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Interview: Judith Light – A Legend Speaks About Her Work On Two of Netflix’s Biggest Shows

Max Joseph: You played Bobby Jewel in MANHUNT, Richard Jewell’s mother. Is there something different you feel when you play someone who exists or who existed in real life like Bobby?

Judith Light: No, I don’t feel anything different. I feel responsible being true to their story and who they are, but I don’t feel anything different. Everyone is a human being. If you know you’re creating a character, they all have their own psychological depth, and history. And no matter where it is, I’m still creating a character, still working on a character. It’s just that with someone who’s alive or has been alive, there’s a different kind of responsibility that comes with that. Much like what I felt like when I did Marilyn Miglin when I did American American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. That was the same thing. I felt responsible. So when you have those kinds of scripts and you know, Andrews Pulaski, who wrote Manhunt, when you have great writing like that, they are true to the character, so you follow their roadmap.

MJ: Right. And I read you didn’t contact her. You didn’t talk to the real Bobby Jewel?

JL: No. You know and I didn’t with Marilyn Miglin either. These people have suffered so tremendously on so many different levels, and you don’t know where they are in relation to all of this, you know, what they carry with them, how they still carry the sorrow with them. I feel deferential to their suffering and I don’t want to touch on anything, that would be more extending the hurt that they have already gone through.

MJ: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You don’t want it like dig a dagger deeper. You don’t know where they are in life.

JL: Right right. And also there’s enough information out there you can rely on. And when you have great writing, you have the roadmap in front of you. It isn’t like you have to call somebody and say, “Ok, and how did you feel in this moment?” It’s there. It’s presented by great writing. And great storytelling and great directing, and when you have somebody like Ryan (Murphy) who is so responsible to overseeing the truth of the story, and great producing, you have a team of people that really work on being true to the story. So you rely on them.

Manhunt: Deadly Games (Netflix)

MJ: What was the most challenging part of Bobby? Because there’s a lot of pain in this person.

JL: I had so much support working with Cameron Britton. And with all of the directors and producers that they brought on to the set that we worked with in different episodes. When you have a great producer and director like Michael Dinner, it wasn’t a hardship. There were scenes that were more difficult than other scenes in terms of challenge, in terms of a level of a depth of emotion that was brought up. However, I never feel that that’s hardship. I don’t count that as challenging or difficult. And when you have somebody like Cameron, and I also worked with Jay O. Sanders, who I love a lot and we worked together years ago in the theater in New York, there’s always a feeling of being supported all the time.

I guess the the most challenging was flying back and forth to Pittsburgh all the time. I went to school there, but because it was just like coming back, then waiting, then getting back on a plane and stuff like that, but that wasn’t a big deal.

I mean, you know when you look at this year, and you think about things that are really challenging, really daunting, that we’ve all been forced to stop, and look at how we’re going to live and if we’re going to transform our lives, we really have to take time to look at ourselves in a way that we haven’t before.

That’s the opportunity of all of this. I mean, I’m not saying how wonderful that this all happened by any means, but those are things that are challenging. Getting to work with great people and great material and you know, wonderful people like Kevin Beggs whose the head of Lionsgate. Originally, you know, it was a Spectrum, and then it got bought by CBS and and then it went on to Netflix and it was number one on Netflix for a long time. So, there’s nothing hard about this. These are the gifts. These are the great people, the great support, the great work, the great directors, all of that is the joy. This is not hard. This is not hardship.

MJ: You mentioned the state of the world. Why is the show something that people need to see today, with where we are politically and socially? When I watch this and I think about what happened, I can relate it, but I’m curious your thoughts on that.

As human beings, when we are at our very best, if we are to operate as Bobby Kennedy said, “better angels of our nature”, that we are careful, and kind. That we do not jump to conclusions.

This person’s life was completely damaged by what happened. And the way he was treated. Richard Jewell was a hero. And to this day, people still think that it was Richard Jewell, that he was the Atlanta bomber, and we cannot disabuse people of that thought. And when we watch all of what’s happening right now, all the conspiracy theories that are going on… We watch the way we operate as human beings and we don’t reevaluate. We assess. We recontextualize, re-framework the way we are to each other.

I think this piece, Manhunt, is an ultimate demonstration, of what happens when we don’t treat each other with an open heart and an open mind. And it is devastating. And it is not who I believe human beings are. And to watch this now, at this particular point in time, and to discuss the media and the media’s responsibility in all of this story, is so compelling. And that I got to be a part of it, has been a real gift to me.

I think the work that we do, and art, is more important than ever before in terms of lifting our culture and really giving an insightful view to human beings. When we see that now, and I get to be a part of that, I feel very responsible and very grateful and I have had this opportunity to be in a production like this.

MJ: Absolutely. I know you are a Carnegie Mellon grad. What was it like to shoot there (in Pittsburgh)?

It was great. They were great (the hotel). They were so supportive, and I had such a great driver, Dominic, and he took really good care of me. And the transpo team was great. It’s like you forget about these things, you know, everybody just sort of sees it on the television and they go “well, okay, that’s great.” But there are so many people behind the scenes.

It was so terrific and so supportive, and it was great to go back. I had not been back, and to see the city in a whole different way, whole different light. You know, when I was there, it was still the Steel Town. And now, I can walk to the Andy Warhol museum. I just had this glorious time exploring the city, walking to the movies. The hotel, and the crew were fantastic.

And getting to work with people like Carla Gugino, who I’ve also known from theater in New York. I mean, you know, there’s this kind of work that you get to do with everybody that I think takes the work up to another level. And so Pittsburgh was warm and welcoming and created a great context for the work.

MJ: That makes me so happy. That makes me get all tingly inside. Okay a couple quick questions about The Politician. So every theater lover probably lost their minds, including myself, when they saw you and Bette Midler on The Politician. And it looked like you two just had the best time on set. How was it working with her and Ben Platt? I already know how you feel about Ryan Murphy, but feel free to gush. But that was just every musical theater lovers dream seeing you two up there.

The Politician (Netflix)

JL: It’s so interesting because the first day we met each other on the set, we just we hugged each other and it was like, “oh, it’s you! Where have you been?!”

Now, understand, we never met each other before. We did not know each other. We had not worked together. So what I would say to you is, leave it to Ryan Murphy, to put together that chemistry. And I have to tell you, we had the BEST time. She works so hard. She is so professional, so disciplined, and so much fun. And she was incredibly supportive of my performance, as well as her own. So the two of us were almost like sisters in the familial experience that we had together. I don’t know what other way to explain it. There’s just kind of a remarkable understanding between the two of us that made the job a joy.

And yes, I’m wild about Ben Platt. He is one of the greatest talents of our generation. He has an emotional range that’s remarkable. That whole team, getting to work together all of that time on that level, with such great material, was absolutely joyous.

And we would crack each other up. I wish we had a gag reel behind the scenes. You would absolutely adore it. Oh, you’d go out of your mind! And I’m trusting that Netflix liked it enough, that they will bring us back for a third season.

MJ: That makes me gasp. Final question. Why was it so important, for the LGBTQIA+ community? What did it mean for you to get to do something like this that clearly meant so much to so many people?

I think everything that Ryan Murphy does is in support of the community. That is his come from, that is where he lives. We know that that the community love this because of the gender non conforming, the LGBTQ, the dynamic of Ben and his sexuality. I would say that in its own way, the things being presented now in the world of film and television have an expand diverse level of casting and storyline, which, hallelujah, it’s about time.

We know that the community would love this, but I don’t think about it politically. Where I come from is my support of the community. So I don’t think, “Oh wow! Now I get to do something in support of the community!” I look at this and I say “well, yeah, here we are. This is the support of the community in a million different ways.” And I didn’t choose it for that. I didn’t come from it for that. But it thrills me that the community feels the support and the acknowledgement.

When you have a woman like Gwyneth’s (Paltrow) character and her sexuality, and you have someone like my character, who is in a throuple, and you are exploring all different levels of what I have always felt that the LGBTQIA community has given us, is to remember that we are sexual beings. And that there is a level at which that community has taught the straight community how to be in their relationship to their sexuality.

I guess that’s a long way of saying I feel grateful to be a part of it.

MJ: This just reaffirms my appreciation for life, for the arts, and this is just making me a very happy person. I wish I could talk to you for nine hours, but I am unfortunately not able to do that, but thank you so much for chatting. I’m so happy for you, and for your amazing career. And I’m very thankful for the work that you do outside of it, with the LGBTQIA+ community, with HIV/AIDS, with Broadway cares, and I just I wish you many many many many more years of success, health, laughter, and most important, happiness.

JL: Thank you. Thank you how lovely and it’s been just a joy to speak with you. Thanks so much for your questions and for your interest and I’m very grateful. Please take care of yourself.

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Written by Max Joseph

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