Bryan Cranston, Armie Hammer, Robert Pattinson, Diane Kruger, Margot Robbie and Octavia Spencer sat down before a studio audience for The Hollywood Reporter's inaugural movie star summit about their craft, the cons of social media and how one ended up with a severed human foot.
After two decades of awards-season roundtables gathering Hollywood’s top creative talents for frank, funny and memorable conversations, THR this year decided to throw out the rule book for the final star-studded sit-down of 2017: Instead of splitting up male and female actors (as almost all honors do, from the industry-establishment Oscars to the indie-minded Spirit Awards), the Dec. 7 discussion at West Hollywood’s Quixote Studios was a co-ed affair. And instead of taking place in a clinically silent, closed studio environment, it was conducted before a live audience of Hollywood insiders who took in the proceedings with laughs (especially at 61-year-old Last Flag Flying star Bryan Cranston’s impish one-liners), sighs (at the cautiously hopeful comments about sexual harassment in Hollywood from In the Fade’s Diane Kruger, 41, and The Shape of Water’s Octavia Spencer, 47) and a few gasps (mostly to do with I, Tonya’s Margot Robbie, 27, and a severed foot — read on). These stars, together with Call Me by Your Name’s Armie Hammer, 31, and Good Time’s Robert Pattinson, 31, didn’t let the 200 people watching cramp their conversational style — they’re actors, after all — as they animated one of the most competitive awards seasons in memory with a lively back-and-forth about the craft that unites them and the kind of artists, leaders and mentors they want to be.
This is the first time THR has mixed male and female actors on the same roundtable. So what is an issue that you have always wanted to discuss with actors of the opposite sex?
BRYAN CRANSTON Have you worked with someone you’ve despised?
OCTAVIA SPENCER I have. But I was only on the set for one day so … (Laughter.)
ARMIE HAMMER ’Cause you got fired?
SPENCER When a person looks past you and doesn’t address you and they close the door in your face, it’s like, “I hate you with all of my heart.” And, you know, that person is a miserable person. Years later I met that person again.
DIANE KRUGER Did you tell him?
SPENCER No. They literally walked up to me as if they had been kind, and I’m like, “No.”
MARGOT ROBBIE I normally avoid conflict at all costs. I haven’t worked with an actor whom I’ve despised, but I have worked with someone on the production side who — I didn’t appreciate the way they spoke about me in front of groups. It took me a couple of months, but I plucked up the courage and pulled him aside and said, “You’re discrediting what I do when you speak to me like that.” He was really great about it.
CRANSTON “And you’re fired.”
ROBBIE And I never worked again.
ROBERT PATTINSON It’s a weird thing because as soon as you have to be asserting yourself to a director, it kind of breaks the fourth wall. It’s not supposed to be you when you walk on to set. So I always try and avoid [conflict], and hopefully they’ll just see what they’re doing is wrong. (Pauses.) It never, ever, ever works. (Laughter.) It just gets worse and worse. But it completely throws me off if I have to say, “Hey, this is my process.” It’s like, I don’t know what my process is, there just needs to be some kind of understanding that you’re trying to do something good, you’re not just messing around.
CRANSTON You know, it’s not imperative that you get along with your co-stars; it’s like your in-laws — it just makes things easier. And so you make an effort to get to know them and to know how they work, because every actor works differently.
HAMMER The longer I do this, the more I find that’s just as pivotal a part of doing your job as having your lines down, knowing your character. Because you can have your process, but if you can’t fit your process into the organic process that is the project, then it doesn’t do you any good. You have to figure out how to do what you want to do while also not fucking up somebody else’s process.
What kind of scenes make you nervous?
HAMMER All of ’em. (Laughter.) Honestly, the scenes that make me the most nervous are the ones where you have the least to do, where you’re just there. Everyone else is doing a bunch of stuff, and you have like one line. It’s harder to get into that rhythm; you just end up waiting to do your thing, and it’s kind of distracting.
In Call Me by Your Name, there are a lot of intimate scenes, and you really had to go there. Did those make you nervous?
HAMMER They might have on another project, but everything just felt so safe on this. We had such freedom to explore and to be ourselves and to mess up. No matter what happened, it felt like we were really protected by [director] Luca [Guadagnino] and by everybody. We had some scenes sans clothing, and by the end of the first day, they call cut, and someone comes up and goes, “Do you want a robe?” You just go, “Nah, it’s fine, we’re going to shoot it again in a second.” (Laughter.)
ROBBIE I get nervous any time I have to act on my own. I need to be with other actors, then my focus is on what they’re doing and all I need to do is react to it. I’m too in my head if I’m on my own.
Your role in The Big Short was all solo scenes — while in a bathtub.
ROBBIE While in a bathtub, you know, drinking my champagne. Easiest day of work I’ve done in my life. (Laughter.) Half a day in a mansion in Malibu with 20-year-old Dom Perignon that [director] Adam McKay pulled out.
How do you prepare for a role generally? For I, Tonya, obviously you had to learn to ice skate.
ROBBIE I get excited when there’s a skill set you get to learn, and we’re so lucky and spoiled that they get someone really good to teach you. Like when I did [2015’s] Focus, I had a real-life pickpocket teach me how to pickpocket. I was like, “This is exciting.”
HAMMER Have you practiced?
ROBBIE I have all your phones in my purse. Check your pockets. (Laughter.) That’s mechanical preparation. You put the hours in, and it pays off. Beyond that, I am kind of a crazy person when I prep. I do timelines and backstories, I work with a dialect coach, a movement coach and an acting coach. I do a lot before so I can throw it out the window when I get on set. But if I hadn’t done the work before, I’d be too scared.
Did you watch a lot of footage of Tonya Harding?
ROBBIE I have watched every single piece of footage there is on her a thousand times over. And I had her voice in my iPod — I would go to sleep listening to her.
CRANSTON Were you able to talk to her in preparing for it?
ROBBIE I purposely didn’t because there was so much online. I could study her at 15, she’s interviewed all throughout her 20s, pre- and post-incident [when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked]. And documentaries made about her in her 40s as well. I was playing her 15 to 44, and I had all that information at my fingertips. So I prepped without having met her so that I could keep her and the character separate in my mind. And once I decided exactly how I was going to play the character, a week before shooting, I went to meet her. I didn’t want to meet her and be second-guessing what I had decided. She was, all things considered, really understanding.
Is there a movie where the prep was the reason you took the role?
ROBBIE If I could shoot in Hawaii for a month, that would be nice.
SPENCER I did a hiking movie, and we never hiked. (Laughter.) It was like, “Oh, my God, I’m going to lose so much weight!” And we just literally walked across a trail. So there was no hiking.
KRUGER I’ve turned down a movie because it required riding a horse, and I’m super scared of horses.
SPENCER I hear ya, honey.
ROBBIE I’ve turned down roles because — amongst other things, but it did factor in my decision — of wearing a corset for six months. I just can’t do that.
CRANSTON Or a full-on prosthetic. It can be very claustrophobic.
Is there a role or even a line of yours that has stuck with you years later?
SPENCER People walk up to me and say three little words at the strangest times. I don’t want to say it because it’s … “Eat my shit” [from 2011’s The Help]. It’s really strange when you’re at the grocery store and you’re trying to figure out, “How do I tell if this is ripe?” And somebody just leans in and says, “Eat my shit …”
PATTINSON No one has ever said this to me, but, “My prostate is asymmetrical.” I always really loved that. (Laughter.) From [2012’s] Cosmopolis. It was me and Paul Giamatti, I say it when we’re crying together. He’s like, “Mine, too.” And we’re like, “What does it mean?” He’s like, “It’s nothing, it’s a harmless variation. At your age, why worry about it?” It’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve done. Couldn’t tell you what it means, but it really means something to me.
HAMMER Michael Stuhlbarg has a speech in Call Me by Your Name, and it’s one of the most beautiful monologues I have ever seen in my life, and it truly changed the way that I’m going to parent my children, the way I look at people, everything. And that’s one of the beautiful things about this medium specifically is, it’s very subjective. It can be “Eat my shit,” it can be whatever. (Laughter.) Those things change your perspective for the rest of your life.
CRANSTON I have a lot from Breaking Bad, a lot of iconic lines. “I am the danger,” or “I’m the one who knocks,” or “Tread lightly.”
SPENCER Those are good, though.
CRANSTON We had good writers. That’s the key, man.
Do you cold call or email actors with a compliment or a question?
ROBBIE When I saw Wonder Woman, as soon as I went home, I wrote to Patty [Jenkins] and Gal [Gadot]. I had never met either of them before, but I wrote to say, “You’ve made me feel so proud to be a woman in the DC Universe.”
CRANSTON I sent an email to a guy I knew who did a film this year, a beautiful film. He took great risk and did a wonderful job in a film called Call Me by Your Name — and he never responded. (Laughter.) I wrote what I thought was a very lovely letter and …
HAMMER It was too beautiful. I couldn’t reply. I was paralyzed.
KRUGER Bryan wrote me an email after Cannes [Kruger won best actress], which is really sweet.
How do you get the others’ emails?
SPENCER I need to dig into this email thing. (Laughter.)
KRUGER It’s called Tinder.
CRANSTON I sell them. So anybody you want, I can get them. (Laughter.)
Do you consider yourself a mentor when you’re on set?
CRANSTON I don’t have to be, but I think it’s important to do it if you’re number one on the call sheet. (To Hammer) You said something earlier about having that one line that is really tough? It is tough. So I make sure — when anybody comes onto a movie or a show that I’m doing or producing and they have that one line and they’re nervous as hell — to reach out. For two reasons: It’s the right thing to do. And when they calm down, they do better.
SPENCER I love Ted Danson to this day because he made a point — I did his show, I can’t remember the name, he was a grumpy doctor.
SPENCER Becker. I have severe stage fright. And we did the run-through, and he came up to me and he just said, “Oh, my God, you were this, this, this and this.” And it’s like (gasps), “Ted Danson said that to me.” And I have loved him forever. It helps everyone if everyone feels on equal footing.
Have any of you had mentors?
KRUGER I have looked up to people and admired their work and they have shaped who I am as an actor today, including this sir (indicates Cranston) sitting there. When you admire someone’s work, you want to follow their lead. Bryan was an amazing leader in the movie we did, [2016’s] The Infiltrator. With him being so calm and so kind to everyone, including myself, and being the first one on set and doing amazing work — he just made everybody feel it was going to be OK, even though it was chaotic at times.
CRANSTON I learned it from Tom Hanks. I have known him for 30 years, and I’ve watched him on set. Our wives are very good friends, and my wife was in their wedding. So I was able to watch firsthand how a young man who is a star comports himself and treats people and is able to create an atmosphere on the set that is fun and welcoming of thoughts and ideas and get-the-work-done and then, “See ya,” go home. You can have it all. You don’t have to be the tortured actor and make everyone’s life miserable.
Rob, you’ve done smaller films since Twilight. Do you see yourself ever going back to blockbusters?
PATTINSON Getting into Twilight and everything, it all just felt so accidental. I don’t know. I kind of fool myself into thinking there is some kind of macro plan to my decision-making, but you’re just trying to find anything which you hopefully connect to and think you can make a little bit better.
So much of an actor’s career is your choices. Bryan, is there anything on your IMDb page you’d expunge?
CRANSTON Amazon Women on the Moon [from 1987] is one of my favorites, so it’s not that. That’s a real movie. Joe Dante directed it.
ROBBIE I thought you made that up.
CRANSTON I think I was paramedic number two. I never saw it. I don’t even know what it’s about, really.
HAMMER It’s about Amazon women on the moon. (Laughter.)
CRANSTON Apparently one of them needed a paramedic.
HAMMER I played Abercrombie Boy. In [2009’s] Spring Breakdown.
CRANSTON You had to take your shirt off, I’ll bet.
HAMMER Oh, yeah. I had a tequila shot taken off of my body.
ROBBIE Sounds kind of fun. I don’t have enough on my IMDb page to be picking things off at this point.
KRUGER When I was younger, I did a deodorant commercial, That was a proud moment. Even as I was doing it, I was like ... (mimics putting on deodorant).
HAMMER I’m going to fire my agent … (Laughter.)
SPENCER Every little role paid a bill or something. If I was terrible, it just shows how far you’ve come.
PATTINSON Even that spasm of embarrassment you find when you first watch it, you just wait five, six years, and you’re like, “Aw, I actually really like that. I’ve gotten away with it.”
Has social media made your lives better or worse? Armie, you quit Twitter recently. Why?
HAMMER Well, I have very little impulse control, and I couldn’t stop myself from saying something to somebody, and you’re just adding oxygen to a fire and then all of a sudden you’ve got a conflagration. And all of a sudden something that doesn’t exist in the real world at all is something that you’re thinking about and that is taking up broadband in your brain [when] you could so easily be focused on something else so much more productive.
Social media also lets you speak up on issues you care about. What is your take on people speaking up about sexual harassment or choosing not to?
ROBBIE Coming forward is far more complicated than anyone can imagine unless they are in that position. So I would bear no judgment on anyone who didn’t want to come forward. I would hope that anyone who did knows that they can and be supported 100 percent. And I have never spoken to so many actresses whom I’ve never met than I have in the past couple of months. Actresses — who if I met them, I’d be starstruck — are reaching out to be like, “Hey, there’s a group of us having a conversation about this, do you want to be involved?” There is a sense of community, and it’s sad that that had to come out of a horrible situation, but there is a support network there.
Do you think there will be real, lasting change in the industry? And you can’t say, “I hope so.”
SPENCER Every industry needs to change. It’s not just the film industry. The big revelation for me is human resource departments have not been protecting workers; they’ve been protecting companies. That has to change, first and foremost. We don’t have human resource departments ’cause we work for different studios and what have you, but like Margot said, there are a lot of conversations happening and a lot of people using their power to make sure change happens.
KRUGER We’re seeing the change as it’s happening. All these men are gone. I’m amazed how many companies have severed ties with those men immediately; they don’t get just a slap on the back and then come back.
ROBBIE There’s a lot of gray area in our job and a lot of very intimate situations that you need to make yourself vulnerable to — and it changes job by job. Some jobs are done in six weeks, some go for six months, and if there’s an issue, you need to solve it at the time. There are just so many variables, and it’s difficult to find structure in that sort of environment.
If you could sit down and really talk to somebody one-on-one for an hour, who would it be?
SPENCER Barack Obama. “Why did you go, Barack?” (Laughter.) I would like to talk to Barack and Joe Biden, and gain some perspective from people who have been in the job, perhaps say, “What can we as citizens do when the country is so separated and polarized?”
CRANSTON Well, I have already sat and chatted with Barack.
SPENCER Ooooohhhh, well! Do tell!
CRANSTON Sorry, sorry, that’s a nasty habit. That was my joy — that I was able to sit down with him in the Oval Office for an hour and a half, and there was a moderator from The New York Times.
CRANSTON There were times when I forgot who I was talking to, and he was just a guy. He is a little younger than me, but he has daughters as I do. He is a dad; he was very athletic. Didn’t have a father growing up, neither did I. There were a lot of things that we had in common. And then all of a sudden I’m going (under his breath), “I’m in the Oval Office!”
When you were a kid, what did you get in trouble for?
CRANSTON In high school, I had two ID cards. One was Bryan Cranston, and one was Bill Johnson. Bill Johnson was the one I would whip out whenever I got into trouble. And Bill Johnson got into a lot of trouble. (Laughter.)
PATTINSON What did I get in trouble for? Lying, lots of lying, lots of stealing. (Laughter.) I love lying.
Well, you are an actor now so …
PATTINSON Yeah. It’s weird, one of the only detriments to getting any kind of fame is you can’t really lie anymore ’cause everyone finds everything out and it’s awful.
You meet interesting people in your job. Obama aside, who stands out?
HAMMER We were shooting [2013’s] Lone Ranger, and Tom Wilkinson had to do a thing where he pulls out a pocket watch and flips it, and it opens on his hand. It was a cool little trick. So because they had a borderline unlimited budget, they’re like, “Let’s bring in the yo-yo world champion.” He was like, “That’s not a yo-yo.” And they go, “Yeah, but can you help him do it?” And he goes, “Yeah, you pull it out of your pocket and you do that.” Tom goes, “Like this?” Click. And he’s like, “Yeah, just like that.” And then he was with us for the rest of the movie. (Laughter.)
SPENCER [I met] John Douglas who was the bureau chief for the behavior sciences unit for the FBI. And I’m like a total serial killer nerd. So I read his book, Mind Hunter, that was like 15 years ago. And I got bumped up to first class, and the flight attendant, they said his first and last name and, “Would you like chicken or fish?” And I’m like, “Oh, my God, I love you!” And I talked to him all the way from Los Angeles to Atlanta.
KRUGER This year I decided to get my motorcycle license in deep Georgia at a Harley dealership. This is how crazy Americans are, because in Europe, it’s three months to get your license. I never left the parking lot, and in four days they handed me my license.
HAMMER You should try buying a gun; it’s even easier. (Laughter.)
KRUGER We never went into real traffic! But it was me and 20 Harley-Davidson guys. I was completely fascinated. I had never met anyone like this. They thought I was nuts: “What is this girl doing? You’re going to drop the bike.” And I kind of did, but they picked me up. It was awesome. And I’m still in touch with them.
ROBBIE I recently did a film, and the director asked if everyone could write down the craziest thing that has happened to them in their lives. I had spent two months with this group of people, probably about 60 people, and everyone seems super normal. And then everyone had to write down the craziest thing that happened to them, and it was released on the last day, and you had to guess whose story matched up with who. It just reminded me that fascinating people are everywhere. Everywhere. Someone had been engaged to the princess of Zanzibar. Someone else had been in a plane crash where only 10 people survived. It just reminds you there are fascinating stories everywhere. Everyone has a story.
What was your story?
ROBBIE I once found — and no one guessed that this was me — I found a human foot on the beach in Nicaragua.
SPENCER Oh, wow, death!
KRUGER Just the bones?
CRANSTON And she uses it as a door stop. (Laughter.)
ROBBIE Just a little souvenir.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.