Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Interview — Scandal's Joe Morton: "Rowan Has No Boundaries"

Joe Morton
(photo by Bobby Quillard)
If you watch “Scandal,” then you know that Rowan/Eli Pope strikes fear in the heart of everyone who crosses him — and even if they don’t cross him, but only accidentally get in the way. His portrayer, Joe Morton, is nothing like his character. In fact, aside from the dulcet tones of his mesmerizing baritone voice, you’d be hard-pressed to find any similarities … thank God. When I spoke with Joe recently, he gave me the rundown on all things “Scandal,” as well as his new one-man show in New York City called “Turn Me Loose,” which opens in May.

Celebrity Extra: Did you know how huge “Scandal” was, and was going to be, when you signed on to play Rowan, Olivia Pope’s father, in season two?

Joe Morton: It’s interesting, I think, because the first season that it was on, I certainly had heard of it, but I didn’t really know a lot about it. I knew about Kerry Washington and that she was involved. I didn’t really sit down and pay close attention to the show until the second season. I had come out to L.A. for pilot season, and I sat down with my computer and started streaming “Scandal” on Netflix and just fell in love with it. It was an amazing show, beautifully written, beautifully shot; I loved the cast, loved what was going on. I said to myself, “I wonder if there is a way I can sort of wrangle my way into one episode of the show as a guest artist?”

Even before I had the opportunity to talk to my agents about it, I got a call from them saying that in fact “Scandal” wanted to talk to me about coming onto the show. They said they wanted me to come on as a guest artist, and I had to keep it a secret. And the secret was that in the last episode of season two, the last two lines belonged to Kerry and me, and they would reveal that I was her father. So I said, “You’ve got me.” So, I took it up and here I am.

CE: Because of the type of character you play, I have to assume that it is immensely fun for you as an actor.

JM: It’s a huge amount of fun. I mean, it’s very intense, obviously, and the scenes that they write for Kerry and me, in particular, are just wonderful. So it’s a real joy.

I’ve spent most of my career playing good guys for very deliberate reasons. When I started in this business, a lot of the opportunities for black actors, male actors in particular, were centered on playing drug addicts or drug dealers or pimps or some kind of gangster. And I just thought, that’s not how I want to begin my career. I wanted to try to put together a portfolio of diversified black male characters who didn’t necessarily go around hurting people. But when I came out to L.A. at the end of season two for “Scandal,” I was looking for a very smart, very intelligent, very devious bad guy, and this just fell into my lap. So, it’s secondary how much fun it is.

CE: So much of what Rowan does and says just makes my jaw drop. What are some scenes for you where you couldn’t believe what you were saying or doing?

JM: It was a couple of seasons ago, the scene between Tony Goldwyn (who plays President Grant) and me where I called him a boy. I mean, that was unbelievable that they created this incredible monologue where a black man in chains sitting in a captive sort of situation is telling off a Southern, white Republican president of the United States, telling him that he’s a boy. I just thought, if my father were alive and he were able to witness my doing this speech, he would be shaking his head in disbelief. How did this ever happen?

CE: After having spoken with Tony Goldwyn (who plays President Grant) a few years back, as well as Bellamy Young (Mellie Grant), I get the impression that this is a great environment, a great set to work on.

JM: It really is. Without any exaggeration, they’re the kind of group where you go to work every day looking forward to seeing your friends and doing whatever it is you have to do that day. It’s a real joy. It’s really relaxed. A lot of my scenes are very intense. But a lot of the Olivia Pope and Associates scenes, from what I gather, are a lot of talk and a lot of joking and a lot of standing around, but it really is a family. We are a group of people who are there to watch each other’s back and then to serve the material, to really get in there and do the best we can with what Shonda has given us. And so it makes it just very comfortable and a lot of fun.

CE: Now that Olivia knows the kind of man Rowan is, we haven’t had a lot of scenes with only them, just being father and daughter, with no hidden agendas. Do you miss that?

JM: I think he’s always, generally, I don’t know what the word is — nice? But he’s always loving toward her in one way or another. Even if he’s scolding her. Even if he’s in some way disappointed with some specific thing she might have done. I think that what holds all that together is this very odd and clearly unhealthy relationship between father and daughter. But there it is. It’s still there, and it’s very present, and it’s very powerful, and it’s unbreakable so far.

CE: My impression of Rowan is that he truly believes that no matter what he does or who he kills or who he ruins, that he is doing it to protect the country and that it makes it all OK. What do you think?

JM: I think you are absolutely right. I think his job is to protect the republic by any means necessary. Whatever it takes to make sure that the Republic of the United States’ protection is maintained. So, he will do whatever it takes. There’s no boundary to that. I think he’s even said that. There’s no one above him to say, “Don’t do it that way.” It’s his job to figure out how to make sure XYZ gets done, and gets done quickly and efficiently, and the result is that the country is protected.

CE: Even if that means killing the president’s son …

JM: That’s Rowan in terms of his own view of revenge. His view was you have dishonored and hurt my daughter, so this is what I do in return.

CE: And it didn’t hurt that it helped Grant get re-elected.

JM: Right. If he can do two things at once, fine. But I think there is a strain that is very personal and very dangerous.

Joe Morton (photo courtesy ABC)
CE: What scoop can you give me about “Scandal” as we start to close out the fifth season?

JM: The only thing I can tell you is that it is an election year. So, since this is Fitz’s last term in office, I think there are going to be lots of people affected by his moving out of that office and trying to determine who’s going to take his place. But, if you want to know anything else, you’re just going to have to wait and see it.

CE: Prior to researching Dick Gregory for this interview, shame on me that I had not heard of him. What an influential man he was, and still is! What had you known about him before taking on this role, and what made you decide to play him?

JM: I’d met him many years ago, so I knew who he was and I knew what he’d done. I knew about his activism in terms of the civil-rights movement. I knew about his work in terms of nutrition. He had the Bohemian diet that came out in the ’70s, I believe. I’ve seen and heard his stand-up routine. And it was all of that that attracted me to want to do the part. We are talking about things today in politics and in nutrition that he was talking about 30 and 40 years ago. So he definitely was a trendsetter. He was definitely someone enormously ahead of his time and someone who had great courage to do the kinds of things that he did.

CE: How did he get involved in the civil-rights movement?

JM: Medgar Evers was the big pull for him into the civil-rights movement. He and Medgar Evers became the best of friends. They rode the buses together, they did fundraisers together, etc. In fact, the name of the play, “Turn Me Loose,” is the last three words that Medgar Evers spoke before he died. Medgar was his idol in a lot of ways, and he felt pressed to make sure that he came up to Medgar’s measure in terms of what needed to be done with the civil-rights movement. And he continues to do it today. He still goes out on speeches and he goes to college campuses. I was just talking to him recently at BB King’s in New York, but he also goes from campus to campus talking to students and whomever wants to listen about what’s going on in the world and his point of view.

CE: What do you hope comes from this play when audiences see it; how would you like the audience to react to it, or what do you hope they take from it?

JM: I hope it reaches as many people as humanly possible. That’s the point of the play, in many ways, is that it is in some ways a call to action. A lot of what he did, a lot of what he speaks about, a lot of his humor really was basically telling the audience or asking the audience to take stock of their own situation individually and as groups, and do something about it. The woes that we find ourselves facing as individuals or as groups — whether it’s black people or Hispanics or women or whatever — it might be you need to take stock in these situations and act on it and do something to make it better. That’s on all of us. That is our obligation. And that is what he preaches, even if he’s doing a stand-up comedy routine.

CE: What is the time frame in Dick Gregory’s life that the play covers?

JM: It flips back and forth between the ’60s and present day. It’s just me on stage, playing him at different ages. When he was younger, when he broke the color line on the Jack Paar show, and then when he’s older and talking directly to the audience that’s in front of him.

CE: What else should audiences know about the play?

JM: Just that John Legend is also involved. He is one of our producers. It will be “Turn Me Loose, presented by John Legend.” So that will hopefully be really helpful. And I believe he’s, if not writing at the moment, has written a song for the play that will be introduced at the end of the play opening night.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Interview: Fiona Gubelmann's Thrilling Turn in Mommy's Little Girl

Fiona Gubelmann, photo courtesy Lifetime
Fiona Gubelmann is best-known for her work on the hilarious and surprising FX comedy series “Wilfred,” which starred Elijah Wood as a man who saw his neighbor’s dog as a grown man in a dog suit, and all the high jinks that ensued from that. She’s also made numerous television and feature-film appearances, including “Blades of Glory,” “Castle,” “Parenthood,” “New Girl” and “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23.” Now fans can see her in a completely different role: that of a young mother who is raising a murderous child.

Touted as a modern-day “Bad Seed,” “Mommy’s Little Girl” — which premieres on Lifetime Saturday, March 19 at 8 p.m. ET/PT — centers on Theresa, a young mother who lost her husband shortly after they were married. Feeling ill-equipped to care for an infant, she left her daughter, Sadie, in the care of her paternal grandmother, unaware that the bitter, resentful woman isolated the girl, home-schooled her, and never allowed her to socialize with other children. When the two are finally reunited, 10-year-old Sadie is thrilled to leave behind the life she hated to begin a new life with her mother and soon-to-be stepfather, Aaron (James Gallanders). Although her intentions are good, Sadie’s skewed perception of the world and her inability to distinguish right from wrong will ultimately prevent her from having the life she so badly desires.

Celebrity Extra: I was just catching up on “Castle” before our interview, and I was so happy to see you guest-starring on the last episode I just saw!

Fiona Gubbelman: That’s so nice to hear. It was a great experience. You never know it when you step onto a drama set, and you’re wondering if everyone is going to be serious or dramatic but, no, everyone was so much fun. Most of my scenes were with Stana (Katic, who plays Capt. Kate Beckett), and she is so silly and sweet. And also, she is really talented, and so it was great getting to work opposite her because it was just so natural.

CE: And you also guest-starred on one of my favorite comedies, “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23.”

FG: That was such a great show. Getting to do it was just so much fun. I loved my character on it. She was kind of a bitchy girl, which is fun because I don’t often get to do that. And James Van Der Beek, he is so funny. That is one of my favorite things I’ve seen him in. And I ended up getting to be on another comedy he was on, “Friends with Better Lives,” maybe a year or two ago. I’m a huge fan of his work and his work ethic, and he’s just great in comedy.

CE: You’ve had the chance to work on a lot of great comedies.

FG: It’s really wonderful when you get to work on a show that you also watch. A lot of the comedies that I’ve gotten to work on — “Modern Family,” “New Girl,” “Key and Peele” — these are all shows that I watch. And then getting to be a part of it is just great.

CE: Your latest project, “Mommy’s Little Girl,” definitely would not fall into the comedy category. Tell me a little about the story and your role in it.

FG: My character, Theresa, is finally taking her daughter, Sadie, home to live with her. She’s finally getting married. She’s finally doing well in work, so she’s finally going to raise her own daughter. Sadie had been living with the paternal grandmother. And the paternal grandmother did not do the best job raising Sadie; she is akin to the mother in “Carrie,” to give you an idea. She’s been messing with Sadie’s head all these years. It’s sad too because this poor, sweet girl, all she wants to do is be with her mother, so because of the fear that has been created in her by her grandmother, she will stop at nothing to make sure she stays with her mother and that no one gets in the way.

CE: What kinds of things will Sadie resort to?

FG: It might include some murder and some foul play.

CE: This is being compared to the cult-classic “The Bad Seed,” which was known for its sometimes-unrealistic melodrama. How would you say that “Mommy’s Little Girl” differs from it?

FG: What’s so great about the film is that it could be just silly, and you could be like, “Oh, yeah, would a kid really do this?” But what the writers did so brilliantly — as well as under the direction of Curtis Crawford and producer Pierre David — is that they made sure the story was motivated by true feelings and emotions of this little girl just wanting to be close to her mom. It’s really psychological, and you actually feel bad for the little girl — even though she’s scary — and at the same time, it’s a sad story. I think they did a really great job of balancing the fun and popcorn-movie aspect of that.

CE: So Sadie isn’t evil for evil’s sake; there is an underlying need to be loved there.

FG: Exactly. She’s just trying to please her mother. She’s just trying to be mommy’s little girl, and she just doesn’t quite know how to. But she’s definitely not doing it the right way.

Fiona Gubelmann and Emma Hentschel,
courtesy Lifetime
CE: Tell me about the shoot. What were the cast and crew like to work with?

FG: We shot for a month up in Canada. It was great. And what’s really neat about Pierre, the producer, is he has you shoot for four days on and then you take two days off. So instead of doing five days in a row, you actually do only four, which gives you a chance to recuperate on those two days off. And then the crew and cast and everyone have way more energy. Pierre found that his sets were more productive that way. Our days were long, probably about 15 hours. Since Emma (Hentschel, who played Sadie) is a minor, that definitely affected the hours and shooting schedule. I was pretty much there every day as first up and then the last to leave because we had to make sure that we were getting Emma in her eligible hours. It was fun — the whole cast and crew were such a great group of fun, kind, talented, hardworking people that the shoot just flew by. I still keep in touch with them, even here on the West Coast. I feel like Emma is my little sister now. We still send each other funny videos and text messages.

CE: Since this kind of movie is such a departure for you, what did you take away from the shoot?

FG: I am just so grateful that I was able to work on this. Right before filming this, I shot another film for Lifetime called “911 Nightmare.” I played the lead in that as well, and I was a cop. It was so great to play that because, again, I never get to play cops, and I never get to play tough characters. Like you said, it’s generally more the comedic roles, even in dramas. The producers of that film were talking, and somehow word got around and Pierre heard about that, and so gave me the opportunity to do this film. I am so appreciative of him for taking the chance on me and letting me play this type of character because it’s not every day that people are willing to do that. It was so much fun getting to play Theresa. I had a really great time. Also, I have to say, working across from Emma, she’s so talented naturally that when we would act together, it just felt completely natural. I never had to work hard to get emotional or to find anything like that because when she and I would speak, the emotions just came naturally. We had such great chemistry and such a great bond.

CE: What do you hope viewers take away from the movie?

FG: I just hope they have a really fun time. It’s a wild ride, and there are a lot of twists and turns. And the relationship between all of us, I think, is really beautiful. I really hope that they see the heart in the movie as well as the suspense.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Just in Time for the Holiday: Mim-Mim's Eggscellent Easter

Photo courtesy Disney Junior

Inspired by a real life little girl, Kate + Mim-Mim follows the fantastical adventures of 5-year-old Kate, who, together with her toy rabbit Mim-Mim, travels to the fantasy world of Mimiloo, where Mim-Mim comes alive as a larger-than-life playmate. In each episode, Kate and Mim-Mim and their group of lovable friends discover exciting new places and set off on adventures, all in the hope of solving a puzzling problem Kate has encountered in the real world.

In this special Easter event — airing March 18 and 25 at 7 p.m. EST — on Disney Junior, Mim-Mim’s Eggscellent Easter, it’s Easter morning and Kate wakes up super early. She and Mim-Mim twirl away to Mimiloo while they wait to search for chocolate. Upon arrival, however, they discover that Boomer, the youngest of the Mimiloo gang, along with his mini dinosaur buddies, the Tee-Hee Rexes, have already collected all the Easter eggs, leaving none for everyone else! It’s up to Kate, Mim-Mim and the rest of their Mimiloo friends to hop to it and help the Easter Bunny save Easter before the rest of Mimiloo wakes up!

Kate + Mim-Mim, now in its second season on Disney Junior, was developed by the husband and wife creative team of Scott and Julie Stewart who based the character of Kate on their real life daughter. In another added bonus, the real Kate, now 8 years old, voices the character of the Easter Bunny on Mim-Mim’s Eggscellent Easter.

Friday, February 19, 2016

INTERVIEW: Josie Bissett Turns the Tables

Josie Bissett (photo courtesy
We all know and love Josie Bissett from “Melrose Place,” where she played Jane Mancini off and on for about a decade. In February, you can catch Josie in the Lifetime original movie “Pregnant at 17,” where she plays a wife named Sonia, who realizes her husband (“Days of Our Lives” and “Pretty Little Liars” alum Roark Critchlow) has had an affair with a 17-year-old girl … and has gotten her pregnant. I spoke with Josie recently about this heart-wrenching role, and she is excited for fans to see her exploration of this character. “Pregnant at 17” premieres Saturday, Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Celebrity Extra: Tell me a bit about the premise of the movie, and about your character, Sonia.

Josie Bissett: I play Sonia, who is a veterinarian and is married to Jeff. She’s unable to have children and has had a miscarriage. Roark plays my husband, who is a really great actor. I’d never worked with him before. Sonia finds out that he’s having an affair, and of course that’s devastating. She becomes obsessed about finding out who she is, but a lot of it is that feeling that anyone would get when someone is being betrayed. She figures out where the girl works, and she goes in and gets a sorbet. She ends up chatting with her, and she realizes that Chelsea is just this really sweet, innocent, young girl who’s only 17 and pregnant. She also realizes that the girl has no clue about Jeff being married. She finds out through Sonia and ends up not wanting to have anything to do with Jeff.

CE: How does Sonia feel about Jeff after learning all of this?

JB: I just love what my character does with the situation. There’s nothing in her that wants to salvage the marriage after what has happened. And she develops a friendship with this young girl, Chelsea, and can’t help but want to help her and help take care of her and the baby. The relationship is just beautiful between Sonia and Chelsea. It’s just a really sweet relationship that develops, and they both grow throughout the film.

CE: What about Roark — how is his portrayal of Jeff?

JB: He really does a great job of making you want to punch him. Jeff is just awful. And he is one of those guys where there are no redeeming qualities in him. What I love is that there’s not even an ounce of Sonia that wants to forgive him or wants it to work out. We all make mistakes in life, and he realizes he made one, but there’s just no chance for him. You really see the torture and the pain in him for what he did. You see it in his eyes. The dialog that is coming out of him might not be what Sonia wants to hear, but inside, the way he plays it, you can just see this tortured soul. Roark does a great job.

CE: The viewers will find out pretty early on that Sonia doesn’t go all revenge-y and postal on Chelsea — I love that twist, that they put the blame where it belongs and they don’t get into some big catfight over a cheating man.

JB: I really love that twist. I’ve never seen it in a cheating movie where the one who’s hurt the most ends up just really rising above the situation. But, of course, there’s a bunch of drama that comes about — someone from Chelsea’s past comes back into her life, and Sonia and Chelsea have to save themselves and the baby. There are scenes where we’re fighting in the woods and trying to escape people trying to kill us. I got to do all my own stunts. They weren’t big stunts, just fighting and running through the woods, but it was fun. And it was like, “Hey, I got a workout today.” It was a pretty intense 14-day shoot.

CE: Tell me about working with Zoe De Grand Maison, who plays Chelsea.

JB: She’s got this look that is a mixture of stunning but then haunting but then sweet. It’s all these different emotions. It’s hard to explain unless you work with her, but she just has this incredible way about her. She’s just very good, and she takes her time, and she’s unique. I think she’s going to do really well. She can just look at you, and you see everything in her eyes. And she’s also an incredible singer and plays guitar. She’s really talented.

CE: Tell me your big news!

JB: I’m so excited. I’m playing Liam Neeson’s wife in this movie called “Operation Chromite,” which is about the Korean War. It’s going to be fun, and I get to bring my daughter. I love shooting in places like that, where it’s a foreign crew and it’s such a different experience. It’s only one scene, but I’m just so grateful to go over there and to be a part of this.

CE: When we spoke before, you touched on the book series that you had written. Tell me about that, and if you have plans to write more.

JB: What happened with my first book was I was five months pregnant with Mason, who is now 16, and “Melrose Place” had ended, so the timing was perfect for me. And when I had him, I didn’t want to go back onto another show, especially in those infant years. So that’s when I decided to write children’s books. It wasn’t a purposeful, “Oh, I’m going to start writing.” It just was a natural process of, “I have all this stuff I want to share and how do I go about it?” And I always had something going on creatively. The first two books I did, “Making Memories” and “Little Bits of Wisdom,” were parenting stories and advice from parents around the world.

Then the children’s books came after. And all of these books come from the kids — listening to them play and listening to their words. They have such incredible imaginations, things we could never make up on our own. “The Tickle Monster” came from that. Mason and I were tickling one night. I wrote the book in a night, and then it took six to seven years to get it finished because lots of things were happening at the time, and then I had Maya. I’m working on another series right now, but I don’t know the title yet, until we secure the trademark. I really love writing. I love the process of it. It’s something that I can control and do in my own time, and see it through from beginning to end.

CE: I must ask the obligatory question of whether you still keep in touch with any of your former “Melrose” castmates.

JB: I haven’t seen anyone since the shoot we did for “Entertainment Weekly” (in fall 2012). I don’t keep in touch regularly with anyone except for Laura Leighton. But I will see what everyone’s up to now that we have this wonderful thing called social media. I can see what everyone is doing, and we’ll have a little bit of communication through that. But living in Seattle, I’m a bit away from all of that.

CE: Did you see that not-so-great TV movie about “Melrose Place” on Lifetime called “The Unauthorized Melrose Place Story”?

JB: I didn’t see it, and I actually didn’t hear anything about it. Like, I didn’t hear if it was good; I didn’t hear if it was bad. I didn’t even know it was airing.

CE: Yeah, it wasn’t so good, so be glad you didn’t see it.

JB: (Laughs) I bet they had Jane crying all the time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rachel Hunter Is on a Tour of Beauty

Rachel Hunter, photo courtesy ImaginationTV
Supermodel Rachel Hunter has graced the cover of countless magazines, hosted numerous television shows and was married to a rock icon. Now she’s undertaking a different sort of role — that of detective and discoverer. On Ovation television’s “Rachel Hunter’s Tour of Beauty,” which premiered Jan. 17, Rachel is in search of beauty secrets from all cultures and walks of life: from France and Greece to China and Fiji. In each of these 13 hour-long episodes, Rachel will take viewers on her own tour of beauty, and she’s hoping we’ll want to come along for the ride.

Celebrity Extra: First of all, how did the idea for the series come together?

Rachel Hunter: I was working with Bettina [Hollings], who’s the executive producer, and we were working on “New Zealand’s Got Talent.” And my background, as a child, I was very exposed to different religions, different cultures. I was brought up on natural, organic foods. Always had an intrigue with health because I was a dancer. And New Zealand is very much that kind of feel. We sat around and threw out some ideas together. And we came up with this one other show, which didn’t work. And then we thought, “How do other cultures live?” It kind of came from us just sitting around and talking. At that point I really thought I’d traveled around the world and seen things from being a model as well as being married and going to different places.

To be honest, my appreciation of the world in different cultures has deepened incredibly after going to these 13 different countries, because I really got to see the underbelly, and see women and men and cultures, see why some of them live so long, why some of them are so healthy, why some of them are so spiritual and have a sense of peace. The people that I met who have eaten these superfoods or have different ways of life, they are the superstars of the show. I am merely the conduit; I loved what I was doing. I got a lot from this journey, but I hope everybody else has a better and bigger understanding that inspires people to really look and feel and appreciate other different cultures, ideas, beauty, longevity and wellness. This show really means a lot to me.

CE: So you basically go to these different countries and just seek out these different ways of life, of living, of eating, etc., and bring it to us?

RH: Yeah, there’s no script. I go from eating bullfrogs to tea to emus to burqas to gurus to different types of superfoods to understanding why the French have this incredible style and they don’t get fat. I also look at the entirety of the pressures in different societies, and take the human side of them and really look at that.

CE: What are some other things viewers can expect to experience?

RH: We get a broad view of the world and have a look at the different cultures. And clearly in different cultures there’s different religions, different ways of life. And I think to involve that gives us a really good sense of the people, and it was a good idea for what the concept for the show was. We made the decision to go to all those places so our experiences could be extremely spread out. India has a wealth of ancient ways. China has a wealth of ancient ways and knowledge. Australia is full of incredible scientific information for me, with the DNA testing, which is very helpful information that I needed to learn about myself. We hear about coconut water, we hear about chia seeds, but what the heck do they do? Everyone is on this bandwagon of longevity wellness, thinking, “Yeah, let’s sit down and crank out some juice and get some chia seeds, and we’re all going to be great.” Well, what do they actually do? So we explain some of those superfoods and what they actually do, how they can actually help us. And for how long have they been helping us. We cover all of that kind of stuff.

(photo courtesy ImaginationTV/Ovation)
CE: It’s not all just about diet and physical health, but you also delve into emotional and spiritual well-being.

RH: Yes. We met with an amazing guru, and his concept of beauty is everything that I believe in and that’s how he feels. When we go through struggles in life, we reach out, usually, to spiritual or religious places because we really need to understand ourselves — what’s our purpose, where are we going in our lives, what is God, what is the universe? We have all these big questions, which, basically, never really get answered. But I think that when you go to some of these spiritual places that they give you great ideas and great clues to settle that down and give you critical tools, really amazing tools to live with.

CE: What are some of the things you learned in your travels for the show?

RH: On my journey going around these places, I think that the biggest thing that I learned is that until you walk in someone else’s shoes you can’t judge them. If we feel comfortable with ourselves, then how can I possibly say to someone who isn’t happy with herself, “Well, you need to learn to fall in love with yourself and do this and do that”? I mean, who am I to talk when I spent 20 years of my life on magazine covers? Until you walk in somebody else’s shoes and become involved in their culture, and when you kind of get in there, you can understand why. I’ve always kind of said, “You can look in the mirror and you can look beautiful, but you actually want to love the person looking back at you.”

CE: Tell me about some of the uplifting moments we’ll see in the series.

RH: Oh my God! There are so many uplifting moments. We were in Greece during the moon harvest, and we got drunk on this really, really raw wine with a high percentage of alcohol. We danced all day long and laughed. I’d say that Greece and the Full Moon Harvest that we filmed and dancing and singing and laughing was a huge bright spot for me. And France was eating cheese. And you just eat and eat. You also dance in Brazil. There was a lot of dancing in Brazil. What an amazing place! The melting pot of all these incredible, different places. There’s a lot of laughing and there’s a real funny side to the show. There are serious moments, but I think you have to have a laugh too.

CE: A lot of places you visit, you are really roughing it, aren’t you?

RH: We all love a five-star hotel, or whatever floats your boat, but I think to actually go into places and live with people, like we lived with Elaine and George on their winery and woke up with them and ate their food. She cooked and we sat in their kitchen while she was cooking. New Zealanders travel a bit young, and you know when you start traveling, you have this awestruck look on your face. Like, I can’t wait to investigate the world. For me, this series, it is like, how do we get that vibe back again? To have this opportunity to go and see different cultures deeper — going on to the farm, going and living with people — that was so different from the life that I led. It wasn’t magazines or concerts or all that kind of stuff. It was more about hanging out on the farm and how are we going to put this turmeric into a facial.

CE: Was there a time when you didn’t think you were going to be surprised by something, but then you were?

RH: The France episode was like, oh my God, it’s Paris, which is about beauty at the time. This is going to be a no-brainer. And I fell in love with France all over again. The grape is a very amazing little piece of fruit. It has resveratrol, which is important to anti-aging, and just incredible for our system. And the French just know how to do everything in moderation. A little bit of everything is what works for them.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

88th Annual Academy Award Nominations

The 88th Annual Academy Award nomination were announced this morning. The awards will be presented Feb. 28 on ABC, with Chris Rock hosting.

Here's the list of nominees for the main categories (with my predictions in italics):

• The Big Short
• Bridge of Spies
• Brooklyn
• Mad Max: Fury Road
• The Martian
• The Revenant
• Room
• Spotlight

• Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
• Matt Damon, The Martian
• Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
• Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
• Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

• Cate Blanchett, Carol
• Brie Larson, Room
• Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
• Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
• Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

• Christian Bale, The Big Short
• Tom Hardy, The Revenant
• Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
• Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
• Sylvester Stallone, Creed

• Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
• Rooney Mara, Carol
• Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
• Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
• Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

• Adam McKay - The Big Short
• George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road
• Alejandro G. Iñárritu - The Revenant
• Lenny Abrahamson - Room
• Tom McCarthy - Spotlight

• Anomalisa
• Boy and the World
• Inside Out
• Shaun the Sheep Movie
• When Marnie Was There

• "Earned It" - Fifty Shades of Grey
• "Manta Ray" - Racing Extinction
• "Simple Song #3" - Youth
• "Til It Happens to You" - The Hunting Ground
• "Writing's on the Wall" - Spectre

• The Big Short
• Brooklyn
• Carol
• The Martian
• Room

• Bridge of Spies
• Ex Machina
• Inside Out
• Straight Outta Compton

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Interview: Dayo Okeniyi Is Pushing the Envelope

Dayo Okeniyi, photo by Corey Nickols
Millions of “Hunger Games” fans remember Dayo Okeniyi as Thresh, the District 2 tribute who saved Katniss’ life when Clove was about to kill her (he overheard Clove admitting to Katniss that she was the one who killed Rue, Thresh’s fellow District 2 tribute, so he snapped Clove’s neck in a rage). And millions more moviegoers will recognize him as Danny Dyson from “Terminator Genisys” (with rumors of a sequel abounding). But millions of television watchers are now going to get to know him as Michael Loman, the newbie detective on NBC’s newest cop drama called “Shades of Blue,” which also stars none other than Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta. The series makes its debut tonight, Jan. 7 at 10/9c, and I spoke with Dayo recently so he could give me the scoop on this intense new drama, as well as a little “Hunger Games” scoop.

Celebrity Extra: With the long “Hunger Games” road coming to an end with the November release of “Mockingjay: Part Two,” how do you look back on your time filming that blockbuster hit?

Dayo Okeniyi: Because of “Mockingjay” being in theaters now, “The Hunger Games” has been on TV a lot lately. Last night I was just flipping through channels — I was watching the football game and they were at halftime — and I stopped on ABC Family, and they’re showing my big scene from the movie, and I got so fricking excited. That movie still fricking excites me. I can still feel the jitters from when I got the callback for the part. I still love that movie. Love, love, love, love, love.

CE: I know you’ve got plenty of movie experience, but tell me how the change to serial television has been.

DO: I love TV because I just love the idea of telling a longer story. I love the linear idea of being the character, and watching that person live over the course of a series or a couple of seasons. And as an actor, it’s just amazing because you get to play every facet of a human being. Usually with a movie, it’s two hours long, and so you have to come up with a crazy excuse for why somebody goes through a very dramatic arc within an hour and a half. Human beings aren’t like that. We grow and we live and we learn, and over the course of years we become the people who we are in the moment. It gives you the chance to stretch as an actor.

And then “Shades of Blue” came along, and I read the script and I was like: “Oh my God. This is amazing.” And then you hear Ray Liotta’s involved and Drea de Matteo’s involved — and Jennifer Lopez! I mean, come on!

CE: Tell me what sets this apart from other cop dramas on television today.

DO: NBC is pushing the envelope, and I think fans are going to be surprised to see a network studio making a show like this. I’m reading the script, and some of the things I’m reading, I’m like, “Can we do this on NBC? This is not HBO.” This is some risqué stuff. NBC picked the best people for the part and tried to assemble a cast that really reflects what America looks like today. Just the honesty and brutality and beauty and truth of the writing — I was very surprised. 

The show is not a procedural show. It’s a serial type of show; it feels like a movie. That’s the type of television I love, whether it’s “Breaking Bad” or “Empire” or “The Sopranos” — serialized television where you get to live with these people. And the cool thing about our show is it has that high-stakes element to it all the time. And at the end of the day, you want to be a part of something that you would want to watch yourself.

CE: Tell me about your character, Michael Loman.

DO: This character is something that I have never played before. With Thresh in “The Hunger Games,” I was the strong, silent type, you know, still waters run deep. And I really wanted to play something different. There’s something about this character in that he wears his heart on his sleeve. And in this world that we live in, it’s very tough to be that person. He’s a new detective and fresh on the job with Ray Liotta’s crew, and he jumps into the deep end. When the show starts it’s his first day, and a lot of stuff goes down. Over the course of 13 episodes, we get to really learn the truth of what it’s like to be a detective in modern America. And I just love the script. When writers are that good, your job is very, very simple. I just feel blessed beyond description.

CE: I like this new trend of TV series running for fewer episodes, with those episodes packed full of action and storyline progression.

DO: Me too. I love the fact that a lot of shows nowadays are going in that direction of shorter orders of carefully put-together quality television. And the nature of our show is that it moves quickly. The immediacy of the situation is always at play with every episode, which is one thing I really like.

CE: Tell me about your character and how he fits into the fabric of the show.

DO: Michael Loman is the wild card. And I say that because when we start off the show, Ray Liotta’s crew — with Jennifer Lopez, Drea de Matteo, Hampton Fluker and Vincent Laresca — they’ve been together for a very long time. And they’ve developed a friendship and a bond and a lot of belief in what they do, although it is questionable. My character, Michael Loman, has just made detective, and he’s assigned to this task force; he was requested by Ray Liotta’s character, Lt. Wozniak.

So you have to think, why would Wozniak choose this character to join them? Is there something about Loman’s past we don’t know? Is Wozniak using him? Or does Wozniak see something in him? There are a lot of things with this character that we’re unsure of, and as the story starts to unravel, he finds himself in compromising situations and questions if he can remain the person that he came into this force as.

Jennifer Lopez and Dayo Okeniyi, courtesy NBC
CE: What is it like working with Ray Liotta?

DO: Ray is one of my top 10 favorite, most dynamic actors of all time. And “Goodfellas” is one of my favorite movies; I can quote it from beginning to end. I just try not to geek-out on set. But I’ll go home and call my buddies and be like, “Ray Liotta just told me in a scene, ‘Let’s go for a ride.’” Because if Ray Liotta tells you in a movie, ‘Let’s go for a ride,’ you’re going to die. So, I remember reading one of the drafts, and Wozniak comes up to Loman, and he’s like: “Loman, put down the phone. Let’s go for a ride.” And I was like: “Oh my God! Am I going to die?” I’m pretty sure I’m the first person to go for a ride with Ray Liotta and not die (laughs).

CE: Jennifer Lopez is an executive producer as well as the star of the series. How was she to work with?

DO: Awesome! To be honest, when I found out I was going to be part of the show, I was nervous about Jennifer because she’s never done television like this before. And she really is a musician at heart. But I’ll tell you, when we had the table read, as soon as she opened her mouth, everybody’s jaw dropped. She had such a handle on this character; it was incredible.

And like you said, she’s an executive producer on the show, and so she was integral in the development of it. She showed up on set and gave 100 percent every single day. She was so committed to the role and committed to keeping it gritty; there was no vanity involved. She was so awesome, so giving, and so loving as a person and character. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with her.