
It is a love triangle between two ex-girlfriends, Morgan and Jean (Ann Carr), who still live and work together. They’re true crime podcasters with a show about female serial killers. The exes spend so much time together, it has impeded letting go of the relationship. The heat dial turns way up when Morgan meets beautiful new love interest, Simone (Sheila Vand). Soon the high drama kicks in when the podcasting lesbians obsessed with murders begin to fear that Simone may be one. Now, let’s get to the interview!
Dorri Olds: Want to tell if she is a murderer?
Ingrid Jungermann: I can’t. [Laughs]
What planted the seed for this story?
It’s funny, when I first watched the film at Tribeca, and throughout the whole finishing process, and then over the months of screening at festivals, I saw that the movie was clearly a personal film about my own struggles with relationships. It was my version of a romantic comedy in a twisted way. The new script that I’m working on right now is a romantic comedy, but it’s a satire about the genre.
It’s like a queer person’s first experience with love, especially with a religious background, which is not a positive experience because you’re working through feeling all these dark emotions, when you really should just be feeling the pure emotions.
What religion were you brought up with?
I’ve heard the followers are judgmental.
Yeah, exactly. I came out as soon as I left home at 17, when I went to college. That year I realized I was gay, or at least became more comfortable with it. I was probably one of the last people who realized I was gay. I don’t think it was a big surprise to many people. I grew up in Florida and there is no language for it. No allowance for the feelings. You walk around with a secret. I worked at Blockbuster Video and I remember seeing the queer section and that was one of the ways I could put language to how I was feeling, but I still didn’t realize at that time that I was gay.
Did you experience any self-loathing?
People in the arts can be more sensitive and are naturally gonna question things about themselves, where other people might not. Certainly, self-loathing was part of it. Internalizing some of those views, yeah. That’s something that takes many years to get at and hopefully unravel. Then you come out on the other side, understanding that self-loathing was really unfortunate. I feel we’re trained to be that way. It takes a long time to get out of that. Then years of therapy.
How do you feel about the vitriol in America right now thanks to Trump?
I definitely feel the hatred. He’s given people a free pass on that kind of language. The vitriolic language and darkness everybody is feeling is at an all-time high. We are experiencing a collective depression.
Anything new and exciting on the horizon?
Yes, I’m in development for my next feature with QC Entertainment, who worked with Blumhouse on Get Out.
Yeah. So, I’m writing this satirical romcom. It’s formulaic except it’s a commentary on formula. I like formula and structure and playing with the genre, and shaking it up and making a joke of itself.
Any nod to classic movies?
This was inspired by Tootsie. That idea of dressing up as someone you’re not. I’m also studying films from the 40s and 50s—going back to see how romantic comedies started and what they became. It’s fun.
Women Who Kill next screens in New York, July 26–August 1 at IFC (wwkmovie.com).
Academy Award-winner Holly Hunter (The Piano) continues to hit it big. With a career spanning 35 years, she remains an electrifying force. In our sadly still-patriarchal society, it is impressive to see any actress past 40 still landing the high-quality and sought-after parts. At 59, Hunter is holding her own in an industry that hands over longer shelf-life to male counterparts.
Hunter’s voice still has that sweet-Georgia-peach twang, even though she has long been a New York City resident. But her Big Apple attitude gets her to where she’s going.
It was a thrill to meet her recently at Manhattan’s Four Seasons hotel. She was there to talk about The Big Sick, the runaway hit she has a starring role in. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20 to glowing reviews. It was picked up by Amazon Studios and Lionsgate and given a limited release on June 23. The critics are still raving. It opens nationwide on July 14.
Hunter plays Beth, a wife and mother, married to Terry (Ray Romano). Early in the film—not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer—the panicked couple rushes to the emergency room where doctors need to put their daughter Emily (Zoe Kazan) into a medically induced coma to save her life.
Labeling The Big Sick as a romcom is a tad misleading—not because it isn’t funny. It is. And the plot is about a romance, but, if we were gazing at a dating site, the box checked would be: “It’s complicated.” The story is based on the odd, real-life love affair between Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and his now-wife, Emily V. Gordon, a former therapist. The couple co-wrote the script but went through many rewrites. It was really a group effort and took three long years until it was ready.
Just before speaking with Hunter, I had a private chat with The Big Sick’s handsome co-producer, Barry Mendel (Trainwreck, Munich, The Sixth Sense). I asked him what it was like working with Hunter.
“Uh, a little bit scary,” he said. I laughed and asked why. “Because she’s kind of like a very, very good bullshit detector. You really have to be on your game and ready to answer questions like ‘Why are we doing it this way?’ Or ‘Why is the story done that way?’ You have to get up to her level and when you do, it’s exhilarating!” He smiled, and then whispered, “But, it’s a scary proposition.” To clarify, I asked if he meant that she’d made suggested changes to the script. He nodded his head emphatically. “Yes,” he said. “A lot of suggestions. Many things in the movie came from her own experiences. She contributed a lot of herself to the movie.”
Hunter expressed a lot of respect for the producers, her co-stars, and especially for Gordon and Nanjiani. “It was interesting,” she said, “It’s a testament to the kind of overarching confidence that just manifests its way through the whole movie.” She explained that it began with the co-producers Mendel and Judd Apatow. Then she praised Nanjiani and Emily: “They did this, Kumail and Emily. I mean they walked through fire in some ways to put this down on paper. I would imagine it couldn’t have been an easy thing to accomplish. Then we come along and we’ve got all these ideas, you know, Barry and Judd, Zoe and Ray and I, had tons of ideas….Then there was this kind of open-armed process of accepting all those ideas. Seeing if they might fly.” She described an intense rehearsal period discussing ways to rework the script to make the scenes even richer.
“That’s not always received as openly as it was with this project,” Hunter said. “There was just this whole other act where it was like,” Throwing her arms up she said, “It was like ‘Come on, you guys, what’ve you got?’” Then she compared it to theater: “Like in a play, and working it into shape to fit it on stage.”
She described that what she loves is “to make a movie feel lived in, which I think is a very hard thing to do. With a lot of movies, you watch them and it’s pretty easy to feel like they’re fake. I think the things that we strived to do, and that because the acting was so good, we were able to [make it] feel lived in and real—like the wheels.”
You gotta just love the way this woman expresses herself.
The true story behind The Big Sick is when Nanjiani met Gordon ten years ago. He was a fledgling stand-up comic and she heckled him from the audience. They ended up spending the night together, intending it only as a one-night-stand. Complications ensued, however, when accidentally they fell in love. Nanjiani’s traditional Muslim parents wanted him to marry a Pakistani woman and being too chicken to oppose them, he broke up with Emily.
The high drama kicks in when Nanjiani finds out Emily is in the ER and realizes how strong his feelings for her really are and he rushes to be by her side. It is in the hospital’s waiting area where he awkwardly meets Emily’s folks for the first time.
Hunter is getting tons of awards buzz for her exquisite portrayal of an incredibly pissed-off mama bear. Beth can’t stand even looking at Nanjiani because she and her daughter are close and Emily had confided in her. Knowing that her daughter had been dumped in such an abrupt and cowardly way, makes Beth despise him. That scene comes across very realistically—if I had been Emily, my own mother’s loyalty would’ve made her behave in much the same way! I am not usually a big fan of romantic comedies; I’m drawn to darker fare like twisted psychological thrillers. But this is not a typical story, the acting is stellar and it is a very satisfying film.
Hunter and I also spoke about her upcoming HBO series with Alan Ball (Six Feet Under). “It’s called Here, Now,” she said. “I’ve done one episode so far.” She plays the lead, Audrey Black, who was a therapist before switching gears and joining the corporate world to make more money. Her husband Greg, played by Tim Robbins, is a philosophy professor who is questioning his life and purpose, sliding into depression. It’s a much-anticipated 10-episode series that revolves around this middle-aged couple who adopted children from Colombia, Somalia and Vietnam, then have their fourth kid while they’re in their forties. Audrey’s marriage is straining at the seams and one of their kids, begins seeing things that may—or may not—really be there.
She also spoke about her movie Strange Weather, which premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Hunter had nothing but great things to say about writer-director Katherine Dieckmann.
The indie is a portrait of Darcy Baylor (Hunter), who is forced to deal with her son’s death many years after he had committed suicide. Hunter told Deadline Hollywood that her character, Darcy, “really uses revenge as the gasoline that she puts in her car to drive it.” Despite the heavy subject matter, Hunter has once again found a film with a lot of humor in what she referred to as “very unexpected places.”
For anyone not familiar with Hunter’s background, her career has had an amazing trajectory since she began in the early 80s. Her first big hit was 1987’s Raising Arizona. She played an ex-cop named Ed, who was the love interest of Nicolas Cage’s character, an ex-con. When the two find out they’re not able to conceive a child, they steal a baby. The quirky comedy is the brilliant brainchild of the fabulous Coen brothers—hence, it is hilarious.
Also in 1987, Hunter had another huge hit with Broadcast News, another romantic comedy drama co-starring William Hurt and Albert Brooks. Hunter’s big Oscar win came in 1993 for The Piano when she played Ana, a mute woman in a steamy drama about love, music, and an arranged marriage. It is worth mentioning the other Academy Awards the film raked in: Anna Paquin won Best Supporting Actress as Ada’s daughter. The 11-year-old Paquin had beat out 5000 candidates and it was her first acting role. If you’ve never seen Paquin’s acceptance speech, check it out. It’s precious). The Piano also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and writer-director Jane Campion became the first woman to ever win the Palme d’Or, the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
So, yeah, for being strong, sassy, and awesome, we knew Holly Hunter had to be included in Honeysuckle’s “HER” issue.
The Big Sick is now playing in theaters nationwide. Comedy, Romance, Drama. Rated R. 119 min.
Strange Weather opens in theaters, VOD and digital platforms on July 28. Drama. Rated R. 92 min.
“We are thrilled to throw another stone at the glass ceiling of Hollywood, by hiring more women than men, while telling this darkly comic stereotype-breaking story about parenthood,” said Reiner.
(Christina Hendricks, Photo by Tony Duran)
When fearless conceptual artist Tina (Reiner) and her passive-aggressive feminist husband (Akinnagbe) invite her eight-month pregnant art school rival (Hendricks) and power-hungry, new money husband Don (Basche) to their loft in the Bronx for dinner, they surprise them with Tina’s new work-in-progress: a radical alternative to motherhood. But when Tina and Wayne’s, non-traditional surrogate Kiki (Camp) arrives in short shorts, the truth outs, and the patriarchy fights to hang on to its teeth.
Marianna Palka is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, actress and four time Sundance Film Festival alumnae. Her directorial debut, Good Dick, which she wrote and starred in with Jason Ritter, premiered in dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival. Palka is represented by United Agents UK.
(Alysia Reiner, Photo by Tito Trueba)
Alysia Reiner is an award-winning actress who moved into producing with last summer’s hit film Equity, in which she also starred. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2016 and was quickly snapped up by Sony Pictures Classics. In front of the camera, she won a SAG award playing “Fig” as part of the cast of Orange is the New Black, is in all 5 seasons, and also plays “Sunny” in Better Things on FX. She also just starred in Broad City, Odd Mom Out, and Younger. Reiner is represented by Abrams Artists Agency and Affirmative Entertainment.
Award winning, and six time Emmy Award nominated actress Christina Hendricks is best known for Mad Men and recently starred in The Neon Demon. She was just announced as a lead in the new NBC series Good Girls. Upcoming films include Candy Jar, for Netflix, with Helen Hunt, Crooked House, based on the Agatha Christie novel, opposite Glenn Close, and The Burning Woman opposite Sienna Miller, directed by Jake Scott and produced by Ridley Scott . Hendricks is represented by ICM Partners and LINK Entertainment.
(Anna Camp, Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
Camp is one of the industry’s most exciting, scene-stealing talents on stage and screen. She can next be seen starring in the third installment of Universal’s hit film series “Pitch Perfect,” which releases December 22, 2017. She’s also had memorable performances in Woody Allen’s film “Cafe Society,” as well as in the Academy Award-nominated film “The Help.” On television, Camp recently starred in Amazon’s critically acclaimed 1970s newsroom drama, “Good Girls Revolt.” She also received rave reviews for her work in the recurring role of “Deirdre Robespierre” on Netflix’s hit comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” created and produced by Tina Fey, and is widely known for playing the vampire-hating role of “Sarah Newlin” on HBO’s “True Blood,” for which she earned a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for “Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.” Camp is represented by UTA, Authentic Talent and Literary Management and Schreck, Rose Dapello, Adams, Berlin & Dunham.
Michele Ganeless was most recently President of Comedy Central. Under her leadership, zeitgeist-shifting shows including Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart fueled the growth of Comedy Central to the number one brand in comedy across all platforms. Ganeless left Comedy Central to concentrate on creating content for, by and about women.
Actor, director, producer David Alan Basche has worked across all platforms, from leads in series like The Exes, Lipstick Jungle and The Starter Wife, to feature films including Equity, The Adjustment Bureau, United 93 and the upcoming Sidney Hall. Basche is represented by Abrams Artists Agency and Industry Entertainment.
Gbenga Akinnagbe will be seen this fall in the series The Deuce with James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal and recently wrapped the Kathryn Bigelow film Detroit. He is represented by APA and Zero Gravity Management.
The answer is a big resounding YES.
The Big Sick is based on Nanjiani’s true story of his rocky romance that led to marriage. He co-wrote the script with his now-wife, Emily V. Gordon, who is played by the talented actor-playwright-screenwriter, Zoe Kazan. The co-producers are big names: Judd Apatow and two-time Academy Award-nominated Barry Mendel. Hunter shines as Emily’s mother, Beth, and Romano shows his acting chops as her father, Terry.
Technically, this film falls into the genre of romantic comedy but that label seems limited here. So many rom-coms bore us to tears with formulaic ho-hum-ness. This flick is not one of those. There are tears but they’re for the right reasons. It is a dramatic tale that explores everything from the ignorance behind the ridiculous fear of Muslims to being too chicken to stand up to family pressure.
Kumail and Emily lived through a strange route to romance. It began with what was intended as a one-night stand. Without meaning to, they fall for each other. Life throws in big obstacles, which creates the high drama and deliciously dark humor.
The movie begins with Pakistan-born Kumail struggling as a stand-up comedian who is playfully heckled by audience member Emily. The two hook up after the show and end up in bed. Kumail and Emily experience strong feelings for each other but Kumail’s Muslim parents have even stronger feelings about who he should—and shouldn’t—marry. Every time he goes for a meal at his parents’ home, they try to fix him up with Muslim women. Watch for scene stealer Kuhoo Verma who plays Zubeida, one of the eligible Pakistani bachelorettes Kumail’s mom invited to dinner.
When Emily suddenly falls ill with a mysterious sickness, Kumail realizes how much she matters to him. He rushes to the hospital where he awkwardly meets her parents for the first time during this medical crisis. For a third of the movie, Kazan’s character, Emily, is in a doctor-induced coma. In her absence, a fascinating and entertaining relationship is portrayed to perfection by Nanjiani, Hunter, and Romano.
Directed by Michael Showalter (“Hello My Name is Doris”) and also starring Anupam Kher, Shenaz Treasury, with David Alan Grier and Linda Edmond.
Look for my Holly Hunter feature article in Honeysuckle magazine’s issue, “HER.” In the meantime, here’s my short clip:
The Big Sick is now playing in theaters nationwide. Romance, Comedy, Drama. Rated R. 119 min.