How Garry Shandling used Larry Sanders to tell the story of human beings

The following is an excerpt from It’s Garry Shandling’s Book, edited and introduced by Judd Apatow. The book features never-before-seen journal entries and photos, as well as essays and contributions from various beloved comics and celebrities, charting the life of the late comedy icon. This section of the book includes behind-the-scenes photos and original journal entries by Shandling concerning the making of The Larry Sanders Show, his Emmy-winning HBO series. Read on below. It’s Garry Shandling’s Book publishes Tuesday and is available for pre-order.

GARRY SHANDLING: There was an episode we did on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show where Garry goes on a morning talk show. And I thought, Man, there’s a story about the people who host this show that I know. And I always had that in the back: There’s another show here about the person who hosts the show.

And at that juncture I was offered two other late-night hosting jobs. Because Letterman had already gone. So those spots at different times came open. The CBS one was interesting to me because I respected Letterman. I had to really consider if I wanted to do a talk show. Again, I had the opportunity. That was a big decision because the CBS offer was an actually big financial offer. And my girlfriend at the time said, “Take the money. Take the money. Take the money. Take the money. . . . Take the money.”

I called Roy London up and I said, “Roy, I have to make a decision here. Is there a way that I can learn about myself and the world and people and what this is all really about and get down into that shit and the essence of people’s lives and how they cover it . . . on a talk show? Or can I do it on a 1992 show about a guy who hosts a talk show?” And then we started to talk about the guy who hosted the talk show and realized that it isn’t about a guy who hosts a talk show. It’s the ability to have that world within which you could tell the story of human beings.

And so it was never about a guy who hosts a talk show. That show really became a lab for a study of human behavior.

Related content:

Garry Shandling’s friends are tweeting notes from his journals
The Larry Sanders Show at 25: Jeffrey Tambor reflects on a seminal TV show

The Walking Dead is having a creative renaissance

When The Walking Dead first debuted on Halloween night in 2010, nobody expected much. While the show was based on a hit comic book and put together by a Hollywood heavyweight in Frank Darabont, expectations were still somewhat muted. It was, after all, a show about zombies. One of the main reasons AMC greenlit the program was to act as a companion to its bevy of Halloween programming to help brand the cable channel as a destination for seasonal spooky programming. No one could have foreseen what happened next.

While most assumed The Walking Dead would be a mere genre show, the series shocked the industry by premiering with 5.35 million viewers. Many assumed it was a Halloween one-night wonder, but viewership steadily kept rising, turning the show into not only a mainstream hit, but the highest-rated show on television and the biggest scripted show in the history of cable TV. An incredible 22.37 million watched the season 5 premiere, and even two years later — when the show should have been experiencing natural viewer attrition — 21.53 million people tuned in to the season 7 premiere to discover the identity of Negan’s victim(s).

However, many consider that point to be the beginning of the end. That natural audience erosion finally came, as new streaming options like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and others siphoned off viewers. Meanwhile, complaints poured in that the brutality of the Negan regime made the show too depressing (which is saying something about a story that centers around people being devoured by zombies on a regular basis). Viewership steadily declined, with the recent Oct. 14 episode (the second installment from season 10) garnering 5.61 million viewers over seven days — just 25% of the show’s peak audience, meaning three out of four viewers have moved on.

That’s a shame, because those who have moved on are missing a program that has been revitalized in seasons 9 and 10 under new showrunner Angela Kang. (Former showrunner Scott M. Gimple has become chief content officer for the franchise, overseeing all three scripted TWD series, including a new one debuting in 2020, as well as an upcoming Rick Grimes theatrical film.) Five episodes in, the current season has felt like one of the strongest in years.

While The Walking Dead may not dominate online watercooler discussion every Monday morning like it used to, it is still easily the most watched scripted cable series on television. And the fans who are still watching have been rewarded for their devotion with some of the best story lines and developments in the show’s long, illustrious run.

Why is The Walking Dead having such a creative renaissance? Here are five reasons.

1. Great Villains

A group of humans who hide among the dead and wear zombie skin masks over the faces, the Whisperers are one of the most formidable and intriguing baddies in The Walking Dead comics. But how would that translate from page to screen? The answer: tremendously.

Samantha Morton is electric as the cult-like group’s leader, Alpha, displaying both public power and private vulnerability. Her off-kilter speech patterns and posture make every scene with Alpha an adventure, and her mysterious — and sometimes seemingly contradictory — motivations help to make her the most unpredictable villain we’ve ever experienced on the show, and that includes Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Meanwhile, Ryan Hurst has given Alpha’s lieutenant, the enigmatic Beta, an equally creepy and quiet strength. The battle between Beta and Daryl (Norman Reedus) was one of season 9’s highlights, and now that the big fella and Negan have crossed paths, another duel could be in the future. But Beta is more than just muscle. The fact that the character never takes his mask off gets at some serious trauma that has yet to be fully explained, and Kang promised EW that when we do see Beta’s face it will be “Walking Dead weird.”

In the hands of lesser actors, characters walking around in costumes pretending to be zombies could come off as hokey and cringe-inducing, but Morton and Hurst have somehow managed to give Alpha and Beta depth while also making them legitimately scary. That’s no easy task, they just make it look easy. Speaking of villains…

2. A Kinder (but Not Gentler) Negan

As great a character as brain-bashing Negan was when he was first introduced in issue 100 of the comic, he became even more interesting after losing the All-Out War and being stuck away in a cell by Rick (Andrew Lincoln). The same has been true on the TV show.

While there were complaints from fans about the Negan villain years, the problem was never with the character itself, but rather the reaction our heroes had to that character. Watching Rick cower in fear, Daryl be tortured, Aaron (Ross Marquand) get the crap beaten out of him, and everyone generally just be miserable was tough to take for a prolonged period of time.

Now that Negan is no longer the source and cause of all that suffering, it’s as if the character has been freed — and I don’t just mean literally, as in his recent cell departure. Kang and her writing team have done a masterful job of showing a somewhat reformed and evolved Negan. The trick is that the dude is still kind of an a—hole. Even when Negan does something heroic, like saving Judith in the season 9 finale, he manages to find a way to piss people off with his attitude. Or he goes and saves someone, like a blinded Aaron a few weeks ago, but only after leaving him by himself in the woods and silently watching him struggle before stepping in at the last minute. The producers keep taking great pains to not make Negan too nice, which is a welcome change from television’s often unbelievable transformations.

Perhaps the best example of Negan 2.0 occurred this past week, when Negan befriended a young boy. After telling the kid what it was like to be a on a plane (“It’s like voodoo magic, man”), he went on to espouse the joys of “nut tapping.” On one hand, Negan was taking the time and making the unprompted effort to bond with a boy in need of a father figure. On the other hand, he was doing it by espousing the joy of hitting other dudes in the balls. So, twisted and demented, but also kind and caring. Oh, and when wannabe Negan disciple Brandon killed that boy in a misguided attempt to impress his idol, Negan bashed his brains in with a rock, proving he is as dangerous as ever if you cross him.

That’s the new Negan, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan has been engaging in a master-class performance bringing that character to life. Instead of being the guy you love to hate, Negan has now become the guy you kinda hate to love.

3. Going Old-School

It’s no accident we’ve been seeing a lot of Daryl and Carol (Melissa McBride) scenes so far this season. And it’s no accident that we will see even more of them next week. As the only links back to the show’s first season, Daryl and Carol are Walking Dead royalty, and they are being treated as such.

The season premiere scene in which Daryl referred to Carol as his best friend and they spoke of hopping on his bike and heading out west together was a treat for longtime fans. At the same time, the show may be setting up Daryl — the only longtime major character on the show who has not had any sort of love connection — to finally find romance. He has become close with Connie (Lauren Ridloff), even learning sign language to better communicate with her. Whether their relationship will fully blossom remains to be seen, but even having Daryl flirting with flirting allows the character (and viewers) to experience something new 10 seasons in.

As for Carol, her two scenes with Alpha — who stuck the head of Carol’s adopted son, Henry, on a pike — have crackled with intensity. The character of Carol is always at her best when she is on a mission, and the promise of another confrontation with Alpha has fans buzzing with anticipation. One of the strengths of season 10 is that it all feels like it is building to something, and you sense that every time Carol is on screen.

4. Still Taking Risks

One of the most remarkable things about The Walking Dead has always been the storytelling risks the show has taken. Generally, the more popular a show becomes, the safer it acts as it tries not to rock the boat while satisfying a big-tent audience. However, even when TWD was the biggest thing on television, Gimple always insisted on pushing the creative envelope by telling stories in a non-traditional manner.

Viewers will gleefully point out the times it didn’t work, like dumpster-gate and the infamous victim point-of-view cliffhanger from season 6, while casually ignoring all the instances in which the risks paid off in big ways, like the surreal and moving season 5 installment in which Tyreese (Chad Coleman) was visited by the ghosts of Walking Dead past before moving on and joining them (“What Happened and What’s Going On”).

Under Kang’s tenure, the show has continued to push the envelope, especially in terms of nonlinear storytelling. The season 10 premiere kept rewinding time to show us the same period in different places. The week after that, we kept flipping back and forth between seven-year periods to see the parallels between the origin of the Whisperers and their current hierarchy. The week after that, we saw 49 hours of a zombie siege in about 2 minutes. None of these were mere gimmicks, however. All worked to frame the story in unique ways that also kept the viewer off balance just enough to keep things interesting.

And as if to prove that nothing is off limits, Kang started the season… IN SPACE!!! While The Walking Dead in space may sound like the most ridiculous thing imaginable, it was anything but — answering a question most of us were not even smart enough to ask: What happens to all those unmanned satellites after the fall of civilization? It was a smart, bold play that not only felt new and fresh, but also set up the conflict to come as our heroes had to cross into Whisperers territory to contain the blaze caused by the downed satellite.

Keeping the core of what made the show great while continuing the take risks and try new things is paramount if The Walking Dead is going to continue to succeed creatively, and so far Kang is off to a tremendous start in that regard.

5. A More Collaborative Environment

Every showrunner has their own style, and when you talk to TWD cast members about Kang, one of the first things that is likely to be mentioned is how open she is to ideas and input. While the showrunner trusts her instincts and is confident in her storytelling choices, Kang also enjoys feedback and consultations with the actors bringing the words to life, and that feedback often leads to big changes and big moments on the show.

One such example involves the creepy mantra we saw Alpha and Beta recite at the end of episode 1002: “We walk in darkness. We are free. We bathe in blood. We are free. We love nothing. We are free. We fear nothing. We are free. We need no words. We are free. We embrace our death. We are free. This is the end of the world. Now is the end of the world. We are the end of the world.”

Instead of being cooked up by a committee in the writers’ room, the mantra was actually something created by Ryan Hurst to help motivate himself before a big scene. As Hurst told EW: “The little story behind the mantra was, I wrote the mantra as a way of what I would say to myself to sort of get in character after I would get my mask on and be in costume and I would say it. And then I told Angela that and she was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re using it!’ I was like, ‘Great!’ And I think the way that they use it is perfect too.”

Another major moment from season 10 — the surprise kiss between a suicidal Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) — was inspired by a chat Kang had with Gurira. “The idea of doing this kiss here came about in an unusual way,” Kang explained to EW. “I was having a conversation with Danai and she said, ‘You know, it’d be interesting if somebody tried to kiss Michonne and she responded.’ Because Michonne’s got all of her own things that she’s dealing with and there has been no exploration of her romantic or sexual side with her since Rick’s supposed death or disappearance. And so we bounced that around and were like, ‘Ah, I don’t think we’re going to do that.’ And then this other pitch came around, which is because we were working on this Ezekiel story, the room kind of came up with this idea of, what if Ezekiel in his depression wants to connect? He just feels so alone, and he feels so sad. He just gets some signals crossed for a second, and then immediately realizes that he kind of screwed that up and pulls back.”

Kang has a comfort and connection with the cast because she has been working on the series since season 2, so when she stepped into her new role of showrunner, she was already well familiar with both the characters and the actors playing them. Trust had been forged on both sides. Often when a new showrunner comes aboard late in a program’s run, it can have the feeling of merely playing out the string, but that is certainly not the feeling with Kang. The cast of The Walking Dead feels revitalized, and with every stellar episode, the show’s viewers are starting to feel the exact same thing.

For more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Related content:

The Walking Dead recap: The old Negan comes back to haunt
The Walking Dead boss says Lauren Cohan may appear in season 10
The Walking Dead boss weighs in on Carol’s pill-popping visions

Episode Recaps

AMC’s zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

How Taron Egertons Rocketman role of a lifetime became a lifelong gig

Taron Egerton is taking this all really seriously.

“I mean, there’s no two ways about it,” Egerton says in a new EW interview for The Awardist podcast. “I’ve never poured so much of myself into something. I’ve never felt so devoted to something over such a protracted period of time.”

Egerton, who in person is affable and sincere, has spent a significant amount of the last three years on Rocketman: rehearsing and filming, recording its soundtrack at Abbey Road, promoting its release, and now extending the movie’s reach into awards season. And where Elton John was known for refusing to take himself seriously, especially onstage, Egerton has approached this role of a lifetime as if it is, in fact, a lifelong commitment.

There was the usual globe-trotting promotional tour, starting at its May premiere in Cannes — he openly wept as the credits rolled — to a fan frenzy upon his arrival in Tokyo and impromptu performance on Paramount Japan’s TikTok alongside director Dexter Fletcher. He and costar Richard Madden, who plays John’s first boyfriend and eventual manager, John Reid, gamely teased each other in marathon junket sessions and promotional stunts.

But now that the film is long finished, Egerton — who first began talks about starring in Rocketman back in 2016 — seems to be entering a new phase. He and Elton John are steadily sanding down the separation between a 72-year-old rock star and the almost 30-year-old man who has been his stand-in on screen, on an audiobook recording, and in countless interviews about John’s legacy. “I’ve never felt so passionate about something — and so protective,” he says.

In recent months as awards buzz about his performance has grown, Egerton has accompanied John, John’s husband and Rocketman producer David Furnish, and John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin to a steady schedule of panel discussions, screenings, and receptions around Los Angeles. Egerton even joined the legendary rock star on stage at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre to belt out a couple of duets before a sold-out crowd who’d come to see a live orchestra accompany a Rocketman screening — full of ardent fans, to be sure, but also no small number of the guild and academy members who vote for award nominations. 

“I can’t tell you how weird it is to become so close to someone that you portray,” Egerton says. “It used to be that I’d turn up at his house and my heart would skip a beat before he came to the door because — it’s Elton John. But now… I don’t think my heart would flutter. It has just become a very normal thing now, being a part of Elton’s life, and David and the boys, their sons.”

Gisela Schober/Getty Images

Rocketman, which John and Furnish spent over a decade trying to bring to the screen, could have easily suffered from its subject being too close to both the story and its star. Ultimately it’s more a sweeping series of musical-fantasy sequences than a faithfully realistic biopic, and by most accounts, John was less involved in the daily work than Furnish.

But Elton John is also an extraordinarily outspoken celebrity, especially about the tough stuff. His 1976 coming out interview in Rolling Stone was the first of its kind, making him essentially the most famous queer person in the world. He has been candid for decades about his addictions and his commitment to getting, and staying sober. John’s R-rated exploits frame the film, starting with his stint in rehab for multiple addictions, flashing back through years of substance use, toxic relationships and legendary fits of anger. 

“Until I saw the final cut of the movie, I never really relaxed,” says Egerton, who was particularly worried that the intimate scenes between his and Madden’s character would be edited out. “We see him in some fairly compromising scenarios. I always was probably frankly slightly paranoid about those parts of the story being filleted in the editing room or gradually being removed from the script over the course of the shoot. But to be honest, it just never happened.” 

That left Egerton able to focus on the distinct unreality of how the story was told. “Rocketman works and thrives when it feels like it’s existing in a realm that isn’t quite our world. It’s not quite our Elton. It’s not quite the music that you exactly know. It’s re-imagined.” Egerton strived to hit notes along that same liminal spectrum. “It’s not intended to be a carbon copy performance of who Elton is. This was an enormous source of anxiety to me — I believed that it would work, but I wasn’t certain of it.”

There were physical transformations — a painted gap between his front teeth, his hairline shaved down to mimic John’s early baldness. “My voice gets deeper over the course of the film, and my accent changes. It goes from being quite London to quite transatlantic by the end of it. But for me, those are the easy things. I don’t feel like those are the things that are the most interesting or taxing. Getting to the core of who someone is and capturing their spirit — that’s what I found most scary and daunting, but also ultimately rewarding.”

Egerton, who is modest at his most self-congratulatory, cautiously approves of the result — which Elton John has specifically praised — in a typically reflective fashion. “I think you accept me as him quite quickly and you invest in the character of Elton John, which is informed and determined and inspired by and in homage to him, but is ultimately my creation,” he says. “And it seems to heighten peoples’ response to and affection for him.”

Egerton started acting when he was 15, then scored a scholarship to London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, from which he graduated in 2012 and within a year was cast as the young lead in a highly stylized spy action film alongside Colin Firth. He seems to have kept his head about him as he’s anchored a nearly-billion dollar hit global franchise (the first two Kingsman films, with one more — not this year’s prequel — to go on his contract) and kept his chin up when other massively expensive tentpole endeavors netted out in the red (Robin Hood). 

Amidst those big set pieces, he grounded his performance in an abundance of preparation, even if that meant learning to quick-draw arrows until he could fire as many as three a second. “Filmmaking is inherently a collaborative medium, and to over-prepare to the point where it becomes slightly manufactured — that could be the death of the performance,” he says. “If it’s something that involves a skill that is based around muscularity and muscle memory, I don’t think you can do enough.”

He’d sung in the past for film roles — in 2016’s Sing, as an animated gorilla, he even performs Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” — and along with Eddie the Eagle costar Hugh Jackman he contributed an ’80s-inspired synth-pop track to the movie’s closing credits. For Rocketman, Egerton learned enough piano to passably play in John’s style, or look like it, but was adamant about singing his way through every take of every scene, even when it was clear they’d need to blend together what was captured on set with studio sessions. 

“I think there’s wisdom in not being precious about those things, because then you’re doing something for a press soundbite rather than for the betterment of the film,” he says.

But still, “There isn’t one moment in the film where I’m miming. If you’ve got a set with 200 people and you’re singing a song, the audio that’s captured in that moment isn’t going to be unadulterated and pure. It’s going to be compromised by all of the paraphernalia of filmmaking. Where possible, where it felt isolated and just me on set, I was absolutely insistent that it be captured live.”

Because Rocketman is a film about a gay ’70s rock icon, comparisons to Bohemian Rhapsody were inevitable, even before both had been released. (Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher, above with Egerton on set, was also tapped to finish up Rhapsody after Bryan Singer’s exit.)

Bohemian Rhapsody was great, and I thought Rami Malek, who’s a friend of mine, was phenomenal in the role [of Freddie Mercury],” Egerton says. Asked if the constant comparisons might help given the industry’s preference for projects with clear similarities to past wins at the box office or awards, he says, “I think there’s room for both. And mainly I just watched what happened to that movie feeling intensely proud for my friend Dexter.”

One major differentiation is Egerton’s singing; the other is in Rocketman’s direct, tender approach to Elton John’s sexual awakening. The film shows a first kiss, John losing his virginity, even a drug-fueled writhing sea of mostly-naked bodies. (The memoir Me that John published six months after the film bowed is even more explicit about both his hookups and intense cocaine use, all of which Egerton seems to delight in reading aloud for the unabridged audiobook.)

With an R rating — and a studio willing to stick to that creative decision — Rocketman skipped opening in China entirely. “I was most proud of the work that was characterized by being only really suitable for an older viewer,” Egerton says. The film fared slightly less well at the hands of Delta Airlines, which recently pledged to restore at least some of the scenes edited out by a third-party service.

“It’s interesting and frankly a little disheartening to know and begin to get an understanding of the mechanics of what embracing someone’s sexuality in a film of this level does to its global box office and how it performs in certain territories,” Egerton says.

“Elton’s recognizable the world over, and there was a version of this film that we could have released that would have frankly made more money that didn’t deal with that part of who he was. But there are too many people I love that I wouldn’t have been able to look in the eye afterward. So I’m very proud of what it is and what it’s become, the journey it’s been on, because I believe that Rocketman has its integrity intact.”

Like many of John’s close friends he writes about in his memoir — Freddie Mercury, John Reid, Rod Stewart — John gave Egerton his own honorific drag name: Blodwyn Campervan. It’s a combination of the Welsh word for flower and a reference to his love of RV camping. “I think that’s how you know he really likes you,” Egerton says proudly. He repaid the gift by dressing in drag with his girlfriend, then leaving a Polaroid of the look in John and Furnish’s guest book at their house in France.

Egerton has sung on stage with John a number of times now, going back to last year’s Oscar party to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation, where they performed “Tiny Dancer,” up through last month’s show at the Greek, where they belted out “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” the new Taupin-penned duet John and Egerton sing over the Rocketman credits (coming soon to a Best Song nomination near you). After John and Furnish took him to Brandi Carlile’s concert performance of Joni Mitchell’s Blue as an early 30th birthday gift, they all wound up at Mitchell’s house singing “Tiny Dancer” with Carlile.

But he’s quick to reject the idea that he might put out an album of his own. “When I was 20, I said I was going to learn an instrument properly, and I’m about to turn 30 and I haven’t,” he says. “And I will not get to 40 without having done it, because if I do it now and put my mind to it, in three years I could potentially be singing and accompany myself. And I think if I don’t do myself the service of spending time learning that skill, then I’m an idiot.”

That means going back to focus on the piano, though he’s considering a stab at guitar, too. “I just want to have something that can accompany a vocal so that when I sing late at night at parties in a completely unsolicited fashion, it looks a little bit more valid and justified,” he says. 

“If I learned an instrument and in 10 years I felt that I was proficient enough to write some music, then of course I would entertain the idea [of an album]. But it’s not going to be something that happens anytime soon. I want to be a good actor first.”

Listen to the full interview with Egerton on The Awardist podcast.

Related content:

Elton John biopic ‘Rocketman’ stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Why the Oscars Best Supporting Actress category tells a crucial Hollywood story

Welcome to EW’s The Awardist: a weekly column offering (very!) early and in-depth analysis of the 2020 awards season. Check out last week’s deep dive.

To many, Regina King’s hard-fought win earlier this year for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar seemed overdue. And this felt a little strange, since the actress had given acceptance speeches on the national stage for three out of the four preceding years — for her TV work. She won two Emmys for two wildly different turns in the anthology drama American Crime, and an additional trophy in 2018 for her wrenching leading performance in the Netflix limited series Seven Seconds. When she won the Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk, she was riding an awards hot streak. And yet still: The moment felt major.

Oscars rarely honor career-best work; often, they represent the moment an industry rallies around an actor and designates it as their time. King, who’s been in the business for 35 years, hadn’t done a movie in nearly a decade before Beale Street. As with many actresses approaching middle age, the former Boyz n the Hood and Jerry Maguire star’s career flourished on the small screen. (In the 2010s, she also earned Critics’ Choice Award nominations for her work in Southland and The Leftovers.) Winning an Oscar was like a grand, full-circle moment.

It’s a recurring pattern for the Best Supporting Actress category, which tends to honor long-respected actresses in rare meaty film roles. Last year’s winner, Allison Janney, has more Emmys than almost anybody; before her was Viola Davis, who’d triumphantly won a Lead Actress Emmy about 16 months beforehand. And if the winner doesn’t fit that mold, exactly, she’s probably a bright young star just beginning to establish herself: Alicia Vikander, Lupita Nyong’o, and so on.

It’s as much representative of the way the industry tends to treat actresses of a certain age as it is how the industry itself continues to change; Davis, King, and other resurgent actresses like Toni Collette and Taraji P. Henson found Emmy-winning prestige glory in TV where such roles didn’t used to exist.

And so this year, Laura Dern arrives in the form of a frontrunner, and also one who’d be right in step with the direction the category has gone in lately: a two-time Oscar nominee who’s been in the business for nearly 40 years and is now in the absolute prime of her career. A big reason why? Television. Her small but brilliant HBO series Enlightened won her a Golden Globe and the immediate attention (and affection) of those who watched; she’s been an Emmy-winning, scene-stealing standout through two seasons of Big Little Lies opposite Oscar winners Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Meryl Streep. Now we’re in Dern’s biggest film year in recent memory: She’s competing mainly for her commanding comic turn in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, but is also deeply affecting in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, which is another major player this awards season.

Dern has been working the circuit hard for both movies already, and she’ll surely be in the thick of things through to ceremony night. In hearing from attendees at various industry screenings, the narrative that it’s her “time” is already taking shape. It’s what may put Dern over other veteran showbiz names like Jennifer Lopez, a serious player for Hustlers who can hardly claim she’s overdue, or Annette Bening, who’s quickly going the Glenn Close route of always coming close, but never sealing the deal. (Note that actors like Davis, Janney, and King had at most one or two previous nods before winning.)

For those attracted to the unexpected — a “Where did this come from?” surprise — Lopez very much ticks that box, and remains in the hunt accordingly. But again, this is an area where the Academy tends to sway one of two ways. And if we’re looking in the other direction — that of the ingénue, as goes the simplistic moniker — Dern’s costar Florence Pugh announced herself as a major candidate last week, with the first official Little Women screenings. She’s spectacular in Gerwig’s reworked version of Amy March, really running the gamut of emotions and nailing each one. Early reactions have singled her out, and with a big year around this performance for her — from Fighting With My Family to Midsommar — she’ll be on many voters’ minds.

The other big under-30 contender, Margot Robbie, feels less like a newbie, having been in the thick of awards season for two straight years already. (Last year, she narrowly missed out on a supporting nod for Mary Queen of Scots.) But she still shines in two major movies opposite Oscar winners — in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, and in Bombshell, featuring Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman. She’s a more serious threat for the latter, with a few gut-wrenching scenes that feel tailor-made for Oscar clips. And I’d throw out Da’Vine Joy Randolph, too, who to my mind should be the real discovery of the season. You come to Dolemite Is My Name for Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes, but see a new star introduce herself in the process.

It’s an interesting group to compare to that of Best Actress, where two former winners seeking their first nods in over a decade lead the pack, and Supporting Actor, which — seriously — could very well exclusively include former Oscar winners. This is often the field where the industry subconsciously interrogates itself — its biases, its misogyny, its exciting new faces, its grudging respect for those who have stuck it out. Show business may be changing, but the story continues.

EW’s current predictions for Best Supporting Actress:
—Laura Dern, Marriage Story
—Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
—Florence Pugh, Little Women
—Margot Robbie, Bombshell
—Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey

Check out our full list of Oscar nominations predictions

Related content:
Why Fox News scandal drama Bombshell appears primed for awards success
Parasite deserves to be one of the year’s major Oscar players. Can it be?

Miranda Lambert on her new album, new attitude, and a throwback to her old sound

Sense memory is powerful. Miranda Lambert just got a big whiff of her acoustic guitar and now finds herself waxing nostalgic. “My guitar tech just brought it to me on my bus,” says the Texas native, nestled in the greenroom of the famed Exit/In nightclub in Nashville, where she’ll soon perform an intimate industry showcase for her new album, Wildcard. Since graduating to arenas years ago, the winningest artist in ACM awards history relishes the idea of playing the small-cap room with her six-string. “It smelled like smoke and beer,” she says with the beatific smile of someone recalling her early days playing rowdy honky-tonks. “It smelled like a bar. I got so excited. I was like, ‘God, this is awesome!’”

Following a rare break from the road, Lambert has roared back for her Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars tour — featuring an array of female opening acts, including Maren Morris and Ashley McBryde — and can’t wait for fans to hear the expansive, and decidedly rocking, Wildcard, out this Friday.

“I wasn’t touring for eight months,” she says, still sounding slightly bewildered by the notion. “Since I was 17 — I’m 35 — I’ve never had more than three months off tour. I think my management tricked me into it. But I needed a break.” Particularly since she’d worked steadily in the wake of her divorce from Blake Shelton, right through the promotional cycle for her acclaimed 2016 double album, The Weight of These Wings. “I came out of that whole phase of life — having to work through it publicly, literally work through it emotionally, and work through it by playing shows — and I felt like I was in a pretty good spot, but [I realized], ‘You need to give yourself a minute.’” She also subscribes to the theory that you can’t be missed if you won’t go away. “I’ve been playing music in all the towns for all the years. Sometimes you have to give people a break from you and you give yourself a break from the people and miss each other a little bit.”

It’s worth noting that “break” clearly has a different definition for Lambert — who, during some of her time “off,” released the stellar 2018 album Interstate Gospel with her supergroup Pistol Annies, performed several shows, worked her two side hustles (the charity MuttNation Foundation and fashion business Idllywind), wrote and recorded Wildcard, and, oh yeah, got married to New York City police officer Brendan McLoughlin. “I don’t think they’re going to give me eight months off again,” she says with a devilish grin. “Because I got married, they’re like, ‘Nope, she does crazy s—.’” But the nuttiest thing Lambert may have done was actually relax. “I had time to be a person,” she says of mundane life stuff. “I had weekends and could go to dinners.”

That ability to Netflix-and-chill gave her time to stretch out creatively, which informed Wildcard‘s 14 tracks, recorded with producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town). She began writing a year and a half ago and the album is all fresh material from fresh inspiration. “Some of it was written as I was phasing into a new head space. Some of it was written after I met my husband. I think it’s all just a snapshot of that time.”

Like all Lambert albums, it is a dynamic affair that can travel from icy heartbreak to scorching rage in the time it takes to fix your lipstick and strike a match. Odes to true love, both sensual (“Fire Escape”) and roof-rattling (“Locomotive”), share space with a gorgeous ballad about the warring desires to roam and to nest (“Settling Down”), a brassy bop that manages to embrace all that is good in her life while laughing off the trolls (“Pretty Bitchin’”), and a rocker that’s as close to new wave as Lambert has ever come (“Mess With My Head”). A winkingly murderous duet with Morris called “Way Too Pretty for Prison” — a spiritual cousin to songs like the Dixie Chicks’”Goodbye Earl” and Brandy Clark’s “Stripes” — is a highlight. (“We already killed him in [2007’s] ‘Gunpowder & Lead’; this is the second husband,” Lambert quips.)

The song, co-written with Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey — a.k.a. the Love Junkies — stemmed from a night of drinking with a fellow country star.

“The Love Junkies, it’s always interesting because it always feels like a boozy brunch every time we write,” says Miranda of the trio, who have penned huge hits like “Girl Crush” for Little Big Town. “It’s just like catching up with ladies doing their life. We just put it on paper. They’re always so open. If I walk in with an emotion or an energy or a title or just a whole feel, they’re always so ready to go there with you. That feels really good, when you show up and you’re having a chicken salad —  because we write at Liz Rose’s house and her husband always goes and gets us chicken salad.”

So as they ladies were enjoying lunch she said to them, “‘I told Karen Fairchild [of Little Big Town] last night she was too pretty for prison. She couldn’t drive after drinking wine.’ It was that simple.”

It was an equal no-brainer to call on Morris, of whom Lambert’s been a fan since before her Grammy-winning first album Hero was even released.

“I’ve known about her forever because we’re from the same neck of the woods [in Texas]. Me and her and Kacey [Musgraves] and Lee Ann Womack… there’s something in the water,” she says with a laugh of the four women who all have distinct styles but share a flinty determination.

“I texted her before we were even done with the song,”  Lambert recalls of her excitement about “Way Too Pretty For Prison.” “I’m just a big fan of collaborating within our genre. It’s comfortable for me. I enjoy doing a duet with the girls that are kicking ass out here in this country music crazy world.”

(Indeed, Lambert recently collaborated with Morris again for a remake of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” featuring the other Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars openers McBryde, Caylee Hammack, Tenille Townes and Elle King.)

Listening to Wildcard — brawnier and more radio-friendly than Weight of These Wings — you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wake up from a blackout-drunk evening next to your two best girlfriends and a freshly dug grave that none of you will speak of again. In short: It rocks.

It also, Lambert realized after the fact, hearkens back to those early days she was recalling after smelling her guitar. “Because he’s supportive, my husband had ‘Mess With My Head’ on in his car the day it came out,” she says. They were listening to a “Miranda Lambert Radio” station on a streaming service and the new tune was followed by her 2005 hit “Kerosene.” “I was like, ‘This isn’t really that different at all.’ It’s still the same rock vibe with my country ass on top of it.” Which makes sense since Lambert says, “I went after this record with the same excitement and hunger and openness as I did my first record.”

Jeff Kravitz/ACMA2019/FilmMagic

That refreshed enthusiasm stemmed from a mixture of factors, including her newlywed status, her seasoning as a live performer, and her simply wanting to rock again following the reflective singer-songwriter tone of Weight of These Wings. “A lot of it came from what I was missing live, thinking about ‘What do I want to do up there?’” she says. “A lot of that early stuff, I was so young and so fiery. I wanted to go back to that energy.”

What she has no interest in returning to is the celebrity-industrial gossip machine — which placed Lambert in its crosshairs during her marriage to, and divorce from, Shelton — and the time-rich slaves to said machine who enjoy trolling her social media feeds.

She has fun with them, the tabloids, and her own foibles in the zippy new ditty “Pretty Bitchin’”: “Well, I’m a pretty hot mess/But hell, I guess/I’m pretty sure it’s a family tradition/I got a pretty good time in the checkout line/With all the free press I’ve been gettin’.” That bit about family tradition prompts the question as to whether either of her parents may have ever dumped a salad on someone — as Lambert got ink for doing recently — to which Lambert responds with a hearty laugh and says, “My mom was a Golden Gloves boxer, pretty sure. She was there when I dumped the salad.” And mom’s part in the kerfuffle? “She was getting my hamburger to go, because she knew we were about to have to leave.”

The occasional overturned-vegetable incident aside, Lambert is happy. But she doesn’t want that to worry her fans. “People say, ‘Oh no, you got married. Are you going to write all happy songs?’ I can’t write all happy songs because the fiery me is the part that built this whole thing. I’ve got to keep that close.” You could say, it’s the sound that built her.

The album title, and an accompanying tattoo that Lambert got on her arm, comes from a line in the melancholy, yet hopeful ballad “Bluebird,” about having a wild card up your sleeve. “Your wild card can be any card you choose, not just the queen of hearts,” she says. “I got that tattoo because I realized that I need to be the queen of my own heart. When that lyric came out in ‘Bluebird,’ I realized that’s what this whole record is about, just being who you are, owning it, and pulling out all the stops when you need to rotate in your life.”

Ultimately, though, Lambert is learning, as many people do, that the older you get, the less what other people think matters to you. She puts it succinctly: “I wouldn’t go back to the days where I did give a f— to save my life.”

Related content:

Miranda Lambert teases next album as she reveals ‘hopeful’ new song ‘Bluebird’

Miranda Lambert on her “hero” Tanya Tucker covering ‘The House That Built Me’

Banding together: From country and R&B to hip-hop and rock, female artists are taking their show on the road

Here are EWs early predictions for the 2020 Oscar nominations

Over the past few months, EW has been offering in-depth analysis of this Oscar season’s (very) early days, assessing potential frontrunners, making the circuit rounds, and tracking the dominant narratives taking shape for 2020. Now, as the last remaining contenders start getting screened and precursor nominations officially trickle in, we’re ready to present our picks for who will make the cut on Jan. 13, when the 2020 Oscar nominees are announced.

We’ll update this post regularly as the race comes into tighter focus. And we’ll soon expand with predictions for every below-the-line category as well. As for now, check out our breakdowns of the directing, acting, and screenplay categories — in addition, of course, to Best Picture.


Epic new films by Oscar mainstays Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino lead this race, but a South Korean critical phenomenon and a surprise TIFF People’s Choice winner add plenty of intrigue. As to what’s yet to premiere: Early Little Women reactions are strong, Clint Eastwood’s newest could be a late-breaker, and the craft behind Sam Mendes’ 1917 could make it one of the biggest players of the year — but in a season where voting ends in early January, will it start screening too late? 

The Top 10:

The Irishman (dir. Martin Scorsese)

Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach)

1917 (dir. Sam Mendes)

Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig)

Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi)

Ford v Ferrari (dir. James Mangold)

Bombshell (dir. Jay Roach)

Joker (dir. Todd Phillips)

In the Hunt:

The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (dir. Marielle Heller)

Richard Jewell (dir. Clint Eastwood)

The Two Popes (dir. Fernando Meirelles)


Waves (dir. Trey Edward Shults)

Hustlers (dir. Lorene Scafaria)

Pain and Glory (dir. Pedro Almodóvar)


Is this finally Tarantino’s year? Will Scorsese win a second time? BongHive, assemble!

The Top 5:

Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Martin Scorsese, The Irishman

Sam Mendes, 1917

Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Greta Gerwig, Little Women

In the Hunt:

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

Jay Roach, Bombshell

Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory


Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Lulu Wang, The Farewell

James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari


Manolo Pavón/Sony Pictures Classics

It’s the most competitive Best Actor race in years: Multi-nominees Leonardo DiCaprio, Joaquin Phoenix, and Robert De Niro are likely to figure in here. But there’s also long-beloved actors like Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce, seeking their first nominations; comics Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy making acclaimed turns on the (relatively) serious side; and a pretty dead-on Elton John portrayal. Oh, and Adam Driver’s career-best performance, which may walk away with the whole thing.

The Top 5:

Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Robert De Niro, The Irishman

Joaquin Phoenix, The Joker

Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory

In the Hunt:

Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari

Taron Edgerton, Rocketman

Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems


Mark Ruffalo, Dark Waters

Matt Damon, Ford v Ferrari

Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell

Michael B. Jordan, Just Mercy


It’s Renée Zellweger’s to lose, this much we know, and Charlize Theron has emerged as a formidable challenger with the relatively buzzy Bombshell. Beyond this pair? This category is still taking shape and seems primed for a few surprises.

The Top 5:

Renée Zellweger, Judy

Charlize Theron, Bombshell

Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story

Awkwafina, The Farewell

In the Hunt:

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet

Lupita Nyong’o, Us

Alfre Woodard, Clemency


Julianne Moore, Gloria Bell

Helen Mirren, The Good Liar

Ana de Armas, Knives Out


Call this a battle of the Oscar heavyweights: Stellar supporting turns from over a half-dozen Oscar winners (seriously!) figure most competitively in this race, along with other industry veterans like Alan Alda and Willem Dafoe. Seriously, when Brad Pitt is looking like the baby of the category… 

The Top 5:

Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Al Pacino, The Irishman

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Joe Pesci, The Irishman

Alan Alda, Marriage Story

In the Hunt:

Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes

Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy

Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse


Sterling K. Brown, Waves

Tracy Letts, Ford v Ferrari

Timothée Chalamet, Little Women


Alison Cohen Rosa/STXfilms

Sure to be an eclectic mix, several contenders here have multiple movies to choose from, including Laura Dern, Margot Robbie, and Meryl Streep. But two scene-stealers seeking their first nominations could come to dominate this conversation.

The Top 5:

Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers

Laura Dern, Marriage Story

Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Florence Pugh, Little Women

Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey

In the Hunt:

Shuzhen Zhao, The Farewell

Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit

Annette Bening, The Report

Margot Robbie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Meryl Streep, Little Women


Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Dolemite Is My Name

Nicole Kidman, Bombshell

Meryl Streep, The Laundromat

Laura Dern, Little Women

Anne Hathaway, Dark Waters


Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Lionsgate

Lauded foreign-language contenders stand a fighting chance against frontrunners Quentin Tarantino and Noah Baumbach.

The Top 5:

Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story

Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won, Parasite

Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory

Charles Randolph, Bombshell

In the Hunt:

Lulu Wang, The Farewell

Rian Johnson, Knives Out

Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns, 1917

Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, Dolemite Is My Name

Emily Halpern & Sarah Haskins & Susanna Fogel & Katie Silberman, Booksmart


Trey Edward Shults, Waves

Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth & Jason Keller, Ford v Ferrari


Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures

New cinematic takes on a comic-book villain, an American literary classic, and a few riveting magazine articles could make waves in this year’s adapted field. 

The Top 5:

Greta Gerwig, Little Women

Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes

Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

In the Hunt:

Todd Phillips & Scott Silver, Joker

Mario Correa & Matthew Michael Carnahan, Dark Waters

Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, Avengers: Endgame

Billy Ray, Richard Jewell


Destin Daniel Cretton & Andrew Lanham, Just Mercy

Stephany Folsom & Andrew Stanton, Toy Story 4


Check out our Awardist columns!

Why Fox News scandal drama Bombshell appears primed for awards success
Why Netflix could run the table at next year’s Oscars
How this year’s Toronto International Film Festival shaped the 2020 Oscar race

Martin Scorsese: The Irishman interview

Martin Scorsese is having quite a moment.

The 76-year-old director is enjoying the best reviews of his career thanks to his upcoming film The Irishman. He made an industry splash for the picture by switching from traditional studio partners to Netflix, which famously bankrolled the ambitious $159 million project. He’s become, almost certainly unintentionally, the face of the Marvel industrial complex resistance after criticizing comic book films as “not cinema” (a complaint he echoes below, albeit in a more respectful way that puts his critique into greater context).

Here the Oscar-winning filmmaker sits with EW to talk The Irishman, which stars his nine-time collaborator Robert De Niro as hitman Frank Sheeran, Al Pacino as vanished Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, and Joe Pesci as underworld kingpin Russell Bufalino. He also discussed the practice of digitally resurrecting dead actors, luring Pesci out of retirement, why he’ll never release a “director’s cut” and even whether a damaged soul can ever be made whole. (Note: Some of the following quotes have appeared in previous EW coverage).

Entertainment Weekly: So just personally, what excites you most about this film?
Martin Scorsese: Having gotten to make the film. The picture was very difficult to get made the past 10 years, and for many different reasons. But I really felt that De Niro and I had one more picture to make at least. Robert read Charles Brandt’s book [I Heard You Paint Houses] when he was doing [the 2006 drama] The Good Shepard. He gave it to me. I saw he was connected with the character and we’ve been wanting to make something together since Casino. I realized he really cares about the character, and that it’s something that could be moving. So I figured we’d take the trip. It took a while. It’s very special that we got it made. And I feel at this point in my life, it’s something that I feel the value of — if not for me, for Bob, Al, and Joe — a lot of people involved in it. And the fact people have reacted so strongly is really [pauses] I don’t know if I have the words to express the thanks. What’s special about it is that everything in our hearts was put into it at this stage of our lives.  

There’s been a lot of conversation about the de-aging technology. Was there ever a point in which you were really worried if you could pull this off?
No. I saw the tests.

And even the early tests looked good?
What happens is that the technology at ILM by [digital effects artist] Pablo Helman, is that it gets more efficient and less costly every day. So from the time we did the tests until we started shooting it had already gotten easier. So even the stuff we worked on when started editing we went back and redid [the scenes] because the technology was already better.

What we’re talking about is makeup, really. Any film, particularly some of the older films, you see a person walk in and their hair maybe has a little gray in it — it’s powdered or colored in a certain way. And they put makeup under the eyes and things. But in a good case, we accept the illusion. So for me, this is the next step for makeup. This was something we really felt we could take a chance with.

The other thing, too, is that right now people are talking about [the de-aging]. But if you show the film a couple of years from now and it’s out of the cultural context, unless you point it out to somebody and say, “This is different here,” they’re not going to notice it. If they’re with the film, they’ll accept the illusion. “Hey is that guy younger?” and they’ll move on. Right now everybody is looking at it. It’s being scrutinized, as maybe it should, as the next step in this process.

What’s your opinion about resurrecting actors digitally after they’ve passed on? Like Star Wars brought back Peter Cushing.
Well, when you’re talking about Star Wars, that’s another universe. Anything’s allowed. But if you took, I don’t know, Spencer Tracy and put him in something… I don’t know about that. Because what is the basis of the emotion of the actor if you’re creating it all by computer? You may have aspects and data from the actor from other projects they did. [But with The Irishman], we have the actor. I help with the performance when I select it in editing. We have to re-work the performance with all the data, but that data is still them, now, for the most part. If you were to take Clark Gable or Brando or Olivier, or stars from the Golden Age, that might be different and strange. But then, who’s to say cinema is one thing? It’s certainly many different things and right now we’re in a great period of evolution.

I read a report, probably inflated, that Joe Pesci was asked to play his Irishman role 50 times–
Probably more. 

What’s that conversation even like the 43rd time you’re having it? What are you saying and what’s he saying back?
It has a lot to do with De Niro and his relationship. Bob and I see each other often, but I don’t see that many people, except when I’m working. Bob and Joe have their own language. Joe’s always pushing back and always Bob is coming back and working him, working him. Joe keeps pushing back, Bob keeps working on him.

“Pushing back” means “for many different reasons.” And he would have to explain it. These are individual choices and sometimes people don’t want to do something for different reasons. It could be, financial issues. You could have that — I’m not saying he did, right? It could be family issues. It could be health. It could be boredom from doing a certain kind of film. Playing a certain character. Ultimately, if Bob asks enough and he pushes enough, does this make sense? Let me put it this way: It would have to be comfortable for [Pesci] to make it, you know?

What was the tipping point that got him on board?
When Netflix got into the picture — because then we had the backing. Prior to that, it was almost like putting on a show in the barn. It’s not even about the money or about being compensated and appreciated for your value. It’s about the physicality of [making a film] where nobody’s giving you anything. At a certain age and physicality for the actors, it may not be worth it.

When you have De Niro and Pacino together in a scene is there something that’s unique about what is going on in that room from your standpoint?
First of all, there’s no [saying] “action” or “cut” — we just go. De Niro and I know each other for so long, we knew each other even when we were 16 years old. Al I’ve wanted to work with a number of times, but I’ve known him since [The Godfather director] Francis Coppola introduced me to him in 1970 when Francis told my mother about him. Francis wanted to put him in The Godfather but the studio was against it because he hadn’t acted in a movie yet. Even though Al and I haven’t worked together, we feel like we have — it’s the same circle. He’s wonderful to be around and respectful and appreciative. And Bob and Al have known each other for so long even though they only acted together in one [major] film, Heat — which was wonderful. It’s like, there are no problems there. Bob will tell me, “Oh, Al is great, you’ll see.” And I’ll say, “What do you mean?” And he just says [doing a bit of a De Niro impression] “Al is great, he’s great...”

The Goodfellas “I’m funny how” scene was heavily improvised by Pesci. Was there anything particularly memorable in this film that was improvised by the actors?
Yes, a great deal of stuff based on a very solid script. It’s really how Bob and Al play off each other. If the script has [De Niro’s Frank Sheeran warning Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa] “I’m telling you that you have to stop now, that this is it, it’s the bottom line.” And Al’s next line is, “Oh, don’t tell me that.” How does Al get to “Don’t tell me that”? He could throw two or three lines in. He could take a long pause. What I’m getting at is around the dialogue as written they were able to play off each other and add or take away within the structure of the scene — and it was all truthful.

There’s a lot of conflicting stories out there about how Jimmy Hoffa died, including from Frank Sheeran himself. How important is it that what you have is what really happened? And do you believe that what you have is what really happened?
No. I don’t really care about that. What would happen if we knew exactly how the JFK assassination was worked out? What does it do? It gives us a couple of good articles, a couple of movies and people talking about at dinner parties. The point is, it’s not about the facts. It’s the world [the characters are] in, the way they behave. It’s about [a character] stuck in a certain situation. You’re obligated to behave a certain way and you realize you may have made a mistake. But you’ve got to go on, right? It’s more about the feelings and feelings of being a human over 50, 60, 70, 80 years. What you may have done 40 years ago could have been done by another person, but it’s still you. What part of you did that, you know? Is it still there?

They say every cell in your body is swapped out every seven years.*
Do we really change then? I’ve always wondered…

If you’re literally not the same person…
Yeah but, is your soul the same? That’s the thing!

Good question. 
Soul, mind, heart. What happens in the soul and the heart? That’s what I mean about being the same person. [Sheeran] did things he doesn’t feel good about. Whether he did or not, I don’t really know. Charles Brandt is certainly very convincing and knew Frank very well. I know other people who have different opinions.

Many critics were particularly struck by those last 20 minutes of the film focusing on the end of Frank’s life. How important was it to convey that and could that sequence have survived a traditional studio?
No! A film couldn’t even get made at a traditional studio!

But assuming everything else somehow worked out–
No! A man in a wheelchair at the end? No. Yeah. Not gonna happen. [A traditional studio is] geared toward the most amount of money you can make — understandably. I think it’s gone askew. There’s very little room for this kind of picture. They say, “Oh you can make independent films.” That’s putting people in the margins. Putting art in the margins.

The tentpole films, the big comic book films, they’re theme park movies — as well done as many of them are, at all levels. It’s a different cinema form or a new art form entirely. We’re hoping there are theaters that show the films that are not that. And that if they’re not going to show it that filmmakers still have an opportunity with streaming — it changes the experience, but otherwise, in two to three years now, it’s not being done. A good filmmaker comes in from Italy or France comes in, the film has to be a [franchise] or they won’t do it anymore.

I hope a picture like this can help change the reception an audience gives a movie. That they have the time to watch it. Everything now is so fast, so fast, so fast. Everybody complains about soundbites. But if you actually read where a soundbite comes from, you’re reading it in context and it sometimes changes things. It’s a danger not only to cinema but it’s a danger to our culture and a danger to our country and how our kids are going to live — to want a quick fix. I’m not saying people should take the medicine of [a piece of art] that’s laborious. But if you can help them be open to something that might have different layers to it, where they may not be able to get it until two days later, that might be interesting.

You talk about how a traditional studio impacts things. With Goodfellas, the film reportedly received the worst test screening reaction in Warner Bros history. What was your honest reaction to that?
It was an angry reaction. It became very difficult. It was a constant battle until a few weeks before release … [the film] terrified Warner Bros. executives at the time. You show it in front of a big audience to see what works or maybe what’s confusing. Just see what [the audience] can tolerate or not. Like, we noticed [in the opening scene when Joe Pesci’s character] took out the knife people started laughing, they were outraged. When he stabbed Billy Batts in the trunk, after the first two [stabs], people started leaving. And then he did it a third time and more people left. And then I asked [editor Thelma Schoonmaker], “How many more we got left?” And she says: “Seven.” So okay. We didn’t need them leaving this soon, okay? We see the knife, we get it.

Another thing was the scene with my mother [in the kitchen chatting with Pesci and De Niro]. They said, “It’s way too long, Marty, it’s gotta go, it’s gotta go.” Then they read these [preview screening cards]. People hated the picture, but the thing everybody liked was the scene with my mother. So we kept that! That’s why I thank those screenings.

[A preview screening version] doesn’t mean it was “my cut.” I’m in the process of making the film. I screen it for some people, they go “maybe you don’t need that,” and maybe I do things, or maybe not. Test screenings, for a while, were very helpful. I don’t know if it is anymore, at least for me. The world has changed in that way too.

Recently Tarantino released an extended version of Hateful Eight on Netflix, do you have any interest in releasing any of your classics in a long-form on the streaming service now that you’re working together?
No, no, no, no, no! The director’s cut is the film that’s released — unless it’s been taken away from the director by the financiers and the studio. [The director] has made their decisions based on the process they were going through at the time. There could be money issues, there could be somebody that dies [while making] the picture, the studio changes heads and the next person hates it. Sometimes [a director says], “I wish I could go back and put it all back together.” All these things happen … But I do think once the die is cast, you have to go with it and say, “That’s the movie I made under those circumstances.”

It’s an interesting thing. We would have loved to see an extended version of a number of films in the past where scenes were cut out. Now [those scenes were] cut out from the director’s cut, not from the rough cut. There’s a big difference. [Sometimes to] capitalize on [a film’s popularity] and exploit it they say, “This is the director’s cut.” You should take a look at Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. I saw the full version a few days before it opened at a meeting and it was two hours and 20 minutes or so. Then MGM released their version and it was 90 minutes. We all said, “Oh no, it was a masterpiece,” and wished it could be saved. The editor saved a copy and what you see now is what we saw in that meeting. That is a director’s cut. And if the editor said there was another 20 minutes that Peckinpah wanted to keep in there, I would have loved to see those 20 minutes. So I understand the idea of an audience wanting to be entertained for another 20 minutes in that world.

Goodfellas, Casino, and Irishman are obviously different characters, very different stories, yet feel on some level like they’re part of the same universe and emotionally that this film feels like a third and perhaps final act to the others. Was that intentional on some level?
I think so. 

Do you see this as your final organized crime film?
It’s a difficult issue because we are talking about 47 years and there are four or five pictures I have that deal with — well, four deal with the Italian-American underworld; [The Departed] deals with Irish in Boston and is based on a Chinese story, okay? But it deals with similar type thing. If you go in all these directions, you’ve done it. What else could you learn? As a filmmaker, what else can you learn about yourself and this subject matter with these characters in this world? You may find that you’ve done it. I hope to explore a little more, if I have time.

The Irishman is released in theaters Nov. 1 and comes to Netflix Nov. 27. 

Inside Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman fight
The Irishman reviews roundup 
Joss Whedon, James Gunn react to Martin Scorsese criticizing Marvel movies

*This romantic bit of apocryphal science is not, unfortunately, true. The original 2005 research suggesting ALL human cells turn over every seven years has since been debunked. The short version: While parts of your body are frequently replaced, they vary widely in terms of how often. Some cells are replaced every 5 days, some 10-to-15 years, and some rare cells even last a lifetime — such as the central core of the lens of your eyes. So at least some portion of an aging mobster is literally still the same person at the end of his life as when he committed his crimes.

Philip Pullman goes deep on The Secret Commonwealth and the future of His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman isn’t done showing us new worlds. His Dark Materials is almost upon us — that would be the upcoming HBO TV series adaptation of his best-selling book series about an alternate world where humans are forever accompanied by personalized talking animal companions called “daemons,” and the authoritarian church known as the Magisterium exerts powerful control over people’s lives. Unlike the situation with HBO’s previous big-name fantasy book adaptation Game of Thrones, the His Dark Materials novels have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The showrunners already have a three-season structure in mind, one for each of the constituent books: The Golden Compass a.k.a Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. No need for the show creators to worry about having to come up with their own ending themselves. 

But even though His Dark Materials is complete, the story of Lyra Belacqua (played by Dafne Keen in the upcoming show) and her daemon Pantalaimon is still ongoing. Earlier this month Pullman published The Secret Commonwealth, the second installment in his new Book of Dust trilogy that acts as a companion to His Dark Materials. But while the first Book of Dust volume, 2017’s La Belle Sauvage, took place 10 years before the events of His Dark Materials, The Secret Commonwealth takes place 10 years afterward. In other words, readers finally get to see Lyra as a young adult! Her maturity means that Pan has now solidified into a single form (a pine marten) but unfortunately, there have been other changes to their dynamic as well. 

Hard as it is to believe, Lyra and Pan are barely on speaking terms at the beginning of The Secret Commonwealth. Though they each spend the rest of the book trying to reconnect, they go about it in ways that just push them farther away from each other. This is partly a lingering aftereffects of their brief physical separation in The Amber Spyglass, but Pan also blames it on a few new books Lyra is reading: The Hyperchorasmians by Gottfried Brande, a novel about a world without daemons (imagine that!), and The Constant Deceiver by Simon Talbot, a philosophical tract positing that there is no objective truth. Neither book is real, but reading Pan and Lyra’s furious debates about them, it feels like they might as well be. 

“I can’t think of many stories where a character is influenced by a book or philosophy, and yet it is a very salient feature of many thinking people’s lives,” Pullman tells EW. “My youth, my adolescence and early manhood, was tremendously influenced by the books I was reading. While I haven’t been back to many of them, I still remember the thrill of discovery, the sense of great landscapes opening up, as I read the books — one of them being William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience. I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if Lyra was influenced herself by very powerfully expressed philosophies that come to her at an age and at a stage in her development where she’s still trying things out. Hence the two philosophies which seem to be antitheses of each other but are in fact saying the same thing basically, that the world is not as you see it. Rationality is a very good servant, but a bad master, to use the old expression.” 

What a wonderful world 

These books, and the intellectual debate they produce, make Lyra’s world feel more lived-in than ever before. While His Dark Materials spanned multiple parallel worlds, The Secret Commonwealth dives deep on this one in particular. As both Lyra and Malcolm Polstead (first introduced as a brave young boy in La Belle Sauvage, now an experienced older professor/spy) journey across Europe and Asia looking for answers, they encounter many locales we’ve never been to before. Some, like the Magisterium capital in Geneva, have been heavily referenced in previous books, but now seen for the first time. 

“I imagined a modern city, which has one great central activity going on: The governance of the church, the Magisterium,” Pullman says. “Geneva today is a large city which does have one big business going on, which is finance. So I wasn’t straying too far from reality. I’ve been there a few times; it’s an agreeable enough place that doesn’t deserve the bad reputation I’m giving it. I chose Geneva of course because it was one of the centers for Protestantism in the Reformation. The bit of history that’s changed in Lyra’s world, different from ours, is that John Calvin, the leader of the Calvinist Protestants who were based in Geneva, became Pope in Lyra’s world. The whole history of it is set out in bits and pieces throughout. If the center of western Christianity was once Rome, the center of religion in Lyra’s world is Geneva, but it’s a different kind of Christianity. It’s Puritans, who were a bloody nuisance wherever they turned up. In fact they were so disliked in this country that they went off and settled in America, which may have something to do with an aspect of the American mind. The whole cast of mind of The Secret Commonwealth, I hope, is an antipathy to Puritanism, which is another form of extremism. It’s an extremity of behavior: You shall not laugh, you shall not have beauty, you shall not.” 

Standing in contrast is the titular organization, the secret commonwealth. As Pullman explains, “the secret commonwealth is a metaphor for the richness of things that are not dominated by one extreme or another. Extremes are a bad place to live, as we see in the moment, with Brexit and populist politics. Always what i’m striving towards is a vision of totality rather than partiality. By that I think of a kind of middle way, between extremes of any sort. We’ll see more of what that means in the third book.”

Lyra later makes her way to Constantinople, which marks the series’ first visit to the Middle East. There are many differences between this version of the Middle East and our own: The Ottoman Empire still rules the region, for one thing, and also there is no such thing as Islam since the Magisterium exerts a monopoly over world religion. But they do share important characteristics — most notably, a refugee crisis caused by political and social unrest. 

“The whole refugee situation and the books that are coming out of it are intensely interesting,” Pullman says. “The work of many Middle Eastern writers is astonishing. I’m currently reading this book called No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani. He was an Iranian who fled his own country, went all the way through the Far East and Indonesia and found his way on a boat to Australia. Australians being Australians, they imprisoned him with hundreds of others on this dreadful prison camp island. It’s a true account of what happened and the way he’s forced into captivity. It’s an endlessly fascinating, vital topic that we should look at. I found this was a way of looking at it from another angle. I didn’t intend to make this part of the story, it just insisted on being there.” 

The source of the unrest in Lyra’s Middle East has to do with roses. It’s not just any kind of rose, though. Early in the book, Lyra learns of a mysterious red building out in the Chinese desert, guarded by warrior-priests, where a special kind of roses are grown. That strangely beautiful image haunts several characters, including Lyra, throughout the book. 

“The starting point for the red building and roses was the name Lop Nor, which is a desert lake that wanders about in western China,” Pullman says. “The same region which at the moment is being very treated harshly by the rulers of China in Beijing, who are imprisoning millions of people and forcing them to change their ways of thought. It’s that region, the hidden place that’s hard to reach and out of sight. That was what I started with: What goes on there?”

Back to the beginning

We soon learn the reason this red building is important: Examining the oil from the roses grown there allows one to see physical, scientific evidence of Dust — the very substance that gives this new trilogy its name. 

Dust is key to Pullman’s project here, dating back to His Dark Materials. It represents matter itself having self-awareness, which would dispute against the authoritarian rule of the Magisterium (that meaning can only be found through God and the church). No wonder the Magisterium is so eager to get its hands on these roses before anyone else. In fact, it’s heavily implied that the terrorist-like “men from the mountains” causing unrest in the Middle East are covertly funded by the Magisterium.

“It’s a kind of analogy of consciousness,” Pullman says. “I pictured Dust, as we saw in The Amber Spyglass, as being something that people acquire when they leave innocence behind and set out on the long path to wisdom. Dust is something good in those terms of course, but it’s bad in terms of the strict religion. They see knowledge as a great corruption of innocence. This brings us onto what consciousness is. Nobody has discovered it yet! There are a number of different ideas. The hard question, as Australian philosopher David Chalmers asks, is how you get from matter and molecules to our experience of the taste of an orange, our sympathy when someone we love is hurt…that’s the abstract question i’m building the whole story around.”

Back in The Amber Spyglass, the scientist Mary Malone was able to detect the presence of Dust by examining the oil produced by the wheeled mulefa creatures on their Edenic world. In Lyra’s world, it exists in this special rose oil. These coincidences are no accident, says Pullman. As he builds to the series’ conclusion in the upcoming third Book of Dust volume, he’s working with similar themes and images that have been in the story all along. 

“Roses have been with me for some time,” Pullman says. “I did all the chapter heading illustrations for The Amber Spyglass, the last illustration is for the scene where Lyra and Will part. It features two roses tied together with a ribbon, but the blossoms are looking in different directions. So roses were always a presence in my mind, somehow, for this story. The fact that the action of Book of Dust is centered on this mysterious place where the roses grow, it was kind of there from a long time ago.” 

This is what makes it so interesting that HBO’s His Dark Materials show will land shortly after the release of The Secret Commonwealth, because there are events in the latter that hearken back to the beginning of the first series. The showrunners have even teased that the show will include references to the events of Book of Dustfrom the very first scene, in fact. 

“Other links are nice to be able to put in,” Pullman says. “For example, there’s the magician in Prague, the furnace man, who brings together his son and his son’s daemon in this act of parental destruction that starts off his machinery. That was kind of an echo of what happens at the end of The Golden Compass where Lord Asriel sets things in motion by dividing Roger from his daemon. That was an act of fission if you like, and this is an act of fusion. They both involve destruction and things developing out of destruction. There are patterns and analogies and rhythms that you can set in motion when you’re doing a really long story. These patterns and correspondences and repetitions are part of any long story as they’re part of any long musical work. The final movement will refer back to the second theme in the first movement, and so on. This is how you make something large that has a coherence.”

Pullman can’t tease too much of what will happen in the third book since he hasn’t finished writing it yet, but he hopes it’ll be shorter than the “doorstop”-like The Secret Commonwealth. Even so, “It will lead to a resolution, a revelation, or some other thing. The themes will be worked out. It will be nice to end it, as Mozart’s Symphony No. 1, ending with a complicated fugue that involves the entire orchestra.”

The Secret Commonwealth is available now where books are sold.

For more on the best of pop culture this fall, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly at Barnes & Noble Friday, or buy it here now. (The November issue will be available on newsstands starting Oct. 23.) Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Related content:

His Dark Materials is definitely a better TV show than a movie

His Dark Materials star Ruth Wilson unpacks the beguiling Mrs. Coulter

New His Dark Materials trailer reveals the war ‘for the fate of more than this world’

The 24 biggest albums to hear this season

A pop singer returns to her free-spirited self, an alt-rock vet heads to (inner) space, a country icon finds happiness, an R&B artist takes control of her narrative, a rapper rediscovers himself, a newly minted country superstar stays humble. Before the season ends, we run down the best albums that your friends will be talking about before 2020 hits.


Josh Homme — The Desert Sessions Vols. 11 & 12

“We like the way we move together,” croaks ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons on the opening track off the newest Josh Homme-conjured Desert Sessions project. The series dates back to 1997, when the Queens of the Stone Age frontman and a group of musician friends decamped to Joshua Tree to write and record songs. The latest volume in the (and first in 16 years) sees Homme bringing together another impressive hodgepodge of artists, including Gibbons, Les Claypool, Jake Shears, and Matt Sweeney. (Oct. 25) —Alex Suskind

Grace Potter — Daylight King

The Vermont singer-songwriter has experienced quite a bit of change in the last few years — including divorce, marriage, childbirth, and the dissolution of her longtime band, the Nocturnals — and she channels all of that into her second solo album, Daylight King. (Oct. 25) —Sarah Rodman

King Princess — Cheap Queen 

In her short but buzzy time as a professional musician, King Princess has developed her own community of fervent queer female fans. But for the artist born Mikaela Straus, it’s not something she fully expected to happen. “My shows are definitely a point of gathering for gay women and it makes me interested in what’s happening with them because I was not at all a part of a community when I was a kid that looked like this — outwardly female and gay,” she tells EW.  Part of that attraction can be found in her glamorous, soon-to-be-released debut album Cheap Queen. “I used a lot of local, weird, choppy vocal samples and like vintage-y sounding stuff mixed with new drum sounds,” she says, adding that her mentor, Mark Ronson, “made a comment that you can make s—t sound old but what makes it modern is drums and bass. I thought that was really interesting and concise and beautiful because it’s really how I work.” (Oct. 25) —Kerensa Cadenas

Jackson Wang — Mirrors

When the 25-year-old Chinese singer-rapper-producer-dancer isn’t performing with his K-pop superstar group GOT7, he’s working on his solo material (his 2017 single “Papillon” topped Billboard’s China V charts). Now he’s set to drop his first American album, Mirrors, which includes the upbeat R&B-indebted track “Bullet to the Heart.” (Oct. 25) —AS 

Neil Young with Crazy Horse — Colorado

The singer-songwriter’s first Crazy Horse project in seven years is vintage Neil Young: loud riffs, harmonica solos, inner turmoil, plus a touch of humor (see: “She Showed Me Love,” which opens with the line “You might say I’m an old white guy/ I’m an old white guy”). This is Young’s second full-length album of 2019 following the release of the live archive series record Tuscaloosa. (Oct. 25) —AS


Hootie & the Blowfish — Imperfect Circle

Fresh off their summer reunion tour, the resurgent ’90s quartet fronted by country star Darius Rucker releases their first album of new material in 15 years. As Dean Felber recently told EW about the sound: “No matter where a song starts, once the four of us play it together, it almost always sounds like Hootie.” (Nov. 1) —SR

Jeff Lynne — From Out of Nowhere

Jeff Lynne has done more with Electric Light Orchestra over the past five years than he did in the previous 30. Since reviving his best-selling band for an exhilarating one-off 2014 concert in London, the singer-guitarist-producer has released the rockers’ first original material in four years (Alone in the Universe), gone on two tours, and performed “Evil Woman” at the Grammys with Ed Sheeran (hey, why not?). Next up: another album, From Out of Nowhere, where Lynne and company reflect on old flames, future adventures, and the amazing journey they’ve gone on since their surprise Hyde Park comeback show. (Nov. 1) —Alex Suskind

From Out of Nowhere is the second album billed to Jeff Lynne's ELO

From Out of Nowhere is the second album billed to Jeff Lynne’s ELO

Joseph Cultice

Miranda Lambert — Wild Card 

Following a rare break from the road, Miranda Lambert has roared back for her current Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars tour — featuring an array of female opening acts, including Maren Morris and Ashley McBryde  — and can’t wait for fans to hear the expansive, and decidedly rocking, Wildcard. “I wasn’t touring for eight months,” she says, still sounding slightly bewildered by the notion. “Since I was 17 — I’m 35 — I’ve never had more than three months off tour. I think my management tricked me into it. But I needed a break.”

That ability to Netflix-and-chill gave her time to stretch out creatively, which informed Wildcard’s 14 tracks, recorded with producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town). Like all Lambert albums, it is a dynamic affair that can travel from icy heartbreak to scorching rage in the time it takes to fix your lipstick and strike a match. Odes to true love, both sensual (“Fire Escape”) and roof-rattling (“Locomotive”), share space with a gorgeous ballad about the warring desires to roam and to nest (“Settling Down”), a brassy bop that manages to embrace all that is good in her life while laughing off the trolls (“Pretty Bitchin’ ”), and a rocker that’s as close to new wave as Lambert has ever come (“Mess With My Head”). A winkingly murderous duet with Morris called “Way Too Pretty for Prison” — a spiritual cousin to songs like the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” and Brandy Clark’s “Stripes” — is a highlight. (“We already killed him in [2007’s] ‘Gunpowder & Lead’; this is the second husband,” Lambert quips.) Listening to Wildcard — brawnier and more radio-friendly than Weight of These Wings — you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wake up from a blackout-drunk evening next to your two best girlfriends and a freshly dug grave that none of you will speak of again. In short: It rocks. (Nov. 1) —SR

Sudan Archives — Athena

The Los Angeles-based multi-hyphenate follows up two eclectic EPs (Sudan Archives and Sink) with her first full-length effort. Athena is filled with cross-genre, midtempo jams that combine elements of R&B, classical, and trip-hop. (Nov. 1) —AS

Dave East — Survival

The Harlem MC takes a brief break from playing Method Man on Hulu’s Wu-Tang Clan miniseries to return with his foreboding sophomore effort. Survival revolves around Dave East’s upbringing and sudden rise in the music industry. As he raps on “Mama I Made It,” “She used to have to worry if I’m breathing/ She ain’t never got to worry ’bout us eating.” (Nov. 8) —AS

FKA twigs — Magdalene

Healing is a major theme on Magdalene (out Nov. 8), the long-awaited second album from British singer-songwriter FKA twigs. It’s a painfully fitting subject for the 31-year-old artist, having withstood heartache and health struggles over the last two years, including a split from partner Robert Pattinson and the removal of six fibroid tumors from her uterus. “Going through so much just allows me to be really open and vulnerable when writing,” twigs tells EW. “I really wasn’t living the high life during this time. I was just by myself a lot. And I was able to tap into a lot of emotions.”

Cover art of FKA Twigs' Magdalene

Cover art of FKA Twigs’ Magdalene

Young Turks

Magdalene finds twigs working through those emotions by intertwining subjects like truth-telling and companionship and flipping traditional male/female archetypes. A parallel process of discovery unfolded in the making of Magdalene, which twigs refers to as a “killing of ego,” noting that the project wouldn’t have happened if she had not finally let go of the expectations to come up with a compelling follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut. “My goal for Magdalene was to really not have a goal and sing it right from my heart,” she says. “I think as soon as I removed the pressure, it actually began to flow out.” (Nov. 8) —Clarkisha Kent

Luke Combs — What You See Is What You Get 

The 29-year-old North Carolina native never pictured that, two years into his major-label recording career, he would have accrued more milestones than some artists do in 20. To wit, since the release of his 2017 debut, This One’s for You — and its cheekily titled deluxe iteration, This One’s for You Too — the red-bearded singer-songwriter has: made six trips to the top of the country singles chart with songs like “Hurricane” and “When It Rains It Pours”; been nominated for a Grammy and won both a CMA and an ACM award; graduated from clubs to arenas in a matter of months; and, most dazzling of all, been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. His first album still lingers in the top 25 of the Billboard country albums chart even as Combs prepares to release his sophomore effort, What You See Is What You Get, which has already spawned the No. 1 hit “Beer Never Broke My Heart.”

For every good-time shoutout to having “1, 2 Many” or phone-number-sharing Hooters waitresses, Combs offers a refreshingly sensitive story song like the heart-string-tugging new ode to fathers “Even Though I’m Leaving” and the gorgeous ballad “Dear Today,” a reminder letter from his future self to not take things for granted. He knows his softer side is a part of his broad appeal. And he’s happy to show off all his colors. “There’s a lot that comes with being a guy in today’s society, where you have to be really tough or really badass,” says Combs, noting that during the past two years on the road he’s learned a lot about himself. “I learned that it’s okay to be five different people, like that makes you the person that you are.” (Nov. 8) —SR

Celine Dion — Courage

Who is Celine Dion in the 2010s? On her first English-language album in six years (and soon her first official tour in more than 10), she’s a woman dragged through tragedy but reemerged like a French-Canadian phoenix, with style that made her a fashion icon, a personality that made her a social media darling, and new music that now caps the magnificent reascension of the power-ballad beltress. Courage overflows with anthems, dancethems, and the kind of freewheeling symphonies that let her wail at will and deliver the stunning vocals no other pop queen can. (Nov. 15) —Marc Snetiker

DJ Shadow — Our Pathetic Age

The iconic  DJ and producer returns with his first project since 2016’s The Mountain Will Fall. The double album will feature appearances from Nas, Ghostface Killah, De La Soul, and Run the Jewels. (Nov. 15) —AS

Beck — Hyperspace

Beck was in the studio, thinking of escaping. “I remembered this button on this video game when I was a little kid, where you can escape and you wouldn’t be killed,” recalls the 49-year-old singer-songwriter. “And I think there’s something about music that, to me, always feels like a way of escaping or finding some way out of the everyday.” Absconding into your own world serves as the focal point of Hyperspace (the album shares the name of the video game the seven-time Grammy winner played as a child), Beck’s synthy, somber follow-up to 2017’s pop-indebted Colors. Most of the record was co-written with fellow genre-bender Pharrell, after the producer reached out about enlisting Beck for a track by his band N.E.R.D.

“It’s what I dream about, really, because a lot of what I’ve done is writing on my own, and I love the Lennon/McCartney ideal,” he says of the collaboration. “I felt really fortunate to work with someone who’s written so many great songs.” The music the duo produced attempts to negotiate the maze of pain, trauma, and fear we all confront from time to time — topics Beck has a knack for writing about with brutal, heartrending honesty (see: 2002’s Sea Change). On Hyperspace, those issues are as relatable as ever. “We all have our own kind of hyperspace, the thing that helps us navigate and maybe transcend our own problems and history,” he says. “It feels very human to me.” (Nov. 22) —AS

Jason Aldean — 9

As the title helpfully explains, Jason Aldean‘s album will be the country star’s 9th studio release and boasts 16 “interwoven” tracks. The record is already enjoying some pre-release buzz thanks to single “We Back,” co-written by Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line. (Nov. 22) —SR

Harry Nilsson — Losst and Founnd

Two years before his death, late singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson secretly recorded a series of demos that never saw the light of day — until now. Losst and Founnd represents the final works of the “Without You” and “Everybody’s Talkin” artist, and the first record since 1980’s Flash Harry. To help round out the demos, Nilsson collaborator Mark Hudson recruited musicians Van Dyke Parks, Jimmy Webb, Jim Keltner, and Harry’s son Kiefo, to perform. (Nov. 22) —AS

The Who — WHO

The British legends take a break from touring to drop their first original material since 2006’s Endless Wire. The first single, “Ball and Chain,” is a strumm-y, scratchy recreation of guitarist Pete Townshend‘s 2015 solo track “Guantanamo,” which explores the controversial U.S. military prison located in Cuba. (Nov. 22)—AS


Teyana Taylor — The Album

“How do you not like your own album?” is a question Teyana Taylor has been fielding for the past year, following public frustration surrounding the release of 2018’s K.T.S.E., an eight-song project executive-produced by Kanye West. “It’s not about not liking it,” she tells EW, adding that she appreciates the music that did get released. “It’s about the fact that it was not long enough, verses were taken out, a lot of stuff happened [that] I didn’t know until I heard the album like everybody else.” Rather than hold grudges, the 28-year-old New York City native has decided with her upcoming project, simply titled The Album, to “take full accountability that I need to be 110 percent on everything that I do.”

Teyana Taylor's The Album drops Dec. 6

Teyana Taylor’s The Album drops Dec. 6

Bryce Thompson

Oddly enough, while listeners have stuck by her through the K.T.S.E. dilemma, their concerns now seem to be that she is, by their estimation, too successful and happily married to give them the art they want from her. Says Taylor, “It’s like, ‘We love that you’re happy, but baby, we going through it! I’ma need you to get me through what you got me through with this [past] album.’” Taylor has taken her fans’ concern as a creative challenge to explore new topics on Album’s songs. The performer is now writing music for both lovebirds and “the girl that has that wall built.” (Dec. 6) —Marcus Jones

Kesha — TBD

“I got my balls back,” Kesha proclaims of the driving force behind her currently untitled fourth album, out this December. The follow-up to her Grammy-nominated 2017 LP is primed to take fans on a rollercoaster ride through an eclectic mix of styles she lovingly defines as “weirdo pop.” While Rainbow was about coming out of the darkness — the project came after Kesha accused former collaborator Dr. Luke of sexual assault and physical abuse; he denied the claims and countersued for defamation, and the case is still ongoing — her new album embraces what it’s like to bask in the sun after the storm. “If you keep pushing through the darkness, you’ll find a rainbow, and I feel like I finally arrived there,” she muses. “I want that to be inspiration to other people — by embracing the vulnerable side of myself but also the strong, and the person that wants to lead a joyful, happy, and free life.” Part of that is returning to the dance-pop of her first two records and falling back in love with her free-spirit image. “I’ve been told to be fun before, but now I’m genuinely having fun,” she says. “[It’s] a self-deprecating look at what I believe the music industry wants someone to be versus the fact I’m f—ing everything, I’m not just one thing. I’m not just the party girl and I’m not just a tragedy.”

Kesha's upcoming album will be her first since 2017's defiant Rainbow

Kesha’s upcoming album will be her first since 2017’s defiant Rainbow

Bruce Glikas/WireImage


Kesha began writing the album following the end of her last tour and found herself drifting back to the singer-songwriter vibes of Rainbow. When her brother suggested she try writing a pop song again, she begrudgingly gave it a shot. “I came back around to realizing that I f—ing love pop music,” she says. “I had been depriving myself of something I loved because I wasn’t supposed to have fun.” (December) —Maureen Lee Lenker

Camilla Cabello — Romance 

Cabello has already had a monster 2019 thanks to “Señorita,” her chart-topping duet with Shawn Mendes. The 22-year-old pop star and former Fifth Harmony member will follow it up with her full-length sophomore effort, which includes the reggae-tinged single “Liar.” (December) —AS

Big Sean — TBD

When he was 19, Big Sean was diagnosed with a heart condition. “I couldn’t even walk from one side of the room to the other without getting super-tired,” he tells EW. “I passed out once in the shower and got rushed to the emergency room.” At the time, the future star was just beginning to release music after signing to Kanye West’s GOOD imprint following a chance encounter with the rapper. But Sean’s health issues left him on a precipice, facing a potentially costly and risky surgical procedure. On “Lucky Me,” a track off his upcoming fifth studio album (out this fall), the 33-year-old MC addresses the moment for the first time ever, crediting his mother’s holistic view of medicine as a cure.

Big Sean says he had to step back and rediscover himself before making music again.

Big Sean says he had to step back and rediscover himself before making music again.

Mike Carson

“I’ve never talked about certain things in my life,” adds Sean, on why he decided to include that story on the record. “It just kind of made me realize I need to really express some of these things.” Personal reflection plays a major role on his next project, with Sean looking back on his upbringing, his health, and, as he explains here, the recent rediscovery process he went through. It’s all led up to his first solo project since 2017’s I Decided, one that Big Sean hopes brings fans some measure of self-fulfillment. As he explains over the phone from Los Angeles, “I want people to feel like the best version of themselves.” (TBD) —AS

Lil Wayne — Funeral

Weezy F. has been relatively quiet since dropping his years-in-the-making The Carter V at the end of 2018. That project was a fierce and fiery return for the prolific rapper — a hopeful sign that Funeral (dropping some time between now and New Year’s Eve) will showcase more of the same. —AS

Rihanna — TBD

All we know about RiRi‘s highly anticipated ninth record is that it’s a reggae-inspired project and that it is (maybe? Hopefully?) coming out before the end of the year. —AS

Related content:

EW’s fall movie guide: 21 movies you should see this season
Fall Books Preview: The 40 biggest titles of the season

Why Fox News scandal drama Bombshell appears primed for awards success

Welcome to EW’s The Awardist: a weekly column offering (very!) early and in-depth analysis of the 2020 awards season. Check out last week’s deep dive.

Oscar season loves a meaty, capital-I Issue drama, and may have finally found its prime candidate for 2019-20: Bombshell (out Dec. 20), which screened for select audiences at Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center on Sunday, with director Jay Roach and stars Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie all in attendance for the splashy rollout. (A reception followed, with all three actresses mingling over cocktails.)

Various costars from the film were spotted at the event, as were other Hollywood darlings including Andie MacDowell. The movie had been something of a question-mark when it came to awards; budgeted at a relatively hefty $30-plus million and bypassing the fall festival circuit, it’s one of this cycle’s later entrants, and comes from a director in Jay Roach whose theatrical work has tended to meet mixed reviews. (His feature films have never topped 75 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, his last being Trumbo, starring Oscar-nominated Bryan Cranston.) But the industry showed up for this one with force.

And Bombshell finds Roach in his element. The story behind the sexual misconduct allegations against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes (played here by John Lithgow) and various network personalities is fashioned as a stylish, speedy, starry political thriller, of the kind that Roach has been churning to Emmy-winning effect on HBO for years: see Game Change, which starred Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, and All the Way, the Cranston-led LBJ docudrama. Bombshell is told on a grander scale, bolstered with even more A-listers playing major public figures. Theron centers this telling as Megyn Kelly, going for a thorough embodiment of the former Fox host, prosthetics and all; Kidman and Robbie lend support as, respectively, Gretchen Carlson and Kayla Pospisil (the latter of whom is a composite).

Bombshell’s debut leaves just a few potential awards players left to screen. EW can confirm that Little Women’s official launch for press and industry is coming soon, and beyond that, the Mark Ruffalo vehicle Dark Waters and Sam Mendes war drama 1917 will get a push as well.

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Lionsgate

Reactions at the Bombshell event — very much tailored as an awards launching paid — were quite strong, and it’s clear Bombshell will receive a campaign across the board. I expect reviews to be a bit more mixed than this first wave of buzz, as often happens; the beginning, particularly, is a little clunky and oddly comic, and some issues merit a more complex treatment than they receive. But the film contains undeniable momentum, and several scenes of searing power. In that sense, the film should hope to go down a road similar to last year’s Vice: a movie that thrived on the strength of its real-world echoes, accessible provocations, juicy performances, and crowd-pleasing elements. Importantly, Roach and writer Charles Randolph (The Big Short) ensure that the alleged victims at the center of the story remain nuanced and human.

Theron, also a producer, introduced the film to audiences on Sunday. She’s a serious contender for multiple nominations here: Not everyone will view her Kelly turn as uncanny, per se, but she has several moments that are eerily on-point, and she admirably, even soulfully occupies a difficult middle ground. (Kelly’s on-the-record testimony that Ailes harassed her is arguably what ultimately brought the man down, but the film reminds there’s a reason why she remains a controversial figure.) Expect Theron to score her first Best Actress nod in over a decade. On the Best Picture side, Bombshell looks like a bubble contender right now; its late release means it’ll need to really keep up the pace as a slew of other major contenders roll out around the same time. Further, it’s unlikely that Roach fits into the Best Director five.

All that said, the biggest awards story to come out of Bombshell is Margot Robbie. Where Best Supporting Actress had felt a little thin — led, to this point, by Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story) — the I, Tonya star instantly makes things more interesting with a shattering performance. Kayla, based on interviews Randolph and Roach conducted with various Ailes accusers as well as testimonials from others, is the heart of the film in many ways, a Fox News true believer whose wide-eyed optimism is quickly, brutally quelled. There’s humor and warmth to Robbie’s turn, and near the film’s conclusion, she gets a scene that Oscar clips are made for. No spoilers, but it’s devastatingly good work, and really what the film leaves you with. (Kidman, meanwhile, could get looped in as well if the movie ends up receiving a lot of love — she’s great in her own right — but is a bit more in the background here.)

More broadly, this awards season is shaping up to focus on Fox News’ scandals on multiple fronts. Also set to compete at ceremonies including the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards is The Loudest Voice, Showtime’s miniseries starring a transformed Russell Crowe as Ailes, and more prominently featuring Carlson as a character, here portrayed by Naomi Watts. It’s an unusual bit of paralleling, one that could help or hurt Bombshell as it ramps up its own campaign machine. But one thing’s for sure: With Theron, Kidman, and Robbie out on the trail, voters will be paying attention.

Related content:

How Charlize Theron transformed into Megyn Kelly for Bombshell
True Romance: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet on reuniting for Little Women
Parasite deserves to be one of the year’s major Oscar players. Can it be?