Peter Bart: As Awards Season Picks Up, Stricter Q&A Rules Of Decorum May Apply

Awards Season Panel
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Frank Micelotta/Twentieth Century Fox Television/PictureGroup/Shutterstock (10358938e) Atmosphere 'Pose' TV show screening, Panel, Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Aug 2019 rank Micelotta/Twentieth Century Fox Television/PictureGroup/Shutterstock

This is Q&A season in Hollywood, but the rules of the game are changing. To wit: I am onstage with Meryl Streep. Her new movie titled The Laundromat has just been screened and I am posing questions. Why did she decide to star in a very political movie? Why does she depict a victim — a woman who is put upon by two evil rich guys? In fact, the evil real-life characters on whom they are modeled last week filed suit to block the film’s release.

Reality check: Did I really ask the actress these questions? No, my account is apocryphal; besides, Streep disdains post-screening interviews, even though she’s newly christened a “third-rate actress” by President Trump.

But this is awards season, the moment when almost every actor and filmmaker dutifully takes the stage in the hope of advancing their work. And the PR gurus tell us that the risks and rules of Q&A season will be more rigorous than usual: Softball questions only, followed by cautiously scripted responses. Anything alluding to #MeToo issues or diversity is off-limits. Also references to gender (a single unisex award or two?).

Trumpist vibes will also contaminate an interview. So will references to streamers or Netflix data in general (did 73 million viewers really watch Murder Mystery starring Adam Sandler?).

Good manners this year are at a premium: SAG has even warned its members to faithfully stay in their seats until the end of each Q&A. Applause at screenings is acceptable but audiences must be wary: Analysts believe the “feel good” hubris surrounding Green Book may have further alienated critics.

The continued expansion of Q&A season itself represents a surprise to many. Access to celebrities has been sharply curtailed in recent times given the tyranny of the social media, with some stars even resisting the rituals of late-night TV interviews.

The Irishman
James Gillham/Shutterstock

But awards matter, with filmmakers mobilizing top stars for Academy screenings. The Downton Abbey fraternity rallied behind its film. The entire veteran cast of The Irishman faithfully attended New York screenings. The promotion-minded gurus at Netflix believe Hollywood’s loyalty to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino will overcome resistance to its three-hour-plus running time.

The same applies to Streep, but the criminality depicted in Laundromat is less physical than in Martin Scorsese’s saga. Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas play two malevolent financiers at the center of the Panama Papers scandal, their dialogue steeped in financial esoterica. Their manipulations are finally exposed by a data breach, engineered in part by Streep’s character, thus revealing the secrets of how the mega rich hide their money. (The lawsuit failed to block the film’s release on Netflix last week).

If Laundromat may require some nimble Q&A dialogue to explain its intricacies, so will Jojo Rabbit, the Nazi coming-of-age comedy. ”This is definitely not a good time to be a Nazi,” observes a baby-faced Hitler youth at a rally. Which also questions whether Oscar time is a good moment for a Hitler comedy.

Bombshell represents another set of challenges for the awards season. In this intensely political film, Charlize Theron plays Megyn Kelly and Nicole Kidman is cast as Gretchen Carlson, zeroing in on Fox News and its longtime creator Roger Ailes. “I like playing someone who is complicated and flawed because women don’t always do the right thing,” proclaims Theron, who was the key producer behind the film and will be its most zealous promoter.

Theron promises to be her usual forceful self on the Q&A circuit. Others may not prove quite as freewheeling.

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