I will admit that I yelled when I saw Mira Sorvino walk on screen in Ryan Murphy’s limited series, Hollywood. Sorvino plays Jeanne Crandall, an Ace Studios contract player who hasn’t quite broken out in the way that she deserves. There are some slight parallels to Crandall and Sorvino’s stories in Hollywood, but Murphy knows exactly how to give an actress her due. Sorvino reminds us of her true comic gifts and delivers an unexpectedly emotional performance as a woman who is finally given the opportunity she deserves.
In films like Mighty Aphrodite and Norma Jean & Marilyn, Sorvino showcased a sexy, comedic edge that we haven’t seen from her since the late ’90s. She can do more with a sly smile and eyebrow raise than most young actors can’t replicate, but what happens to a performer when a studio doesn’t know what to do with you?
In a beautiful scene with Holland Taylor and Patti LuPone, Jeanne is given an opportunity to play a part that she always dreamed of. On the surface, it might seem like a simple lunch scene, but the way Sorvino’s face lights up with grateful tears is a thing you can’t expect to find in a lavish Hollywood film. When people are supported by others who recognize true talent, they can truly soar. You can almost hear Sorvino’s heart grow, and we need a sequel season so we can see Jeanne win her own Oscar.
Awards Daily: I read that you kind of based Jeanne Crandall a little on Lana Turner?
Mira Sorvino: Yes.
AD: What did you want to take from her to create this character?
MS: When they originally offered the role to me, they said she was a Lana Turner type but not her exactly. I wasn’t sure if the storyline was going to follow her trajectory. Before I read it, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be her or just someone like her. Lana Turner is the ultimate Hollywood battleship that couldn’t be sunk. As I read more and more about her, she was not only a survivor but a vanquisher. I felt like she turned scandal to her benefit. Jeanne is a much softer person. She’s managed to hang on and do fine, but she’s not winning at every turn. She doesn’t have that sort of killer-diller, self-wanting personality that would allow her to use and abuse people to get to the top.
MS: She’s in a consensual relationship but it has a strong imbalance of power. She’s trapped in it. You see that when she visits Patti LuPone’s Avis that Jeanne has true remorse and she’s willing to face the music even if that means getting let go from the studio and fading into television land. Instead she is given generosity from Avis and Holland Taylor’s character. I say she has a Lana Turner vibe in the way she talks with her Mid-Atlantic accent and her physicality with how she slides into a room and having that posture and that presence. But she’s really not all that. She’s not an imperious, amazing star like Lana.
AD: You mention that scene where Jeanne goes to confess to Avis; I really appreciated the honesty of that scene. Jeanne didn’t have to do that.
MS: Yeah. She’s ultimately a good egg. She may have been living a life that wasn’t right, and then she says, “Well, he told me it was all right because you were having an affair with that guy from the gas station.” (Laughs) There’s something endearing about being a little daft, but she’s not stupid. She just sometimes says dumb things and tries to grab the spotlight a little bit like when she has that ridiculous screen test with Rock Hudson. She’s supposed to be there as a reader but Jeanne sees it as a opportunity to strut her stuff. There’s a lot of empathy towards Rock.
AD: She really goes for it in that scene. (Laughs)
MS: (Laughs) Jeanne is sort of on camera or her voice is, and she sees it as an opportunity. The pantomiming of the Hollywood sign wasn’t in the script. I just started having these impulses and Janet Mock was very kind and said to keep doing what I was doing since they were cracking up by the monitor.
AD: The first time we see Jeanne she is shooting a film and Camille walks into the scene. That’s another nod to how men have all the power, too. Jeanne’s character is appealing to this table of men and the title of the film doesn’t have your name.
MS: Yes, you’re right. Mr. Cooper’s Widow.
AD: In that scene, Jeanne is very watchful of Camille’s interactions with the director. I was wondering if she was keeping an eye out for another young woman?
MS: I think so. I think she’s also aware of the inherent racism of the director and she knows it’s Camille’s big break. Jeanne has a lot of feelings for other people even if she can be flighty and self-centered. She really is a kind person. She sees the director going over to her and instructing Camille to perform in a more caricatural, racist, stereotypical way. Jeanne feels badly for her. When she passes her backstage, she gives her that encouragement—that “Nice encouragement” comment is very loaded. She was saying, “I know what you had to do…it sucks…hang in there.” We see the next time that she does a scene from Mr. Cooper’s Widow, Jeanne verbally sticks up for Camille and she tells the director, “Oh, I think the way she delivered the line is so much better”—a way that’s a thinking person reacting to what’s happening in the room. But the director screams at her for it. In the extended version of that scene, there were several takes where I threw a dinner roll at him or I called him a disgusting, little man.
MS: Yes, there were several little tags that didn’t make it into the show.
AD: I would love to see Jeanne throwing food at a horrible, racist man.
MS: Yeah. (Laughs)
AD: I love the scene with Holland and Patti. I love that Hollywood doesn’t pit women against either. You have that sweet line, “I am so moved that you would do such a thing for me. That you would see me and see what I might be able to do.” Talk to me about that scene.
MS: That’s my favorite scene of mine. I have favorites of other people, too, but for my character’s arc, I loved to play that. It was truly beautiful and moving. She comes into the meeting hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. As soon as they say that she’s not right for the part, it starts to circle down the drain for her. She feels like they are finally going to let her go.
AD: She even stands up because she thinks they are going to dismiss her.
MS: Yes. She says, “What will you have me do, Avis? Kill myself?” It comes to her mind, because it’s right there. Jeanne is the kind of person where she feels like she’s at the end of her rope, and she’s unfettered at this moment. She knows she brought it on herself with the affair, but when they tell her that they have a real character piece for her, she is so stunned that anyone would offer her anything other than an out-of-date blonde. It moves her to tears that people can be so generous and kind. They are creating an opportunity for her—it’s not something they could cast her in cheaply. I found it all heartbreaking and beautiful.
AD: I think Patti tells Jeanne that she’s a great actress. I was wondering how long it has been since Jeanne has heard that or anyone was encouraging to Jeanne in that way. Jeanne seems almost surprised that anyone would recognize her talent that way.
MS: I think that’s absolutely how she feels. She was put in these staples that the studio could make cheaply, films like Mr. Cooper’s Widow. There were many, many innocuous B-movies that don’t make it on Turner Classic Movies. (Laughs) There were some things that weren’t high-quality. That’s been what she’s been surviving on and she’s grateful for them, but the idea that she could be catapulted into a piece that is so high-quality and have real eyes on it and really move people is everything. We all want to make contributions to the general understanding of the human spirit. We want to move people with our art. We want to make people laugh. We want to be in something that can mean something to people. Mr. Cooper’s Widow isn’t anything more than a diversion to pass the time. By giving her that, it’s like her whole commitment to her craft, it’s like her life choices have been validated. I think the whole project, in a way, is a microcosm view of saying look how good this art and this industry can be. Look what we can do when we decide to do the brave and right thing instead of the expedient thing.
MS: If Hollywood filmmakers and studio heads had ignored The Hays Code, which was so racist and diminutive of anything other than cis, white behavior, the world could’ve been a different place for an entire century. If we let people represent themselves in their stories and show different walks of life as being as equally valid and poignant and empathy-worthy, we might not be where we are in the world right now. We could’ve influenced hearts and minds to be more open and kinder and empathic from the ‘40s onward. The changes we see in Hollywood right now in terms of representation are still so low. If changes were made then, imagine where the world would be. Maybe it could be a different world. Everyone watches entertainment. Everyone is influenced by it and they model themselves after the aspirations of characters. Wouldn’t it been great to see a movie like Meg that had featured a young black woman?
AD: You are now part of the Ryan Murphy-verse. If you could join any of his other existing projects, which would you want to be on? I would love to see you on American Horror Story.
MS: American Horror Story would be really cool. I know he’s doing something about the Clinton impeachment which sounds great. I don’t know what’s happening with everything now, though. I am so in awe of his diversity of the projects he’s already made. He really jumps to different things every time. If you look at Versace vs Hollywood or American Horror Story vs Feud, they all have different things. I mean, Pose—my God! I’d love to be on Pose. But, you know what’s interesting?
MS: Hollywood is so positive. Of what I’ve seen this is his most idealist and unironic and not sardonic and sarcastic. There’s no nasty edge to it whatsoever—it’s very pure. I think some critics were unduly harsh on it, but audiences loved it. People expect darkness right now. They think something edgy and dark is going to be best. It pushed the envelope in terms of the subject matter and what it was willing to show, but it had a spirit of joyful love to it. That impresses me. People aren’t brave to do that in a way, because it’s out of fashion. Why can’t we do something with an earned happy ending? This is a happy ending because everyone made the honest, hard, right, brave choice. Everyone who ends up happy did things right at every time. I just think it’s really cool.
Hollywood is streaming now on Netflix.