Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and the new class of A-list actresses on TV
It’s been years since Reese Witherspoon took her talents to TV and turned a casting move into a full-on power move — and a major trend. For years, movie actors existed in a tier above television actors: The big screen came with paychecks and prestige that the small screen could never match. But with the rise in prestige television came a rise in desirable (read: well-rounded, complex, more than just a set piece) roles for women, and that led many of cinema’s biggest names to follow suit.
That phenomenon is no longer new, but fall 2018/winter 2019 brings an additional crop of talent who have decided to jump the proverbial ship. Led by the inimitable Julia Roberts, who headlines a groundbreaking Amazon Prime series out this week — and also graces Entertainment Weekly’s current cover — we present to you the new class. Take note, Television Academy.
Julia Roberts in Homecoming
No one ever thought she’d do TV. That sentence could be said about several of movie’s biggest names, but it rings even truer for Roberts. Not only is she perhaps the most blatant example of a movie star in our time, but she’s also highly selective about her roles. She’s not going to leave her Malibu enclave for just anything — which is exactly what makes the new Amazon Prime mystery all the more alluring.
Roberts is flexing her more dramatic muscles on the series, which is ostensibly about a facility that houses soldiers returning from war. On the surface, however, its mission is much more sinister — or, at least it seems that way. (You see, Roberts’ character is approached by employees of the Department of Defense and finds that she has almost no memory of her time spent working at the facility.)
Homecoming has been touted as Hitchcockian in its mind games — again with the word associations we’d never thought we’d be using: Julia Roberts and Hitchcock — and, if one needed any more convincing than that, EW’s own critics gave it a rave review. The role is one of several that Roberts is tackling this fall; she’s also starring in the movie Ben Is Back opposite Lucas Hedges, so she hasn’t fully renounced her cinematic ways. In fact, Homecoming had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, so it could be said that Roberts’ influence is seeping into the TV world.
Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies
The first season of the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning series was the epitome of “A-listers on TV” — what, with Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley appearing alongside Witherspoon — so it makes sense that the team at HBO would look to the film world for its highly-anticipated season 2 casting additions. But the fact that the premium cable network managed to convince Meryl Streep means the magnetic pull of both TV and Witherspoon herself are more powerful than any of us knows.
Much of Streep’s role is, of course, shrouded in mystery, and audiences have yet to be treated to even a teaser trailer for the follow-up season (which is set to debut sometime in 2019). But we know a few things (Warning: if you haven’t seen Big Little Lies, spoilers follow): First, she’ll be playing the mother of the late Perry Wright (played by Alexander Skarsgard), who was killed at the end of season 1 after being outed as both a domestic abuser and a rapist (dare we insert a good riddance here?).
We also know that her character is, well, difficult. It’s not much of a surprise considering she spawned Perry, but a fantastic behind-the-scenes shot (captured by one very enterprising paparazzi photographer) showed Witherspoon’s character hurling what appeared to be an ice cream cone at the back of her head. You don’t do that to pleasant people.
Jennifer Aniston in Untitled Jennifer Aniston/Reese Witherspoon Project
If Reese Witherspoon isn’t getting a cut of every television network’s profits by now, she should probably talk to her agent. In addition to the big-name talent she pulled down for Big Little Lies, she also convinced everyone’s favorite Friend to return to television after a very extended hiatus. Seriously, Jennifer Aniston hasn’t even come close to abandoning her hard-earned movie career in years.
The actress formerly known as Rachel Green will be joining Witherspoon and the recently-announced Steve Carell (another movie actor!) in what the workplace drama about a morning news program. It will air on the newly-formed Apple streaming service and that is quite literally all anyone will divulge about the project. This thing is so mysterious, they won’t even give us a title. But what we do know is that we’d love to see this whole Megyn Kelly debacle get the Jen/Reese treatment.
Jennifer Garner in Camping
For those who haven’t been paying attention, Jennifer Garner is in the midst of a revival (one which we 100 percent fully support). The actress, who has plenty of soulful indie projects under her belt (Juno, Dallas Buyers Club), took a bit of a hiatus from some of her more meatier roles in recent years. She never truly stopped working, but she was certainly leaning into the world of Capital One commercials and religious genre pics. (And not that we would ever blame her! You get that money, Jen!)
But now she’s back and ready for more. It all started with this spring’s Love, Simon, a precious coming-out tale in which she played the title character’s mom that allowed her to show off her inner Jen-ness. Now, following the career trajectory of many a powerhouse before her, she’s turning to prestige television with a starring role in Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s follow-up to Girls. The show is both a complete departure from the cult New York City favorite and right in line with it.
The premise is going to sound crazy: Garner is the leader of an adult adventure camp. She’s highly neurotic and also on the verge of complete mental collapse, and is tasked with organizing highly-unpleasant icebreakers and workshop activities for a group of fellow crazies. It’s a thinking person’s comedy in every sense of the word and is going to allow Garner to flex the comedy muscles we all know she’s been keeping right and tight.
Surely the world will soon learn the lesson: Never sleep on Jennifer Garner.
Regina Hall in Black Monday
What would you say if we told you the creator of Happy Endings made a series for Showtime? What if we told you it was kind of like Sorry to Bother You meets The Wolf of Wall Street, but with even more surrealist aspects? You’d probably be a little bit confused. But let us reassure you with the fact that it stars Regina Hall, Don Cheadle, and Andrew Rannells. There, that’s better.
Hall has headlined some of our favorite movies of the last half-decade: The Best Man Holiday, Girls Trip, and most recently The Hate U Give. She’s not brand new to TV — she’s done stints on Black-ish and Insecure, among others — but committing to a full series run is a career departure. She’ll be playing a banker in the show’s 1980’s-set dramedy and, if the trailer is any indication, will be contributing to an outlandish series of dramatizations.
There’s sex (duh), drugs (duh), and quite literally everything in between. It’s loosely based on the real Black Monday, the day (Oct. 19, 1987) stock markets crashed around the world, but is also a commentary on all the lessons our society failed to learn in the aftermath.
Diane Lane in House of Cards
The Netflix show was dealt a heavy blow when the news of lead actor Kevin Spacey’s many alleged misconduct came to light during the #MeToo movement and it was unclear whether the series would live through the tumult. The streaming service eventually decided to revive the sixth and final season (premieres Nov. 2) with a new, female-forward spin (seriously: Who needs Frank Underwood?), but the extended hiatus and bad press meant they’d have to pull out the biggest casting guns they could muster.
So who did they call? None other than Diane Lane.
There’s hardly a more fitting scenario for her first starring gig on television, and we’re so ravished by the early stills of her on set that we don’t even care that we barely know a thing about her role. Lane has dropped a few hints, though. She’ll be playing the sister of one Greg Kinnear (another dynamite casting move), and together they’ll be something of sworn enemies to Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood. Buckle right up.
Emma Stone in Maniac
Never one to sit back and leave the enterprising career decisions to the rest of her peers, Stone jumped into the TV trend wholeheartedly this fall. She reunited with her Superbad costar Jonah Hill for the bizarre Netflix series Maniac, from True Detective creator Cary Joji Fukunaga.
The premise, for those who have yet to catch up on their bingeing (yes, the entire show is available now), is that Stone and Hill are participants in an elaborate psychological study that causes them to hallucinate alternative lives. Like any interesting psychological study (especially those conducted fictionally, for our entertainment), things don’t quite go as planned. The two subjects have an uncannily deep connection and start to search for each other in their dream states.
In the interest of full disclosure, it’s worth noting that not everybody (critics and fans alike) loved this show. It’s complex, as all Fukunaga projects are, and that requires a very acquired taste. But it’s worth noting simply because it’s Stone’s foray into the small screen and, although her current slate is full of films, it likely won’t be her last. (Big Little Lies season 3, is that you calling?)
Cate Blanchett in Mrs. America
All hail, for royalty hath graced the presence of television. Or rather, it’s about to.
Cate Blanchett, who has appeared briefly on the likes of Bordertown and Heartland (and even voiced a character on Family Guy) just signed on for her first starring TV role. This news is quite literally brand-new: The show, called Mrs. America, will be a limited-run series on FX and follow the rise of one Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative activist who opposed (and tried to stop) the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Blanchett will take on Schlafly’s likeness as the show, which was created and will be written by Mad Men’s Dahvi Waller, explores “how one of the toughest battlegrounds in the culture wars of the ’70s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted our political landscape,” according to the casting announcement.