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Scenes from Press Tour: Stars Show Up, and So Does A Kid from Chicago
August 1, 2018  | By Roger Catlin
 

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — As high quality as television has been over the past decade or more, there are still moments when movie stars can cause their own commotion by their mere presence.

It’s been happening at the TV Critics Association summer press tour in recent days, with a pair of box office stars appearing on behalf of impending streaming series on two different services.

First, it was Julia Roberts appearing for Homecoming, an intriguing new half-hour drama series on Amazon Prime about a woman who interviews soldiers returning from the war.

The other was Michael Douglas, the longtime star, who is paired with Alan Arkin in an upcoming Netflix comedy by Chuck Lorre about two cranky old men in Hollywood called The Kominsky Method.

For the stars, however, the move from movies to TV doesn’t seem as monumental as it may look from the outside.

“I guess I didn’t really think of it as small screen / big screen [thing],” Roberts said in a session. “My television is very big.”

Rather, Roberts said, she was interested in working with creator Sam Esmail of Mr. Robot fame, who created Homecoming based on a popular podcast. She said she also liked the extended length of the narrative.

“We were so excited to collaborate on this and what we could do with it and just what you can do with more time to shoot and more time to unravel things for people,” she said. “It seemed like a great opportunity.”

As for the movie and TV divide, “I don’t think there is a distinction in our minds,” Esmail said.

“There isn’t,” Roberts agreed. “Everything is so good. The bar is so high. And I mean, for me, it’s nice to bring something into people’s homes. We’re like a delivery service. We’re delivering entertainment right to your doorstep.”

She was referring to the chief aspect of the company with which she was working, free package delivery.

If Roberts’ brilliant smile isn’t enough of a Hollywood indicator, there is also pairing her with Dermot Mulroney as a love interest in a series that also stars Bobby Cannavale, Shea Whigham and Stephan James, reuniting them for a third time, though Roberts noted “we weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend the first time. We were best friends.”

Indeed, it was the 1997 My Best Friend’s Wife.

“Then he was my sister’s boyfriend in August: Osage County,” Roberts said, referring to the 2013 drama.

“Fiancé,” Mulroney corrected her.

“Fiancé,” Roberts said. “And finally, my boyfriend. It only took 30 years.”

In Douglas’ case, the longtime actor, now 73, said The Kominsky Method was “a chance to play some comedy, which I don’t normally get a chance to do that often.”

After a lifetime in movies, he said it was also appealing to work “in a format like, with Netflix, streaming, where there are no commercials, and it’s like a 25 to 35-minute movie — no time limits, language [restrictions], and all of that.”

It was a great contrast, he said from his appearances in both Ant-Man movies, or what he called  “green screen movies, which I’d never done in my life before, and now having a chance to do a series like this with Chuck and Alan has been really a treat.”

Douglas said he never worked with Arkin, but “I learned a lot from him in the time we were together — just about comedic timing and sense and he’s got certain philosophies that were really, really helpful.”

As for the content, “We talk a lot about prostates on this show,” Lorre says.

More seriously, he added that he wanted to reflect “what I’m living, which is getting older:  entropy and the dissolution of form, the decay of the flesh. And it has to be funny, otherwise, it’s heartbreaking. And there’s loss of loved ones and how it affects your relationships and friendship and how you respond to a culture that feels like it’s moving away from you. So that was the impetus for the show, to do all that and hopefully — and have some comedy involved.”

Homecoming starts Nov. 2 on Amazon Prime, and The Komisky Method debuts Nov. 16 on Netflix.

**********

It was a session for a Starz documentary called America to Me, covering an academic year at a suburban Chicago high school and how issues of race and privilege affect education.

And on the panel, one of its subjects, a spoken word artist named Charles Donalson III (top) couldn’t get over the opulent setting of the TV Critics Association summer press tour.

“Jesus Christ, do you all know how much food there is out there?” he exclaimed, referring to the lavish breakfast buffet that had been offered outside the ballroom doors.

All this just after talking about his friends from a disadvantaged neighborhood who weren’t lucky enough to make it to his school, “just because their parents couldn’t afford to live in this neighborhood.”

“I’m being dead serious right now,” he snapped, when some reacted to his food observation.

“Do you all know how much food it is out there?” he repeated. “You all see all this stuff? When I was in here yesterday, and I’m watching all the money it probably take to just set up this room, and you — like there is literally situations like this where we’re hoarding wealth.”

It’s the same thing that’s happening at his school, Donalson said. “And that’s the same thing this entire country is doing. … It’s because the people in power don’t wanna give us the money that they have. They don’t want to give us the privileges they have. . .They don’t even wanna give us books!

“You all heard them talk about, ‘We don’t have the same tools to compete with.’ Why is it a competition? I went to that school for four straight years. And I’ve been in the college prep classes, I’ve been in the honors classes, I’ve been in the AP classes, and I stopped seeing people who looked like me in the honors classes.“

So he had a suggestion for the TV writers.

“I want each and every one of you all to go write something about it. I don’t care what you all do. Go to your neighborhoods, go help somebody that look like me, go help somebody that look like you, but take away from this that this doesn’t need to happen anymore.”

It involved more than writing a blurb about his docu-series. And in the short term, no one went to the buffet for seconds. 

America to Me premieres Aug. 26 at 10 p.m. on Starz.

 
 
 
 
 
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