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TCA Winter Press Tour 2019 - Clooney, 'Catch-22,' and More from Hulu
February 14, 2019  | By Roger Catlin
 

There was an extra reminder at a well-attended session of the TV Critics Association (TCA) 2019 Winter Press Tour that pictures were not allowed. It was necessitated by the appearance of the ever-photogenic George Clooney (top) for a session on the six-part adaptation of Catch-22 coming to Hulu May 17.

Clooney not only produces and directs, but he also strains his neck muscles by portraying the constantly yelling Lt. General Scheisskopf.

Clooney, 57, called Joseph Heller’s classic “one of the great American novels of all time, so it was required reading when I was in high school.
 
“I loved the style of writing which was different than the kind of writing we had read,” he said. “I reread it when we were sent the scripts to do, and I hadn’t read it in — you know, high school was 15 years ago!” he joked. “So it was really fun and exciting to go back and read and understand why this book lasted and stands the test of time. It was fun.”

For a long time, he had avoided the idea of adapting it for the camera. “It seems ridiculous,” he said. “It’s a beloved novel. I don’t want to get into the middle of all that.”

But he said he was impressed by the first three scripts by Luke Davies and David Michôd.

Christopher Abbott (top) stars as Yossarian, and it features performances from Kyle Chandler and Hugh Laurie as well as Clooney, who said he wasn’t daunted by the 1970 Mike Nichols film. “We stole a couple of things from him along the way, which was part of the fun of it,” he said.

But having six hours allows more of an exploration of the work. “When you do a movie, as you know, you don’t have enough time to really get to know the characters, and that’s why you do this as a television show,” he said. “You get to spend time with the characters like the book does. And they just figured out a way to interpret it in a way that we didn’t think was really possible.”

For Clooney, it was a return to a press tour he first visited 25 years ago, as part of the young cast of a new show called ER.

“It’s been a while, I suppose,” Clooney said. “ER was a nutty moment in my career, but also in the lives of a bunch of actors. There were six of us who suddenly were thrust into the stratosphere, and it was life-changing for all of us. And it was fun to be here. It was a little bit different, the room, but not that much. It is a lot of the same faces.”

And, the ever-charming actor added, “You look exactly the same!”

Clooney appears to play his hyperventilating sergeant broadly. “You have to take a swing and hope that you hit the ball along the way,” he said. “There’s no way you can do this half-assed, right?”

The effect of Catch-22 today may be different than it was in the Vietnam era, but should be universal because the military hasn’t changed, Clooney said. “It was really to make fun of all of the red tape and the bureaucracy of war and the ridiculousness of it. And so I think that that still plays.”

And the length of the limited series, compared to the film, allows much more of Heller’s prose, as well.

“It was not too difficult memorizing the material because if you read these really long speeches, it’s written so well there’s a rhythm to it, said Chandler, who plays Colonel Cathcart. “The writing was very enjoyable to play with.”

Said Clooney, “I’ve done dozens of shows and films where I’ve worn a military uniform. And when you put it on there is, of course, a sense of pride but also a great sense of responsibility always along the way.”

But bringing up a previous role, he added, “with the exception of the Batsuit, any time you put on a costume it does help you get into character considerably.”

Unlike his role in Batman & Robin, Clooney cracked, ”I was sad there weren’t nipples.”

*******

Greeting a group of weary reporters nearing the end of the more than two-week TCA Winter Press Tour, Hulu Senior Vice President of Originals, Craig Erwich (right), tied it into a recent documentary hit on his network.

“Thanks for being here,” he said, “basically living through Fyre Festival 2.”

Food was nominally better in Pasadena than the famous cheese sandwiches given the hapless attendees of that doomed music fest at the center of Hulu’s Fyre Fraud. But it had been going on long enough to trigger some desperation.

But as the first streaming head to address the group, he had some information.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese are attached (as producers) to the new Hulu production of the nonfiction bestseller Devil in the White City, possibly meant as a similarly dark follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Speaking of which, pushing the third season of The Handmaid’s Tale to June was not meant to avoid final episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Erwich said in response to a question. “We wanted to give the show enough time in Season 3 to maintain the incredibly high standards of storytelling that were set in Season 1 and 2.”

That said, he said “Season 3 will take on a different tone. I think you’ll be interested to see a lot of resilience as one of the themes.”

Like most streaming services, Hulu looks at viewing data (even if they don’t always release numbers).

“We know that after watching The Handmaid’s Tale, not everyone wants to watch another prestige drama. You’d be surprised to know that many of them jump to Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Rick & Morty. And our job is to ensure that we have enough of those to keep them happy.”

One comedy they won’t be turning to will be a third season of Sarah Silverman’s I Love You America, which Hulu canceled last month.

While, Erwich said, the show grew from Season 1 to 2, “it didn’t garner a large enough audience, despite the critical acclaim, to go forward.

“We were very proud of what Sarah Silverman did,” he added. “What she set out to do was very difficult. She was trying to thread the needle and find the balance on both sides of the political conversation, which is not really something that you see a lot in that genre.”

The session also offered a brief glimpse shown of the upcoming revival of Veronica Mars that is in production.

“She’s not a young girl anymore,” Erwich said of its 38-year-old star Kristen Bell. “You’ll see her dealing with contemporary issues in a contemporary world.”

Full panels were given to the March 15 comedy Shrill, starring Aidy Bryant of Saturday Night Live as struggling writer in Portland, Ore., with a bad boyfriend. Its cast includes John Cameron Mitchell and Luka Jones, with Julia Sweeney and Daniel Stern as her parents.

For the show, from Elizabeth Banks and Lindy West, based on her book, puts weight in the spotlight and that was a plus for Bryant.

“I didn’t see a lot of fat women on television when I was growing up, and I always craved that,” she said. “So, when I read Lindy’s book, there were so many things in there that I identified with, particularly the idea that the whole world is kind of telling you you’re wrong for existing in the way that you are, even if you don’t feel that way.”

A second comedy, Ramy, starting April 19 on Hulu, stars young comic Ramy Youssef as a Muslim trying to make his way in New Jersey. It is, in part, from Jerrod Carmichael.

“I always really felt this connection to my culture, to my faith, and the tension in my life has always been how do I hold on to both things,” Youssef said. “Where does it feel like when you want to go to Mecca, and you also want to go to Burning Man. I’ve never seen that played out.”

The anthology series The Act begins March 20 by recounting the story of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome case previously seen in HBO’s 2017 doc Mother Dead and Dearest. It features Joey King (left) as the daughter with an overprotective mother, played by Patricia Arquette (left), and also features Chloë Savigny and AnnaSophia Robb.

It’s the second addled, frowzy middle-aged character in a row from Arquette who has won a Golden Globe award for her portrayal in Escape at Dannemora. The actress says she was always interested in the case, but added, “I am a little exhausted of playing crazy women.”

Hulu also brought the 90-year-old sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer on stage to talk about the documentary on her, Ask Dr. Ruth, which will begin streaming May 10. She began her session by maintaining her feistiness. “I can still throw hand grenades at journalists if they don’t ask me good questions,” she said with a smile.

As for Fyre Fraud, Erwich said it wasn’t devised only to undercut the Netflix documentary on the same subject that was scheduled to be issued a few days later.

“We had had our documentary in the works for well over a year. We were aware of the other film. When the release date of that other film became clear we moved very quickly with our finished film to get out ahead of them,” he said. “We felt that, given the story, we wanted to be first and be on record with what we felt was the definitive account of it. It really wasn’t meant as a dig at anyone else; it was just important for us and to our viewers that we go first.”

Erwich said he was more excited that both films “really became a cultural event for the week or first two weeks of the year. And, I have to tell you, that was a blast.”

 
 
 
 
 
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