Were any doubt to remain, let it be clear: Netflix is doing its level best to make the Emmy season as big as the Oscars, with glitzy events showcasing its biggest stars to would-be voters. Case in point: Thursday night’s showcase at the TV Academy of five women from three of its most prominent programs, including Oscar winner Jodie Foster, Golden Globe winner Robin Wright, Golden Globe nominees Taylor Schilling and Kate Mulgrew and Jehane Noujaim, director of an Oscar-nominated documentary.
The first four are either actors, directors or both on Netflix series House Of Cards and Orange is the New Black, while Noujaim directed The Square, the 2013 documentary about the Egyptian democracy uprising that Netflix distributed on VOD and video in the U.S. As is typical in such gatherings with a loose theme — in this case the theme appeared be Totally Rocking Actor-Director Humans Who Are Also Women And Also Doing Great Stuff For Netflix — there wasn’t much of a narrative through-line in the conversation, but there were lots of great bits, as you might expect from a group of such smart and accomplished people doing great stuff with great shows. Herewith are some of the highlights from a thoroughly engaging evening:
On finding great parts for women on their shows:
Wright: “You don’t come across female roles like this over a 13-episode arc.”
Mulgrew: “The reality is the parts are fantastic that Netflix is offering.”
Schilling: “Finding parts like this where a woman is driving her own story and not just an appendage for someone else is just so rare. Finding that in any medium, it’s kind of an amazing thing.”
On Jodie Foster taking another acting role (after directing episodes of both House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black):
Foster: “It’s certainly possible. I’ll never stop acting. It’s been part of my life since I was 3. If there was a 300-pound circus clown (acting) role, I could do that. I’ve never done that before. But I’m kind of in my director head now.”
On venturing into directing:
Foster: I feel I have a lot to learn. I’ve only directed three movies. TV is a place where I can learn a lot (as a director). It’s chance to serve a concept. Thank god for Netflix for thinking maybe I could do it.”
Wright: “Yeah, I always wanted to do that, but I was so f***ing scared. Then, selfishly, you’re on sets and you’re biting your tongue so much because you know how a scene should be blocked and you can’t (say anything), because you’re not in charge.
“It makes all the difference in the world to have the six, seven months at a time together. On a movie, you get six or seven weeks. That’s not enough time.
“Then when I got on the show, I had enough confidence. It’s family. It’s like I’m going back to school to see my pals. I’m going to direct another episode. I can’t wait to correct my mistakes. We’re very blessed.”
Foster on acting and directing in a project: “You’re the boss of your coworkers. Yes, sometimes it’s challenging. You do your own thing and sometimes you bring it to the table. You have to learn to change your vocabulary.”
Wright: “It’s a singular thing as an actor. You build together, but singularly, but as a director, (it’s different). Yeah, I was terrified to be a director with Kevin (Spacey). I thought he’d be a bully. But he was so quiet. He let me learn.”
On Beau Willimon’s writing on House Of Cards and the episode Foster directed:
Foster: “It’s beautifully written. Beau WIllimon is extraordinary. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. It just happened that I got the emotional (episode). The sets are beautiful. They have a lot of money and a lot of interesting technology that honestly you can’t do in features.
The influence of David Fincher, executive producer and Emmy winner for directing Season 1’s first episode:
Foster: “(The show) really echoes David Fincher’s sensibility.”
Wright: “He’s listening in to every table read. He comes in and just polishes the corner, but it changes the arc of the story sometimes.”
Foster: “Sometimes you’ll get (a copy of the script with) a little circle with an arrow off it, (saying), ‘This looks like s***.’ He looks at every wardrobe photo. There’s not one thing that goes on that show that he doesn’t go over. He’s amazing, bless him.
“I feel like I’ve learned more from David Fincher than anyone I’ve worked with in my life. I don’t think there’s anyone who’s a greater technician. I’m always amazed by him, by his spirit. He’s very precise, very manicured, very structured.”
On being dazzled by the script of Orange Is The New Black:
Schilling: “I was absolutely blown away. I was completely enamored with the world, the comedy and drama, really the subtlety. Someone had taken so much interest in the story by virtue of it being her story. She wasn’t just some sexpot, or someone getting over a guy. It was really about a woman finding herself. That in itself was a story worth telling.
“It could have been in a black box in NY and I would have been equally excited. When characters like that are created, it really goes across every medium.”
Mulgrew: “I was given one page. (It called for a) slight Russian accent. This absolute peasant came into my mind and I gave it to the camera (instead). I was pleased to audition. I liked that. And may the best one win.”
Foster: “I love the audition. Even if I know I’m going to hire the actor, I love to hear them say the words. It helps me know what the movie is about, to shape the character.”
On making The Square:
Noujaim: “I grew up about 10 minutes from (Midan) Square. (The film) came together in such an organic way. I went to the square and met everyone who was in that film in the next two weeks. I was sleeping in the square. We chose the people we would be following the next two, two and a half years.
“How dangerous was it? Everyone on the film crew got tear gassed, shot at, they raided our offices three times. At a certain point, we moved the edit to the Red Sea.
The experience of being on Netflix “was incredible for us. I was afraid we wouldn’t get a connection with fans. But it was at a much higher level. People were connecting online, protesting around the world, then connecting with the characters themselves. That wouldn’t have happened” with a traditional theatrical release.“It’s this kind of unspoken contract you have with the people in the film that you’re providing this platform for what they’re saying. We were actually thrilled when Netflix came on and gave us this a worldwide platform, because that’s what we were really promising to the people in the film.
On making “TV” for Netflix
Mulgrew: “We’re catching the wave. This is the new vernacular you have to have. My agent said this is generational.”
Foster: I don’t want to watch it any other way, to tell you the truth. I’m irritated when watching anything else.”
Schilling: “You don’t have to have a reservation, an appointment. It’s at your whims. That is what society has become today. We want it when we want it, all of it, now. I’m paying for that program. Let me choose how I want it.”
On immediately connecting with fans online:
Schilling: “I was on a network show (Mercy). When it was released last year, I never felt like I was on a TV show. With this (OITNB), within 72 hours of it being released, my experience of walking down a street was completely different, and this is in New York where people really don’t ever look up. It’s a really visceral and intimate relationship with the audience.
“It’s a Catch-22, you hear it from both sides from the parties that watch. (They say) ‘I’m an addict.’ They almost want to take your blood because we don’t have Season 3 out yet.'”
Mulgrew: “It was almost immediate. I don’t know if it was schizoid or schizophrenic. I was walking with my literary agent and heard almost simultaneously (from each side of the street, her Star Trek: Voyager character) ‘Captain Janeway’ and (her OINTB character) Red. This week, there’s a lull. Now I’m getting ready for Friday (when the show’s next season premieres). There’s a heat. It’s really fun.”
On working with Kevin Spacey
Wright: After doing a couple of scenes together in Hurly Burly, “I saw him over the years, because Kevin is this sort of omnipresent (person). (Then, David) Fincher called and said, ‘Kevin actually suggested you to play his Lady MacBeth.’ (I thought), ‘Oh, come on, to play with him.’
“He sings with surprise to you, there’s always a melody. You’re always surprised. He throws in some AC/DC. It’s beautifully surprising. I’m always gobsmacked, every scene. Something out of left field comes from him.”
On the chemistry among members of OINTB:
Foster: Orange Is The New Black is so fun to see a tapestry of all these lives that come together. They have changed to come together. We’ve had actors who were straight out of Juilliard or straight out of college and never really done anything before. Then this show was an amazing success. It’s so great to be there and be a fly on the wall.
Mulgrew: “I think the chemistry on Orange is so extraordinary. I think by virtue of the fact that we don’t have so many men, we have the freedom to be authentically” who we are and who the characters are. “With a lot of men (in a cast), you’re very aware of yourself. (With Orange) I’m only aware of what I need from (the show’s character) Piper and not really aware of Taylor.”
On a lack of makeup and why that can be good:
Schilling: “We have a fantastic makeup team. If you come in with anything, it gets taken off. Michael the makeup guy has a way of saying, ‘That blemish looks so beautiful. I really think we should leave it in.’ (I think), ‘Oh my God, there’s going to be no concealer on my freaking zit today, because Michael thinks it’s beautiful.’
(The result is), There’s no makeup, no clothes, a very different sexuality. All that’s left is telling the story.”