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Roundtable: Oprah Winfrey and 5 Top Actresses on Crying for Spielberg and 'Muff Shots'

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NYONG'O: That was the first film that I worked on, and I would escort Ralph from his tent because in Kenya we don't have trailers, and he was always in some sort of funk, in a zone, and I would be like, "So, what was your favorite movie to work on?" You know, just trying small talk because the silence was uncomfortable for me. And he would be trying to be polite, but he really didn't want to speak to me. And now I understand! (Laughter.) That's such a precious moment, when an actor is approaching the set.

Do you still have to audition for things?

ADAMS: I've been on so many auditions, I started treating it as my acting class. I would just pretend I was shooting the scene because I figured I had to learn from it. But the problem was, then I thought I could experiment, and so I just did some really dumb things. I would go in and wear costumes, take props. I think sometimes they just thought I was mad.

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THOMPSON: Do you mean you felt that you'd sacrificed small portions of personal dignity?

ADAMS: Well, that, yeah.

THOMPSON: Which I think is vital in this profession. It's all far too respectable now.

ADAMS: I said that a long time ago: "My dignity is just that."

THOMPSON: Actors should really be beyond the pale! We really should. My father married my mother [actress Phyllida Law], and my grandmother locked herself in the toilet for a couple of days because "actress" was still synonymous with "whore." Or, as you say here, "ho." (Laughter.)

WINFREY: I remember when I said I wanted to be an actress as a teenager. My father said, "No daughter of mine is going to go out there ho-ing herself." And I made a decision then: "Well, all right, I will still major in speech and drama, but perhaps I'll have to teach it or defy my father." But there was always that in the back of my mind: You got to ho in order to act.

So you would have become an actress if it weren't for your father?

WINFREY: I probably would have been more strident about it, but in our household it was very clear, "I don't want that to happen." So I was looking for an alternative. But still, as anybody knows who feels that inside, I felt the yearning to act. I remember doing an interview with Dustin Hoffman, and he said just casually, "Oprah, you know you want to be on the other side." And I almost started to cry in that moment. [But] after Beloved, I realized it was too hard to manage both.

Did you find yourself rusty for The Butler?

WINFREY: Well, I worried that I might be rusty because it's like picking up your instrument and you hadn't touched it in 15 years. I said [to director Lee Daniels], "I don't know, Lee." And I called [actress] Susan Batson and told her, "There's a lot of crying in this movie." I told her my whole Steven Spielberg story. And she said: "You still have it. You haven't closed up all those spaces."

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Do you worry when you take on a role that you have such a strong personal brand that the character has to be in line with what your audience expects?

WINFREY: No, no, I wasn't worried about that, nor have I ever been worried about that. What I've been worried about is the people getting over the "Oprah" factor. Because everybody's going in there expecting to see me as you've seen me for 25 years.