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Comedy Actress Roundtable: Emmy Rossum, America Ferrera on Pay Standoffs and Casting by Bikini

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Serious talk from comedy stars — also including Pamela Adlon, Minnie Driver, Kathryn Hahn and Issa Rae — about being asked to audition in a two-piece swimsuit (“We want to see how tight your ass is”) and male nudity: “Get your balls out, boys!”

Emmy Rossum sat down at Hollywood Insight annual Comedy Actress Roundtable in late April just waiting to be asked about her recent salary standoff. Only four months earlier, the Shameless star, 30, had fought for — and ultimately received — salary parity with co-star William H. Macy, and now she knew her move would be fodder for discussion. “I was wondering how many questions we were going to wait till you were going to bring this up,” she said, pointedly, when the issue finally was raised. The discussion that ensued, however, became less about Rossum than about why such parity demands aren’t more common. Over the course of the candid hourlong conversation, America Ferrera, 33, acknowledged why she has, in the past, hesitated to ask for more; Pamela Adlon, 50, revealed what has happened when she’s tried; and Minnie Driver, 47, pressed everyone at the table — including Kathryn Hahn, 43, and Issa Rae, 32 — to consider what they could do to change the system once and for all. But before they got serious about their financial clout, these comedy stars also talked about sex scenes, male nudity and auditioning (or not) in a bikini.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you as a performer?

KATHRYN HAHN (I Love Dick, Amazon) I did a sex scene and was wearing one of those modesty patches, which is like …

MINNIE DRIVER (Speechless, ABC) Chafing?

HAHN Chafing. And I could feel that it had shifted significantly to the left. And I could only imagine the POV of my co-star.

EMMY ROSSUM (Shameless, Showtime) That’s only happened to me like 35 times [onShameless]. Like every other week. (Laughs.)

PAMELA ADLON (Better Things, FX) I have a lot of those from Californication. Like, f—ing on the sink and then the sink breaks and then the water shoots out. And I’m in the little thin dress with the G-string, and I feel the dirty studio water going up my pussy. I’m like, “I have hantavirus now!” (Laughter.)

DRIVER This would never happen to you, but on many movies I’ve done with actors who are mostly short — I mean, most actors are short, certainly the ones I’ve worked with — they would dig me a ditch to do a kissing scene in. So, you’d be in there down with the mud and the dirt. And I remember just voicing early on, “Wouldn’t it be just a bit easier if maybe he stood on a half apple or a whole apple [carton] than dig me a ditch?”

ADLON I have never felt sorry for tall people in my life. Until just this moment.

DRIVER It was really embarrassing, and it happened twice. I remember on both occasions saying to the actor, “Isn’t it weird for you?” And they were like, “No. It’s great ’cause now we’re at the same height.”

Minnie, you’ve said that your role on Speechless was one a lot of other women didn’t want to take because of how unlikable the character was. What was the appeal for you?

DRIVER Well, it’s one of my strong points: being awful but relatable. (Laughs.) No, I actually have a real problem with women being called unlikable because you never hear that about a man. They’re called antiheroes and they’re funny and they’re strong and they’re interesting. She’s not likable across the board, and most women or most people aren’t, but she has a very heightened set of circumstances. If you’re handed a baby who a doctor tells you is never going to lead a typical life — they probably won’t walk, they probably won’t talk [with cerebral palsy] — the small stuff doesn’t really apply anymore. You say whatever you think. So I feel like she has a different set of tenets by which she lives, and some of them are really not likable, but she’s human in that way. I think a lot of actresses were worried that that would somehow tarnish them. That’s interesting as an actor. I like it.

AMERICA FERRERA (Superstore, NBC) And there’s liberation in it, too. My character onSuperstore is so different from the one I played for four years on Ugly Betty. Betty was this picture of optimism. You could throw anything at her, you could shit on her, and she would just smile and keep going. And that was easy for me to play, especially as a 20-something who knew that my role as a woman was to make people like me. Amy onSuperstore is so different. She’s coming from such a different place: She has a job that is just a job, and she doesn’t seek her validation in it, and she doesn’t need people to like her. Playing that role as I am growing up as a woman, there’s libera­tion in feeling like I don’t have to make everyone like me. It’s OK if people don’t like me. I can just be a person in the world, and it’s not the end of the world if somebody doesn’t approve.

DRIVER It’s very antithetical to being an actress because we are groomed to be people pleasers, and we’ve got to make everybody like us because we’ve got to be in competition with every other girl in a way that men really aren’t.

Have the rest of you ever had those concerns? Do you consider whether a part is unlikable before taking it?

ROSSUM I run toward it. My character on Shameless — ’cause it has been so many seasons now — has gone through so much. I went to jail for cocaine and overdosed a toddler and still found the humanity in that. I guess there was a moment where I thought, “Oh, God, is everyone going to hate me?” And then I felt like, “Who cares?” Whatever anybody takes away from it is a reflection on them, not you.

ISSA RAE (Insecure, HBO) That’s so true.

DRIVER And nobody is one thing.

RAE I think it may feel more amplified because TV shows these days are more publicly social, in terms of the conversation. And people tend to be quicker to take sides. The character in my show is named after me and that was purely by accident. It was an untitled show, and I was just like, “Oh, I’ll just call the character Issa for now,” and then it just aired that way, and I didn’t realize the implications of people being like, “F— her, f— Issa, she’s trash.”

ROSSUM You should know that people do that regardless. (Laughter.)

ROSSUM People scream at me like, “F— you, Fiona, you overdosed that baby.” They actually think you’re that person.

ADLON In the season I’m shooting now, I’m exploring this idea of people who have done f—ed-up things having a redeeming quality. Last season, the guy who is the father of my girls on the show and I have this sit-down in a restaurant, and it’s so intense. He’s like, “‘I’m going to be in town, but I can’t see the girls.” And I’m like, “Are you saying you want me to manage the girls?”

DRIVER “So you want me to tell them in case you run into them?”

ADLON Yeah. And he was like, “Well, it’s very complicated.” And I’m like, “I’m sure it is.” And he goes, “Thanks for your help.” And I go, “Thank you for your help.” And I stand up and I walk out. And the note was, “We don’t want [the camera] to stay on him because we’re feeling a little bit of empathy for him. We want to leave with you.” And I said, “No, I’m interested in him sitting there in the fart that we just made in this restaurant and what’s going on with this guy. That’s the thing that’s so great to explore.”

America, you’ve said this role is the first one you’ve been offered that was not written as a Latina. Is that a coincidence or progress?

FERRERA It’s probably a little bit more complicated than that. I’ve worked in TV and film for years and so my personal success, as much as I wish that that equated to a certain broader success and more opportunities for more Latino characters, that’s not always necessarily the case. We came out of the gate with Ugly Betty, and it was years and years after we went off the air that there was another Latino main character on television. So where you would think it’s like, “Oh, it works, let’s go in this direction,” it doesn’t always end up that way. Fortunately, for me, I’ve established myself to a certain degree, so I’m so lucky that I now get considered outside of the box of Latina, but I don’t think that’s true for everyone. In the way that, like, when Halle Berry gets considered for roles that are not written black, that doesn’t apply to everyone. There has been progress, but there is so much more to do. There’s so much nuance in the way that we talk about the roles that women are now finally getting to inhabit because we’re behind the camera, because we get to write our own stuff and say “This is what feels real to me, this is what I recognize myself in.” The same is true for people of color: If we don’t get in the positions of power, if we can’t tell our stories, if we can’t write and direct and produce our stories authentically, then those roles and those opportunities that feel new and fresh aren’t going to come.

ROSSUM It’s important to raise your hand and say, “I want to do this,” because people aren’t going to assume that you want to do this or can do this. Sociologically, we’re programmed to be a little bit deferential, to be likable.

FERRERA I directed an episode of my show this season, but I found it hard to ask to direct.

ROSSUM I kind of quasi-asked for a while.

FERRERA Yeah.


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