A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
The collision of awards season(s) is about to happen. Just as we get ready to head out to Venice/Telluride/Toronto and the beginning of Oscar season, the Emmy campaigns are on their final sprint.
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As the Television Academy reminds its 20,000-ish voters on almost a daily basis, there are only a few precious days left to cast a final ballot for the 75th Emmy Awards. They do not want people to procrastinate like yours truly, who just hasn’t gotten around to it yet (but I will this weekend). All ballots must be in by 10 pm PT on Monday. Certainly you have to live under a rock not to notice all the visible signs of the campaign around town, particularly with all those FYC ads and more Emmy nominee billboards than I can ever remember.
In any normal year, this would all be perfectly timed momentum to the September Emmy shows originally planned for September 9 and 10 for Creative Arts and September 18 for the Primetime Emmys. But even before we could cast our votes, the Academy and this year’s broadcast partner Fox moved the 2023 show to January 15, 2024, which also happens to be the Martin Luther King Day holiday, following the Critics Choice Awards on The CW on January 14 and the Golden Globes January 7 on whatever TV deal they can wrangle for that (which also will compete with the Creative Arts Emmys that weekend).
Here’s the rub: After this Monday night, no one is going to be talking about the Emmys anymore, and the aforementioned momentum will be zilch as we have to wait a very long 4½ months to find out who won. Instead, we will be well into the Oscar season and just a week away from hearing who is nominated for Academy Awards just as the 75th TV winners are announced. Will anyone care? Did anyone take time out from picketing to cast a vote in the first place? My suggestion to Fox and the TV Academy is to downplay the actual winner segments on the show and turn the 75th into a full-blown celebration of the medium, one not relying on the opening of a lot of envelopes but rather a dazzling, star-studded review of the way we were, the way we are and the way we are going. I, for one, happily would take a night off from worrying about the Oscar fates of Barbenheimer for that ceremony.
Of course, all of this is contingent on there actually being an end to the SAG and WGA strikes, which seem to be dragging along with no end in sight. If — God help us — they are still on then, the TV Academy brass would have to throw up their hands and call it a day, though there is precedent for proceeding during an actors strike. In 1980, the last time SAG went on strike, there wasn’t a corresponding writers strike. Nevertheless, the Academy infamously went ahead with the big show on September 7 that year in a deadly ceremony at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium hosted by Steve Allen and Dick Clark (AFTRA was not connected to SAG at that point, but both hosts were indeed SAG members due to their movie work). Nearly all the presenters and 51 of the 52 nominated actors and performers boycotted, except one. That was Powers Boothe, who had his first — and, as it turned out — only Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Movie or Limited Series for Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.
His heavyweight competition was from true legends Henry Fonda, Tony Curtis and Jason Robards, so this brand-new actor getting his first break probably thought he had no chance but to attend Considering all he went through in making the show in the first place, he wanted to be there and didn’t believe the guild would mind. In fact, according to his wife, it was a game-time decision. He was at the Laurdromat earlier that day and came back having decided to go to Pasadena. Just his luck, he won and became the only actor to make it to the stage that night. “This is either the most courageous moment of my career or the stupidest,” he said. “I thought long and hard whether or not I would attend. But I came here because this is America, and one must do what one believes. I believe in the Academy. I also believe in my fellow actors in their stand.”
That lone act of courage — or craziness — could have ended a career in this day and age of instant cancellation (and can’t we just cancel cancellation for once and for all?), but it didn’t. Boothe worked steadily and successfully in movies like Southern Comfort, Red Dawn, Emerald Forest, Tombstone, Sin City and many more. He even landed two SAG nominations for Deadwood in 2007 and Nixon in 1996, albeit as part of their ensembles. He died in 2017. As for that infamous Emmy, it broke, but his wife took it to the TV Academy, which made it like new again.
HELEN MIRREN BECOMES OSCAR CONTENDER FOR ‘GOLDA’
Speaking of Emmy winners, the great Helen Mirren has four of them at home and another seven nominations. She was hoping for a 12th nomination this year for her sterling work in 1923, but it seems the Academy voters just want to sadly snub anyone and everyone connected with a Taylor Sheridan series. Nevertheless, when I recently interviewed her for an episode of my Deadline video series, The Actor’s Side (before the SAG strike — no Powers Boothe problems here, folks), I also asked her about her new film Golda, in which she brilliantly plays the first and only female Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir.
Before cameras even rolled on it, however, the internet piled on by criticizing the casting of a non-Jewish actor in the role. She is simply superb, as you can see for yourself in the film that opens in theaters today. Mirren could not have been more gracious when I asked about the early controversy on the web. “Golda was so archetypal,” Mirren said. “I can understand people saying ‘should this really happen?’ It’s a legitimate discussion of Golda,” Mirren told me of the iconic woman who was actually Russian born and grew up in Wisconsin. Both Meir and Mirren actually have Russian roots. As for being bothered about internet chatter on taking on any role, Mirren was not fazed. “We can turn a blind eye to that, which is what I do,” she said.
I recently showed the film for my KCET Cinema Series and asked my on stage guest, its Oscar winning director Guy Nattiv (Skin) about the casting. He said Mirren warned him. “‘Are you sure you want me and not an Israeli actress or a Jewish actress?’ I said ‘ You are more Jewish than a lot of Jewish people I know. You have the soul,” he told me. “For me she was the right person to do it, and after we got the blessing of Golda’s grandkids, her family, I was totally okay with it.” Nattiv himself was born in Tel Aviv.
Incidentally, none other than the very Swedish Ingrid Bergman won an Emmy for playing Meir in her final role in 1982’s A Woman Called Golda. A great actor in a great role should not be limited. If you ask me, I think Mirren should easily be considered for a Best Actress Oscar nomination this year in Golda. It is impossible to imagine five better female performances in 2023.
IF YOU CAN’T GET THE STARS FOR FYC EVENTS, JUST BOOK THEIR COSTUMES
And back to the Emmys this year and two Emmy nominees in the Limited Series category who also are playing real life icons. That would be Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon portraying country music legends Tammy Wynette and George Jones. These two stars are hardly country singers from Nashville, but, like Mirren in Golda, they prove all you have to really be is a great actor to pull it off. In an example of how difficult it has been to do FYC events in this Phase 2 of Emmy season, especially when you don’t have actors available due to the strike, Showtime brought out their costumes instead to a well-attended FYC event at Grandmaster Recording Studios in Hollywood. Costume designer Michael Travis mingled with about 175 voters this week, who got to see the flashy duds the pair wore.
During Phase 1 pre-nominations, I sat down with Chastain and Shannon, and in case you missed it, just below is that piece once again where I met them at Santa Monica’s Casa del Mar in June:
CHASTAIN AND SHANNON GO FOR THE GOLD — AND THE SEQUINS
Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain were in town this week to talk up the Showtime limited series in which they are both so brilliant as country superstars George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Both had come from New York City where Shannon’s first directorial effort, Eric Larue, had world premiered at the Tribeca Festival, and Chastain had just wrapped her Broadway run in A Doll’s House (when we sat down in a booth I told her she was robbed; Jodie Comer took the Tony for Lead Actress). Shannon basically said the same thing as he sat down with us.
Both Chastain and Shannon have been universally praised for George & Tammy, which Chastain has been attached to and developing for a decade just as she did for The Eyes of Tammy Faye which won her an Oscar. Shannon has been Oscar nominated twice but has not yet been nominated for an Emmy among his many individual awards. That is a fact not lost on Chastain when it comes to Shannon — she even took me out of his earshot to ask how she could get it out there that he has never, not once, been Emmy nominated, and her only wish is that this is the performance that gets him in contention. This would actually be a first Emmy nomination for either of them, but she is laser-focused on seeing him honored.
I had talked with Chastain in New York for an episode of my video series Behind the Lens, and there she raved about what Shannon does in this role that she had hoped would reunite the pair who first worked together in 2011’s Take Shelter. With highly dramatic scenes, both also did their own singing — no easy trick considering how well known the country stars were. Plus, they had to perform songs live in front of an audience. They both said they weren’t aiming to do impersonations, just getting to the essence of what made them so great. T Bone Burnett was among the famous musicians who offered guidance. All you need to do is see the show to see they indeed pulled this off.
Chastain said the one moment that terrified her was when they went to Nashville recently to appear on the Country Music Awards. She was nervous about going to the heart of the world of Jones and Wynette, but they were generously received with stars like Miranda Lambert telling them how great they were. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain in Showtime’s ‘George & Tammy’
Both have sung before (Chastain most recently as Tammy Faye Bakker), but this was in a whole other league. Shannon actually set out in school and later with musical pursuits, and even is in a band now having become an accomplished musician in his own right when he is not acting.
Chastain brought up technical aspects of singing in movies, saying she learned they sometimes blend voices with the originals and other tricks. That wasn’t the case in George & Tammy. Both did all their own singing, no net required. In that regard, we talked about the scary ways AI can be used now, musically and otherwise, and Chastain sees it as a significant threat to her profession if used incorrectly. Of course, that is one of the key contract points the current SAG-AFTRA contract negotiations are taking on.
“That is why I like being on the stage, doing theatre. You can’t use AI,” she told me, with Shannon agreeing theatre is the purest form of acting. He won a Drama Desk Award for Long Day’s Journey Into Night in 2016 and most recently was on Broadway in 2019 in Frankie & Johnnie in the Clair de Lune. Both told me they are cooking up their next outing, which they plan to do together on Broadway.
Emmy voting ends Monday — get busy!
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