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“The Tender Bar” star Lily Rabe told director George Clooney “confidently”: “He’s a great leader”

Lily Rabe is one of the busiest performers in Hollywood. In just the past year and a half, have you seen her in “Undoing” “Tell me your secrets,” “Underground Railway” and of course, “American Horror Story.” Now, in the new George Clooney-navigate Amazon studios “The Tender Bar,” she stars with Ben Affleck, Christopher Lloyd and Tye Sheridan as a tenacious single mother with big dreams for her only child.

Rabe joined me on “Salon Talks” to talk about what being directed by an Oscar-winning actor, what dancing taught her about acting, and how she kept all the scenes together. His death is always fresh. Watch our conversation here, or read the Q&A about the conversation below.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

The film is based on the memoir of the same name, about growing up on Long Island in the 70s and 80s. I want to know how you came to this project and who your character Dorothy is.

Dorothy is the main character’s single mother and he is her only child. It’s an era story in many ways. It’s also a story of the mother-child and family relationship we build in the absence of what we might think is a very important part of it. Her son has an absent father, and so he has a rather close relationship with his uncle. The book is so beautiful, and dedicated to my mother. They had a remarkable, remarkable relationship.

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You have said that everyone who approaches this film feels a personal connection to it. What from your own personal life as a mother, a member of a family, has influenced you?

I really feel a personal connection to it. I also feel there are roles that come to you at different times in your life. Sometimes there’s a flash in the bottle that feeling you think, “Not only do I have to play this, I have to play this right now. In this moment in my life, I have this way of knowing who this person is. who and to tell her story, and I had to.” That’s how I feel about her. I was impressed in both the script and the memoir by her perseverance and genuine hope.

She takes a default position of being optimistic and ambitious for her son. She talks about Yale and she talks about him being a lawyer a lot, but it’s really not about living vicariously off of her baby. She’s not a stage mom. She’s not trying to let him fill the void in her own life. She really wants him to be able to move forward and have the happiest, most fulfilling life possible. I have never experienced, in a script or in a movie, the same quality that I read this and then played her.

I was puzzled watching this, about performing in a movie with someone who as your director is also an Oscar-winning actor. You’ve worked with a lot of great directors, but what’s so different about working with someone who comes at it from that angle?

Sure. But I can say that George does it completely nicely. He’s an accomplished actor, but actually I think he’s an actor who really loves making movies. He loves acting and he loves actors. He also knows exactly the environment to create for people to do their best work and feel most free to do so. He created that environment authentically. He also gives the most amazing notes. They are very specific. They are very simple. He knows the movie he’s working on. He’s very confident and clear, and he’s a great leader.

Very often, you find yourself on a set where you can feel in the director a sense of self-doubt. After one shot, you’ll see them go out and talk to 10 people about whether or not they should or should we get some extra coverage and put the camera here. That will never happen to George because he knows exactly what he needs. That’s not to say he won’t change his mind or admit fault at some point, which is always welcome. The idea of ​​”I know where we are going”, I felt very deeply from him. It was great to work in that environment.

It’s a very solid movie on every level. There’s this real level of comfort that you all seem to have with each other. I’ve been thinking about different ways for that to happen, and the part of it that really leaps forward is the Long Island accent and the consistency of the people. You have done stress before. How did you prepare to play this character?

I like the highlight. Coming from the theatre, your voice – accented or not – is part of the way I work. I have amazing people in my life that I work with and I enjoy working with it myself. There’s her voice, that voice, that’s who she is. They cannot exist in isolation. It’s a job I’ve always loved. I really enjoyed doing it with her, but couldn’t find her without that.

You’ve played Shakespearean characters and you did Ibsen and you also played with a lot of real people like Amelia Earhart and Aileen Wuornos. You have two new projects coming out in which you play a real person, “Love and Death” and “First lady.” What was that rabbit hole you went down during the preparation, or did it differ from character to character and from project to project?

It varies from character to character and from project to project. I have always had a high sense of responsibility. That responsibility comes with great opportunity because you get to learn a lot about not only who these people are, but who these people are to others. In the case of this film, Dorothy isn’t necessarily in the public eye. Sure, people have experienced her from reading her memoirs, but I got to know her. Much of the way I know her is through her son’s eyes. It’s an amazing process and it’s doable.

I love watching actors who start out as dancers, whether it’s you or someone like Margaret Qualley, because you can only see the physicality they bring even to these very limited roles. I’m curious how you explained that. In what ways are you still a dancer in everything you do?

I love talking about dance and I’m so grateful for the training I’ve had as a dancer, not only physically but mentally. Learn that discipline at such a young age, and this idea that you never go to class and cut to the end. You must start. You always go back to the basics and to the first place. Because I started so young, that was instilled in me unconsciously as part of a process I’ve carried with me throughout my acting career, I’m grateful for that.

It’s also a good idea to tell a story with your fingertips, because when you’re dancing on stage or if you’re acting on stage, there’s no close-up. Your voice and every part of your body, that’s what you are. You won’t have someone able to zoom in on a close-up or make sure your hand is gripping the bottom of the chair clearly. It’s all about being able to fully express it from head to toe. I come back to it all the time, or I never leave it. It is so with me. My mother [Jill Clayburgh] is an actress and my father [playwright David Rabe] did business. I started dancing when I was three. That’s my indirect route to acting, but it’s my own.

My mother loved ballet, but she was not a dancer herself. She’s just someone who loves it. We were on the Upper West Side walking down the street, and the way she told the story was that it was the Broadway Dance Center or somewhere where you could see the top floor dancers through the windows. I just said, with great determination, “I want to do it.” And we walked up the stairs and she said, “When can she start? How does it work?” And that’s it.

When I think of dance, I think of the word “repertory”. You in your career have forged this path with other actors in Ryan Murphy’s World where it has really become something of a warehouse company, where you run into the same people again, taking on different roles. I wonder if that is informed by your dancing experience, or something about returning to a company that is so appealing to you as an actor.

I’m very attractive as an actor, having a creative pace with people when it’s good. Good doesn’t mean never hard or never conflict. I just mean it’s creatively good in every way that could be true. Having that shorthand is something I’ve always loved going back to – definitely had it in my life in theater, working in Public, working with Dan Sullivan, working on “Horror Story”, working second time with [“The Undoing’s”] Susanne Bier for a short period of time. God, I hope I can work with Barry Jenkins Again. I hope I get to work with George and Ben again. They are great artists. No question. But it’s the same thing that you find where you’ve just worked with certain people and you realize, “Wow, we got to the heart of things so quickly.” I’ve always wanted to aim for that. Very often, it’s repetitive work.


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You take a lot of risks in the roles you take on. You have a lot of chances of ambiguity of your characters. What drew you to these diverse characters?

My answer has changed because 5 or 10 years ago, I could have said, “Listen, if I’m reading something and I have to play that part, I have to play that part. I’ll do anything. whatever to play that role.” I realized that at first I was intentional, with that in mind that maybe I didn’t know this director exactly who knows how to make this movie or knows how to direct this play, but that’s okay because I love this part. much I can do. Or the text isn’t really there, but that’s okay, because I love this part so much. Now it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in such a vacuum. You need text and you need a director or a presenter or a creator, whoever that person you’re getting on board, you need that person. Not only can you not do it on your own, but you also enjoy trying.

The ideal, of course, is to find projects where every element is there, but there are certainly directors I’ll work with who may not even read the script. The hope is to find something that checks all the boxes. But even if I love a part now that I don’t feel right or the content is right for the director, I wouldn’t do it. I could have said yes before. So it changed a bit.

I know what you’re up to, including a project based on a true crime story. You’ve died a lot in your career, Lily. I have watched you die so many times. What’s the secret to dying on camera?

I don’t feel expert. I’m saying that just because every experience is so different and it can be very painful, but it’s never the same. Like playing any scene, no two times when I died on camera or on stage that felt the same from afar. I don’t know that I have the perfect answer, but I can say that I’ve never been like, “I’m a real expert in this field.” I don’t care about this. It always feels like the first time.

“The Tender Bar” is currently streaming on Prime Video. See the trailer for it below, via YouTube.

More of our favorite actors in the chat:

https://www.salon.com/2022/01/09/lily-rabe-the-tender-bar-salon-talks/ “The Tender Bar” star Lily Rabe told director George Clooney “confidently”: “He’s a great leader”

Caroline Bleakley

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