“There Is a Strength in Vulnerability”: The Actress Roundtable
In The Hollywood Reporter's actress roundtable, six leading ladies — Glenn Close, Lady Gaga, Kathryn Hahn, Nicole Kidman, Regina King and Rachel Weisz — open up about how Hollywood is different now and one 'very subtle' #MeToo moment.
“Can we all just not wear our pants,” joked Kathryn Hahn as she moved quickly from a photo shoot in her (yes, pantsless) red mini tuxedo dress to her place at The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Actress Roundtable. Once seated, Private Life star Hahn, 45, joined The Wife‘s Glenn Close, 71; A Star Is Born‘s first-timer Lady Gaga, 32; Nicole Kidman, 51 (in the awards race this year with both Boy Erased and Destroyer); If Beale Street Could Talk‘s Regina King, 47; and The Favourite‘s Rachel Weisz, 48, for an intense discussion (edited here for length and clarity) that began with the impact of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements on the daily lives of actors and ended with a candid back-and-forth on how children influence your career and life choices.
How has each of you experienced change in Hollywood over the past year? Or how have you not?
KATHRYN HAHN I got a Laverne & Shirley credit on this movie [Tamara Jenkins’ fertility drama Private Life]. That’s when you are side by side with your co-star, which is a rarity. It usually would have been the dude and, you know, the gal.
GLENN CLOSE Was the dude happy about it?
HAHN You know, he was. It was Paul Giamatti. He was like, “Of course. This is exactly what should happen.”
LADY GAGA That’s what is so exciting with the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up, to see men coming to stand by our side and say, “We want you to be loud. We want to hear your voices.” It’s really remarkable.
NICOLE KIDMAN We got this film [Karyn Kusama’s undercover cop drama Destroyer] made, which probably would have been even harder before. I see that as part of the movement. And hopefully, there will be a lot more films with female directors.
CLOSE I’ve been a part of two films that took 14 years to make. The first one was [2011’s] Albert Nobbs and the second was [Bjorn Runge’s marital drama] The Wife. It was actually hard to find actors who wanted to be in a movie called The Wife. It’s two women writers. And, you know, starring a woman. No one wanted to [make it] and, most of the money, if not all the money, came from Europe.
GAGA Your character in that film, the importance of her voice is so powerful.
Looking back on your career through the lens of 2018, is there a time when you wish that you had spoken up?
CLOSE I had one very subtle moment, when I think back on it. Nothing that threatened me, but just so subtle. It was at an audition, and the very famous, very big actor that I was reading with put his hand on my thigh. It had nothing to do with the character. Or the scene. It just froze me up. Because you’re trying to do the scene, and all of a sudden you think, “Why is he doing that?” But now I realize … if I had said, “Oh, that feels good,” who knows what [he was] trying to elicit? Or if it was even conscious on his part? But I really understand the freeze syndrome.
GAGA It’s a trauma response.
REGINA KING I was talking to Maggie Gyllenhaal — just because we both have been acting for so long, and were young when we started — and I feel like I was very much aware of the pay differences between men and women. I knew it and I just said, “Yeah, OK. That’s there. But I’m focusing on the work.” So now it’s like, “Oh, shoot. I never had a conversation with any of my female peers that were experiencing the same thing.”
HAHN Or even your team …
KING My team, my agent, any of them …
HAHN It was just assumed.
KING Not that I was OK with it, but I was focusing on the art.
HAHN That phrase of “gratitude,” which we just had to hold on to …
RACHEL WEISZ Grateful for …
CLOSE The work.
KIDMAN Having the job.
HAHN Just to be able to be there.
CLOSE To have a job.
HAHN Which takes away your …
And those conversations are happening now?
KING Yes, they are happening. It’s an all-inclusive sisterhood now, that, I think, is pretty freaking fantastic.
CLOSE We have to make sure that it doesn’t go back. It will become part of our culture because we will not let it go away.
GAGA When I started in the music business when I was around 19, it was the rule, not the exception, that you would walk into a recording studio and be harassed. It was just the way that it was. So I do wish that I had spoken up sooner. I did speak up about it. I was assaulted when I was young, and I told people. And, you know, there was a “boys club.” Nobody wants to lose their power, so they don’t protect you because if they say something, it takes some of their power away. What I hope is that these conversations come together — that it’s not just about equal pay on one side … or equal billing over here … and then assault on this side. But that it all comes together and that this movement is all of those things.
KIDMAN The sharing of information is so important. Working with younger actresses, I say, “Ask me anything and I’ll answer. Ask me anything financially. If you need advice, just ask. I can only tell you what I advise and you might take it or leave it. But it’s nice to have access to information.” It’s hard, especially if you are very young in this industry starting out, because you are trying to be good and obedient and to not be troublesome. But it’s lovely to have a bunch of people that go, “Come ask us. We’ve got some experience and we’re willing to share it.”
WEISZ I think about those young actresses who feel empowered and hopefully … I have a real problem with the idea of “strong women characters.” Well, does that mean we have muscles or something? No one ever says that to a man. But [I want] young girls growing up [to] see stories being told where a woman takes a central role. Where she is not peripheral to the story. She’s driving the story, and so, you as a kid can go, “Oh, that’s me. I can identify.” So, it’s like a funny thing that [these stories] are coming together as women have been speaking up about harassment. I don’t know if it is a coincidence that suddenly you (to Kidman) could get [financing] for your film, you (to Close) could get your film made. The Favourite apparently took 20 years to make. Because there is lesbianism and three females at the center of it.
CLOSE I would think people would want to see that. (Laughter.)
HAHN Delicious, right? Three women getting it on.
WEISZ What was wrong with that 20 years ago? I don’t know what’s changed in the culture.
GAGA I don’t think it has changed.
WEISZ But is [the exposure of] sexual harassment connected to how we are getting our stories told now? I can’t figure out the chicken and the egg.
Gaga, when you walked on set, and even before you signed on for A Star Is Born, how concerned were you that the performance would be compared to your own career?
GAGA Well, first of all, I wanted to be an actress before I wanted to be a singer or musician. I went to the Lee Strasburg Institute. I studied at Circle in the Square. I studied Stanislavski technique, Meisner, Adler … I was really obsessed with method acting. For many years,
I have created characters for myself. Because I did not make it as an actress. So, I made characters that I could be — so that I could be one. They were always in some way related to the woman that I wanted to sing to, and a part of me. So, like for my album Joanne, I had this vision of a woman with a baby in one hand and a pinot grigio in the other, in cutoff jeans. And her hair wild and in a bun.
HAHN That’s my Saturday.
GAGA With Bradley [Cooper], what I did was, I said, “OK, I’m going to have to become someone that I do not have complete control over.” I dyed my hair very early, before we started filming. I started to dress like her. I was writing music for the soundtrack and helping to hone Ally’s sound, which was essentially something that was going to arise out of Jackson’s sound, because she fell in love with him. I wanted Ally to be nothing like me. This was very important to me because the truth is, I am nothing like Ally. I created Gaga.
Is there a part you always wanted to play that you know you can’t?
KING A Joan of Arc-type character. Someone in history that wasn’t black but I thought was a pretty amazing woman.
That’s interesting because there has been some controversy in the past year over who should be playing which characters. Scarlett Johansson was going to portray a transgender character and dropped out when there was backlash. Who gets to play what role?
CLOSE That’s a tricky question. First of all, what we are up to is a craft. And in your craft, you should be able to — within a certain reasonable parameter — play anyone. But there are diverse actors and actresses that have not been served. So it’s up to the industry to nurture those actors. Nurture the trans actors, the people who don’t get a chance. And then, the best person for the part should play it.
KIDMAN The industry and the world are in enormous change right now. But maybe it’s just the actor in me: Ultimately, it’s the director’s choice. Film is the director’s medium, it’s their vision ultimately. So, they’re going to cast who they think is right for their film.
KING But wouldn’t it be fantastic if I did play Joan of Arc?
GAGA I absolutely could see you do that.
HAHN There are so many roles in the theater that would be amazing to play, that I can’t wait for my kids to be a little bit older and to be able to get back to the theater.
KIDMAN I did it in London recently, and it was hard. You miss bedtime. I can’t miss bedtime. That makes me cry.
GAGA There is a strength in vulnerability. What I really admire about what you all do — because this is new for me — is the places that you have to go to, deep, deep down every time, to play a role. When I’m onstage performing and doing music, I have the audience. It’s like this adrenaline rush, and I’m talking to people and shouting at them. [But when you are acting,] there is no way that you’re not going to the depths of who you are, into a very scary place. I just have to commend each and every one of you for it. Because I still feel like I am recovering from playing this role.
WEISZ How unusual is it to see a woman work through her vulnerability and resilience and then to be born in that final moment [of A Star Is Born]? And a man to sacrifice himself for that purpose? It’s quite unusual, don’t you think?
GAGA The way Bradley chose to end the film was extremely of the times. It was an unorthodox way, but it was the authentic way. And it changed as we were filming. The script was being rewritten and we had a trove of songs, so even on the day [of shooting], Bradley would be like, “No, we’re going to do this song. Not this song. Switch it out.” I’d be in my trailer at the piano, getting ready.
Is there a piece of advice you got early on that has stuck with you?
KIDMAN I was taught really early on never to cut a take. Only the director gets to cut. It can go off into God knows where, but something fantastic may come out of it.
CLOSE Because I started in the theater, it took me so long to realize you didn’t have to be perfect on the whole take.
WEISZ I had a small part in a film and the director said to me, “Don’t touch your hair.” I don’t know. That’s less profound advice than yours. (Laughs.)
HAHN I always touch my hair.
KIDMAN Well, you’ve got great hair. I want to touch your hair.
GAGA Do you feel like the cameras disappear? Because for me, they do. Like, I know that they are there, but when I am in the scene … I really feel them disappear.
CLOSE A wonderful direction I’ve never forgotten was, if you’re lost, just drown in each other’s eyes.
GAGA I like that. I’m going to take that.
CLOSE It’s so wonderful, because the most powerful thing that we have as human beings are our two eyes looking into two other eyes.
HAHN There’s this Alan Watts quote that I recently came upon: “You are under no obligation to be the person that you were five minutes ago.” Which I think is a great way to be as a human.
WEISZ Actually, you just made me think of some advice. I was feeling so shallow here. Like, touching hair? “She’s real superficial, this lady.” When you play a character, if someone says to you, “Your character wouldn’t do that,” that’s just not true. Whatever happens in the take, even when it goes wrong and you want to say “cut” and you don’t, that is your character. Whatever happens, that’s the character.
GAGA It’s so interesting that you say that, because I’m sitting here listening to you talk, going like, “I do the opposite.” I do certain things when I sing and I’m onstage. I have a certain way about me when I perform. And — sorry, I just touched my hair. (Laughter.) But I was really conscious and I wanted it to be pointed out when I was doing something that would look decidedly like me, the way that my fans see me. Because I wanted Ally to be so different. So I focused a lot on the way that I sang and the way that I moved my jaw. I also focused on the way that I held the microphone and the way that I communicated with the audience. I just wanted it to be so different. But it’s so interesting to hear you say that, because during the scenes when I wasn’t singing … I was doing more of that, letting things happen.
How far do you immerse yourself in your roles? Nicole, on Destroyer you play a cop …
KIDMAN I entered so deeply into her. I don’t always do this with a character, but this one I had to because I didn’t want to feel like I was ever shifting into a performance: I stayed in character the whole time. I had to really learn how to use guns. I had no idea how. So I put in a lot of time. I live in Tennessee. I have a gun range just down from my house. I would go down there and I could shoot anything that is in that film.
GAGA Living the role … how do you [separate] what’s happening in your personal life when that is going on?
KIDMAN Because of my kids.
CLOSE Did you stay in the character when you went home?
KIDMAN You didn’t have to call me Erin, but it just kind of enters the psyche. My husband was like, “I cannot wait for this thing to end.”
CLOSE That was like when my daughter came up to me and said, “I want you. I want all of you.” And she was 3.
KIDMAN Children of artists … children of actors …
CLOSE They feel your distraction, if you are working …
WEISZ Cellphones can contribute to that as well, I think.
KIDMAN They do feel it. My children have a musician father and an actress mother … but they are so loved. We are all in that position, right? But it’s always that balance I find the hardest thing. I find it so hard. And, hopefully you build the intimacy with your child. (To Close) You have a fantastic relationship with your daughter. You’ve been through so much together, and they have an understanding of the artistic path.
CLOSE The hardest thing for a child living through my [fame] is that they sense when people want their parents. It’s the kind of lust of celebrity, and I think that can be very frightening to a child. Because it’s like, “She’s my mother.” When Annie was really little and we would go in an airport and she’d see that face coming toward me, she would just go, “Stay away. She’s mine.”
KING When [my son] sees it coming, and I may not be paying attention, he’ll go, “Go to the left. Go to the left.”
What’s the best feedback that you’ve gotten from your kids?
KIDMAN I did Aquaman, and I did it for them, actually, because when you do something like Destroyer you say, “They’re never going to be seeing this.” But you do Aquaman, and it’s like, “Oh my gosh.” I ate a gelatin goldfish in a scene, and they thought that was my best work. (Laughter.)
WEISZ My son … the last two plays that I’ve done, if he’s in the other room and I’m learning lines and I’m saying them out loud, he’ll just shout from the other room, “True! False! False!” Because he knows better than I guess anyone when Mom is being a big old fakie.
CLOSE Do you get to do it back to him? (Laughs.)
HAHN That’s incredible.
GAGA Am I the only one here with no children? I’m the only one.
KIDMAN [Weisz’s story is] a great thing to be able to tell women. Because you can definitely have a child and have your career. You can do it. I mean, you’re going to give up things. There is going to be compromise. But you can jump in and do it and it’s fine. So many young actresses say to me, “How do you …?” I’m like, “If you want your baby, have your baby. Have it. If you don’t want it, don’t have it.” But you can if you want to.
GAGA It’s special having children in your lives, that when you have that psychological change as you are taking on a role, that they sort of snap you out of it a bit, in a way.
KING You make it work.
CLOSE I thought a lot about this in the context of The Wife and my mom. Because my mom was very interesting, very smart … she never graduated from high school. She fell in love with my dad when she was 18. And she, at the end of her life, said to me, “I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing.” I think about that a lot because we have our children and the nurturing/natural thing that we do as women, and then we have the need for personal fulfillment. We need to feed our souls, and our hearts. And that’s what our work does.
GAGA This actually made me want to have kids. That sounds lovely.
Last question’s a fun one: Who is a character that you’ve played that you would like to have dinner with?
CLOSE The Marquise de Merteuil [from Dangerous Liaisons].
HAHN I completely forgot about that.
KIDMAN Virginia Woolf.
WEISZ Sorry to talk about The Favourite, but I would go back to 1708 England and have some tea with Queen Anne.
KING Margie Hendrix. She was the singer in Ray, one of his lovers.
HAHN Maybe I would say the rabbi [on Transparent]. I think that I could use a rabbi these days. Just to sit down and have tea with.
GAGA Just because I’ve only been in one movie, doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to meet Ally! OK? (Laughs.) I just want to say, I was in Machete Kills.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.