Per­form­ing Arts

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

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Edited by 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

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