For months, actors were simply in limbo.
“People used to say show-business was Depression-proof,” Bette Midler told the Television Critics Association recently. “In the Depression, the movies were the only things that survived.”
Not this time. During the COVID shutdown, writers kept writing and musicians kept recording, but actors mostly stayed at home and waited … except for five of them.
Those were the actors in “Coastal Elites” (shown here with Kaitlyn Dever), which debuts at 8 and 11:20 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 12) on HBO, rerunning often. Working in social-distanced ways, they did monologues about distanced lives.
“I had never done monologue work outside of high school theater,” said Dan Levy, who plays a neurotic actor, talking to his therapist.
Dever, 23, was the youngest actor, playing an idealistic nurse who had flown to New York to help. “I thought I was going to be less nervous, doing a monologue in the comfort of my own home,” she said. “But I was way more nervous.”
On the flip side was Midler, 74, playing a New Yorker enraged by the Trumpian world. “I’m so paranoid, because I’m so old,” she said. “I feel like anything can happen to me; even if I go to the post box.” But it all worked out, she said, “and I got a free COVID test out of it.”
Sarah Paulson – playing someone who conducts “Mindful Meditations,” with woodsy backdrops, online – shared some of those fears. “My paranoia level was high already,” she said, “and there were, all of a sudden, seven (crew members) in my backyard. And that was more people than I had seen in several months.”
Issa Raye played an upscale woman who moves in Trumpian circles. “Ivanka, in particular, I’ve always found fascinating,” she said. “But not fascinating enough to listen to.”
The idea began pre-COVID, as political rage grew, said screenwriter Paul Rudnick. “Everyone I knew was angry and heartbroken and – on every side of the political divide – passionately involved.”
Rudnick’s main screenwriting success came a couple decades ago, with “Sister Act,” “Addams Family Values” and “In & Out”; now he began writing monologues for what he thought would be a theater piece. Then COVID struck and he kept rewriting them for the new era.
Directing this was Jay Roach, who had started with light comedies – the “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” films – and switched to the more political “Recount,” “Game Change,” “Trumbo” and “Bombshell.” Lately, his semi-directing has been at home.
His wife, Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles, has taped music performances for charity events, Roach said.
“You buy the phone mount and the little, fancy light that can hook onto something and you become your own filmmaker. Which is also exciting, because people like my son are doing it the exact same way …. He can make something that looks just as sophisticated …. So it’s kind of democratizing.”
– “Coastal Elites,” debuts at 8 and 11:20 p.m., Saturday (Sept. 12) on HBO
– Also, 5 p.m., Sunday; 12:15 p.m., Monday; 9:30 a.m. Wednesday; 2 p.m., Sept. 15; 4:10 p.m., Sept. 21; plus several times on HBO2.