The big story at the box office this weekend was Spider-man: Homecoming, the third best opening of the year behind Beauty And The Beast and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2. The big story at the specialty box office this year, however, continues to be The Big Sick. Two weeks ago, when The Big Sick opened in limited release, it grossed $435,000 from five locations in NY and LA, with a per theatre average of $87,000 – the best per theatre average of 2017. As The Big Sick continues to expand to other cities, “it’s on its way to becoming the biggest specialised release of 2017”. There’s really nothing to be mad at here. It’s a major win for romantic comedies. It’s a major win for diversity. It’s a huge win for Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon who co-wrote the script based on their real-life relationship (click here to revisit Kathleen’s review and her experience meeting Kumail and Emily). And it’s a win too for Zoe Kazan who plays Emily in the film.
I have loved Zoe Kazan for a long, long time. There was a great Vulture piece on her back in May that you should read if you missed it and this weekend she was profiled in The Guardian ahead of The Big Sick opening in the UK. My favourite part of the interview is how she describes Holly Hunter, who plays her mother in the film. It relates to Holly’s “high boundaries”:
“[Holly’s] very kind. Her boundaries are not low, but she doesn’t carry a lot of ego or personal success history with her. She’s very easy to be and to act with – generous, game.”
Where did she feel Hunter’s boundaries lay? “I just mean she doesn’t strike me as an intimacy junkie, in a way that a lot of actors are. I am, and I like to get right in there. But I think what age and experience has taught her is not to lean forward into every person she meets. She’s very curious, and really accessible in some ways, but there’s something private. It’s nice.”
I f-cking love that description of actors, as intimacy junkies. Because she’s right. It’s not uncommon. To attach for a few weeks to the people they’re working with, and to the people they’re playing. That’s part of the reason why they can be so weird – because after the intensity of being onset every day, for most of the hours of a day, for a month or two or even more, they have to go back to not having that, not having that built into their daily schedule.
Sometimes that intense intimacy is necessary too because of what it can feel like for an actor, especially an actor who is a woman as in some ways, as Zoe describes, Hollywood is still kind of the wild west:
“There’s so much sexual harassment on set. And there’s no HR department, right? We don’t have a redress. We have our union, but no one ever resorts to that, because you don’t want to get a reputation for being difficult. I’ve told Paul [Dano] about stuff that has happened on set and it’s almost as if he can’t take it in. It’s too upsetting. And he’s never had to deal with that once.”
Sometimes, Kazan says, the harassment is so subtle, it’s hard to articulate. “I have a lot of girlfriends who are amazing actors, and many times we’ve talked about having to go into a room and give ‘blowjob eyes’. You know, be flirty with a director or a producer. It’s the sense that your sexuality is somehow baked into this situation. Or there’ll be auditions where they’ll say, ‘Wear something body-conscious’ and then you’re aware that they’re checking out your body. You leave the situation feeling not good about what just happened, but you don’t really have the language for why. You feel like, if you said something, it would reflect badly on you.” This was not Kazan’s experience on The Big Sick, she adds, which “was a very clean job for me. Everyone was super respectful.”
Was she ever directly propositioned on other sets?
“No. I mean. Hmmm.” There is a long pause. “Like, I had a producer ask me on set once if I spat or swallowed. At work. He’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a joke, ha ha.’ But he was also paying my cheque and then watching me from the monitor as I made out with another actor – so when he tells me I look good, it feels different. I was in my mid-20s at the time. I was not powerful, I did not feel I could say anything.” There is another long pause. “That has got better as I’ve got older, partially, I think, because I’m better at knowing how to shut that down. But it makes you feel guilty, and bad, as if it’s somehow your fault – that you’re somehow giving that person the signal that it’s OK to treat you that way. And none of that is stuff that Paul has to deal with.”
Right. So… speaking of the specialty box office and sexual harassment, A Ghost Story, starring Casey Affleck, opened strong this weekend with great reviews. This is Casey’s first film since winning the Best Actor Oscar for Manchester By The Sea. The other day, writing for The Daily Beast, Kevin Fallon asked readers Does Casey Affleck’s Past Scandal Haunt A Ghost Story?. He’s specifically talking about the film’s story and how playing a ghost who may or may not be stalking his lover might blur the lines between personal and professional but, evidently, that past scandal isn’t affecting ticket sales and, in Hollywood, the bottom line is often all that matters.
I think though of the people who have been sexually harassed and can’t come forward. Of people like Zoe Kazan who share these stories of their experiences, but only well after it happens, certainly never at the time, never wanting to disrupt the project. How it must feel to see the Casey Afflecks continue to be successful and so few who openly challenge the system the way Brie Larson did at the Oscars. Casey Affleck’s example isn’t exactly encouraging.
Attached - Zoe, Kumail, and Emily at a screening of The Big Sick in London last week.
Yours in gossip,