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Category: Glenn Whipp

Emmy contenders: Can Miss Blankenship come back to 'Mad Men'?

Emmy nominee Randee Heller as Miss Blankenship on AMC's 'Mad Men.' 
Playing Don Draper’s dotty secretary on six episodes of “Mad Men” last season, Randee Heller had only a handful of scenes and maybe 30 lines. And now she has an Emmy nomination as well, a just reward for turning the bossy Miss Ida Blankenship into an iconic comic creation that went well beyond anything “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner had in mind.

“Randee was channeling something and came up with a character that is so far from who she is that it was amazing,” Weiner says. “I said to her in the audition, ‘You’re too young for this.’ She said, ‘You can make me look awful. I’m fine with it.’ And I replied, ‘OK, then … we will!’ ”

The Envelope caught up with the 64-year-old Heller at her Tarzana home recently and learned that though her native Brooklyn accent isn’t as thick as Miss Blankenship’s, she has the same wonderfully nutty comic brio as her character.

Actress Randee Haller delighted in the freedom she was allowed in playing 'Mad Men's' Miss Blankenship Did the Emmy nomination catch you off guard?

Of course, there’s always the fantasy, but I never thought it would happen. That morning, it’s 5:30 and I’m laying in bed with my iPhone because I just wanted to see and put it behind me. Then the phone rings and it’s my girlfriend of 50 years from grade school, and she’s screaming, “You got it! You got it!” Then I started screaming and my boyfriend ran in, thinking something happened to me.

Something was! And Ida didn’t even have to sleep with Don Draper to make it happen.

Not that you know, anyway. (Laughs) But between you and me, he doesn’t remember. He was very drunk that night.

He was drinking a lot at that point in the season.

And that, I think, is why Miss Blankenship worked so well. Things were getting so dark and tragic on the show, so here’s this bumbling, irritating, wisecracking woman -- the comic relief. It’s very Shakespearean. Someone had to come in and release all that emotional tension -- (Heller’s phone rings. The ring tone is the sound of a dog barking.) That’s my daughter. She loves her dog, so I chose that ring. One day I was walking across Ventura Boulevard and I’d forgotten I’d chosen that sound. My phone went off, and I thought there was a dog chasing me down the street and I started screaming. (Laughs)

I see now why Matt hands you the credit for Miss Blankenship.

He told me, “I didn’t know how funny you were.” That just naturally comes out. And it was fun to show up and say, “OK. What can I do with her? How can I make the most of this?”

Were you sorry to see her go?

I thought the arc was great. I mean, it was disappointing. I would have loved to continue. But I thought it was perfect, actually.

Did you have a hand in the way she died?

We knew she was going to die at her desk. But the manner in which I did it -- putting her head back and the tongue out -- that was me. They actually had a stunt guy come because it was painful to drop my head down on the desk like that. They put a tiny pad down where my forehead would hit. I went down like a warrior!

Could you believe the reaction?

Oh, my God! People still come up to me. “Maybe they could bring you back as a ghost. Or you could play her sister.” They’re not happy that she’s gone.

Roger Sterling did deliver that beautiful eulogy: “She died like she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for.”

I loved that! (Laughs) I feel so blessed. I had been acting for 41 years and I dropped out about nine years ago. You hit a certain age and you’re either too young or too old. So I said, “I’ve had it.” I went back to school, got a teaching degree and taught English as a second language to adults from all over the world. And I loved it. It was incredibly rewarding. Then I moved in with my boyfriend. We had been going together for 11 years. And because I didn’t have to worry about the rent, I decided to go back to acting a little bit. And one of the first auditions I had was “Mad Men.”

And now you’re going to the Emmys. You think anyone will recognize you?

Once I was at yoga in the morning with no makeup and someone said to me, “Oh, did you play Miss Blankenship?” I was crushed. So, I’m hoping no one will make the connection.

Maybe you could just wear the cat-eye glasses to the red carpet.

Or get all decked out in a beautiful gown … and then put on the wig! Wouldn’t that be something? (Laughs)


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--Glenn Whipp

Top photo of Randee Heller as Miss Blankenship in "Mad Men" by Michael Yarish/AMC

Portrait of Heller by Bobby Quillard

Emmy contenders: Where would TV be without its police shows? We talk to five top cops

Law enforcers have been patrolling television’s mean streets since even before LAPD detective Sgt. Joe Friday went about asking for “just the facts, ma’am” on “Dragnet.” But television long ago filed away those kind of black-and-white, simplistic Friday figures in favor of complex and conflicted cops and operatives. “We’re not necessarily telling new stories,” says “Southland” star Michael Cudlitz, “but we’re telling stories in new ways.”

Here, The Envelope talked to five of our favorite law-and-order types about their characters and their approach to crime fighting.

The character: Los Angeles Police Department senior lead officer John Cooper, an exemplary cop who also happens to be gay. Chronic back trouble leads to pain pill addiction, a condition he finally owns in the Season 3 finale.

Contribution to crime fighting: “John has a definite sense of right and wrong and likes to feel that he’s in control of himself when it comes to crossing that line,” Cudlitz says. “He has a sense of urgency in helping those in need. Like most cops, he wants to make a difference.”

Kindred qualities: “I was brought up with strong morals. When people get caught doing the wrong thing, they should suffer the consequences. It’s not a moral high ground. It’s just: Don’t make your mistake someone else’s fault. Cop to it.”

Could he do the job? “I could have easily gone into some kind of service — military, police or fire department. I don’t know if I’d be a good cop because I tend to get very emotionally involved in things. It would eat me up.”

Emmy chances: Even after a remarkable third season, “Southland” remains one of TV’s most underappreciated dramas.


The character: Old-school, Southern-fried U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, a man given to dispensing justice on his terms rather than by the book.

Contribution to crime fighting: “He was born 100 years too late. And he knows that and wonders how he’d size up against the Old West marshals,” Olyphant says.

Kindred qualities: “I often wonder how I would do on stage in 1890. Nah … I don’t know. I’m not as cool, I can tell you that. But, having read the [Elmore Leonard] books, I can imagine what it’s like. And that’s given me enough confidence.”

Could he do the job? “I’d be scared. The marshals I’ve met seem like a fun bunch. And none of them ever thought about the job until someone offered it to them. But me? It crossed my mind to be a teacher or a coach, but not law enforcement.”

Emmy chances: After being criminally overlooked for its first season, justice may be served for a follow-up year that was even better.

Continue reading »

Oscars: James Franco on the fine line between revered and ridiculed

Let there be no misunderstanding. James Franco loves “Freaks and Geeks,” the short-lived, Judd Apatow-produced TV series that jump-started his acting career. He just feels that some of the love directed its way (the series will be feted at next month’s Paley Center for Media’s annual television festival) is a tad too reverential.

“I think it was a really, really good show,” Franco says, “ and unique in a lot of ways. It focused on characters not normally the heroes of these teen shows -– the freak and the geeks. Usually, it’s the beautiful, popular kids.”

“But it’s kind of funny the way a show like that gets legitimized by adults from the literary world,” Franco continues. “It’s weird how some things get consecrated and other things are looked at with either irony or derision.”

As if to prove his point, Franco, a lead actor nominee for "127 Hours," unveiled an art installation devoted to the '70s sitcom “Three’s Company” last month at the Sundance Film Festival, re-creating and projecting episodes on four walls for guests to enjoy while they sat in a reconstruction of the show’s living-room set. Franco also has designs on perhaps turning the sitcom into an off-Broadway play someday.

There’s probably a token measure of facetiousness in Franco’s current (and, let’s face it, likely fleeting) fixation on “Three’s Company.” Much like his recent forays into daytime television, playing a character named Franco on the long-running soap “General Hospital,” Franco seems intent on demonstrating the thin line between the revered and the ridiculed.

“I like making those connections,” Franco says. “I like people to look at something they look down on and realize it’s not that far from what they consider highbrow.”

Something tells us Franco will be making a few of those connections when he co-hosts the Oscars on Sunday. Those with delicate sensibilities should consider themselves warned.

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: James Franco. Credit: Getty Images


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Oscars: 'Our peers in live action film don't understand what we do,' says Lee Unkrich

Toy story 3 
Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross busted open Hamm the Piggy Bank to promote “Toy Story 3” in the best picture Oscar race. And although Pixar’s latest seems likely to take home the animated feature prize, it appears to have made little headway in the broader category.

“Toy Story 3” director Lee Unkrich isn’t exactly surprised by the showing and doesn’t see voters’ prejudices toward animation changing anytime soon.

“It’s not only that people think of animation as just for kids,” Unkrich says. “Frankly, a lot of our peers in live-action film don’t understand what we do. They don’t understand how [animated] films are made. Once we take the time to explain our process, they understand that, yes, we’re working from the same tool box and that every aspect of making our films has a corollary in live action.”

Those looking for that precise education need only to cue up the bonus feature on the “Toy Story 3” Blu-ray that takes viewers step by step through the making of the film’s opening western sequence.

“It’s still mysterious to most people how our movies are made,” Unkrich says. “I bump into producers who say, ‘I know what a director does in live action, but what do you do exactly?’ I don’t know what they think I do, but if you see the movie up there on screen, there are millions and billions of little choices made to get that film up there.”

“But then, I still run into people who say they haven’t seen ‘Toy Story 3’ because they haven’t found a kid to take,” Unkrich adds. “So, yes, we have a long way to go.”

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: "Toy Story 3." Credit: Disney; Pixar


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Oscars: Colin Firth's keys to discipline

Firth rush 
During a recent interview together, Colin Firth was telling his “King’s Speech” co-star Geoffrey Rush about the time when he was 5 and a teacher slapped him “very hard across the face” for innocently using the word “bugger.”

The story reminded Rush of seeing English actor Stephen Fry perform a one-man show recently in Australia.

“At one point, he asked, ‘Who’s under 40?’ And two-thirds of the audience raised their hands,” Rush remembers. “And he said, ‘You’re the first generation in the history of the planet who has not been beaten.’ And I went, ‘Wow. That’s absolutely true.’ Because anyone older than that has probably been on the receiving end of someone waving a cane.”

“Oh, I was beaten with all sorts of objects,” Firth relates. “I went to school for a year in St. Louis. Missouri is an absolutely heavenly state to visit, but it was also the only state to allow corporal punishment in schools in 1972. In England, we had the cane and the ruler. In Missouri, they had the paddle, a fiberglass model with holes. It hurt.”

Firth also remembers one teacher who had his own creative ideas when it came to discipline.

“If he didn’t like what you were doing, he’d hurl his car keys straight at you,” Firth says. “Expert aim. We actually thought he was cool because he aimed so well. He’d be standing with his back to you and he’d hear you whisper and he’d be around in a second, whizzing them straight at the side of your head.”

“What’s funny,” Firth adds, “is that, at the time, you would never think that’s abusive. Now, you still can’t say ‘bugger’ in England, but I seriously doubt anyone is throwing their car keys in Missouri at the present time.”


Oscars: Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush and Rupert Everett's crush

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times 

Oscars: Josh Brolin behind the scenes with the Coen brothers

Josh brolin 

Josh Brolin wants to direct. In fact, he has just signed on to helm and star in an adaptation of Dominique Cieri’s play “Pitz and Joe,” a gritty sibling drama about the relationship between a young woman and her brain-damaged brother.

So, eager to learn the craft and fascinated by the process, Brolin often visits the Oscar-winning (and currently nominated) Coen brothers when they’re in the throes of editing one of their movies. He has done this on films he’s worked on with them (“True Grit,” “No Country for Old Men”) and others to which he has no connection (“Burn After Reading”), and always the process remains the same.

We’ll let Brolin describe it.

“They have perpendicular desks, Joel at one, Ethan at the other and in between them there’s a bellman’s bell,” Brolin says. “Ethan has his headphones on and he’s getting his best take and he drags it over the screen, never looking at Joel, and, ding, rings the bell. Then Joel, who has the final cut on his screen, drags it down in the timeline. And that’s what they do, every day, eight, 10, 12 hours a day.”

“And I’d sit on a couch and watch,” Brolin continues. “But they don’t like it if I say anything. Even a sound. Like if I see some choice they make and say, ‘Hmmm,’ Joel will get mad. ‘What? Do you not think that’s good?’ ‘I didn’t say anything. I’m just watching.’ ”

“Then one time, Joel looks back because, again, I’ve made some kind of muffled noise. ‘So this is observing. This is what you’re doing, right? Observing.’ ‘Sorry, dude.’ ”

“I mean, it’s a great workshop, but that’s not why I do it. I just love hanging with those guys -- even if it means taking a vow of silence for a couple of weeks.”

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Josh Brolin in "True Grit." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Oscars: Anne Hathaway owes thanks to Penelope Cruz


Penelope Cruz might not be accompanying Oscar-nominated husband Javier Bardem to the Kodak Theatre on Feb. 27. She just gave birth to their baby boy last month and might not be ready to leave the little guy, much less go through the daylong preparation necessary for the red-carpet wringer.

But if Cruz does attend, she should expect some kind words from Oscar co-host Anne Hathaway, who credits the Spanish actress for freeing her up mentally to do the sex scenes in her last movie, "Love and Other Drugs."

"I was watching a lot of her work while I was working on the movie," Hathaway said. "Because doing nudity is a little nerve-wracking ,and I had to remind myself that plenty of actresses have done it before me and kept their dignity intact. She has done a ton of love scenes, and no one ever talks to her about it. It's always in the service of the work."

Asked if she found herself replaying one of Cruz's movies in particular, Hathaway, without hesitation, mentioned "Abre Los Ojos," Alejandro Amenabar’s 1997 thriller that Cameron Crowe remade four years later as "Vanilla Sky."

"That was an example of sensuality and trust between actors and an openness and a lack of self-consciousness that raised the stakes for the performers and got me more invested as an audience member," Hathaway said. "It's an incredible movie, one of my favorites, and I can't tell you how much it helped me with my movie."

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Love and Other Drugs." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Academy Awards: The Coen brothers find that cowboy gear is more than a fashion statement

Coen bros 
Jeff Bridges has been taking panoramic on-set photos with his Widelux camera for 30-odd years, usually compiling them into a book that he gives to the cast and crew of each film he shoots.

“True Grit” was no exception and, paging through the book recently, Bridges points to a picture that always makes him laugh -- city slickers Joel and Ethan Coen wearing cowboy hats on location in Texas.

“It’s an incongruous sight, isn’t it?” Bridges asks, cackling. (You can see the photo for yourself on Bridges’ website.)

When asked about their cowboy duds, Ethan Coen laughs but quickly points out that the functionality of the garb takes it beyond a Village People dress-up thing.

“It’s a style, yeah, but when you’re out there, you learn that the hats and bandannas have a use,” he says. “They have wind! We had weather concerns going in, but we had so much worse weather than we expected, including horrible wind and dust. So, it turns out you actually need all that cowboy paraphernalia.”

There's evidence of that horrible wind Ethan talks about in the scene in which Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger rides off in disgust, telling Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn that he’s “graduated from marauder to wet nurse.” Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie asks, “We don’t need him, do we, Marshal?”

“And as she’s saying that line, she was literally blown off her mark by a 50 mph gust of a wind,” Joel Coen says. “You can see a little bit of it still in the movie, but we’ve got an outtake of her just flying.”

“She just kind of leaned more and more to counter the wind,” Ethan adds. “It was like a Buster Keaton movie, man.”

-- Glenn Whipp

 Photo: Ethan Coen, left, and Joel Coen on the set of "True Grit." Credit: Paramount Pictures

James Franco on 'Your Highness': Action, dirty humor and perverts, what's not to like?

Your Highness 
You’d think a movie starring two of this year’s Oscar nominees would be generating a little more excitement than the buzz currently surrounding the medieval stoner-fantasy-comedy “Your Highness.” But then, James Franco and Natalie Portman worked on director David Gordon Green’s offbeat movie two years and a couple of release dates ago. Universal Pictures will finally put it in theaters April 8.

“I don’t know what the discussions or the politics were, but it seemed hard for the studio to understand it,” Franco says. “It has great action, but then it has really dirty humor. But it’s not ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ kind of humor. It’s not a parody or a spoof of medieval movies. It’s got great British actors and then it’s got me and Danny McBride. It’s a strange mix.”

Franco and McBride, who worked with Green on the hit “Pineapple Express,” play brothers forced to go on a quest to save their father’s kingdom. Portman co-stars as a warrior princess who becomes the object of McBride’s fancy.

With a cast that also includes Zooey Deschanel and a sizable budget (Green, at South by Southwest last year, called it “by far the most expensive movie, by about double” of anything he’s done), the effects-laden “Your Highness” seems oddly off the radar right now. Perhaps that’s understandable, given how Franco describes his favorite moment from the shoot.

“I do a scene with a weird puppet that’s a bit like the witch in ‘The Dark Crystal,'” Franco says, referring to the 1982 Jim Henson/Frank Oz puppet fantasy. “Only in our movie, she’s a pervert. Come to think of it, I think every character in our movie’s a pervert. Maybe that’s why no one has seen it yet.”

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: James Franco, left, and Danny McBride in "Your Highness." Credit: Universal Pictures


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