Need to make sense of the strangest awards season ever? We have a podcast for that

Anya Taylor-Joy looks at a chess board in "The Queen's Gambit."
Anya Taylor-Joy in “The Queen’s Gambit.”

Hello! Welcome to a special Wednesday edition of The Envelope newsletter. The Times recently launched “The Envelope: The Podcast,” an audio companion to our awards publication, and we’ll be bringing the highlights from each week’s episode right to your inbox.

There’s a lot to digest during this unusual awards season.

And if 2020’s awards ceremonies are any indication, what lies ahead is sure to be unlike anything we’ve seen. The Emmys proceeded with a largely remote virtual telecast — who can forget the dystopian flair of workers in tuxedo hazmat suits stationed outside celebrity homes to hand out statuettes? And last month, the People’s Choice Awards replaced its usual live crowd with a virtual one made up of dozens of giant video panels from all over the country.

Every episode of “The Envelope: The Podcast” will feature your hosts, Yvonne Villarreal and Mark Olsen, in conversation with the talent behind some of the most dynamic work to come out of 2020. You’ll also hear from Glenn Whipp, Times awards columnist, with beat-by-beat analysis of how the various awards races are shaping up. (Glenn will continue to write the Friday edition of The Envelope newsletter once awards season truly heats up.)


To give you a healthy sampling of what our podcast is all about, we’re releasing three episodes starting today! Read on to catch highlights from our conversations with Andy Samberg (“Palm Springs”), Jurnee Smollett (“Lovecraft Country”) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”), and be sure to check back for new episodes — and the special-edition newsletter — every Wednesday throughout awards season.

From Mark: I’m Mark Olsen, a film reporter for The Times. They keep me pretty busy around here, working on our weekly Indie Focus newsletter as well as reporting and writing film stories and doing some reviewing. At the core of it all? I like talking to people and sharing their work with others. And The Envelope: The Podcast is a great way to talk movies with some truly intriguing people.

In our debut episode, I speak with producer and actor Andy Samberg about the movie “Palm Springs.” A hit at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it set a record for the highest Sundance sale ever by a margin of $0.69, the Max Barbakow-directed film is a time-twisting rom-com starring Samberg and Cristin Milioti as Niles and Sarah, two people who find themselves trapped at a wedding. Possibly forever.

Of the film’s purposefully ambiguous ending Samberg said, “There’s two stories. One is the sci-fi story plot. And the other one is the emotional, romantic story between Niles and Sarah. And they interweave a great deal. But I think it’s the correct response for people to wonder what happened. And then hopefully have fun conversations with people who agree or disagree with them.”

And Samberg isn’t the only interview we have lined up. My colleague Yvonne Villarreal, who covers television, talked with two actresses who delivered stellar performances this year. But I’ll let her tell you about them...

Jurnee Smollett in HBO's "Lovecraft Country."

From Yvonne: Thanks, Mark! As you know, it’s been interesting to monitor how Hollywood has responded to the pandemic — it’s certainly changed how I work. I’ve done virtual set visits while eating cereal in my living room and have had virtual interviews interrupted by the rumblings of garbage pickup. (James Corden was very patient!) And while I thought I watched a lot of TV before quarantine, I feel like I’ve now entered a committed relationship with each “Are you still watching?” prompt from the streaming services I subscribe to.

For our first week, I spoke with Jurnee Smollett, who wowed audiences this fall with her performance as gutsy, self-assured Leticia “Leti” Lewis in HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” From Misha Green (“Underground”), the 1950s-set sci-fi/horror drama is a timeless exploration of racism in America that interweaves supernatural horrors with societal ones.


“We as a society suffer from cultural amnesia,” Smollett said of the show’s added resonance after a summer of protests. “We forget our past. And it is the very reason why we are repeating it. Brother [George] Floyd or Breonna Taylor or the siblings that we have lost, that we continue to lose, unfortunately fall in line with the historical suffering that we as a people have witnessed for generations. We have inherited a lineage of trauma. We have inherited a lineage of terror. Black safety is one of the most terrifying themes and stories you can tell.”

I also spoke with the actress partly responsible for a recent surge in chess-set sales. Anya Taylor-Joy gives a riveting performance in Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” as Beth Harmon, an orphan who becomes a chess prodigy and makes a name for herself in the typically male-dominated game in the ’50s and ’60s.

Taylor-Joy revealed the handiwork that went into looking like a real chess master right before cameras started rolling.

“One of the first things we shot in Berlin was a whole day of tournament pieces in Mexico City. And they’d given me this massive tome with 350 chess sequences in it, like full chess games. And I started working through it, and started memorizing. I showed up and they changed the first game and I was like, ‘No, no, no, no. Absolutely not. This is how this is going to work: You’re going to show me the sequences five minutes before we play. I’m going to store that in my short-term memory, I’m going to remember the choreography, I’m going to execute it. ... It was like finger choreography.”

And that’s just for starters. Upcoming guests on the podcast include Rashida Jones for “On the Rocks,” Aubrey Plaza and Lawrence Michael Levine for “Black Bear” and Hugh Grant for “The Undoing.” Why risk missing out? Subscribe to “The Envelope: The Podcast” on Apple Podcasts or your podcast app of choice.

Can't get enough about awards season?

For more, follow us on Twitter at @villarrealy and @IndieFocus, and for a deeper dive into the best new movies, get Mark’s weekly Indie Focus newsletter.

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