Drama Actors Roundtable: Richard Madden, Billy Porter, Diego Luna, Stephan James & More | Close Up


(pop music) – Hi and welcome to Close Up With The Hollywood
Reporter, Drama Actors. I’m Lacey Rose and I’m joined today by Sam Rockwell, Billy Porter,
Richard Madden, Diego Luna, Hugh Grant, and Stephan James. Thank you, guys, for being here. We’ll dive into this. All right, we’re gonna
start with what I hope is a fun icebreaker. I knew I had made it in Hollywood when? What was that sort of
I’ve-arrived moment for you guys? You look like you have one. – I think I do. For me, it would probably
be when I found myself in the White House. (Lacey chuckles)
– Wow. – And, you know, I just, we had a film release called Selma and Barack Obama and
Michelle Obama invited us to the White House for a
special screening of the film – Wow.
– and I remember, when I got the email, I
sent it straight to my junk because I thought it was a fake. (laughing)
– I mean, literally, – As you do. – Literally, the email
said, The White House, and I said, yeah, just,
– Please. – there’s no way. Do you want my passport
and my social security? Yeah, no way. (Lacey laughing) But yeah, I mean, a week
later, I’m in the White House and in this theater with
Michelle and she’s like, you know, the popcorn’s over there and the restroom’s over there and make yourself at home.
– Wow. – And it was kinda one of
those moments where you realize that, first of all, it’s
all downhill from here. – For sure.
– Yeah. (giggling) – But also that, you know,
you’re pretty fortunate and you’ll probably be around, hopefully, be around for a little while, so that was certainly an
encouraging moment for me. – Sure, I like that you found
yourself at the White House is the way you phrased that.
– Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. – What about the rest of you? – [Sam] That’s pretty cool, I dunno– – Top that!
Yeah, we’re not gonna top that. (Billy laughing)
– [Sam] That is tough. – [Lacey] But are there moments? Yeah.
– Yeah, I started working when I was really young and did terrible films as a kid that no one got to see, you know? And the first time I did
a horrible film here, it screened everywhere! (group laughing) And it haunted me, you
know, no matter where I was. – What kind of movie, what genre was it? – It was, I had to dance a lot. – Okay, yeah.
– And the film opened in every country. (Lacey laughing)
I was like, no, that’s, that’s what Hollywood does
to your career, you know? – [Lacey] But you’re still here! – Yeah, I survived, yeah. – What about the rest of you? – I just got here. I’ve been in the business for 30 years, I just got to Hollywood, they
just started paying attention and I wore a tuxedo Oscar dress. That’s when I arrived – Sure.
– to the Oscars. I wore a tuxedo dress to the Oscars and that’s when everybody
started paying the most attention in my life. – [Lacey] I love that. – I never, I don’t feel like I’ve arrived. I keep waiting to be taken
out, do you know what I mean? Rather than arriving, I don’t know. – Like the hook comes – Yeah,
– and pulls you right outta town?
– it’s always that kind of, someone’s gonna call you out and say you shouldn’t be here and remove you from the building and so, I think that’s kind of, I kind
of always got that fear of, – Yeah.
– I don’t really feel like I’ve ever arrived. I don’t know if I ever will
but maybe that’s just me. And that’s depressing. (group laughing) – No, I know what you mean. – That’s very, that’s, that’s
– We all felt that way. – Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, there’s little
moments where you meet somebody you admire, you know. – And they know you, and, yeah. – Yeah, yeah, that’s kind of fun. Like these guys. – Yeah! Do you have one, Hugh? To put you on the spot. – Well, I’ve, it’s so long ago that anyone was nice to me here. (Lacey laughing)
I can’t hardly remember. It was after I made Four
Weddings and a Funeral and I came out as a, you know,
hitherto unknown crap actor. (laughing) Suddenly, you know, big studio people were sending me baskets. You know there’s endless baskets. (laughing)
– They have a lot of them. – I spent all day, everyday,
just undoing baskets. It was quite fun. – Sure!
– Yeah, and people used to say
extraordinary things to me like, missing you already. (laughing)
What?! I’ve only just met you today. The level of phoniness was fantastic. I enjoyed all that. (laughing) – Why is this in the past tense? – Well, I never really
spent any time here, to be absolutely honest with you. I’ve never made a film, yes, I did, one tiny film, I made. So, I still feel like an outsider. I remember the first
time I ever arrived here, pre-Four Weddings, and I
came out to see a girlfriend and I checked into the hotel and the man behind the counter said, okay, and how are you gonna
take care of your room? And I said, well, as
well as I possibly can! (laughing) ‘Cause that’s an American expression, we don’t say that in England. – I’m gonna clean up
– I was only going, yes, – and I’ll make my bed.
– we’re gonna keep it tidy. (laughing) – Yeah, as tidy as I can. – I love it. Okay, at the stages of your careers that you are all currently in, what are the roles you’re, sort of, either already
tired of or just tired of being approached for? (Sam sighing) – I played Romeo for about
10 years, in different ways, so I’ve, and literally
played it when I was 21 and when I was 30 and
I’m like, yeah, I’m done, – Checked that box.
– I’m done, I’ve checked that box, kind of thing. I think I’m done playing lots of good guys that bad things happen to. I’ve done lots of that,
so I’m kind of interested to do less of Romeo, I think. – [Lacey] I like that. How ’bout the rest of you guys? – You know, I was labeled, very
early, the flamboyant clown. I fought that for decades. (clearing throat) And with that said, you know, nobody minds stopping a show. (Lacey laughing)
Let’s get that straight. Like, it’s fun, it’s fabulous, like, yes. You wanna be great. You want people to receive you, you know. But I’m finally, in
this moment of my life, also being able to play that character as a fully developed human being and not just the two-dimensional version that is set up to entertain, you know, but the at what cost of that entertainment gets to come into the story
now and it’s really great. You know, it’s really great to be able to see that happen
and to have lived long enough to live it and see it happen on my terms, it’s fabulous.
– Absolutely. What about the rest of you,
are there roles that you’re, like, ugh, not this again? – Yeah, I could take a
break from racists and… (laughing) A long break. – [Lacey] Maybe like a forever break? – Yeah, yeah and I’ve
played a lot of country, you know, whether you say redneck or, just country is probably a
better way to put it, you know. And it’s funny, I’m a city
kid and they’re always trying to throw me on a horse or
let a lasso or something and I’m really not, you know,
that’s not my thing, yeah, so. – I love it. What about you guys? – I’m still happy that I don’t have to play
women’s parts anymore. (laughing) The school I went to was all
boys and I was a pretty boy and I just played girls for 11 years, quite well, I have to say. I was very good as Brigitta Von Trapp, who’s one of the Von Trapp daughters, in my white dress with a blue satin sash. But it’s nice to be playing men again. (laughing) – Is there any for you, Diego? – Yeah, after Y Tu Mama Tambien, I guess, I was, for 10 years, offered roles of a young
kid kissing his best friend and I remember directors saying, I know this is not the role but can you bring the
lightness of that show to this and you go, like, no. It’s very difficult. But that tends to happen a lot. Gladly, I love the film but yeah, suddenly the character became more than, actually, what I was
capable as an actor, you know? It was more what the film made feel to audiences, you know? Like, suddenly, you could
relate to your childhood and they wanted me to be them as kids, having fun and doing the
stuff they don’t do, you know? But I think I’m… Now, I’m sad I cannot
play that guy anymore. Now that I’m a father, that I’m 40, well, about to get to 40, I
miss that role a lot. – You know, the first thing that popped in my head was
probably just period pieces. – Oh, wow.
– Yeah. – Just staying away from
period format, you know? – [Lacey] Well, you were doing, I mean, one after the next of these historical– – Yeah, yeah and I mean,
playing these historical figures are great, I mean, I played
Jesse Owens and John Lewis and those things are great
and there’s a lot of pride that comes with playing
those types of people but, at the same time,
you’re just like, you know, you get this feeling
that people in Hollywood think you only exist
in the 1940’s or ’50’s. (laughing) You can’t do anything contemporary and so, for me, that
was one of the biggest and again, it’s the power
we have as artists to say no to those things and to try
and change and maneuver and craft the kind of career
that you see for yourself. – Hugh, you have said
every actor in the world prefers playing darker characters. I think you said, in Shakespeare’s time, I’m sure everyone wanted to
play Tybalt and not Romeo. Why is that? (laughing) – Well, really,
– Yeah, – you should be asking him.
– he’s done with it, exactly. – No, it’s true, nobody
wants to be the good guy. It’s harder, would everyone agree? – Yeah, yeah. The interesting question is why, you know, in Paradise Lost, we’re
more interested in Lucifer than we are in any of the
good characters and why? And I think it’s because we kinda know, deep down, that people are evil and that the sort of niceness
is a very thin veneer. – So, when you’re dark,
it strikes a chord, it comes straight down the
camera, into people’s– – Yeah, it’s cathartic, right? You get to be an outlaw,
that’s cathartic, I think. – But it just seems, it’s
got veracity, it’s true, – Yeah, (laughs) yeah. – [Hugh] you know, about human beings. – I also find it, as a person who has just come
into the leading man space, who built a career being
character actors on the side, everything happens to
you, as the leading actor. It’s inactive. So, you’re standing around trying to make something interesting and that’s actually not your job. You know, all of the interesting people are bouncing their
stuff off of you, right? So, I find my (laughs), you know, – Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. – I wrote a play and we
were doing a reading, we’re gettin’ ready to do it in the fall and there’s a character who, reading after reading after
reading, we were having, he’s, like, the funny one. And I’m going, (tapping foot) you know, and I can’t, and the jokes aren’t landing and I’m going, (stutters) you just have to, and I
can’t fix it, you know, because I’m the guy who’s now. It was really interesting,
it’s like you have to, how do you make the leading man, character, the leading woman, whatever, how do you make that
character’s journey active? – Yep.
– Mm-hm. – That’s the challenge, I think, and why everybody says, you know, – Harder.
– it’s harder, you know, because everybody
else’s action is really clear. The side character’s actions are clearer because they function
individually in the journey, so anyway, I think that’s. – [Sam] Yeah, yeah, yeah. – I think, Hugh, you had
also said that you have, you permanently have
an inferiority complex because you are, and I
am putting this in quotes so you know that you said this and not me, “just the guy from romantic comedies”. Is that real? I mean, really, you feel that way? – Well, yes, I did. A bit less now. ‘Cause I got too old and ugly
and fat to do them anymore (laughing) and so, I’ve done other things and I feel, I’ve got marginally less
self-hatred than I had before. (laughing) – [Lacey] But for a long time, that was the sort of box you were in. – Yes, it was. – [Lacey] Did it feel like a box? – Yes, but I mean, not one
you can complain about. – No.
– I was being paid of money, I was very lucky. And most of those romantic comedies, I can look squarely in the face. One or two have shockers, but on the whole, I can
look them in the face and people like them
and I’m a big believer in that our job is to entertain. I see us as craftsmen along
with the guy who does the lights and the guy who edits and
the guy who pushes the dolly to make an entertainment,
to entertain people and ’cause if it’s not that, I think it’s a bit masturbatory. – (scoffs) Yeah, go on. – Can I say masturbatory? – You did and you can. – I said, a bit masturbatory. (laughing) – Billy, before Pose, you
were being sort of passed over for part after part
after part in Hollywood. Now, obviously, you had
a thriving theater career before this, how close were you to actually throwing in the towel and what made you keep going? – You know, being black and gay and out which is an answer to that
authenticity situation that we talk about so often, easy to be who you are when
what you are is what’s popular, so, the choice to choose
my sanity over my fame, or possible fame or whatever that means, came with a lot of unemployment. And it’s a double layer. The layer of actually
being a person of color in this industry and then the
other layer of being a queen. Nobody can see you as anything else. If flamboyantly dot, dot,
dot wasn’t in the description of the character, no
one would see me, ever, for anything which wouldn’t be so enraging if it went the other direction but it doesn’t because
straight men playing gay, everybody wants to give ’em an award. Thank you for gracing us
with your straight presence, so that gets tiresome. So, here I sit, I can’t get the gay parts, I can’t get the straight
parts, I can’t get nothin’. (laughing) If there wasn’t, you know what I mean?
– Totally! – So, it’s like, you know,
theater was a little bit kinder after decades of unemployment as well but the dismissal, the
dismissive energy of… You know, I’d go in or
I’d put myself on tape, y’all said be flamboyant and then, not a callback, not a
nothin’, he’s too flamboyant. It’s like, I’m gonna kill somebody. Like, it was so, the last one, the last pilot season I went through, it was that over and over
and over and over again. It was a couple years
ago, three years ago, and I literally was on my way back from directing Topdog/Underdog
at the Huntington Theater, directing it.
– Wow! – So, I have stuff going
on, like, you know, I’m writing, I’m directing, forget it. Like, I don’t have to do
this anymore, you know! And my sister calls me on the phone and she catches me right
after one of those dismissive, you’re too flamboyant calls and I just, I just went in, I was just crying, I
had to pull the car over to the side of the road, I was, like, I can’t, I can’t! Like, your body doesn’t
know that it’s not real! The emotions, your body
still goes through the, you know, it’s like, I
can’t keep puttin’ myself into this position where
I’m always begging. It’s really, really awful. And I’m like, I just have, I’ll do it, I’ll just do what I’m, like, I love this other side, like, all of the disappointment
led me to this other thing where I’m developing my
own work and I’m writing and I’m directing and I’m
creating, it feeds me so much and I get to be the storyteller that fills the slot that I’m not seeing, gets to sorta try to be a
solution to the problem, you know, so why do I care, right? The next day, ring! Ryan Murphy wants to see
you for a show called Pose. It’s set in the LGBTQ Paris
is Burning ball culture and I literally was like, okay, Lord (laughing) or the universe or whatever. Like, it just was like, you
got to be kidding me, you know, because it’s not anything as a person who came to the industry in the ’80’s. I was in drama school in the ’80’s, I came to New York in 1990. – You did Theater For the New City ever? – No.
– Okay. – You got right up onto the brink of, I’m done with this and then. – Well, yeah, but I just never… I never dreamed that the story
that I would get to tell, the one that I lived through… Would be, I lived through that! – Yeah. – You know, I lived through this! It’s so important to me and so powerful, you know, when we actually
get to the stories of people, real people. – You’re HIV positive, I’m sorry. – This is the… This is the moment that I dreaded most. Dodged it for years. And now the son of a bitch
has finally caught up with me. (sobbing) We have the power, as artists, to change the molecular
structure of human beings. That’s what it did for me. It saved my life. I’m sure everybody at this table, it’s like, I wouldn’t be sittin’
here, I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the arts. So, the fact that I get to participate in that kind of art… takes my breath away. (pop music) – What were the most challenging
points in your careers and how did you turn it around or decide, I’m just gonna keep going and obviously, it did turn around
’cause here you all are? Was there a low period or dark period where you had to climb out?
– I think it’s that being picky when you’re broke because there’s that turning down a job when you’ve not got another job lined up and the hope that something
good’s gonna happen and I did a spell, I did
11 months where I was broke and had nothing and was
turning down theater gigs, small theater gigs,
because I wanted to try and be doing some camera acting, I wanted to get into that, I
wanted to get better at that and getting to that point
of being, like, I’ve no… The offers stop coming after
you turn them down for awhile and then you, right, I’ve now
ruined that bit of my career, I can’t go back there and I’m
not getting the camera stuff and maybe I’ve just
screwed it up completely and I’m kind of, I’m lost now, I’ve shot myself in the
foot by being too ambitious to learn more and to move
forwards with things. And then I did get Game of Thrones and that helped change things a bit. (laughing) – [Lacey] That’ll do it, that little show. – But that was an advance from
my agent to stay in London for the next two months until
I started shooting that. So, I mean, I’ve not, I think I’ve been very, very, very lucky in terms of working at low points. I think we all kind of have them and question what we’re
doing but I feel very lucky to have not had as low
as a lot of other actors and I’m very grateful for
that, I’m aware of it. – Either of you two who
have had these very, and certainly in Hugh’s
case, a very long career? – Yeah, but with big lulls. The difference was, when I was unemployed, I took everything. The worse it was, the quicker I took it. (laughing) I have a remarkable–
– Knowing, knowing it was? – Yes, in fact, quite enjoyed it. You think, oh, well, this
is nonsense, this film. You know, it’s being made in
Spain with English actors, with a director who doesn’t speak English, and with German money. It’s never gonna see the light of day, so just go and have a
nice time for three months and flirt with the actress
playing Claire Clairmont or, you know? But I think it was, have
you ever done those? I used to call them Euro-puddings. – [Sam] In Isle of Man or something? – Yeah, it was all a terrible mixture. I remember, the director
literally spoke no English. So, they got a local guy to translate, an Englishman from the local university, and he’d never been on a film set before and he didn’t understand tact, so he used to come up to the
actors after a take and say, and the director’s name was Gonzalo, he’d say, yes, Gonzalo
says, be less wooden. (laughing) And it was very, yes, a
very difficult note to take. – [Richard] We’ve all had that one. – [Lacey] Be less woody. – Yeah.
– That’s good. – Stephan, I know one
of the things you said that drew you to Homecoming was that it was this sort of rare opportunity to play a colorless character. – Yeah. – Curious, in what way did that differ from the previous offers
that you were getting and why was that so refreshing? – Yeah, I mean, you know, just this idea that oftentimes, when
you get these breakdowns for these characters, sometimes
it’s a tough pill to swallow when you see an African
American is just explained in one sort of a way. – [Lacey] Which is what,
like, what’s the way? – Well, I mean, you know, I think we’ve, historically been written, African Americans have been written, for one, very one-dimensional. Perhaps they live one
certain type of life. You know, maybe they’re not educated, maybe they are some sort
of criminal, perhaps. – Just say it. – Just say it.
– Just, yeah. – Just say it!
– You know what I’m sayin’? – Drugs and thugs! – [Stephan] All that, – Drugs and thugs.
– all that. And for me, it’s, like, I
take it, it’s a responsibility that we have as artists to be responsible for the work that we’re
putting out into the world. And for me, it just meant a
lot that I had this character in Homecoming that didn’t
say African American on the breakdown. I mean, it could’ve very
well said Caucasian. I’m acting opposite this
little actress, Julia Roberts, you know, who I’ve grown up – Heard of her.
– my whole life watching and then it was just sort of this thing that felt like, you know,
anybody coulda had this role and here it is, it’s mine. There’s this desk in my room. It’s wooden and it’s
got these sharp corners and when I first got
here, I don’t know why, I just imagined myself
sitting down in a chair and leaning all the way back and, like, slamming my forehead
into the corner of the table. Just, like, jamming it in right here. But I mean, that was an extreme, it, it doesn’t always happen like that. And the power that we have with that is such an incredible sort of a feeling. You know, it makes you
kinda feel invincible, that people are seeing you
in a different sort of light. And for me, while I don’t
think that it mattered so much that Walter was black,
you know, for the story, it matters in life that he is, you know? It matters for the kids watching it, for the soldiers watching it.
– For the adults watching it – For the adults watching it.
– who didn’t have that. – Yeah.
– And that was one of the things that was so
powerful to me, watching it. You know, coming up in another era where that was all we had. If you didn’t play thugs or drug dealers, you didn’t work at a certain age. And so, to see this crack open like that, to see this man, this beautiful man, be able to step into a space where his ethnicity is not even, – Irrelevant.
– it’s irrelevant! It really blessed my soul, for real. – Special thing, it is.
– I love that. – For real. – I wanna talk about the weight of some of these projects. I know you have talked about, at the end of shooting Bodyguard, that there was moments
where you just said, I don’t know that I can keep doing this. Now, I don’t know how real that
was but can you talk about, sort of, being in what is a
really, sort of, challenging, sometimes unhappy place with a character and not, necessarily, being
able to leave that on set? – Yeah, I think I’m just, you know, the nature of shooting
television, as well, is that it’s 6-day weeks
for most of that shoot and that’s five months and a bit and it’s, you know, the
show was not a comedy, it’s pretty anxiety-ridden and
you’re gettin’ out of the car and you’re like, I got
eight hours until I’m back at work the next day. So, it takes more to
drop what you’re carrying and pick it back up the next day than to just to kind of keep it on pause until the next morning. And yeah, at the end of
Bodyguard, I was, like, I need to stop. I need to stop doing this for awhile because it weighed very heavy on me. I was very isolated during it and you spend more time
in someone else’s clothes, saying someone else’s words, thinking someone else’s
thoughts that you do lose a bit of yourself and I’m not
a method actor in any way but you get a huge hangover from this and at the end of that, I
felt very isolated and broken, much like the character was, and physically and mentally just exhausted and, at the end, I was
just trying to survive getting through the last bit of filming, so, I think it really takes it out of you sometimes and I
know we’re not doing cancer or doing things like that but you’re giving everything
you’ve got to try and do this and especially when
you’re leading something, you’re doing a lot more
than just the acting. That kind of ends up
being 40% of what we do. There’s everything
else, there’s something, you have to hold yourself up ’cause if you’re the one
that’s on set the longest, you’re there before and
after everyone else, and if you keep yourself at level, then no one else has a
right to be complaining or be worse, so you
kind of take that brunt on your shoulders and that
takes out of you, personally. – Sure, can you talk a little bit about the preparation process? I mean, I know you had consultants
as part of this project but one of the things you
have said is that people don’t necessarily want to talk about PTSD and what that looks like
and how that weighs on you. So, how do you, then, prepare
to take that on as an actor? – I kinda did a lot of, I spoke to a few soldiers which is tough because they really don’t
wanna talk about it, people don’t wanna discuss this at all and I looked a lot of what I’d
seen in film and television and then I tried to work out where it was gonna be honest
within this character. Listen, the specialist
counter terrorism unit already know about a potential
incident on this train. So, what I’d like to do is just tell them that you’re willing to talk. Does that sound okay to you? Just talk, is that a start? (panting) There’s a second bomber but we’re talking. It’s something that people
live with every day. It can be a really, just,
trickling level of anxiety you constantly live with or
paranoia or panic attacks or lots of things that lots
of other people suffer with, I think it was tapping into those elements and trying to humanize it within someone who is in complete denial about it. So, I just tried to find his honesty and luckily, I had writing
and a brilliant writer that helped bring out
and helped me understand this man, his course. – Yeah. Diego, before you signed on, I know there was a location
scout on the series who was killed and you
have subsequently said that because of that devastation, it became that much more
important to you to do the series. A, why and B, what were you hoping to sort of illustrate with this show? – It’s, well, first of all,
because I live in Mexico and the struggle that is happening, you know, it’s violent
times for my country. And it was interesting
to revisit my childhood and the Mexico of the
’80’s from this perspective because always when my father
was trying to hide this Mexico from me but then, everything
starts to make sense. And the story has been told
in a way that is wrong, very convenient for many
criminals that are not in jail, that are actually running
the country, you know, tons of politicians that have
been making a lot of money with this business and the show starts, in the first episode, saying that, since the ’80’s, since this started, there’s been more than a half a million
people killed in Mexico. So, the idea of making sure audiences around the world think about
that when they’re gonna have a line of cocaine
made sense suddenly. And it’s quite complicated
also because yes, we happen to have the longest border between the first world
and the third world, we happen to be the neighbor
of the biggest consumer of drugs and it’s quite
unfair, to be honest, you know? And the story hasn’t been
told that way, you know? That drug dealers are always the bad guys and there is good guys chasing them. And it’s more in the gray
areas, what’s really happening and the involvement of
government, police, military on both sides of the border. It’s crucial for this to exist,
for this gigantic business. So, it was a good chance
to start the conversation from a different perspective, you know? (speaking in foreign language) – Well, it’s one thing to
have the conversation here and elsewhere around the world. I’m curious what the
conversation has been in Mexico and were you terrified of what that, of the response?
– At the beginning, people were very, very… Let’s say critical to us. People wanted to say, like, just don’t keep telling the story of (speaks in foreign language), stop it, and there’s another Mexico. And I agree but we’re in war right now and Mexico needs this conversation out and the violence has
started to hit the cities and started to get really close and now everyone has a story and that needs to stop. And I think television is
willing to take the risk. Yes, to entertain but
to plant a seed that, hopefully, can bring change. – Are you scared? – Eh, but no more than
before doing the show because I live there. I have kids and I still
choose that city to be my city so I’m gonna fight to try to
make it a safer place always because that’s where
all my love stories are. And it’s exciting to see, because this is international companies, it’s Gaumont from France
and Netflix from the States, telling a story that we
haven’t been able to tell in the right way. And it’s also a great chance
to see Mexicans working and being in this table means a lot, talking about this and not Star Wars because I think that the
great beauty of my job is that I can talk about what worries me, what matters to me and they’re
giving me that opportunity. – Hugh, I’m gonna segue to you. I know there was, initially, some hesitation with doing television, that you, then, got past. Curious, A, what that hesitation
was but, B, why this story? Why was this the thing that
brought you to the medium? – Well, it wasn’t really hesitation, I mean, it was just pure snobbery. (Lacey laughing) I’d done a film with Stephen Frears, Florence Foster Jenkins, I
was having dinner with him and he said, what are you doing next? I said, I’ve got a thing, he said, (mumbles) I’ve
gotta send you something. And he sent me this thing
and it was three scripts and I thought, television? I don’t do television. (laughing) And then I read them
and they were brilliant and I realize everyone does it now. I just can’t help having
a little hankering for the old days of glamour. – [Lacey] I get it! – Cinemas with lots of people in them. Anyway, it’s all gone. (laughing) And there’s no question that the TV’s full of fantastic writing and everything and this
was a brilliant project. In women, what are you, 50-50? – I’m more like 80-20. I mean, 80% for the ladies. – Yeah, yes, I’d call
myself 80% but 80% gay. – Gosh, I’m not sure that
word’s ever been said within these walls before
and not in that context. My wife insists that gay means happy. – I think she’s absolutely right and I intend to be very happy,
very many times in my life. I didn’t know which part
he wanted me to play. I said, but great script but what part? – What was the other option
that you saw in there that could be you? – Well, I was tons of options. I could’ve been Norman
Scott or the Home Secretary or the dog, I didn’t understand. But Frears is very good
at seeing things in me that I certainly never saw
and he said, no, Jeremy Thorpe and so, I had to say yes. And then, spent a nice
year panicking about it. – What was that panic? – Well, I always have a panic and I know everyone else does but… Yeah, your fear of failure, and particularly if there’s a long delay. It got delayed, that project and so I spent a year
researching this character. Maybe that helped it, maybe that made me better, I don’t know. It was, yes, a lot of, I took a very deep bath in that character and I met all the people
who’d ever known him and I read every book and
I watched him on YouTube. It was a dangerous moment
when I was watching him on YouTube and realized I
could do quite a good imitation of him ’cause I kinda do imitations. And I thought, is that enough? I thought, no, shit, Ben Whishaw’s in it, he’ll be doing proper acting. (laughing) So, and I went into his
inner life a bit more. – Talk to me about watching it
with your 89-year-old father, – Yes, yes,
– particularly, there’s– – Well, ex-military father who I have dinner with on Sunday nights and, to my horror, I
went ’round when the show was just coming out on
the BBC and he said, now, wait a minute, isn’t
your butt(bleep) film on television tonight? (laughing)
And I said, well, yes, dad. And he said, let’s watch it! And I said, no, no,
it’s not up your alley, you wouldn’t like it, really. And he said, no, nonsense,
I’ve got a television upstairs, if you show me how to work
it, we’ll watch it together. So, I then, had to sit
there with my old dad and watch this thing where I
bring Vaseline into the room and spread it on Ben Whishaw. Poor, old Paddington. (laughing) And it was at that point
that my father said, well, I think I might go to bed now. (laughing) But dad, he’s classic. I took him to Paddington
2, to the premiere in Leicester Square, in London. And halfway through the film, he turned to me and said,
is that a real bear? (laughing) And I had to say, well, no
dad, ’cause he’s talking. – That’s how it happens. (laughing)
– Yeah. – Has anyone else had that
experience of watching with a relative or someone where it’s just painfully awkward? (Sam laughing) – [Sam] Probably, yeah. – [Billy] I have not. – Any sex scene, I think. – Yeah?
– Yeah, those are always, those are always bad.
– Sex scene with mum watching is never…
– Yeah. – [Lacey] Is not that fun? – No, it isn’t.
– Do you prepare mom for that? – I always, I used to do it
and sometimes you forget. And then it’s tea spat
out or cover your eyes! And you’re like, well,
I’ve seen it, I was in it. – That was me, that was me. You’ve had some of those? – Oh, yeah, totally had some of those. I don’t warn my mom because
she suffers from anxiety so it’s kind of one of those things, I just let her go through
what she goes through. – In the moment. – Yeah, yeah, yeah.
– Just gonna happen anyways, so might as well, yep. Sam, for you, with Fosse/Verdon, one of the goals of a project like this was to make Gwen Verdon’s
story a bigger part of the story and it not
just be Fosse’s story. What do you remember from
the conversations around that and how do you, then, infuse
that into your performance? – Oh, we wanted to correct the record on how much Gwen Verdon was
a part of that collaboration and that was a big part of our agenda, I guess you could say and also, we thought it would
be better as a love story and that would have a natural,
kind of, through line. And Michelle Williams is a
force of nature, she’s amazing. And so, that was sort of
the beginning of that. – And happened to hit at a
moment in time in Hollywood where so much of the
conversation is about that and I’m curious of how much of
the movement influenced that. – Well, I think we had
to kind of address it, otherwise, we wouldn’t
be responsible, I think. And also, with this guy
who was very complicated, we had to bring that into the conversation and she was, she was, they
were kinda like twins, the two of them, you know? They really were codependent in this way. And now, we’re onto the bridge. Start to undo your skirt and, ♪ I always get ♪
– get and hip straight through to Joe,
♪ what I aim for. ♪ – six, seven, eight, ♪ your heart and soul ♪
– squeeze out of your skirt and drop.
♪ is what I came for ♪ (imitating whooshing) – Where’d you learn that? – I was dancing burlesque
houses when I was 14. – Huh, one two, three,
(imitates drum roll). I was 13. – Did I read that you
consult your therapist – Yeah, I do.
– on all your roles? I’m curious, what did the
discussion entail for this one? – Well, you know, Bob
was a complicate dude and so, you know, there was, as Hugh said, a deep bath, you know, I did take a deep bath in this and it can, you know, mess
with your head a little bit, it can mess with you a little bit. But there was a lot of
elements to playing Bob and early on, the dance scene, the choregrapher brought me together with this young lady who was a dancer and I fancied myself a
hoofer and I was kinda cocky about it and then, I
realized quite quickly that I was not a dancer,
not a professional dancer and I had a lot of work to do. – [Billy] You did good,
though, you did good! – Thanks, thanks, man.
– Is it all you? – It’s all me but Michelle
does a lot more dancing than I do. – But there’s not a stunt double, as if that’s what you’re asking, – No, no stunt double.
– no, it was you. – Yeah, yeah. – [Lacey] And you had his daughter on set. – Yes, she choreographed
a number, actually. – What are those conversations, what do you ask and are
you trying to find humanity in the guy or is that?
– Yeah, absolutely, you have to shake hands with all, you know, Iago or whoever
this character is, you gotta shake hands with them. I think John Lithgow said that. But yeah, I mean, there’s so many… There’s so many elements to it, you know? But again, it’s gotta be
entertaining, I think. You don’t wanna get too heavy. – [Lacey] No, but that is a balancing act, I’m guessing, a lot of the time. (pop music) Billy, for you, when, initially, you were called for Pose,
– Yes. – it’s not the role that you ultimately play.
– No. – That role was not a part of it. What did you see when
you walked in the door? What did you know and where
did the confidence come to say, hey, wait a second, I think
there’s another role here? – Well, like I touched on before, you know, I came out in the ’80’s, I lived through AIDS, we
went right to the front. I went right to the front
lines to fight for our lives and our rights and I was
in the middle of it before, I was in the middle of ACT UP
before I could blink twice. So, the ball culture, I say
I was ball culture adjacent (laughing) because I was lucky, you know? People discovered that I had talent early, the angels in my life,
they sort of pushed me in the right direction. So, I moved to New York
second semester of senior year from Carnegie Mellon to
be in the original cast of Miss Saigon. So, I had a job. I was doing eight shows a week. I was in the chorus and I
would go out to the clubs and I would go out to
these balls and, you know, so, I didn’t, I knew it. Paris is Burning came out right when I was becoming an adult. So, I had lived it. So, I get the call to
go in for this project. I had been speaking Ryan
Murphy’s name into existence for three or four years
because I looked at the market and I was like, this is the only man that’s really gonna understand me and like my flamboyance
and do something with it, like, he’ll get it. So, I was like, journal and speaking and all that kind of stuff,
all that ooga booga stuff. So, I get the call and they’re, Ryan Murphy, like, this is my wheelhouse and I get the script and
it’s for the dance teacher that’s outside of the
world who is now played by Charlayne Woodard so
brilliantly on the show. Okay, so, I go in, I prepare the audition, I do the audition and then, this is where the Tony and the Grammy gives you confidence,
and age ’cause now I’m 45 at this point, 40, no, 40, no, 47 at this time and I did the audition and then I said to Alexa
Fogel, okay, so, can we talk? ‘Cause this is what’s happening, right? I’ve lived it. You know, yes, whatever
y’all want me to do, I’ll be there for it but
what about one of the mothers of the houses of or, you know, ’cause there were male and female mothers and she said, Ryan wants to go transgender and it’s, like, the most
brilliant idea ever. I had just directed a play
for transgender actresses of color in it and I said,
I’ve worked in that world, the talent is there. There’s been no opportunity,
though, to cut their teeth. So, many of the actors and
actresses are really green and you’re gonna need somebody over there to be daddy, right? You know, daddy’s right here. So, I got a call a couple of weeks later. Ryan thinks you’re right, if you can come in and do an impersonation of the MC from Paris is Burning, he will develop something for you. And I thought, if… (laughing) – Yeah, you got this.
– I can do? It’s like, the whole world has
been doing an impersonation of these people from this movie, not even knowing that they
were been doing impersonations of these people from this movie. It’s like, the culture has
been especially coming out of the LGBTQ, and sort of, as it has translated into mainstream, all of the lingo, especially,
has come from this. So, they gave me ’bout
20 pages of declarations and I went in and I did my thing. The thing that was really
the greatest part of it, for me, is that it was
like a final callback for a Broadway show, for a
Broadway play or a musical. It wasn’t a screen test, traditionally. That’s my wheelhouse. So, I’m sittin’ there, the room is filled with all the people who
can give you the gig and they can ask me anything, I can do it, they can
ask me to make changes, I can do it, you know, all of that stuff. And, as you can see, I know how to talk so he just asking me questions and I’m like, clack, clack,
clack, ka-clacka clacka clacka! And it’s so, it’s just, it
couldn’t be more perfect! And he was just, they were, like, yep, we’re gonna figure this out and… – And here we are. – You know, three weeks later, the character name was Pray Tell and we were off to the races. – I love that. Is there a change that
you fought for or a way to take your character that, perhaps, wasn’t already on the page? I mean, are you the guys
that raise your hand and say, not who I think you are? – I’m Barbara Streisand in trousers, I mean, I’m very, very interfering. – What does that mean? Give us an example, please. – Well, maybe I’m doing her a disservice. Maybe she’s very easy. I always heard
– No, I don’t think so. – she was quite interfering and difficult. Yeah, I’ve got better but, I
mean, as my power has dwindled, but when I had a bit of power, I, yeah, got involved
with everything from, you know, heavily involved in the script and the casting and the crew and down to what the poster
was gonna look like in Italy. – Do people listen or do people fight you? – The Hollywood system, they
pretend to listen, they nod. – [Richard] So, have you
any interest in producing, then, if you have wanted for such–
– Well, I did a bit of that, I did a bit of that and it’s actually horrible, producing. I don’t know if you’ve done
it but it’s like driving a car from the backseat. You’re just tearing your hair out while someone else is
driving, like, no, no, no. Slow, go right. – To me, the directing
brought me patience, you know? I used to be, I think, a pain in the ass in five years before I
decided to go on directing. But I directed my first film and I phoned a few directors back, saying, sorry, you know?
– You did? – I’m ready whenever you
are, (laughs) you know? No one called me but. (laughing) But it does, once you leave it and you go through that process of actually having to
answer every question and sound secure, I think it’s when I pull out my acting – The most.
– the best, you know, to convince everyone I knew what I wanted when you don’t. It’s impossible. And then you choose to do a project when you’re 35 and you end up shooting it when you’re 42 and you’re
telling the same story but you’re not the same person. Directing is good, I think
and also theater gives you – Some guidance?
– what’s needed. Yeah, because in theater, it’s the actor who has the control and you go from beginning to end every night and then, you realize how
difficult it is to do that and acting can be a little schizophrenic, you come in and out and
you don’t actually know what you’re doing ’til
you see it, years later. – Sure, sure. – Kinky Boots, Harvey Fierstein. The quintessential voice
of the LGBT community, one of the first, in my lifetime, was bored with telling stories
about gay men in dresses. So, Lola was not gay. That’s fine. There is a tradition, a
panto tradition from England, the Some Like It Hot situation, the Tootsie situation, Mrs. Doubtfire, all of that exists. Straight man in a dress exists, it works, everybody likes that. For me, to have chosen
authenticity and waited as long as I’ve waited to
get to the point where I was, with that show, it would
be irresponsible for me, as an African American gay man… Out, gay actor, to get my shot
wearing a dress on Broadway and then say the character is straight. I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I can’t do it like that. This character can be straight and when Wayne Brady comes in, which he did, he played
it as a straight man and it works that way,
too but not with me. – Not with you. And it was hard because I had to explain, well, we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen it. We’ve not seen it before. We’ve not seen it before. It’s different this time. And I fought for that, I really did. – I love that. Stephan, this has been quite
a remarkable period for you. You go from Beale Street to Homecoming, or at least that’s the way the world, sort of, received these projects. Curious, for you, A, how the opportunities have changed since and
how your making decisions have changed now that, presumably,
the world’s your oyster. – I think it gets
tougher in a weird sense. – How so? – I don’t know, I think that,
the more eyes that are on you, I think that you’re more mindful of just how careful
the choices have to be. And, for me, I think that
it’s a wonderful thing that, to be able to call up anyone
or have anyone call you up and be able to sit down and
have lunch with anybody, I think that that’s really cool. All of a sudden, I’m
meeting these directors who I’ve loved my whole life and now I get to go to
coffee and lunch with them and they know me and that’s a cool thing. But I think, certainly,
the decisions get tougher. I think that you’re constantly thinking about what’s gonna challenge you next, what’s gonna be different
than what people are expecting and then not wanting to
oversaturate or do too much. So, it’s a little bit of
a balancing act, I think, for me, at this point in time, is learning how to
navigate this new level, these new horizons. But really, I think it’s
Champagne problems, so. (group laughing)
– Well, yes, but it’s all relative. I mean, is that something
that, I feel like, you, Richard, have,
perhaps, gone through, too? All of a sudden, your name, I mean, you Google your name and
it’s with Bond rumors and– – Never do that, never Google your name. – Yeah but now, all of a sudden, that is what’s attached to your name and it’s Game of Thrones,
Bodyguard and now Bond, so how do you navigate
your choices in all of that and, perhaps, tune it out
if you need to tune it out? – That’s what I was just
thinking when you were talking, was, I think I was never more confident when I had no success because
I had nothing to lose. And then, any time you do
something and it goes down well, I have that thing of entering a room, feeling like people are, like, all right, well, deliver now that
we’ve seen you do this or you’ve done that well. And so, that’s when it
actually starts to get worse, it’s all in your own head ’cause, actually, it should all
be confidence-boosting but actually, I kind of go
in and I feel I have more to live up to, I have more to lose now and that kind of wears away at you and you have to check yourself sometimes and remind yourself, look, there’s a lot of other
people that think you’re good and every time someone thinks you’re good, in my head, I go, oh,
no, it can’t be true, it can’t be true. And you really need to, kind of, I find, I’m having to really check myself on that because that pressure of trying to live up to
it and keep your standards at what you’ve done means it
gets harder and harder to fail. You get more and more terrified of failing when you’ve got something to lose and I think that’s just part of it. I’m gonna do some good things, I hope, and I’m probably gonna
do some shit things, too and it’s just gonna be the journey of it, I’m gonna learn all the way through it and try and not take each
one as this needs to be it, then it needs to be this,
then it needs to be this. I think I need to kind of
try to relax a bit more on the journey of succeeding and failing ’cause I think you learn,
I learn a helluva lot more when I’m failing, I think. – Are there things that
you guys wish you knew about navigating fame and
success that you know now? – When I was more in your
shoe, where you are now, where you are now, and after Four Weddings and the world was my oyster, I should’ve made interesting decisions and done different stuff. Instead, I repeated myself, almost identically,
about 17 times in a row. (laughing) That was a bad idea. (laughing) – You know, I have to say, I’ve had a very interesting trajectory because I’ve seen my friends
become stars 20 years ago. I’ve seen them navigate
that for, you know, so I have information at 50 that I’m so glad that I have,
entering this market now. It has given me a different kind of… Clarity and confidence, in a sense, that I’ve just seen it enough, I’ve been around enough
to never go online. – In terms of your preparation processes, what are your go-to tricks, the things you need to
do to get into a role? – I mean, it’s usually one garment. (laughing) Or even a way you wear one garment. For this Jeremy Thorpe thing, he was famous for wearing these hats and I was standing there at Manses, costume place in London,
for days and days, thinking, what the fuck is wrong here? I’m dressed just like Jeremy Thorpe, I’m wearing the same hat,
I can’t get it right. I can’t see him, I can’t see him. And then, one of the guys there said, just tilt it back two inches. Bingo, there he was. – [Lacey] That was it. – Yeah and then, everything
started to fall into place. I took the hat home and when
I was studying the part, I’d wear it and I could see him, feel him. It’s weird. – I’m very much like that, too. – [Lacey] The costume? – You know, it’s very
much about the silhouette, it’s very much about
what would this person, you know, that’s a lot of it. – Which is not what we’re supposed to do, we’re supposed to work
from the inside out, not from the outside in.
– We work from the, I work from the inside out, too but that’s the moment, that final moment when you
actually get those clothes. All that inside, interior
work is the foundation. – Sure.
– Yeah. – For this guy, the guy
in Narcos, Felix Gallardo, to understand that Mexico he lived in, that I didn’t get to live, you know, and when I
started researching on that, I was very jealous and suddenly, I really wanted to be him
in order to experience that and I stopped judging the character or thinking about his choices and more about the beauty of life, those moments that I cannot live anymore in Mexico because it’s gone. – That’s right, enjoying the
character is huge, isn’t it? – Yeah.
– It’s a very key moment when you think, oh,
(stutters) it’s quite fun. I like being him. – Yeah, I gotta be really
careful when I say that in Mexico because everybody goes, like, oh my god! But it’s true, we are actors
and we have to understand and enjoy the journey and believe in it and then we can be
objective again and say, this is a horrible world. But once you’re living in it,
– But you feel that. – you have to enjoy it. – Sometimes, you gotta
be able to look yourself in the mirror and see that character. – [Billy] Yeah! – You know, I strongly believe in that. When I was playing Jesse Owens, he had this haircut that the hairline was stretched a little
further back for some reason. You know, really young
men, back in the 1930’s, just had these way back hairlines and so, I remember saying to myself, I don’t really feel like
Jesse, I gotta do somethin’ and as soon as I cut my hair like that and had to live with myself like that and wake up every morning and
look at myself in the mirror, it’s strange how it started
to change the way you talk and change your facial expressions and, of course, you
gotta wear a baseball hat around all your friends
because they don’t understand – (laughs) Right?
but– – I wasn’t allowed to
have sex for three months when I did that. (laughing) My wife said, I’m sorry,
you’re unshaggable. (laughing) – Then you run into those problems. (laughing) – What is the one thing that your fans would be most surprised
to learn about you? Or even shocked to learn about you? – (laughs) It’s a weird question because I don’t think many
actors think that way. You would go mad if you think
about the fans as a thing. It’s, yeah, I avoid thinking that way. – I think people would be surprised that I’m actually a situational extrovert. (men laughing)
I’m more, – A what?
– What does that mean? – I’m more of a introvert
when it comes to, as I’ve grown older, I’ve
become more of an introvert. That means I get my
energy from being silent or from being alone or from
being with fewer people. You know, when I was younger,
I was really an extrovert. Now, I know how to do it for work. But I think people are
very surprised by that. – Yeah, I’m gonna go with that. I’m a little shy, too. I think, social anxiety, yeah.
– Super shy, – [Stephan] super shy, reserved. – I like really crap pop music. (group laughing) – [Lacey] Like what? – Oh, I’m not gonna name names, am I? But yeah, kinda really
rubbish, cheesy stuff. I just like music – Yeah, me too, I like that!
– that makes me feel happy, you know, I’m not classy
when it comes to it. Give me some really rubbish pop. – See, that’s good! Now, we’re gettin’ somewhere! – Yeah, yeah, yeah! – It’s catchy. – Yeah, what about you, Hugh? What would people be surprised to learn? – I just think how nasty I am, really. People saw all those romantic comedies where I was being the nice guy, written by Richard Curtis,
who is a very nice guy, he spends half his life
saving the starving, and people used to think,
oh, Hugh must be like that, and it always made him laugh
’cause I’m vile, really. (group laughing) – Well, I think we’ve done it, guys. – Thank you for being part
– That’s it, all right. of this conversation.
– Thanks, guy. – You’ve done it, the hour flew, right? (pop music)
– Yes, it did.

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