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With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense of how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood’s writers, actors, directors, executives and others are living and working in these challenging times.
Producer Rachael Horovitz temporarily relocated to London awhile back with her husband and children while she was in production on the Benedict Cumberbatch series Patrick Melrose, a Showtime series that went on to win a BAFTA for best miniseries. Temporary turned into three years and that’s where she was just a few weeks ago when she woke up with one of the symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Horovitz, who was prepping Sweet Thunder, a long-gestating boxing biopic about Sugar Ray Robinson with David Oyelowo and Danny Strong, opens up to The Hollywood Reporter about how that cough turned into COVID-19, what her recovery has been like, her thoughts on how Hollywood can resume production and the content she’s consuming to feel better (hint: music and her Beastie Boys brother Adam’s documentary).
Let’s start with the most important: How are you feeling?
Thank you. I’m told that the recovery from this thing is not linear; I feel like a non-linear version of myself. Also, I have a chest infection, so that is happening.
You’re in London. What is your quarantine setting, who are you with?
I’m with my husband and our teenage kids in a tiny house we rented for what we thought would be a few months. That was three years ago, when we came to make Patrick Melrose. My neighborhood is a very lovely place to be sick in. And a supremely lovely place to be well in.
Walk me through your COVID-19 illness. What were the first symptoms? How did it progress?
I coughed exactly once — at 5 a.m. one morning. It was like the beginning of that sequence in Days of Heaven when the single locust appears. I basically knew. The next day, I couldn’t stop coughing. And after that I was in bed for a long time. I felt better, but then I felt poorly again. It has been going on a long time relative to what I was told to expect.
What was the toughest moment?
I feel weird talking about this when there is unthinkable illness and suffering all over the world: I’m just one person with one case of this one virus. Yes, it sucks for me, but it is likely I’ll recover and, if I don’t, I don’t. Truly, the toughest moment for me so far was when I found out that my brother, Matthew, was being admitted to a hospital in New York. Thinking about him was far more agonizing than feeling like crap myself. He’s home now and in much better shape than I am. So, that’s something else about this thing: it’s wildly idiosyncratic.
As far as sharing from my own COVID experience — bearing in mind that every case is completely different — my toughest moment was after the required [in the U.K.] 14 days had passed. I felt well enough to start doing stuff. A couple of days later my chest felt not good. I couldn’t get a decent reading on my oxygen meter. It was late on a Sunday night; I was scared and kind of paralyzed as to what to do. My best friend of 45 years happens to be Italian and an infectious disease person who is up to the minute on this disease. Dottore, her 98-year-old father who lives with her, is a retired doctor. Together, they talked me through the situation. In the morning I was able to reach my London doctor and get help.
You mentioned that one of COVID’s most insidious symptoms is it keeps you from sleeping; your body is exhausted but you can’t sleep, which is necessary to heal. How did you manage?
Prescription drugs! I wish I were into pot but I’m not that girl anymore.
How are those around you? Friends and family OK?
My people are generally OK right now. Like everyone, we have lost friends to this and also, like everyone, some of us have cancer, HIV, diabetes, mental health struggles, financial struggles and on and on. I am on alert every minute.
What’s the recovery process been like?
It is truly like its own separate illness. Every single day is different, which is freaky if you’re not Zen, which I am so not. My most urgent message to people who have this is to continue to be vigilantly protective of your health even when you think you feel 100 percent better. Find out what to do to maximize your immune system health and do those things for the rest of your life.
Compared to what we’ve witnessed in the U.S. versus the U.K., how would you compare your experience of being there when you were sick?
If you’re talking about government preparedness, both countries have been terrible. And of course, the irony is, in any other circumstance we would be out in the streets protesting. But, as Brian Klaas wrote on Twitter, at least in the U.K. we don’t have any media outlets telling us it’s a “hoax.” Even the craziest newspapers are basically in step with letting experts speak. One interesting difference worth sharing in terms of my treatment experience is that I was told there was no point in my isolating from the rest of the family, which is the exact opposite of Chris Cuomo in his basement.
This pandemic has caused an unprecedented shutdown in filming and production. How do you see this playing out and what measures do you think producers will have to put in place once filming is allowed to resume?
As far as what practical measures should be in place, I am the least qualified person to answer that question. I’m glad that the DGA and the insanely smart Steven Soderbergh are putting together a study for what going back to work looks like. That’s great. I read that they plan on sharing it with ‘sister guilds,’ which is also great. I think it would be even greater if they just shared it period. Like on the internet. Because what’s the point of keeping good information in one community? That feels counterproductive to me. For sure, there will be information in there that other communities could use.
But I also want to say that it is way past time for our industry to take better care of our community. No one in an industry as rich as ours should be facing avoidable financial or medical hardships. The sink-or-swim paradigm is just cruel and has never been more glaringly evident than now. We have to figure out health care for everybody and how money can be more evenly distributed.
What do your days look like now?
I take a boatload of pills and potions and when I am able to, I write, read and do domestic chores. Some days I’m working, emailing, some days I’m off the grid.
What would you say has been the hardest adjustment during this period?
I’ve been frustrated to be sick, not to be able to keep up with the news, more fully participate in pandemic help efforts, phone bank for candidates, work harder keeping nonprofits I’m involved with alive, like Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem. I can’t talk very comfortably, so for the time being I’m not talking, therefore I’m doing everything I can online. My admiration for Act Up has grown exponentially — it was already very high — but the idea of protesting while you’re not just feeling like shit but feeling like you’re actually dying is super human. It brings to mind centuries of rise up movements and is very humbling.
And the easiest?
I’ve barely noticed that we’re in quarantine because I’ve been ill for so many weeks. In normal life, I really loved being at home. I always admired Lena Dunham’s line, “I I can’t overstate how much I hate leaving the house,” because it so wittily articulated my M.O. after years of traveling for work. But it feels absurd to me now to joke when just having a home is a privilege.
What’s the most challenging decision you’ve made since the quarantine began?
Deciding in March to stay here versus racing back to New York where my family is. That was hard to think through quickly. In retrospect, if we’d made that journey, we could have unknowingly infected a lot of people, so it was a good decision.
What have you learned about yourself during this period?
That I have a lot to learn. And that I have some extremely caring friends who I must have acquired due to some past life.
What’s the best advice that you’ve given or received about staying sane right now?
Hmm. Staying sane … I guess the best advice I’ve given is telling people to ask for help. A lot of people have a hard time with that and this is not the time to be bashful. The best advice I’ve been given about my particular sanity had to do with Valium and meditation.
When it does come to consuming news, who have become your most trusted sources during this time?
For breaking news, always Twitter. Actually, Twitter for a lot of info. The Guardian U.K. edition and The Boston Globe are what I read first thing. I trust The Washington Post. Channel Four’s coverage of the U.S. government is truthful. The New Yorker is invaluable to me right now. I mean, that Fauci profile! The Atlantic — also essential.
What have you been watching, reading, playing or listening to as a reprieve?
Watching: It’s the final season of Homeland and I’m a bonafide super fan, so that is my current viewing reprieve. For sure, my brother Adam’s movie Beastie Boys Story! Anything Neal Brennan. Reading: I’m reading a ton. Deborah Orr’s memoir Motherwell. Anne Enright’s Actress: A Novel. A lot of plays because that’s what my writing is. Paul Tough’s books on education, especially his latest, keep me focused on the issues I’m probably most involved with. Paul’s writing is on par with Michael Lewis but he doesn’t get the attention he deserves. And music. I’m listening now like I did in high school — just listening while not doing anything else. I think it works as well as Valium.
What is atop your to-do list once this is over?
“Once this is over” is such an abstraction but, off the top of my head and being totally indulgent, I would take everyone I love and go to this town in France I know well. It’s a place I have used for years as an image when I need to get out of the dumps.
Have you been involved in any efforts to help crew members, staff get through this uncertain time? What causes are most important to you right now?
I am not well enough yet to organize but I have donated to every organization that’s in my view. Funds for our industry needs. Feeding people, getting shelter for the homeless. Getting aid to the vulnerable, the incarcerated, immigrants in detention. But I’m also not sleeping on political campaigns. We need to get out of that other nightmare. I’m on a lot of video calls, not talking, just listening. It’s serious stuff but also so intimate. I loved watching Hakeem Jeffries yell out for his son to come help him with his computer.
Let’s end with something fun: The world got to see your Moneyball star Brad Pitt win an Oscar this year, which feels like a lifetime ago now. It was the first time he was nominated for acting since you worked together. What did that mean to you to see him win?
Of course, I think he should have won for Moneyball, but actually I think the accolades he got this year were beautifully timed because he was in a place where he could fully experience and appreciate it. 2020 Brad is someone who is Zen. I’ve got to get there.
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