Plus: Weaving shares Ryan Murphy’s unorthodox method of directing actors.
From Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, the Netflix seven-episode limited series Hollywood follows a group of aspiring actors and filmmakers as they try to make their dreams come true in the post-World War II era. While exposing the power dynamics and unfair biases that were prevalent, it also explores what things might have looked like if those Hollywood norms had been torn down.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Aussie actress Samara Weaving, who plays aspiring and ambitious actress Claire Wood, talked about the experience of working on a Ryan Murphy set, what she found most intriguing about playing this character, having legends like Patti LuPone and Rob Reiner play her parents, the incredible wardrobe, and how this series has changed her perspective on Hollywood. She also talked about joining the Bill & Ted franchise, the surreal experience of being on the set of the third film, how the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to her character, and joining Snake Eyes as Scarlett.
Collider: This series is just so beautiful to look at. How incredible was this set to be on?
SAMARA WEAVING: It was exactly how you’d think it was. It was just luxurious escapism, honestly. The entire cast were absolute legends, which sometimes you have to lie about in these interviews, but honestly I can say with complete certainty that I love every single person on that set, behind and in front of the camera.
It’s one thing for us to be able to look at it now and be able to see why you would want to do this, but you don’t necessarily know how it’s going to look or turn out when you sign on. When this project came your way, what was it that most appealed to you about it? Was it the fact that it’s Ryan Murphy, was it the time period, was it this insane cast, or was it all of that?
WEAVING: Yeah. Nine times out of ten, when you’re about to start a project, you don’t know how it’s gonna turn out. But because it’s Ryan Murphy, I knew and trusted immediately that this was going to look and be as glamorous and as amazing as he said it was going to be. So there was a complete trust in him, all of the directors, and all of the heads of departments because they’ve all worked with him before. I’m sure there were times of complete stress that I wasn’t privy to, but everything seemed to run so smoothly and everything looked incredible. There weren’t many overtime days. Everything ran so smoothly that there was time to just have fun with the material and play with the other actors, which was such a luxury and so much fun.
What did you find most intriguing about this character? Were there things that particularly excited you about getting to play and explore with her?
WEAVING: She was intriguing. The thing about this show – and apparently Ryan does this with all of his shows, but I wasn’t aware of it because it was very new for me – was that he didn’t give us all the scripts at once. He would give out Episode 1, and then we would film it. And then we’d get Episode 2 and film it. It went along like that, so I wasn’t aware of where my character was going. I had to go off of how he described her to me when we met for the first time. I was so intrigued by her. I did a lot of research about child neglect because her confidence came from this almost abandonment complex. She’s the daughter of the head of the studio, and her mother is this once famous silent film actress, and neither of them want her to be in the business. Neither of them really want her to succeed and they don’t really have time for her. I thought it was really interesting that she changed her name, where she could have used that name as a tool to get ahead. Her moral compass is definitely towards herself at the beginning of the show. She will do anything and everything to get ahead. And Ryan described her as a spider who has her ear to the ground, and she can see and notice everything. She absorbs information, but then she can be seen when she wants to be seen. She can lurk in the background and camouflage herself, but when she wants to be seen, she will take everyone’s attention. And then, I realized that her moral compass shifts, and it’s less about herself. Through her relationship with her mother and her relationship with Camille, her priorities change and her heart grows, and you get to see the warmth and the vulnerability that is pinned underneath that wall.
What was it like to find out and have Patti LuPone and Rob Reiner playing your parents? What do you learn from working with two legends like that?
WEAVING: Oh, my goodness, they was so much fun. I was so intimidated and nervous. Patti hugged me, and she was singing and dancing all the time, and making jokes and swearing. She was just such a delightful human being. And Rob Reiner is exactly the same. He’s made so many great films and he’s hysterical. There’s a scene where we have dinner and we all have to be so rude and horrible to each other, and it’s so much easier to do that when you really get along with the people you have to be mean to. There’s a certain amount of comfortability because you can ad-lib and make up insults. They were so kind and generous, and that scene was so much fun, even though it was 11:00pm and we’d been working since 4:00am. We were just cracking up the whole time.
The clothes and the styling in Hollywood are to die for. What was it like to get into that wardrobe and the hair and makeup every day, and how did that inform the character for you?
WEAVING: (Costume designer) Sarah Evelyn, (hair department head) Michelle Ceglia, and (assistant makeup department head) Kerrin Jackson did such an amazing job. The outfits were incredible, and they were actually from the 1940s. They only made a handful of outfits. Most of them were sourced from vintage stores and warehouses. It really did help get me into character because I’m usually wearing the most comfy things ever. Wearing dresses and outfits like that really makes you stand up straight, suck your belly in, and strut your stuff. Claire happened in those moments. The same thing happened when I did Picnic at Hanging Rock, where the first ten minutes are really fun, and then you realize that these poor women had to wear very restricting, uncomfortable outfits all day, every day, with pantyhose. And they had to do their hair in rollers and sleep with them. There were all of these insane beauty tactics. Katharine Hepburn wore pants when it wasn’t socially acceptable. So, I definitely had a lot of respect and empathy for the women back then who really had to wear those clothes.
Did digging into Hollywood during this time period give you a new or different perspective about the Hollywood that you’re having to live and work in now?
WEAVING: Yeah. This definitely honors the people who paved the way for us and for equality in the industry and is about that: what if what’s happening now in Hollywood started back then? It’s a really great reminder for us to not take that for granted and to keep fighting the good fight. Reading some of those stories and watching a lot of documentaries about Hedy Lamarr, Lauren Bacall, Veronica Lake and Lana Turner, they just went through so much that was so unnecessary, and they were treated terribly. Women were given pills by the studios to stay awake, and then other pills put to put them to sleep. And then, they’d become dependent on them and get thrown out. They weren’t paid enough, and had nothing to back up on. That’s only the handful of the ones that we do know about. I couldn’t imagine some of the actresses and actors that we don’t hear about and how tragic it would have been for them because of just wanting to follow their dream. There are some eerie similarities to the problems that we have in industry today, and we definitely need to keep fighting that fight. But it is assuring to know that it’s not as bad, at least for me, as it as it was back then.
I love that you’re also in Bill & Ted 3, which is hugely iconic and a legendary movie franchise. Did you know just how excited fans would be about that film and how anxious people would be for it to come out?
WEAVING: No. I have to say, I hadn’t seen the films when I got the audition. My fiancé was sitting next to me and I said, “Oh, I’ve got an audition for something called Bill & Ted,” and I’ve never seen him jump as high as he did. And then, he started doing the impersonation of Bill and Ted and I was like, “What is happening? Are you having an aneurysm? Do we need to call somebody?” So then, we sat down and watched Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, and I was laughing hysterically the whole time. I didn’t realize what an impact it had on pop culture at that time. I’ve heard people say, “Whoa, dude!” and I didn’t realize that it came from there. Also, a really random connection that I didn’t make before is that Holland Taylor is in it, and I didn’t realize that on Hollywood because we didn’t have a scene together.
After watching the first two movies, what was it like to be on the set for Bill & Ted Face the Music, working with actors who were playing the characters you had just watched in the previous films? Was that a surreal experience?
WEAVING: Yeah, very surreal. Luckily, before we filmed, (director) Dean Parisot said that he really wanted to have a comedy boot camp, so we really got to know each other and we were really comfortable around each other before we got on set. With Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter playing your fathers, you don’t wanna be nervous on set, so that took the edge off a little bit, but it was very surreal. I was impressed with the whole cast. I’m a comedy fanatic, so having Kristen Schaal, William Sadler, Jillian Bell, Beck Bennett and Anthony Carrigan was just incredible. And shooting in New Orleans in the middle of summer was a great backdrop to the whole thing as well. It was fun.
Would you say that your character is very much her father’s daughter, or is she very different from who he is?
WEAVING: I will say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. They’re slightly more clued in than their fathers. They can join the dots a little quicker, but they are unaware of that. They still have that childlike view of the world. They’re unaware. If you told them about something bad, they’d be very, very upset. They’re just obsessed with music and their dads. That’s really their entire world.
What was the appeal of jumping into the G.I. Joe franchise for you, with Snake Eyes and a character like Scarlett?
WEAVING: Yeah, that was an interesting one. Really, it was talking to the director (Robert Schwentke) and Henry Golding. They had a very interesting take on how they wanted to tell the story. To be honest with you, I’m not in a lot of it. I’m there as a guide, if you will, but it was a wonderful experience. I’d never been to Japan before, and we had a lot of time to explore the beautiful country of Japan. I met Úrsula Corberó, who is just fantastic. The whole cast is beautiful. I’ve done a lot of films that involve a lot of stunts and action, and I was so grateful that they could bring my stunt double, Jacky Geurts, along with us. She’s been with me since the Ash vs. Evil Dead days. It was just a blast, and it was a genre that I hadn’t really done before, so that was fun too.