Watching Judith Light in Manhunt: Deadly Games and The Politician back-to-back is a very surreal experience. Light can do it all and leave you wanting more, and she does that with both of her performances as Bobi Jewell and Dede Standish. It points to Light’s unbridled versatility and strength as a performer that we can feel her heartfelt, respectful pain for one character and then she makes us laugh and root for her as another.
The story of the media’s thirst for Richard Jewell resonates very deeply in a time when the media is questioned and assaulted. Cameron Britton gives such a nuanced portrayal of a man who only wanted to do the right thing, but Light’s turn as his mother will rip your heart out. As reporters and the national news media descend on the Jewell home, Bobi feels trapped with nowhere to go. Her emotions can only bounce off the walls of her own apartment and they sometimes take aim at her son, but Light shows us Bobi’s ache with such layered, respectful intensity.
Ryan Murphy’s The Politician is a candy-coated political satire (my god, those outfits) that pointedly examines how age plays into perception and campaigning. What is so freeing about season two is Light’s Dede Standish confronts the stigma of a woman being proud and open about her sexuality. I want her Dede and Bette Midler’s Hadassah Gold to run the world.
Awards Daily: How did you want to show Bobi Jewell’s connection with her faith? We see her in church a few times and there are some things in her home that suggest that she’s a devout person.
Judith Light: I think that gave her great solace. I never spoke to Bobi so I can’t speak for her, however I will say that it was painful for her. It was what she could rely on and I think she began to question what was happening in her life. Maybe, and this is me speaking for someone I don’t know, God was really there for her and for Richard, in a way. But I don’t think she ever lost her faith. I think she questioned it.
AD: I’m not a religious person myself but I imagine that is something that she would turn to.
JL: For some people, it’s very public and some people it’s very private. Also, for some people it’s their religion and for some it’s spirituality. Human beings rely on whatever can, in whatever moments, in joy and stress can give them comfort. For some, it’s their faith and their religion, and I think we are seeing a lot of that in country right now with everything that’s going on.
JL: We need something that brings us together. There is a wonderful book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and what I’ve seen is that human beings need meaning in their lives. Whatever you feel you have suffered or you are suffering, you can find meaning in that. He was put in a concentration camp and his family was killed. He had to find a way through all of that and he was very conscious of people who brought into the camp in terms of how they would survive while they were there. Right now, I think that’s what people are looking for. How can we be uplifted by the knowledge of what we can see and learn.
AD: You have a powerful moment when the police are done searching Bobi’s home. She steps into her bedroom and doesn’t allow Richard in and then she gently picks up an overturned picture and puts her jewelry back in its box. Talk to me about that private moment because it definitely sticks out even though it’s early on in the season.
JL: Thank you so much for noticing that and being so careful in your noticing. The scripts are so good and the directors are so good. The director on that one was Michael Dinner who was also producing the series. The importance of the dynamics of that is that there were so many high emotions surrounding this that it needed that moment of real sorrow. It also is the counterpoint and dichotomy of the inside world and the outside world and how tenderly and painstakingly she was relating to what was happening. It’s the darkness that makes the light shine. You see the light and shadow and that’s what that moment is. You can see what happened to their lives were torn apart, and to this day, people think Richard Jewell was the Atlanta bomber.
AD: I continually kept thinking of that moment when we see other interactions between Bobi and Richard. In their scenes together, she expresses a lot of fear and anger and frustration. She can’t her life from being invaded like this. You tell him towards the end of the series, ‘There will always be people who think that it’s you’ and that is so unbelievably sad when you have all this evidence that he didn’t do it. It really speaks to the times now when people question reality.
AD: As you let go of Bobi, how much do think about her?
JL: I can’t imagine that as a mother who clearly loved her son how she coped with it. He was very much her lifeline and her support, I can’t imagine that this doesn’t still haunt her. He died at the age of 44 of diabetes, but I always felt that he died of a broken heart. He so wanted to be the savior for his mom and the support for her. He had the fantasy that a lot of people have of being the person who runs into the burning building. To get a witness to who they are in life. He did that, in fact. People didn’t believe him. The pain of that…I can’t imagine how that doesn’t live in her to some level.
AD: I love you and Cameron Britton in this, and the chemistry between you is really fantastic.
JL: He’s really glorious to work with. The intimacy and connection happened immediately.
AD: Oh yeah?
JL: Yeah. At the table read, there was a moment where I had been crying and he got up and got me a tissue and he said, ‘Here you go, mama.’ He was in that place immediately and it brought me to that place immediately. I would go anywhere to work with again.
AD: My husband and I watched the second season of The Politician in about a day.
JL: Oh my gosh!
AD: I love how serious and ridiculous it is by giving us real issues but skewering it with these bonkers characters. In addition to you working with Cameron again, I need you to work with Bette Midler for the rest of your life.
JL: I need that too.
AD: You’re really sexy in this season. You’re so free in your private moments with your partners.
JL: It was divine. When Ryan Murphy told me what it was going to be and I told him that I was in. It’s interesting that you bring this up, because I remember early on in–this was before you were born, my darling–when I was speaking on HIV and AIDS or LGBTQIA issues or views that people have against your community, I remember that your community teaches the rest of the world about how we are sexual beings. And the glory of that and the joy of that and the awareness of that. The way that Ryan creates characters and with Brad Falchuk and the rest of the team, there is this kind of ‘have at it, honey.’ Be in that space of a mature woman and her sexuality and have a great time with it. There is a lot of permission on that end, and I know it’s important for people to see that. For viewers to know that it’s okay. You can be in a throuple if you want and have an experience for yourself and your sexuality that is fluid and liquid. That’s what they wrote and we got to show. When you do scenes like that, you have to be very careful with everyone’s priorities. We all made sure that everyone felt safe and cared for. Ryan has said that women of a certain age and their sexuality is something that he wanted to show people. I bow to him in gratitude in his awareness of that.
AD: I’ve always admired how Ryan wants to bring depth to women who aren’t, you know, in their twenties.
AD: You bring such a joy to Dede in the second season. It’s really refreshing to see how unapologetic she is about it and how she gets over the potential stigma that other people might have about her and her relationship.
JL: Don’t you feel that freedom to say, ‘This is who I am’ as a gay person.
AD: Oh yeah.
JL: You can say, ‘Oh, no, you may think I am this but I am not. I am actually married to a man. So deal with it.’ That is what it sounds like you are responding. I know other people have responded to that as well. I am going to be myself and if you don’t like it, you deal with it. Go away. That’s the personification of Dede Standish. And remember…she has another friend who is also sexually free and is having a good time as in Bette’s character. That kind of humor and comedy and joy is also very prominent and as women friends, they bring that joy to their relationship. You’ve got it all around. You’ve got two women saying that this is who they are. Everybody longs for that and everyone wants to be loved for exactly who they are.
Manhunt: Deadly Games and both seasons of The Politician are streaming on Netflix.