Patti LuPone is no stranger to expressing herself, and we need that honesty now more than ever. The two-time Tony Award winning actress spoke with Awards Daily about her role in the new Netflix series Hollywood where she plays Avis, the heir to the studio who isn’t afraid to shake things up and greenlight stories centering minorities in front of and behind the camera – something Hollywood is still afraid to do 70 years later.
In our conversation with the Broadway legend, she makes clear parallels between the world of her new period drama and the state of our current entertainment industry. It’s an American system she sees as more obsessed with numbers and data that drive endlessly bland Bond reboots and Batman remakes instead of trusting the audience and putting the story first.
The role has become one of Patti LuPone’s most high-profile television performances in years and marks a new era of collaborations between her and executive producer Ryan Murphy. LuPone goes into detail on why she keeps coming back to work with the super producer and if she thinks they will continue to work together in the future.
Awards Daily: You have worked with Ryan Murphy multiple times over the past year, first with Pose and now with Hollywood. What keeps you coming back?
Patti LuPone: Because he asks me. When someone offers me a role I’m not likely to turn it down, but when Ryan offers me a role, I know I’m going to have a very interesting experience with whatever it is. I am so glad I said yes to this.
AD: Was there anything about Avis Amberg that particularly attracted you to the role?
PLP: Initially he said the role was very loosely based on Irene Selznick who was Louis B. Mayer’s daughter and married to David O. Selznick. So, this was a woman who was at the forefront of the very beginning of Hollywood. When Ryan first pitched Avis to me, her trajectory in the film just seemed incredible. He described her as a woman married to the studio head, inherits the studio, and only makes movies for gays, minorities, and women. I knew it was a fantastic part. Ryan consistently throws the spotlight on underrepresented minorities, and I love that about him.
AD: What was the research process like? Are you a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood?
PLP: I read Irene Selznick’s autobiography A Private View. It’s an extraordinary book. Her time in Boston and New York are OK, but then she gets to Hollywood and her life becomes exciting.
It’s a dream come true because I don’t know anyone who grew up when I grew up in the 50s and 60s who didn’t dream of being a movie star. We would go to the movie theater every Saturday night for a dollar to see all of the latest films that had been released. You’re staring up at that screen and dreaming. I knew I wanted to be a movie star at 12 years old. I remember seeing Swiss Family Robinson and falling in love with Tommy Kirk. I marched out of that movie theater determined to go to Hollywood and be his leading lady. It’s that crazy dream.
Shooting it was even more mind blowing. We shot it at the Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood, a series about Hollywood, and every time I walked to my trailer all I had to do was turn to my left and there was the Hollywood sign. My head absolutely exploded.
AD: Like you mentioned Avis is an extraordinary character because she’s the only studio head in this pivotal time green-lighting stories made by and for marginalized people. In many different ways Hollywood calls out this industry and those in power within it who refuse to take any risks out of fear that they will lose money. I’m curious if you think the industry has made any progress over the past couple years and if there is anyone right now like Avis?
PLP: I don’t think the industry has taken enough strides. I think more risks are taken in Europe than in America. Here, the people in charge seem to be led by statistics instead of by story. I’ve said this and I will say it about any art form: the people that are in the power to greenlight anything are second guessing and underestimating the audiences. We can take it and we need these stories. I’m an audience member, and I can take something that is not a Marvel cartoon. It’s really time for them to listen to artists and throw the ideas out there the way they used to. Let the audiences be educated and in turn they will educate the artists.
AD: There has been a lot of focus on the revisionist tales of Hollywood but one aspect that I think has gone under-appreciated is the way in which the female characters are allowed to interact and build each other up. Throughout Hollywood history women, especially stars, were pitted against each other in really competitive and sexist ways. Hollywood really subverts that especially with your character and her interactions with Mira Sorvino’s character Jeanne Crandall. I’m curious if that something that stood out to you and drew you to the material even more?
PLP: I think having these characters build each other up was a really positive way to go and god bless the writers for taking it in that direction. Avis says to her ‘I can’t be mad at you for having an affair with my husband because I would be a hypocrite.’ I think she really understands the predicament she is in and grows from it.
AD: Was there a scene or moment in particular that you had the most fun shooting?
PLP: It’s on the cutting room floor! I had an aria, a monologue over Rob Reiner’s comatose body. It’s on the cutting room floor and it broke my heart. It was about how I needed him, how I was put in this position because of him, how this was the biggest challenge of my life, and how he’s not there for me now, and how much I loved him.
AD: While discussing the themes of Hollywood, Ryan Murphy has referenced the scene with Eleanor Roosevelt where the First Lady essentially argues that when we’ve lost faith in the government society looks for leadership in other ways, especially in art and storytelling. We’re currently going through extremely unprecedented times politically, and I’m curious as to what role and influence you think movies and storytelling have on society in times like these?
PLP: This is a time for us to mirror society, to up what is going on. I do not know where we are at as a country, as a people in this country, anymore. I just don’t know. We are so divided that now Hollywood is looked at as the left wing of politics and if you are right wing does that mean you simply won’t go to the movies? I don’t know anymore.
There is so much untruth out there, and there is so much conflicting information. Storytelling is incredibly valuable, and we should be creating stories that reflect these times. But would it have an audience? I know that people are reacting to Hollywood because it is a form of escapism, so if it can make people happy and make them think then it has done its job.
AD: It doesn’t seem like we will have live performances for quite a while, at least in the ways that we are accustomed to. In the meantime, do you think you’ll do more television and film?
PLP: I am really hoping to work with Ryan Murphy, even a second season. I am hopeful that Hollywood figures out how to get back to work soon because the stage is completely different. I have no idea when live performances will come back safely or even when people will want to go back into an environment like that. But I know that Hollywood as an industry has been very proactive at finding ways to get back to work and I hope that means Ryan and I will be working together shortly.
AD: Do you think this will change the live theatrical experience in the long run?
PLP: I don’t think art will change. But in my particular case, the stage in New York, what has to change is that they have to clean the theatre. More to the point they have to clean New York: the subway system, the busses, the streets. With theatres they always make the house pristine and never clean backstage. I get sick every time I enter a new theater. For everyone’s sake and health they need to start cleaning. This is the time that they can repair our city.