Now that we’re fully in the swing of November, it feels as though awards season is truly upon us. If your social media world is anything like mine, Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird was probably all over your Twitter timeline this weekend, while Call Me By Your Name has been winning the viral sensation game for weeks. But, right now, we’re looking past the current awards show horse race to think about what’s going to happen next year. And we’re already wondering about 2018’s Trial By Fire, starring The Deuce’s Emily Meade and Big Little Lies powerhouse Laura Dern.
Trial By Fire’s cast is stacked with awards-show favorites, from two-time Oscar nominee Dern to male lead and BAFTA-winner Jack O'Connell, and the production team already has Oscars on their mantels. Director Edward Zwick won the Best Picture award for 1998’s Shakespeare In Love, while Geoffrey Fletcher took home Best Writing for 2009’s Precious. So, with filming for Trial By Fire officially underway in Atlanta, we called star Emily Meade to talk about her big new movie, what’s next for her Deuce character Lori in season 2, whether Hollywood's sexual abuse revelations will affect the show's sophomore year, and her “karmic connection” with the Franco brothers.
Keep reading for all the details.
Refinery29: Can you preview what Trial By Fire is about?
"It’s a true story and it’s based on a New Yorker article that came out in 2009 about a man who was ultimately put to death for killing his children when there was tremendous amounts of evidence he did not. I play the wife of the man and the mother of these children who passed away. It’s a pretty wild story. In the movie there’s the tumultuous love story between my character, Stacy, and Todd (O’Connell)."
It has Oscar bait written all over it.
"Yeah, it has high potential for being effective."
Is that very honest, true crime bent what attracted you to it? Is it all the emotional exploration?
"Pretty much all of the above. It was something I wound up having only one day to read before meeting with the director. I was like, 'Oh, I’ll just skim through the script for my parts.' But, it was so compelling, I wound up reading the entire thing in one sitting.
"It’s a fascinating story, it’s a heartbreaking story, and, for me specifically, it’s been one of the most exciting characters and dynamics I’ve gotten to play out. Because it’s the first time I can utilize some of my own personal experience, even if I haven’t had the exact experience of my character, but kind of have catharsis with what I’ve dealt with in life, and relationships, and having that level of trauma and drama.
"The people who are involved are incredible. Jack O’Connell, who I’ve worked with before, plays my husband, and I couldn’t love working with him more. Then, Laura Dern plays Elizabeth Gilbert [who investigates Todd's case] and she’s incredible."
If you don’t mind explaining, is there anything specific you got catharsis from?
"I’m 28-years-old and I’m usually playing either teenagers or, [very young women]. On The Deuce I play a prostitute on a large ensemble. I’ve dealt with my fair share of heartache and loss already, not specifically of my own children, but of people I deeply love. I’ve been involved in dynamics that this touches home for me."
It’s really interesting to talk about that idea of, 'What is that line between being a sexual victim, being manipulated, and being a sexually empowered woman?'
And, speaking of Laura Dern earlier, do you get to do scenes with her?
"I don’t have much — I don’t want to spoil the movie — but we had a scene the other day. It was really incredible. I’ve always admired Laura. One of my favorite movies growing up was Citizen Ruth. I love all of her stuff, but specifically that when I was a kid was a huge inspiration for me."
Did anything about your dynamic surprise you?
"I’m always surprised when an actor I admire even gives me the time of day; that’s always surprising. It’s such a surreal experience for all actors, I think. Because, yes, the more you work and the more known you become by people, you get to be in different 'clubs' and different categories of people, but the people who were there before you are always people you admired. That admiration doesn’t go away. So you can become closer and closer to being amongst them, and, yet, still have that surreal admiration.
"Like, in the film I did with Jack a few years ago I got to be directed by Jodie Foster, that was one of the most surreal experiences of my life."
What’s been the difference between filming a movie like Trial By Fire, and a lengthy series like The Deuce?
"Film and TV are so different in so many ways, even though with The Deuce, 'It’s not TV, it’s HBO.' Obviously it’s different from other network TV, and it’s only eight episodes. But with a film you know the beginning, middle, and end from the start. That’s part of something I like about film: you can go in understanding what your arc is.
"With Jack and I, a large part of our relationship we ended up improvising. Ed had us come in the first two weeks of filming and we improvised the history of our relationship really quickly."
Speaking of The Deuce, where do you want to see Lori in season 2?
"I think Lori definitely has an inflated sense of ego. I think she’s very quickly running towards trouble very naively, and thinking she knows better than she does. I want to see that play out in an honest way and of course I would like her to have more to do.
"To me what’s really interesting about Lori is she's not a 'hooker with a heart of gold.' So far, she at least thinks she’s enjoying herself, thinks she’s in control and power, and she’s not. I think especially today, with everything that’s going on with realizing all of the sexual harassment, the dynamics of sex [matter]. I think it’s really, really interesting to play with a character who ultimately is a sexual victim, but believes she’s in power. So I would like to see her journey have more colors of that.
"I’d obviously like to see her become a porn star because that’s fun and exciting. But, it’s really interesting to talk about that idea of, 'What is that line between being a sexual victim, being manipulated, and being a sexually empowered woman?' I’d like to play with that more, especially in the climate with everything that is happening."
Even though the 70s-set Deuce can’t directly take on all of these scandals, do you think the subtext still be there?
"I hope so. I would imagine anyone who’s alive and has ears right now, or eyes to read, is going to be thinking about this. So, I would imagine [co-creators David Simon and George Pelecanos] would be thinking about it. It’s interesting because we’re dealing with pimps and we’re dealing with men who are making porn. They are far more obviously taking advantage of women intentionally, so it’s a very interesting perspective.
"We’re also talking about a different time and a different industry. So, I don’t know. I’d love to see it either have an effect on the writing or just have an effect on how people watch it. Because, no matter what, this is about asking about sex and about why are the [sex workers] involved? Why are the porn actresses involved? Why are the pimps? What is all of our angles and perspectives? If anything hopefully that can help expand this whole subject of 'What is sexual assault? What is not?'"
Season 2 has already been confirmed; you start working on that next year?
"Yeah, in January we start."
And, last question: has anyone asked you what it’s like to work with both Franco brothers? (Note: Meade and Dave Franco co-starred in 2016’s Nerve.)
"People are always asking. There’s actually three of them — I’ve only worked with two of the three. They’re very different people, and I love them both individually. I have some karmic connection to the Francos it seems. I don’t know what it is.
"They’re meant to be in my life. Not only did I work with both Dave and James, but then James as two brothers. There’s a lot going on with me and Franco brothers. There’s a lot of layers to it."
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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