The Perks of Being a Wallflower author Stephen Chbosky ventures to a dark place with Imaginary Friend

A young boy who has a hard time connecting to the world finds his way through the help of friends he loves.

With The Perks of Being a Wallflower, author Stephen Chbosky wrote a novel that still reverberates decades later with anyone who has ever felt like a loser or an outsider by uncovering the deep, unbreakable bonds that can form between fellow outcasts.

Now, almost exactly 20 years after publishing that YA classic, Chbosky has written his second book, Imaginary Friend, changing gears from heartwarming to chilling.

What if the voices that reach out to a young boy who feels lost and alone can’t be seen or heard by anyone else?

The book, debuting Oct. 1, follows 7-year-old Christopher, who moves to a new town with his single mom Kate and struggles to find his place until someone — or some thing — reaches out to him, appearing as a face in the sky, or a voice whispering on the wind.

It gives him a mission, to build a treehouse in the woods, and tells him about long-buried town secrets (sometimes literally so.) It’s a voice Christopher trusts, although it’s not clear that he should.

Not all friends are true ones, especially those that hide who they are.

Chbosky, who co-created the TV series Jericho and directed Wonder and his own screen adaptation of Perks, spoke with EW exclusively about his return to books, and the story that has haunted him for nine years.

Entertainment Weekly: Imaginary Friend is the first book you’ve published in 20 years, but it’s a very different kind of story. That was a YA novel, a coming of age story. How would you describe this one? A horror story? A mystery story?
Stephen Chbosky: I think it’s all of the above, you know? It has all the heart, and all the soul, and all of the emotional components that Perks had, and in a lot of cases it’s about a lot of the same themes.

But told in a more unsettling way.
There’s some mystery in it. There’s certainly some horror in it. There’s an epic small town story. And a lot of fun scares. But at its heart, it’s always a story about a mother and a son, and about being young and being vulnerable.

What kind of kid is he when we meet him?
Christopher is a very kind, innately good little boy. He became that way in large part because his mother, Kate, loves him so much. But he had a very, very difficult early childhood. There’s tragedy around his father, and his mom made some bad choices that she’s now coming out from… So he grew up kind of rough, but his way of dealing with it is being kind, and being sweet. However, he has a lot of intellectual problems.

Like what?
He’s dyslexic. He has a lot of problems with math. And when this story begins, he’s not… He may be a world class kid, but he’s not a very good student. That is of course until he goes into the woods.

And he disappears. We’ll avoid spoilers because the book is several months away from being released. But what leads him away?
Imaginary Friend came from this what-if premise. Remember when you were a little kid, and you’d lay in the grass looking at the clouds We all did it. You’d look at the shapes, and say, “That looks like a dog. Or a hammer, or a face, or whatever.” My what-if was, what if a little boy looked up at the clouds, and realized that for the last two weeks it was always the same face looking at him?

And he’s the only one who notices?
Imagine the moment outside of his school, where he’s all alone, and the last of the school buses go away, and he looks up and he sees the cloud. He looks over both shoulders to make sure that no one’s watching because it looks crazy if he’s doing that.

But he goes, “Hello…? Can you hear me?” And there’s a thunderclap in the distance. It could be a coincidence, so the little boy says, “If you can hear me, blink your left eye.” And the cloud does, and it blinks, and then it floats away. And then Christopher follows the cloud.

That’s the scene that grew into the book?
To me that was the origin of this whole thing. What I’ve spent the last nine years doing was following the cloud. It has led me to places that I could not have predicted, and it was so exciting to write it and figure out what it all meant.

In the book, Christopher has a lot of people in his life who are looking out for him. His mom, Kate. He has the sheriff. He has a little group of friends, who are similar outcasts to him.
My favorite is his friend, Eddie, who everybody calls Special Ed.

But it’s clear that there’s more than one entity that’s watching him, that’s speaking to him. He is able to pick up on things that maybe others can’t see — both in the real world and in this perhaps-supernatural one. It seems like his arc is to figure out who to trust.
Yes, that is part of it. But also the absolute number one person that he needs to figure out whether or not he can trust is himself.

Maybe all this is in his head?
There’s a moment in the book, when his mother remembers Christopher’s father saying “Kate, there are two kinds of people who can see things that aren’t there. Visionaries, and psychopaths.” A good portion of this book is wondering which is it. What’s really happening here?

Will people who know you only from The Perks of Being a Wallflower see this as a bigger genre leap than it really is? You’ve dealt with suspense and thriller elements in your other work as a screenwriter and a director.
In terms of speculative fiction, I was one of the creators of Jericho. That was a show about what would happen in a little town if a nuclear bomb was seen over the horizon, and you realize that we were under attack, and there’s no phones, and there’s no cable. There’s no TV. There’s no internet, and nobody knows what’s going on. What would that do to a town? I co-wrote the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and god knows that certainly had a lot of action and suspense moments.

And supernatural moments, too.
This book came from my history as a reader. My absolute favorite writer of all time is Stephen King. I remember when I was a kid, and I told my dad that I wanted to be a writer. I was 12. And he said, “Great writers are great readers.” It was good advice.

So things like Jericho, that was a bit of my tribute to The Stand, which is my favorite Stephen King book of all-time. But really it was just as a fan of his work, and also some of the other masters, George Romero, who was a Pittsburgh guy, and a big hero of mine. As much as I’ve done movies like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Wonder, that were more for young people, this was a chance to put those two loves together.

Was part of Imaginary Friend taken from your own childhood growing up in Western Pennsylvania, playing in the woods…?
There are so many woods! It always reminded me of the stories of the Brothers Grimm, Hansel and Gretel, and things like that. There’s a lot of fairytale overtures in Imaginary Friend as well.

I got lost once, and I remember how long it took me [to get back.] In Western Pennsylvania, the woods are unbelievable. You go five minutes in this direction, you’re looking at the middle of a fairy tale, and the witch is coming for you.

Did writing this feel like getting lost, taking you to strange places?
When I started the book, like I said, I was just following the cloud, right? I knew some of the places it was going to lead, but I would say about 90% of what comes, I had no way of predicting at all. I hope that most people who read this are going to be very surprised by the end.

How so?
You think you know what it is, but little by little, bit by bit, it kind of creeps up on you. Until you’re inside it, you didn’t even know it was a trap.

The Hot Zone creators on what its like to be a gay/straight writing team in TV

Ahead of Pride month and our annual LBGTQ issue, EW asked writers Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson (Smallville, Under the Dome, and Salemto write about what it’s like to work as a gay man/straight woman team in television. Their latest project, The Hot Zone, debuts tonight on NatGeo.

She’s not likable. She’s too… hard. What’s the reason this character needs to be gay?

We never get these kinds of notes questioning our straight male characters. They’re likable just because they’re on a mission. And they certainly don’t need a reason to be straight.

When we sat down to put our thoughts together about what it’s like to be a gay man/straight woman/writer/producer/showrunning team in Hollywood, we realized this column is filled with landmines.

At first, the idea of putting pen to paper about our experiences seemed like an easy assignment. But as any writer knows, thinking about writing and actually writing are two very different things. This topic accompanies many bottomless mimosa brunches across L.A. If we’re being honest, our diversity quotient most likely opened doors for us in the first half of our career. We weren’t seen as threats. And we were fortunate to have had many great mentors who saw us as true assets. But as we climbed the ranks in the second half of our career things got to be a little more of a sticky wicket.

Sure we can talk about the highly accomplished female EP we know who discovered she was being paid less than the men three levels below her. And who doesn’t love a fun tale of the agent with the sage advice that a drama pilot with a gay male lead will never sell? The list of inequities is extensive. But when we really started retracing our experiences, we realized the two most marginalizing comments we ever heard were both from women. And in our opinion, some of the most positive LGBT characters are written by straight guys whereas some stereotypically drawn representations have been written by members of the LGBT community. Simple truth, there are uncomfortable realities for anyone in the industry, no matter what demo you land in, and we (along with many others) are trying to help nudge along a course correction.

In talking about it, when we removed the gay/female qualifier, we had a chance to look at the bones of a long-time partnership — what has made it work? After all, it is a marriage of a certain kind. When you eat more meals with one another than your respective families and friends, and your financial future is riding in part on another person, it’s a lot of pressure.

We still remember our first year on staff, when we became so furious with each other that we had to leave the writers’ room. One of us was annoyed at the other for not piping up enough and the other was livid because the first person was talking too much. We were both terrified we were going to get fired and it would be the other person’s fault. So, we took a tense walk down the hall, endured a silent elevator ride to the lobby and marched down the block to a park. There, out of earshot of any interns who might be grabbing lattes in the area, we purged our mutual fury at full volume. We went at it, toe-to-toe, for an hour, neither relenting or yielding. We even found ourselves on the couch of a marriage counselor for exactly one session before we realized communicating was never going to be an issue. In fact, we’ve always been brutally upfront with each other.

What to Watch this Weekend: Renée Zellweger in Netflixs What/If, plus HBOs Game of Thrones doc

We know TV has a lot to offer, be it network, cable, premium channels, or streaming platforms including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple, Facebook Watch, and elsewhere. So EW is here to help, guiding you every single day to the things that should be on your radar. Check out our recommendations below, and click here to learn how you can stream our picks via your own voice-controlled smart-speaker (Alexa, Google Home) or podcast app (Spotify, iTunes, Google Play).



Live From Lincoln Center Presents — Stars in Concert: Megan Hilty

HOW/WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH: Check local listings, PBS

Megan Hilty is a big, brassy Broadway talent, but in spite of that, her new special is pleasantly forgettable. On stage, she’s a magnetic performer. Here, though the set list is satisfying and her vocals flawless, the show feels more like background music. Hilty shines on everything from pop to standards to Broadway duets and medleys (her trio with former Wicked costars Shoshana Bean and Eden Espinosa is a true highlight), but this concert is more a feast for the ears than one that demands full attention. B —Maureen Lee Lenker

Related content:


HOW/WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on Netflix

Series Debut
In her first lead role on a major TV series, Oscar winner Renée Zellweger stars as the mysterious and conniving Anne Montgomery, who lures in broke San Francisco newlyweds (Blake Jenner, Jane Levy) with a lucrative but shady offer…and all that neo-noir thriller jazz.

Related content:

What Else to Watch:

8 p.m.
Dynasty (season finale) — The CW


Fatal Getaway

HOW/WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH: 8 p.m. on Lifetime

Lifetime-movie fan favorite Tilky Jones stars as James, the owner of a charming property that Eliza (Christie Burson) and her friends rent for a much-needed girls’ trip (Tiffany Haddish and grapefruit not included). When some people go missing, could James be involved? Dun-dun-dunnnnn!

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Love in the Sun

Rod Millington/Crown Media

HOW/WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH: 9 p.m. on Hallmark

A dating-app creator reconnects with a high school sweetheart back home in Florida, testing her views of love. Which is a way better premise than a movie about two strangers who meet on spring break in Daytona Beach.

Related content:



HOW/WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH: 9 p.m. on Starz

Season Premiere
Season 2 finally unites prodigal daughters Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) — a chilly corporate professional; a shopaholic Insta-bot — with their mom’s widow Eddy (Ser Anzoategui). They’re trying to hold on to the family’s building, a tavern-apartment complex occupying prime real estate in an East L.A. battleground of predatory gentrification. Vida still feels torn between sudsy nude-positive melodrama and complex political dedication. Worth watching, though, just for Roberta Colindrez (The Deuce) as a swagger-y bartender with love-interested eyes on Emma. B — Darren Franich

Related content:

The West Wing

NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

HOW/WHEN & WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on Netflix

We Just Re-Watched…

Need a break from 24/7 cable news? Confused about how a bill becomes a law? Want a refresher on governmental inner workings before the 2020 election? Sounds like it’s time to relive the series that brought Josiah Bartlet’s presidency to life. Standout episodes tackle everything from the death penalty (“Take This Sabbath Day”) to PTSD (“Nöel,” with an Emmy-winning turn by Bradley Whitford). The series pulls back the curtain so we plebeians can better understand politics while balancing friendships, life, laughs, and, yes, even a romance or two along the way. #JoshandDonnaForever. By the time each episode’s credits roll, you’ll be asking, “What’s next?” —Brittany Kaplan

Related content:

What Else to Watch

8 p.m.
Killing Eve (season finale) —  BBC America

9 p.m.
Game of Thrones: The Last Watch (documentary) — HBO

10 p.m.
Good Girls (season finale) — NBC

*times are ET and subject to change

Summer Books Preview: This seasons 35 hottest reads

In the EW books department, the best time to read is every day of the year — but there’s no denying that the summer season provides a setting particularly attuned to page-turners. The upcoming months are rife with tantalizing titles, from crime stories to impressive debuts to beach reads that we refuse to call beach reads. (Anything you read at the beach qualifies for that moniker, regardless of genre.)

EW has done the (enjoyable) hard work of sifting through all the summer’s literary offerings, and we’ve culled the following list of 35 titles we can definitively say are worth your (very precious) time.


Illustration by Martin Schwartz for EW

City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert: Gilbert’s delicious new novel immerses readers in the bustle of ’40s New York, where 19-year-old Vivian Morris lands after getting kicked out of college. She arrives in the city’s theater scene and meets an endlessly entertaining group of artists. “There’s something about dipping into that world that was so exotic to me,” Gilbert, a New Yorker for 30-plus years, tells EW. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, New York City in the 1940s? I want to write about that!’” —David Canfield

The Wedding Party, by Jasmine Guillory: Since The Wedding Date first hit shelves almost a year and a half ago, Jasmine Guillory has become one of romance’s brightest new voices. Her second book, The Proposal, was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club in February and spent more than a month on the New York Times’ best-seller list. Now readers are invited to The Wedding Party, which introduces Maddie and Theo — best friends of Date’s heroine, Alexa. When we meet the pair, they hate each other; after a one-night stand, sparks fly. Their fling continues, but each agrees to an expiration date: Alexa’s wedding. —Maureen Lee Lenker

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead: Whitehead won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for his previous novel, The Underground Railroad. In The Nickel Boys, he returns to another pivotal, painful setting in American history: a reform school for boys in the Jim Crow-era South. The book should further cement Whitehead as one of his generation’s best. —Seija Rankin

Is There Still Sex in the City?, by Candace Bushnell: It’s hard out there for a cougar. But for Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell, it’s exactly the age when women need her the most. “When I wrote Sex and the City, I was writing about single women in their 30s because there weren’t supposed to be single women in their 30s — you’re supposed to have figured it out,” she says. Her latest book addresses a different demo: women in their 50s and 60s who suddenly find themselves dating again. —Clarissa Cruz

Inland, by Téa Obreht: Obreht’s novels are capital-E Events — big, ambitious, provocative reading experiences. But it’s been a long wait since her lauded 2011 debut, The Tiger’s Wife. At last we have Inland, a bracingly epic and imaginatively mythic journey across the American West in 1893, in which the lives of a former outlaw and a frontierswoman collide and intertwine. —DC


Illustration by Martin Schwartz for EW

Very Nice, by Marcy Dermansky: This darkly funny book vies to answer the age-old question “Just how huge is our collective appetite for tales of male novelists behaving badly?” Dermansky (Twins) uproariously follows a Great Literary Man as he’s seduced by his college pupil — and her recently divorced mother— against the backdrop of a wealthy Connecticut enclave. —SR

How Could She, by Lauren Mechling: Mechling (Dream Girl) gives the time-honored moving-to-New York City novel a refreshing update: failure. Three thirtysomething friends reckon with seemingly successful lives that aren’t living up to expectations, thanks to mediocre apartments, marital strife, and the gradual dissolution of their chosen industry, print media. —SR

Reasons to Be Cheerful, by Nina Stibbe: The reliably hilarious Stibbe (Paradise Lodge) may have outdone herself with this witty, ’80s-England-set exploration of one woman’s struggles in early adulthood. Cheerful just won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, the only U.K. literary award for comic literature, so dig into this one expecting a very good time. —DC

The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by J. Ryan Stradal: Stradal first bubbled to the surface in 2015 with his beloved, best-selling debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, and his second novel has similar selling points: complex female characters, sudden tragedies, culinary descriptions that awaken all your senses. “I like to see how Midwesterners stand up to conflict,” says the author, 43, who lives in Los Angeles but hails from hardy Minnesotan stock. “That’s something I’ve been intrigued by since I was a kid.” —SR

Bunny, by Mona Awad: A misfit MFA student at a thinly veiled New England Ivy (located in “a town named after a godly gesture of gratitude and fate”) is seduced by a group of Heathers-esque classmates — they call one another “Bunny” — whose seeming attempts to foster creativity take a sinister turn. A surreal, darkly funny take on art, power, and female friendships. —CC

Going Dutch, by James Gregor: Call this a comedy of manners for the (very) modern age. Set in the isolating vastness of New York City, Going Dutch develops a complex, unusual relationship between a struggling young gay writer and graduate student, the ebullient female classmate who yearns for his company, and an attractive lawyer who exhibits interest in both of them. —DC

Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes: The NPR correspondent and Pop Culture Happy Hour host’s novel explores the budding connection between a young widow and the washed-up former professional baseball player who rents out the apartment in the back of her house. —DC


Illustration by Martin Schwartz for EW

The Travelers, by Regina Porter: American history comes to vivid, engaging life in this tale of two interconnected families (one white, one black) that spans from the 1950s to Barack Obama’s first year as president. The backdrop of events may be familiar (the Vietnam War, racial protests in the ’60s), but the complex, beautifully drawn characters are unique and indelible. —CC

Mrs. Everything, by Jennifer Weiner: The best-selling author’s latest, her most sprawling and intensely personal novel to date, attempts to answer the question “How should a woman be in the world?” It follows two sisters, Jo and Bethie, from their 1950s childhood to the present day, tackling racism, sexual identity, abuse, and how women are shaped — but not defined — by their choices. —CC

In West Mills, by De’Shawn Charles Winslow: Winslow spans decades in his infectious, empathetic portrait of Knot, a woman whose habits include reading, drinking, and bucking societal norms, and the community that grows and changes around her. Says the author: “The questions that I try to answer in the book through fiction are questions about people I knew when I was a child, that I didn’t get to know a lot about.” —DC

Fleishman Is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: Best known for her award-winning celebrity profiles — among others, she memorably wrote about Gwyneth Paltrow and Bradley Cooper last year — Brodesser-Akner turns to fiction with this stimulating debut. Fleishman follows a father and divorcée who’s forced to face reality, and his past, when his ex-wife disappears. —DC

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong: An award-winning poet, Vuong can already count Marlon James, Celeste Ng, and Emma Straub among the fans of his wrenchingly powerful debut. On Earth is a novel about the power and limits of love, framed around the letter a queer man in his 20s writes to his mother, with whom he emigrated from Vietnam as a child. —DC

Mostly Dead Things, by Kristen Arnett: If you’re in the market for a blackly comic and deeply weird Florida story, you’re in luck: This debut finds aimless Jessa-Lynn taking over her father’s taxidermy business after he kills himself in the shop. But no coming-home is complete without family resentments and secrets boiling to the surface. —DC

Patsy, by Nicole Dennis-Benn: What does it mean to leave a child behind? Dennis-Benn follows up her acclaimed Jamaica-set debut, Here Comes the Sun, with Patsy, a pained look at the consequences faced by a Jamaican woman who abandons her family — including her young daughter, Tru — for the freedom of New York City, where she can pursue the woman she’s fallen in love with. —DC


Illustration by Martin Schwartz for EW

Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo: Lisa Taddeo spent eight years reporting out this major work of nonfiction, which delves into the lives and desires of three women from dramatically different backgrounds. —DC

Chaos, by Tom O’Neill with Dan Piepenbring: What if everything we thought we knew about the Manson murders was wrong? O’Neill spent 20 years wrestling with that question, and Chaos is his final answer. Timed to the 50th anniversary of the Manson murders, it’s a sweeping indictment of the Los Angeles justice system, with cover-ups reaching all the way up to the FBI and CIA. —SR

The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom: In her anticipated memoir, Broom offers a vitally personal story of New Orleans. Set largely in the house that she and her 11 siblings grew up in — and that her mother bought when she was 19 years old — the book wraps an intimate family story in a much larger meditation on the American dream. —DC

The Tenth Muse, by Catherine Chung: Chung (Forgotten Country) traces generations of female geniuses (both fictional and real-life historical figures) in her fascinating portrait of Katherine, a mathematician looking back at the obstacles she’s faced in her career — as a woman of great ambition and intelligence pushing up against societal norms — and in her personal life, as she learns the truth about her mother and where she came from. —DC


Illustration by Martin Schwartz for EW

Recursion, by Blake Crouch: A mind-bending thriller probing the power of memory as reality starts to (literally) crumble, Recursion was acquired in a huge deal last October: Netflix announced that Shonda Rhimes and Matt Reeves would jointly adapt it — as both a movie and a series. “There are single sentences in the book that could be an entire season of television,” Crouch tells EW. “This isn’t a two-hour movie, but it feels bigger than the small screen, too…. Net­flix is breaking down the boundaries between film and television, and was sort of made for a book like this.” —DC

FKA USA, by Reed King: This absurdist depiction of the U.S on the verge of collapse, complete with talking goats and narcissistic billionaire presidents — okay, maybe it isn’t that absurd — was written over nearly a decade. “The satire has to be more than reality,” says author Reed King. “I kept having to go back and change things!” Picked up by Warner Bros. in a pricey seven-figure deal, FKA USA is shrouded in mystery: King is the pseudonym of a best-selling author and TV writer. The wild mind may never be unveiled, but chances are it knows a thing or two about making the leap from page to screen. —DC

The Warehouse, by Rob Hart: Hart, the author behind the Ash McKenna crime books, is poised for a breakout with The Warehouse. His new dystopian tale, which explores capitalism run amok, was acquired at auction in April 2018 by Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment; Howard is expected to direct the film. “Apollo 13 and Backdraft were two of my favorite movies when I was a kid,” Hart tells EW. “Ron Howard was one of the first directors that I could cite by name. All of these years later, for him to be interested in a book that I wrote? It’s completely surreal.” —DC

This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: Sci-fi favorites El-Mohtar and Gladstone write alternating sections of this time-travel romance, centered on two agents on opposite sides of a vicious war who find themselves impossibly drawn to each other. Already optioned for TV, Time War intimately operates within an immersive space opera. —DC

The History of Living Forever, by Jake Wolff: The mystical and the romantic combine for a love story that also confronts the meaning of life. After his chemistry teacher — and secret lover — Sammy Tampari dies, 16-year-old Conrad attempts to see the man’s mission through: by creating a drug that extends the human life span. —SR


Illustration by Martin Schwartz for EW

Never Have I Ever, by Joshilyn Jackson: Jackson has been establishing herself as a master of domestic suspense for years, and her hyped latest should do little to change that. A carefree neighborhood evening of games, gossip, and wine gradually evolves into something much more sinister, as engineered by a woman harboring unsettling secrets. —DC

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, by Felicity McLean: Dashed with the appeal of The Virgin Suicides and Picnic at Hanging Rock, this tense coming-of-age story recounts the mysterious disappearance of three sisters in a small Australian town. —DC

Girl in the Rearview Mirror, by Kelsey Rae Dimberg: In Dimberg’s deserty thriller, an affable but secretive young woman enters the orbit of a powerful family in Phoenix, setting off an unpredictable chain of events. —DC

The Whisper Man, by Alex North: The Russo Brothers (Avengers: Endgame) have already put into development an adaptation of this alternately poignant and terrifying tale of a traumatized father, his 4-year-old son, and the serial killer preying on their new town’s residents. Take a deep breath before diving into this one. —DC

Lady in the Lake, by Laura Lippman: Crime fiction superstar Laura Lippman, fresh off her best-sellerSunburn (one of EW’s favorite crime novels of 2018), goes back in time with her eerie latest, tracking an aspiring reporter in ’66 Baltimore who’s investigating a murder that gets at the heart of the city’s broken race relations. —DC

Big Sky, by Kate Atkinson: Anyone who loves Jackson Brodie is likely already champing at the bit for this one. Atkinson’s first Brodie novel in nine years finds the ex-military police, ex-Cambridge constabulary working as a private investigator. —DC

The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware: This appropriately twisty Turn of the Screw update finds the Woman in Cabin 10 author in her most menacing mode, unfurling a shocking saga of murder and deception that begins with the acceptance of a luxurious live-in nanny post that seems — and proves to be — to good to be true. —DC

Related content:
• 20 new books to read in May
• The summer’s hottest debut authors join EW’s roundtable
• Brené Brown’s biggest revelations after her Netflix special

Toasting Olivia Wildes directorial debut with the stars of Booksmart

The women of Booksmart are raising a glass to Jerome… whoever he is. Standing in the Spare Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in early May, Olivia Wilde, 35; Beanie Feldstein, 25; and Kaitlyn Dever, 22; are dancing to Lizzo’s song “Jerome,” a scene that’s not dissimilar from their movie, which sees Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) emphatically dancing it out before school.

Booksmart (May 24), a high school comedy that serves as Wilde’s directorial feature debut, follows two besties who are too smart for their own good — or, more accurately, they’re too smart for their own good senior-year experience. And with one night left before graduation, they decide to make up for four years of skipping parties. In matching blue jumpsuits, Molly and Amy hit the town to prove that smart girls know how to have fun too. At the Roosevelt — though not in matching jumpsuits — Feldstein and Dever take a note from their characters and celebrate their (hilarious) new film with Wilde.


ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Olivia, you get only one directorial debut. Why was this the right movie?
OLIVIA WILDE: Sometimes when people are directing their first film, it becomes this torturous process of proving oneself completely. I just went with: What’s the movie that made me want to make movies? For me, it was the classic high school films, so I went back to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I wanted to reach back into the inspiration that made me want to be in this business in the first place.
KAITLYN DEVER: I feel so honored to be a part of your directorial debut.
DEVER: Twenty years from now, we get to say, “We did her first movie.”
FELDSTEIN: “Remember Olivia Wilde? She’s on her 20th picture. I was in number one!”
WILDE: It’s true, we are inextricably linked in that way forever, in a more profound way than just, “Oh, we made a movie together.”
DEVER: Well, it was also our first lead in a movie.
FELDSTEIN: A lot of women that had a lot to prove and a lot of passion.

And you made a movie with intelligent women at its center, and it shows them talk about things like porn. That’s so rare.
FELDSTEIN: Because if you’re smart, you’re not horny. And if you’re this, you’re not that. You have to be one thing, and they say at the very beginning of the movie, “We’re not one-dimensional!”
WILDE: I love the way [the characters] talk about porn. I have resented for a long time how the idea of sexuality, pornography, natural curiosity about sex has been relegated to men and their conversations. And often when we are given those lines where we talk about sexuality, they sound like lines written for men put in the mouths of women, and then the gimmick is supposed to be, “They talk just like guys! Look, they’re just like the dudes!” And this movie’s like, “We’re not just like dudes. We’re actually hilarious in our own way.”
FELDSTEIN: And also, Molly and Amy have differing opinions.
WILDE: Yes! They’re very different people.
DEVER: But they love each other and their opinions, and celebrate each other for it. I also love that this movie’s not a makeover movie. I feel like we’re constantly watching films and TV where the lead female character has to take off her glasses or straighten her hair to be accepted, and Booksmart is not that. Because these girls know who they are, they know that they are smart and funny, and they just have to prove it to everybody else.


Whose idea was it for Kaitlyn and Beanie to live together dur­ing filming?
WILDE: It’s officially become my idea. But like any great idea, it kind of erupted.
FELDSTEIN: We’d known each other for 20 minutes. I don’t think we’d even gotten our appetizers. We were at the beginning of a lunch.
WILDE: Apps had not dropped and they were already roommates. I do remember that it came out of a conversation where we were talking about [Feldstein’s brother] Jonah [Hill] and Superbad being such a great example of true friendship. Beanie shared that Jonah said that he and Michael [Cera] had spent just tons of time together.
FELDSTEIN: But living together was a different level of it.
DEVER: That never happens. You’re never given the opportunity to live with the person that you’re supposed to be best friends with. And we knew that it was essential for these girls because that’s what this movie lives on, their chemistry.

In the movie, Molly mentions Amy’s crush on the little white cat from The Aristocats. Do you all have an animated crush?
WILDE: That line was written by Beanie Feldstein.
FELDSTEIN: Basically what happened was I refused to not say it in every take because it made Kaitlyn laugh so hard.
DEVER: I will never forget the first time you said that. I peed my pants a little bit.
WILDE: I think mine’s definitely an animal. Bambi’s dad. He makes me feel safe, because for Bambi, all is lost.
FELDSTEIN: My first crush was Bill Clinton, but I don’t know [about an] animated [crush]…
DEVER: Obviously Chad Michael Murray. Jim Carrey as the Mask?
WILDE: That’s sort of animated. If you’re doing real human men, I can change mine from Bambi’s father. [Laughs]
DEVER: [The Little Mermaid’s] Prince Eric was definitely a crush.
FELDSTEIN: Now I’m thinking: Am I projecting and the little white cat was my crush? [Laughs] I despise cats and I want that on record, but the Aristocats can’t hurt me because they’re animated.


Pancakes play a big part in the movie, so how do you all take your pancakes?
[Feldstein and Dever gasp with excitement]
DEVER: Well, if you’re at [West Hollywood restaurant] Hugo’s…
FELDSTEIN: It’s the almond energy pancake all the way.
DEVER: BUT because they give you three, sometimes I do two almond energy and one chocolate chip.
FELDSTEIN: Our first real alone lunch was at Hugo’s, and then we lived a block from Hugo’s, so we would eat there all the time.
DEVER: We ordered in. We were on such a schedule with night shoots.
FELDSTEIN: We’d sleep from, like, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., wake up, eat pancakes.
DEVER: We’d Postmate it. And then I’d get in bed with Beanie, and we’d watch Gilmore Girls and go over our lines.

Aside from living together, were there any other cast­ bonding activities?
DEVER: Everyone was hanging out together.
WILDE: I sent Nico [Hiraga] and Mason [Gooding] on playdates and asked for evidence. I was like, “I want you to go to someone’s house and play games.” They sent me videos of them slicing oranges with machetes. I was like, “Is this what boys do for fun?”
FELDSTEIN: Molly [Gordon] would drive Nico home every morning.
WILDE: We did watch Fast Times before we started shooting, and I think everyone was inspired by the strength of that ensemble.
FELDSTEIN: I think about the nights on the camera truck after we finished shooting. Those are some of my favorite memories. I’ve never done that before.
WILDE: I, too, have never felt such a desire to hang around. I was so impressed at the professionalism throughout the cast. There was never one complaint.
FELDSTEIN: Why would you?! You’re on Olivia Wilde’s set doing Booksmart!

A version of this story appears in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday, or buy your choice of two different Game of Thrones covers — Daenerys or the Starks — now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Related content:
Booksmart offers riotous, loopy-sweet teen comedy: EW review
Booksmart director Olivia Wilde says Beanie Feldstein was her only choice for Molly
Superbad star Jonah Hill gave sister Beanie Feldstein this advice for Booksmart

Meet the future of books: The summers hottest debut authors discuss all things literary

On a sunny May afternoon, EW’s Los Angeles offices are catching literary fever. Five buzzy debut authors — Taffy Brodesser-Akner, 43; Sarah M. Broom, 39; Linda Holmes, 48; Lisa Taddeo, 39; and De’Shawn Charles Winslow, 39 — have arrived, converging for their first major round of press.

The mood is excited, anxious, slightly overwhelming. The publishing world has changed hugely over the past decade, pronounced to be near-extinct more than a few times, only to find a post-Kindle (and Instagram-worthy) renaissance. And here are the people behind the stories affirming just how alive books remain, whether they’re hitting the heart of our cultural moment, vitally reframing histories, or unfurling the kind of sparkling romance perfect for a lazy summer day.

Taking their seats on a cozy sectional, the writers discuss the cultural power of books, the struggle of becoming an author today, and how exactly to define a “beach read.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: To start, let’s talk a little bit about what these books are. How do you guys describe these books to friends and family?
LINDA HOLMES: How do I get them to read them? I say, “Mom…!” No. [Laughs] Evvie Drake Starts Over is a book about a woman who’s a young widow. She has an apartment in the back of her house, which she rents out to a recently washed-up professional baseball player. It takes place in Coastal Maine, so you get your lovely small-town lobster community, and lots of fun back-and-forth. It’s a little romantic. It’s a little fun.
TAFFY BRODESSER-AKNER: I loved her book.
HOLMES: I loved her book, too.
BRODESSER-AKNER: We’ve contractually decided to say that we loved them. [Laughs] But I did! Fleishman Is in Trouble is a novel about a man who is recently divorced and who starts dating now for the first time through apps, and whose ex-wife drops his kids off for his weekend — and then disappears.
LISA TADDEO: My book, Three Women, is about three women — their sexual desires and lives. One is a housewife in rural Indiana. One is a restauranteur in the Northeast whose husband likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. And the last is a young woman in Fargo, N.D., who’d allegedly had a relationship with her teacher when she was underage.
BRODESSER-AKNER: It’s a good book. [Laughs]
DE’SHAWN CHARLES WINSLOW: In West Mills is about a woman named Knot who refuses to live her life based on societal norms. She has some addictions and she likes to read a lot. She has a well-meaning, meddling neighbor who just wants to fix her. We watch these two people grow… and deal. [Laughs]
SARAH M. BROOM: The Yellow House is about my growing up in New Orleans beyond the tourist map. I have 11 brothers and sisters; it’s about this house that we grew up in, that my mother bought when she was 19 years old with her life savings. It tells the story of that house, what happened to the house, and our lives now.
TADDEO: I just got chills.

What was your path to writing this book? Was it hard to get it published? How long do you think you had this book in you? 
WINSLOW: In West Mills is a story that has been with me probably since I’ve been a teenager. I didn’t even know I was interested in writing until I was nearly 30. But the questions that I try to answer in the book through fiction are questions about people I knew when I was a child, that I didn’t get to know a lot about, and dynamics that I didn’t understand. I made up the answers because I could not access the real answers.
TADDEO: An editor asked me if I wanted to write a book, and he sent me a bunch of books — [like] Joan Didion and Janet Malcolm. One of them was Thy Neighbor’s Wife by Gay Talese. I read that and I was like, “This is very male.” [Laughs] So I started talking to men and women and all kinds of people, but it became about female desire. Because I wanted to read about that.

You do write in the book, “As I began to write this book, I thought I’d be drawn to the stories of men.” For everybody here, one of the reasons you’re here is there’s a freshness to your books in the way you’re taking stories we might think we know, or places we don’t know, and illuminating them. Can you talk about how that evolved for you? How you went in thinking that, and found a different story?
TADDEO: I’d been writing for Esquire a lot and I was very in tune with this male audience. And it was the opposite gender from mine, and I was intrigued by it. But then I started talking to a lot of men. The stories started to feel — there was a lot ego involved. Not in all the men, but in a lot of it. Women felt more complex and interesting.

Random House; Bloomsbury Publishing; Grove Press; Avid Reader Press/Simon + Schuster; Ballantine Books

Taffy, what about you? What was the road to becoming a published author for you?
BRODESSER-AKNER: I was a magazine writer, too; I was a GQ writer. When I turned 40, a lot of my friends started telling me they were getting divorced. I wanted to do that story for GQ. I wanted to do the story of a divorce — especially now. For people who were my age, when they were dating in the first place, it was this horrifying scenario where you show up somewhere and hope somebody likes you. Whereas now, it is staying home and hoping that somebody likes you — which is equally horrifying. One day after one of my friends was showing me his phone, and all of the new activity on it, I called up my GQ editor and I asked him if I could write this story. He said, “It’s just not the kind of thing we do anymore.” I think I hung up and I pulled over into a Pain Quotidien and I wrote the first 10 pages of it, as a novel. That was in late 2016. I finished it pretty quickly. I thought I was interested in the story of a male divorce, but in the end I was interested in everyone’s points of view. But also it started when I was 6 years old and my parents got divorced. I became someone who was obsessed with divorce.
HOLMES: Lisa was talking about the difference between the way that men think and talk about desire, and the way that women do. And one of the things I really love about Taffy’s book is that there are moments where it seems to be going in a direction of a book about the “American literary man.” And then it has this wonderful turn in its approach. There’s a commonality in what you guys are talking about.
HOLMES: In terms of whose POV people are interested in.

Linda, in writing a story about a widow, were there certain tropes or tendencies that you’ve noticed that you wanted to avoid?
HOLMES: Absolutely. I originally had these stories in my head as separate things. She’s a widow and — it’s not a spoiler because it’s in the introduction — she was not very happily married. When she becomes a widow, it’s very hard to talk about that, about “how do you really feel?” and how are people believing that you feel versus how you actually feel, and what’s the guilt associated with that?

Then I had a separate idea about a baseball player. I’ve always been fascinated by broken-down athletes — I don’t know why. [Laughs] And I realized that there was a way in which their feelings of being busted were in dialogue with each other a little bit. I moved them into the same house. I started writing pieces of it, I think I found a stub of a piece of it as early as 2004. But I started to sit down and write it, actually, in National Novel Writing Month in 2012. And I wrote it for six days, and then my apartment flooded! Four years later, I picked it up again in earnest. And I don’t know if you noticed, but the fall of 2016 was kind of heavy! [Laughs]

I heard about that.
HOLMES: I needed a place to put some mental energy. I started working on it and it got finished in the spring of 2017.
BRODESSER-AKNER: Wait, are you saying that they were supposed to be two separate novels?
BRODESSER-AKNER: That’s amazing. I love finding stuff like that out.
HOLMES: And I couldn’t get anywhere with either one of them!

The post-2016 reality speaks to a larger question about book culture right now, and what role books do play and should play today. You’re all entering the literary landscape. What feelings do you have on that?
BRODESSER-AKNER: The thing that we forget very often right now is that this has always happened. There have always been distractions. The thing that I think is more crucial to the question than the political landscape is technology and phones — the amount that we’re able to read and the amount that we are able to absorb right now. In my magazine writing, but also in this novel, you have to work very hard to keep people’s attention now, and you just have to be dancing in every sentence. If there’s nothing that a new book can offer you, people are going to put it down, because there’s just too much to read. That, to me, is terrifying. That’s what I think. It’s not really what you asked!
BROOM: I think also this is a moment, to say sort of the opposite, [where] we’ll get to the point where the nonstop distractions will actually become the thing that people don’t want. We’re seeing it happen already in certain ways. For me, personally, it’s thinking about how to make a world and still take time in the writing, as a writer, and build a place where people can be outside of the distraction and the noise.
WINSLOW: The role of books is to teach and entertain at the same time. That can be done in a quiet way, and it can be done in a busy way. But I don’t think that books have an obligation to address the moment. All writers do — but unintentionally.
BRODESSER-AKNER: I agree with that. I don’t know that the turns that Lisa and I took in our books would’ve happened in another time.

Elisabeth Caren for EW (2)

Sarah, you are one of two on this panel who has written nonfiction, but you’re really the only to have told your own family’s story. Were there concerns about getting it right, or not divulging too much?
BROOM: Absolutely. The entire act of being the baby child of 12 and telling this story felt like a major transgression. It took me a really long time to give myself permission to write the story. I was approaching it in certain ways as a journalist would, trying to interview all of my family members and record them and then transcribe it. That provided a level of detachment, in a way. But even now it’s horrifying. I have dreams about it, because the smallest thing can make someone uncomfortable. I’m trying to tell a story, which I think of as this epic, big story. I don’t mean for it to be hagiography; these people have to be characters and they have to feel alive. Readers have to come to know them. It was hugely difficult and remains really difficult. But for me, to get to your question, the big thing was: Put myself on the line, even more than I put anyone else on the line.
BRODESSER-AKNER: Have they all read it?
BROOM: No. They have not. Having 12 voices saying, “I don’t like this, I don’t like that,” would drive me insane. [Laughs]
HOLMES: So it’s your reactions that you have dreams about?
BROOM: Yeah. I don’t worry so much about having gotten things wrong, because I’m such a granular, detailed type of writer. It’s their reaction to things. It’s very, very tricky.

You mentioned telling a bigger story — that your family gets at larger themes. Having read your book, that’s absolutely true. The house, particularly, is such an iconic symbol of the American dream. What was it for you about that house? What story did you find you were getting to as you went deeper?
BROOM: That’s a great question. For me, the house began as the idea of belonging to a place that you don’t feel represents you or even belongs to you fully. And so, from the place of the house, the story for me became about New Orleans and the way that New Orleans is mythologized — the way that people feel so deeply that they know it. Or that it’s doing something for them. Within the mythology of New Orleans, the actual people who make New Orleans the place that most people love are just completely out of the story. I saw the act of writing the book of me as a cartographer, reimagining, revising, expanding a map of a sort — to include all the people I know, all the places I know, that I never see on the literal and also theoretical map.

De’Shawn, your book has, for lack of a better word, such a vibe. Knot, your protagonist, loves Charles Dickens. Who are some of your inspirations?
WINSLOW: More recently, Edward P. Jones. But Toni Morrison was the first for me. I I had not read any of her work, and I went and saw [Beloved], and someone said, “Oh, you’ve got to read the book.” I read the book and I was a Toni Morrison addict. The Color Purple: I watched that as a film and, finally, somewhere in my mid-20s, I read the book for the first time, and then I became addicted to Alice Walker’s written work. Those are the first names that come to mind.

Elisabeth Caren for EW (2)

Linda, what about you?
HOLMES: I am a romantic comedy fiend. Nora Ephron is one. Some Aaron Sorkin stuff: The way he writes dialogue back-and-forth, I’ve always really loved, even though some of the other stuff I struggle with. [Laughs] I do also read books, I just want to say. [Laughs] Liz Gilbert is one, actually, but also writers like Jennifer Weiner, Rainbow Rowell — people who write really good relationship stories that I like a lot have been very influential on my writing.

A lot of those authors that you mentioned have fallen into the “beach read” category, and I think it’s safe to say it’s kind of a controversial term in the literary sphere. Some view it as a little condescending. What are your thoughts on it, especially since I think your book — of everyone’s here — fits into that?
HOLMES: I think it’s probably more beach-ready than these [other] books. [Laughs] But here’s the thing that’s funny: People are going to read all these books at the beach. People read when they have time to read. They’re going to take their precious time when they are away from work and sit and quietly say, “Yes, tell me this story that you made up.” I would never be ungrateful for that, or have any sort of problem with it. There are times when those kinds of terms — whether it’s that or chick-lit or whatever you want to say — are used in ways that are diminishing. But for me personally? I’m extremely lucky to have written this book and published it. Read it at the beach. Read it in book club. Read it in the tub. Someone told me she read [the galley] in the tub, and it made me so happy. That’s a beautiful thought to me.

What about the rest of you? We have a nice mix here of types of books. Are you worried about being slotted into a category?
BRODESSER-AKNER: I mean, I always am. I’m a woman. My name is Taffy. [Laughs] That ship sailed long ago. But when people ask me — I’ve never understood “beach read.” I understand when it’s used aggressively, but my tastes don’t change at the beach. We never talk about the fact that everyone reads on the toilet.

We don’t talk about that!
BRODESSER-AKNER: [Laughs] Like Linda, I don’t care — just please read it. Mostly, it’s being used to put my book on lists… and, please! Call it what you want.
HOLMES: I think sometimes it means slightly more diverting, in the sense that I do think my book is more diverting than Lisa’s book, for example. In terms of being like, “I want to get away from anything that makes me worry about the world” or anything like that. When your book is seriously engaging with these really complicated things that exist in the real world, I can understand people thinking that there’s some valuable distinction between those things. But people are also going to read that book at the beach.
BRODESSER-AKNER: I would read it on the beach to distract me from the beach, because I don’t like the beach and I love your book. [Laughs]
TADDEO: I hate the beach.

Beach reads from people who hate the beach. [Group laughs]
BRODESSER-AKNER: Tips for how to read beach reads if you don’t like the beach.
HOLMES: I don’t like the beach either. I burn like a lobster.

Lisa, you were called out a few times there. How do you hope to stand out as an author? What do you hope people take away from your book?
TADDEO: The first person I profiled was the woman in Indiana, who was in a passionless marriage and was having this all-consuming affair with her high school lover. I spoke to a friend back in New York and I was telling her a little bit about the woman. She was like, “God, that’s pathetic.” I was like, “Why is it pathetic? You did the same thing with a broker.” My biggest hope for the book, and humanity in general — not to put my book on the same level as humanity: We always condemn other people, like we’re picking out paint swatches. We look at a friend who’s strung up on some person and we’re like, “Oh, why are you doing that? Just don’t call him.” I just think we should be less judgmental. That’s my hope for the book.

Nowadays it’s easy for people to point to a book about women and say, “This book comments on the #MeToo movement in X, Y, and Z ways.” However! I do think your book speaks to the post-#MeToo movement in an interesting and important way. How do you view this book in conversation with that?
TADDEO: I think there are a couple of different things. For Maggie, who is the young woman who had the alleged relationship with her teacher, if that happened — if the trial had happened post-#MeToo — I think it would have gone a different way. For Lina, the woman in Indiana, her desire existed on its own plane. Women want to not be sexually molested, but that doesn’t take into account what they do want. Sometimes, it exists on its own plane of desire, and sometimes it interfaces with #MeToo. But most of the book was done before #MeToo.

De’Shawn, you appeared in a New York Times feature heralding great new male black authors. The piece argued that we are entering a new, exciting era to hear those voices. What did it feel like to be a part of that? How do you see yourself as part of that trend, and do you view that as something we’re seeing?
WINSLOW: It was a wonderful experience to be in the presence of black men who are doing great things. As [the feature] pointed out, there was a contrast between the killing of black men; it posed the question, “How is it that these men are able to do [great] things?” It was a good feeling that someone wanted to showcase that there is a difference. It’s very unfortunate that we get separated, we get weeded out or however. But it was a great moment. And it didn’t have anything to do with sports or rap — some of the things that we tend to be associated with. It was exciting. I can only hope that men of color in general, writers, will be able to have a voice and have that voice heard.

Your story is historical and you span several decades. What kind of research did you do, and what did you learn about those time periods?
WINSLOW: I did a lot of research that I ended up not using, because I decided to fictionalize the town. In terms of cultural events and stuff, a lot of Googling: What big events were going on in 1941 or ’42? So on and so forth. I asked my mother as many questions as I could come up with. Sometimes she had an answer, and sometimes she didn’t. That’s when I made it up.

The dialect is so specific, too.
WINSLOW: The dialect was easy because I grew up hearing that sort of speech. Not so much now, but [growing] up, I didn’t go to daycare. The daycare was the old lady across the road, or the old lady who may have even babysat your mother. These people now — one of them just passed away maybe five years ago, when she was 97 or 98 years old. That’s the way she spoke to me. And until I went to school, I spoke that way too. So the dialect came easy.

Sarah, you write about how you had all of these histories, all of these books that didn’t talk about New Orleans East very much. Obviously you’re from there, but did you find it hard to learn about it beyond your own experience?
BROOM: Yes, really hard. I remember being in a bookstore, in the French Quarter, and a man said, “New Orleans East is too young for history.” I was befuddled by that for weeks after. What place, what thing, is too young for history? It’s an oxymoron. Just finding people who wanted to talk about the history of this place. There’s a moment in the book where I’m trying to get this city council guy to sit down for an interview, and the next time I see him, he’s being arrested for money-laundering charges. There was no one paying attention to New Orleans East. It never appeared in any of the narratives. People were literally boiling their water; coyotes were running, according to stories. I’m always drawn to places like that, that no one is paying attention to — that are completely off the map. I don’t think of these people as voiceless at all, whatsoever. I think of centering their voices as they exist in my world, every single day.

That’s a beautiful note to shift into our lightning round on! Last great book you read?
HOLMES: I just read Say Nothing.

Oh God, I loved that book.
HOLMES: You know the book! I loved that book. It is a book about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It’s a fantastic book. It’s nonfiction, but it feels like really well-written fiction in many places.

I would compare it to Lisa’s in that way.
HOLMES: Yeah. And it’s funny — I know this is supposed to be the lightning round [Laughs] — listening to all these stories, because all of these stories of how people write books, no matter what kind of book it is, resonate with me in some way or another. When I was trying to talk about “beach reads versus whatever,” I’m like, “Why am I trying to explain, ‘Well like, this book is diverting and maybe Lisa’s is less diverting’?” They’re all books! Everybody writes it thinking, I have something I want to talk about and that I want to say, and that I hope other people will be willing to listen to. Whether it’s the story of my family, the story of people who have a story to tell — they’re all books. Whether it’s a nonfiction book like [Lisa’s], that reads like fiction, or an actual nonfiction book that reads like a series of histories, or like Taffy’s book, which to me is the most contemporary novel-ish thing I’ve read in a while.

Lot of dating apps in those first few pages.
HOLMES: My point is, Say Nothing is a really good book and everyone should read it.

Lightning round to Taffy.
BRODESSER-AKNER: I recently reread The Human Stain by Philip Roth. I am never not in awe of his sentences and of the buildup and the disgust. It’s kind of where I was going with, “This has happened before.” I was reading about the crisis of political correctness in the ’90s. “America is over!” It helps to read things like that at different times to remember, just in case anybody is suffering from our current political moment. That book, like many of his books but especially ones in that trilogy, you start reading a sentence and you come out at the end and you can’t believe what just happened to you. That was always a goal to me in writing. What if you could surf an entire book in one, crazed breath? That’s a thing you should be able to do.
TADDEO: The Human Stain is my favorite Philip Roth, it’s fantastic.
BRODESSER-AKNER: More than American Pastoral?
TADDEO: Definitely, 100 percent. [For me,] it’s two — I can’t read one book at a time. I wouldn’t call it ADD; it’s just me. I was rereading James Salter’s Last Night. I don’t really love his novels but his short stories, I think, are among the best. And Carolina Setterwall, who just wrote Let’s Hope for the Best. I don’t think it’s out yet, but it’s also about a young widow. So those two, yeah.
WINSLOW: The last book that I completed that I loved was Rumaan Alam’s That Kind of Mother. I loved that. And right now I’m reading Mrs. Bridge for the first time and I’m in love.
BROOM: I just finished Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter, which is such a mood, and lyrical, and so spare and so big at the same time. It’s my fifth or sixth reading. I always love it.

Second round. Quicker this time. [Group laughs] What book shaped you as a reader, as a kid?
HOLMES: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Bloom.
BRODESSER-AKNER: The Pistachio Prescription by Paula Dansecker.
TADDEO: The Stand by Stephen King. I’ve always been a depressive.
WINSLOW: I wasn’t a child reader.
BROOM: Aesop’s Fables.

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Giving Up the Funk: George Clinton says goodbye to the road

The Funk has left the building. Well, technically, the Funk has only retired to a room adjacent to the stage where his masseuse awaits. “I need my massage,” George Clinton says. At 77, his pre-concert ritual is a lot different than it used to be: No illicit drugs. No groupie action. Just his wife Carlon Thompson-Clinton, who’s also managed his career for the last 10 years. And from the looks of the green room, the main thing on his rider these days is Fiji water.

We’re backstage at the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta, where Clinton is set to play night two of what’s being billed as his final hoedown — the last P-Funk tour before he goes gently into that good night. A month later, he and his Parliament-Funkadelic collective will be honored by the Grammys with a Lifetime Achievement Award. “This lifetime achievement stuff is getting ready to light up everything,” he says. “And the band is still going on anyway, so I might have to stay with them another six to nine months.”

When George Clinton was coming up, a future funkateer in the making, he wanted his empire to become the next Motown, he wanted to be as big as the Beatles. He ended up creating something different but just as lasting — an impressively influential body of funk, rock, and soul that has been repeatedly quoted, covered, and sampled (the foundations of hip-hop, now music’s most popular genre, were partially built on his group’s hooks).

Clinton’s life has played out like a Blaxploitation flick, from his mythological birth in an outhouse all the way down to his final act of revenge against The Man, as he tries to regain ownership of P-Funk’s hit discography from alleged interloper Bridgeport Music, Inc. While he’s won back the publishing rights for the One Nation Under a Groove LP and others, the saga continues.

Before hitting the stage with half a dozen of his kids and grandkids, all of whom are touring P-Funk bandmates now (the group will likely continue touring once Clinton retires), we talked about funk and free love, getting sober, his lifelong aversion to church, why he doesn’t want anyone worshipping him when he’s gone, and his master plan to keep the Mothership flying high. Everything hinges on future artists carrying on the musical DNA of the genre he helped pioneer. “If they’re making people shake their booty,” he says. “it’s got something to do with funk.”

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I remember one time when I was a kid, the video for “Atomic Dog” came on TV. Back then it felt like funk was about finding the fun, and even the redemption, in stuff that people considered dirty or obscene.
GEORGE CLINTON: Yeah, always that. Always a good party to dance your way out of whatever the interpretation of it is supposed to be. And [to realize], “Ok, it’s up to me how I look at it.”

Parliament-Funkadelic were the antidote to uptightness. Now it’s flip-flopped and the times are actually funky. It feels like we’re in the midst of a cultural revolution with the #MeToo Movement addressing abuse, people getting called out for saying and doing problematic things, and the fight for representation in pop culture. It almost seems like the funk that you gave birth to could have never come to be in this era.
It’ll come in handy in this era because, like we say, “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing.” You just have to let people do their thing and still gel, ’cause [everyone] is going through some kind of interpretation metamorphosis. People are changing and we’re right around to be able to visualize it, to be able to notice it with social media. You’re able to see it being painted and changed right in front of your eyes. And they do it so fast that it ain’t going to stop no time soon, now that we’re able to understand it. So we’re going to see a lot of [differences]. The whole planet is taking selfies and just looking at itself making all kinds of faces. You can participate in all of that now. Some of it was needed anyway for us to move on and change our mind on certain things — especially male and female. We’ve evolved and you had to get out of a lot of stuff we went through in the past. You can see that the sexes weren’t…

Balanced. Or it was changing, the way we looked at it. We might have thought change was necessary, but not been able to even intellectualize it before…. But it’s still evolving. When we get further in the future, we’re going to look back and say we were still primitive. Not only on medicine and things, but on intellectual thinking about social s—, getting along with each other. We don’t know it all.

You always danced around the idea of genre, even in terms of creating Parliament and Funkadelic as separate groups with the same members. Was it as simple as putting the guitars on the rock stuff and putting the horns on the R&B stuff?
Most of the time. Every once in a while, I could do something weird enough with the horns that it could go with the rock stuff. It could be like Sun Ra, but it would have to be way out there. Or a guitar might end up on a Parliament song, even with horns. But basically that’s the way we did it. The loud guitars was on the rock, the Funkadelic. And then the horns was on Parliament.

Were you purposely trying to genre hop and not be bound by the racial stereotypes?
Well, not be bound by no one particular thing. You have to survive because people just get tired of the name. In three years the kids [would] grow up so you have to reinvent something for the younger ones to actually relate to, until they get old enough to start thinking of it as a classic. Basically, we just run through our artists for three years while they’re hot and [then], “Cool I’ll see you later when it’s oldie but goodie time.” We don’t stay with them. The radio stations don’t give it to you like that. They don’t make it classic so you’ll be a fan forever. They just force feed you the top things.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

So how did you figure that science out? How did you come to realize that reinvention was the key to keeping it going?
I read Billboard and Cashbox. That was the art of it when we first started in the early ‘60s, late ‘50s. You stayed up on the record business by knowing who was doing what. You watched the Phil Spectors. That’s what told you what to do, what was hot. So I always did it whether I liked the music or not. You learned that in Motown: If it’s working, it’s working. So you need to pay attention to what made it work, not let your ego just tell you “they ain’t s—.’ And you ain’t on the charts and they are. You just gotta figure out what it is that’s making it work. And you don’t get defensive about it. I realized the music that gets on my nerves is basically new music.

Yeah, that’s your measuring stick.
That’s the easiest route. Cause your instinct knows, “No, this [new genre] ain’t getting ready to happen. This can’t be the s—.” Yes it is, that’s the s—. Around [Atlanta], they gotta be getting a good dose of it because it’s the leading sound going right now. So, you gotta a lot of people saying, “Oh hell naw, that aint’ it.” But yes it is. From Young Thug to Future, all the way back. Even with Outkast, that was the beginning of [music] going in a Southern [direction]. And I always say, when Southern people get on the dance floor, they ain’t getting off. They’re going to figure a way to get on there again and that’s what’s happening. There’s New York and there’s the West Coast and there’s different places all around. But it ain’t never been like it is around here. Since Bobby Brown came through [laughs].

Is it true that you were born in an outhouse in North Carolina?
Yeah, that’s true. I was born right there.

So you came about the funk honestly.
Honestly, for real [laughs]. My mother always said that sounds about right.

Your father sang gospel and your great-great grandfather founded Mount Carmel AME Zion Church in North Carolina in 1866. What was your relationship with church when you were a kid?
I skipped it whenever I could. [I was] falling asleep in there; it didn’t hit me. That’s why you’ll never hear me do the gospel runs. I told ’em I didn’t go to church that day. I came in after the Smokey Robinsons, Temptations, Clovers, and Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters. I came along at that level, when there was harmonizing.

[Clinton’s wife interjects]: “But we go to church whenever we can when we’re home.”

Aw, we do now. I go more since we got married than I have in any time in my life. I can get in there and get to shouting now. They sound like Funkadelic in there. Kirk Franklin? Oh my god, get in there! [laughs].

Fans tend to worship artists now like religious figures, particularly ones who have passed away. Are you comfortable with that?
Aw, hell naw [laughs]. They say, “Do you want to be a role model?” Only for what not to do. You can’t follow all the s— that I’ve done. I feel lucky and blessed that I got away with the things that I did do. I feel blessed, but there’s got to be an easier way to do that. I guess people have to go through whatever their time requires them to go through and if they can see it as inspiration, you know, fine. But I’m not taking no blame for it. They say if you take the bow, you take the blame.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

How hard was it staying grounded after being on the famous Mothership, which floated above the stage on the P-Funk Earth Tour in the 1970s?
I felt lucky being up on that spaceship. That s— shook like hell. I was high as hell. My boots was nine inches tall. That’s 25 feet up there. I had every reason in the world to fall off. One dude ran up there one time. He hit me on the feet in front of like 20,000 people and nobody knew what happened. I was holding on to that rail so tight. When the smoke went down, he fell down and cracked his head open. I was thankful every time I didn’t fall from up there. Ain’t no way in hell that you gonna be up there thinking, “I’m God.” Oh hell naw, your ass will fall.

Funk has always felt like a religion. But you steer away from calling it that. What scares you about that association?
‘Cause I ain’t trying to live up to all that s— [laughs]. I’m still learning that s— myself. I’m not sure where that comes from. I look back at it and say ‘Daaamn.’ I used to put it on acid. I know that was the train of thought, but it had to be more than that. The kids that we were around during 1968-69 flipped us. We’d come from the ghetto thinking we were going to be pimps. And everybody’s talking about free love and we’re in there feeling like the trick. It was no big deal. You didn’t even have to convince nobody [to believe in the free love movement]. It was that easy, and once I got into it I [realized] this is a much easier way to live than having to be worried about deceiving and all that. It didn’t come easy. But you knew when you felt it. You start becoming aware of s— like that. Then you start writing about it. That became a style. I wanted to be a lot like some of the s— I write about. But you recognize it in other people. That s— that Sly [Stone] was writing about? Like, you can’t do wrong at all if you know that much information. But you can’t hold nobody to what they write. That s— comes through you. It’s just like people playing parts in a movie.

What was your writing process like at the time, and how has it changed now?
I’m talking s— man. That’s all you had to do, just stay out of the way of the music. Just talk s— and sing the hook here and there.

We started out at Motown with Jobete [publishing], which was the epitome of songwriting. And the Brill Building in New York, where songwriting went straight from the publishers for anybody and everybody. You had to know how to pen a song for whoever needed a song.

Motown, being strict, [produced] perfectly balanced records. You couldn’t get no better than that. And then having to go from that backwards to where my parents had just been, which was rock and roll, but only loud this time. It was Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. That was coming along so we had to forget all this discipline we had at Motown and get loud and R&Bish but rock n roll-ish, which was Funkadelic.

You recently became sober. What made you realize you had to clean up?
I was 70 years old when I started trying to clean it up. You ain’t got that much energy and that much time, and the drugs weren’t working no more. That wasn’t even giving me energy. Matter of fact, it was getting in the way — had been in the way and didn’t know it. Then there’s my wife, and of course she’s going to remind me. But all of that, it just came to a natural [conclusion]. My thought was, if I change up now, ain’t nobody going to notice it. They won’t be able to stop me because they won’t think I’m doing it.

How hard has the legal fight been to get ownership of your music rights back?
Oh, that’s really hard. Just getting around that. We had to slow down and try to approach it from another way. I was fighting that so hard, you can get caught up in that and they’ll keep draining you of cash.

Why do you think that is, with the history of black music and the industry finding ways to basically steal from artists?
There’s a plan. They’ve been mining that music. They’ve made so much money off of us since it started in the ’40s and ’50s that they ain’t trying to let it get away, you know? It’s a business. And even whatever they give you, you’ve still got a lot more coming. But [young artists are] doing a lot better than we did. Now, whether they know what to do about intellectual properties and all that…we’re just learning that. So they’ve really got to put their head to the grind, because I know a lot of [lawyers] want it to be work for hire. That’s the new thing that they’ve got to deal with. We didn’t have that, and they’re still making us have to prove it…. And if you’re new and young and trying to get into the business, you’ll go for anything. I did it. I knew I was going for it. But I had a bigger plan.

What was the bigger plan?
Give me a spaceship I can out-fly this s—. And once we got a hit record that’s what I did.

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This story appeared in Entertainment Weekly’s special double music issue, which you can buy here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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Chez Montana

It’s a brisk day in Calabasas and French Montana is thumbing through his phone while taking drags from a cigarette. The Braveheart soundtrack and a Nina Simone compilation flash across the screen before he tilts the phone from my view and hits play. “Downhill Lullaby” by Sky Ferreira (French is a big fan) bursts across the open-air courtyard — one of the features that made him fall in love with this Spanish-style home, which he casually mentions formerly belonged to Selena Gomez. 

Though he is currently fine-tuning his upcoming third studio album, slated to drop this summer, it hasn’t stopped French from adding to his vastly eclectic music collection. “You know why people sound the same nowadays?” he asks. “It’s because they only listen to their peers. You saw my phone, most of the songs aren’t even rap. I’m not clogging up my creative process because if I do that I’m not even going to know that I’m sounding like Future or Gunna or whoever. I feel like nobody is watching their diet. Whatever you put in your ear and stomach is what’s going to come out of your mouth.”

Where others might find inspiration by emulating the popular sounds of the moment, French spends days at a time in the studio on a quest for a track that forces him to make the ugly face because it’s just that good. One breakout favorite, the Swae Lee-featured “Unforgettable,” is a result of persistence. The song, which has gone six-times platinum, came together after two straight days of sifting through sounds. “Let me put it like this,” says French, about his work ethic. “When you’re sleeping, I’m up. When you wake up, I’m already up. When you go back to sleep, I’m still up. When you wake back up, I might be thinking about taking a nap. What I’m trying to say is if you’re not in that studio long enough and you don’t have that passion you’re never going to find that right moment for yourself. I’m 10 years in the game and I’m still hungry to find that special record.”

With previous projects, French’s grueling travel schedule and the necessity of booking studio space often cut into valuable creative time, but all of that changed three years ago when he found his dream home. “This house is like having my own little sanctuary,” he says. “It has a Spanish vibe but it also feels Moroccan to me. I’m a firm believer that some houses bring you good luck and some just throw you off. The energy here felt right. Plus, I always used to have to go to studios in L.A. and by the time I left I’d feel like a zombie. You know, it’d be 8 a.m and I’d be driving in traffic just feeling like the worst piece of s— ever.”

These days, French wakes up at 7 a.m and takes a short walk from his house through a sprawling backyard to his home studio, themed in the red and green of the Moroccan flag. His Dapper Dan-designed Met Gala outfit earlier this month was similarly inspired. “Going to the Met Gala was such an amazing experience and I wanted to pay homage to my culture, especially with it being the first day of Ramadan,” he says. “Fashion is such an important form of self-expression and I wanted to represent [the] holy day in what I wore.”

The studio’s color scheme is another homage to his home country, and a constant visual indicator of what and who he represents. “It reminds me that the people who love me depend on me and if I let them down I let myself down. I’m the biggest artist to come out of Morocco, and as we speak, I’m one of the biggest artists to come out of the continent of Africa. Why wouldn’t I keep pushing?”

The walk to the studio, while brief, is certainly peaceful. There’s a curving brick driveway with a burbling fountain as its centerpiece, and in one corner of the yard sits a willow tree. French has set up a wooden bench underneath where he likes to come and smoke in the evening. Three bulging rosemary bushes dot the earth around the bench, subtly perfuming the air. In short, it really is a sanctuary, and the presence of a creative space in his home has only deepened his passion for music.

His latest single, “Slide,” which samples Snoop Dogg’s “Serial Killa,” was recorded in this personal oasis. “Honestly there was no plan,” he confesses, about how the song came together. “It was just me and Lil Tjay and then Blueface came in and the energy that was in the room made that track. They’re both young so it almost reminded me of how I was when I was coming up. They just have that special energy — I’d go in like that too, like a kid in a candy store. I saw my face in them. I know that feeling when you’re first coming up and your s— is finally taking off after you’ve been grinding for so long. They had that hunger so we knocked that s— out in under 15 minutes.”

The Cardi B- and Post Malone-featured “Writing on the Wall” (an unreleased track set to appear on the upcoming album) wasn’t made in French’s home, but there’s still a connection to the familiar that makes it one of the more special records on the project. “Me and Cardi are from the same borough,” he says. Though French was born in Morocco, his family relocated to the Bronx when he was 13 so he considers both places home. “I’m so happy to see her come out of those Bronx streets. It’s the mecca of hip-hop and where it all started so everybody is judging you for every little thing there. You have to grow thick skin. I truly believe only special people make it out of there.”

French’s self-described reputation of being the Michael Jordan of hooks is partly down to consistency and partly down to his choice to collaborate with people he genuinely likes. On his forthcoming record, French his leaning further into another thing he loves: production. On the days he isn’t recording, he spends time tweaking existing music to give it that bombastic, cinematic feel that is a hallmark of a French Montana track. “There’s a reason I was nominated for a Grammy for a beat before I got nominated for a song as a rapper,” he said, referring to Kanye West’s single “All Day.”

“As far as this album I’m more excited that I’m able to have the right people around me to keep me grounded and help me make the best music that I can make. I never really sat anywhere and made an album before. I was always all over the place — different studios, different cities. Sitting somewhere is how I ended up with ‘Unforgettable’ and now that I can stay stable in one studio and make music it’s about to be dangerous. It’s about to be very dangerous.”

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Emilia Clarke on Game of Thrones finales shock twist: I stand by Daenerys

Warning: This story contains major spoilers for the final episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Emilia Clarke read a paragraph in the final script for Game of Thrones.

She read it again and again. Seven times, she says, she read the words that revealed the devastating fate of Daenerys Targaryen, a character she’s portrayed on the HBO global phenomenon for nearly a decade.

“What, what, what, WHAT!?” the actress recalls thinking. “Because it comes out of f—king nowhere. I’m flabbergasted. Absolutely never saw that coming.”

It was October 2017. The actress had recently completed filming Solo: A Star Wars Story and had just returned to London following a brief vacation. She electronically received the scripts the moment she landed at Heathrow and recalls that she “completely flipped out,” turned to her traveling companion and said, “‘Oh my god! I gotta go! I gotta go!’ And they’re like, ‘You gotta get your bags!’”

Once at home, the actress prepared herself. “I got myself situated,” she says. “I got my cup of tea. I had to physically prepare the space and then begin reading them.”

Clarke swiped through pages: Daenerys arrives at Winterfell and Sansa doesn’t like her. She discovers Jon Snow is the true heir to the Iron Throne and isn’t thrilled. She fights in the battle against the Night King and survives, but loses longtime friend and protector Ser Jorah Mormont. Then her other close friend and advisor Missandei dies too. Varys betrays her. Jon Snow pulls away. Having lost half her army, two dragons, and nearly everybody she cares about, Daenerys goes full Tagaryen to win: She attacks King’s Landing and kills … thousands of civilians? Daenerys’ longtime conquest achieved, she meets with Jon Snow in the Red Keep throne room and … and then … then he …

“I cried,” Clarke says. “And I went for a walk. I walked out of the house and took my keys and phone and walked back with blisters on my feet. I didn’t come back for five hours. I’m like, ‘How am I going to do this?’”

Two days later, Clarke was on a plane to Belfast for the final season table read.

Sitting next to Clarke on the flight, as it so happens, was Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow. Harington deliberately hadn’t yet read the scripts so he could experience the story for the first time with all his castmates. Clarke, positively bursting with wanting to talk about her storyline, found the flight maddening. “This literally sums up Kit and I’s friendship,” she says, and sputtered: “Boy! Would you? Seriously? You’re just not?…”

At the table read, Clarke sat across from Harington so she could “watch him compute all of this.” When they got to their final scene together, recalls Harington, “I looked at Emilia and there was a moment of me realizing, ‘No, no…’”

And Clarke nodded back, sadly, ‘Yes…’

“He was crying,” Clarke says. “And then it was kind of great him not having read it.”

The main story driver of Game of Thrones’ final season is the evolution of Daenerys Targaryen from one of the show’s most-loved heroes into a destroyer of cities and would-be dictator. Author George R.R. Martin calls his saga “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Jon Snow is the stable, immovable ice of Winterfell; Daenerys the conquering, unpredictable fire of Dragonstone. After years apart, they came together in season 7. The duo fell in love, help saved the realm from a world-annihilating supernatural threat and, in the series finale, their coupling is destroyed — Daenerys perishes, while a devastated Jon Snow is banished to rejoin the Night’s Watch.

Was this ending Martin’s original plan? The author told showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss the intended conclusion to his unfinished novels years ago but, since then, the HBO version has made several narrative detours. The showrunners are not giving interviews about episode 6 (and told EW they plan to spend the finale offline — “drunk and far away from the Internet” as Benioff put it).

Regardless of the final season’s narrative’s origin, the Thrones writers have planned Dany’s fate for years and have foreshadowed the dark turn in the storyline. In previous seasons, producers would sometimes ask Clarke to play a scene a bit different than what she expected for a seemingly heroic character. “There’s a number of times I’ve been like: ‘Why are you giving me that note?’” Clarke says. “So yes, this has made me look back at all the notes I’ve ever had.”

After Episode 5, “The Bells,” the reaction to Dany’s “Mad Queen” turn has been explosive and frequently negative. Some critics insist Daenerys doesn’t have the capacity for such monumental evil and the twist is an example of female characters being mishandled on the series. Others say Dany’s unstable sociopathic tendencies were indeed established, but the final season moved too fast and flubbed its execution.

For Clarke, the final season arc required mapping out a series of turning points. Dany’s attack on King’s Landing might have seemed abrupt, but from the beginning of the season Daenerys has reacted with increasing anger, desperation and coldness to one setback after another, shifting the Mother of Dragons into new emotional territory that would ultimately lead to her destruction.

Sitting in her dressing room on the set of Thrones last spring, Clarke broke down Daenerys’ entire season 8 internal journey leading up to the apocalyptic King’s Landing firebombing in a single breathless monologue.

“She genuinely starts with the best intentions and truly hopes there isn’t going to be something scuttling her greatest plans,” she says. “The problem is [the Starks] don’t like her and she sees it. She goes, ‘Okay, one chance.’ She gives them that chance and it doesn’t work and she’s too far to turn around. She’s made her bed, she’s laying in it. It’s done. And that’s the thing. I don’t think she realizes until it happens — the real effect of their reactions on her is: ‘I don’t give a s—t.’ This is my whole existence. Since birth! She literally was brought into this world going, ‘Run!’ These f—kers have f—ked everything up, and now it’s, ‘You’re our only hope.’ There’s so much she’s taken on in her duty in life to rectify, so much she’s seen and witnessed and been through and lost and suffered and hurt. Suddenly these people are turning around and saying, ‘We don’t accept you.’ But she’s too far down the line. She’s killed so many people already. I can’t turn this ship around. It’s too much. One by one, you see all these strings being cut. And there’s just this last thread she’s holding onto: There’s this boy. And she thinks, ‘He loves me, and I think that’s enough.’ But is it enough? Is it? And it’s just that hope and wishing that finally there is someone who accepts her for everything she is and … he f—king doesn’t.”

And losing Missandei? “There’s a number of turning points you see for Daenerys in the season, but that’s the biggest break. There’s nothing I will not do after losing Missandai and seeing the sacrifice she was prepared to make for her. That breaks her completely. There’s nothing left to making a tough choice.”

Executing Varys for treason? “She f—king warned him last season. We love Varys. I love [actor Conleth Hill]. But he changes his colors as many times as he wants. She needs to know the people who are supporting her regardless. That was my only option, essentially, is what I mean.”

Burying Cersei Lannister under the collapse of the Red Keep? “With Cersei, it’s a complete no-brainer. Lady’s a crazy motherf—ker. She’s going down.”

Yet Clarke also had another, more personal reaction to Dany’s meltdown. “I have my own feelings [about the storyline] and it’s peppered with my feelings about myself,” she admits. “It’s gotten to that point now where you read [comments about] the character you [have to remind yourself], ‘They’re not talking about you, Emilia, they’re talking about the character.”

Like many actors who have played the same role for a long time, Clarke identifies with her character and has put much of herself into the role. She believes in Daenerys’ confidence, idealism and past acts of compassion. As the actress wrote in a New Yorker essay in March, she played the Breaker of Chains through some life-threatening personal hardships, secretly enduring two brain embolisms during her early years on the show. “You go on set and play a badass and you walk through fire and that became the thing that saved me from considering my own mortality,” she wrote. Clarke has drawn strength from Daenerys and infused Daenerys with her strength.

“I genuinely did this, and it’s embarrassing and I’m going to admit it to you,” Clarke says. “I called my mom and—“ Clarke shifts into a tearful voice to perform the conversation as she reenacts the call: “I read the scripts and I don’t want to tell you what happens but can you just talk me off this ledge? It really messed me up.’ And then I asked my mom and brother really weird questions. They were like: ‘What are you asking us this for? What do you mean do I think Daenerys is a good person? Why are you asking us that question? Why do you care what people think of Daenerys? Are you okay?’”

“And I’m all: ‘I’m fine! … But is there anything Daenerys could do that would make you hate her?’”

During EW’s visit to Northern Ireland last March, I took a walk with co-executive producer Bryan Cogman into the dark woods near the production camp. It was around midnight and bitterly cold. Our boots scrunched on the muddy gravel and the bustling sounds of crew activity from the set slowly receded into the distance.

“Emilia has been threading that needle beautifully this season,” Cogman says. “It’s the hardest job anybody has on this show.”

As we pass crew members our voices cautiously go silent. While Dany’s Mad Queen arc was known by all, her death in the finale was a secret even among many who work on the show. Killing Daenerys was a massive and difficult move. On a show that’s introduced dozens of distinctive breakout characters, Daenerys is arguably the most easily identifiable and iconic. She is T-shirts and coffee mugs and posters and bobbleheads and memes and the name of hundreds of kids around the world with GoT fan parents; a fearless figure of female empowerment.

“I still don’t know how I feel about a lot of what happens this season and I helped write it,” Cogman says. “It’s emotionally very challenging. It’s designed to not feel good. That said, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The best drama is the type you have to think about. There’s a dangerous tendency right now to make art and popular culture to feel safe for everybody and make everybody feel okay when watching and I don’t believe in that. The show is messy and grey and that’s where it’s always lived — from Jaime pushing a little boy out the window to Ned Stark’s death to the Red Wedding. This is the kind of story that’s meant to unsettle you and challenge you and make you think and question. I think that was George’s intent and what David and Dan wanted to do. However you feel about the final episodes of this show I don’t think anybody will ever accuse us of taking the easy way out.”

I point out Daenerys’ final season arc shifts the entire series, or at least her role in it. Upon rewatch, every Daenerys scene will now be viewed differently; the story of the rise of a villain more than a hero.

“Yes, although I don’t know if she’s a villain,” Cogman says. “This is a tragedy. She’s a tragic figure in a very Shakespearean and Greek sense. When Jon asks Tyrion [in the finale] if they were wrong and Tyrion says, ‘Ask me again in 10 years,’ I think that’s valid.”

Tyrion actor Peter Dinklage says the showrunners on set compared Dany’s dragon-bombing of King’s Landing to the U.S. dropping nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki to decisively end World War II in 1945. “That’s what war is,” Dinklage says. “Did we make the right choices in war? How much longer would [WWII] have gone on if we didn’t make horrible decisions? We love Daenerys. All the fans love Daenerys, and she’s doing these things for the greater good. ‘The greater good’ has been in the headlines lately… when freeing everyone for the greater good you’re going to hurt some innocents along the way, unfortunately.”

Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth, adds there’s another political lesson to be learned in the final season as well. “The signs have actually always been there,” Christie says of Daenerys. “And they’ve been there in ways we felt at the time were just mistakes or controversial. At this time, it’s important to question true motives. This show has always been about power and, more than ever, it’s an interesting illustration that people in pursuit of power can come in many different forms and we need to question everything.” 

Killing Daenerys also forever changes Jon Snow, leading to his circular fate: returning to serve the rest of his life at The Wall. Harington spoke about the show’s finale in a production tent on the season 8 set, his voice so cautiously low a recorder could barely pick him up. Harington explained he avoids talking about the death scene on the set, and he and Clarke came up with a secret hand signal to refer to it — touching a fist to their heart.

“I think it’s going to divide,” Harington says of the finale’s fan reaction. “But if you track her story all the way back, she does some terrible things. She crucifies people. She burns people alive. This has been building. So, we have to say to the audience: ‘You’re in denial about this woman as well. You knew something was wrong. You’re culpable, you cheered her on.’”

Harington adds he worries the final two episodes will be accused of being sexist, an ongoing criticism of GoT that has recently resurfaced perhaps more pointedly than ever before. “One of my worries with this is we have Cersei and Dany, two leading women, who fall,” he says. “The justification is: Just because they’re women, why should they be the goodies? They’re the most interesting characters in the show. And that’s what Thrones has always done. You can’t just say the strong women are going to end up the good people. Dany is not a good person. It’s going to open up discussion but there’s nothing done in this show that isn’t truthful to the characters. And when have you ever seen a woman play a dictator?”

There’s plenty of tragedy for Jon as well, he points out. “This is the second woman he’s fallen in love with who dies in his arms and he cradles her in the same way,” Harington notes. “That’s an awful thing. In some ways, Jon did the same thing to [his Wilding lover] Ygritte by training the boy who kills her. This destroys Jon to do this.”

Back in Clarke’s dressing room, the actress is preparing to film one of her final scenes on the series. Understandably, she can’t quite bring herself to feel sorry for Jon Snow.

“Um, he just doesn’t like women does he?” Clarke quips. “He keeps f—king killing them. No. If I were to put myself in his shoes I’m not sure what else he could have done aside from … oh, I dunno, maybe having a discussion with me about it? Ask my opinion? Warn me? It’s like being in the middle of a phone call with your boyfriend and they just hang up and never call you again. ‘Oh, this great thing happened to me at work today — hello?’ And that was 9 years ago…”

Clarke’s phone call metaphor is characteristically witty, and the actress has given some fascinating insight about the season as a whole. But nothing yet quite feels like the bottom, the blunt truth of how she feels about Daenerys’ fate.

“You’re about to ask if me — as Emilia — disagreed with her at any point,” Clarke intuits. “It was a f—king struggle reading the scripts. What I was taught at drama school — and if you print this there will be drama school teachers going ‘that’s bulls—t,’ but here we go: I was told that your character is right. Your character makes a choice and you need to be right with that. An actor should never be afraid to look ugly. We have uglier sides to ourselves. And after 10 years of working on this show, it’s logical. Where else can she go? I tried to think what the ending will be. It’s not like she’s suddenly going to go, ‘Okay, I’m gonna put a kettle on and put cookies in the oven and we’ll just sit down and have a lovely time and pop a few kids out.’ That was never going to happen. She’s a Targaryen.”

“I thought she was going to die,” she continues. “I feel very taken care of as a character in that sense. It’s a very beautiful and touching ending. Hopefully, what you’ll see in that last moment as she’s dying is: There’s the vulnerability — there’s the little girl you met in season 1. See? She’s right there. And now, she’s not there anymore…”

A crew member comes for Clarke and she stands up. It’s time for her to go. Clarke begins to walk away, turns around, breaks away from the staffer, and comes back.

There’s one last thing she wants you to know.

“But having said all of the things I’ve just said…” Clarke says. “I stand by Daenerys. I stand by her! I can’t not.”


HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin’s novel series “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

Carly-oke: Carly Rae Jepsen on love, Broadway, and Dedicated

The karaoke bar Break Room 86, tucked on a quiet side street in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles, feels like a well-kept secret; to even find it you have to walk past a loading dock, then down a long dark hallway to a vending machine that’s actually a hidden door.

Behind the dusty candy bars and Doritos, though, lies a strobelit temple to pop nostalgia: stacks of glowing televisions, Fleetwood Mac albums and Duran Duran cassettes shellacked to the walls, drink menus printed on vintage VHS cases. It’s a fitting space for an artist like Carly Rae Jepsen — with her singular knack for decade-spanning, sweetly retro songcraft — to sing a few bygone classics (and before the photo shoot is over, she will nail Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”), but also to tell EW all about her fourth studio album, Dedicated (out May 17).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Are you a big karaoke girl? What’s your karaoke personality?
JEPSEN: The last time I did it was when I was in Tokyo for my “Run Away with Me” video, so it’s kind of a funny coincidence that yet again today it’s [more] for a photo shoot. I think it’s time for me to just go and do a pure karaoke for the sake of karaoke. [Laughs] I’m all for it not being a performance but, like, a group singalong. It’s just more fun to go up with your girlfriends and be the Spice Girls together, you know?

Let’s talk about the new album. How did you land on the title?
I had a mission statement for the album that I wanted to make it understated disco. Which didn’t totally end up happening — it’s got elements of the ’70s but also ’80s and ’90s — but it is sort of music to kind of clean your house to, so that’s what I titled it at first. [Laughs]

I landed on Dedicated because of a song that actually didn’t make the album but still felt like a great theme, because in my love life I’m just a hopeful romantic, always.

You’ve always called yourself an overwriter. Was that more or less true on this one?
I do overwrite! Not unlike E•MO•TION, I wrote about 200 songs again and then narrowed them down to these 15 so yeah, I went a little crazy. [Laughs]

But I think part of the journey is just what rises to the top at the end — what I keep coming back to, and my friends and family and label people. I definitely have a desire to secretly release all of them at once, but I also believe in the beauty of an old-fashioned cohesive body of work. I wish my process was different. There’s a world where I’m like, maybe I’ll just write the first 15 songs and release them and stop! But I guess I’m a bit of an overthinker and a perfectionist.

E•MO•TION became a real sort of cult record, critically and with fans. Did you expect that?
No! I was pretty certain that after taking a significant amount of time after “Call Me Maybe” and Kiss and going to Broadway for a bit [to star in Cinderella in 2014] no one would remember me or care about what I did next. But that’s why it felt empowering to be like “Well, now I’m gonna do the type of music that I’m craving to share that feels really unique — and I don’t know what that is yet, but I’m gonna figure it out!”

When E•MO•TION came out there was a feeling like whatever happens, it was honest and this was authentically my take on pop music, so for it to get any kind of reaction at all still kind of blows my mind.

You also toured with Katy Perry last year. How was that?
It was a wild thing to be back in a stadium. The last time was with Justin Bieber, and I was terrified. I thought, “Oh god, am I gonna feel like an impostor?”

I think what actually helped give me the confidence to do those shows was just feeling the support of this [fan] family that’s been created, so when I stepped out on stage it wasn’t like the scared young 20-year-old who did it the first time. It felt like we had learned some lessons and felt some confidence that not everyone has to get it, but the people that you do connect with that that’s sincere, and that’s empowering.

At this point in your career, do you think you’d even want to deal with the tabloid celebrity that comes with a certain level of pop stardom?
I have experienced very briefly what it is to have an intense amount of fame, and I wasn’t too comfy with it for sure. But I think it was mostly because it happened in such a rush, and it was really shocking. Also, you don’t have a really strong perception of yourself right away when you’re starting, and it’s dangerous if you start to let other people tell you who you are before you have an idea of that yourself. So I think it was a weird time for me. Nothing bad happened, but I did feel like I wanted to cocoon myself a little bit when people would tell me “If you go to this restaurant you’ll get seen by this paparazzi,” as if it was, like, a helpful tip. [Laughs] I was like “Okay cool, I’m never going there!”

I think it was also reaction to when “Call Me Maybe” hit, that I [knew] I wanted to be known as an artist, not a famous person. So that’s kind of why I said yes to Broadway — to get out of the pop bubble and into the theatrical world, which was also really exciting for me just as a little musical-theater nerd. But yeah, now I would say it’s landed in a place where I don’t really get recognized that often, and when I do it’s like, a shocking lovely thing as opposed to an invasive thing. I do get to have a love life that feels quite private, and I value that.

Would you be interested in writing songs for a musical, like Sara Bareilles did for Waitress?
Jack Antonoff and I have actually been talking about making a musical for ages, and a couple of the people from Cinderella have been interested in it. It’s very much a faraway dream, but we also have it very much in sight, what we’re gonna do. And I think the fantasy is that we go away to a cabin somewhere and we start from scratch.

There’s a lot to get into on the new record, but tell me about the chorus on “Everything He Needs.”
You know what, it’s from the movie Popeye With Robin Williams. It’s an interpolation where Olive Oyl goes, [singing] “He needs me, he needs me,” and it’s super creepy. [Laughs] The musical-theater part of me was like, “Can we buy this from Disney and, like, funk it up?” And we did! So that’s why that song exists.

You actually bought it?
Disney is very hard to get approvals from, so I went to Disneyland and got a fake contract, and I had a Mickey Mouse there sign it, and then I sent an email to them saying, “Please! The big boss says yes!” [Laughs] I tried everything.

You write so well about love, and often yearning for it from the outside. If you’re happy in your personal life, is that easier or harder to do?
I was in a relationship when I started this album and then I went through a breakup and now I’m in a new relationship. I actually made a joke with my girlfriends that one day instead of doing song titles I’m just going to do the name of the guy: [singing]Jaaaaames, James-James-James.”[Laughs]

Who’s the inspiration behind “Julien”?
That one for example is more of a metaphor — when I was touring in Canada as this new woman, still a teenager, I met a French-Canadian guy named Julien, and the first thing I said to him when I met him was ‘Your name is so musical, I love it!” and I’d been working on different versions of songs with the name Julien in it since then so… I have to text him [now] to be like, “I don’t mean it! I have a boyfriend! But we had a wonderful time in Quebec City for a weekend, and I’ll never forget it.” [Laughs]

Is anything in your personal life off limits for you, lyrics-wise?
I would never want to betray somebody. I think I have protection over that. But the beautiful thing about lyrics  — at least the way that I love to look at them — is that, in this sort of 1940s jazz song kind of way, you have a very short amount of time to pack a punch. So it’s almost I think more impactful when it’s less like your own journal than the feelings you have that can connect.

“I’ll Be Your Girl” is weirdly probably one of the most personal songs, and it’s about jealousy post-relationship — the voyeurism of stalking the guy and “Who’s that new girl you’re with?!” [Laughs] It’s that ugly emotion and you want to be like, “Let’s share this!” So it’s more of a “When you feel jealous, put this song on and let it be your anthem” kind of thing.

You’ll be touring the world this summer to support Dedicated. Do you still enjoy that part of the job?
I do. I’m almost scared that I like it more than home life. I really get comfortable in the back of my bus, and I love traveling. I love even the romance of what that does to your love life, like, “Come meet me in Paris!” I’m a child in that way. I love the adventure of it — even the weird showers in the bottom level of the hockey rink or whatever. I’m down for all of the chaos, yeah.

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