The best comics of the decade

To celebrate the end of the 2010s, Entertainment Weekly’s Must List is looking back at the best pop culture of the decade that changed movies, TV, music, and more (catch up on our list so far, which includes the MCU’s big Snap, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s history-making hit, and Beyonce’s iconic Coachella set). Today, we round up the best comics of the past 10 years.

There were lots of comic books published this past decade — even when you leave out all the manga and webcomics. During a time when comics provided the source material for countless big-budget movies and TV shows, the genre’s creators still managed to produce a dazzling array of beautiful, terrifying, and refreshing new work.

Here are EW’s picks for the highlights of the decade in comics, with one clear No. 1 and 14 extremely good runners-up. Find them wherever books are sold.

Best comic of the decade: Saga (Image)

The 2010s transformed Star Wars from dorky cultural touchstone to mammoth corporate juggernaut; fans who used to wait years for movies (or even tie-in novels) now got blasted with a new one year after year. A similar thing happened to superhero comics, whose characters and stories filled multiplex screens around the globe and took the spotlight away from the books themselves. How, then, to take the space opera genre and the comic book format to make new ideas become real? Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga is the best comic of the decade because it produced sci-fi spectacle that defies even the idea of adaptation. Is there any visual in the new Star Wars sequels as arresting as Prince Robot IV (the most engaging antihero since Prince Zuko) and his royal family, with their TV screens for heads? How could film capture the adorable expressions of Ghüs the seal-man and all the other colorful alien creatures Staples created? On top of the cuteness and innovative world building, Saga also took seriously the “war” in Star Wars. This is a space opera where beloved characters die, often randomly or by accident or for no greater reason than the fact that they’re always surrounded by violence.

Of course, none of that would matter much if there wasn’t a singular family story at the center. Marko and Alana are star-crossed lovers from two sides of an intergalactic war between the horned magic users of Wreath and the winged soldiers of Landfall. But after encountering pacifist philosophies secretly encoded in a romance novel, they run off together and give birth to Hazel, the only being in the universe with wings and horns. Saga is Hazel’s story, starting from her birth on page 1 (“this is how an idea becomes real”) and taking us on through her adolescence, as narrated by her adult self. The comic is currently on hiatus after a heartbreaking cliffhanger that tops the series’ record of ending issues on a scream-inducing note. Fifty-four issues down, 54 more to go. We can’t wait to see what else Vaughan, Staples, and Hazel have left to show us. —Christian Holub

And now for the rest…

Batman (DC)

In this decade, DC gave us two contrasting yet very personal takes on the Dark Knight. During the disappointing New 52 experiment, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo harvested their fears about life’s dangers and parenthood to deliver a story that focused on Batman’s place in Gotham City. Yes, it’s easy to make fun of how often the series asked, “What is Gotham?” but that question fueled the entire run and introduced new and daring concepts to Batman’s mythos. On the flip side, certified wife guy Tom King, working with a killer roster of artists (including Mikel Janin, Joëlle Jones, Clay Mann, and more), used his marriage as inspiration for a poignant tale that looked inward at Bruce and explored how the mere idea of happiness could challenge him. There were some rough patches in the run to be sure, but the highs (“Rooftops,” “War of Jokes and Riddles,” “Double Date,” Batman Annual #2) are so heartbreakingly beautiful that they make it easy to ignore the lows. Batman is an 80-year-old character, and yet both teams managed to make him their own. In conclusion: Kite Man, hell yeah! —Chancellor Agard

Black Hammer (Dark Horse)

Lots of people tried to create superhero universes this decade. Some of them were better at this than others, but only Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston made it look easy. As of May 2016, there was no such thing as Black Hammer. Here at the end of the decade, we’ve got four volumes of the main title, multiple spin-off comics, and even a cross-company team-up with the Justice League. How did they do it? By diving into one of the most fascinating unanswered questions in superhero comics (“Where do characters go after they’re erased from continuity?”), playing into some of the genre’s most important dynamics (urban vs. rural, childhood vs. adulthood), and creating a cast of characters who each invoked a distinct era of superhero history while remaining freshly unique. Among them was Lucy Weber, whose search for her long-lost father perfectly channeled the superhero energy of this decade. When she finally found what she was looking for, it became clear who the real hero was, and how many stories Lemire has left to tell in this world. That’s the secret of Black Hammer: It was an origin story all along. —C.H.

Daytripper (DC/Vertigo)

Has there ever been a more beautiful interpretation of the philosophical concept “being-toward-death?” Maybe it sounds strange invoking Martin Heidegger to discuss a comic book, but Daytripper blurs all kinds of lines: father and son, fantasy and reality, life and death. Each issue tells the story of one moment in the life of obituary writer Brás de Oliva Domingos. Every chapter also ends in Brás’ death, only for subsequent issues to retain every plot detail except for the previous death. Here is what it looks like to treasure every moment as if it might be your last and live so that you’re content to greet your end with open arms when the last day finally does come. Heavy stuff, huh? Well, on top of everything else, twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá created a lovely homage to the diverse sights, customs, and culture of their native Brazil. —C.H.

FF (Marvel)

The biggest movies of the 2010s looked like the comic books of 30 years ago, clashing infinite crossovers into the darkest of nights. Which, if I’m doing the math correctly, means the mainstream pop culture of 2040s will resemble the comic books of right now. And something about this short-lived Fantastic Four spin-off, relaunched for a 16-issue run amid the Marvel Now! initiative, still feels like the future. This is the spinniest of spin-offs, colliding multiple strands of Four lore into a tie-in team featuring familiar icons (She-Hulk! Ant-Man!) and minor characters renewed with personality to spare (Artie, Leech, and the Moloids!). Fraction’s cosmic farce blends self-aware cleverness with goofy-sweet humanity, and Allred’s trademark art-pop illustrations set the stage for his spaced-out work on the acclaimed Silver Surfer. —Darren Franich

Hawkeye (Marvel)

Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye is to the titular archer what Chris Evans is to Captain America: the most definitive and iconic take on the character (sorry, Jeremy Renner). Over the course of 22 issues, the Bed-Stuy-set series turned Clint Barton into an everyman and explored what he does when he’s not busy being an Avenger, while shining a much-needed spotlight on his compelling protégée, Kate Bishop. It’s a very homey and grounded take on the Marvel universe that not only went on to set the standard for Marvel Now!, but also pushed the conventions of comics by telling an entire issue from the perspective of a dog, heavily incorporating American Sign Language into other issues, telling complexly constructed stories, and sometimes simply shifting the focus away from the eponymous hero. Looking back at the series, it’s easy to see the impact it had on superhero comics. —C.A.

House of X/Powers of X (Marvel)

Screw recency bias. Jonathan Hickman’s return to superhero comics with these parallel X-Men books took the industry by storm. It’s hard to remember the last time it felt like everyone on social media was feverishly reading the same comic every Wednesday and on pins and needles waiting for the next issue. Beyond their zeitgeist-seizing power, these two books — which chronicled mutantkind’s proactive attempts to insure their survival in a world that was literally trying to extinguish them — also revitalized Marvel’s X-Men line, infusing it with thrilling and powerful ideas (those data pages!) that will surely (or hopefully) generate fantastic stories for years to come. —C.A.

Last Look (Pantheon Graphic Library)

A fearfully strange epic of the mind from comics legend Charles Burns. X’ed Out, The Hive, and Sugar Skull appeared in two-year intervals like postcards from the deepest underground, revealing a story of lost romance trapped between bad memories, cartoon nightmares, and an all-encompassing mood of nefarious guilt. The result is an sharp yet elusive portrait of a man who’s somehow running away from himself even as he eats his own tail. —D.F.

Lumberjanes (Boom! Box)

Friendship to the max! As good as it is to have art that looks unflinchingly at the dark sides of human existence, it’s also important to enjoy warm, fuzzy stories that show you things you never even knew you needed. Lumberjanes was originally only supposed to be a four-issue series from writers Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, and Shannon Watters and artist Brooke Allen. But the adventures of Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley (the titular Lumberjanes, a.k.a Girl Scouts who punch monsters and solve ancient mysteries) proved so addictive that the comic has now published more than 60 issues. Here, feminist icons were name-dropped like legendary heroes (“Holy Mae Jemison!”) and same-sex love was portrayed with an easy warmth that would carry over into both Ellis’ subsequent comic Moonstruck and Stevenson’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power reboot. There were mysteries to solve (why are there so many monsters around this summer camp, anyway?), but at the end of the day nothing was more important than reveling in the beautiful friendship of these bright young characters. —C.H.

Mister Miracle (DC)

With this 12-issue limited series, writer Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads grounded and found intimacy in the cosmic and bombastic mythology of Jack Kirby’s New Gods by funneling the central intergalactic war through Scott Free and Big Barda’s struggles with parenthood. Furthermore, Scott’s inability to distinguish what was real and what wasn’t, confrontation with the absurd and dark nature of the world, and subsequent resolution to persevere anyway made Mister Miracle one of the most relatable comics of the past few bonkers and incomprehensible years. —C.A.

Monstress (Image)

With their magical masterwork, writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda have managed to fuse Miyazaki, Lovecraft, steampunk, and manga into a beautiful yet harrowing fantasy story about war and hunger in a matriarchal Asian society. This mythology is bursting at the seams with cat wizards, animal-human hybrids, and tentacled demon-gods from beyond the universe, but it all centers on Maika Halfwolf, a girl with a monster living inside her. Sure, the most terrifying of the monstrous Old Gods lives beneath her skin, but even Zinn pales in comparison to what Maika has become after a youth spent surviving war and concentration camps. Monstress was the perfect fantasy for a decade in which the internet’s omnipresence brought subliminal horrors to the surface and endless decentralized war became a fact of life. Which isn’t to say it’s all doom and gloom: Love is in the eye of the beholder, and flashbacks to the ancient romance between Zinn and the Shaman-Empress (Maika’s ancestor and lookalike) put even The Shape of Water to shame. —C.H.

Ms. Marvel (Marvel)

Kamala Khan is the best new superhero of the decade. As created by G. Willow Wilson, Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, and Adrian Alphona, she is the first Muslim character to headline their own solo Marvel title. But though she carries Carol Danvers’ old mantle, Kamala has already created her own legend. She is an icon not just for Muslims and Pakistani-Americans so often denied pop culture representation, but also for 21st-century kids struggling to balance school responsibilities with their jobs and personal lives, and for people young and old trying to master control of their goofy bodies. Creating a teenage superhero and giving her the ability to make her body parts ridiculously large or hilariously small is, simply put, a creative masterstroke. —C.H.

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Fantagraphics)

A masterpiece, an instant classic. What else is there to say? Well, it is worth noting how close we came to never reading this book at all. Emil Ferris only started working on her first graphic novel after a mosquito bite gave her West Nile virus and struck her with paralysis at age 40. Then, after she worked on it for 15 years as a way of recovering from her paralysis, all copies of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters were seized by the Panama government after the sudden bankruptcy of shipping giant Hanjin. It’s a miracle that we can read the story of Karen Reyes, the 10-year old girl living in 1968 Chicago who imagines herself as a wolf girl and loses herself in horror movies as a way of dealing with her mom’s sickness, her brother’s impending Vietnam draft, the mysterious murder of her Holocauast-surviving neighbor, and her own incipient sexuality. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is drawn as if it’s Karen’s notebook, the lined pages of which are filled with the colorful, monstrous doodles of her feverish imagination. It’s a feast for the eye and soul, and there’s still a whole other volume to go. —C.H.

The Nemo Trilogy (Top Shelf)

Alan Moore bid a long goodbye to comic books this decade, winding down The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and recrafting H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos into a linked series of horrors. All exceptional and apocalyptic work, but for pure ebullient energy, I keep returning to his playful and elegiac League spin-off trilogy. Janni Dakkar, the daughter of Captain Nemo, haunts the 20th century in these volumes, tripping between lost worlds of fantasy and freakish dystopian metropoles. The middle chapter, The Roses of Berlin, is my personal all-time showcase for Kevin O’Neill’s artwork, blending German cinematic expressionism and techno-futurism into an explosive wartime adventure. —D.F.

Young Avengers (Marvel)

The big two superhero publishers spent this decade trying one publishing initiative after another, but only Marvel Now! earned multiple slots on this list. One reason for that is the brilliant synergy of the creative lineups. Case in point: Writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie were the perfect choices to take the Young Avengers into the 2010s. Kid Loki predated Baby Yoda by several years and successfully synthesized the Machiavellian mastermind Loki of Marvel comics with the angsty heartthrob Loki of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. America Chavez broke the glass ceiling and kicked holes in the walls of the multiverse to prove an all-powerful superhero didn’t have to be a straight white man. Above all, there were Billy and Teddy, the world-breaking wizard and the orphaned prince from outer space, whose love was powerful enough to save us all.

Gillen and McKelvie collaborated on other comics this decade, such as their creator-owned The Wicked + the Divine for Image, and the latter designed the now-famous Captain Marvel costume since worn by Brie Larson, but this was their most tightly told story. Young Avengers successfully illustrated the connective tissue between superheroes and this decade’s youth culture while leaving fans hungry for more. —C.H.

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The 10 artists who will be taking over Hollywood in 2020

Entertainment Weekly chose 10 artists — actors, singers, and authors — who made noise in 2019, and plan to make even more next year. Ahead, everything you need to know about their breakout moments, how they’re handling new fame, and what makes them tick — creatively speaking.

Andrew Scott

Steve Schofield/Amazon Studios

BREAKOUT MOMENT: As “Hot Priest” on Amazon’s Emmy-winning Fleabag, Andrew Scott’s charm and devilish wit made us all question our faith.
UP NEXT: Starring opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in Sam Mendes’ WWI drama 1917 (Dec. 25) and playing literary con artist Tom Ripley on Showtime’s upcoming Ripley, as well as appearing in season 2 of HBO’s His Dark Materials.
ON HIS ARDENT FAN BASE: Scott doesn’t want to be defined as just one thing. But for now, the 43-year-old Dublin native is happy to bear the moniker of Hot Priest. Since playing the dreamy cleric in Fleabag’s second season — and showcasing some serious onscreen chemistry with costar Phoebe Waller-Bridge — he has developed a much different fan base than in his days as Sherlock’s ruthless villain Moriarty; typical reactions now include “Strangle me!” and “Hear my sins!” “Then, when they meet you in real life,” Scott notes, “they’re like, ‘Hello, I really enjoy your work.’ ”
UNORTHODOX CHOICES: When one character “becomes too hot,” as the actor puts it, it’s time to look for the next big thing. “I like playing with all those different sides of yourself without losing yourself,” he says. True to form, Scott has three upcoming projects that he calls “slightly left of center. That’s always what I’m looking for.” In 1917, “there’s nowhere to hide” because the WWI film from director Mendes was shot to look like one continuous take. Scott likes to think of it as “a very expensive film [made] on your iPhone. You can’t cut away.” The actor is also eager to put his stamp on Ripley (“an iconic literary character”) on Showtime’s take on the Patricia Highsmith novels.
FINDING HIS RELIGION: On His Dark Materials, Scott is on the other side of the cloth as John Parry, traveler in an alternate reality controlled by an authoritarian religious institution. “Those books are really important for kids,” Scott says of the Philip Pullman trilogy that inspired the series. “It teaches them about goodness and kindness in the world.” Growing up as a gay man in the Catholic Church, Scott faced his own struggles with faith, making him appreciate “the ethics” of His Dark Materials. “You can be a good person in the world [without] organized religion.” That said, between all his new career adventures, Scott says, “people will forget about the Hot Priest.” Blasphemy. —Nick Romano

Hunter Schafer

BREAKOUT MOMENT: In her first-ever acting role, Hunter Schafer shines (and glitters) as Jules, a magnetic trans student on HBO’s provocative teen drama Euphoria.
UP NEXT: Season 2 of the series, and exploring roles further away from her own identity. “I’m really curious to not have the character map readily available,” she says.
ART IMITATING LIFE: Schafer, 20, never considered a career in acting until HBO approached her with the chance to play a lead on Sam Levinson’s buzzy new series. “I was working as a full-time model in New York when the casting team for Euphoria reached out to my modeling agency,” she tells EW. “I gave it a shot and it snowballed from there.” The novice actress drew on her own experience as a transgender teen to inform her performance: “I felt more capable of playing her because [of the] parallels between us.”
ON REPRESENTING: Since the show’s launch, fans have flocked to the series, grateful to finally see someone like themselves portrayed: “It’s been really sweet to have some close moments with people who are excited about seeing a trans person on TV.” —Ruth Kinane

Kate Elizabeth Russell

BREAKOUT MOMENT: She sold her debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, in the seven figures last fall — the highest price tag of the season.
UP NEXT: The book publishes next March, and Hollywood is already circling. Safe bet an adaptation is on the way.
HER CINDERELLA MOMENT: Kate Elizabeth Russell was teaching creative writing at the University of Kansas when she got the biggest phone call of her life. Her book had just been acquired for north of $1 million. “I had to run out of the classroom,” she recalls. “My students sat there like, ‘What is going on?’” For a debut author, it all sounds like a fairy tale.
ON #METOO FALLOUT: Russell, now 35, first started writing Vanessa’s characters when she was 16. She came to grips, through fiction, with the relationships she had with older men as a teenager. She continued working into her Ph.D. program, and then the #MeToo movement exploded. It’s at the center of the completed book: A teacher’s former student accuses him of sexual misconduct, forcing the protagonist, Vanessa, to reflect on her own toxic affair with the man. “I realized that my book was going to be read in the context of that movement anyway,” she says. “So I might as well address it head-on.” That she does — and the results are thrilling. —David Canfield

Natasha Rothwell

BREAKOUT MOMENT: Playing Kelli, the confident, tequila-loving diva on HBO’s Insecure.
UP NEXT: Portraying a career woman in the comedy Like a Boss (Jan. 10); roles in Sonic the Hedgehog (Feb. 14) and Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5).
ON KELLI VS. NATASHA: For someone whose most memorable TV moments include indulging in under-the-table sexploits at a Hollywood diner and getting Tasered at Coachella, Natasha Rothwell is pretty low-key. “One of the things I love about playing Kelli is she’s so unapologetic,” says the actress, 39. “Because in my real life, I bumped into a table this morning and apologized to it.”
FIRST JOB: Rothwell acted in employee training videos for an insurance company. “It was this whole song and dance where the magical HR person sort of manifested, genie-style,” she recalls. She’ll be channeling a different kind of superpower in Wonder Woman 1984: “It’s such a testament to femininity and feminism, and to do it in the ’80s?” says Rothwell, her voice rising to Kelli-esque levels. “The costumes alone.” —Clarissa Cruz

Kelvin Harrison Jr.

BREAKOUT MOMENT: As Tyler, the son in a wealthy African-American family whose world begins to crumble, in the movie Waves.
UP NEXT: Starring opposite Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield in The Photograph (Feb. 14), and Dakota Johnson and Tracee Ellis Ross in Covers (May 8).
ALL ROADS LEAD TO STERLING K. BROWN: They say never meet your heroes, but don’t tell that to Kelvin Harrison Jr. The actor, 25, viewed Sterling K. Brown as a model for his own career and rewatched his scenes from The People v. O.J. Simpson (Brown played prosecutor Christopher Darden) like they were curriculum. Fast-forward to a few years later, and that admiring dynamic bled into Harrison’s breakout role in Waves. He portrays Tyler, the hyper-achieving son of Brown’s stern patriarch. The two play brilliantly off each other — particularly as things unravel. “Sterling listened to me,” Harrison says. “He empowered me to have my own voice.”
ON BRANCHING OUT: Though he can carry the heaviest of scenes, Harrison’s gearing up for work on the lighter side — in 2020, he stars in the A-list comedies The Photograph and Covers. “I’m excited to branch out,” he says. “Expand into sci-fi, expand into fantasy, expand into romance. Just continue to grow.” —DC

King Princess

BREAKOUT MOMENT: Her first single, the vintage pop throwback “1950,” which has been streamed more than 300 million times since its debut in February 2018.
UP NEXT: The nationwide Cheap Queen tour, running through Feb. 14; musical guest on the Nov. 23 episode of Saturday Night Live.
ON HER FOLLOWING: In her short but buzzy time as a professional musician, King Princess, 20, has developed her own community of fervent queer female fans. But for the singer-songwriter born Mikaela Straus, it’s not something she fully expected to happen. “My shows are definitely a point of gathering for gay women, and [I’m] interested in what’s happening with them because I was not a part of a community when I was a kid that looked like this — outwardly female and gay,” she tells EW.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN: There’s a method behind the glamorous mid-tempo grooves of her debut album, Cheap Queen. “I used a lot of local, weird, choppy vocal samples and, like, vintage-y sounding stuff mixed with new drum sounds,” she says, adding that her mentor, überproducer Mark Ronson — he signed Straus to his Zelig Records imprint in 2017 — said “’you can make s— sound old, but what makes it modern is drums and bass.’ I thought that was really concise and beautiful because it’s really how I work.” —Kerensa Cadenas

Megan Thee Stallion

BREAKOUT MOMENT: Her May 2019 mixtape Fever, which sparked this year’s inescapable Hot Girl Summer movement.
UP NEXT: The rapper, 24, will continue releasing singles into next year. She also confirms that she’s finally ready for a debut album — but may give fans a sequel to her 2018 mixtape Tina Snow first.
ON GOING VIRAL: Hearing Megan Thee Stallion talk about how successful her year was shows why her fans, affectionately known as the Hotties, look to the Houston native for an epic confidence boost. “I feel like I took over a whole season,” the rapper born Megan Pete tells EW. “You can’t even think about summer without thinking about the hot girl. We did what had to be done.”
THE ART OF THE TWERK: Megan’s energetic shows have gained notoriety as well, with the Fever artist calling them a safe place for twerking. Videos of her perched on stage dancing — all reinforced by her enviable “Vibranium knees,” which she jokingly notes feed off of “a mixture of D’USSÉ, stamina, and vitamins” — often go as viral as her empowering, tongue-in-cheek rhymes. (Sample line: “Yeah I’m in my bag, but I’m in his, too,” from her song “Cash S—” with DaBaby).
BITTERSWEET SYMPHONY: Though the past 12 months have turned Megan into a household meme (if not yet name), she’s also hit a devastating moment in her personal life, losing her mother to brain cancer in March. Publicly, with the love of her Hotties, the rapper remains positive, giving a reminder to all to “always keep your head up, and just know that you that bitch.” —Marcus Jones

Asante Blackk

BREAKOUT MOMENT: His role as Kevin Richardson in Netflix’s Central Park Five miniseries When They See Us.
UP NEXT: He has joined This Is Us as Malik, a thoughtful, straight-A high schooler caring for his infant daughter.
CHANNELING HIS INNER CHILD: For When They See Us — which followed a group of black teenagers wrongly convicted of assault and rape — the then 16-year-old worked diligently with director/co-writer Ava DuVernay to strip away his own confidence and turn in a poignant portrait of a frightened teen trapped in a racist legal system. “We were trying to focus on ‘How do we make it feel younger?’ and ‘How do we take away that Asante swag?’ ” says Blackk, 18. “It was a process of me going back into middle school, where I identified with Kevin a lot more. That’s where I can make him feel younger, more fragile, more innocent.” Blackk’s performance — in his first role that wasn’t a school play — earned him an Emmy nod.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: Now on This Is Us, he plays another misunderstood character. “What isn’t always present when you take your first glance is so interesting to me,” he says. “Every single person on this earth is living a life that’s just as complex as our own.” —Dan Snierson

David Corenswet

BREAKING MOMENT: He stole Ben Platt’s heart (and conscience) as high school presidential candidate River on Netflix’s The Politician.
UP NEXT: He’s staying in the Ryan Murphy family, returning for season 2 of The Politician and starring in and producing the limited series Hollywood.
ON HIS DOPPELGÄNGER: He knows you think he looks like Henry Cavill. “My pie-in-the-sky ambition is to play Superman,” says the actor, 26. So it’s fitting that his upcoming role in Hollywood has a few old-fashioned similarities to the Man of Steel. “My character has a certain optimism, a lack of jadedness.”
FATHER KNOWS BEST: When he found out the role of River on The Politician was being bumped up to a series regular, Corenswet had a pinch-me moment. He was with his late father when the good news came. “I [handed] the phone to my dad and [said], ‘Tell me if it says what I think it says.’ He read it and said, ‘I think this is it. This is the one.’” —Maureen Lee Lenker

Maya Hawke

BREAKOUT MOMENT: On Stranger Things 3, Maya Hawke’s ice-cream-scooping Robin not only helped save Hawkins, Ind., from creatures and Russians but also broke ground as the series’ first LGBTQ character.
UP NEXT: Currently recording an album; starring opposite Andrew Garfield in Mainstream (out next year).
ON OPENING MINDS: In a series filled with special effects and CGI monsters, one of the most exhilarating moments of Stranger Thingsthird season was Robin’s coming out to co-worker Steve (Joe Keery). The 21-year-old actress hopes that her performance as Robin may have opened some eyes and hearts. “I always have loved that she came out in the end,” she says. “It’s a family show that is multinational and bipartisan. People like it in the red states and in the blue states. It’s an important thing when shows that have that wide a reach make an effort to introduce different kinds of people into their lens.”
FASHION TIPS FROM DAD: Things’ popularity also means Hawke’s own public visibility has increased in the past year. Thankfully, famous parents (she’s the offspring of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) can help with coping mechanisms. Quips the actress, “A strategy I learned from my dad actually is dressing like a somewhat homeless person, and then nobody bothers you.” —Tim Stack

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Inside Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: ‘The stakes are all or nothing’

J.J. Abrams is racing.

The director has been tasked with bringing four decades of the most popular and longest-running sci-fi franchise of all time to an epic conclusion. And nowadays he’s feeling a bit like Luke Skywalker flying his X-wing down the Death Star trench in A New Hope as TIE fighters closed in — under a bit of pressure, in other words, with the fate of the entire Star Wars universe depending on him.

“We always knew we were going to have three fewer months to postproduction this film,” says Abrams, who took over co-writing and directing duties on the movie two years ago after successfully rebooting the franchise with 2015’s blockbuster The Force Awakens. “So much is still being worked on. It’s literally a practical race to get it finished.”

If that admission sounds worrisome, hold your fire on those tweets.

Despite a deadline crunch to make the film’s Dec. 20 worldwide launch (EW’s interview was conducted in late October), Abrams says he’s feeling “infinitely better” at this very late stage about The Rise of Skywalker than he was about The Force Awakens.

“We had more reshoots on Episode VII than this one,” Abrams says. “We had more story adjustments on VII than this one. We didn’t know if these characters would work, if the actors would be able to carry a Star Wars movie. There were a lot of things we didn’t know. On this, we knew who and what worked, and everyone is doing the best work I’ve ever seen anyone do. But the ambition of this movie is far greater than Force Awakens. What we set out to do was far more challenging. Everything is exponentially larger on this.”

For example: Disney has released three trailers for The Rise of Skywalker. Some of the shots are stunning and seemingly revealing: desert scavenger–turned–Jedi apprentice Rey (Daisy Ridley) and First Order leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) clashing with lightsabers on the half-submerged wreckage of the second Death Star, which was blown up in Return of the Jedi; Rey facing off against a somehow resurrected Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid); the Millennium Falcon flying into a massive armada of Star Destroyers. Plus, those bewildering teases of Rey turning to the Dark Side and teaming up with Kylo.

Yet Abrams says fans still don’t really know anything. “The [trailers] that have come out are scratching the surface of what the movie is,” the famously spoiler-averse director says.

2019 © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM, All Rights Reserved.

Asked if there are major action sequences we’ve yet to see any footage from, Abrams replies with a firm “Yes” and then, naturally, goes silent.

John Boyega, who plays stormtrooper–turned–Resistance fighter Finn, says his first reaction to the script penned by Abrams and Chris Terrio was he had to “read the script six more times because there was so much information in there.”

Here’s what we know about how Episode IX begins: It’s been more than a year since the events of 2017’s The Last Jedi. The First Order has decimated the Resistance. Rey has been training to use the Force. Finn and hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) have been sent by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) to find allies throughout the galaxy, but so far haven’t had any luck. “They’re trying to put bandaids on this leaking ship of the Resistance,” Isaac says.

Their mission leads Finn, Poe, and Rey to work together, which has, oddly, never happened before in the trilogy. And since there’s a time jump, the characters have all grown and changed since we last saw them. “We’re not just a ragtag group of people who have been thrown together,” Isaac says. “We’ve actually had time to train. There are some really great sequences with the three of us in infiltrating spaces.”

Both Isaac and Boyega say they had their character wishes granted for the final film. Isaac wanted Poe to get “out the cockpit and into the group,” while Boyega wanted Finn to become a more capable solider (and not, as the actor candidly puts it, just a “comedic goofy dude who never gets stuff done”).

“I definitely wanted more after Episode VIII,” Boyega says. “[Rise of Skywalker] makes Finn’s Episode VIII arc make more sense. We got to bring out a side of Finn we haven’t seen.”

To help spark the trio’s on-screen chemistry, Abrams told his cast to feel free to improvise dialogue, and many scenes were shot using long, continuous takes to keep their flow going. “J.J. came back with a new energy and new vibe,” Boegya says. “He wanted dialogue to be messy and natural, and that got all of us really excited.”

“I think it really captures the spirit of the original trilogy,” Isaac adds. “On top of that there’s fact that Rey has…“

The actor stops, catching himself before revealing too much.

Rey has… what?

“Rey is driving her own thing,” Ridley says. “She’s not doing what other people are telling her to do.”

We last saw Rey mourning the death of her mentor Luke Skywalker (who returns in the film, presumably in Force ghost form, played once again by Mark Hamill) and shutting the door to Kylo’s power-mad seduction attempt. The heroine has since made progress in her Jedi training. “I have skills that have developed, but ‘confident’ isn’t a word I’d use to describe it,” Ridley says. “She’s definitely more in control of everything and can do new fun stuff, but she’s vulnerable and a little insecure about at all.”

Yet Rey will use more than her Force powers in the new film. As Abrams hints: “The scavenger who is desperate and haggling for portions and trying to survive [in Force Awakens] — those special skills and that special experience ends up being something that is essential to saving the galaxy.”

Ridley trained in kickboxing for the final chapter as well, but says the emotional toll of Rey’s journey was more difficult than any combat scenes. “It’s a heavy story for Rey,” Ridley says. “There were days where I was literally like, ‘I can’t do this, I’m so tired, I don’t know if I can like reach that emotion again.’”

Part of Rey’s journey involves solving the mystery of her identity. Well, again. Kylo revealed in The Last Jedi that Rey’s parents are deceased nobodies, “filthy junk traders [who] sold you off for drinking money.” The line embraced the idea that a hero doesn’t need to come from somebody special in order to be somebody special. Yet many fans called foul as the trilogy has teased Rey’s identity as being crucial information from the start (“Classified?” Rey echoed back to BB-8 during her debut sequence. “Me too. Big secret”).

“The parents thing is not satisfied — for her and for the audience,” Ridley says. “That’s something she’s still trying to figure out — where does she come from?”

It’s unclear if Abrams has made a course correction to Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson’s plan or there was always more to say about Rey’s parentage. Either way, wasn’t the Episode VIII scene supposed to be sincere?

“It’s not that she doesn’t believe it,” Ridley says carefully, “but she feels there’s more to the story. And she needs to figure out what’s come before so she can figure out what to do next…”

Jonathan Olley/© 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd.

An even bigger cliffhanger is the resolution of Rey’s complex relationship with the First Order’s ruthless leader, who, okay, sure, also looks hot shirtless in high-waisted pants (but what if he didn’t?). Kylo has grown beyond being a “petulant teenager,” and Driver says Kylo’s killing of Supreme Leader Snoke was “kind of a birth moment for him.”

“He had all of these pseudo father figures that he had to either live up to or literally kill to become his own person for the first time,” the actor says.

Naturally, Kylo’s destiny will lead to at least one lightsaber clash with Rey. Abrams sees the duo as “two sides of the same coin,” noting, “even when they’re not together they still haunt each other in a way — they know they are each other’s unresolved business.”

For his part, Driver rejects any labels for the Rey-Kylo relationship. “I don’t think it’s all one thing,” he says. “Part of the fun of playing it is the boundaries of it keep changing. At times it’s more intimate, sometimes less intimate. Sometimes it’s codependent. And then it’s, obviously, adversarial.”

That Rey and Kylo end up battling on the wreckage of the second Death Star continues Abrams’ penchant for showcasing ruined relics of the original trilogy — like Rey spelunking in a wrecked Star Destroyer and living in an AT-AT walker on Jakku in Force Awakens. “It felt like going into the haunted house, the place that you have to go to,” Abrams says of bringing back the iconic space station. “This is a story of people having to grapple with the burden the prior generation dumps on those that follow. So literally returning to this wreck of the past and having to fight it out felt like an obvious metaphor, but also felt incredibly cinematic.”

Of course, there’s another original trilogy fallen icon in the film too. Fisher died after filming The Last Jedi. Figuring out how to utilize Fisher’s previously deleted scenes in the new movie was one of Abrams’ biggest challenges. “Saying Leia had passed away, or that she was off somewhere else, felt like a cheat,” Abrams says. “Then I remembered we had these scenes that we hadn’t used from Episode VII. It was like finding this impossible answer to this impossible question. Suddenly we had classic Carrie in these amazing moments. So when you see in the movie, it’s her, she’s there. It’s not like there’s some crazy digital trickery. She’s just in the movie.”

A couple of other original trilogy characters are likewise integral. Billy Dee Williams is back as that ol’ pirate Lando Calrissian for the first time in live action since Return of the Jedi. Williams says he’s excited to return to the character despite enduring fans coming up to him for decades accusing him of betraying Han Solo. “The whole Star Wars experience feels like it never goes away; It’s always there,” Williams says. “There are all of these things that have happened in Lando’s life that he’s got to resolve.”

There’s also paranoid android C-3PO, who in the latest Skywalker trailer ominously says he’s taking a “last look” at his friends. Threepio is essential to a movie’s plot for the first time since A New Hope (Ridley points out Rey might spend more time with Threepio than any character in the film).

“In previous recent movies Threepio has just been kind of window dressing, something on the mantlepiece, you polish it and dust it o when guests are coming,” says Anthony Daniels, who has played the golden droid’s body and voice in every Skywalker Saga movie. “J.J. and Chris came up with this aspect of Threepio we had not seen before that’s remarkably clever. They go down deep into ancient Star Wars and came up with something refreshingly new.”

Joining Threepio in the metal headgear club is newcomer to the saga Keri Russell. Despite having worked with Abrams for years on Felicity, the actress found herself escorted to a small room where she could only read the Skywalker script under watchful guard. Her character is Zorii Bliss, who’s “involved in some intimate, sketchy stuff” and wears a large brass-and-crimson Daft Punk-like helmet.

“For a shy person this is my ultimate dream job — I get to be in Star Wars and my face is covered,” Russell marvels. “I can see everyone and no one can see me. Though I now have giant throbbing neck muscles like Mr. T.”

There’s also newcomer Naomi Ackie portraying Jannah, a bow-and-arrow-wielding warrior who rides a horse-like creature called an Orbak. Real animals were used on set, and until you’ve ridden a horse dressed up like exotic alien across the surface of the Death Star you haven’t really lived. “I was just gobsmacked,” Ackie says of the experience. “Every day you’re grappling with the fact that every choice you make in a small moment is going to be broadcast to the entire world.”

Jonathan Olley/© 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd.

While the film is introducing new characters, Abrams insists Rise of Skywalker won’t set up a future story. He’s not leaving loose threads for Disney to hang another trilogy directly onto the back of this one. Lucas’ original dream of an intergalactic tale about a farm boy from Tatooine is at last about to set — just like those dreamy twin suns collapsing into the desert. “It’s a very good ending, and a good ending feels right,” Daniels says simply.

And yet, in another way, the final Skywalker Saga film is very much about the future of the franchise. Star Wars will continue to exist in an omniscient Force-like fashion, in everything from toys to TV shows to videogames to theme parks, but new movies have always been the brand’s creative core. Since buying Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney’s movies in a galaxy far, far away peaked early at the box office with Force Awakens and sunk to their lowest level with the most recent entry, 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story.

At one point during our interview, Abrams declares, “the stakes are all or nothing with this film.” He was referring to its high-stakes story line, but the same could also be said about the franchise. Even if we never see Rey, Finn and Poe on screen again, Rise of Skywalker’s popularity will likely make an impact on Disney’s next studio moves — guiding like a fallen Jedi or Sith’s unseen hand.

Speaking of: There’s at least one key player we haven’t discussed. Palpatine’s return may be the most closely guarded story line in the film. How is the Emperor, who Vader tossed into the Death Star’s reactor core, back in a seemingly corporeal form?

“This has been a very long chess match that’s been played between the Jedi and the Sith — all the way back to the very beginning,” Issac teases. “It’s an amazing thing to see that really come to the forefront.”

The Rise of Skywalker might very well turn out to be a full-fledged reunion special of Force ghosts. And what are the rules that govern the Jedi and Sith spirit realm anyway? Obi-Wan Kenobi said in Empire Strikes Back that he “cannot interfere” with Luke’s fight with Vader. But in The Last Jedi, Yoda suddenly called down a lightning strike. What can Force ghosts do — and not do — in our world?

Abrams’ reply to that key question is pretty much what you’d expect.

“That’s probably best answered,” the director says, “by not answering it.”

—Anthony Breznican contributed to this report

To read more on The Rise of Skywalker and other untold stories from the Star Wars universe, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly at Barnes & Noble on Friday — or buy your choice of covers now featuring stars of the prequels, original trilogy, or current saga. (The issue will be on newsstands starting Nov. 28.) Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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The Inheritance writer Matthew Lopez on crafting his supersized Broadway play

One of the most talked about (and Instagrammed) shows on Broadway this season is Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance. The epic, two-part play is a modern-day adaptation of E.M. Forster’s classic novel Howards End but told from the perspective of gay men in New York City. The show opened Sunday night on Broadway after a much-lauded run in London’s West End.

Over its nearly seven-hour running time, The Inheritance tackles everything from love to AIDS to loss to Broad City. It’s a hugely ambitious endeavor from Lopez and director Stephen Daldry (The Hours).

EW sat down with Lopez last week to talk about what inspired him to take on this classic work (hint: Entertainment Weekly was involved) and what he hopes people take from this emotional story.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did The Inheritance come from?
MATTHEW LOPEZ: Well, it’s actually because of Entertainment Weekly. So I lived in Panama City, Florida, raised in panhandle Florida. My three big outlets were theater, books, and movies and what I relied on to know about anything was Entertainment Weekly. Entertainment Weekly was my outlet, and I remember reading an article about Emma Thompson, who no one had ever heard of over here at that time, and how she was getting Oscar buzz for Howards End. I think my memory has it that they were talking about how there’s nothing about her performance that’s just typical Oscar bait, it’s just a great performance. I wanted to see what that looked like and because I lived in a small town, I knew that I had a week and it’ll probably be gone. So I had my mom take me to see it. I was maybe 15 or 16 and she took me one Sunday after church. That Sunday my life changed as a result of watching that movie.

What was it about Howard’s End that resonated with you?
I think it was the foreignness of it was so appealing to me in some way. It was such a transporting experience. I doubt it was the first period piece I’ve seen, I was a teenager, but it was probably the first period piece that I saw that felt alive and present at the time that I saw it. Even though it was so steeped in its period, and because of course it was a Merchant Ivory film, period details were just sumptuous and perfect, it still felt contemporary. I really latched onto it and I really, really fell in love with the story and the characters. The characters most especially, I think. My mother was a teacher, and she went out and bought me the book, and I read the novel and fell in love with the novel. I fell in love with Forster.

It wasn’t until a lot later when I was in my 30s and I was rereading the book, I think what drew me to the story in the first place and what drew me to Forster in general was his queerness. His closeted queerness but that perspective on the world, especially at that time, that outsider’s perspective sort of living the life of that insider pretending to be an insider when he’s really an outsider And the way it caused him to view the world, It was so unique. I think I responded to that cause there was nothing about that story that really sort of spoke to a young Puerto Rican kid living in Florida, but I think it was sort of the queerness without being a queer book and then later finding out that he did write a queer bible [Maurice, which was published after Forster’s death] and that he lived his life in the closet. I felt a lot of empathy for him as a person. I felt protective of him as a reader, as a fan and I wanted to do something to honor that, what he gave me. That’s sort of where the idea came from to take my favorite novel by my favorite author and queer it.

Gay it up!
And gay it up. And the truth is that he stopped writing books early in life, and it was because he couldn’t write honestly. He couldn’t write truthfully. And he didn’t think he could write if he couldn’t write truthfully. I just sort of wanted to take one of his most beloved novels and f— with it.

Tell me about the way you decided to structure it with the main characters writing their story and having the ghost of E.M. Forster helping them. Did you always imagine Forster to be in the play?
I remember looking back at my early notes, and the idea of including him was always present. I think once I really got to know him in a granular way because before I started writing this, I started to do a lot of research into his life and reading biographies. He felt so alive to me. He felt so like he deserved to be in this play. It could not just be a straight-forward…I wanted to acknowledge in the writing and in the presentation of the play what we’re engaged in. I didn’t want to sort of create a false film over the play that denies that it’s based on a novel.

I wanted to create an actual frame around the play that not just acknowledges that this is based on a book, but that the characters in the play, know of the book and that the book exists in the world that they exist in, that E.M. Forster existed as a person. I wanted to include Howards End as a truth in the world as I’m doing my adaptation of Howards End.

So the idea of the frame that we use in the play of the young men trying to tell their story and summoning the spirit of E.M. Forster to help them, really does largely reflect how I came to writing this play. The frame of the play is about the writing of the play. We avoided at all costs getting too cleverly meta about it. I think of Charlie Kaufman’s script for Adaptation. In part, what the play is about is the creation of the play itself.

Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

You write a great deal about the lost generation—the men who died of AIDS in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Do you have touchstones from that age group that helped you with those portions?
One of the reasons I wrote the play is because I did not feel like I had touchstones with that generation. I didn’t have relationships with them and if I’m being honest, I largely found that generation, for the longest time, to be very unknowable and opaque to me. Even more honest, I would say as a young gay man of color, my relationship to older white gay men was really not good. I found I had no compassion for them, and I felt they had no desire to understand me, not just as a younger gay man but as a younger gay man of color. I wanted to understand them, I really wanted to. It grieved me because there was, in my life at least, this divide between us.

In part what I wanted to do was just understand the generation. I [wanted that] as a young queer Puerto Rican, and I wanted to understand older gay white men in particular because, well, I married a white man, so I really wanted to understand that generation. What I didn’t want to do was just sit down and interview people and research because that could yield a lot of dry writing. So the only thing I did, the only real way to create compassion, is to put myself in their shoes. I said, “What would I have done in this situation? What would my reaction be? What would my friend’s reaction be?” The scene at the end of Act One when Walter asks Eric to imagine this happening to his friends is something that I had to force myself to do.

What you learn when you attempt to understand other people, the differences that seem to be between you that divide you, are not as great as you think they are, and once you attempt to just understand someone else, walk in their shoes for a bit, you can write very compassionately. You can hopefully write honestly about them without having had lived their life as well. I hope in return, I’ve explained my generation to the older generation a little better and in the relationships that I’ve forged is a result of working on the play. Stephen Daldry, the director of the play, is a gay man of that generation. And then a lot of younger gay men in the company who are of the younger generation from me, I’ve forged relationships with them. The play has allowed me a broader understanding of the community that I belonged to. It has expanded my definition of what that community looks like. It’s given me a real sense of belonging when I felt a real sense of alienation.

The play is told in two parts. Did you ever consider cutting it purely from a marketability perspective?
Yeah, sure. I was told, “Don’t make it two parts. Do it in four hours if you have to. Don’t do it in six and a half.” No. My attitude is always like, you’re under no obligation to produce this. If this never gets done then so be it. What I don’t want to do is present something that doesn’t resemble my intention.

The staging is very sparse and is basically just one big table. Did you write it like that? Or is that something Stephen came up with?
It was the first play I ever wrote, not really knowing how it might be staged. Normally, I think it’s in the best interest of any young playwright to sort of have the answer to how do you stage this. It was the first time I ever just decided not to worry about that and just write the thing I wanted to write and let that be the director’s worry. When Stephen and I started working on this, we did our first workshop, and what you see in the production was in many ways there in the first workshop. He set up a big rectangle of tables and he put all the actors on the outside of the rectangles sitting in chairs, and then he used the space in the middle to stage scenes, which is essentially what we do in the play.

Stephen drew his staging ideas, helped me really harness the play once it had been written and really make it producible and directable. From that moment on, Stephen and I worked hand in hand to make this thing what it is. His staging has been very influential on the further development of the play.

Since this is a play about what it means to be a gay man, do you prioritize casting gay actors or the best person for the job?
I have to go for whoever’s right for the role. The play is too enormous. The roles are too enormous to not do that. I’m very sensitive to the feelings of out gay actors in this business who see roles going to straight actors. As we were casting, we made a lot of overtures to out gay actors, many of whom passed on these roles. So, I’ve learned you cannot force an actor to do a play at gunpoint. We opened the doors to all corners and we looked at who was best for the part in terms of their spirit, in terms of their voices, and we cast the show according to those needs.

Before Broadway, the play was staged in London. Did you make significant changes before you brought it to New York?
There’s two types of changes that were made. One was simply we hadn’t gotten everything right, so a lot of the work that we did was getting it right. Part 1 is very clean and simple and spare — there’s an elegance and a simplicity to the staging that reflects the simplicity of the storytelling. Then in Part 2, the story gets messy and it’s consciously messy because their lives get messy. But it also means that the storytelling is harder to block. We spent a lot of time from the Young Vic to the West End and from the West End to Broadway, honing and refining and clarifying the story of Part 2.

The other thing that we wanted to do when we moved to New York is really put in references that a New York audience would get. There were things that we reserved that we took out in London because we knew a London audience wouldn’t respond to them. When they list the gay bars that have closed in New York City, London audiences aren’t going to get that and there’s nothing worse than throwing things out in front of an audience and have it be received with silence.

Henry Wilcox, played by John Benjamin Hickey, is the only name from the book that you carried over. Why is that?
Good name. I couldn’t best it. It sounds so Republican. Don’t mess with perfection.

Speaking of Republicans, the play deals with the 2016 election. We’re on the cusp of a new election — do you imagine you’ll update the play at all?
No, because the play is set in his very specific timeline. The play starts in 2015. I did have to go back and rewrite the play. Well, what happened was I had the play written and then Trump won. I had a talk with Stephen shortly thereafter, and we were like, we can’t ignore this. You cannot write a play about history and then have it be a historical when it comes to what America is going through in the present  moment. So I had this play all done, “done” in air-quotes, and then I had to go back and write the whole thing again.

There are also a lot of current pop culture references. Do you think you’ll update those?
No, I think the play is going to be what it is. I think the play is not going to move with any further time. The play has to live in the time that it was set, and that needs to be a snapshot, which I know it means that the play will start to age over the decades if I’m lucky enough to have it be remembered in decades time. But that’s okay because the play is so much about the continuum of history, I’m not worried about the play aging out.

I think that because the play also speaks so much to things that don’t require a timeline to understand. What is our responsibility from one generation to another? What are our responsibilities to others in our community, not just in the queer community, but as Americans? This play is about the gay experience specifically nestled within the queer experience universally. But beyond that, it’s also I hope very relatable universally. A lot of our audience is straight and there are themes in the play about the responsibility to each other as Americans. I look at the response to the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s and the ’90s. It was a community response. That was individual citizens banding together to affect change in the world, and that is an example to us in the age of Trump. If you want a lesson on how to respond to the election of Donald Trump, you need to look no further than the actions of the activists in the ’80s and ’90s.

The man I sat next to had seen the show three times. You have such fervent fans and people react so emotionally to this. What kind of fan encounters do you have with people?
I realized early on, once we realized what this play could do to an audience, I quickly learned at the Young Vic, because you leave the theater at the Young Vic and you go right into the bar. There’s a restaurant in the bar and everybody just hangs out there. It’s inescapable that you will encounter people who have just seen the play and I realized very quickly that my job after the play is over, after having them listen to my story for six and a half hours, is to listen to theirs in return — and they’re so willing and desiring to tell their stories after seeing this play. It’s very humbling and it’s very moving. You can ask any actors in the play too, I have held so many strangers as they’ve cried for the last two years of my life. Just the other night in front of the theater, a young man came to me and started crying and I stood on the sidewalk with him and two of the other actors and we just listened to him tell us his story. It’s a responsibility and I love that the actors also take it very seriously. They don’t take it for granted. It’s been like I wrote this play in part because I felt alone in the world and it has cured me of that feeling.

Have you been approached for this to be turned into a limited series? Is that something you’d want to do?
Yeah, of course I would love to do that. I’d love to get this play open first and then I’d like to take vacation and then I’d like to work on other things. It’s definitely a very compelling idea. In an effort to make sure that the play isn’t longer than it needs to be, we’ve cut so many things out of the play that we love. So many scenes that we love dearly that we cut, that might find another life in a limited series. But that’s further down the road and we’re not really seriously thinking about that right now.

What do you think about being compared to Angels in America?
Obviously it’s flattering. Being a young man in college in the 1990s, Angels in America was inescapable, especially for a theater student. I studied it in every class so it is the seminal piece of dramatic writing for my generation in our formative years. That said, they are very different plays.

I think the comparisons ultimately are superficial. It’s in response basically to run time and structure more than anything else. I wasn’t chasing after Angels in America. What I certainly wasn’t doing when I sat down to write this was, let me write the next Angels in America. I don’t like that comparison in that I’d like to be the first Inheritance. Angels in America wasn’t the next whatever.

I wouldn’t be the writer that I am if it weren’t for that play and for the work of Tony Kushner and I don’t know a single theater artists my age who would say differently. The debt that I have to him and the debt I have to that play is immeasurable. But I’m writing my own story.

What do you hope audiences take from watching The Inheritance?
I hope that this play gives audiences what it’s given me, which is a sense of belonging to something larger than myself. I think we live in an age because of social media, because of such fractured lives that we lead, it’s really hard to feel connected to something, and the connections that we do have seem to always be an opposition to things. We seem to be more connected these days by what we dislike than what really moves us and what we really feel we belong to. I hope this play allows people to feel a part of something, even if it is simply a part of the human story that we’re telling.

I was never ever trying to speak for a community. I was never ever trying to speak even for other gay men. I was simply attempting through investigating my favorite novel, to tell my story of my life. But more importantly, I just wanted to write something that was deeply personal and hope that it would have universal applications and what we’re discovering is that it does and that people see themselves in the play.

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The Inheritance

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Box office records will not propel Joker to a Best Picture nomination. Heres why

Welcome to EW’s The Awardist: a weekly column offering in-depth analysis of the 2020 awards season. Check out last week’s deep dive, and be sure to read through our Oscar predictions.

Does box office success equate awards potential? It’s the question of the season when it comes to Joker, a divisive comic-book movie that has somehow vaulted its way the fore of this year’s Oscar conversation. The gritty villain origin-story has cannily maneuvered the circuit ever since launching on the lido at the Venice Film Festival, winning the prestigious Golden Lion and moving on to a loud encore in Toronto.

The controversy surrounding the movie’s seemingly cavalier approach to violence and anarchy was at first seen as a potential barrier to accolades, then an attention-grabbing benefit, and now largely unrelated to its chances entirely — another backlash cycle, come and gone. What we’re left with are hard data — a decidedly mixed overall critical reception, record-breaking box office numbers — and gut reactions.

I’ve been skeptical of the movie’s awards chances for awhile now. Joker undeniably dominated talk at the fall festivals, at least early on, but the movie has rarely been held up as a favorite where it counts. On the ground in Toronto, where the film had a splashy screening, it felt like an afterthought as Cannes premieres like Parasite entered new phases of campaigning and similarly recent debuts like Marriage Story more effectively built on their first wave of buzz. The top 3 for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award — the vibrantly unpredictable Parasite, the emotionally wrenching Marriage Story, and the poignantly satirical winner Jojo Rabbit — were drastically different from one another, but each firmly asserted their place in the running well before the votes were counted. The deeply unpleasant Joker, by contrast, generated plenty of debate over its value, but wasn’t taken seriously as the best of the crop.

We’re now at that point on the calendar where the Best Picture field starts narrowing down; beyond the pair of potentially major titles we haven’t seen (1917 and Richard Jewell), things are starting to take shape. The conventional wisdom — including for most here at EW — is that Joker rests on the bubble, with a shot but hardly a lock for a nomination. The main argument for why it’ll make the cut? Box office. The movie is hugely popular — more-so than any other contender this year, or most years. And voters will give it a fair shake, since leading man Joaquin Phoenix feels like a safe bet for a Best Actor nomination, at minimum.

But put simply, it is quite rare for a nihilistic comic-book movie that critics are decidedly mixed on — Joker sits at a 59 on Metacritic — to land a Best Picture nomination. You could say unprecedented. It’s true that popularity changes the equation some; see Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody last year, or Get Out the year before that. But those movies’ appeal — either socially groundbreaking or comfortably crowdpleasing — aren’t really comparable.

And equally common are the movies that sail to surprising box-office success, score with guilds and various precursor groups, only to fall short come Oscar time. Tough genre sells (and ultimate Best Picture snubs) like comedy Bridesmaids and spy thriller Skyfall were major critical and commercial hits that hovered over their respective years as possibilities; Straight Outta Compton made the final cut at SAG, PGA, and WGA before getting shut out of the Academy Awards entirely, save for a screenplay nom. More specifically, many dark, arty, financially successful films in Joker’s vein have been tipped for major embraces before getting passed over — stuff like Gone Girl, David Fincher’s highest-grossing pic ever, or of course, that other prestige Joker movie, The Dark Knight.

Where else might box office play more of a factor? Look, first and foremost, to another male-targeted film hitting theaters Friday: Ford v Ferrari, James Mangold’s muscular, star-studded racing drama which got off to a strong start in Telluride but has since tapered off. It still has what it takes to be a major awards player; high theater grosses could offer the winds it needs in its sails to regain momentum. Recall last year’s studio-backed prestige pic that came running out of the gate before losing ground: Damien Chazelle’s First Man. Once that film underperformed at the box office, its prospects for major recognition really dimmed. Ford v Ferrari is at a similarly pivotal point in its awards journey. It needs the people.

Beyond Ford, which is fronted by generally good guys, it’s a banner year in film for meditations on toxic masculinity. Two prime examples, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Irishman, arguably lead the pack for Best Picture. But in those movies’ cases — as in Ford — there’s a tender, nostalgic quality, a fresh treatment of old stories and archetypes that feels simultaneously like homage and subversion. It’s the best of both worlds for an Academy that sticks to what it knows, while still grudgingly moving with the times.

What we can say for a lot of these movies — for Irishman, for Hollywood, for Ferrari — is that they offer something to root for. A comeback. A swan song. An underdog. You’ve got Martin Scorsese out there passionately advocating for cinema; some may be annoyed by the digs at Marvel, but for others, they’ll resonate. You’ve got Tarantino finally making a movie about the industry he so publicly adores. Voters need a story they can get behind. I’m not sure Joker has a persuasive one to tell.

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How Death Stranding with Norman Reedus bridges the gap between videogames and cinema

When Hideo Kojima, the prolific game-maker behind the Metal Gear Solid series, was a boy, he had a vision of what the 21st century would look like. “There would be no war, no poverty. It would be like Star Trek. All the world would be like one.” He recalls this, through a translator, backstage at a Manhattan gallery, the site of a one-night art exhibition showcasing all the concept illustrations that went into his latest project, Death Stranding. “That’s what it was supposed to be.” Obviously, we never reached that future, but Kojima and his videogames have become considerably better at tapping into the cultural and political zeitgeist before anyone else.

In 2017, players were convinced Kojima had predicted their current reality through the story of Metal Gear Solid 2, released about 16 years prior. A scene between the characters of Raiden and The Colonel from this gaming franchise took off online at the time, way before “Fake News” became a rallying chant for the current sitting president. Kojima’s characters remark how “trivial information is accumulating every second” in this “digitized world” that also “selectively rewards development of half-truths.”

Now, in 2019, the cast of Death Stranding believe Kojima again “connected” — a word they use quite often in trying to describe the videogame — with something entirely new. “It’s not a kill-them-all, be-the-last-one-standing game,” says The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus, who portrays the star character, Sam Bridges. “The whole point is to connect and you have to fight to get there and you have to grow as a person. You have a billion people all doing that at the same time. That’s going to do some good, and I think now, especially, is a good time for that to happen.” The extent of Mads Mikkelsen‘s videogame knowledge prior to Death Stranding started and ended with Space Invaders. (Like, the original Space Invaders.) But, for the Hannibal veteran, who portrays an antagonist to Sam named Cliff, Kojima’s new world “has persuaded me to start over and recapture some of my lost game play.”

The presence of these Hollywood actors in a game that also features roles for Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro, James Bond actress Léa Seydoux, The LeftoversMargaret Qualley, and The Bionic Woman herself Lindsay Wagner already gives players some idea of what Death Stranding is. Each delivered voice roles and motion-capture performances to bring their characters to life, but Death Stranding is definitely not a film. It’s also not entirely a videogame, at least in the traditional way that we’ve come to think about videogames.

One word seems to come up repeatedly when trying to describe the experience: “connection.”

In the story, Reedus’ Sam is a “porter.” In other words, a deliver man. Sam traverses America for a company called Bridges, transporting packages and supplies to a now-disconnected civilization. In this world, beings from the space between life and death — called BTs for “beached things” — entered the world during the Death Stranding. Most of humanity walled themselves off inside their respective cities to stop from being consumed by the Death Stranding and becoming BTs. It becomes Sam’s job to travel across what remains of the Land of the Free to connect everyone again through the same online network.

There are also obstacles at play, like “Timefall,” which is rain that vastly accelarates the aging process of whatever it comes into contact with. (A single drop can me unconcealable wrinkles.) There are also elements like “BBs” (for “bridges babies”), infants with a connection to the other side that are farmed and used to help porters to see and detect the presence of BTs.

“I didn’t really know exactly where my part fit into the whole picture,” Mikkelsen says of the first few conversations with Kojima about the game. Playing through about 4 hours of Death Stranding, the feeling is understandable. Through Sam’s BB, we see flashes of memories of Cliff before he shows up later in a more sinister form.

A filmmaker friend advised Mikkelsen to become a part of Death Stranding, Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed the actor in Valhalla Rising and also plays a different character in the videogame. “It was like a graphic novel, and I’m a big graphic novel fan,” Mikkelsen notes of seeing early concept art designs. “I had a hunch that I really wanted to be a part of that process.”

Reedus had a similar experience: “Guillermo del Toro originally called me and goes, ‘There’s a guy that’s gonna contact you to be in a game that we’re making. Say yes.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean say yes?’ He’s like, ‘Trust me.’ Guillermo got me my first acting job. I have a huge respect for our friendship. I know if someone presses Guillermo that much, I’m going to love him.”

Such a complex and layered story like Death Stranding stems from Kojima’s personal struggles. Following his tenure developing titles for Japanese gaming company Konami, he set out to construct his own studio, what we know now as Kojima Productions. “[Death Stranding] was about the days when I was going independent and had nothing,” Kojima explains. “I was like, ‘I want to make something.’ I only had dreams and hope, I didn’t have anything around me to start.”

In 2016 at the E3 gaming expo, where studios and developers gathered to preview their upcoming releases, Kojima first announced Death Stranding as his next project and his sense of isolation broke. “I found out there was already fans and I had connected with fans,” he says. Those connections also extended to Sony Interactive Entertainment, which now partners with Kojima Productions on Death Stranding, as well as Del Toro, who was working with Kojima on the now-canceled P.T. Silent Hills videogame. “When I tried to lead all these connections together, I thought I would make a game based on connection.”

At the same time, it’s almost “a sarcasm to connect,” he adds. In the real world, technology tends to isolate users; people feel more concerned with the life of their social media personas than their actual lives, while text messaging and anonymous comments online often replace in-person conversations. In Death Stranding, technology becomes a way to bring people together. For instance, if one player builds a ladder to climb up a mountainside or a bridge over a stream, another player can utilize those same structures. The game actually encourages players to pay it forward — even if some are doing so to selfishly make their own lives easier.

“I’m not saying yes or no to connection. The answer is up to the players to think about,” Kojima says. “If you play the game, you may feel a connection is not bad after all. So what I wanted to say in Death Stranding is the fact that we’re isolated using the state of our internet, but don’t deny the technology that we have. It’s how you use the technology.”

Kojima leads by example in the way he uses the technology at his disposal. His efforts with motion-capture, by no means a new concept to the Hollywood engine, brings more realism to his characters. At times, it’s too realistic; one function allows players to make Sam urinate where he stands. (Really!) On the opposite end of that spectrum of signature Kojima weirdness, the mastermind personalized the characters to the actors. When he saw Mikkelsen taking a smoke break during one of their filming sessions, he programmed the actor’s character to smoke in the game. “I don’t think I did something really new here,” Kojima notes. “Performance capture is something that was there [already]. I’m just using in a different way.”

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

The results bring a more cinematic experience to Death Stranding that Kojima, too, takes advantage of. There are your standard easy, medium, and hard levels of difficulty for players to choose from, but there’s also a very easy setting designed with cinema lovers in mind.

“When I announced [Death Stranding], I got responses like, ‘I’m a great movie fan and I saw your game, but I haven’t been playing games,’” Kojima recalls. “I wanted to set the bar really low and that’s the very easy mode. All of these people that are movie fans, they say games nowadays are just so complicated they can’t do it anymore… I want people to come back to playing games again. It’s totally different than watching a movie. It’s basically easy, but you have to control it. You’re not just watching it.”

Though he’s interested in one day tackling a movie of some kind, it’s important for Death Stranding to exist as a videogame. The nature of choice lends itself to the idea of connection. (There’s that word again.) “If it’s a movie you just see the character connecting, it’s not you,” Kojima continues. “Everyone who sees the movie could watch it from a little bit of a distance, but in the game it’s interactive. You’re the one deciding and you’re the one connecting.”

Following this same idea strand, Kojima is now looking ahead to streaming for some future project. Well, specifically, the intersection between streaming and A.I. technology. The man is fascinated with the thought of what he predicts will be “a wave of creating things” stemming from artificial intelligence. He says, “I want to do something really weird or something unique on the streaming platform. Technically, I’m trying to experiment already.”

Kojima has a lot of ideas bouncing around in his mind. When asked about turning Death Stranding into another series of games like Metal Gear Solid, he mentions, “It should probably be done, but I don’t know about my whole schedule and my physical condition, too.” Still, he keeps coming back to streaming, if only because, with so much content available on streaming platforms “there are a lot of things in between [a movie and a game] you cannot define.”

Coming from a film and television background, Mikkelsen is intrigued by the potential of interactive storytelling. “The whole idea that people can go in and be a part of the story themselves, it’s probably not something that’s going to happen in the movie industry for a number of years, but it’s definitely something that will be on the table somehow, working together with the gaming world and the film world,” he says. “I think there’s definitely a future to that.”

Black Mirror: Kojima, anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Walking Dead is having a creative renaissance

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Great Villains

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

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

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

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

2. A Kinder (but Not Gentler) Negan

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

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

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

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

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

3. Going Old-School

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

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

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

4. Still Taking Risks

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

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

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

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

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

5. A More Collaborative Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taron Egerton is taking this all really seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gisela Schober/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out our full list of Oscar nominations predictions

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