First the fellas got their cover shot on Hollywood Reporter and now the ladies are taking their rightful place. Lupita Nyong’o, Amy Adams, Oprah Winfrey, Emma Thompson, Julia Roberts and Octavia Spencer all got together to swap stories and talk about being in-demand women in Hollywood.
Two of these six Oscar contenders were taught how to cry by Steven Spielberg, one has pushed beyond “short, cute, chubby” roles, and another (guess who?) declares, definitively, she won’t do “muff shots.”
What’s the best or worst piece of advice you’ve been given in Hollywood?
JULIA ROBERTS: It’s going to be a long hour.
OCTAVIA SPENCER: Well, I’ll break that ice. When I first started acting, my acting teacher said, “Imagine if you’re doing a scene and someone is out in the hall. If it sounds like you’re doing a scene, you’re doing a scene. If it sounds like you’re actually having a conversation, you’re having a conversation.”
EMMA THOMPSON: I’ve got one, I’ve got one! My godfather was a sort of writer, philosopher, gay man, extraordinary, and he was a director of theater, and he gave my mum a piece of advice. I think it applies to everything. He said, “Onstage, imagine you’ve got a fire burning in your dressing room.” There’s something going on elsewhere; it takes your mind off acting.
OPRAH WINFREY: I was in The Color Purple, 1985. I didn’t know anything about acting. I’d never even been to Universal Studios. So I walked in — first scene, first day, Steven Spielberg – and I looked directly in the camera because that’s what you do on television. I walked in and went, “How you doing, Miss Celie?” And he went, “Cut! Cut! Cut! What is wrong with you?” And I’m standing there, trembling. “Where are you looking?” I go, “I’m looking at the camera.” He goes, “Miss Celie’s over there!” [I was] terrified. And then there was a scene where he asked me to cry. I loved being in that film so much, it just changed everything in my life, and I came to set even when I didn’t have to work, and I’d be in the background crying. So Steven goes, “I want you to do that this afternoon.” Well, I had no idea how to make that happen again. I had no technical skills, and when the scene was being filmed, I couldn’t cry. I could hear the film turning in the camera, and the entire room waiting for me to cry …
ROBERTS: You need to think about the fire.
WINFREY: I should have thought about the fire. I was like, “Oh my God!” So that night, I was in my motel room, crying. [Actor] Adolph Caesar heard me on the other side of the wall. He comes and knocks on the door, and says, “What is all of this goddamn noise?” He gave me the greatest acting lesson. He said: “You need to learn to give yourself over to the character. Let the character take control. And if she wants to cry, she’ll cry, and if she doesn’t, not even Steven Spielberg can make her.”
ROBERTS: Wow. I’m not hanging around the right people. I’m going to make some calls.
LUPITA NYONG’O: My teacher at Yale, Ron Van Lieu, once said, “It feels like it’s all about you, but it’s not about you at all. It’s about the person you’re playing.” And that always helps me get out there and do the thing I’ve been hired to do. I am fighting for what my character wants, and if I’m pursuing that, then I’m good.
WINFREY: Wow, are you good.