actress

Agatha Secall rehearses her lines for “The Vagina Monologues,” an award winning production that raises awareness about violence against women. The production will take place Saturday and Sunday at the 21st Street co-op at 7 p.m.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

In an effort to raise money and awareness for women who are victims of violence, UT social work student Caroline Traylor decided to direct and produce a play.

After taking a women’s studies class and seeing “The Vagina Monologues” her freshman year, Traylor wanted to put on her own production of the award-winning play that’s mission is to end violence against women. The production takes place this Saturday and Sunday at the 21st Street Co-op at 7 p.m..

Roughly 20 years ago, playwright Eve Ensler traveled around the world and interviewed women about their vaginas and turned their stories into “The Vagina Monologues.” As part of V-Day, a movement committed to ending violence against women, all proceeds from the play go to an organization that promotes women’s rights. 

For this weekend’s production, Traylor chose to donate the proceeds to Planned Parenthood and local nonprofit SafePlace.

“I’ve been volunteering at SafePlace and I chose it because it’s local and it provides health care to victims of sexual assault,” Traylor said. “They provide counseling and shelter, but they’re really big on community education and they recognize the power dynamics of the patriarchy that perpetuates violence against women.”

The monologues details issues like sexual assault, as well as humorous stories of women discovering their own anatomy. UT alumna and actress in the play, Claire Murphy Mayberry, said the stories are very candid about women’s experiences with their bodies.

“People are not going to come and have it be like the bible of feminism and an all-encompassing message,” Murphy Mayberry said. “They are going to find something different — it’s more imperfect than that. It’s just women talking about themselves and their bodies in a different way, and we don’t see that a lot, so it’s going to be a good conversation starter.”

Each monologue intimately tackles an issue surrounding women. Murphy Mayberry explained that part of the goal of the production is to force the audience to confront difficult and uncomfortable topics.

“It’s crazy to see how many people, especially young men, will be uncomfortable to see a woman on stage talking about her issues and her body,”
Murphy Mayberry said. “So, we hope to get people uncomfortable on a basic level and confront their discomfort to really tackle why they’re uncomfortable.”

Aside from entertaining, ‘The Vagina Monologues” aims to educate people about women’s anatomy and the challenges and experiences that surround it.

“I think that it’s a completely new way to look at women because a lot of the pieces and the moods that are going into the performance are both vulnerable but very strong and empowering,” said Kendall Edison, psychology senior and actress in the play. “So, you get to see this dynamic that you don’t get to see on a day-to-day basis that you may not be conscious of. It gives you a new way to think about your body and your experiences, whether you’re male, female or somewhere in between.”

The main goal of the play is to empower women and inspire people to internalize a deeper understanding and appreciation for women’s lives and bodies.

“I would have to say that the most important thing to take away isn’t necessarily that your vagina is beautiful and wonderful and does so many things and they all look different, but at the end of the day, you need to take the time to learn to love yourself,” Edison said. “That’s what gives you a glow, and I think that’s important. And everyone is different and that’s perfectly OK.”

A portrait of actress and UT alumna Farrah Fawcett by Andy Warhol is displayed in a 2011 exhibit at the blanton Museum of Art. UT is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with Ryan O'Neal over the artwork. 

Photo Credit: Andrew Edmonson | Daily Texan Staff

For most of the last 33 years, an Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett has hung in the home of her longtime lover, Ryan O'Neal, and a jury's verdict Thursday ensures that is where it will stay.

For nearly a month, O'Neal has been in a courtroom as lawyers for UT sought to gain possession of the portrait, arguing that Fawcett bequeathed the artwork to the school upon her death.

O'Neal fought back and testified last week that the portrait was his closest remaining connection to Fawcett, who died in 2009. The actor's descriptions of talking to the portrait and feeling the presence of the "Charlie's Angels" actress were among the last words that jurors focused on, asking to hear his testimony again Thursday morning.

Within 90 minutes of reviewing the testimony, the panel returned a 9-3 verdict in favor of O'Neal. The actor wasn't present for the jury's decision, but his sons Patrick and Redmond O'Neal clasped hands and hugged after hearing the result.

Patrick O'Neal said he spoke to his father and "he was very happy." The actor's attorney Marty Singer said O'Neal was having a medical procedure and that's why he wasn't in court Thursday.

The artwork is valuable, with experts estimating it is worth between $800,000 and $12 million. Ryan O'Neal, however, told jurors he had no intention of selling it and wanted to pass it down to his only son with Fawcett, Redmond.

Fawcett left all her artwork, including a nearly identical Warhol portrait, to UT, Fawcett's alma mater. The model-actress however left nothing to O'Neal, who was her companion for nearly 30 years.

Within days of Fawcett's death, O'Neal took one of two portraits of the actress that Warhol created in 1980 from her condominium. O'Neal had the permission of the trustee of Fawcett's belongings and testified the portrait was a gift from Warhol for arranging the artist's portrait session with the model-actress.

University lawyers attempted to discredit O'Neal's ownership claims with footage from Fawcett's reality show and a "20/20" television segment documenting the portraits' creation.

O'Neal wasn't seen in the footage, and a producer didn't recall seeing the "Love Story" star at Warhol's studio. But she also acknowledged she had no knowledge of who owned the artwork or how it was delivered.

The case featured testimony from O'Neal and several of Fawcett's close friends, who said the actress told them one of the portraits belonged to O'Neal. Two witnesses who were disclosed late in the trial — Fawcett's chiropractor and a former nurse's assistant — also backed O'Neal's claims.

Singer and another of O'Neal's attorneys, Todd Eagan, said two years of litigation and the three-week trial could have been avoided if UT had conducted a more thorough investigation.

"He never should have been sued," Singer said.

David Beck, a University attorney, said Thursday that the jury was conscientious and noted the panel was split on who should have the portrait.

He said the school felt obligated to pursue the case against O'Neal due to Fawcett's wishes. "We had no choice," he said.

Beck said the school's lawyers would look at the case and decide its next steps.

The University showed jurors footage from Fawcett's reality show in which she told an auction house owner that she had two Warhol portraits and was considering whether to sell one. O'Neal's lawyers noted that Fawcett never said on-camera that she owned both pieces of art.

The school also showed the panel documents that Fawcett signed loaning the portraits to The Andy Warhol Museum in which she is described as the owner and artist.

Beck in closing arguments had urged jurors to give the school the portrait in accordance with Fawcett's wishes.

"You've seen Farrah. You've heard from Farrah," Beck said Monday in closing arguments. "Please, please, speak for her."

The portrait has been a cherished possession for O'Neal, who told jurors it is one of his strongest reminders of his nearly three-decade romance with Fawcett.

"I talk to it," O'Neal testified last week. "I talk to her. It's her presence. Her presence in my life. In her son's life."

The jury also determined a tablecloth that Warhol drew hearts on and presented to O'Neal and Fawcett was jointly owned by the couple. The tablecloth was given to the University, and O'Neal has said he wants it back.

Superior Court Judge William MacLaughlin said he will decide what should happen to the item during a January hearing.

While O'Neal's portrait will remain in private hands, the University's version continues to hang in its Blanton Museum of Art and the school has other artwork that Fawcett created.

"We are disappointed that the jury saw the evidence a different way, but we will continue to honor Farrah with the Warhol portrait we do have along with her other works of art," the school wrote in a statement.

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a series in which two Life & Arts staff writers discuss big releases that are garnering buzz for the awards season. 

Lee Henry: In our past discussions, it seemed like we’d covered everything, but we somehow managed to completely miss talking about supporting actress in any sort of depth. Let’s start that off by discussing a film packed with potential candidates, “August: Osage County.” I’m assuming The Weinstein Company will be running every member of the cast in supporting categories and just hoping one or two stick. Besides Meryl Streep, the most likely nominees seem to be Julia Roberts and the superb Margo Martindale.

Colin McLaughlin: Streep is the obvious nominee here, but Martindale elevated the best role in the play to be almost on Streep’s level. “12 Years a Slave’s” Lupita Nyong’o looks to be the frontrunner in the supporting actress category, unsurprisingly. She was one of the strongest parts of one of the most well-assembled films this year. Do you see any potential upsets that could take the statue from Nyong’o on Oscar night?

LH: Oprah could run a campaign that would win her an Oscar for Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” but it’s not likely. Still, expect her to show up in that category. Martindale’s part in “August” was a Tony-winning one, and she’s a well-respected character actress, even winning an Emmy recently for her work in “Justified.” Plus, she’s just brilliant in this performance. The film is full of over-the-top characters trying to blow each other off screen, but Martindale succeeds in being hilarious, terrifying and painfully quiet all in the same film. Roberts, in the latest of the season’s category frauds, is also going for supporting actress, which completely dashes the chances of my other favorite in the film, Juliette Lewis.

CM: I don’t see it as a case of category fraud. The theatrical nominations have always recognized Violet, Streep’s character, as a lead role. Julia Roberts also plays a lead in the film, but Weinstein probably figured that she’ll have a better chance for a nomination as a supporting actress. I’d be surprised to see Roberts make it into the race at all. She was better than I expected but she wasn’t up to snuff against the other more deserving members of that cast. Still, she’s the other big name in the movie. “August,” “12 Years” and “The Butler” are the only movies I’ve seen that look to have serious supporting actress possibilities. What else is there to look at?

LH: There are plenty of other candidates to consider here. Octavia Spencer has been the benefit of a second wind of recognition for her work in “Fruitvale Station,” and she may be the film’s last chance at a high-profile nomination. Jennifer Lawrence should be considered a contender for “American Hustle,” Carey Mulligan was funny in “Inside Llewyn Davis” and Naomie Harris’s compelling work as Winnie Mandela was the best part of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” I would like to throw my hat in the ring for Sally Hawkins, who should be nominated for her work in “Blue Jasmine.” She’s funny and poignant, providing a perfect emotional counterweight to Cate Blanchett. It may be a long shot, but if the voters like the movie enough, anything is possible. Who’s your dream pick or must-have in this category?

CM: I’ve said my piece on Nyong’o and I don’t see myself changing my position on her deserving the win. For dream picks, I actually have two: Amy Acker and and Julianne Nicholson. Nicholson, who plays middle sister Ivy in “August: Osage County,” is probably the least-known member of its sizable ensemble, but she is incendiary in the few moments the film gives her. The supporting nominations for “August” are likely going to better known players. Amy Acker plays Beatrice in my favorite movie of the year so far, Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Though she’s arguably the lead actress, the film’s ensemble cast would likely see her listed as a supporting actress if there was any chance of her being nominated. “Much Ado” won’t see much attention this year, but the way that movie makes Shakespeare’s language feel so effortless and natural is a feat unto itself, and Acker is a large part of what makes that succeed. 

LH: I hate to crush your spirits, but “Much Ado” won’t get anywhere. 

CM: I’m curious to see where “August” goes for the rest of the year; It won’t see a theatrical release until Christmas, and it’s rumored that the Weinsteins plan to change the horrible ending scene. It’s continually seeing positive reception on the festival circuit, but it will be overshadowed by “Saving Mr. Banks” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” also opening on Christmas. 

Lee Henry: Let’s start with Sandra Bullock. Where did this performance come from? She’s a lock for a nomination, and I’d say she’s a serious contender to win Best Actress. There’s a strong correlation between Best Actress victories and Best Picture nomination/contention which is very hard to overcome, so that gives her an edge over her only current competitor, Cate Blanchett.

Colin McLaughlin: I think we agree. We’re a long way off from February, but this year’s Best Actress race is already Bullock’s to lose. It’s hard to imagine any of the other prospective nominees coming close to what she does in “Gravity.”

CM: If nothing else, “Gravity” is a lock for best visuals and cinematography. Cuaron’s movie is full of uninterrupted takes that last more than 10 minutes. And I really do hate to call major categories so soon, but “Argo” came out by this time last year and that movie was called as the Best Picture winner at Toronto. Right now, the biggest potential opponent for “Gravity”’s chances is “12 Years A Slave,” which will be out this Friday. 

LH: We can’t ignore “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron. He’s a lock for his first directing nomination in a critically acclaimed career, and he’s a charmer. He could sell this movie to the stodgiest Academy member without coming off as sycophantic. His people skills certainly give him an edge over his newest competitor, Paul Greengrass. Greengrass was nominated in 2006 for directing “United 93,” and “Captain Phillips” is a strong return for him. Greengrass is a little stodgier than Cuaron, but he’ll have Tom Hanks by his side every step of the way. They’ll be fighting it out in every single technical category that period pieces don’t automatically take.

CM: I was slightly let down by “Captain Phillips,” so I’m curious as to whether we’ll be discussing Greengrass at all two months from now. He is a fine director, but his skill has always been the technical aspects of his presentation, and I think that Cuaron has him outranked far and away in “Gravity.” 

LH: This summer also had a good crop of potential dark horses/spoilers: “Fruitvale Station,” “Before Midnight” and “The Butler” have retained support, although previous talks of locks for best picture have been replaced by mere chance at a single or select few nominations. “The Butler,” of course, is different because of the strength and prestige of the cast. And of course, we have “12 Years A Slave” coming this week. Based on the reception at Toronto and Telluride, it’s a contender for … I guess everything?

CM: Everything but Lead Actress. I’ve actually stopped reading the reports because I don’t want to let the hype ruin my expectations, but by all accounts, that’s pretty much impossible.

LH: So next time we’ll discuss the reported powerhouse that is “12 Years a Slave,” the state of the Best Actor race, and whether or not “Wolf of Wall Street” will even make it into contention this year. In conclusion, I think that we can both agree...

CM: “Crash” won Best Picture. Anything is possible.

Handing out Oscars for the best performances in Texas sports this past year

Best Actor - Alex Okafor

Third baseman Erich Weiss and golfer Dylan Frittelli were considered for this, but Okafor’s Alamo Bowl performance put him over the top. In 2012 the Pflugerville product made 68 tackles, a whopping 18 of them for a loss, including 12.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hurries, both team-highs by far. The 4.5-sack effort he turned in during Texas’s triumph over Oregon State last December was a fitting end to his career and may have earned him a spot in the first round of April’s NFL Draft.

Best Actress - Blaire Luna

Luna, a local product from Austin's Bowie High School, went 22-6 with a 2.31 ERA last year, when she nearly led Texas to its first Women’s College World Series berth since Cat Osterman was on the 40 Acres. She’s off to a scorching start this season, going 7-0 with a 0.50 ERA in her first seven outings as the Longhorns (16-1) are off to their best 17-game start in school history. She almost tied her career-high by striking out 16 Tulsa hitters in Sunday’s win without issuing a single walk. Luna and the Longhorns could very well be Oklahoma City-bound in a few months.

Best Actor in Supporting Role - Hoby Milner 

Milner started out last season in the Longhorns’ starting rotation but, by the end of the year, he was the team’s set-up man. What seemed like a demotion proved to be mutually beneficial for both Milner and his squad. Texas had a reliable option behind closer Corey Knebel and Milner, who admitted to being more comfortable coming out of the bullpen, ended up being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the seventh round of last year’s MLB Draft. 

Best Actress in Supporting Role - Hannah Allison

Allison was an essential piece to the Longhorns’ championship puzzle last season. She averaged more than 10 assists per set this past year and had 254 assists in six NCAA Tournament games, including a mind-boggling 53 in the Final Four five-set triumph against Michigan. As great as Bailey Webster, Haley Eckerman and Khat Bell were, Texas would not have won a national title without Allison.

Best Picture - Men’s golf team winning a national title

Texas captured two national championships over the last 12 months, one in volleyball and one in men’s golf. But the Longhorn volleyball team swept Oregon in its national title game, leaving little doubt who the best squad in the country was. The Texas men’s golf squad, on the other hand, provided much more drama on its way to winning a championship. Senior Dylan Frittelli sank a 30-foot, title-clinching birdie putt on the final hole of the Longhorns’s national championship clash with Alabama, sending his teammates in a frenzy and giving Texas its third national title in men’s golf.

Best Director - Jerritt Elliott

After several uncharacteristic losses in non-conference play, Elliott, the head volleyball coach, talked about how he has been toying with his lineup, still unsure of what group of players will work. Texas began the year by losing three of its first nine matches but reeled off 17 straight wins, including a school-record 15 in a row to begin Big-12 play, before falling to Iowa State in five sets in its regular season finale – a loss some players said would actually serve the Longhorns well in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Sure enough, they blazed their way through the tournament, losing just one set in their first four NCAA Tournament matches, all of which were in Austin, before battling back in a five-set win over Michigan and a sweep of Oregon in the title match. Eddie Reese, John Fields and Augie Garrido are really good at what they do, but Elliott may very well be the best coach on campus.

Preview

Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley star in Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo,” which garnered 11 Oscar nominations for this year’s awards, the most of any other film nominated. (Photo courtesy of Jaap Buitendijk)

In the Tuesday announcement of the Academy Award nominees, some of the year’s best films have been left out in the cold as usual. Overall, this year’s race is shaping up to be a bit blander than years before.

Best Picture is the easily the most boring category of the year. The Academy’s revamped nomination system (which requires a film to get 5 percent of first-place votes to be nominated, allowing for a varied number of nominees) cranked out nine nominees, a collection of easily digestible Oscar bait and admired directors doing mediocre work. While the inclusion of “Midnight in Paris,” “The Descendants” and “Hugo” (which leads with 11 nominees) are worth celebrating, equally worthy films like “Drive” were left out in the cold.

Some David Fincher-happy predictors were hoping for a nod for his shockingly weak and disinterested adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but the academy’s love for the film waxed and waned in a truly bizarre fashion, with a nomination for Rooney Mara as Best Actress and a score of technical nods, but none for Fincher’s direction or the Reznor/Ross score. Even odder was the unexpectedly strong showing for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” whose 9/11 subject matter managed to manipulate its way past extremely mixed reviews and incredibly middling box office returns into a nomination for Best Picture. (Having a main character named Oskar probably didn’t hurt.)

The Best Director race is mostly par for the course here. With a roster that includes Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Terrence Malick, it’s hard to blame the academy for sticking inside the box with this one, although it would have been nice to see Tomas Alfredson honored here for his masterful direction in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

Alfredson’s film was honored in the Best Actor race (even though it was robbed in Editing, Art Direction and Costume Design), and the esteemed Gary Oldman finally joins the ranks of the Oscar nominated for a brilliant, quiet performance. Unfortunately, Best Actor seems to be a three-man race, with Jean Dujardin, Brad Pitt and George Clooney dominating the preliminaries. It’s nice to see Demián Bichir pop up for his devastating work in “A Better Life,” but the exclusion of Michael Fassbender and Michael Shannon demonstrates a closed-mindedness that extends to every category of this year’s race.

Bold films that didn’t appeal to everyone were commonplace this year and were indeed among the year’s most memorable pictures, but these noteworthy pictures were often shut out entirely. While the snubs for “Shame” and “Take Shelter” are certainly grievous, the absence of Tilda Swinton in Best Actress for the decidedly noncommercial “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is the year’s biggest mistake, the best performance of the year left out in the cold to make room for Glenn Close’s cross-dressing and Rooney Mara’s tattooed hacker.

Best Supporting Actor, usually one of the most interesting fields of the year, did right by nominating Christopher Plummer for “Beginners” (the most deserved nomination of the year), and it’s nice to see Nick Nolte’s emotional turn in “Warrior” recognized. Less sensible is Max von Sydow’s nomination for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and Jonah Hill’s Oscar ticket on “Moneyball’s” coattails, while other strong performances such as Patton Oswalt (“Young Adult”), Albert Brooks (“Drive”) and even Andy Serkis (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) were ignored, along with their films.

It’s incredibly easy to complain about Oscar nominations, since they invariably get it a little bit wrong. And while it’s truly a shame that “Drive” only picked up a nomination for Sound Editing or that “Martha Marcy May Marlene” lost out for Best Actress and Editing, how great is it that Gary Oldman is finally, finally an Oscar nominee? Or that Woody Allen’s beautiful little riff on nostalgia can sneak into Best Picture and Best Screenplay? And even if it wasn’t to my tastes, how nuts is it that a film as bafflingly out there as “The Tree of Life” can somehow get nominated for Best Picture?

Even though the Oscars miss the mark sometimes (okay, most of the time), the fun of watching is often in what gets left out and what you’re delighted to see make the cut. Besides, at least “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” didn’t get nominated for Best Picture. 

Printed on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 as: Academy shuts out noteworthy pictures, nominates favorites

For every movie, documentary and foreign film buff, the start of the new year stands as a reminder that the Academy Awards are right around the corner. With award nominees revealed each January, it’s no surprise that award-winning actress Meryl Streep is a leading contender for the Best Actress category for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”

Her commitment to the art of acting and her ability to completely transform into a wide variety of characters has guaranteed her a near-annual nomination since 1978. If awarded, this would be the first Oscar she takes home since her leading role in “Sophie’s Choice” in 1982.

Holding the most Oscar nominations of any actress in history, sixteen as of this year, Streep’s performance as the former British prime minister is one of conviction, specificity and absolute physical transformation. After 30 years since she last won the award, will this be the role that wins her the next Oscar?

Streep has been known to effectively become her characters, ranging from the rambunctious, jolly and high-pitched French chef Julia Child in “Julie and Julia” (2009), to the icy, fiercely fashionable and quick-witted editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006); from a Catholic nun with a grievance against a priest (“Doubt”), to a modern version of Virgina Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (“The Hours”).

Streep’s extensive training in her art is evident through the dramatic changes she makes for each individual role. Though some of her characters may seem out of the ordinary at face value, it is through her moment-to-moment characterizations, mannerisms and full-embodied physicality that she realizes a humanistic performance.

The film, shown through the lens of an elderly and nostalgic Margaret Thatcher, tells the story of her rise and fall in British parliament through a series of flashbacks as she packs away her late husband’s belongings. Struggling with early signs of dementia, each object she stores sparks a memory from different moments in her life, and Streep’s portrayal of Thatcher bounces between the former prime minister’s past and present life.

Margaret Thatcher, the first female British prime minister with the longest-serving term of the 20th century, was widely known for her strict conservative policies, compelling speeches and harsh rhetoric against the Soviet Union. It is through her convictions, persistence in creating change and push for a self-sufficient lifestyle that the prime minister earned the nickname “the Iron Lady.” Although prosthetics and extensive film makeup were used to assist her transformation into an older Thatcher, Streep’s physicality, subtle character choices and commitment to Thatcher’s driven, passionate personality separate her from other nominees.

Written as a sympathetic portrayal of a prime minister who was not always well-liked by the public, the film has garnered mixed reviews. Many critics said the film lacks the range to portray Thatcher’s story beyond the drama and pathos of her personal life, which limited the film. Despite the harsh criticism surrounding the film, Streep is praised in reviews for her brilliance as an actress and the totality of her transformation. Streep’s portrayal is so spot-on that comparing video clips of Margaret Thatcher to the film render the two nearly indistinguishable.

This type of transformative role is not an unusual contender for the Oscar. Actresses playing famous women throughout history are commonly seen in the Best Actress category. Other actresses nominated for historical portrayls include Salma Hayek as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in “Frida”, Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen” and Charlize Theron as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.” Although the majority of these women undertake complete transformations to do justice to their real-life characters, Streep’s Margaret Thatcher has authenticity that sets a new bar.

Already having won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for “The Iron Lady,” as well as holding a nomination in the same category for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Streep is a critic favorite for the Oscar, and it seems that an Oscar win is almost inevitable — after all, 16th time’s the charm.

Review

Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper) in “My Week With Marilyn.” (Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

My Week With Marilyn” more or less hinges on Michelle Williams’ performance as American sex symbol Marilyn Monroe and even builds in a certain amount of awe around the actress by staging the film from the perspective of young show biz hopeful Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne).

Clark, who wrote the memoir that inspired the film, is entranced with Monroe from the first time he sees her onscreen, and Williams gives a dazzling performance. Her portrayal of Monroe displays an understanding of the actress and public figure that goes far deeper than mere imitation, and Williams continues to stand out as one of the boldest, most watchable actresses of her generation.

It’s a shame, then, that the back half of “My Week With Marilyn,” where Williams takes the spotlight, is much spottier than the early sections that are mostly concerned with the making of Sir Laurence Olivier’s “The Prince and the Showgirl.” These earlier scenes make full use of the film’s expansive and entertaining supporting cast, including Judi Dench’s elegant turn as Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Dominic Cooper and Toby Jones also stand out as members of Monroe’s management team, and Kenneth Branagh makes for an outstandingly theatrical Olivier. Meanwhile, Redmayne is almost entirely overshadowed and outmatched by a cast of renowned thespians, many of whom are given the short end of the stick as the film’s focus turns from the movie-within-the-movie to Clark and Monroe’s short-lived attempt at romance.

There’s plenty to like in “My Week With Marilyn,” and Monroe makes for a fairly interesting character when given an ensemble to bounce off of.

Even in the film’s slower moments, Williams is compelling enough to keep one interested. But it’s hard to shake the idea that centering the film around a few flirtatious conversations between Monroe and an assistant director isn’t nearly as interesting as telling the story of a Hollywood starlet going head-to-head with a bonafide thespian, something that “My Week With Marilyn” is far too star-struck to realize. 

Printed on Monday, November 28, 2011: Actress captures essence of American sex symbol

A year ago, Shailene Woodley was probably best known for her prominent role on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” However, her wonderful performance as George Clooney’s spunky, brutally honest daughter in Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” promises to redirect the 20-year-old actress’ career path.

The Daily Texan sat down with Woodley earlier this month.

DT: Tell me about Payne’s directorial style.
Woodley: On a personal level, Alexander is one of my top five favorite human beings. He’s just such a ... I will come to tears talking too much about him because I just think the world of him. As far as a director goes, he’s very low key and he has a very strong point of view when it comes to his films, which is rare for a director to have. His style is very ... He doesn’t want us to act when he casts us, he just goes, “Be you. That’s all I want. Just you, within the rules and restrictions of this character.”

DT: How would you compare working in television and film?
Woodley: There’s a giant difference. Television, we do like eight scenes a day, so it’s boom, boom, boom. You have very little creativity involved, time is of the essence, money is of the essence and you just have to get the job done, Film is very different in that you only have one scene to do a day, if that. Sometimes half a scene. So you get so much time to really go deep and figure out the different layers of character and story and explore. It’s like being on a playground — you can try the slide for a minute and then the swings for a second.

DT: Tell me about working with George Clooney.
Woodley: George is such a humble, down-to-earth professional, a phenomenal man on this planet, that there was no intimidation factor. George, Nick Krause and I went to Hawaii three weeks prior to filming to kind of get to know the vibe of Hawaii and get to know each other and Alexander. It was awesome! We went on mini-field trips around the island to kind of get to know the places that our characters grew up and the vibe of the culture. George, I mean, the second you meet him, you kind of forget that he’s George Clooney, “superstar,” he just becomes George Clooney from Kentucky with a heart of gold. He’s such an amazing, comfortable guy to be around that there’s no intimidation factor, and it was kind of an organic bonding process. It was three people getting to know each other.

Printed on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 as: Woodley shares her silver screen experience
 

The UT Department of Theatre and Dance set quite the scene Friday. The commotion didn’t come from the opening of a new play or the excitement of a casting call, but rather from the appearance of who many consider to be the greatest living actress of our time, Meryl Streep.

The audience roared when Streep stepped onto the stage of the humble Payne Theatre, jumping from their seats and bursting into enthusiastic applause. Appearing at UT as the most nominated actress in the history of film, Meryl Streep received a standing ovation, the highest sign of respect in the theater world, simply by walking onstage.
“[Today] is a day 10 years in the making, and a true test to the power of nagging,” said theater professor Fran Dorn.

Dorn, Streep’s longtime friend from Yale University, introduced her to a crowd of over 400 people from all aspects of the UT theatre world. The stage seemed set to open a play, adorned with a comfy armchair, a quaint circular rug, and a small hardwood table framed with a vase full of bright flowers.
“I’m in the theater department,” Streep said, her eyes twinkling, “I feel at home.”

The line of people to get into “A Conversation With Meryl Streep,” an audience-based Q-and-A forum, began to form at around 12 p.m. The air was abuzz with excitement, filled with bright eyes, smiles and breathless anticipation. First-year theater student Jonathan Mathews was one student in a crowd of about 40 early birds, waiting impatiently for the clock to strike 2:30.

“The things I’ve seen her in, she just blows my mind in her style of acting and the way she presents her characters,” Mathews said, “I think even though she is a woman actor I can learn a lot from her, from her style and techniques and the incredible ability she has in front of the camera and on the stage.”
The Department of Theatre and Dance finalized Streep’s visit last week.

Department head Lucien Douglas was astonished at the announcement of Streep’s visit.

“I said, ‘Who?’” Douglas said with a laugh. “We’re one of the biggest theater programs in the country, and any opportunity to build bridges with the professional world is absolutely wonderful.”

With a little over a week’s notice, Dorn and the department announced the event to its 400 theater and dance students. The impact was immediate, and the “Oh my god!” exclamations rang throughout the Winship Drama Building. Deemed “A Conversation With Meryl Streep,” the free event opened exclusively to theater and dance students and faculty members.

Dorn organized the event in hopes of inspiring students to persevere in the difficult theater industry, a business teeming with low job opportunities. Dorn said she hoped students would understand that Streep was a human being aside from being a movie star, someone who started where everyone else did and had her own problems and struggles in her career.
“I don’t consider myself the greatest living anything,” Streep said. “If I were in school, I’d be greeting this opportunity with a healthy dose of skepticism. A student [needs] to look for something that feels true instead of being handed wisdom.”

In her discussion, Streep acknowledged the rigid and unfair standards of the industry she has thrived in, such as the pressure on actors to keep a certain weight and to acquiesce to society’s standards of beauty. While an actress of Streep’s caliber seems to have been born for the stage, she humbly said that she, too, faced all the challenges that UT students face today.

“I go back and forth all the time, even right now,” Streep said with a laugh. “When I was in graduate school, I was in my third year towards a [Master’s in Fine Arts] in drama and acting, and I decided to take the law boards because I thought that maybe I wanted to be an environmental lawyer, [but] I slept through the test.”

Streep majored in theater and dance at Yale in 1972. As part of their liberal arts program, Streep said she had the chance to learn a little bit about everything, something she noted would be “unfashionable” today with the current focus on specific career path education. Despite her lack of particularity, Streep said her experience helped her understand the world and become a better person.

Aside from speaking to the Department of Theatre and Dance, Streep also went to lunch with the MFA graduate students before the event. MFA graduate student Amanda Morish called the experience “magical” and “humbling,” going on to express multiple levels of gratitude to Fran Dorn and the University of Texas.

“We love UT, and Fran is amazing. This visit is such a gift for us as actors because [Streep] is so inspirational and so amazing at what she does,” Morish said. “She’s one of kind, and to be able to learn from someone like that and be in their space is just a privilege. I feel very blessed.”

On the Payne Theatre stage, Streep was in her element. With a series of hand gestures and dynamic voice changes, she had the audience hanging on to her every word. She answered students’ questions in a thoughtful, humble and generous tone, completely unafraid of revealing that she had once stuffed her bra to get a role or admitting that she sometimes forgot her lines on purpose to soothe the anxieties of nervous actors.

Streep also took the audience on a journey through her college experience, describing a professor that wore English riding boots and took his crop to class. She prompted waves of laughter with the tale of her first emotional theater performance, in which she imagined she was the most famous actress in the world announcing her retirement, unable to continue working because she had hit the elderly age of 45.

With only an hour-and-a-half of conversation, Streep had inspired a burning hope in the hearts of everyone in the department.

“It just makes you wonder,” said senior Cat Hardy, “Fran Dorn went to school with her, and we’re going to school now. Who are we going to school with that we’re going to have come back and speak when we’re older? Maybe it will be one of us.”