Joe Mantello Interview: ‘Hollywood’
“I was signing on for Ryan, and I trusted that Dick Samuels would follow,” admits Joe Mantello about his role as an officious but repressed studio executive on Netflix’s period drama “Hollywood,” created by Ian Brennan and Mantello’s frequent collaborator Ryan Murphy. The two-time Tony winning director of “Take Me Out” and “Assassins” had already earned an Emmy nomination the last time acting in a Ryan Murphy project, for his supporting role in Murphy’s adaptation of Larry Kramer‘s “The Normal Heart.” In our exclusive video interview (watch above), Mantello talks about his character’s evolution and working with many of his friends from the theater world.
Mantello, who chooses acting projects sparingly in favor of directing, explains that when Murphy came to him with the role, he initially didn’t see a lot in the role of Samuels. “When Ryan and I fist talked about it, Dick Samuels didn’t really exist as a character,” he says. Even as Mantello began reading the scripts, he still didn’t see where the character fit in the series. “I couldn’t quite see myself in the role because he felt a bit like a suit, and there was a lot of exposition which I don’t think I do particularly well.” When Mantello saw the script for the season’s third episode, set largely at one of George Cukor‘s famous pool parties, he began to see that there was more to Samuels than he had realized. “There’s a lot going on here. The guy is really really complicated and I’m not just going to be the person who’s walking in and being Doctor Exposition, which was my fear.”
The role gave Mantello an opportunity to work with many of his friends from the theater community, including Jim Parsons, Patti LuPone and Holland Taylor. Mantello recalls a pivotal scene with Taylor in which her character and Samuels confront his repressed homosexuality. “We were really terrified by the scene,” he recalls. “These are two people who know each other so well and they’re connected, and they love each other more than anyone in the world. And here they were being placed in a situation which was incredibly awkward and heartbreaking for both of them.” Despite their mutual apprehension, Mantello says the process was helped by his scene partner. “When you’re on a set and you look in Holland Taylor’s eyes, it’s really hard to lie,” he exclaims. “So you kind of just have to look at her and say the lines.”
Mantello says that he enjoyed the experience of making Hollywood so much that he hasn’t gotten up the nerve to watch the finished product. “I’m reluctant to see it because the experience of making was such great fun. It was challenging, but there was so much affection and camaraderie with the actors, and that’s what I carry away from me,” he exclaims. “For me the experience of making ‘Hollywood,’ that really was the reward.”