A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
In this column: interviews with the director who guided Chadwick Boseman to a posthumous Emmy nomination for his final performance ever and a chat with Amanda Seyfried on the challenges met and conquered in playing Elizabeth Holmes, for which she received her first Emmy nomination.
Emmy ballots are due Monday evening, so all you stragglers out there better get your act together and start voting. Certainly the campaigns have not let up at all, even as we head into the crucial final weekend, and they won’t stop until it is all officially in the envelope, as it were. I was off for a week and came back to piles of boxes awaiting my X-Acto knife. Abbott Elementary sent an entire “back to school” kit, at least back to that school. The Dropout sent another box with specially labeled items like green juice and a black turtleneck exactly like what Elizabeth Holmes wore. There was a box of chocolates branded as “Lucy and Desi” in honor of the multi-nominated docu Amy Poehler directed for Amazon, and another box of Compartés Chocolates courtesy of Emmy-nominated Top Chef competitor Jackson Kalb, who wished me a “Happy First Day of Final-Round Emmy Voting!!” He promises to be serving them as well at his Venice restaurant Ospi on Emmy night. The Tommy Lee official Pam & Tommy drumsticks I got were pretty cool. No one sent the actual drums, though. Oh well, the long, long Emmy season is about to end and give way to the long, long Oscar season, which will be going full force as Emmys are handed out and Oscar contenders are being unveiled for the first time at the fall film festivals in Venice, Telluride and Toronto. It never ends.
AN EMMY FOR CHADWICK BOSEMAN AND HIS MOST FAMOUS ROLE?
Chadwick Boseman died almost exactly two years ago, on August 28, 2020, tragically way too early at age 43, leaving behind an impressive body of work including some then-unseen — and, as it turned out final — performances. That work over the past couple of years has resulted in remarkable awards recognition for the actor, beginning with the 2020 release of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which brought him his first leading actor Oscar and BAFTA nominations (he lost to Anthony Hopkins), as well as posthumous wins for that performance from SAG, Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and countless other groups.
And now he has his first Emmy nomination in the category of Outstanding Voice Over Performance for Disney+ and Marvel’s animation series, What If…?, which also is up for Outstanding Animation Series and representing Marvel’s first foray into the TV animation wars. It already has nearly completed work on Season 2 and is mapping out Season 3 on the premise of “what if these Marvel heroes had different fates and alter egos in store?” In the case of Boseman it takes his most famous role, that of T’Challa, and somehow makes him Star-Lord. It is a wacky premise that has caught on, and Boseman was thrilled to be part of it not only in the key episode he dominates and for which he is Emmy nominated, but also as part of a couple of other episodes in Season 1. Earlier this week I hopped on the phone with What If’s… director and executive producer Bryan Andrews, who talked about what this meant to him and the show, as well as to Boseman, who was able to do most of his voice-over work live in-person in studio, as well as more remotely once the pandemic shut things down in the spring of 2020. He would die about six months later, and this represents his last work.
“I think Chad was one of the first celebrities in the MCU that actually officially said yes to us. I think he was literally the first one, and that was an exuberant yes,” Andrews told me. “He had a bunch of ideas and things. He’s really excited about the character, and he also liked that we brought a certain degree of humor. He liked that this character didn’t have the weight of the crown of Wakanda on you, so he can be a little bit more of that like charming rogue, a Robin Hood, still totally a great person, insanely confident and charming. But he didn’t have the weight of the crown. And it’s funny, we heard that even before his passing, he enjoyed what he did in our season with that character — so much so that he was talking to [Black Panther director] Ryan [Coogler] about trying to get this vibe. ‘It’s like we gotta get some of that into Black Panther 2,’ he told Ryan.”
Andrews said Boseman was even thinking beyond this initial foray into animation. “He was having so much fun, and actually early on we were thinking, ‘Oh, this can be a spinoff series.’ We really wanted to do a spinoff series with him,” he said, noting all that sadly changed after he shockingly passed away, having kept his cancer secret from nearly everyone for years. “No one had any idea. I mean, that came out of the blue for almost everybody. He kept it quiet.” Andrews added that he noticed that Boseman seemed much thinner but surmised that actors are always putting on and taking off weight for various roles. “I thought like, ‘This is how he likes to roll in the offseason for Black Panther,‘ right? So I thought nothing of it, and I still didn’t think anything of it the final time we recorded him, but I think he may have been in pain. He put on a brave face. He was stoic. He was as strong as he could be. I just chalked it up to, ‘Oh man, the guy’s getting ready for Black Panther, he’s probably working out like crazy.’ He was a little slower, but his level of focus was intense. So I never knew anything was wrong. None of it ever hindered the performance. He’s so good. He was so good. He brought so much in the way he treated the material. Yeah, we were writing it like a Marvel thing anyway, so it wasn’t like he was quote-unquote ‘dumbing it down’ for animation or slumming with animation. We all just looked at it as like, ‘This is T’Challa, it’s coming from Marvel, and here we go.’ He said he was down for this, that ‘this is my character,’ and then we got to riff and play a little bit on the lines, but he brought 110%. So, that’s amazing.”
As for the Emmy nomination?
“It’s a shame he’s no longer with us, but he would be enjoying this moment, just for the recognition of this for this character. It’s an honor to be recognized and I’m so thankful that the academy was able to notice his performance and pick it out. He brought so much to it.”
AMANDA SEYFRIED GETS REAL
Playing real life characters is paying off — awards-wise, at least — for Amanda Seyfried who has bagged her first ever Emmy nomination as the notorious Elizabeth Holmes, who as founder of the bogus Theranos, went from Silicon Valley sensation to disgrace in no time flat. Seyfried is nominated as Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for her performance in Hulu’s acclaimed The Dropout. Ironically around the same time as the Primetime Emmys on September 12, Holmes herself who is now convicted faces a sentencing hearing where she could get up to 20 years. The woman who plays her though could get an Emmy.
Portraying an actual real life figure was also the lucky charm for Seyfried at the 93rd Oscars where she got her first Academy Award nomination in Best Supporting Actress as Golden era actress Marion Davies in David Fincher’s 2020 look at the man who wrote Citizen Kane, a film called Mank.
As she told me in a recent Zoom interview between scenes of a new project with Tom Holland that she was shooting in Harlem, Seyfried is well aware of the two different fates of being Holmes, one on TV, one about to go to prison. “Now, the idea that the Emmys are happening in September and she’s also going to be sentenced in September is not lost on me. It’s not. It just gets weirder and weirder and I don’t know if I’m, as an actor, done with her story because I just had such a good time doing it, but also as a spectator, as somebody who’s empathetic to the things she’s going to have to go through separate from how I feel about her choices. It’s weird. It’s hard and it sucks that she’s in such a different place,” she told me, adding that in order to play Holmes, or any real person, you have to have some empathy for them.
“Our job as actors portraying these people is you have to care about them or else you’re not really going to play the whole spectrum. I mean, we are all so complicated, we are such a complicated creatures whether we’re famous, infamous, you know, just whatever choices we make in life, we’re still all very nuanced. And so, I was very empathetic to those eccentricities and those, those moments of, of fear that everybody feels. You know, I’m not a psychologist, I can’t diagnose her with anything, I just saw her as a human being who found herself in a bind and chose the wrong, the wrong way to deal with it. And so, it’s all empathy, I mean, it’s not like I’m making her out to be a victim or anything like that, because that’s, that’s totally wrong, too,” she said.
Among the challenges Seyfried says she faced was just the simple fear of embodying someone who is so different from herself, and yes, that unique – and controversial – voice Holmes used, some say created actually to sound more like a man. “The thing is she’s not from anywhere. She’s doesn’t have any regional accent. Somebody I spoke to during the preparation said that it sounded like she was part of some women’s business school sorority type club, if that makes any sense. So, I researched that a little bit and then I came to realize that it didn’t matter where it came from, when it started, it just had to be present at all times. And so, not the depth so much, not the frequency, but the mouth shape,” she explains. “And I was like, okay, what can I control? I can control how I move my mouth and make it sound like her, so I just did until it was muscle memory. And now, my next step is to be able to deepen it, and that was hard, but it wasn’t as much of an issue with, if I got the mouth shape right the depth came later.”
The Dropout is just one of an increasing series of Limited Series focusing on women caught up in various degrees of deception and/or crime. You can add to the list this year The Thing about Pam, The Girl from Plainville, Impeachment: American Crime Story, Candy, Inventing Anna, etc. What’s up with all this kind of storytelling now? “I think we’re just sick of seeing stories about men, right? I’d like to think that that’s what it is. I’d like to think that, you know, these stories are real true stories of human beings and they happen to be about women, I mean, and each one of them is incredibly smart or creative in a way. And you’re just, like, kind of in awe of the power that they have to ruin or create such chaos you kind of can’t look away. And I will always be a fan of the true crime stories. I think that people don’t expect them to behave this way. We’re not as surprised when a guy, you know, defrauds people for millions and millions of dollars. We’re not as surprised,” she laughed.
Seyfried, of course is primarily a film actress but drifting into television was a no brainer when you get scripts like The Dropout. “I go where the good roles are. I mean, things have shifted so much in how we digest things. And you know I think just as someone who watches a lot of content I do lean towards the episodics more these days, it seems like everybody’s kind of going for what moves them. And as an audience member I want to invest eight hours into somebody’s story because you get so much more out of it, and it seems like everybody seems to feel that way, so there’s just more TV than there are movies being made,” she said.
“I never did see myself doing episodics until this whole limited series niche. This limited series category came about because there is the same amount of commitment as a movie is without having to sign away seven years of your life, which is how TV used to work. And it is more interesting, especially for an actor, because you have so much more to do, so much more to learn about your character. There’s so much more of an arc and that’s served me well. It was definitely the most, the most fulfilling experience playing Elizabeth over the course of four months.”
As for going to her first Emmy ceremony as a nominee?
“Listen, I’m nervous about it. I wasn’t nervous at the Oscars, because I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to win it. It was just about the nomination. Getting the nomination was, like, a massive deal for me, but this I feel like I’m closer. But you know the people I’m up against are heavy hitters… I think I just have to let go and just have fun because there are so many things that the whole show is nominated for. So, another great part of going to the Emmys is that I’m going to see a lot of people. It’s “post-pandemic.” I’m saying that in quotes, of course,” she laughed. “But its post-pandemic and I think I’m going to be able to socialize with a lot of the people that I had so much fun making this show with. I’m going to bring my husband (actor Thomas Sadoski). He has another premiere (Sony’s Devotion) that night at the Toronto Film Festival and he’s skipping it to come with me because I said if I win, and you’re not there, then that would be a major bummer.”