THR Emmy Roundtable: 6 Drama Actresses on Death Threats, Post-Baby Auditions
Monica Potter, Kerry Washington, Kate Mara, Connie Britton, Anna Gunn and Elisabeth Moss reveal the toilet-cleaning jobs they'd like to forget in an uncensored chat about making it in the competitive world of series TV and how to respond when fans say, "You look so much bigger on camera!"
THR: Casting directors still use the word "ethnic"?
Washington: If not "black," then yeah. People have artistic license … that's what casting is: fitting the right look to the right character. Whereas you could maybe lose some weight, there's not really anything I can do, nor would I want to, about being black.
THR: What is the craziest thing you've ever done to get a role?
Mara (To Washington): Oh, you have one, you're already laughing!
Washington: I've written a lot of letters to directors.
Mara: Yeah, I've done that too.
Moss: I don't know if it works.
Washington: It has and it hasn't.
Britton: Maybe you need to write a different letter? (Laughs.)
Moss: If you paste it together with letters from newspapers. Wait, is that weird?
Britton: You put little, tiny pictures of yourself in your different moods!
Washington: It has only worked one time.
Potter: Do you send it to their house?
Washington: The production office, or whatever.
Moss: You could take it to their house, show real passion.
Washington: Boom box over my head!
Britton: The ones I fight for really hard, I don't get.
Washington: But when you look back, don't you feel like there is a logic to how things have fallen into place? Like, if only I could have known then what I know now, I would have cried a lot less! Those heartbreak moments. Before Scandal, the only other two pilots I'd ever done were shows that got picked up, but I got fired. They recast my character on both shows.
Mara: Oh, that's horrible.
Washington: But if I had gotten picked up on one of them, I wouldn't have been able to do Ray. You know what I mean? It seems at the time like a my-career-is-over moment, but it makes perfect sense in the end.
THR: How involved are you in the writing of your characters? Matt Weiner has said the actors aren't too involved on Mad Men.
Mara: (To Moss) Really?
Moss: Yeah. But why would I be involved? What am I going to come up with that's better? I'm not a writer, so I wouldn't dare to try to come up with a better idea.
THR: Monica, did the Parenthood writers talk with you in advance about your character's cancer storyline?
Potter: Around this time last year, I went in for a mammogram. They said, "We found a little something, we need you to come back in a few weeks." I went home, panicked and thought, "This is BS. Nobody in my family has breast cancer!" And I e-mailed Jason [Katims, Parenthood creator] and said, "You know, I'm really scared about something … can we maybe explore this storyline for Kristina?" I knew his wife, Kathy, had gone through it. He e-mailed back and said, "Oh my God, I have the chills. I'm in the writers room, we just broke this same story for Kristina."
Potter: So it was just kismet. I went back to the doctor, and I'm fine now, obviously. But so it was one of those things where he said, "I really want you to be a part of this collaboration." Though, I'm always asking the writers to write less for me! I get nervous in the big family scenes where everyone's talking. So, I just eat in those scenes. It makes it much easier. I'm just going to eat a piece of ham or some chicken.
Britton: Or Cheez Whiz. (Laughs.)
Moss: Did you know your character was going to survive?
Potter: I kind of knew because Kathy had made it. A lot of what's written mirrors what's going on in Jason's life, including his son being on the autism spectrum.
Gunn: [Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan] knew my character's story very intimately, and in a very detailed way, from the beginning. But we did some talking at the beginning because she wasn't particularly clear to me. She was a tough character to play; very shrouded, keeps everything pretty close to the vest. I needed to know more so that I could play her.
Gunn: One of the things that was bothersome to me was in the pilot, Walt was working two jobs and Skyler was at home. I asked, "What is she doing at home all day? He's taking the kid to school and everything else. And what is she doing?" And Vince said, "She's pregnant." And I said, "Yeah? And?" (Laughter.)
Washington: I love that!
Gunn: And he said, "Well, she's just taking it easy." And I said, "Well, you know, people still do things when they're pregnant." So we came up with something for her to do at home, which ultimately fell by the wayside, but that made it more understandable for me. It was important for me, and Vince respected that.
Mara: As House of Cards went on, I felt as if Zoe was doing things that I do. Really, really subtle things. Not sexually! (Laughs.) But as simple as she's sitting at home eating raw carrots for dinner. That's one of those things I do, too. Also, Beau [Willimon, showrunner] got to know me really well, and we would joke about how my notes on scripts were always, "I think I should say less. Like, let's cross out these lines. Less is more!"
THR: Kerry, you've been pretty active politically. Have you experienced any career blowback or any negative reaction to that kind of stuff?
Washington: I come from a family where people really participate in the democratic process. I don't think that being an actor should prevent me from continuing to do the things I do. A lot of people fought for me to have the right as a woman to be able to participate, and as a person of color, and so I don't want my acting to get in the way of that. I do it as an American. And blowback? Absolutely. After I spoke at the Democratic National Convention -- our show has a very active life on Twitter and Facebook -- I couldn't go near any of it because there were threats to my life, sexism and racism. It was shocking that me speaking at a convention incited all this anger. Thank God for block on Twitter!
THR: What were they angry about, specifically? Just the audacity of an actor speaking at the convention?
Washington: I guess so, and also disagreeing with my views, which I totally think is great. I would never block somebody for disagreeing with me. But the threats to my life … that's not so good.
Britton: Last year, I co-wrote an op-ed because [Mitt] Romney had started using "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose," the motto from Friday Night Lights, in his campaign. I did the piece with Sarah Aubrey, our executive producer on the show, about the actual intent of that slogan and what the women of Friday Night Lights would think of Romney using it. I was really nervous because we had just started doing Nashville, and I got really scared about what people would think. I don't do Twitter, so I probably missed a lot of the reactions. And then Hurricane Sandy happened …
Washington: That was nice and distracting!