You don’t have to go to your local cinema to catch an Oscar winner’s new project– stay home and watch TV instead, suggests Jane Watkins
Why are the stars flocking back to TV, asks Jane Watkins
What do Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda and Viola Davis all have in common? that golden Oscar sheen for one thing—for The Hours; Walk The Line; Tootsie and Blue Sky; Dead Man Walking; Klute and Coming Home and Fences respectively—but, also, lately, they’ve been receiving acclaim for their performances on the small screen, too.
But what makes actors of their calibre, as well as many of their counterparts, choose a medium that, until recently, was looked down on as second best?
Because that’s where the best writing is
Viola Davis tears up the screen every week in How to Get Away With Murder, playing someone who should be looked on as a monster. however, because of the excellent characterisation the writers bring to annalise Keating, she’s never one-dimensional and because, over time, you commit to the character, get to know what makes her tick under the mask. Rightly, it’s a role that’s brought Miss Davis an Emmy and two Screen actors Guild awards.
She told Indiewire: ‘television is experiencing a renaissance. You have so many different channels on television now. there’s so many different narratives and so many writers willing to write for actors and actresses who otherwise would be relegated to five days of work on a movie.’
When asked what attracted him to tv for True Detective, Oscar winner Matthew Mcconaughey echoed her sentiments: ‘Quality. television is raising the bar on the character-driven drama series. It just is.’ Even with stars as bankable as Miss Witherspoon and Miss Kidman, studios are increasingly reluctant to stray too far from their well-trodden paths, preferring franchises and reboots of films and tv shows that have already proved popular rather than creating anything of lasting quality. as audiences increasingly want to watch at home —saving the cost of the expensive cinema tickets, babysitter,
Because you can make your own projects
parking and so on—we’re receptive to what, in previous decades, would probably have been called the mini-series.
They’re attractive to an actor because a short season of eight episodes gives you greater opportunity to delve into a character without the grind of a full TV season and often you can have greater control over scripts and casting. Miss Kidman and Miss Witherspoon developed and executive produced Big Little
Lies partly from frustration at the lack of women creating projects. Miss Witherspoon told
People magazine: ‘So often I’m the only woman on a set full of men… It became this really interesting group of women whose work I’d always loved.’
Expect to see Miss Witherspoon front and centre of next year’s TV awards for her performance as a character who’s not quite as perfect as she seems. With film-making becoming so
Because you can get really creative
formulaic, TV may be the only place to stretch and push the boundaries, especially on channels such as HBO and with original programming from Amazon and Netflix among others. Actors are relishing the chance to so something dark or edgy especially in shows such as Westworld, Taboo and Peaky Blinders. The darker and more grotesque the better it seems.
Pushing in another but no less original direction last year was Paolo Sorrentino, whose The
Young Pope gave us an attractive but troubled Pontiff, played with relish by Jude Law, who seems to have finally remembered he was a fine character actor before he became a heart-throb.
The show’s opening scene of him climbing out of a swimming pool over a mound of babies told us we were in for a wild ride. Sr Sorrentino explains: ‘This puts Italian film-makers in a position of candour. In this sense, for me, working in television and cinema are the same thing: an exercise of freedom.’
Because it doesn’t matter what age you are
Get old in Hollywood and you disappear. Well, now you can reappear on the small screen— and scoop all the awards while you’re at it. Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda have been having a whale of a time as a bickering odd couple in the delightful Grace and
Frankie, with Miss Fonda saying: ‘We all want to go where the good writing is.’
However, their spats are nothing compared to Jessica Lange
—already incandescent in American Horror Story—and Susan Sarandon in Feud, coming to the UK soon. The stars go toe to toe as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis during the filming of
What Ever Happened to Baby
Jane? and give an acting masterclass their younger counterparts would do well to study.
These days, Norma Desmond wouldn’t have worried about slipping into obscurity—she didn’t get smaller, it was the screen that got smaller.
Big Little Lies features a strong female cast of familiar faces
You don’t mess with Viola Davis’s fierce Annalise Keating (centre) in How to get Away With Murder
Television allows directors and actors room to explore characters more fully and to push the boundaries, whether it’s the cinematic surrealism in The Young Pope (above) or the clever use of social media by True Detective to hook the audience