Award season roundtables are a cottage industry now, and with Emmy nominations looming, The Hollywood Reporter is back on their bullsh-t with a comedy ladies’ roundtable of hopeful nominees. The group includes Jane Fonda, Regina Hall, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Alex Borstein, Tiffany Haddish, Maya Rudolph, and Natasha Lyonne. It’s a solid group, and the conversation is fine. These roundtables have gotten so formal and become part of The Campaign, so they no longer even have the façade of being organic or off the cuff, but as far as staged conversations go, this one is pleasant.
It’s always interesting to hear people talk about their process, though I wish Phoebe Waller-Bridge elaborated on which character in Killing Eve she tried to rewrite for herself, and exactly how the character “resisted” her. But that’s the thing with these roundtables – they’re so structured and edited, there is no room for a tangent. I would be very interested in hearing more about her work process, as she is one of the hottest writers in the industry right now, and it would be cool to know the process that made her one of the hottest writers. There is no room for follow-up, though, as they have to stick to the schedule and move onto the next topic.
But two things do leap out of this roundtable. One is the discussion of nudity. When asked what are the “quick and easy no’s” at this point in their respective careers, Jane Fonda says, “I think I wouldn’t be naked anymore.” There is a round of jokes, but then the interviewer, Lacey Rose, redirects to the topic of nude scenes. She asks the group where they stand on nude scenes, and Tiffany Haddish is the only one to mention a financial aspect to the equation. Sure, there is artistic integrity to consider, but Haddish comes right out with, “…how much are they paying me?” The transcript notes “laughter”, so it’s easy to see this as a joke, but I also wonder about the practicality of Haddish’s response.
Nude scenes happen, sex scenes happen, they’re not necessarily the enemy in filmmaking. But they can be so exploitative, and it is such a personal decision, that every actress will wrangle with the question herself, eventually—to do, or not to do. I love Haddish’s response for admitting there is a financial consideration, too. She says, “I'm just borrowing this flesh suit. I am going to give this back to the Lord anyway. Might as well share it, if I can feed my family and whatnot.” Artistic merit, of course, yadda yadda, that’s great. But also, pay me.
Once again, I wish the discussion drilled down on this point, and questioned whether or not the nude scene question is privileged in any way. Does having a safety net have an impact on your decision, and if so, how big does the safety net need to be before doing a nude scene becomes a purely artistic decision? Phoebe Waller-Bridge, for instance, comes from a posh family. Does having that safety net mean she can wait until it’s the right artistic expression to do a nude scene? Or is there always a sense of exploitation? This is where I wish these roundtables could go, but they never do. The conversation never goes beyond the surface of Haddish’s reply that her decision to do a nude scene will include financial consideration.
Honestly, I wish they talked about money more in general. Haddish also mentions money in the context of her family asking for it now that she’s made it, which leads to a little exchange with Maya Rudolph about how that is a marker of success. Partly because I am nosy, I would like to hear the gossip about family members coming out of the woodwork, asking for money. The way money changes the family dynamic fascinates me. But also, imagine this group of women discussing what they are getting paid, how they are getting paid, and what does and does not work as leverage for them in negotiations. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is currently rewriting Bond 25. Tiffany Haddish is bringing back Kids Say The Darndest Things. They’re both reworking retro properties for the 21st century. Wouldn’t you love to hear them compare notes on their compensation, and how and what they leveraged for those jobs?
Women are discouraged from talking about money and compensation. But Haddish knocks on that door a couple of times, only for it to go nowhere. It’s frustrating, because that could be a very fruitful conversation, not only for the women at that table, but for anyone who listens. We need to talk about money more, we need to be more open about the financial decisions we’re facing, and how we go about making them. When nude scenes came up, everyone goes on about the expression and the merit of it, but Tiffany Haddish presents a very grounded, practical way of thinking about it.
Most of us are not going to be asked to do nude scenes, but what women about who are asked to take a long work trip away from their family? Or women who are informed their job is hiring a known predator and they have to suck it up and deal with him? Talking about money isn’t just dollars and cents. It’s also talking about control, access, and even freedom. We are all inevitably faced with a moment in which we are asked to compromise something, and too often, we’re expected to make the compromise with no compensation. We could stand to hear more about how other women made similar decisions, and what role money played in their thought process.