Holland received an Emmy Award for her performance in David E. Kelley’s The Practice in 1999. Since then, she’s amassed six additional nominations for another season of The Practice as well as her comedic performances in AMC’s The Lot and CBS’s Two and a Half Men. This year, she returns to the Emmy conversation for her acclaimed performance in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, a plum role he specifically created for her.
“It is a plum role, isn’t it? He said, ‘I’m writing something for you,’ but that’s not the first time I’ve heard that, but I was actually inclined to believe it from Ryan,” Taylor shared. “He stressed that she’s got moxie, and that lured me in. She has a quality of standing up for things, of being forthright, of being spirited. It also implies a kind of humor. The role was all that and much, much more.”
The role Murphy created for Taylor was that of Ellen Kincaid, a studio executive known for mentoring aspiring actors at Hollywood‘s fictional Ace Studios. Taylor’s journey through the limited series as Ellen Kincaid allows her to explore women in power as well as the loneliness of being single at a certain age. Taylor proclaims the role as one of the best she’s ever had. Certainly, it’s one of the best performances she’s ever given.
Hollywoodoffers a revisionist history of post-World War II filmmaking in Hollywood. In Murphy’s world, minority voices are given authority over their own destiny. Asian American actors are able to accurately portray characters of that ethnicity. Black Americans hold starring roles. Gay actors are allowed to have public love affairs and not suffer for it creatively and financially. This revisionist streak within the series wasn’t something originally planned for Hollywood. That turn evolved as the show matured through the creative process.
But the evolving nature of the series did not phase Taylor as an actress. She’d been very familiar with Murphy and the care he puts into working with actors through long-time partner Sarah Paulson. In fact, Murphy even changed a portion of the Hollywood script to address a concern of Taylor’s midstream.
“With me, he actually went beyond what I would have expected. There was something that came down in a script that I had a pretty strong feeling that I didn’t want to do,” Taylor recalls. “I puzzled over it a while because it was important emotionally to me. I wrote Ryan about it, and practically within the same minute, he emailed me back to tell me that he totally understood, he knew how to fix it, and he wanted to make me comfortable. It was just amazing to have your boss not only be willing to alter something on your before but be glad to do so. To want to do so.”
Taylor’s greatest moment in the series comes in Episode 5 as she makes a perfectly decent proposal to co-star Joe Mantello’s Dick Samuels, a closeted studio executive. Both characters love each other and are of a certain age. Tired of loneliness, Kincaid approaches him with an offer of love and partnership which Samuels cannot accept. It’s not who he is. The moment is brief, but it’s a master class of subtle acting, a wistful moment of longing, suppressed truths, and unbearable loneliness.
The pivotal scene caused some apprehension between Taylor and Mantello. They weren’t convinced that the script fully hit the right beats, so they worked through it together to identify the right ways to play it. Both actors intended to work through it together and find ways to highlight the emotional turns of the scene, but filming time ran out. Mantello’s instincts honed in his other career as an important theater director ultimately lead them through the scene.
“He said we know what the moves are. We know where we’re going. We know where the signposts tell us to turn. We’ll be fine. So, I did trust him, and we walked into the scene and simply started playing it,” Holland explained. “While it was emotionally costly, it was an effortless scene to shoot. We knew who we were, we knew where we were going, and we knew the gates we had to open to get through to that point. It was a very moving scene, I have to say.”
A very moving scene that includes a masterpiece of finely tuned acting from Taylor.
Given Hollywood‘s overall theme of righting the wrongs of the past, would Holland Taylor choose to do the same in her life? The answer would surprise you.
“Given my age, there’s an awful lot to look back and regret. But looking back is something I don’t indulge much in because, as I learned from exposure to Ann Richards’ life, looking back is not always useful. The main thing to do is look to today and how you act in the moment.”