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A number of Lynn Shelton’s famous friends and collaborators came together on Tuesday night for an emotional tribute honoring the late director three months after her death. In a Zoom conversation presented by Hulu and the American Cinematheque, Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington, Jon Hamm, Marc Maron, Mark Duplass, Gillian Jacobs, Michaela Watkins, Eddie Huang and Kevin Murphy reflected on their time working with Shelton and her posthumous Emmy nomination for directing an episode of Little Fires Everywhere.
“I was furious when she got the nomination because she was dead,” partner Maron admitted while choking back tears, remembering past award seasons where both of them had been snubbed but pretended to not care. “I’ve been through that, she’d certainly been through it — I sat with her at the Indie Spirit Awards keeping a good face on. Now she gets this big one and she’s fucking dead? It’s ridiculous. It’s a bittersweet thing, I was so fucking happy for her, but I wish that she was alive, you guys.”
Witherspoon, who said she voted for Shelton during Emmy voting, added that “she deserves every bit of praise for everything that she did,” and Washington said that she and Witherspoon were so honored that Shelton, whose credits as a TV director include episodes of Mad Men, GLOW and The Morning Show, signed on to do their limited series in the first place.
“She said no to so much, she only did what she really really loved,” Washington said. “I also think the nomination is meaningful to young artists who are nervous to follow their own path. It’s a great reminder to stay true to your own calling, to your own directives,” particularly for female directors.
Shelton died suddenly on May 16 at the age of 54 of a previously unidentified blood disorder. Though Maron declared that the group must “limit the crying” on the call, the grief was still clear: following a montage of Shelton’s work and an interview clip with the filmmaker, Witherspoon said through tears, “I’m so moved by hearing her voice. It’s kind of shattering me a little bit because she was such a wonderful, gracious, sharing artist.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, each person spoke about when he or she first met Shelton and memorable moments with her. For Duplass, their long friendship started with indie films and culminated in “the biggest budget thing either of us had ever worked on, on the set of The Morning Show, looking at each other across the room with that feeling of ‘How did we end up here and how has this happened?'” Jacobs recalled how Shelton looked out for her while shooting sex scenes on Love, and Huang said she calmed his fears about the execution of Fresh off the Boat.
Hamm, who revealed the two maintained “Words with Friends” games for years after she directed an episode of Mad Men, said Shelton was “a person who is able to hang with Academy Award winners and comics and musicians and TV network writer-producers…I don’t know anybody else — male, female, old, young, anybody — who has the leverage, the pull, the respect, the authority, in all of those worlds.”
Maron, who met Shelton when she was a guest on this WTF podcast (and after “I had seen a few of her movies and I had seen pictures of her and I was intrigued — OK, obsessed”) remembered both her personal and professional impact on him, with her “superpower of light”: “She could bring the best out of people because not only did you trust her but, Jesus, did you want to impress that woman or what?”
And, as Witherspoon pointed out, Shelton “always looked good in hats. Not everyone could wear a hat like she could wear a hat.”
Agreed Hamm, “The hatwork was on point.”
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