THE PLAY’S THE THING: Renowned playwright Josefina Lopez has been fielding inquiries about her Trio Los Machos comedic play with music that’s been winning kudos in its premiere engagement at East L.A.’s Casa 0101 Theater.
Susan Sarandon has been going from project to project to project over the last year or so, and says she was on the verge of taking a little work break when “The Big C” came her way. “I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to do it until I read it, and knew what was going to happen at the end. That convinced me,” she tells us.
Sundays on the Showtime dark comedy, Sarandon’s self-help guru – Joy, the self-named and titled Joyologist — is a cancer survivor who leads others in finding their paths to true happiness via lectures, retreats, the gamut. Laura Linney’s and Oliver Platt’s characters fall under her charismatic spell.
“The only thing I was concerned about was making sure she was treated sincerely, you know?” notes the revered Oscar-winning actress. “I was trying to not be a caricature of those people that are in that business. And I think she really believes it, and you know, I felt she should actually help people even though other things happen later that maybe make you think of her in a different way. At least you start off, I think, believing she’s really sincere and has turned her cancer experience into something that is really positive, and that’s great.”
Speaking of positive, that’s the word she uses frequently to describe Linney – “just relentlessly positive and a total pro, of course, with a very welcome sense of humor. Laura’s very special, she has a light and she’s trying to do something unique and funny and at the same time, a little dark.” Working on the show, she notes, “is a good excuse for us to stay in touch. You know, we kept running into each other. I’ve known her for years. But now I feel like I’m part of the family, and you take advantage of that as much as possible.”
Sarandon’s current string of films ranges from “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” now in release, to the upcoming “Arbitrage” with Richard Gere and Tim Roth, “The Company You Keep” with Robert Redford and Julie Christie, “Robot and Frank” with Frank Langella and Liv Tyler, and the sci-fi flick “Cloud Atlas,” in which she cross-dresses to play a man. However, the honesty-loving star is quick to point out that they are not large roles.
“I keep saying that they’re all — you need to put them all together and maybe you have two real films to my credit,” Sarandon says. “But I don’t mind going in almost like a temp and dealing with a certain problem that needs to be solved. And if the characters are fun and the company is inspiring, and they’re trying to do something different, I’m very happy to jump in for the ride.”
It’s hectic time for comic Gary Owen, who’s been doing “Think Like a Man” movie promotion in-between dates as one of the headliners on the Shaquille O’Neal “All-Star Comedy Jam” tour — of which Gary is the newly-named host. In fact, when the fourth CD of the “Shaq Tour,” as he calls it, is released toward the beginning of Fall, it’ll have Gary as emcee. But first, there’s his “True Story” Showtime comedy special coming up this Spring.
The blond-haired, blue-eyed funnyman, who gets lots of comedy mileage out of racial mingling, tells us he has yet to encounter an audience that’s taken his jokes the wrong way. “Sometimes I’m talking about race, but I’m not. It’s not so much a racial thing, it’s a culture thing,” he says. And he certainly knows of what he speaks. “I’m talking about my kid. The visual is in the audiences’ head: black woman, mixed kid. I only have to bring it up one time.”
Actually, Gary and his wife have two kids, 11 and nine, a daughter and son. “It’s hard to be away from them so much of the time,” he says. “That’s the only negative part of all this. When they’re in the middle of their school year, you know, you can’t interrupt them. At least in the summer you have more flexibility.”
He took time away from touring to act in the Friday (4/20)-opening “Think Like a Man” comedy based on Steve Harvey’s book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. “The movie’s so good. The book is a woman’s guide to how a man thinks. What the movie’s about is how men would react if they found out their women got the book. I love that it’s not a male-bashing movie or a woman-bashing movie. Nobody’s dying. There’s not an abusive husband. Everyone’s shown in a positive light, as people really are, not playing into stereotypes.” The ensemble cast also includes Jenifer Lewis, Chris Brown, Taraji P. Henson, Gabrielle Union, Michael Ealy, Kevin Hart and Regina Hall.
Edie Falco’s acclaimed “Nurse Jackie” returns to the Showtime lineup Sunday (4/8), while in real life, the actress is weighing whether to take on another role — or focus on her role as a mom during her hiatus this year. “I’m looking at a whole bunch of stuff. I’m sort of excited by the potential of some things coming up,” she tells us. On the other hand, “It might not be the worst thing for me to take some time off. It would actually be nice to be home for the kids and do some things.”
Her kids — adopted son and daughter Anderson and Macy — are now eight and four years old, respectively. Edie has found that balancing work and motherhood, now that they’re a little older, “Is actually easier. They come with me a lot. They seem to enjoy themselves. They run up and down the halls of the studio where I work. They know the people, play with the guys. And when they don’t come with me, they understand when I say, ‘I’m going to be late tonight.’ I can actually sort of explain myself, and talk about it when they feel disappointed.”
Contrary to her real-life happy home, things are anything but healthy, smooth or fun for her pill-popping Nurse Jackie Peyton. The beginning of the new season will find her “still fumbling around to find out exactly what her bottom is — what her last straw will be,” as Edie puts it. As for Jackie’s work mates and loved ones, “Everybody’s tolerance for the insanity of addiction is different.” Expect some big changes for Jackie this season.
How much longer can Edie Falco’s “Nurse Jackie” remain on the road to ruin without arriving? For three entertaining seasons now, viewers have seen Jackie’s pill addiction leading her into more and more lies and worse and worse problems, personally and professionally. So, with Season 4 of the Showtime series ready to be unveiled April 8, one wonders, how much longer can she keep going?
“Everybody’s tolerance for the insanity of addiction is different,” points out the Emmy-winning star. “We’ll see her still fumbling around to find out exactly what her bottom is, what her last straw is.”
But if she rehabs or overdoses, the show is over, right?
Not at all, assures Falco, 20 years sober this year and a long-time proponent of 12-step programs. “I’m living proof of life after addiction,” she says. “Actually, for a lot of people, the real insanity of life is when they quit drugs. What they get to is what was underneath it all the time, and they have to deal with that without anesthetizing themselves.”
In the wake of Whitney Houston’s death, Falco is all the more mindful of how much she values her sobriety. “As I’ve spoken to a lot of other recovering people, I feel tremendous gratitude,” she tells us. “Why can some of us make it out of the quicksand, and others can’t? I don’t know. Like many people, I have some friends who still can’t quite pull themselves out.”
She’s talked before about the necessity of “getting out of your own way” to survive and thrive. What does that mean? How does a person get out of his or her own way?
“It involves a great deal of relaxation, a great deal of trust and faith,” she replies. “It’s not much more than a decision, really. You don’t have to have proof that it works, you have to decide ‘This will work.’ What needs to get done will get done. You will be given the impulses you will need to get through your life. And the muscles to do that get stronger and stronger the more you do it.”
For those who wish to catch up, Season 3 of “Nurse Jackie” is newly out on DVD.
Don Cheadle’s “House of Lies” has already been picked up for its second season, and costar Glynn Turman is quick to applaud Showtime for its support of the series that has Cheadle as a slick, smart, ruthless and debauched management consultant for greedy Wall Street giants.
“They’re so behind it, pumping and putting it out there,” he notes. This being Black History Month, Turman looks at “House of Lies” through the lens of race. In his opinion, “It’s not being treated like a ‘black show.’ If there is a show with a black lead, it’s not usually given the push that other shows are given. But with this show, the wheels that make things a success are really spinning.”
Turman has a permanent place in black cinema history, thanks to his role in the classic 1975 “Cooley High.” He’s observed changes in film and TV with regard to African Americans since then, and he’s observed slips backward. The day of the African American network comedy, for example, has pretty much gone away.
The bitingly satirical “House of Lies” — which is, in case you didn’t know, a very wild Showtime show full of sex, drugs and profanity — is in a category unto itself.
Turman, who plays Cheadle’s retired shrink dad, feels the show, “does a wonderful job in presenting Don and his family, me included, as human beings. The issues we see him struggling with have less to do with him being black than him being human. That’s one of the things that’s so refreshing about it. The color issue is so secondary to his relationships with his coworkers, his boss. His coworker is a beautiful young blond white girl,” he notes, referring to Kristen Bell. “His ex-wife (Dawn Olivieri) is a white woman….They’re not ignoring his color. When issues come up, they tackle the issues.”
Cheadle’s wily character is also not above playing the race card, if it’s to his advantage. As Turman notes, “This is a guy who says, ‘This can work for me. I can use this.’ I think that’s so timely.” Its occupation with Wall Street “hits right on the sore spot of the country. I think everybody’s still in shock after seeing it,” Turman adds with a laugh. “People are saying, ‘Can they do that?’”
Talk about switching gears! Camilla Luddington has gone from portraying the future Queen of England, Kate Middleton — to being the latest fair damsel to bare all on David Duchovny’s racy Showtime “Californication.”
“It was the first time I’d ever done nudity,” says the Ascot, Berkshire-born actress, who did a smashing job as Kate in Lifetime’s surprisingly not-terrible “William & Kate” Lifetime movie last year. “Of course it’s written into the contract that I signed that I’m okay to do it. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll be the one character, like a nun, who doesn’t sleep with anyone all season. Of course that doesn’t happen. I was so naive. But it turned out I was surprisingly comfortable with it. At the end of the day, you just kind of have to let go of all your inhibitions and all your hang-ups and be free with it and have fun with it,” she says.
Besides, “Everyone on the set has seen it a thousand times.”
Luddington also credits Duchovny, who told her, ‘Anything you’re uncomfortable with, call me or the director and we’ll work around it.’ A camera angle, a shot, anything whatever.”
The 28-year-old is equally adept at British or American accents, but says she chose to go into “Californication” meetings carrying on in the English way, “to stand out a little bit. The lines sounded almost more ridiculous that way, talking about sexually explicit things with a proper British accent.” Of course, the “Californication” team was well aware of her Kate Middleton performance, too. She’s often been called Your Highness around the set. “There’s even a part at one point where I do a little curtsey and say, ‘Thank-you my lord.’ I think they wrote it in as a playful little wink.”
Luddington is portraying the new nanny for Charlie and Marcy (Evan Handler and Pamela Adlon), who seems innocent at first, but turns out to be a manipulative little schemer. Yes, it’s a long, long way from our favorite royal bride — just as the actress hoped. “From January to April last year it was all about Kate Middleton, and then I got the part in ‘Californication’ the day after doing press inEngland. I thought it was really fun, and the sides for the audition were really funny.”
With this season’s episodes already in the can, what’s next?
“You know what — this sounds so funny — I would love to do a horror movie. I’ve been a massive horror movie fan since I was a kid, and I would love to do a great horror movie with a cult following.”
Sounds like Laura Linney’s “The Big C” will have another attention-getting attribute in its new season that launches April 8. According to Executive Producer Jenny Bicks, the “Big C” team is awaiting word any minute from a major name likely to come aboard the Showtime dramedy in which Linney plays a woman dealing with cancer. They go back into production this week.
This year, Linney’s Cathy Jamison will be at the Bargaining stage of response to her illness. “It’s going to be all about Cathy looking for joy and really kind of embracing life. She’s been through a lot last season with Paul,” says Bicks, referring to Linney’s series husband Oliver Platt, last seen being worked on by EMTs and flatlining after ingesting cocaine. (Series creator Darlene Hunt refused to confirm that the character died, telling The Hollywood Reporter that Paul will be back, some way, in Season 3.)
“She’s going to get a better prognosis, so she’s going to feel for the first time like, ‘Maybe I have more time, and what the hell now am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ — which becomes a whole separate issue,” says Bicks. “So, she’s really going to go after what makes her happy and she’s going to come in contact with a joyologist, which is a real term, who is going to kind of be her mentor.”
That’s the role in which they’re expecting their exciting name star. Cathy will “get together with this woman and go on a journey and do some crazy things outside her box,” according to Bicks.
Will this season finally put the critically-hailed, top-talent-filled series over the top in terms of popularity and recognition? “I think we’d all like to think that, especially because of where we’re going to be airing this year,” says Bicks, referring to their first springtime seasonal launch. “We’re going to get a lot of viewers who’ve never even seen the show on televsion. A lot of people catch up on DVDs.”
Then there’s the fact that Laura Linney, Emmy nominated for her work on the show last year, was up for Golden Globe honors this month as well. And costar John Benjamin Hickey, who won a Tony for The Normal Heart last year, is also being increasingly recognized for his portrayal of Linney’s bipolar brother, Sean. Says Bicks, “I feel that people are starting to take in this show that we love and it can only be bigger because of that.”
AND: Speaking of Hickey and his Sean character, Bicks reveals that this year, he’s going to have “a gay phone sex line. What?! What?! How does that happen?” She laughs. “He inherits a phone number from somebody whose phone has been cut off and he ends up with this enterprise, and it turns out that he actually has quite a knack for phone sex, so he’s going to kind of go back on the grid and make some good money, and because of that have some very interesting relationships in his life. He’s going to have a lot of fun.”
Mandy Patinkin, who left “Criminal Minds” in 2007 saying he loathed violence on television, returns to the small screen Sunday (10/2) in Showtime’s new “Homeland” — a series already notorious among critics for its scenes of Damian Lewis’ Marine character being tortured. How does Patinkin explain this seeming contradiction?
“It’s very artfully done, and it is not the central issue by any means of this piece,” he responds. “I find the sex and violence in this piece incredibly minimal, artfully done and non-offenseive to me. This is an entertainent first and foremost, and very much a psychological thriller. It goes to the core of why we are all in the positions we are in and who is responsible for the terrorism and the violence that has taken place in the world. It is very much a whodunnit, very much a mystery, a spy story.”
The beloved performer plays CIA Middle East Division Chief Saul Berenson, the boss of Claire Danes’ character. She becomes convinced that Lewis, returned to the U.S. after years of having gone missing in Afghanistan, may have been turned and now be part of an al-Qaida plot. Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa of “24” fame are producing the intense new drama.
“You are really in the hands of masters here, and they’re really sensitive to this stuff,” Patinkin adds.
The actor certainly came to his role prepared. He did a great deal of research, “which I always love doing. They sent me a bunch of books, definitive books about this world and these people, who are called ‘spooks.’ Then they hooked me up with the real guy who held a similar position to what I play — someone who has been all over the Middle East and knows where all the secrets are buried. We went down to Langley,” he says, referring to the CIA headquarters. “I met his family.”
Danes’ character is almost like a daughter to Patinkin’s, according to him. “I’m the father figure and mentor to her. She is my child in terms of my character bringing her into this. She’s an extraordinarily gifted human being, but troubled.” Of the actress herself, Patinkin says, “She is amazing, as a person and as an actress. She really is one of the best in terms of acting ability, which is a real gift to me at this point.”
“The Big C” has its second season finale Monday (9/26) — with a third season already guaranteed for the acclaimed, risk-taking dramedy that stars Laura Linney as cancer patient Cathy. They’re winding on a note of tragedy and of hope, with the latest episode (SPOILER — SKIP TO NEXT GRAPH IF YOU’VE YET TO SEE THE SEPT. 19 EPISODE) having included the death of Cathy’s beloved Lee (Hugh Dancy) and the return of her bipolar brother Shawn (John Benjamin Hickey).
“I can’t say what’s coming at the end. There are shockers,” Hickey tells us. “And it’s too early to be meditating on what is in store for Cathy and her merry band of dysfunctional family members in Season 3.” He does admit, however, that considering its weighty storylines, “There’s a real challenge ahead in the next year or two in keeping the funny.”
Hickey’s certainly had his share of laugh-inducing moments. “It’s been such a blast to play a character as original and as unexpected as Shawn,” he says. “I’ve heard from a lot of bipolar people and their families, and the thing I get so much is that they love that he’s a funny character. His illness is very real and very, very serious and causes a lot of problems and concerns. But this is a show that dares to have a sense of humor about disease and tries to find the funny in the human condition.”
Hickey is also amused by the fact that “though it’s born out of his illness and instability, lot of what Shawn espouses — about veganism and environmental problems, for instance — isn’t so crazy after all. He makes a lot of sense. And he is weirdly, deeply moral. In many ways, he’s a very conventional guy, but he’s got this wildly unconventional way he lives his life. I love that contradictory aspect of him.
“As the series progresses, if we get to do a couple more years, I hope Shawn finds the right kind of medication that allows him to function and be the kind of brother he wants to be to his sister — who is his lifeline, his tether to the world.”
Hickey still sounds surprised about having even made it through the season’s production — since he was performing eight shows a week on Broadway in The Normal Heart while shooting the Showtime series.
“It was a crazy confluence of events that made it the exact same time. I’d be shooting all day, get in that van or train and get back, jump in the shower and then make it on stage by eight o’clock every night,” he recalls. “Laura, who has known me forever, said, ‘You have no idea how your exhaustion is feeding you.’ There’s no time to think. I believe there’s something to that — when you have less time to consider your options, you can only perform.”
Obviously, Hickey did something right, since he wound up winning a Tony for his work in the play this past June. He should have been nominated for an Emmy as well. Maybe next year. In fact, the series warrants more Emmy love than it got — with no writing nods and nominee Linney going home empty-handed.
But Emmy night was certainly not a complete loss for Hickey, who was also on hand to cheer on his life partner, Jeffrey Richman. Richman and Steve Levitan won writing Emmys for their “Caught in the Act” script for “Modern Family.”
“Emmys are so much bigger than Tonys. I may have to put my Tony on a platform,” says the actor with a laugh.