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Golden Globes nominee Connie Britton on adapting 'Dirty John' for the screen and the tyranny of Elf on the Shelf

Golden Globes nominee Connie Britton on adapting 'Dirty John' for the screen and the tyranny of Elf on the Shelf
Connie Britton at the L.A. Times Envelope Live screening of “Dirty John” at the Montalbán. (Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Star of Bravo’s adaptation of the hit L.A. Times podcast “Dirty John,” Connie Britton earned the second Golden Globe nomination of her career on Thursday after last being recognized for her 2013 role in the series “Nashville.” Below, she talks about the challenges in bringing the story of Debra Newell and her relationship with a con artist to the screen as well as the seasonal parenting trap of Elf on the Shelf.

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How did you get word of your nomination?

Well, I was asleep and my son came in to wake me up to see if he could go find his Elf on the Shelf. And I was waking up and I saw that my phone started ringing. It was my publicist in New York and I was like, oh no, did I forget an interview? I didn’t pick it up, I was telling my son to go look for his elf. And then I saw that I had all these text messages and I kind of figured it out.

Wait, Connie. Where was the elf?

The elf was on the piano this morning. Yoby [short for Eyob] has piano lessons today and the elf must have known that and was too excited to wait.

You have the distinction of giving Bravo its first Golden Globe nomination. How does that feel to put it on the map in the scripted world?

I’ll be truly honest with you. This all happened and then I was getting my son off to school and I’ve got a bunch of meetings today, so that’s why I’m talking to you from the car. But the whole thing, to me, is such an honor and it’s so nice to be acknowledged in this way.

And “Dirty John” was such a huge team effort and Bravo was very intentional about how they wanted it to go and what they wanted it to be for them. The L.A. Times too. It really, really felt like a team effort. If I could be the one who is stepping forward and being honored this way, it’s really representing all of that hard work and all of that intention.

For Bravo, it helps people think of the network beyond reality TV. There were a lot of fans of the print and audio package who were worried when they heard it was being adapted by Bravo.

Yeah, it’s true. And we had those conversations right from the beginning because that felt like something different, and it felt like something different for them as well. They wanted this to be a real departure for them. I think we kind of went with the idea that “all the networks are changing” on this one. Bravo did too. They were ready to expand and to step up into a different world and that doesn’t mean — listen, the “Real Housewives” aren’t going anywhere, and for good reason. People love, love that and it’s a very specific genre. But that doesn’t mean that Bravo can’t also expand beyond that.

Have you talked with Debra [Newell] today?

No, I haven’t. She texted me. She’s such an incredibly generous person. She texted, “Congratulations.” And I texted back: “In your honor.” And she replied, “It was such an honor to have you play me.”

She’s a lovely person. To me, one of the things that makes me most happy about this is I really wanted to try to expand a little bit on her as a woman and the choices that she made and maybe give some foundation to why she made the choices that she made, which I think are relatable to many women and many people. In that way, it’s really pleasing to me.

Could you relate to it at all? Have you felt conned before in some way?

Not in a relationship, thank goodness. But I did have one experience where I felt like I was conned. Thankfully, it was very short lived. I figured it out pretty early on. But, yeah, it’s spooky to feel that way and to feel that you’ve let someone into your life who was completely lying to you. It’s a very spooky feeling.

How challenging did you find this role to be? Or did you find Debra was someone you could portray with relative ease?

I found it challenging in a lot of ways because she is very different from me. I wanted to really do justice to her. Then there were also elements to her that I really recognize as a woman that were interesting for me to explore because I do think we, as women, are so shaped by the cultural stories that we’re told about ourselves or the stories we’re told about ourselves from our families, or our church or any of the things that influence us.

Women have a long history of how they’re supposed to believe that they function in the world. For me, I’m very familiar with that even though it’s very different for all women. But the exploration of that was both challenging and also really interesting to me.

How was it going from Debra Newell to portraying Beth Ailes [wife of disgraced former Fox News chief Roger Ailes in Jay Roach’s upcoming film]?

Here’s the thing: In this moment in time, this #MeToo moment, and, at the same time, a moment where we have more women voted into Congress than ever before— but also we still have women who won’t vote for a woman. I’m right now interested in what it is that makes women refuse to step away from their very, very conventional and traditional ideas of who they are supposed to be in relation to a man. In that way, both the Debra character and Beth character are really fascinating to me. Beth Ailes was true to the end. I’m fascinated by that. What makes those women make those choices?

Before I let you go, have you thought about where you’ll be placing the elf tomorrow?

I haven’t. In fact, in full disclosure — any parent who has fallen into the Elf on the Shelf trap will know this — I forgot last night and woke up in the middle of the night to do it. That’s why I was so dead asleep this morning because I was up at 3 a.m. trying to figure out where to put the elf today.

Connie Britton talks about the crticism Debra Newell faced and how meeting Newell helped her prepare for her role.
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