Day three of the 2018 Tribeca TV Festival was a celebration of the mind, spirit, and heart at Spring Studios in New York City. Bryan Cranston gave us thought and insight into the creation of an iconic character, Rosario Dawson and Laverne Cox lifted us with their resilient joy, and the night ended with a touching look at the most open-hearted person we knew, Anthony Bourdain. Fans got an exclusive sneak peek at the Season 5 premiere of the wildly celebrated series Empire, followed by a conversation with star Jussie Smollett. Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston sat down with the chief film critic for New York Magazine, David Edelstein, to discuss his illustrious career as one of the most versatile performers over the last three decades. In a special conversation presented with TUMI, Laverne Cox sat down with Rosario Dawson to discuss Dawson’s prolific career which has taken her from a film and television performer, to a comic book writer, producer, singer, and activist. Audiences came together to watch the Season 12 world premiere of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown followed by a moving discussion with W. Kamau Bell, Director Morgan Fallon, Showrunner and Executive ProducerSandy Zweig, Executive Producers Lydia Tenaglia and Chris Collins moderated by CNN anchor John Berman.
Saturday attendees also viewed Tribeca TV’s first-ever, and truly eclectic, a block of Fall Pilots. Shows included: Shrimp – World Premiere Created by/Executive Produced by Zelda Williams and EP Joshua Thurston. Great Expectations – World Premiere Created by Pip Swallow, I Was a Teenage Pillow Queen – World Premiere Executive Produced by Bridget Moloney and Claire Coffee. Livin' on a Prairie – World Premiere Created by Pamela Bob. My Friend Will – World Premiere Executive Produced by Elijah Guo.
Empire (FOX) – Season 5 World Premiere
Empire star Jussie Smollet said “Season 5 is the best season since season one. I guarantee it. It’s amazing,” while he chatted with Afropunk Chief Content Officer Emil Wilbekin.
“Never underestimate the power of the DMs!” Jussie said after Emil asked him how he got the role of Jamal. Explaining that he DMed series creator Lee Daniels after he heard that he was making a hip hop musical, Jussie continued, “I said something like ‘I know you get this all the time, I’m an actor, singer, musician, and I would love to be in this project’. And he was like ‘casting will be in touch.’”
After singing “Ex-Factor” by Lauryn Hill in his first audition and thinking it went horribly, Jussie said, “I came back for another audition and Lee was like ‘I’m convinced of you as an actor and a singer, but not as a performer.’ I sang “Blurred Lines” for the next audition and looked that mother fucker right in the eyes. Like ‘give me this mother fucking job.’ I knew it was mine. Just in my soul I was convinced this role was mine.”
Emil asked Jussie what it is like to both be an openly gay man and also play one on TV. Jussie said, “I do feel like when you are an openly gay artist and then you are playing an openly gay artist, it’s like, I must just be playing myself, and that is not true. Jamal’s story is not my story. I have worked for every single thing in my life. No one has worked for me. People have worked with me, but no one has worked for me to get what I have, what I’m going to have.” He continued, “It’s really so interesting that you brought that up. I think to myself, if Tom Hanks was openly gay when he did Philadelphia, would people have given him the credit he deserved? Somehow people think I’m not putting the work in. I wake up as me, when I work I become Jamal. I do think there is something to be said, take notice of that. You can’t just think that I love the same way Jamal loves, but that doesn’t make it easy.”
After the panel, Jussie made sure to stay and greet audience members, staying for as long as he needed to speak to everyone who was waiting.
Tribeca Talks: A Conversation with Bryan Cranston
Prior to the start of his talk, Bryan Cranston dramatically banged on the green room glass overlooking the theater calling out for “Elaine” in homage to “The Graduate” to the delight of the sold-out crowd below.
New York Magazine ’s David Edelstein began the conversation by asking Bryan Cranston about his acting process. “I perform for myself. I have a high plateau that I want to reach and whatever I want to do is secondary to that effort. It’s impulsive. The more I do that, the more I get off kilter from the norm. Sometimes you make mistakes, but if you follow you’ll make mistakes. You have to take risks. You’re only as good as you allow yourself to be bad. You have to be willing to take those chances - physically and emotionally. When you go through a process like that, your body doesn’t know the difference between acting and real life. If I put myself into an emotional position through acting, your body doesn’t know. It can be exhausting but also exhilarating,” says Cranston.
Cranston spoke about his plan to join the LAPD post-college and how that changed entirely. In his second year at school, Cranston took an acting class. He received the script from the teacher and the first direction was “a couple is making out”. “I was standing next to a very attractive woman and I thought I better make myself more presentable. I felt like one of those birds in Nat Geo - check out my plumage. But then she read that opening line, and looked up to see me and cocked her head and smiled. And I was like YES. That was a victory to me.” Edelstein said, “So your entire career was made in that millisecond?” “IT WAS!,” Cranston said loudly.
Edelstein asked Cranston if he enjoyed directing. Cranston answered, “Yes, I love the collaborative environment. It’s exciting!” Edelstein then asked, “What were some of the first things you heard that were helpful from a director?” “Faster. Laughs,” Cranston said. “I don’t know it’s funny because I try not to predetermine what I’m going to do. I write down all the possibilities of what could happen. I like using a pencil and a pad. It’s tactical. I write it down to let it go. You have to be present, honest, and listening. Your scene partner might change something which means that you change. You have to be willing to be wrong,” Cranston said.
Tribeca Talks: The Journey Inspired by TUMI - A Special Conversation with Rosario Dawson
Laverne Cox opened the conversation by telling Rosario Dawson how proud she is of her and “all the fierceness and courage you’re bringing into the world. You are an incredible person and I’m SO happy to be doing this with you.” Rosario teared up and the audience applauded. “Your Mom is here, you have a fierce Mom,” Laverne said as the crowd applauded. “You grew up on the Lower East Side. What was it - was it your upbringing, your Mom - that made you want to live an activist life?” Laverne asked. Rosario replied with, “Growing up on the Lower East Side during the AIDS crisis, housing epidemic - before we had cell phones and social media and could bring awareness to things. It just opened my eyes so much. I was discovered on my stoop - they asked me if I wanted to be in a movie.” “Did kids inspire you to act or did you always want to act?” Laverne asked. “I always wanted to go to college and get a great job - but when that opportunity came, I knew everyone I knew would kill for that chance and I had to take it and run with it at a young age. And thankfully, 24 years later, I’m still doing it and able to provide for my family,” Rosario said as the audience applauded greatly.
Moving to specific TV Festival topics, Laverne asked: “what inspired you to step into the Marvel genre?” Rosario replied with, “I’ve always loved Star Trek. I marveled over a future that was based on exploration and not this hamster wheel we are on now. I loved the street level fighters - not these typical superheroes, I really liked that. I loved the idea of championing the human.”
Laverne continued and asked “There’s a moment in Luke Cage where he punches the wall and the whole convo is about men, masculinity, race. What’re your thoughts about playing that scene with everything going on in the world, masculinity, femininity?” Rosario said, “I feel really grateful because it was looking like it was going to be a final scene for Claire - the way it was originally written was a little more his side. And I approached the writer and said you know I think we should add this in and give a bit more of Claire’s perspective. He gave me an amazing compliment and asked if I wanted to join the writer’s room!”
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN) - Season 12 World Premiere
W. Kamau Bell, wearing a custom t-shirt printed with a picture of himself and Anthony Bourdain as a touching tribute to his late friend and episode co-star, joined Director Morgan Fallon, Showrunner and Executive Producer Sandy Zweig, and Executive Producers Lydia Tenaglia and Chris Collins for a touching tribute and conversation about their dear friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain, with moderator John Berman from CNN.
Berman opened the conversation with “I didn’t want the episode to end. I watched all of you taking it all in, assessing what it was like to be with Tony. We are so touched and moved by him. Kamau what was it like to watch it on the big screen?” Kamau responded with, “The first time I saw it, it took me about a month to get through the whole thing. When the first shot came up and it was my face, I said holy fuck! I wasn’t prepared for that. I was so unprepared for the generosity of the production on both experiences.” Berman continued, “You got to travel with Tony, what was that like?” Kamau said with a huge grin, “I felt like I won a contest. I’m more the guy on the couch watching him. I didn’t assume any connection between our shows. I really stumbled over words. I was nervous. I didn’t want to fuck it up and not be good in his show. I never talked to Tony about why he thought I should be on the show. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. And Mo said do what you do on your show on this show.”
Berman continued the conversation by asking, “What joy did he get out of experiencing the world through someone else's eyes?” Executive Producer Sandy Zweig answered, “He’d been on the road for almost 20 years. Traveling with someone else gave him the opportunity to see that place again through someone else’s perspective. You see Tony come alive in these shows with companions. In these later episodes, it’s really beautiful. He gets a chance to step back and look at the same place new again.”
Producer Chris Collins chimed in saying, “Tony will resonate further and farther. All is not said and done.”
When speaking about eating the crazy foods on the show, Kamau said, “I’m going to eat what’s in front of me. I knew about that blood/milk thing from days leading up. I didn’t know how elaborate it would be and how much detail I would see,” audience laughs, “I thought, this is what you’re here for. I’m not some guy who isn’t familiar with the show. I have to submit. Tony taught us how to be a good guest. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do. I’m not starstruck anymore.” Morgan jumped in and said, “You know… Tony and I were sitting there like you know he’s going to eat anything you put in front of him,” audience laughs.
Berman asked Executive Producer Lydia Tenaglia, “You’ve been there from the very beginning. What changed from the beginning till now?” Lydia responded with, “He really never traveled before or had gone anywhere. He was still in the kitchen. He was talking about the world in very romantic terms. He talked about what travel would be like to him. He didn’t understand how to maneuver with cameras and it was an awkward experience at first. We were scared. That was just the early days. He’s such a smart guy and he just got it right away and understood that the cameras should just be another medium or platform for his writing. Over the course of 18-19 years, he just evolved into a cultural anthropologist - having traveled everywhere. The journey got deeper and richer. By the time we got to CNN, the show exploded into the direction it wanted to go in all along. It wasn’t just a food and travel show. Parts Unknown took its fullest expression.
Towards the end of the discussion, select members of the audience had a chance to ask questions. One woman moved the crowd to tears saying, “I had a chance to meet Bourdain once, and being in his presence was absolutely amazing.” She teared up saying, “You knew him. You traveled with him. You became friends with him. What is your connection that you will always carry with you?” Lydia choked back with tears said, “That’s such a nice thing for you to say,” but she was holding back tears that she couldn’t say much else. Morgan said, “It’s so multifaceted. If there’s one thing for me it’s abandoning fear of other people - wholeheartedly being able to throw yourself out into the world. He shared so much about himself and his complexities. He did it without fear.”
In closing, Berman asked Kamau, “Your trip to Kenya, what did that change for you?” Kamau said, “I thought on the basis of what I thought was going to be a friendship. He gave me his number and said call me when you’re in New York. For me, if I had never had met him, he already changed my life, just by watching the show. I never expected that he would invite me into the show. I knew I was in the rarified air, the bonus round, and I was so grateful while it was happening. I’m really happy that the experience I had with the crew and the way he opened up the show to me. I’m just one of the people from the couch who got to be on the show. His work will continue to resonate with me and change my life, as it will for all of us,” he said holding back tears.
Shrimp (part of Fall Pilot Season)
On the red carpet, when asked about the inspiration behind her show, Zelda Williams laughed and said she was at a bar--the locale for a lot of her creative ideas--when a man mistook her for a dominatrix. Out of curiosity for what may have prompted this stranger to make this assumption, she began to delve into research of the fetish lifestyle, including shadowing the women at a private den. Williams wrote and created Shrimp based on her research, experience and exploration of this often misunderstood line of work. When asked what is the best piece of advice her father, Robin Williams, ever gave her, she simply replied: be nice, do the work, and always be on time.