Since 1998 Newsweek has hosted an Oscar roundtable with some of Hollywood's best performers talking about the craft of acting. Here are some of the big surprises from this year’s lineup, from George Clooney and Michael Fassbender on trailer envy to Christopher Plummer's shocking comments on the director he’ll never work with again.
Newsweek’s annual Oscar roundtable always feels like a cozy A-list dinner party. Since 1998, we’ve hosted the actors who gave some of the best performances of the year for a raw discussion about their craft. And this year, the conversation was at its best: fast, funny—and sexually charged. We should have known that it would be, given our lineup of George Clooney (The Descendants), Viola Davis (The Help), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Michael Fassbender (Shame), Charlize Theron (Young Adult) and Christopher Plummer (Beginners). (See our essay about the day in this week’s Newsweek).
Here are some of the video highlights. And make sure to check out our exclusive behind-the-scene extras from our iPad edition, too, which is free for magazine subscribers.
1. Clooney: ‘It Was a Terrible Job!’
Every actor juggles a few odd jobs before they become famous. Michael Fassbender was a bartender in London. Charlize Theron was a model and ballerina. And George Clooney sold women’s shoes. That’s right. Imagine driving to your local department store in 1979 and having an 18-year-old Clooney fetch you a pair of heels. The job wasn’t as easy as you might imagine: “There was a whole generation of women who had a toe cut off to fit in tight pumps,” Clooney says. Watch him tell the gruesome story in the video below.
2. Swinton: Why I Gave Away My Oscar
The only major surprise at the Academy Awards ceremony in 2008 came in the Best Supporting Actress category. The frontrunner, Ruby Dee (American Gangster), lost out to Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton). When a visibly shocked Swinton took the stage, she did something that Oscar winners never do: she said she would give away her award—to her agent. At our roundtable, she explained the logic behind that decision. Plus: Clooney and Theron talk about where they keep their Oscars.
3. Theron to Davis: ‘You Are as Hot as Shit!’
Viola Davis has two Tony Awards and an Oscar nomination from 2008’s Doubt, but The Help is her first leading role in a movie. How is that possible? “It’s the politics of it all,” Davis says. “I’m a 46-year-old black woman who really doesn’t look like Halle Berry, and Halle Berry is having a hard time.” See why Charlize Theron interrupts her and says.:“You have to stop saying that.” And the actors decide that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for women anymore. “What happens,” Davis says, “is you destroy the artist.”
4. Fassbender: ‘I Did Actually Pee on Tape’
In case you missed all the jokes at the Golden Globes, Shame is known for all the full-frontal nudity from star Michael Fassbender. But here’s a little trivia to remember on Oscar night: Fassbender also joins an elite group of actors, including Kate Winslet in Holy Smoke, who had to urinate on screen. Of course, Clooney wants to know: “How many takes did you do?” Fassbender talks about it in the video below.
5. The Actors Defend Sequels
Last year, Hollywood released a record 27 sequels, which might have been one of the reasons why ticket sales were down 4.5 percent from 2010. “But sequels, unfortunately, actually make money,” Clooney says. “I was in Batman 4.” “We know,” Swinton says. “What up, Nipples!” Theron quipped. “Had I known they were going to put nipples on the thing, I would have rethought it,” Clooney says, before going on to explain why sequels “drive the industry for smaller films… it’s a tricky business we’re in.”
6. Clooney: ‘Being in a Trailer Is Not Fun’
Yes, our actors confirmed, sometimes it’s not about the acting at all. It’s about bruised egos. “I am from Kentucky,” Clooney says. “We try not to live in trailers. We don’t brag about being in a double wide. Being in a trailer is not fun.” Christopher Plummer doesn’t care; he said he still wants a big trailer. Michael Fassbender said he had such a gigantic trailer on 300 that he considered living there. Tilda Swinton confesses she rarely gets a trailer. “But it feels like to me the trailer is not really for the actors,” she says. “It’s for the production to know the commodity of the actor is protected.”
7. Theron Impersonates Kristen Wiig from Bridesmaids
Backstage at our photo shoot, Charlize Theron watched an episode of Top Chef on her laptop (read a full account of the day in David Ansen’s essay here). As she sipped her Bloody Mary (Fassbender was our resident bartender), she suddenly broke out into a hilarious impersonation of a drunk Kristen Wiig from Bridesmaids. With the cameras rolling, we asked Theron to recreate that, as well as say her name as it’s pronounced in her native South African accent. Plus: Michael Fassbender shows us his Quentin Tarantino impression.
8. Plummer: ‘I’ll Never Work With Him Again’
Few actors are outspoken enough to criticize a director they’ve worked with, but at 82, Christopher Plummer (who is the frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year) doesn’t have reason to hold back. He tells of his experience working with Terrence Malick on The New World. “I love some of his movies very much,” he says, “but the problem with Terry is he needs a writer, desperately. He insists on overwriting until it sounds terribly pretentious… and he edits his films in such a way that he cuts everyone out of them.” After Plummer saw the movie, he wrote Malick a letter. “I gave him shit. I’ll never work with him again.”
9. Clooney: ‘You Know What? F--- You!
Now that he no longer has to sell women’s shoes, George Clooney talks about the other side job that has people calling him a sellout. “I don’t give a shit,” he says. “I don’t rape the budget of a movie…. As an actor, all bets are off if you need money.” See what he’s referring to in the video below.
10. Davis: ‘I Was Terrified of Meryl Streep’
Viola Davis explains why she wrote a 50-page biography to play the mother of a Catholic schoolboy in Doubt. “I always go, ‘Why did I tell people that?’,” she says. “It’s so embarrassing. It makes me feel like I’m being such the thespian.” But Michael Fassbender reveals that he did the same thing, when he played Magneto in X-Men: First Class. The actors talk about other ways they find their characters—and the pitfalls of “doing things” that make a performance seem artificial.