Hollywood's Awards and Industry Insider
Actresses on the power of empathy, Meryl Streep and virginity scenes

For this year’s awards season, The Envelope brought together a unique group of actresses, including rising stars breaking through to the next level and established stars breaking out into new roles and challenges, each earning some buzz for their current films.

Participating in the conversation were Jennifer Aniston from the small, personal drama “Cake” (opening in December); Emily Blunt from the musical “Into the Woods” (opening Christmas Day); Jessica Chastain from the recently released space epic “Interstellar” and the December drama “A Most Violent Year”; Gugu Mbatha-Raw from the historic drama “Belle,” which opened in May; and Shailene Woodley from June’s young adult love story “The Fault in Our Stars.”

Here are edited excerpts from the free-flowing conversation moderated by Times film writers Rebecca Keegan and Mark Olsen in which the actresses share their experiences singing on-screen, drunk singing on-screen, what it takes to land a part and the changing roles for women in...

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'The Judge' stars, director and producer reexamine the evidence

Playing a slick attorney in "The Judge," Robert Downey Jr. traded Iron Man's armor for more tailored threads. The movie, which opened the Toronto International Film Festival in September, is a crowd-pleaser — funny, suspenseful and sometimes quite moving — anchored by a number of fine performances, particularly Downey and Robert Duvall, who play Hank and Judge Joseph Palmer, an estranged son and father working things out the hard way. We spoke to the actors, director David Dobkin and producer Susan Downey at a recent Envelope Screening Series event. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

The idea for this movie, David, started with your relationship with your mother and caring for her when she was sick. You had a complex relationship with her?

Dobkin: Very complicated. I was the kid always getting in trouble and getting arrested, and my father was the really brilliant attorney who was cross-examining me in the kitchen at night. But my mother somehow was the one that really delivered...

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Timothy Spall creates 'Mr. Turner' from the spare strokes of Mike Leigh

With its turbulent swirls of black and gray, British painter J.M.W. Turner's 1842 canvas "Snow Storm — Steam-boat Off a Harbour's Mouth" is unparalleled in its evocation of the terror and beauty of a raging sea. There are those who doubt the story that Turner had himself strapped to a ship's mast during a gale in order to experience the forces he so vividly set down in paint, but actor Timothy Spall, who plays Turner in Mike Leigh's earthy biography, is not among them.

"There's a lot of contention among aficionados of Turner as to whether he did that," Spall agrees. "But when I look at that painting, having copied it full-size in oil, and having been in a Force 9 storm at sea as a skipper, I know he was definitely there, watching the storm. I know because of the movement in that painting, and the terror he captures, and the sense of isolation and the beauty. I just know that this is a man who knows about the sea."

In a dapper striped sport coat, Spall looks little like the snorting,...

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Ronald Colman's 'Double Life' role carries echoes of 'Birdman' theme

As Michael Keaton's critically lauded "Birdman" emerges as an Oscar hopeful, with its tortured actor losing sight of where his character ends and how much realism to bring to the stage, it calls to mind 1930s and '40s actor Ronald Colman.

The dashing, debonair Colman had been a major star since the silent era, making women's hearts flutter in his heroic, romantic roles in such films as 1935's "A Tale of Two Cities," 1937's "The Prisoner of Zenda" and 1942's "Random Harvest."

Colman finally got a chance to show a darker side in 1947's "A Double Life," a psychological thriller/film noir about a famous Broadway actor, Anthony John, who takes Method acting to a whole new and ultimately murderous level. Anthony is carefree and charming when he's doing a comedy but loses his grip on his sanity when he stars in Shakespeare's "Othello."

Nominated for four Academy Awards — including director for George Cukor and screenplay for Garson Kanin and his wife, Ruth Gordon — "A Double Life" won Oscars...

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For Gillian Flynn, 'Gone Girl' script began with wrestling a 'monster'

My adaptation of "Gone Girl" began with a filthy, nasty amount of cursing. I really outdid myself. The [expletive] book was so [expletive] long and so [expletive] internal and so [expletive] unchronological … and what kind of [expletive] monster would write such a thing anyway? The answer to that last question was: me. I'd been cocksure certain I was the only person who should attempt to adapt my novel — it's me, it has got to be me! Then, when my bluff was called and it actually came time to write the script, I realized, to my horror, I might actually have to write the script.

I had a number of abandoned screenplays on my laptop (plied with enough booze, I may tell you someday about my romantic comedy involving animatronic pigs), so I understood the form. But "understanding the form" only takes you so far.

"Gone Girl" is a story about a golden couple, Nick and Amy Dunne. Amy goes missing on their five-year anniversary, Nick becomes a suspect — then stuff really starts to happen. "Gone...

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Marion Cotillard syncs with Dardenne brothers on 'Two Days, One Night'

"Two Days, One Night," Belgium's foreign-language Oscar entry, boasts the star power of Marion Cotillard under the direction of naturalistic masters the Dardenne brothers.

Like most of the Dardennes' work, "Two Days" is about the working class — in this case, focusing on Sandra, a woman wrestling both severe depression and an attempt by the management at her company to lay her off by offering her co-workers a bonus if they vote her out. Upon learning an early vote went against her, Sandra talks her boss into holding a second one and uses the weekend to visit and persuade her co-workers to let her keep her job.

"It's not a very realistic film. In real life, I think Sandra would have lost her employment immediately and there wouldn't have been this whole story built around her going to see different people, trying to change their minds," says an energetic Luc Dardennes, at 60, the younger brother by three years.

"Today, people are in solidarity for great humanitarian missions but not for...

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