UPDATED Saturday (Originally published Friday): Aaron Sorkin posted an open letter Friday disputing what he calls the “distorted picture” of actor Jeremy Strong created by a recent New Yorker profile. Late Friday, the New Yorker responded with a statement to Deadline, which is below. Strong is currently receiving raves for his work on HBO’s Succession, to which the profile is pegged, with the series’ executive producer Adam McKay also weighing in on the controversy.
Sorkin has worked with Strong on two projects. The first is the 2017 film Molly’s Game, which also starred Jessica Chastain. The second is last year’s Trial of the Chicago 7. Sorkin wrote and directed that film in which Strong plays onetime Yippie Jerry Rubin.
“After reading Michael Schulman’s profile of Jeremy Strong — a profile in which I participated — I wanted to speak up,” wrote Sorkin. “I think I helped Mr. Schulman create what I believe is a distorted picture of Jeremy that asks us to roll our eyes at his acting process.” (The letter was posted to Twitter by Chastain, with the explanation that Sorkin doesn’t have a social media account.)
Sorkin goes on to say that he was asked five questions about Strong and gave five answers. He points out however that “only one and a half of these answers were used, which of course is perfectly normal, but they were the quotes about the tear gas and playing the kazoo.”
That passage in Schulman’s New Yorker profile reads as follows:
While shooting the 1968 protest scenes, Strong asked a stunt coördinator to rough him up; he also requested to be sprayed with real tear gas. “I don’t like saying no to Jeremy,” Sorkin told me. “But there were two hundred people in that scene and another seventy on the crew, so I declined to spray them with poison gas.”
In courtroom scenes where Strong’s Jerry Rubin is confronting authority and, at times, a judge played by Frank Langella, Schulman writes:
Strong would read aloud from Langella’s memoir in silly voices, and he put a remote-controlled fart machine below the judge’s chair. “Every once in a while, I’d say, ‘Great. Let’s do it again, and this time, Jeremy, maybe don’t play the kazoo in the middle of Frank Langella’s monologue,’ ” Sorkin said.
Sorkin’s point seems to be that the focus is on the actor’s more eccentric actions, instead of contrapuntal answers Sorkin says he gave but weren’t used. They include: “Jeremy’s not a nut. He doesn’t make people call him by his name on set.” (That’s the other half of the answer on the stunt coordinator roughing him up.)
A New Yorker spokesperson told Deadline late Friday, “This is a nuanced, multi-sided portrait of an extremely dedicated actor. It has inspired a range of reactions from people, including many who say that they are even more impressed by Jeremy Strong’s artistry after having read the article.”
The New Yorker piece, titled “On ‘Succession,’ Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke,” is focused on Strong’s Emmy-winning role in the HBO drama and features quotes from the series’ executive producer McKay, including this one, used by the publication on social media to promote the piece, “He’s not playing it like a comedy. He’s playing it like he’s Hamlet.”
McKay on Sunday retweeted Deadline’s story with a note backing Sorkin’s comments.
“I couldn’t agree more,” McKay said. “Jeremy is not only a lovely guy but a brilliant actor who was cast in Succession precisely because of his passion the New Yorker writer mocks.”
I couldn’t agree more. Jeremy is not only a lovely guy but a brilliant actor who was cast in Succession precisely because of his passion the New Yorker writer mocks. https://t.co/oa8G99i6vf
— Adam McKay (@GhostPanther) December 11, 2021
Sorkin’s protest may sound to some like a minor quibble over two quotes in a profile that is thousands and thousands of words long, but the New Yorker piece, which portrayed Strong as an intense — and eccentric — performer, has triggered a very active discussion online and in Hollywood.
Aaron Sorkin doesn’t have social media so asked me to post this letter on his behalf xx pic.twitter.com/3Ol1KGoJKM
— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) December 10, 2021
Chastain, for her part, defended Strong on December 7 with a tweet of her own.
“Ive known Jeremy Strong for 20yrs & worked with him on 2 films,” she wrote. “Hes a lovely person. Very inspiring & passionate about his work. The profile that came out on him was incredibly one sided. Don’t believe everything you read folks. Snark sells but maybe its time we move beyond it.”
Ive known Jeremy Strong for 20yrs & worked with him on 2 films. Hes a lovely person. Very inspiring & passionate about his work. The profile that came out on him was incredibly one sided. Don’t believe everything you read folks. Snark sells but maybe its time we move beyond it.
— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) December 8, 2021
One day later, Succession‘s Brian Cox expressed concern about Strong being “obsessed” with the role. He made the comments in an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers. That set off a new round of discussion about the piece.
“The thing about Jeremy’s approach is it works in terms of what comes out the other end,” said Cox on Late Night. “My problem — and, it’s not a problem, I don’t have a problem with Jeremy because he’s delightful. … He’s an extraordinary dad. He’s a pretty unique individual. But, he does get obsessed with the work. And I worry about what it does to him, because if you can’t separate yourself — because you’re dealing with all of this material every day. You can’t live in it. Eventually, you get worn out.”
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