The following is a press release from iHeartMedia and Fox:
iHeartMedia and Fox announced today Fox Presents the iHeart Living Room Concert of America, a music event to provide entertainment relief and support for Americans to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to celebrate the resilience and strength of the nation during this pandemic. Hosted by Elton John, the event will feature performances by Alicia Keys, Backstreet Boys, Billie Eilish, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mariah Carey, Tim McGrawand more, from their own homes, filmed with their personal cell phones, cameras and audio equipment, to ensure the health and safety of all involved. The concert will air in the iHeartRadio Music Awards’ original broadcast time slot—Sunday, March 29, from 9:00-10:00 PM ET/6:00-7:00 PM PT on Fox—and on iHeartMedia radio stations nationwide, as well as via the iHeartRadio app. The benefit special will be broadcast commercial-free.
In addition to featuring music, the hour-long concert will pay tribute to the front line health professionals, first responders and local heroes who are putting their lives in harm’s way to help their neighbors and fight the spread of the virus. It also will encourage viewers to support two of the many charitable organizations helping victims and first responders during the pandemic: Feeding America® and First Responders Children’s Foundation.
To extend the reach of the commercial-free special’s charitable component, FOX will offer the event across all of its linear and digital platforms.
Executive producers for Fox Presents the iHeart Living Room Concert of Americaare John Sykes and Tom Poleman, for iHeartMedia; and Joel Gallen, for Tenth Planet Productions, who produced the multi-network telethons immediately following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti Earthquake.
iHeartMedia (NASDAQ: IHRT) is the number one audio company in the United States, reaching nine out of 10 Americans every month – and with its quarter of a billion monthly listeners, has a greater reach than any other media company in the U.S. The company’s leadership position in audio extends across multiple platforms, including more than 850 live broadcast stations in over 150 markets; digital radio via its iHeartRadio digital service available across more than 250 platforms and 2,000 devices; through its on-air influencers; social; branded iconic live music events; and podcasts as the #1 commercial podcast publisher. iHeartMedia also leads the audio industry in analytics, targeting and attribution for its marketing partners with its SmartAudio product, using data from its massive consumer base. Visit iHeartMedia.com for more company information.
About FOX Entertainment
A division of Fox Corporation, FOX Entertainment’s 30-year legacy of innovative, hit programming includes “9-1-1,” “9-1-1: Lone Star,” “The AMsked Singer,” “Lego Masters,” “Prodigal Son,” “Empire,” “Last Man Standing,” “24,” “The X-Files” and “American Idol.” Delivering high-quality scripted, non-scripted and live content, Fox Entertainment’s broadcast network airs 15 hours of primetime programming a week, as well as major sports; and is the only major network to post year-over-year growth among viewers during the 2018-2019 broadcast season.
March 27, 2020 UPDATE: iHeartMedia and Fox announced that Camila Cabello, Dave Grohl, H.E.R. and Sam Smith have been added to the lineup. The concert will also feature inspirational messages from guests as well as special appearances from Ciara, Demi Lovato, Lizzo, Russell Wilson and more.
March 29, 2020 UPDATE: Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Ken Jeong, Ryan Seacrest, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone have been added to the lineup.
March 30, 2020 UPDATE: Last night’s broadcast of the benefit special Fox Presents iHeart Living Room Concert of America brought viewers together to thank our first responders and medical workers on the front lines and to celebrate America’s everyday heroes. The event raised money to support two charities that are doing critical work during these challenging times – Feeding America and First Responders Children’s Foundation. The one-hour special was created to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to celebrate the resilience and strength of the nation during this pandemic.
The benefit special raised nearly $8 million (and counting) for Feeding America® and First Responders Children’s Foundation. This is thanks to the generosity of fans, as well as corporate partner Procter & Gamble, which donated $500,000, and which Fox Corporation matched. Additionally, FOX employees raised funds in support of the cause, as did corporate partner PwC.
YouTube, which also made a donation in support of the cause, is nowstreaming FOX PRESENTS THE IHEART LIVING ROOM CONCERT FOR AMERICA, through Wednesday (April 1, 2020) at 10:00 PM ET oniHeartRadio’s YouTube Channel.
“Our goal from the start was to ‘do good’ at a tough time in the world. And that we were able to accomplish anything of that sort is because of the amazing artists who participated in this event, our producing partners, iHeart Media, and the outpouring of support from our employees, viewers and corporate partners,” said Charlie Collier, CEO, FOX Entertainment. “Many thanks to everyone involved with the production of this special and everyone who gave generously to the wonderful charities. It is they who support the really important work happening across our communities.”
In addition to airing on FOX, the special ran on iHeartMedia radio stations nationwide, via the iHeartRadio app; and is streaming on YouTube both domestically and globally until Wednesday, April 1, 2020. To extend the reach of the commercial-free special’s charitable component, FOX also offered the event across all of its linear and digital platforms, including FOX.com and the FOX NOW app. FOX will air an encore of the special Monday, April 6 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT).
The Fox Presents iHeart Living Room Concert of America delivered 8.7 million viewers and a 2.0 Live + Same Day aggregate rating among Adults 18-49 across all of FOX’s linear properties, including Fox Network, Fox News, Fox Business, FS1, FS2 and FOX Deportes. It added more than 700,000 starts and eight million minutes viewed across FOX’s digital properties. On Fox, it delivered a 1.5 Live + Same Day rating and 5.5 million viewers, making it the #1 and most-watched iHeart Radio special ever (excluding awards shows) and this year’s #1 Sunday entertainment telecast (excluding post-NFL and award shows) among Adults 18-49 (#1T) and Adults 18-34.
Hosted by Elton John, the event featured performances by Alicia Keys, Backstreet Boys, Dave Grohl, Billie Eilish and Finneas, Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Tim McGraw, Sam Smith, Demi Lovato, H.E.R., and Mariah Carey, from their own homes, filmed with their personal cell phones, cameras and audio equipment, to ensure the health and safety of all involved.
The hour-long concert also featured inspirational messages from guests, as well as special appearances from Ken Jeong, Ciara and Russell Wilson, Ryan Seacrest, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, Lady Gaga, Lizzo, and Ellen DeGeneres, as the benefit special paid tribute to the front line health professionals, first responders and local heroes who are putting their lives in harm’s way to help their neighbors and fight the spread of the virus.
Executive producers for Fox Presents iHeart Living Room Concert of Americaare John Sykes and Tom Poleman for iHeartMedia and Joel Gallen for Tenth Planet Productions, who produced the multi-network telethons immediately following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced several entertainers who will be performers and presenters at the 91st Annual Academy Awards ceremony, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which will not have a host. As previously reported, comedian/actor Kevin Hart was going to host the show, but he backed out after the show’s producers demanded that he make a public apology for homophobic remarks that he made several years ago. After getting a firestorm of backlash for the homophobic remarks, Hart later made several public apologies but remained adamant that he would still not host the Oscars this year.
The celebrities who will be on stage at the Oscars this year are several of those whose songs are nominated for Best Original Song. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will perform their duet “Shallow” from their movie remake of “A Star Is Born.” Jennifer Hudson will perform “I’ll Fight” from the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG.” David Rawlings and Gillian Welch will team up for the duet “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Western film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” It has not yet been announced who will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from the Disney musical sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.”** It also hasn’t been announced yet if Kendrick Lamar and SZA will take the stage for “All the Stars” from the superhero flick “Black Panther.”
Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic do the music for the “In Memoriam” segment, which spotlights notable people in the film industry who have died in the year since the previous Oscar ceremony.
Meanwhile, the following celebrities have been announced as presenters at the ceremony: Whoopi Goldberg (who has hosted the Oscars twice in the past), Awkwafina, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amandla Stenberg, Tessa Thompson Constance Wu, Javier Bardem, Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Emilia Clarke, Laura Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Stephan James, Keegan-Michael Key, KiKi Layne, James McAvoy, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Momoa and Sarah Paulson. Goldberg and Bardem are previous Oscar winners.
Other previous Oscar winners taking the stage will be Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney, who won the actor and actress prizes at the 2018 Academy Awards.
Donna Gigliotti (who won an Oscar for Best Picture for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love) and Emmy-winning director Glenn Weiss are the producers of the 2019 Academy Awards. This will be the first time that Gigliotti is producing the Oscar ceremony. Weiss has directed several major award shows, including the Oscars and the Tonys. He will direct the Oscar ceremony again in 2019.
**February 18, 2019 UPDATE: Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Los Things Go,” the Oscar-nominated song from “Mary Poppins Returns.” British rock band Queen, whose official biopic is the Oscar-nominated film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” will also perform on the show with lead singer Adam Lambert. It has not been revealed which song(s) Queen will perform at the Oscars.
February 19, 2019 UPDATE: These presenters have been added to the Oscar telecast: Elsie Fisher, Danai Gurira, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, John Mulaney, Tyler Perry, Pharrell Williams, Krysten Ritter, Paul Rudd and Michelle Yeoh.
February 21, 2019 UPDATE: These celebrities will present the Best Picture nominees: José Andrés, Dana Carvey, Queen Latifah, Congressman John Lewis, Diego Luna, Tom Morello, Mike Myers, Trevor Noah, Amandla Stenberg, Barbra Streisand and Serena Williams.
E! announced today that acclaimed actor, writer, producer and director Melissa McCarthy will be the inaugural recipient of The People’s Icon of 2018 award at The E! People’s Choice Awards. McCarthy will be honored for her work across film and television including “The Heat,” “The Boss,” “Spy,” Ghostbusters,” “Tammy,” “St. Vincent” and “Bridesmaids,” which she was nominated for a SAG and an Academy Award. On the television side, she has amassed a total of eight Emmy nominations, three of which came from her role as Molly Flynn in the critically acclaimed series “Mike and Molly” garnering one win in 2011 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and her portrayal of Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on “Saturday Night Live” earning her second Emmy win for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2017. Additionally, McCarthy is nominated for Comedy Movie Star of 2018 at this year’s ceremony.
In addition, global superstar Nicki Minaj will open The E! People’s Choice Awards with a performance of song from her most recent certified platinum album, “Queen.” Minaj is nominated for two awards this year, including Female Artist of 2018 and Album of 2018.
The E! People’s Choice Awards will broadcast live from Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, CA across the cable networks of NBCUniversal, including Bravo, E!, SYFY, Universo and USA Network on Sunday, November 11 from 9:00-11:00pm ET/PT.
“Melissa McCarthy is a multi-talented actor, writer, producer and director and who has starred in some of the most iconic movies and television shows of the past decade,” said Jen Neal, Executive Producer, Live Events, Executive Vice President, Marketing for E! “She is beloved by the people and we couldn’t think of anyone more fitting or deserving to honor as ‘The People’s Icon of 2018.’”
Melissa McCarthy can currently be seen starring in Fox Searchlight’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?.” She starred earlier this year in Warner Bros. “Life of the Party” which she co-wrote and produced with husband Ben Falcone, who served as the film’s director, through their On the Day Productions. Next year she will star in Warner Bros. “Superintelligence,” directed by Ben Falcone and Warner Bros “The Kitchen.” McCarthy has previously won four People’s Choice Awards, three in the Comedic Movie Actress category and one in the Comedic TV Actress category.
“The E! People’s Choice Awards” is produced by Wilshire Studios and Den of Thieves with Executive Producers Jesse Ignjatovic and Evan Prager.
About E! Entertainment
E! is the only global, multi-platform brand for all things pop culture. The network is currently available to 91 million cable and satellite subscribers in the U.S and 161 countries globally. “E! News” airs nightly on the network and is the leading multi-platform publisher delivering breaking entertainment news and pop culture coverage 24/7 across EOnline.com and all digital and social media. E! programming includes popular series “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “Total Divas,” “Total Bellas,” “Botched,” “Hollywood Medium with Tyler Henry,” “Very Cavallari” and its newest late night topical series “Busy Tonight.” The brand’s robust digital programming slate includes “E! News’ The Rundown” “Face Forward” and “What The Fashion” on Snapchat. E!’s “Live from the Red Carpet” signature events keep fans connected to their favorite stars on pop culture’s biggest nights and on November 11 E! becomes the home of “The E! People’s Choice Awards.” E! is a network of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, a division of NBCUniversal, one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news and information to a global audience. For more corporate information, visitwww.nbcuniversal.com.
About Wilshire Studios
Wilshire Studios develops and produces a diverse slate of original unscripted programming for multiple platforms, aligning with award-winning producers and innovative storytellers to create compelling content that explores reality through a variety of formats. From E!’s signature “Live from the Red Carpet,” USA Network’s “The Cromarties” and Oxygen’s “Mysteries and Scandals,” “The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell” for Netflix, “Real Country” for USA, “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers” for Oxygen and the debut “The E! People’s Choice Awards,” Wilshire Studios produces series that are informative, revealing, thrilling and entertaining. Wilshire Studios is part of the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment portfolio.
About Den of Thieves
Den of Thieves is a force for ambitious, music-driven event shows and uniquely stylized television series. Using their extensive experience working with talent, their credits cover a vast array of formats that include ABC’s The Gong Show, FOX’s American Idol, the multi-network broadcast of Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Relief and the digital stream of March for Our Lives. Beyond that, Den of Thieves thrives in the live event & award show space, having produced the MTV Video Music Awards for 12 consecutive years, the iHeartRadio Music Awards, MTV Movie Awards, Radio Disney Music Awards, Peabody Awards and more. In addition to spearheading some of the world’s leading premier event shows, Den of Thieves is also the name behind the production of documentaries, documentary-series, and comedy specials for Netflix, Comedy Central and Apple – to name a few
About People’s Choice
E! acquired the “People’s Choice Awards” and serves as the exclusive home of the popular annual award show that celebrates the best in pop culture. E!’s ownership of “People’s Choice Awards” includes the annual live event along with all digital and social assets. Now in its 44th year, the People’s Choice Awards is the only major awards show voted on entirely by the public for fan favorites in movies, music, television, and pop culture. The People’s Choice official website at www.PeoplesChoice.com houses the voting platform where fans determine the nominees and winners for the annual awards show. “People’s Choice Awards” was originally created in 1975 by Robert Stivers. “People’s Choice Awards” was previously owned by Procter & Gamble and produced by Mark Burnett airing on CBS.
Melissa McCarthy has played several characters who are social misfits, but those are usually in comedies. The dramatic film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” which is inspired by the true story of author-turned-forger Lee Israel, is a very different role for McCarthy, who is getting a lot of critical acclaim for playing the troubled Israel. McCarthy has already won Emmy Awards for starring in the sitcom “Mike & Molly” and guesting on “Saturday Night Live,” and she received an Oscar nomination for her supporting role in 2011 comedy film “Bridesmaids,” but “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is her first dramatic film for which she is getting significant awards buzz. The movie, which is set in 1990s New York City, tells the story of how a financially desperate Lee, who was once a successful biographer but whose latest books have been flops, turns to fabricating letters from famous dead authors and selling the forgeries to pay her bills. When some of her buyers start to get suspicious, she resorts to stealing real archived letters from research institutions, replacing the original letters with forgeries, and selling the stolen originals.
Lee is an unapologetic loner whose brusque manner often alienates people, but she reconnects with an old acquaintance—perpetual con artist Jack Hock (played by Richard E. Grant)—to help her with her forgery scams, with the flamboyant and charming Jack going to potential buyers and selling many of the fake documents for her. The relationship between Jack and Lee isn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy friendship; it’s more like an uneasy alliance that probably wouldn’t have happened if the ill-mannered and introverted Lee didn’t need a cohort who was better at dealing with people.
The real Lee Israel, who died in 2014 at the age of 75, forged hundreds of documents, and she and Jack were eventually caught and faced legal consequences. She wrote about her life of crime in the 2008 memoir “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” The movie was directed by Marielle Heller, with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. The film’s cast also includes Dolly Wells as a bookstore owner who tries to befriend Lee; Jane Curtin as Lee’s increasingly exasperated agent; Anna Deavere Smith as Lee’s ex-lover whom Lee still tries to contact; and Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s real-life husband) and Stephen Spinella as literary collectors who make multiple purchases of Lee’s forgeries. McCarthy recently sat down with me and other journalists for a roundtable interview at the “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” press junket in New York City. Here is what she said.
Did you ever have a time when people told you that you couldn’t be an actress, but you did it anyway?
Yeah. I don’t even know if I knew what an actress was. I don’t know exactly what I thought I was going to do. I didn’t even quite have a thing to conjure. I know when I came to New York, I did not know how to do the business side of it. I’m not upset that I focused on the work. I studied, and I did plays. It didn’t help me survive any better, but I think it was good for learning.
I finally met with a manager, and I was so excited. I met with her in her studio apartment. Then she was like, ‘You’re never going to work.” I do remember her saying, “You’re never going to work. You have to lose weight.” But the point of that was, I think I was a [size] 6. I was like a little thing. And, somehow, in me I was just like, “Well, that seems crazy. That seems nuts.”
I was like, “I think you’re working out of your studio. Maybe you’re not the most business-savvy either.” I don’t know where that came from. Now at 48, I was like, I’m so glad I said it. It was probably a fluke.
But I remember just being in there and being, like, “I’m not going come back and sit in your bedroom to talk about why I’m not going to work, so see you later.” I think that stopped me from looking for representation for a long time. I thought, “I’ll just submit myself for plays.”
A lot of people are talking about how different “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is from your other movies. Can you talk about how different you are from the real Lee Israel, who was a bitter, depressed person who liked cats more than people?
I’ve had up to 30 cats.
Up to 30 cats at one time?
Yes. I’ve had 25 to 30 cats rush [up to] a car, and it would actually scare people. It was like a horror movie. People would have [cat] litters, and nobody would adopt them. And that’s how you end up with 30 cats outside.
There was a lot, energy-wise and social-wise, that Lee is different from me. But Michelle Darnell [the character McCarthy played in “The Boss”] and her harshness were also so abrupt, but a different energy. It’s fist-forward for her. I see similarities for them: Shove first before you’re shoved.
But certainly, the inward quality of Lee was fascinating to play. Instead of verbally responding, to know that Lee would probably just sit and watch and wait for that person to leave. Certainly, verbally she could have always come up with a line and a quip, and she often did, but it was interesting to change that pacing and timing, and direct it inward and wait someone out.
Can you talk about getting into costume for the Lee Israel character?
It’s a bit of Tetris of what will fit. One of my favorite things was when things didn’t fit right. I was like, “Leave it.” Like It shouldn’t fit, it’s 15 years old. She’s probably not the exact same shape, size, from age, from whatever it is. I did love that, because you don’t get that in a movie very often, where you let the bad fit kind of ride. It always helps.
When it all clicks in, I feel like, “Now I know the gait. Now I know the walk.” I kept thinking of it as her armor—her cashmere and tweed armor—but once it got on, I really felt the weight of her. The [clothes] were heavy. I just had things of a certain weight on me at all times. I thought she really feels weighted.
What did you know about Lee Israel before doing this movie? And what attracted you to the role?
I didn’t know her story. And it bothered me that I didn’t. I felt like I should have. What attracted me was, first of all, it’s a fascinating story. It’s not even the area that you’d expect a crime to happen. You don’t expect that type of person to end up with the FBI after them. And it’s not like she’s smuggling drugs; it is for literary forgeries. I know it’s a crime. She’s grifting people, for sure.
I think especially now, I loved how she did not require anyone to tell her what she was. I think we’re in a current state where people really need people to validate who they are. “How was my vacation? Do you like me if I went to this party?” They need the reflection of others to see themselves.
I don’t think like that, and I love that Lee just didn’t need it. She was going to be who she was going to be, even when it made it much more difficult for her. I find that a really attractive quality. Even when it’s slightly unpleasant, I still admire it.
As an artist, how do you view the limitations of talent versus the business side of art?
It’s a very current issue, and it’s a constant issue. Lee was an incredible writer. That was she did. It was the only things she did. And to suddenly be told that you are no longer valid, that you’ve come to a certain age, and you’ve become obsolete. Her writing was still good, but she was a woman of a certain age. She wasn’t adaptable. She had no flexibility to go out and get a different job, or go out on an interview and charm someone. That was not going to happen. We see it in the film. That was accurate to her life. She couldn’t do anything else. And she wasn’t a people person, to say the least.
And I was thinking, “What would any of us do if we lost our one means to survive?” She was on welfare at one point. She was going to lose her apartment. She was going to be homeless. It’s not like she had a bunch of friends that were going to take her in.
And at a certain age, instead of being revered, like, “Oh my gosh, you have 30 years of experience! How amazing,” it’s “What about that 20-year-old?” or “What about that person who’s more fun at the party?” It certainly doesn’t make that person a better writer or artist or fill in the blanks of whatever you may be. But it’s strange that more experience means you’ve become outdated. I find that very strange.
What did you learn about that era of New York City?
That era of New York is my New York. I moved here when I was 20. I lived here from 1990 to 1997. So, to me, it’s the most magical time. I loved it. I came from a little farm town, so the grit [of New York City] and people working four jobs [appealed to me]. We [my roommates and I] lived three in a studio, but we had a Manhattan apartment. And it all seemed magical, like going to Alphabet City and saying, “There’s a party on B [Street]. Do we risk it? Yes!” Now, it’s like $2 million studio apartments. I’m like, “What?”
I don’t understand the current New York. It’s not mine, so I take maybe unreasonable ownership of those ‘90s, and it was everything to me. It’s not the shiny walk through Central Park New York that you so often see in movies and films, which is beautiful and I love.
But I think [“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”] is a really great glimpse into really living in New York and to be part of the city that you’re tethered to in a different way. We’re not always strolling through the park. It’s the real pulse of it. I think recreating that, I felt pretty overwhelmed a couple of times. I never thought I’d get to have that back.
What inspired you to move to New York?
I just wanted something different. We went to a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago when I was a kid, and I heard theme music. It was the most exotic thing I had ever seen in my entire life. My dad, who’s from the South Side of Chicago, said, “We moved out to a farm to keep you out of the city, and you literally had a magnet [to go to a big city]. Once you hit a certain age, the fascination was unreasonable.”
I moved to New York having never been there [before]. I don’t think I was on a plane until I was 19. I had $35 when I landed at LaGuardia [Airport], which was not the smartest move. I mean, thank God it was based on no good thinking, or I never would have done it. I just showed up, and I thought, “This should be easy. Then I was like, “What am I doing? Oh my God, I have no money!” I was sharing a bagel a day with somebody, and I just started collecting jobs.
Lee and Jack both happen to be gay. How do you think having that in common affected their friendship?
People were not rushing out to help [the LGBTQ community]. We still have a ways to go, but [homosexuality] is not accepted as it is now. In my heart, I think it was just two people who were on the outside. It was one more slice of the pie of their loneliness, their isolation.
They were both kind of desperate. I think they were both people who probably couldn’t go back to their families. It was just one more element to why these two very unlikely people colliding into each other and why it worked.
Lee’s career downfall was partially due to her having writer’s block, but a deeper issue was that she was locked into this idea that she could only be a biographer, and she didn’t want to go out of her comfort zone. Considering her knack for making things up, she would have made a great fiction writer. As a writer yourself, can you talk about being put in certain category and going outside of your comfort zone?
We love to categorize people. I agree with you. I thought so many times, “Boy, I would’ve just loved to have heard her roll out a fictional story. It would’ve been so funny and have a bite to it, for sure. This is my opinion, and how I think I run parallel to Lee: I love what I do because I do it via someone else. Maybe it’s the coward’s way.
I don’t want to play a person who’s really similar to myself. I don’t know how to do it. I actually feel like I don’t have the skills to, in a scene, figure out what I would do. Through someone else, I’m much more assertive or vulnerable when I get to wear the cloak of someone else.
And I feel like Lee did the exact same thing. I feel like we had the ability to channel through people. So doing biographies was her way of always having someone kind of shield her. She was at her best kind of standing behind someone else.
People know you for comedy, so how do you think your comedy-loving fans will react to you in this role?
I didn’t pick it or fall in love with it for any different reason from anything else that I do. I loved the character of Lee and the story. And when I read the script, I thought, “This is something that doesn’t come around [that often].
When I first read it, [my husband] Ben had the part first when [the movie] was in its original incarnation, which fell apart, as movies do. I read it because he was doing the part that he ended up playing. I read the script in record time, and I said, “This is unbelievable.” I said, “I don’t know why, but I think I love this woman. She shouldn’t be so endearing, but she is.”
And I just kept talking about it. And when it didn’t work out, I couldn’t let it go. I wanted to see the movie, and I thought, “Well, somebody has to do that [role]. It’s too good, and it’s fascinating. Who’s going to do it?”
And weeks later [I was still talking about it], and [Ben] was like, “Oh my God! Let it go!” It really bothered me that her story wasn’t going to be told. So I wormed my way into Ben’s movie. I was just like, “I feel like I have a connection to her that doesn’t happen very often.”
Mari [Heller] came in [to working on the movie] almost at the same time. We just had the same gut feeling about the tone and how we wanted to tell it, and it all then came together really quickly.
Anytime I take something, no matter how it does or how it plays, I’ve been lucky enough to have loved the people I’ve played. Once I really lock on to a person, I feel really responsible to tell their story.
If Lee were alive today, what questions would you ask her? And what advice would you give her to be a happier person?
She wouldn’t [ask for my advice]. She’d probably tell me to stop talking. I’ve often said, “I wonder how annoyed Lee would be with me, because I would ask her a lot of questions.” I would have loved to have met her.
There are so many stories from [producers] David Yarnell and Anne Carey, who knew her for many years. David knew her for 20 years. He’s actually the reason why she wrote the memoir. He says she was such a pain in the butt because she did not want to write it. She did not want to write about herself.
As in Lee’s fashion, everything about it was difficult. She finally wrote it, and it was great thing for her, but it took a long time. Anne Carey knew her for 10 years. That’s where I got all my Lee stories from.
Do you think that your role in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is the best acting you’ve done so far?
I certainly loved every minute of doing it. There was a very solid feeling. Every single person who came into this little movie … it felt different. It felt like we were in this bubble floating through Manhattan and getting away with something or existing in this alternate universe. I never want to start ranking [my work]. I’d go insane.