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Angela Bassett, Janelle Monáe talk nudity on set post-#MeToo, learning how to slow down

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When a role in a film requires nudity, many performers hesitate to take on the part. Can we use a body double? What if the revealing scene is captured online and becomes easily searchable? What will my parents think!?

And imagine that the part in question doesn’t just call for showing, say, the top third of one’s buttocks. What if the script includes a sequence where a character dances fully naked in the rain? No nipple covers, no body stockings, no nothing.

Yes, Emma Corrin found this very prospect “completely terrifying.” But it was also the precise reason they signed on to make “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”

“There was nothing about that that you could possibly fake,” said Corrin, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. “It felt really bold — and it felt terrifying — but very enticing.”

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A woman dressed in black and white
Actor Emma Corrin
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

After an award-winning turn as Princess Diana on the fourth season of “The Crown,” Corrin is now appearing in their first major film roles. This fall, they appear in two movies: “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” a fresh adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 tale of an unhappily married woman who begins a clandestine affair, and “My Policeman,” where their character is the one being cheated on by a husband grappling with his sexuality in 1950s Britain.

In late October, Corrin joined five peers on The Envelope’s Actress Roundtable to discuss their turns in some of the season’s most acclaimed films. The young star was joined by Angela Bassett, the veteran 64-year-old performer who reprises her role as the Queen of Wakanda in the sequel “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” — this time grieving the loss of her son with the death of Chadwick Boseman; the Ireland-bred Kerry Condon, 39, who plays a woman torn between following her professional dreams or staying close to her family in “The Banshees of Inisherin”; Danielle Deadwyler, 40, who portrays a grieving mother in “Till,” the true story of how a woman fought for justice after her 14-year-old son was brutally lynched in 1955; singer-turned-actress Janelle Monáe, 36, who has a pivotal role in the whodunit “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”; and Laura Dern, 55, who appears in “The Son” as a mother trying to help her teenage son in the midst of a mental health crisis.

They got into the benefits of on-set intimacy coordinators (it’s like a stunt coordinator for a fight scene), downtime (good or bad?) and channeling real-life pain. Their conversation here has been edited for length and clarity.

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Are there things you refuse to do in a film now that maybe you would have done earlier in your career?

Angela Bassett: I’m not dancing naked in the rain! [Laughs] Boom. Knowing now what I [looked like] in hindsight, I might have done it then. But definitely not doing it now. So, I missed that one.

Emma, an intimacy coordinator played a large role on set in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Have any of the rest of you worked with one?

Bassett: That would be new for me.

Kerry Condon: It would be for me, too, yeah. I don’t know how I’d feel about it. Is it kind of more embarrassing to be talking about it than just doing it?

Emma Corrin: No, it’s really so good and so necessary. ... It’s where you put hands, and then what you’re comfortable with, what you’re not. You just walk it through beat by beat, so it takes any sexiness out of it. You know exactly what you’re doing so that in the moment when you’re acting you can let go, and you don’t have to worry about being uncomfortable or accidentally making someone else uncomfortable. I liken it to choreographing a fight scene — you’d never do that without a stunt coordinator. Why would you ever do a sex scene without an intimacy coordinator?

Intimacy coordinators are now more common on set in the wake of the #MeToo reckoning. Have you noticed other things tangibly changing in that regard?

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Laura Dern: Some. Not all. But, some.

Condon: I’m struggling to think of something. That says it all, a bit.

Corrin: I think there’s more of a dialogue and an awareness ...

Bassett: More sensitivity.

Corrin: There’s more sensitivity, but I think there’s still a fear on sets. I just think within our industry there are so many power dynamics. It’s so hard to break through those barriers to be able to ever vocalize that you’re uncomfortable.

A windswept woman n a dress and belt
Actor Laura Dern
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Dern: And if you don’t — one thing I loved bearing witness to in the last few years is that you feel crew members feeling your discomfort. Someone is there to hold your hand. I certainly remember years where the love scene’s starting and you feel slightly uncomfortable, and the leading man or a crew member goes, “Oh, she’s fine. You’re going to be fine with this, right?” And so you’re shamed into not saying anything.

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Now, there are women on set. I mean, before, [even] my hair and makeup was done by men. When I was 11 and if I was uncomfortable, who did I tell? Now, thank God for a search for gender and diversity parity where we feel represented, heard and understood. We have colleagues who can have our back and get us. There’s still a lot of work to do, but that feels massive. Do you all feel that as well?

Bassett: I sense that. Now I’m sitting here trying to remember different moments where I had love scenes, whether it was “What’s Love Got to Do With It” or John Sayles’ “City of Hope.” You’re laid bare, and it’s like, “Help!” There was no conversation about what all we’re going to show or whatever. It was slightly uncomfortable, and you had to push on through it. I remember feeling an insensitivity from the top down. The crew’s just going around, and no one’s making sure you’re covered.

Angela Bassett (‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’) on Chadwick Boseman for the Envelope Roundtable.

A woman in an orange suit
Actor Angela Bassett
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Angela, you’ve said that the cast and crew really leaned on one another during “Wakanda Forever” because you were all struggling after the death of Chadwick Boseman. Your character also has to deal with the grief of losing a son. Was it cathartic to bring that off-screen pain into your work?

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Bassett: Yeah, that was very helpful. I remember years ago, I was doing a play on Broadway with my mentor and teacher, Lloyd Richards. Some of life was imitating art, and I was trying to keep it separate, and he called me on it. He said, “You’re going through this, right? Use it.” I was like, “Oh, how cold!” [Laughs] He’s just like, “Put it on display. It’s hurting, use it.” And pretty soon I got it. Make it good for something. We have to use ourselves, our body, our instrument, to illuminate this experience called life that we’re having.

Danielle and Laura, you also both play mothers dealing with loss in your films — and you have sons off-screen, too. Did you share in Angela’s approach of pulling from your own life?

Danielle Deadwyler: It’s a hint of it, but I had to come home to him every day, right? And he still wants side money for various things and an array of foods to eat. I need to talk about whatever the heck is interesting to him, like “Fortnite” or whatnot. I think the historical nature of “Till” was weight enough. The nature of it being a part of a continuum that persists to this day. That was a persisting load that I didn’t necessarily have to pull from a personal experience in order to do. And we’re directly coming off of it from 2020. We’re coming off of it from ’21. We’re coming off of a couple weeks ago, when a young man who was 15 was killed in Mississippi by an officer. It’s a perpetual psychic experience, and it can hit you emotionally at all corners of time. To think about the present is just an itch that is never scratched.

A woman in fuscia on a chair
Actor Danielle Deadwyler
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

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And in both of your films, there was a therapist made available for the cast and crew?

Dern: Yeah, which was incredible, and in our case, used daily by crew and cast. ... In our case, the film addresses mental health crises among teenagers. And while we’re starting the film, the numbers are skyrocketing within this pandemic — and perhaps also the impact of social media. So raising children while also telling the story, I was just looking at what was around me every day. I remember the first day, I did a scene with my son talking about not being able to handle the anxiety that he’s going through. [Meanwhile,] my daughter was online, in school, alone in her room. And I said, “Baby, is there anything about this that you can find joy or comfort in?” And she said to me, “Well, Mom, I guess the only positive thing that’s sort of calming me is at least right now, I’m here in my room, I don’t have to be scared every day that I’m going to get shot at school.” And here I am, parenting a 16-year-old in crisis thinking, “This is a horrific epidemic of cultural anxiety.” And that’s when the lines are blurred. You’re not searching for understanding. We’re all in it.

Deadwyler: We had someone every day. I mean, crew would have emotional breakdowns — just moments of utter and complete crying. And people would have to take moments to step away. It wouldn’t always even be a traumatic scene, it would just be literally conversation, and then the waterworks start. So people would just step away and have a conversation with the therapist. It’s a simple, easy, beautiful thing. People can maintain some sense of wellness as we intentionally move through challenges together.

Corrin: It’s so good to make that a conversation. It’s OK not to be OK and to seek help for it. Because sometimes on set, there’s this constant feeling of you have to go, go, go. You can’t stop, because —

Deadwyler: ... You don’t want to stop the train.

Corrin: Yeah, because everyone’s relying on each other. So you feel like you’re letting down all these other people. But I feel like as soon as people start speaking up and saying, “I’m not feeling great,” or “I need to talk to someone,” then I think it’s good for everyone.

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Janelle, you’ve said that you get to show off a side of yourself in “Glass Onion” that audiences haven’t seen before — the “real” Janelle. What is that side?

Janelle Monáe: Yes, I got to be parts of me that I don’t think I’ve seen on screen. And I got to develop new parts of me that I didn’t even know I had. And that’s just the power of Rian Johnson, our director and writer, who I’ve been wanting to work with since I saw his movie “Looper. “I was like, “Ooh, if I ever get an opportunity to work with this guy ….” Because he was doing something super innovative in the sci-fi space. And then I went down this rabbit hole, watched everything. Obviously, I liked the first “Knives Out,” and I read the script, and I was just like, it’s a yes. It’s a hell yes! I knew that I was very fortunate though, to have done the films that I’ve been in, because all of that prepared me for this role. If it had not been for the other work that I have been so fortunate and blessed to do, I wouldn’t have been equipped.

Musician/actress/artist Janelle Monáe talks about working with “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” director Rian Johnson.

A woman in a hat with a mesh shirt
Actor and musician Janelle Monae
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

A lot of musicians struggle to make the jump to acting. What was the transition like for you?

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Monáe: I got told no privately. Like everybody else [here], I studied acting. A lot of people just didn’t know my background. I have been doing theater. I went to school for it. I did Shakespearean after-school programs. I’m a writer. I’m a lot of things. Music was the main vehicle that took me around the world.

Speaking of breaking into the industry — Kerry, is it true that as a young girl growing up in Ireland, you wrote letters to Hollywood agents seeking mentorship?

Condon: Yeah, Mike Ovitz — I went right to the top. [Laughs] Went right to an agent. My mother used to get the Vanity Fair Hollywood issue, and I would look for production companies.

Bassett: Look at you. How old were you?

Condon: I was very young, because I was still writing where I put my finger between the words to make it perfect. And I put the line underneath the words so that it would look nice.

Monáe: That’s so cute.

Condon: Well, or demented.

Bassett: Did you get a response?

Condon: Never got a response. Of course not.

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A woman in black standing in a cutout frame
Actor Kerry Condon
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

And now you’re one of director Martin McDonagh’s frequent collaborators!

Condon: I don’t feel like I’m this collaborator. He did other jobs, and I did other jobs. And then you don’t want to put pressure on somebody when you’re friends with them. Where they speak about a project and then there’s this anxiety of “Is there a part for me?” You have to allow the person their own artistic expression, too. I try and separate a friendship from someone who can employ you.

Janelle, you’re interested in segueing into directing, right?

Monáe: Oh, yeah. I have a couple things that I’m excited about. I just have to finish all this promo. But, yeah, I’m super excited about exploring that. I’ve always felt like, “OK, it’s time for me to just direct something,” because I’m just in my head. Too opinionated. I just have a perspective, and I think when you are that like — OCD about stuff — you need to ... my ultimate dream is to direct, star in and do a soundtrack to the film.

Bassett: Your music background has laid the seeds for that with the conceptualizations in the work you’ve done. You’re more than halfway there.

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Angela, after you got an Oscar nomination in 1994 for playing Tina Turner, you said you weren’t offered major parts for a long while afterward. Did that surprise you?

Bassett: My journey as a Black woman in this industry — having looked at historically what doors and what opportunities open — I know it’s not a straight pathway. Laura, [you’ve talked] about having a mother and a father there who were in the industry. Whatever mentors I had, they were in my head. They were in my heart. They were far off, until one day I would have an opportunity to meet Cicely Tyson or Ruby Dee or something. As I was coming up, I was navigating a lot with the little information I had. That’s why it was important to me to go to drama school and to study, to get more information and have more tools. But, yeah, after that role and that award, it was like crickets for about 18 months.

What did you do in those 18 months?

Bassett: I’m sure I slept. Listen, after a project like that, don’t ask anything other of me than “What would you like to eat?” or “What’s your name?” I had no more strength to give anybody anything after that.

Corrin: Do you guys find it easy to stop? I’m really bad at it.

Colorfully dressed women pose on a photo background with a little zebra purse front and center
Laura Dern, left, Angela Bassett, Kerry Condon, Janelle Monae, Emma Corrin, and Danielle Deadwyler, participate on the Envelope Roundtable series.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

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Deadwyler: So you don’t know how to vacation?

Corrin: No. [Laughs] No, I always get anxious and restless if I stop. I’m trying to get better at it.

Bassett: Yeah, I don’t. I guess I’ve seen it in others coming through New York: “What are you working on?” There was just something so desperate about that.

Condon: I know. Or “What’s next?” It’s like, shut up about next, what about what I’ve just done? I hate when people ask me that.

Bassett: I was always a big believer that when you go into a room, you take an energy in there with you. And I don’t think a desperate energy is attractive to others. Find those things that please you — your pleasure. You have that, and that’s much more attractive. You go in, you drop that, you leave, and they’re like, “Hey!”

Monáe: When things started getting canceled for me [in 2020] — because I had a whole tour lined up, and I think I had some film stuff that I was going to do — and the pandemic hit and it was like you had to be still. ... During that time, I did a lot of resetting of what’s not working. How can I design a system that works for me and not just go, go, go? Sometimes you have to say no to some opportunities, because you’re like, “I can’t imagine myself reintegrating back into whatever this new normal is going to be in the same ways.” I had time to do a little retrospection, and I realized I just wasn’t present enough. I needed to be more present with friends, with family. I needed to please myself a little bit more. I needed to pour back into myself, because work will take it from you.

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Corrin: The power of saying no.

Condon: Yeah, but you’re on a roll at the same time, [laughs] you know what I mean?


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