Inside Martin Scorseses The Irishman fight: Nobody would give us the money

https://ew.com/movies/2019/10/17/the-irishman-scorsese-netflix/

Martin Scorsese abruptly stands up in the middle of an interview, and for a moment it appears he’s going to walk out of the room.

The director is discussing his Netflix film The Irishman in a hotel suite overlooking the Manhattan skyline, and it takes a second to realize that the 76-year-old Oscar winner is simply so passionate about his new crime epic that he can’t stay seated. Scorsese quotes from a pivotal scene where hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) desperately tries to persuade former union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) to drop a dangerous bid to reclaim the Teamsters presidency after being released from prison: “‘You might be demonstrating a failure to show appreciation’—a very important phrase! Look at [Hoffa’s] face! He went to jail. They’re not in jail. He went. It’s going to end badly…”

For fans of Mob movies (Scor­sese dislikes this term, preferring “organized crime”), The Irishman’s lineup is an all-star dream team: Scorsese, De Niro (who got the project underway after finding Charles Brandt’s 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses), Pacino (who somehow has never appeared in a Scorsese picture before), and, emerging from semiretirement, Joe Pesci, who previously starred with De Niro in Scorsese’s Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino and was reportedly asked 50 times to join the Irishman cast as an underworld kingpin. Perhaps Pesci was really only asked seven or 35 times. What’s certain is De Niro repeatedly pushed to get him on board.

“A lot of what I was saying was, ‘Come on, who knows if we’re ever going to have this chance again?’ ” recalls De Niro. “Let’s just do it.”

Scorsese similarly had to try and sway backers to fund the film for a decade, a process made more difficult by his use of pricey CGI to enable actors to play younger versions of their characters for a significant stretch of the story. “People just weren’t interested in financing it—and that was before the CGI,” Scorsese says. “Nobody would give us the money. But I really felt that De Niro and I had one more picture to make, at least, and he was really connected with the character.”

Netflix, the patron saint of needy projects with established fandoms, rescued The Irishman in 2017, bankrolling its $159 million budget. The company is giving the film an unusual rollout—a few weeks in theaters starting Nov. 1 to qualify for the Oscars and give fans a chance to catch the film on the big screen, before debuting on the streaming service Nov. 27. Netflix also helped lock down the elusive Pesci. “Prior to that, it was almost like putting on a show in the barn,” Scorsese says.

The result ranks as Scorsese’s best-reviewed drama ever, with the film having earned 100 percent acclaim on Rotten Tomatoes. The Irishman’s risky reliance on de-aging technology has been deemed largely successful, though it takes a few minutes for viewers to, well, fuhgeddaboutit.

“I was a little anxious,” De Niro admits about the process. “It took work going over it and correcting it. It looks good.”

The least de-aged lead character is Hoffa, as Pacino makes his bombastic entrance a third of the way into the story, which spans from the 1940s to well past the union leader’s infamous 1975 disappearance. Pacino has worked with his longtime friend De Niro on The Godfather Part II (though they never shared a scene), Heat (frustratingly sharing just one scene), and Righteous Kill (which was widely panned). Here, they finally get plenty of screen time together and deliver their A-games.

“These [characters] really like each other, and that was something for us to play off—we feel that way about each other,” says Pacino, who listened to recordings of the real Hoffa between takes.

And as for his first time working with Scorsese, the actor describes the set as preternaturally calm. “Marty has a very quiet set and that’s part of what he demands,” Pacino says. “I’ve never met a director who is so suited to the profession and so natural in that environment. It’s comforting.”

Less comforting are the film’s final 20 minutes, which shift into surprising territory compared to Scorsese’s earlier propulsive crime epics. The film lingers on Sheeran’s introspection and regret as he advances into old age. It’s another aspect the director says a traditional studio would not allow (“A man in a wheelchair at the end? Yeah, no, not gonna happen”).

The heartbreaking denouement leaves audiences feeling like they’re not just witnessing the end of The Irishman but an unofficial conclusion to Scorsese’s Mafia Cinematic Universe. Yet De Niro and Scorsese say they’re open to doing one more crime movie together, and hopefully it won’t take another 24 years.

“I’m open to it,” De Niro says. “There are great stories out there. Who knows? Never say never.”

Muses Scorsese: “As a filmmaker, what else can you learn about yourself and this subject matter with these characters in this world? You may find that you’ve done it. I hope to explore a little more, if I have time.”

You know what they say:

Every time you think you’re out…

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

Related: 
The Irishman reviews roundup: ‘Phenomenal’ film gets perfect Rotten Tomatoes score
Martin Scorsese won’t ever release longer ‘director’s cuts’ of his films

True Romance: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet on reuniting for Little Women

https://ew.com/movies/2019/10/17/saoirse-ronan-timothee-chalamet-cover-story/

They may be posing in an airy lower Manhattan studio, but Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan have a way of making you feel right at home. “I made a little playlist this morning,” Chalamet announces to the room. He syncs up his cell phone to the sound system, his boyish grin widening as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” starts blaring. He returns to the camera, which snaps him and Ronan at a furious pace.

It’s their first joint cover shoot. He’s wearing a shimmery striped shirt with high-waist trousers; she’s rocking a shirtdress, fishnet stockings, and clear stilettos. He keeps cracking her up; she musses his hair with doting affection. During a break that follows, he wanders, gripping a paper bag stuffed with assorted bagels — from Tompkins Square Bagels, which Chalamet, a lifelong New Yorker, insists are the best in the city — and offering one to anyone in his path. He sings and dances — very Elio-in-the-town-square-like — to Bob Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues.” He creeps behind a distracted Ronan before spooking her with a yelp. “I didn’t even know you were there!” she exclaims, reddening from the fright but with a smile so lovingly at ease, you sense she’s used to the prank.

They’ve known each other, after all, for some time. About three years ago, Ronan, now 25, and Chalamet, 23, met filming Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, in which Ronan’s irrepressible heroine (briefly) romances Chalamet’s douchey amateur musician. They reunited with Gerwig last year, on the heels of Lady Bird’s Oscar-nominated success, for a bigger undertaking: a remake of the oft-remade Little Women (Dec. 25). Ronan and Chalamet slipped into the roles of tomboyish Jo March and buoyant Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, best friends who ultimately break each other’s hearts. Their courtship ranks among American culture’s oldest tales of unrequited love — made indelible by Katharine Hepburn and Douglass Montgomery, Winona Ryder and Christian Bale, and so many others — yet finds, in the hands of two of the most compelling actors of their generation, galvanizing new life.

That goes, in fact, for the whole of Gerwig’s Little Women. Her version certainly contains the snow-globe coziness of treasured adaptations past, but also carries a fizzy emotional authenticity and attention to detail. The film is remarkably lived-in, too: This take on Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel, which follows Jo and her three sisters pre– and post–American Civil War, feels plucked straight from the text in the best way, with siblings fighting like siblings, love and loss and hope and pain vividly experienced on screen.

Ronan and Chalamet’s charming big sister–little brother dynamic is not unlike the one that Jo and Laurie share in Little Women. Watch the actors play off one another, and the film’s tender realism clarifies itself: Their on-camera intimacy is just as palpable behind the scenes. Indeed, after shooting Lady Bird for a few weeks, the pair hung out regularly over the next year, making the awards-circuit rounds and scoring lead-acting Oscar nominations — Ronan for Lady Bird, Chalamet for Call Me by Your Name — before swiftly signing on to Little Women. In advance of filming in Concord, Mass. (the actual setting of the book), Gerwig and producer Amy Pascal gathered the large production’s cast and crew for rehearsals at a house just outside the town. For Ronan and Chalamet, the contrast between this and their early Lady Bird days was immense. “I felt very prideful… about how big it had gotten, how many people were there,” Chalamet recounts. “On Lady Bird it was, like, 25 people hanging out in a house!”

They fell back into each other’s rhythms instantly. “He keeps me on my toes — I’m never quite sure what he’s going to do next,” Ronan says. “That only progressed more and grew more. It helped that we do have a very natural rapport with each other…. These two characters physically need to be very comfortable with one another. They’re literally intertwined for half the film.” Chalamet adds: “In the least clichéd way possible, it really doesn’t feel like [I’m] acting sometimes [with her].”

Chalamet credits Gerwig, too, for establishing a playful, comfortable atmosphere. He thinks back to his first day of rehearsal: He reunited with Ronan. He introduced himself to Emma Watson (who plays the eldest March sister, Meg). He was guided into a third-floor conference room of a “random building” where, “all of a sudden, there was a full dance class going on.” He recalls fondly: “Everyone breaks down and becomes a little kid. This job is so trippy in that regard — you want to be serious, you want to be professional, and then it’s almost best when you’re able to be 12 years old. When it’s someone you’re actually friends with, it makes it easier.”

Ronan smirks, gearing up for a jab: “We’re not friends!” Delighted, Chalamet keeps the bit going. “We’re not friends,” he says, solemnly. For once, they’re not very convincing.

Greta Gerwig doesn’t remember a time before she knew Jo March. “[Little Women] was very much part of who I always was,” the writer-director, 36, says. “It was something my mother read to me when I was growing up. It’s been with me for a very long time.”

She joined Sony Pictures’ new Little Women adaptation when she was hired to write the script in 2016. Once Lady Bird bowed the next year, she emerged as a candidate to direct the film. “Greta had a very specific, energized, kind of punk-rock, Shakespearean take on this story,” Pascal says. “She came in and had a meeting with all of us and said, ‘I know this has been done before, but nobody can do it but me.’” She got the gig.

In her approach, Gerwig drew on her lifelong relationship with Little Women; beyond childhood, she discovered new, complex layers to the novel, and in turn to Alcott’s legacy. “As a girl, my heroine was Jo March, and as a grown lady, my heroine is Louisa May Alcott,” she says. It’s perhaps why Gerwig’s Little Women feels like the most adult — and modern — version of the story that’s reached the screen to date. The movie begins with the March sisters in adulthood — typically where the narrative’s second half begins — and unfolds like a memory play, shifting back and forth between that present-day frame and extended flashbacks to the childhood scenes etched in the American literary canon.

In that, Gerwig finds fascinating, fresh areas of exploration regarding women’s lives: the choices society forces them to make, the beauty and struggles of artistic pursuit, the consequences of rebellion. Jo’s journey as a writer anchors Gerwig’s direction; tempestuous Amy (Florence Pugh) gets more of a spotlight as she matures as a painter (and Laurie’s eventual wife); and Meg is realized with newfound nuance: “We felt it was important to show Meg juggling all her roles — a mother, a wife, a sister — whilst also celebrating her dreams, despite them being different to those of her sisters,” says Watson. But Gerwig doesn’t see herself as reinventing the wheel. “A lot of the lines in the film are taken right from the book,” she explains. “When Amy says, ‘I want to be great or nothing’ — she says that in the book! I don’t think we remember that, but she does say it.” Gerwig also loves one line spoken by the sisters’ mother, Marmee (Laura Dern), also revived in this version: “I’m angry almost every single day.”

Gerwig compiled a “bible” filled with cultural references: to Whistler tableaux of family life, to David Bowie–Jean Seberg hairdos that inspire the look of Jo’s mid-film cut, to Alcott family letters. “I wanted it to be footnote-able,” Gerwig says. “I wanted to point to it and say, ‘This is where this is from.’” She considers Alcott’s text sacred: “I wanted to treat the text as something that could be made fresh by great acting.”

Beyond those charged but less quoted Little Women lines are its famous ones — throw-pillow staples like Jo’s “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” that no adaptation is complete without. The actors rehearsed these “almost like a song,” pushing to move through them with a rapid musicality. “We [read] the book out loud,” says Dern. Gerwig expected the script’s words to be memorized precisely. “I knew I wanted them to get this cadence that felt sparkly and slightly irreverent,” she says. “I wanted to make them move at the speed of light.”

She poured the same love into iconic scenes, like Jo and Laurie’s ebullient dance that follows their first meeting. Here it goes on longer — and more vibrantly — than in any previous iteration. (Ronan says they filmed it at 3 a.m., to boot, adding, “We must have done it, like, 30 times.”) Then there’s the devastating moment when Laurie asks Jo to marry him and she rejects his proposal. Gerwig tasked the two actors to unleash here. “Emotions just bubble over,” Ronan says. “[Greta] just let us go with it, wherever it went, from take to take. What I loved about that scene is that every take would be different emotionally. It didn’t have the same trajectory.

“The two of us, it’s a relationship I have with no other director,” Ronan continues. “She makes me feel like I can try anything.”

Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures

As Ronan and Chalamet emerge from their photo-studio dressing area in impossibly chic new ensembles — she donning a form-fitting knit sweater, he a silky, ruffled top — their creative energy fills the space. They try out different poses, debating concepts and ideas with each other on the fly; at one point he wraps his arms around her waist, and she quips to no one in particular, “We’re expecting our first.” Camera snap.

They’re modeling a new brand of movie stardom — pursuing projects with a point of view, adamantly being themselves in the public eye, subverting gender norms. Their androgynous fashion performance here reflects their wardrobe shake-ups in Little Women: Gerwig and Oscar-winning costumer Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina) had the two actors swapping clothes throughout filming, to reinforce the masculine-feminine fluidity between Jo and Laurie. “They are two halves,” as Pascal puts it. “These are really bold characters that are really different than you’ve seen them before.”

And just as Gerwig expressed a need to direct Little Women, Ronan knew in her bones she needed to play Jo. She’d first encountered the story via the 1994 film when she was 11, and later read the book, feeling an immediate kinship with the young woman she’d come to portray. “When Louisa describes Jo, it felt like someone describing me physically: sort of gangly and stubborn and very straightforward, and went for what she wanted.” At an event for Lady Bird, she — in a very Jo kind of way — just “went at it” by approaching Gerwig. “I said, ‘So I want to be in Little Women, but only if I’m playing Jo.’” (Chalamet, for his part, was asked by Gerwig, “Hey, want to do another movie?” He responded: “Yes. Yes, please.”)

Over months of living in Concord with her castmates, Ronan discovered new depths within herself: “Jo’s ethos is ‘Everything everyone else is doing, I’m going to do the opposite.’ [I had] to try things that I’d never tried before. Be a bit messier with a performance.” Gerwig set up etiquette lessons for the cast; whatever the instructor said (“Don’t shake hands! Don’t gesticulate with your arms!”), Ronan made sure to ignore it. She speaks now of this as freeing, even transformative. “I felt like I had tapped into something I’d never gotten the opportunity to tap into before, or I just didn’t have the guts to tap into myself,” she says. “Finding that was just amazing.”

Shortly after wrapping Little Women, she filmed Wes Anderson’s next film, The French Dispatch — marking her third time costarring with Chalamet, who plays a central role. As for now? Ronan is taking a little break. “I’ll wait for the right thing to come along,” she says. “It’s lovely to be in a position at this moment where I can wait for the absolute right thing.” Same goes for Chalamet — he shot Netflix’s The King (out Oct. 11) right before Little Women and just completed production on Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation. “It’s the first time in almost two years I’ve gotten a breath, so I’m savoring it.”

It’s been a long day. They’re back in comfy clothes; Ronan is taking a late lunch. It feels like both actors — as another whirlwind of acclaim and press and romance-shipping awaits — are at a kind of peace, exhausted but satisfyingly so. Little Women is the biggest movie either has done to date; more attention, as they inhabit such revered characters, is sure to follow. “I just haven’t thought about it that way,” Ronan admits. “Maybe because it’s just Greta — even though it’s on a much bigger scale, she wanted it to feel like Lady Bird.”

Ronan understands the timeless power of Little Women, of course: “It’s as important to tell Little Women right now as it would be at any point in our lifetime.” She points to this pop culture climate of “celebrating female friendships and sisterhood,” and continues, “It’s a story that’s full of love. That will always be relevant.”

She turns toward Chalamet, and you realize the love they brought to Alcott’s classic is what first blossomed between them on Lady Bird. “I love that in Lady Bird, you broke my heart,” she says to him softly. “In Little Women, I got to break your heart.” (Chalamet, ever the goofball, finds an obvious opening: “Yes, that’s true. Then I married your sister. Ha, ha, ha!”)

If this all sounds a little idyllic, well, neither actor — nor Gerwig, nor Pascal, nor the rest of the cast — can do much to convince you otherwise. Shifting back to Little Women’s timelessness, and reflecting on Ronan’s comments about it, Chalamet says, “I don’t know how to add to that.” Instead he turns back to his costar, his expression suddenly sincere, filled with gratitude. “But if I can add one little dose of information,” he says with a nervous laugh. “And not just because she’s sitting next to me.” He credits Ronan with bringing that “timeless energy.” He says “thank God” they were able to make the movie. “It’s so rare with Saoirse — I’m so f—ing grateful to get to work with her,” he says. “Whatever book I write for myself when I’m older, to look back on —” He stops himself. “Well, this is a bigger conversation.”

But Ronan, chuckling, doesn’t let him off the hook. “Will I have, like, a chapter?” And Chalamet laughs — another opening, another chance to act with his greatest scene partner, to see what journey of creation and discovery they’ll go on next. “A chapter of Saoirse,” he says.

At this rate, one chapter won’t suffice.

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

Related content:

Every Little Women TV and movie adaptation, ranked

A handy refresher guide to the characters in Little Women

EW’s fall movie guide: 22 films you should see this season

Zombieland: Double Tap stars talk zom-coms, Emma Stone doppelgängers, and global warming

https://ew.com/movies/2019/10/16/zombieland-double-tap-around-the-table/

The Zombieland cast never thought they’d be back together 10 years after the release of their cult film, but, here they are with Zombieland: Double Tap — and they couldn’t be having more fun.

Ahead of the long-awaited sequel’s Oct. 18 release, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and director Ruben Fleischer gathered for a wide-ranging discussion on EW’s new series Around the Table.

“I don’t think I would have believed it would ever happen,” Flesicher said of reuniting for Double Tap. “So without being too schmaltzy, this really was a dream come true to be able to get these guys back together.”

To which Stone cracked, “Oh, the schmaltz on this guy!”

The actress, who has scored an Oscar and two more nominations since the release of Zombieland, added, “Everyone was very excited about the idea of all getting together again, because we had such a great time on the first. But the script had to really come together in a way that made a lot of sense and wasn’t just, ‘Oh, we’re going and having fun together and making a movie while we do it.’”

“We were cautious to make sure it’s as great as the first one,” Eisenberg said.

Still, they had a pretty good time doing so. “I can’t speak for everyone here, but I will say, for me, [it was] the funnest possible experience,” said Harrelson. Then Eisenberg deadpanned, “Yeah, you can’t speak for everybody.”

Jessica Miglio/Columbia Pictures

Since it was so enjoyable, could the gang get back together every 10 years like Stone has suggested? Harrelson had a dark answer to that, staking the franchise’s potential future on global warming. “Do you have to tell the truth in an interview?” Stone said to her costar. “But in 10 years, even in the midst of global warming, do you think that there could be a chance to do a Zombieland 3 and maybe let people escape that horrific reality for an hour and a half?”

Hopefully, we’ll find out. For more from the Double Tap team, including Jennifer Lawrence’s possible role and the cast’s discovery that Fleischer zombie-cheated on them, watch the interview above.

Related content:

Deadpool writers share update on character’s big-screen Marvel future
Jesse Eisenberg explains why Deadpool movies delayed Zombieland 2
Emma Stone wants to make a Zombieland film every 10 years

EWs fall movie guide: 22 movies you should see this season

https://ew.com/movies/2019/10/16/fall-movie-guide/

Life isn’t the only thing that starts over when it gets crisp in the fall — the changing of the leaves each year signals the beginning of prestige movie season. As the winds of the Academy Awards begin to blow in, so too do each studio’s hopefuls. But fall 2019 brings more than just Oscar bait: EW is previewing 21 titles that will be hitting theaters in November and December, and they range from high-brow biopic to live-action dog movie. Ahead, we’ve broken down everything you could ever wish to see this autumn.

POPCORN FAVORITES

Terminator: Dark Fate
Go for Sarah Connor saving the world, stay for the tête-à-têtes between Mackenzie Davis and Linda Hamilton. In this installment of the sci-fi franchise, a new Terminator is sent from the future and, well, chaos and ass-kicking ensue, including the fabulous cinematic one-two punch of stars Davis and Hamilton. Original Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger is in this iteration, but you might actually forget that while you’re crushing on the other actors. (Theaters Nov. 1)

Charlie’s Angels
Go for a revisit of your favorite lady spies, stay for the introduction to a phenomenal new cast (including Kristen Stewart). The latest Angels sees the Townsend Agency gone international, and director Elizabeth Banks — who also wrote the script and plays Bosley — called on some BYTs. Newcomer Ella Balinksi is the bona fide action star, Aladdin’s Naomi Scott plays the charming newcomer to the Angels, and Stewart holds it all together with comedic chops you’d never expect. (Theaters Nov. 15)

Lady and the Tramp
Go for the cute dogs falling in love, stay for the… cute dogs falling in love. This is the same classic story we all know and love, redone with live-action pups. It will also play on Disney’s new streaming service, but we know you’ve stopped listening and started picturing how they’re going to do that spaghetti scene. Don’t worry, we’ll have a photo of that. (Disney+ Nov. 12)

Last Christmas
Go for the holiday cheer, stay for many scenes of Henry Golding in an overcoat. A very well-tailored overcoat. The Crazy Rich Asians star plays a bike courier who meets-cute with Emilia Clarke’s curmudgeonly department store elf. Just know that this is more Love, Actually than The Holiday, so be prepared for a bit of an emotional roller coaster. (Theaters Nov. 8)

6 Underground
Go for Michael Bay’s signature explosive scenes, stay for Ryan Reynolds making quippy one-liners. Or maybe it’s the other way around? This is kind of like Deadpool but with vigilantes who cancel their old selves by choice, and it’s streaming so you won’t have to pay for a ticket. (Netflix Dec. 13)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Go to see what all the hype is about (again), stay for the Resistance. Picking up where The Last Jedi left off, this ninth installment of the Skywalker saga will conclude the epic showdown between the Jedi and the Sith. (Theaters Dec. 20)

REAL PEOPLE

Harriet
Go for the heavily important biopic story, stay to see what may be Cynthia Erivo’s final step toward the EGOT. She won a Tony as the lead actress in The Color Purple, a Grammy for the cast recording album, and a Daytime Emmy for their performance on the Today show. Now she portrays the heroic Harriet Tubman in this tale of the Underground Railroad. (Theaters Nov. 1)

Ford v Ferrari
Go for the fast cars, stay for Christian Bale and Matt Damon’s tête-à-têtes. The decorated actors meet on screen for the first time — take that, Pitt and DiCaprio — in this retelling of a race car driver and a designer who team up to try to beat the infamous Enzo Ferrari. It might seem like a flick for “car people” only, but the dynamic between Bale and Damon is worth sitting through all those racing scenes. (Theaters Nov. 15)

The Report
Go for prestige Adam Driver, stay for a riveting story about a congressional report. Yes, we said a riveting story about a congressional report. Driver plays Dianne Feinstein staffer Daniel Jones, who was tasked with exposing the CIA’s cover-up of torture and met with many (bipartisan) roadblocks, to say it as benignly as possible. (Theaters Nov. 15, Amazon Prime Nov. 29)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Go for Mister Rogers, stay for Tom Hanks and Daniel Tiger. Viewers still reeling from last year’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor can rest assured that this won’t tear apart their emotional insides in quite the same way — it’s actually about an Esquire reporter (played by Matthew Rhys) who is forever changed after writing a profile of the beloved children’s show host. (Theaters Nov. 22)

Bombshell
Go for Charlize Theron’s uncanny transformation into Megyn Kelly, stay for a powerful takedown of a bad, bad man. We just marked the second anniversary of first explosive Harvey Weinstein exposés, and it’s easy to forget that Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment claim against then-chairman Roger Ailes (played by John Lithgow), which led to his ultimate downfall. Theron’s onscreen similarities to Kelly are a sight to behold, but don’t sleep on Margot Robbie’s performance as a fictional associate producer at the network (theaters Dec. 20).

Just Mercy
Go for the all-star cast lineup (Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, and Brie Larson), stay for a real-life superhero tale. MBJ (who also produced the film) plays lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who sidestepped the opportunity for highly lucrative big-name gigs in order to move to Alabama and defend the wrongfully accused. The case at the center of Just Mercy is that of Walter McMillian (Foxx) — the legal team battled years of overt racism to overturn his death penalty sentence. It’s also worth mentioning that this is the inaugural flick under Jordan’s Inclusion Rider policy, which he adopted after Frances McDormand’s 2018 Oscars speech (theaters Dec 25).

AUTEURS

Marriage Story
Go for Noah Baumbach, stay for prestige Adam Driver. This time he’s playing the estranged husband of Scarlett Johansson in a very Baumbachian portrait of divorce proceedings. Laura Dern plays Johannson’s divorce lawyer and is, well, as wonderful as one would expect. (Theaters Nov. 6, Netflix Dec. 6)

Honey Boy
Go for Shia LaBeouf’s life story, stay for… must we say more? The child-actor-turned-adult-actor has long been the subject of interest given his unique childhood. and Honey Boy is a rough retelling, complete with an attempted reconciliation with a long-lost father. (Theaters Nov. 8)

The Irishman
Go for Martin Scorsese, stay because this movie is three and a half hours long and if you don’t stay you’ll lose all bragging rights. Consider this peak Scorsese (read: mobsters in the Tri-State Area) made even better by Joe Pesci’s return to the silver screen after years spent off camera. (Theaters Nov. 1, Netflix Nov. 27)

Dark Waters
Go for Todd Haynes, stay because you forgot how much you’ve missed Spotlight. The director, who helmed 2016’s awards-season darling Carol, this time takes on a chemical company that has been poisoning the residents of a small town. Mark Ruffalo is the corporate lawyer who takes on the case. (Theaters Nov. 22)

Little Women
Go for Greta Gerwig, stay for Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet’s onscreen reunion. The actors transferred their Lady Bird charm into this tale as old as time, and a magnificent cast (Emma Watson! Florence Pugh! Laura Dern!) makes it feel as modern as ever. (Theaters Dec. 25)

AMERICAN CRIME STORIES

Motherless Brooklyn
Go to witness Edward Norton’s passion project, stay for old-timey New York. The actor stars in and directs this adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s novel of the same name — about a detective with Tourette syndrome who sets out to solve the murder of his mentor — and is joined by Bruce Willis, Leslie Mann, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. (Theaters Nov. 1)

The Good Liar
Go for Helen Mirren, stay for Ian McKellen — they’re a new couple who are probably both conning the crap out of each other, but it’s a lot more exciting than that sounds. (Theaters Nov. 15)

Queen & Slim
Go for Lena Waithe’s feature film screenwriting debut, stay for Melina Matsoukas’ feature directing debut. The powerhouse duo bring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith onto the screen as a couple who go on the run after a police traffic stop goes terrifyingly awry. Police brutality, and the ways in which the black community is forced to confront it, will never stop be compelling — but this film takes on the topic in a wholly surprising way. (Theaters Nov. 27)

Knives Out
Go for Chris Evans doing an a—hole bit, stay for an unbelievably autumnal setting and a house you’ll probably be, ahem, dying to live in. Evans is one member of an absurdly entertaining and dysfunctional family that descends into (hilarious) chaos after their patriarch dies mysteriously and leaves an even more mysterious will. It’s a classic whodunit made all the better by its rich-people-are-crazy high jinks. (Theaters Nov. 27)

Uncut Gems
Go to see the movie that will probably earn Adam Sandler an Oscar nomination. It’s a riveting, high-pulse story of a New York City hustler and also stars Kevin Garnett — we promise that five minutes into the film, that will all make sense and feel so, so right. (Theaters Dec. 13)

Erin Morgenstern celebrates literary magic with The Starless Sea

https://ew.com/author-interviews/2019/10/16/erin-morgenstern-celebrates-literary-magic-the-starless-sea/

Erin Morgenstern has magic to make.

Eight years ago, she delivered her phantasmagorical debut novel, The Night Circus, of which a staggering 3 million copies have been sold. Now, the author returns with a new fantastical fairy-tale for grown-ups, The Starless Sea. The new novel, out Nov. 5, is a love letter to all things literary.

Morgenstern knows fans have been waiting a long time for her sophomore novel, but she was possessed by a desire to get it right. She tells EW she re-wrote The Starless Sea three or four times from scratch in her quest to nail down precisely what it should be.

“I got to write The Night Circus in a bubble,” she explains. “No one knew who I was and no one knew it was coming. I wanted to be able to recreate that bubble, which of course was easier said than done. I have a very long, messy writing process. I’m not an outliner. I have a space in my head, and I need to figure out where the story is and how to write my way through the space. I don’t know how anyone writes a novel, and I’ve got two of them now.”

Morgenstern started with a relatively simple idea: writing a book about books. “I’m not the sort of writer that always wanted to be a writer,” she says. “I was a theatre kid and I do visual art, and I stumbled into this a little bit, so I kept coming back to getting a little meta and writing a book about why I was writing a book.”

The result is something far more complicated: a sprawling tale bursting with books-within-books and a multi-level underground fantasy space that’s basically a bibliophile paradise come to life. In The Starless Sea, Morgenstern finds magic within the pages of books and climbs shelves of the most mesmerizing of libraries. “I found it was easier to tell the story by making it more complicated. By adding in more backstories and more books within books and more layers to it,” muses Morgenstern.

At its simplest level, The Starless Sea follows Zachary Rawlins, a young man who discovers a mysterious book in his university library that seems to recount his own experiences as a child when he saw a painted door on the streets of New Orleans but chose not to open it. Now a graduate student, Zachary embarks on a quest that takes him through one of those doors and into an underground wonderland, where the heart of the action and the core of the novel’s central mysteries take place.

This secret world had been in Morgenstern’s imagination for decades; similarly, the titular circus in The Night Circus occupied a similar nebulous space in her brain before she spun it into a best-selling novel. For her, it’s about crafting places she wishes she could visit. “I write the spaces that I want to go to,” she says. “Everyone wants their Hogwarts letter. I don’t want to have to do homework. I don’t want that school-set fantasy. But I like so many of the elements of it, so I was trying to think: what would be my space? It’s more of an upper university free study [where] no one’s grading you. You have all of the books and the stories and the resources to do whatever you want. It’s my version of that ideal imaginary space.”

When this space that had taken up real estate in her brain for so long collided with a new hobby, Morgenstern unlocked the key to her story structure. Zachary studies game theory, and the novel relies frequently on rules and tropes of video game design. Playing games changed everything for the author.

“I got really into these games that had these branching narratives. You make one choice and then it affects where the game goes from there,” she explains. “I had the beginning of what became The Starless Sea before I got really into video games. Then I thought, ‘Oh, this would layer really nicely onto what I already have.’ Because I was already playing with stories, the way you have fairy-tale retellings or different variations on myths.  I wanted to combine that very modern video game sensibility with those very old stories.”

That merging of old and new extends to Morgenstern’s meditations on preservation and physical books. The Starless Sea is a tribute to the power of stories, but also an ode to the physical objects themselves. “I’m such a paper-book person. I try reading things on e-readers and I hadn’t realized until I tried it how much I like the physical feel of a book in my hand,” she reflects. “I like [the feeling of] moving through the story where it actually feels like a shifting weight.”

But don’t take that to mean she’s a Luddite or overly precious either. The Starless Sea is also very much about keeping stories alive, allowing them to evolve and change; it’s essential to her hero’s journey and the survival of the world she’s conceived. “It’s that balance of old and new; you want to preserve elements of what you have, but it also needs to leave room for new life and change and growth,” she explains. “A thought I was leaning on was, ‘What happens if you just put something under glass?’ The books need to be read. And if you read them until they fall apart, that’s ok.”

Morgenstern’s characters cling to certain texts because their lives literally depend upon it. (Oh, right, and they might just hold the untold secrets of the universe.) It’s a notion book lovers can take comfort in — the sense that a book or a series can save your life or open up the world to you in new ways. But, strangely, it’s not a personal experience Morgenstern was drawing on. “I liked getting to write their attachments to their respective books, but I don’t have that book,” she explains. “I have a lot of books that I love; I don’t have any book tattoos or anything that’s that [meaningful on that scale]. Maybe someday I will, and that will be lovely, but right now I don’t, and that’s one of the reasons I liked writing about that for other characters: to write something that is a thing I wish I had.”

One thing Morgenstern doesn’t need to wish for is literary success. Comparisons to the likes of Tolkien, Carroll, and C.S. Lewis abound. The Starless Sea poses big questions about stories — the ones we read, the ones we live, and the ones we tell ourselves. And at the heart of her work lies the themes that have provoked those comparisons: redemption, sacrifice, fate, time, reincarnation.

These are all, tellingly, subjects that have made up the subtext of religious canons (and fantasy novels) for centuries. Morgenstern demurs at the notion she’s engaging with any particular ideology, describing it instead as a “mythic” tone. “That spiritual, not religious, agnostic-pagan [stance] Zachary has is basically me,” she notes. “I like the question asking more than finding the answer. Where a lot of that stemmed from is the idea that fate gives you doors and you have to open them. It’s not a matter of the universe is dictating all these things and everything is pre-ordained and pre-destined.”

Nothing may be preordained, but we’re willing to bet the embrace of this deeper, darker, more complex follow-up novel might be close to a sure thing. As Morgenstern posits, The Starless Sea is a door to another world — one just waiting for readers to open it.

Related content:

EWs fall movie guide: 21 movies you should see this season

https://ew.com/movies/2019/10/16/fall-movie-guide/

Life isn’t the only thing that starts over when it gets crisp in the fall — the changing of the leaves each year signals the beginning of prestige movie season. As the winds of the Academy Awards begin to blow in, so too do each studio’s hopefuls. But fall 2019 brings more than just Oscar bait: EW is previewing 21 titles that will be hitting theaters in November and December, and they range from high-brow biopic to live-action dog movie. Ahead, we’ve broken down everything you could ever wish to see this autumn.

POPCORN FAVORITES

Terminator: Dark Fate
Go for Sarah Connor saving the world, stay for the tête-à-têtes between Mackenzie Davis and Linda Hamilton. In this installment of the sci-fi franchise, Skynet sends a new Terminator from the future and, well, chaos and ass-kicking ensue, including the fabulous cinematic one-two punch of stars Davis and Hamilton. Original Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger is in this iteration, but you might actually forget that while you’re crushing on the other actors. (Theaters Nov. 1)

Charlie’s Angels
Go for a revisit of your favorite lady spies, stay for the introduction to a phenomenal new cast (including Kristen Stewart). The latest Angels sees the Townsend Agency gone international, and director Elizabeth Banks — who also wrote the script and plays Bosley — called on some BYTs. Newcomer Ella Balinksi is the bona fide action star, Aladdin’s Naomi Scott plays the charming newcomer to the Angels, and Stewart holds it all together with comedic chops you’d never expect. (Theaters Nov. 15)

Lady and the Tramp
Go for the cute dogs falling in love, stay for the… cute dogs falling in love. This is the same classic story we all know and love, redone with live-action pups. It will also play on Disney’s new streaming service, but we know you’ve stopped listening and started picturing how they’re going to do that spaghetti scene. Don’t worry, we’ll have a photo of that. (Disney+ Nov. 12)

Last Christmas
Go for the holiday cheer, stay for many scenes of Henry Golding in an overcoat. A very well-tailored overcoat. The Crazy Rich Asians star plays a successful businessman — this is a holiday rom-com — who meets-cute with Emilia Clarke’s curmudgeonly department store elf. Just know that this is more Love, Actually than The Holiday, so be prepared for a bit of an emotional roller coaster. (Theaters Nov. 8)

6 Underground
Go for Michael Bay’s signature explosive scenes, stay for Ryan Reynolds making quippy one-liners. Or maybe it’s the other way around? This is kind of like Deadpool but with vigilantes who cancel their old selves by choice, and it’s streaming so you won’t have to pay for a ticket. (Netflix Dec. 13)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Go to see what all the hype is about (again), stay for the Resistance. Picking up where The Last Jedi left off, this ninth installment of the Skywalker saga will conclude the epic showdown between the Jedi and the Sith. (Theaters Dec. 20)

REAL PEOPLE

Harriet
Go for the heavily important biopic story, stay to see what may be Cynthia Erivo’s final step toward the EGOT. She won a Tony as the lead actress in The Color Purple, a Grammy for the cast recording album, and a Daytime Emmy for their performance on the Today show. Now she portrays the heroic Harriet Tubman in this tale of the Underground Railroad. (Theaters Nov. 1)

Ford v Ferrari
Go for the fast cars, stay for Christian Bale and Matt Damon’s tête-à-têtes. The decorated actors meet on screen for the first time — take that, Pitt and DiCaprio — in this retelling of a race car driver and a designer who team up to try to beat the infamous Enzo Ferrari. It might seem like a flick for “car people” only, but the dynamic between Bale and Damon is worth sitting through all those racing scenes. (Theaters Nov. 15)

The Report
Go for prestige Adam Driver, stay for a riveting story about a congressional report. Yes, we said a riveting story about a congressional report. Driver plays Dianne Feinstein staffer Daniel Jones, who was tasked with exposing the CIA’s cover-up of torture and met with many (bipartisan) roadblocks, to say it as benignly as possible. (Theaters Nov. 15, Amazon Prime Nov. 29)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Go for Mister Rogers, stay for Tom Hanks and Daniel Tiger. Viewers still reeling from last year’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor can rest assured that this won’t tear apart their emotional insides in quite the same way — it’s actually about an Esquire reporter (played by Matthew Rhys) who is forever changed after writing a profile of the beloved children’s show host. (Theaters Nov. 22)

Bombshell
Go for Charlize Theron’s uncanny transformation into Megyn Kelly, stay for a powerful takedown of a bad, bad man. We just marked the second anniversary of first explosive Harvey Weinstein exposés, and it’s easy to forget that Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment claim against then-chairman Roger Ailes (played by John Lithgow), which led to his ultimate downfall. Theron’s onscreen similarities to Kelly are a sight to behold, but don’t sleep on Margot Robbie’s performance as a fictional associate producer at the network. (Theaters Dec. 20)

AUTEURS

Marriage Story
Go for Noah Baumbach, stay for prestige Adam Driver. This time he’s playing the estranged husband of Scarlett Johansson in a very Baumbachian portrait of divorce proceedings. Laura Dern plays Johannson’s divorce lawyer and is, well, as wonderful as one would expect. (Theaters Nov. 6, Netflix Dec. 6)

Honey Boy
Go for Shia LaBeouf’s life story, stay for… must we say more? The child-actor-turned-adult-actor has long been the subject of interest given his unique childhood. and Honey Boy is a rough retelling, complete with an attempted reconciliation with a long-lost father. (Theaters Nov. 8)

The Irishman
Go for Martin Scorsese, stay because this movie is three and a half hours long and if you don’t stay you’ll lose all bragging rights. Consider this peak Scorsese (read: mobsters in the Tri-State Area) made even better by Joe Pesci’s return to the silver screen after years spent off camera. (Theaters Nov. 1, Netflix Nov. 27)

Dark Waters
Go for Todd Haynes, stay because you forgot how much you’ve missed Spotlight. The director, who helmed 2016’s awards-season darling Carol, this time takes on a chemical company that has been poisoning the residents of a small town. Mark Ruffalo is the corporate lawyer who takes on the case. (Theaters Nov. 22)

Little Women
Go for Greta Gerwig, stay for Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet’s onscreen reunion. The actors transferred their Lady Bird charm into this tale as old as time, and a magnificent cast (Emma Watson! Florence Pugh! Laura Dern!) makes it feel as modern as ever. (Theaters Dec. 25)

AMERICAN CRIME STORIES

Motherless Brooklyn
Go to witness Edward Norton’s passion project, stay for old-timey New York. The actor stars in and directs this adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s novel of the same name — about a detective with Tourette syndrome who sets out to solve the murder of his mentor — and is joined by Bruce Willis, Leslie Mann, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. (Theaters Nov. 1)

The Good Liar
Go for Helen Mirren, stay for Ian McKellen — they’re a new couple who are probably both conning the crap out of each other, but it’s a lot more exciting than that sounds. (Theaters Nov. 15)

Queen & Slim
Go for Lena Waithe’s feature film screenwriting debut, stay for Melina Matsoukas’ feature directing debut. The powerhouse duo bring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith onto the screen as a couple who go on the run after a police traffic stop goes terrifyingly awry. Police brutality, and the ways in which the black community is forced to confront it, will never stop be compelling — but this film takes on the topic in a wholly surprising way. (Theaters Nov. 27)

Knives Out
Go for Chris Evans doing an a—hole bit, stay for an unbelievably autumnal setting and a house you’ll probably be, ahem, dying to live in. Evans is one member of an absurdly entertaining and dysfunctional family that descends into (hilarious) chaos after their patriarch dies mysteriously and leaves an even more mysterious will. It’s a classic whodunit made all the better by its rich-people-are-crazy high jinks. (Theaters Nov. 27)

Uncut Gems
Go to see the movie that will probably earn Adam Sandler an Oscar nomination. It’s a riveting, high-pulse story of a New York City hustler and also stars Kevin Garnett — we promise that five minutes into the film, that will all make sense and feel so, so right. (Theaters Dec. 13)

From Parasite to Hustlers: How 2019 became the year of cinematic class conflict

https://ew.com/movies/2019/10/15/parasite-2019-cinematic-class-conflict/

WARNING: Minor spoilers for Parasite are discussed below. Proceed with caution. 

Just a few days after opening in limited theaters in coastal U.S. cities, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is already being hailed as one of the year’s best movies. A common refrain in the glowing reviews is that Parasite succeeds by openly depicting class warfare; EW’s own Leah Greenblatt calls it “a serrating, brilliantly stylized portrait of class and fate and family in modern-day Korea.” Though the title hints at sci-fi or horror (perhaps a spiritual sequel to Bong’s 2006 monster movie The Host? You might think at first glance), Parasite is in fact laser-focused on the down-to-Earth struggle between the poor Kim family and the wealthy Parks, whose mansion they begin to infiltrate, one servant position at a time. 

“In terms of labor, the rich can be considered parasites,” Bong tells EW. “They have to leech off other people’s labor for everything from driving to housekeeping. Although they pay money, they live off the labor of others. But when I was first coming up with this narrative, when I first got the idea, I did focus more on the poor family as the parasites, because it all starts with them infiltrating the rich house, sort of like parasites entering the host.”

Parasite is far from the first time Bong has used a genre film to explore class tensions on screen. His 2013 sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer depicted a post-apocalyptic human society living inside of a single, perpetually-moving train. There, class was delineated by which section of the train one lived in: The poor and working-class rabble were stuffed into the industrial “tail” cars while the inhabitants of the “front” sections lived in opulent luxury. Another way this hierarchy manifested was in the all-important water supply, which flowed from the front cars — where the nose of the train breaks up surrounding snow to create water in the first place — all the way back to the tail. (As Tilda Swinton’s upper-class authoritarian told Chris Evans’ soot-covered revolutionary: “The water comes in the mouth, not in the bum, Curtis!”) Though Parasite is more firmly rooted in our real-life present moment than a far-flung dystopia, water also provides an important visualization of its class hierarchy. 

Since the Kims live in a semi-basement apartment, the toilet is one of the most elevated things in their home — towards the beginning of the movie, when they’re desperately trying to mooch off a neighbor’s wi-fi signal, they can only get reception by climbing on top of it. Another way of measuring their poverty is the drunk man who consistently comes to urinate right in front of their window. Later in the movie, a great rainstorm hits the area. For the rich Parks, the rain mostly amounts to an annoying cancellation of their young son’s birthday camping trip, but for the Kims, it means a devastating flood. 

“In this film, water (including urine) represents misfortune and disaster,” Bong says. “Unfortunately water always flows from top to bottom, never the other way around. Water flows from the rich neighborhood to the poor neighborhood. That’s a really tragic element of this film, and I tried to represent that visually through the rain sequence.”

The rain, and the different ways it is felt by Parasite’s various characters, is a turning point in the film. After that, the simmering class tensions boil over until they erupt in a devastating climax of violence. Many of Bong’s films end in destruction: Think of the Snowpiercer rebels overturning the whole train, or Okja’s animal activists getting rounded up by fascist mercenaries. 

“Those different tensions exist on various levels in reality as well, but you rarely see explosive events that face those tensions head-on. Usually they’re very ambiguous and sticky and they just continue in that way,” Bong says. “But through film and a three-act structure, you’re able to deal with those explosive moments when the tension finally comes to the forefront. I always consider myself a genre filmmaker. Sometimes they’re more directly based on genre like Snowpiercer, and sometimes relatively less so like Parasite, but by using genre conventions I can really let those tensions explode through the narrative. That allows us to really show the tension even more clearly, rather than letting it ambiguously carry on. There are films that really manage to show that ambiguous tension, but as a genre filmmaker, I always take the approach of genre to tackle those issues, and that’s why my films are always a mix of black comedy and tragedy.”

Courtesy of NEON CJ Entertainment

2019 has been a good year for genre films unafraid to explosively confront class conflict. Jordan Peele’s Us, for one, used horror movie tropes to depict a life-or-death struggle between a comfortable, surface-dwelling middle class and the oppressed underclass suffering in the dark to make their lifestyle possible. When mass class warfare fails, some of Us’ Tethered take a similar approach to betterment as Parasite’s protagonists: Infiltrating the rich surface world by replacing one person at a time.

Even Joker, this fall’s much-discussed comic book movie, has class struggle on the brain. Contrary to previous interpretations of the Joker, Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck is a mentally ill abuse survivor whose few remaining connections to society are slowly ground down by ‘70s austerity politics and the uncaring abandonment of billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen). But the class tension goes beyond Arthur himself; throughout the movie Gotham City is being wracked by a sanitation workers’ strike, causing garbage to pile on the streets in proportion to Arthur’s own deteriorating mental state. The last straw comes when Arthur gets mocked and beaten on the subway by a group of well-dressed young businessmen; when Arthur opens fire on them in a burst of desperate violence, it ignites a city-wide protest movement against the rich. 

Then there’s Ready Or Not, the horror thriller about a young woman named Grace (Samara Weaving) who tries to marry into a rich family. For her trouble, she spends her wedding night hiding from her wealthy in-laws, who are hunting her with crossbows and sharp blades. The film’s backstory sheds light on why we might be seeing such films these days.

“The themes of class and the 1 percent were present from the very first draft we read, but Fox Searchlight got on board the day after the 2016 election,” co-director Matt Bettinelli-Olpin tells EW. “We literally went in there the next morning and it was like walking into a morgue, lots of gallows humor. Prior to that, the script had been a lot darker at the end, serving more as a warning of the 1 percent, but then after Trump’s election we all collectively agreed (us, the studio, the producers), ‘let’s have more fun with this and make it more cathartic and less of warning flag.’ She originally died in the end.” 

Eric Zachanowich/Fox Searchlight

Instead (spoiler warning), Grace does not die at the end of Ready Or Not; everyone else does. Despite being greatly outnumbered by her rich enemies, Grace has one advantage going for her: She just needs to survive until morning. If the members of the Le Domas dynasty fail to kill her before dawn, they’ll have to pay the ultimate price to their demonic benefactor Mr. Le Bail, per the terms of the Faustian bargain their ancestor made years ago to generate their family’s wealth in the first place. But the modern-day scions of the Le Domas family are so far removed from the original source of their fortunes that they are unfit to the task of doing the necessary work to preserve it. Instead of efficiently hunting down Grace in time for their deadline, these hapless rich people bumble through their own house, shooting and poisoning each other until Mr. Le Bail arrives with the sunrise to collect his collateral. 

“Our country is basically run by people who got their money from somebody who’s dead,” co-director Tyler Gillett says. “To us there’s just this intrinsic wrong there, when you pass this money down and these families get more and more powerful and continue to run the world. We’re seeing that with Trump now in a very real way. The questioning of it goes, at what point will you break from that tradition and step up and say, ‘okay it’s on me as someone in power to do something different,’ which is what the Adam Brody character ultimately embodies. And then you have the father figure Tony (Henry Czerny) who, up until he’s literally exploding, is still demanding that he’s in control and deserves it all.”

The contrast between people who have fortunes handed to them and people who have to work for a living is central to Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, this fall’s feel-good film about strippers who steal from rich Wall Street men and give to, well, themselves (based on a true story originally reported by New York magazine). 

Unlike most movies and TV shows that depict strippers, Hustlers tells its story from their point of view. As a result, audiences see the hard work that goes into the job, the various fees and obstacles and bosses the strippers have to put up with, and the inconsistent nature of the work. But even viewers who have never even set foot in a strip club can relate to the way the dancers’ lives are completely upended by the 2008 financial crisis, which decimates their ability to earn a living while making their Wall Street clients even richer. 

“There’s a misconception that strippers make thousands of dollars every night and the sky is raining money,” Scafaria tells EW. “In a way, when we were all living in 2007, we were under some false pretenses about the lives we were living. We were all standing on a rug that was about to be whipped out. There was definitely a before and after for all of us, much less the global economy, but certainly for these dancers with Wall Street in their backyard and the specific nature of their job. A lot of jobs have different versions of that, so there was something incredibly relatable about it to me. I wanted to highlight the pros and cons: The value of the freedom of it, the kind of money it can deliver on. There’s definitely an allure there that tonight could be a good night — tonight could pay the rent, could pay hospital bills and student loans and all kinds of things that are also part of the broken system. It was always a part of it, to show the day-to-day of it, and show how relatable it is to a lot of people.”

As Ramona, Jennifer Lopez plays the big sister to Hustlers’ other strippers like Destiny (Constance Wu). Lopez’s most talked-about scenes from the film are her initial performance, raking in countless bills while dancing to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” and her later tutorial to Destiny on the art of the pole dance. But in the wake of the financial crisis, Ramona is also the one who concocts the plan to get back at the bankers who crashed the economy by seducing, drugging, and conning them out of their money. 

Eventually, as in most great crime dramas, Ramona’s gang goes too far. They start taking from people who don’t have that much money to spare, and eventually bring the police down on their heads. Ramona stands by her philosophy, though. She delivers the film’s closing line: “It’s all a strip club. You have people tossing the money and people doing the dance.” It’s as succinct a description of how capitalism works in 2019 — where a handful of people have more money than they literally know what to do with, while others string together temp work and freelance gigs to make ends meet, or perform their life stories on GoFundMe to beg for help with medical expenses — as you could want.

“I think people have been on a journey with the movie. They watched it start as a movie about strippers and turn into a crime drama about our times. And so I think for me that summary of it was to honestly bring it back to everyone’s reality, which is that there is this struggle and you are kind of on one side or another in this class war,” Scafaria says. “Gender may have something to do with it. There are other factors that have a lot to do it: The house you grew up in, the opportunities you were given, the cards you were dealt. For me that was a very relatable way of bringing it back to the audience and asking them that question: Which one are you? I’ve certainly done the dance in my own job, which is why I very much find these women relatable. I just think we’ve all done the dance…unless you’re one of the people tossing them money.”

Hustlers is thus a searing portrait of America before and after the financial crisis — the kind that needed a few years of retrospect to fully grasp how little has changed in the years since. The 2008 crash swept President Barack Obama into office on a message of “change,” but most data agrees that the top 1 percent of Americans are actually even wealthier now than they were before the crisis. The poor, working, and middle classes? Not so much

And so here we are, in 2019, living in the age of Parasite. The financial crisis was international, of course, and the result is a world where poorer people have to fight for every scrap while the rich carry on in luxury. At the time of this writing, popular revolts have engulfed both Hong Kong (“the world’s most unequal place to live,” according to the New York Times) and Ecuador. Any piece of cinema hoping to depict our current moment would be remiss not to consider class conflict when it’s increasingly a fact of life. 

“As time passes, I hope people remember this film as portraying an honest portrayal of the times we live in,” Bong says. “I want people to look back on this film and say that’s how life actually was, and remember it as a sharp portrayal.”

Parasite is currently screening in limited release in New York and Los Angeles, and is set to expand to more theaters and cities next weekend. 

Related content:

Master Class: EW puts Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Strout in conversation

https://ew.com/author-interviews/2019/10/15/ann-patchett-elizabeth-strout-conversation-dutch-house-olive-again/

They’re two of the most decorated women in modern American letters: Elizabeth Strout, the Pulitzer Prize-winning maestro of Maine (her small-town epic Olive Kitteridge was adapted into an Emmy-sweeping 2014 miniseries, and Barack Obama named Anything Is Possible one of his favorite books of 2017), and Ann Patchett, whose lauded catalog includes the best-sellers Bel Canto and Commonwealth.

But on a bright fall morning in New York, they were just two old friends catching up to talk about their latest works — Olive, Again and The Dutch House, respectively — what they’re reading, and why you won’t find them on Instagram.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is your history together? How did you two first meet?

ANN PATCHETT: Okay, so the reason that we have an affection, other than the fact that she is one of my top three favorite living authors, is that her editor was a really good friend of mine, so that to me was the basis of our very immediate personal connection.

ELIZABETH STROUT: Yes. And so when we met it was almost like I knew you without having met you.

Because it does seem like novelists are generally more solitary, unless maybe they’re at a writers’ colony…

STROUT: [Wryly] Oh yes, “sex camp” is what it’s called.

But you did both have stories printed in Seventeen magazine early on, right?

STROUT: I read Ann Patchett’s story in Seventeen.

PATCHETT: No you did not. That I don’t believe.

STROUT: Yes, yes I did. That’s when I first saw your name, and I followed you ever since. Sorry I didn’t tell you that I was, like, stalking you! But the reason I remember is because I was struck with it.

PATCHETT: I wrote for Seventeen when I was in my middle 20s, and I was the slush reader for years and years for their junior fiction competition. So I would be the person who would get 3,000 stories and take it down to 10, and I got paid a dollar [per] story. I was just sort of [mimes paper tossing] throwing them over my shoulder.

Ann, your last novel, Commonwealth, was something much more personal after all the exotic locales of State of Wonder or Bel Canto. Elizabeth, your books have always been very much rooted in Maine — though Olive, Again also feels like culmination because you bring in characters from other works of yours, like The Burgess Boys and Amy and Isabelle. Did you do that purposefully, or do they just pop up?

STROUT: They just pop up for me. Like with Helen and Jim Burgess, all the sudden I realized, “Oh wow, the Burgess grandson would be old enough to go to camp, this is perfect!” It just came to me because they’re all right there and I just realized, “Oh bingo, fabulous.”

You’ve said in that past that Olive as a character came to you all at once.

STROUT: Oh yes, she showed up with a bang. Very fully formed.

Though, Ann, you said with Dutch House that you struggled initially with the first drafts?

PATCHETT: I threw the whole book out. I made a huge mistake early on, I turned left on like, page 12 when I should have turned right, and I wrote the whole book from that place. And I didn’t realize it until I was finished, and then I sat down to read it.

Do you permanently delete those left turns, or do you save them somewhere?

PATCHETT: I permanently delete them. I have no papers. [Turns to Strout] Do you have papers?

STROUT: I do have papers, and I rip them up as soon as I’m done with them.

PATCHETT: Well then that’s the definition of not having papers. [Laughs] It’s not like they’re going to the archives in Texas.

STROUT: Oh my God, no, no, no. I rip them in four squares and then put them in the wastebasket, it’s lovely! I enjoy it.

PATCHETT: I love you so much.

STROUT: I’m not going to leave a drop. Not a clean sheet, just my work.

PATCHETT: I’m going to die next to the fireplace, chucking. [Laughs] The greatest joy to me about throwing out this book is that not One. Person. Read it. And people are like, “Oh my God, what if you’re wrong?” I’m not wrong.

STROUT: I do understand that, I do.

Elizabeth, did you struggle at all in the writing of Again?

STROUT: Oh, this one just came out. I had one story written when Olive showed up again, and I thought, “Okay, okay,” and then all of the sudden, I was looking through my papers, which are now gone —

PATCHETT: In quarters.

STROUT: — and I realized I had pieces, scenes from Olive that I never used. And then I just started to realize, “Wait a minute, I guess I’m not done with her.” So I just wrote it. And it was arduous because it always is, but it was not arduous as some.

PATCHETT: And do you feel bad now that she’s really gone, now that everybody’s sort of really wrapped up?

STROUT: Yes I do actually, it’s funny. Because it’s like, “There we go, that’s her.”

PATCHETT: Well you could have the prequel…

STROUT: Yeah, but you know, she doesn’t interest me at that [younger] age, so I can’t do somebody that I can’t feel interested in.

Ann, reading The Dutch House made me think a lot about other books where houses loom so large…

PATCHETT: Manderley, Howards End, yeah, yeah.

Is there a real Dutch House for you?

PATCHETT: No, there isn’t, and there’s actually not many details, which was important to me. I had about a dozen and I would bear down on them hard and repeat them over and over again. If you took every sentence of a description of that house and put them together, it would be about a page and a half — the kitchen, the front hall. But it’s really important that the reader can bring in their own experience, and whatever they love.

STROUT: That’s so interesting, I understand that. And it worked!

PATCHETT: And that’s why there couldn’t be a house on the cover, because it has to be a house that the reader sees.

It’s such a striking painting, though.

PATCHETT: A friend of mine did it for me. I knew that’s what I wanted on the cover and I thought I could find it archivally, but all of the girls had bonnets and pinafores, so I asked my friend Noah Saturstrom if he could paint it, and I just said “She’s 10, she’s in a red coat.” And he still hasn’t read the book! He has three tiny kids, he doesn’t have time. [Laughs] He did it in four days. And it’s in my house, it’s so gorgeous.

To pivot a little bit, you both seem to excel at drawing deeply imperfect women. In books when women are “unlikeable,” a lot of the times that just seems to mean they’re headstrong, or they speak out of turn. But Olive can really be kind of an a—hole.

STROUT: [Laughs] Exactly.

PATCHETT: And I love that she gets love twice! She is this really flawed person and she is deeply cherished twice, that’s amazing. And I just heard that Lucy Barton’s a play?

With Laura Linney, right?

STROUT: Jan. 6 it opens [in previews], yes. I’m not that involved with it, but I went to a few rehearsals, and it was fascinating. She did it last summer in London, it’s a one-woman show.

You’ve both had the experience of seeing your novels on screen — Ann, you last year with Bel Canto, and Elizabeth, you with Olive Kitteridge on HBO. Is that weird to watch, because obviously it has to be so condensed and so many other people’s visions — the adaptor, the director, the actors — are in the mix. Do you still feel connected to your work in the same way once it’s adapted?

STROUT: It is [such] a different medium, so I feel connected to it, but not really, if you see what I mean. I admired very much what they did, but it felt like it was separate from me.

PATCHETT: I had nothing to do with the Bel Canto movie, and it literally opened in 20 American theaters — not cities, theaters. It played for one week and vanished. Like, it’s not even on Netflix, it’s so gone.

But you must get approached for pretty much everything you’ve written at this point. Does that tempt you, or are you wary?

STROUT: Oh, I’m very wary. The only reason that Laura Linney is playing Lucy Barton is because I envisioned Laura Linney playing Lucy Barton [laughs] — I think I told some journalist that, and after a little while she and I had lunch together. Because I saw her as Laura Linney, but I never thought it would happen, and the same with Olive Kitteridge and Frances McDormand. And they did a marvelous job, but yes I am wary. I’m not going to give my stuff to just anybody.

Do you both read a lot when you’re writing, or do you pull back from reading other people?

PATCHETT: I read constantly.

STROUT: Me too. If I had to stop reading while I was writing I would never read, and I need to read.

PATCHETT: To me it’s like walking, one leg is reading and one leg is walking, they’re so completely joined.

Politics seems to bleed into most things now, and the current situation does come in a little at the edges of Olive. Ann, were you happy to be clear of that with a historical novel?

PATCHETT: The Dutch House actually came very much out of the Trump election in the original idea, because it seemed like a moment that was such a celebration of wealth — that the very best thing would be that the richest person wins, and there’s such joy in a giant amount of money, and that’s what we want and that’s what we respect.

So my original idea was to write a book about a person who said, “I don’t want to be rich. I don’t find that the goal, I don’t find that attractive. In fact I find that repulsive.” And it was really a book about [the absent mother character] Ellna walking away.

It was so upsetting to her to be that rich that she would actually leave her family, and that was very directly from the election. So it’s funny when people say, “Oh your work isn’t political,” because one, everything is political, and two, you know where it comes from, but another person might not understand.

STROUT: Well I think everything’s political as well, because it just is. The personal is political, right?

PATCHETT: Yes! Every choice you make, where you shop, what you buy, how you conduct your life.

STROUT: I don’t have any president’s names in [Olive, Again], but just an allusion to who they might be at that time — just because she’s a woman who watches the news, she’s a member of the world, she has opinions. And so I just put that in in a small way because it’s her life, it would be real. She would not want to be riding in that car with that [Trump] bumper sticker.

I don’t want to draw too many parallels between your books but…

PATCHETT: I would not be disappointed if you did.

STROUT: Mmm hmm. [Both laugh]

Well, one thing is the mother-and-child aspect to both books, this sense of constant tension and then also some form of forgiveness. Olive loves her son so much, but she can’t seem to stop alienating him.

STROUT: No, she can’t do it! She’s Olive, she cannot get it together.

PATCHETT: You know, that relationship reminds me of Rabbit Angstrom and his son [from John Updike’s Rabbit novels].

STROUT: It’s so interesting that you say that, because I was just thinking about Rabbit at Rest and how the last line of that book is “Enough, enough.”

PATCHETT: I love that book so much. I read them all again about five years ago and it is just the ultimate master class, but that tension that he has with his son —

STROUT: I love it, love it.

What’s your relationship to technology? Ann, you sort of famously just have a flip phone, which you hardly use. Do you own e-readers, or spend much time on social media? Elizabeth, you talked about ripping up paper — do you actually write on paper?

STROUT: I do, I love it.

PATCHETT: Long ago, someone said that his grandmother wouldn’t use a microwave. She had gone through all these changes in technology, and then the microwave came along and she was like, “Enough.” And I feel like I drew my line about 20 years ago, so I have a flip phone but no one has the number. I use it when I travel and it’s in a drawer otherwise. I’ve never done any social media, I don’t text. I just don’t do any of those things. Not because I’m trying to take some stance on them, but because somehow I drew my line before all those things happened.

And when people raise their hands at events and say, “How do you have time to read all these books?” I’m like, “I don’t use the internet, and I don’t use a cell phone, and I don’t have kids.” Although the Malcolm Gladwell podcast is fantastic, that’s my only one. I listened to them all while I was in Utah by myself for three weeks finishing this book, and I just needed to hear somebody’s voice while I was eating dinner so I had dinner with Malcolm Gladwell every night. [Laughs]

STROUT: I do have a cell phone, and I like my cell phone.

Is this era of novelists interacting so directly with readers online unsettling to you, or is it just another way of doing what you would do on a book tour?

STROUT: It does really take down some barriers.

PATCHETT: All the barriers, everything. Sandy Boynton is a good friend of mine, and she goes online every day and puts a fabulous little chicken [illustration] out there or a hippo, and she has this wonderful relationship with her millions of readers, but she doesn’t go on book tour. So she finds what I do appalling and barbaric, which I do too. [Laughs]

And Liz Gilbert, too, connects in a really wonderful way with all these people. She does so much good — that she can say, “Hey, everybody, today is my birthday, could you all send $10 to this group that’s helping refugees at the border with legal aid?” And [claps hands] she raises $3 million in two minutes. The way she can take that and use it to help the world is phenomenal. And I just feel like, “Well, in another life.” But that ship sailed. I am who I am.

One upside to all that is when celebrities use their powers to promote books they love — particularly people like Bill Gates, Emma Watson, Reese Witherspoon…

PATCHETT: She picked my essays! She put on a red sweater and red lipstick that matched the cover and held it up, and my gosh, it was adorable. It was a book of essays, and it sold, only because she did that. Thank you, Reese.

Also I want to say, with the bookstore [Patchett is co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville], people don’t know what to read, and that’s a good thing, in many cases. They want a suggestion, they want to talk to you and look at books and pick them up, so if these different [celebrities] have book clubs, that’s great! Then people don’t feel intimidated because the book has already been vetted by Bill Gates or whoever, and that’s wonderful because if you read and you have a good experience with reading, then the next time you go into the bookstore you feel like, “Oh, I can do that by myself.”

It does feel that for all of the dominance of Amazon, people have also really returned to the idea of small brick-and-mortar bookstores — sort of the same way they’ve gone back to vinyl in the last 10 years or so, just because they love that analog part of it, the community.

PATCHETT: Oh, it’s me and Jack White. [Laughs] He’s pressing that vinyl. But yes! They do.

When you finish a book do you shed your writing skin for a while, or do you still find yourself having ideas or wanting to start the next thing?

STROUT: I am always writing. Always writing. So often what happens is I am finishing a book, another book has already begun in me. For some reason that happens.

PATCHETT: You’re actually writing. I’m thinking, but I’m totally not writing.

STROUT: It’s always been a gift in a way that I never knew was a gift, as many gifts are. But something will rise off the surface just as I’m finishing a book and I’ll realize, “Oh, that’s where I’m gonna go.”

PATCHETT: Liz came to Nashville once and and there was a snowstorm in New York where she couldn’t take off and she couldn’t land, and [turns to Strout] you were there for four days and you were writing. And you kept saying, “Oh, I’m so happy!” Just in this hotel room writing. And we’d have dinner every night, and I’d say, “Come stay at my house,” but you wouldn’t.

STROUT: And I felt so bad, but it was also kind of wonderful because I could be in touch with my husband and my daughter through my cell phone, because otherwise it was just this sterile room, and I got so much done. It was really fun! And I didn’t have to be touring for four days. [Laughs]

What are you both reading right now?

STROUT: Well, I have been going through a bunch of biographies, so right now I’m reading a biography of Tolstoy, and I then I have another one waiting, because I always like to read more than one biography of the same person — because I’m very aware that the biography I’m reading is filtered through the person who’s writing it.

PATCHETT: I just finished the new Margaret Atwood, which I loved — what a ripping read, one of those books where you think, “Oh I’ve got 15 minutes before I have to go, I’m gonna go pick it up.”

I tend to only read books that haven’t been published yet, because it is the way of the bookstore world, so in my suitcase I have the galley of a Louise Erdrich book that’s coming out. I love Louise, and I have to say for me, in all seriousness, it’s [turns to Strout] you, Colson [Whitehead], and Louise, you’re the kings of the world as far I’m concerned.

And then the book that I am pushing and I want you to remember — Gish Jen has a book coming out in February called The Resisters, which I think is going to save the world, if the world could possibly be saved by a novel. It’s such an important book. She hasn’t written a novel in 10 years.

It feels nice that fiction can do that right now, that it can have that kind of impact. I mean, sometimes we just want to escape into another world, but also, look at the resurgence of Handmaid’s Tale in the last couple years, or 1984.

PATCHETT: [Gasps] Which is such a bad book! I had to write an introduction for a new edition of Animal Farm, and I was like, “Sure, Animal Farm, that would be so much fun!” And of course I hadn’t read it since eighth grade, and then I went back again and read that and 1984. Did not hold up. His essays are great, though.

What about television, are you a fan?

PATCHETT: I only use my TV for my yoga video. I understand that this is the golden age of television, and people are always telling me, “You should watch this!” But also for me I am very aware of my eyeballs — like, everything that matters to me is eyeball-based. I don’t want another hobby or interest that is going to take my eyes. I’ll cook, I’ll knit, I’ll take a walk, I’ll do other things. I just don’t want to be looking at a screen as a way of relaxing from looking at a screen. But audiobooks! Love them.

Speaking of audio books…

PATCHETT: [Laughs] Yes, Tom Hanks read The Dutch House.

That’s kind of the ultimate, isn’t it?

PATCHETT: I know, I read at the 92nd Street Y last night, so I actually went to the part in the audiobook and listened to it and I just got up there and gave my Tom Hanks imitation, it was super! I just cribbed the whole thing. [Laughs]

When you meet fans, what’s that interaction like — do they just want to connect, or is it something else they’re looking for?

PATCHETT: Oh, that’s a good question.

STROUT: You know, there are always a few readers, they’re often a little bit shy, but I understand that they’ve been touched in a way that I was hoping, and I think they just want me to know it. And I do know it. We always know the truth of things among people, I think, and that’s a wonderful thing to see.

PATCHETT: I get a lot of people who cry, and a lot of people who want to touch me. It’s very physical, and it’s weird because I’m not the warmest person in the world, and I’m not the snuggliest. But people will be like, “Will you stand up so I can just hold you for a minute?”

STROUT: That’s lovely.

**

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Exclusive: Read a stunning first excerpt from the Children of Blood and Bone sequel

https://ew.com/books/2019/10/15/children-of-virtue-and-vengeance-excerpt/

Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone — the No. 1 best-selling launch to her stunning African fantasy trilogy, currently being adapted for film by Disney’s Fox/Lucasfilm — ended with a cliffhanger that thrust the land of Orïsha into chaos. As the only surviving royal, Amari must unite the country and restore peace. In this excerpt of the sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Dec. 3), we meet Amari as she prepares to make a public bid for the throne.

“My name is Amari Asiwaju,” I declare to my reflection in the cracked mirror. “Daughter of King Saran. Sister to the late crown prince.”

As our warship nears Zaria’s shores, I attempt to feel the power embedded in those words. No matter how many times I speak them, they don’t feel right.

Nothing does.

I pull the black dashiki over my head and toss it onto the growing pile of clothes on my bed. After weeks of only living with what I could carry on my back, the excess gathered by Roën’s men feels foreign.

It brings me back to mornings in the palace; to biting my tongue while servants forced me into gown after gown under Mother’s orders. She was never satisfied with anything I wore. In her amber eyes, I always looked too dark; too large.

I reach for a gold-tinted gele on the floor. Mother was always fond of the color. I nestle the headdress along my temples and her voice rings through my ears.

That’s not fit to wipe a leaponaire’s ass.

My throat dries and I set the gele down. For so long, I wanted to shut her out. Now I don’t have a choice.

Focus, Amari.

I pick up a navy tunic, squeezing the silk to keep the tears in. What right do I have to grieve when the sins of my family have caused this kingdom so much pain? I slide the tunic over my head and return to the mirror. There’s no time to cry.

I have to atone for those sins today.

“I stand before you to declare that the divisions of the past are over,” I shout. “The time to unify is now. Together, we will be unstoppable!”

My voice trails as I shift my stance, inspecting my fragmented reflection. A new scar spills onto my shoulder, crackling like lightning against my oak brown skin. Over the years, I’ve grown used to hiding the scar that my brother left across my back. This is the first time I’ve had to hide Father’s.

Something about the mark feels alive. It’s as if Saran’s hatred still courses through my skin. I wish I could erase it. I almost wish I could erase him—

“Skies!” My fingers flash with blue light. I wince at the burn. I attempt to suppress the navy glow that shimmers around my hand, but the room spins as my new magic swells.

Midnight blue tendrils shoot from my fingertips like sparks from a flint. My palms sting as my skin splits. My scars rip open at the seams. I gasp at the pain.

“Somebody help!” I shout as I stumble into the mirror. Crimson smears across my reflection. The burn is so great, I can’t breathe.

Blood trickles down my chest as I fall to my knees. I scramble to put pressure on the wounds. My magic cuts me from within. I wheeze though I want to scream—

“Amari!”

Tzain’s voice is like shattered glass. His presence frees me from my mental cage. The pain fades ache by grueling ache.

I blink as I find myself on the tarnished floor, half-dressed with my silk tunic clenched in my hand. The blood that smeared across the mirror is nowhere to be found.

My scars remain closed.

Illustration by David Mack for EW

Tzain covers me with a shawl before taking me into his arms. I brace myself against his chest as my muscles turn heavy, winded from the burst of magic.

“That’s the second time this week,” he says.

Actually, it’s the fourth. But I bite back the truth when I see the concern in his gaze. Tzain doesn’t need to know it’s getting worse. No one does.

I still don’t know how to feel about my new gifts. What it means to be a Connector; to be a tîtán. The maji had their powers restored after the ritual, but tîtáns like me have never had magic until now.

Even when I learned Inan possessed magic moons ago, it never occurred to me that the sacred ritual would ignite my own maji ancestry. What would Father say if he knew his own children carried the blood of those he hated? The very people he regarded as maggots?

“Gods,” Tzain curses at the sight of my palms. The skin is red and tender to the touch, dotted with yellow blisters. “Magic’s not supposed to hurt. If you’d just talk to Zél—”

“Zélie’s not even using her own magic. The last thing she needs to see is mine.”

I tuck away my white streak, wishing I could just chop the lock from my hair. Tzain may not notice the way Zélie looks at it, but I always catch the snarl it brings to her face. For so long, she had to suffer because of her gift. Now those that hurt her the most wield that magic themselves.

I can understand why she despises my white streak, but at times it feels like she despises me. And she’s supposed to be my closest friend.

How will the rest of the maji feel when they learn that I’m a tîtán?

“I’ll figure it out,” I sigh. “I promise.”

I burrow into Tzain’s neck, running my fingers against the new stubble along his chin.

“You trying to send a message?” he asks, and a sly smile rises to my lips.

“I think it suits you,” I say. “I like it.”

He runs his thumb along my jaw, igniting a surge almost as powerful as my magic. I hold my breath as he lifts my face to his. But before our lips can meet, the ship groans into a sharp turn, jostling us apart.

“What in the skies?” I scramble to my feet, pressing my face against the smudged window glass. For the past three weeks, all it’s revealed were gray seas. Now vibrant coral reefs shine through turquoise waters.

Zaria’s coastline fills the horizon as the warship begins to navigate the ivy-covered cliffs jutting out of the ocean. A lump forms in my throat at the villagers gathered on the white sands for my rally. There are hundreds of people.

Maybe even thousands.

“You’re ready.” Tzain comes up behind me, sliding his arms over my waist.

“I don’t even know what to wear.”

“I can help you with that,” Tzain says.

“You’re going to help me pick out clothes?” I arch my brow and Tzain laughs.

“I’ve spent a lot of time looking at you, Amari. You’re beautiful in everything you wear.”

Heat rises to my cheeks as Tzain looks at the rejected clothes on my bed. “But no tunics today. You’re about to be Orïsha’s queen.”

He turns me toward the suit of armor I wore to the ritual grounds when we brought magic back. It’s still covered with the blood of every opponent I cut down with my sword. Father’s blood stains the front, darkest along the royal seal.

“That’ll terrify people!” I exclaim.

“That’s the point. I used to see that seal and my chest would clench. But when you wear it…” Tzain pauses and a smile like sugar comes to his face. “With you behind the seal, I’m not afraid. I actually feel safe.”

He rests his chin on the top of my head, grabbing my hand again.

“You’re the queen, Amari. Give everyone a new face to picture behind that seal.”

From CHILDREN OF VIRTUE AND VENGEANCE © 2019 by Tomi Adeyemi. Reprinted with permission from Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. All Rights Reserved.

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Jenny Slate is ready to reintroduce herself

https://ew.com/author-interviews/2019/10/15/jenny-slate-profile-little-weirds/

Jenny Slate wants to be taken seriously. She’s returned to Los Angeles for her first round of press ahead of a busy fall season — her debut Netflix comedy special, Stage Fright, premieres Oct. 22, and her first solo book, Little Weirds, hits shelves just weeks later — and finds herself getting defensive about the way her work will be received. “It feels like I’m flinging myself onto our culture,” she says with an embarrassed laugh. But these memoiristic projects began as a personal endeavor. That the book opens with Slate imagining she was born as a croissant? No laughing matter. “I take myself seriously even if I am, as a person, definitely a collection of bubbles and springs and things that make dinging noises,” Slate, 37, says. “I’m a major boinker. I’m a boinky ding-dong kind of person. But I’m not juvenile. I’m living an adult life.”

That croissant piece, titled “Treat,” captures both Slate’s boinky and adulting sides in a little over a page. It appears silly at first glance, a celebrity dabbling in twinkly mystical prose, but builds, bracingly, into a statement of desire that’s at once warm, heartbreaking, and erotic. “Treasure me for my layers and layers of fragility and richness,” Slate writes. “Name me after a shape that the moon makes. Have me in a hotel while you are on vacation. Look at me and say, ‘Oh, I really shouldn’t,’ just because you want to have me so very much.”

Little Weirds is hardly a pithy, dishy “comic’s book” in the vein of what Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling have helped to revitalize over the past decade. The essays that follow “Treat” are unclassifiable — too abstract to be memoir, too interior to be fiction — short entries that, taken together, read like a strange, witty, sad journey into the depths of their author’s imagination.

Slate, a Saturday Night Live featured cast member for just one season before being fired in 2010 (she dropped an F-bomb during her first episode), has never embodied mainstream Hollywood. Her breakout was the 2014 film Obvious Child, an indie rom-com with a nuanced abortion story line that premiered at Sundance to great acclaim and won her the Critics’ Choice Award for best comedy actress. She’s ubiquitous in TV comedies, memorably recurring on critical darlings like Parks and Recreation and Lady Dynamite and voicing key characters on Big Mouth and Bob’s Burgers, but she has never led one of her own.

Recently, she writes, her life “fell to pieces.” She experienced heartbreak — her marriage of four years ended in 2016; her highly publicized romance with Chris Evans began thereafter, but they broke up in 2018 — and a “loss of confidence” in her work. “I was constantly saying, ‘There’s something more that can be done with my sadness than just shame and heaviness and loneliness,’ ” she says now. “But that’s a very hard point for me to prove to myself.”

As she reflects on her year and a half of solitude, of “stream-of-consciousness” writing and the compiling process that followed, Slate’s distinctive voice and persona — bubbly, bright, endearingly shy — still sings. (For every painful memory recounting, it seems, there’s a “boink” utterance.) But this was an emotionally taxing process for her; you sense it as she trails off answering a question or unpacks what motivated the book in the first place. “It was very, very heavy lifting at times,” she says.

One piece, “I Died: Bronze Tree,” emerged purely out of an exercise Slate wrote for herself after her divorce, imagining her dream marriage; another, “I Want to Look Out a Window,” is composed of wishes for her future. They’re devastating in their unfiltered honesty, even optimism. “You’re sitting here, you feel unlovable, you’ve had your heart broken,” Slate says, remembering the space that she was in while writing. “What’s the version of you that makes you fall in love with yourself? Just put it down.”

Slate, based in Los Angeles, spent the bulk of her time working on Little Weirds in a beach house that her parents recently had built on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. She was alone. There was hardly any furniture. She’d wake up early, make coffee, walk outside — nature and unusual life-forms are central motifs in the book — and then put to paper whatever came to her. She couldn’t articulate her process, but told her editor, Jean Garnett, that she needed to trust it. “It was sometimes a challenge, especially in the early months, to accept the fact that the book is…sort of unclassifiable,” Garnett explains. “But it was also really exciting to embrace that and lean into it, and to trust Jenny’s process and vision.” When Garnett received Slate’s final draft, they met up at Garnett’s house in New York’s Hudson Valley for four days, sitting “in matching old armchairs by a window, looking out onto snowy trees, laptops in our laps,” Garnett says. Slate read the whole book aloud, and they edited collaboratively.

Slate calls Little Weirds “transformative” for her. “I also just really learned how to be alone,” she says — and then laughs, as if just remembering that, yes, she’s newly engaged (to writer/art curator Ben Shattuck). He’d visited her on the Vineyard, as a friend, while she was still writing (“We didn’t kiss or anything”). “Right when I left the island, I went to his house,” she says, smiling. “I learned how to be alone, and then I think that helped me to be a better partner.” It’s a nice bookend to the backstory of Little Weirds, too. She thinks back to the wishes of “I Want to Look Out a Window”: “They were real wishes. I have almost all of those things now. But when I wrote them [out], they felt very far off.”

Rest assured, this is a Jenny Slate book: Little Weirds is often very funny. (One chapter is called “I Died: The Sad Songs of My Vagina.”) Same goes for her Stage Fright special. Taken together, they reintroduce Slate as an artist, showcasing her singular poetic forms of expression. And she knows it — perhaps that’s been most healing for her in all of this. “There’s always been this sense that I’ve had that I’m begging. I’m begging for work, begging to be given an audition for an actually good film,” she says. “I don’t care to beg anymore. I feel at peace.”

**

Stay tuned for more features from EW’s Fall Books Special