The Hollywood star chats exclusively to DIVA about her brand new Netflix show, her devotion to Sarah Paulson and why Peggy Peabody still holds a special place in her heart
WORDS BY ROXY BOURDILLON, IMAGE VIA NETFLIX
Holland Taylor is a class act: an inimitable performer with approximately a gazillion roles on her IMDB page, a devoted romantic partner to fellow actor extraordinaire and all-round badass Sarah Paulson, and an unwavering advocate for equality, human rights and common sense. When we speak on the phone, she exudes innate poise and gravitas from all the way across the Atlantic. She is straight-talking but compassionate, with a delightful sense of humour, even in these trying times we’re all living through.
Her latest role is studio exec Ellen Kincaid in Hollywood, the new Netflix series from Pose creator Ryan Murphy. Ryan wrote the part especially for her and she’s pitch perfect as the smart, but big-hearted career woman who manages to thrive in the male-dominated movie business.
The show itself is the stuff of my vintage-loving femme fantasies. It evokes 1940s Tinseltown in all its sumptuous glory, while simultaneously spotlighting the homophobia and racism that simmer beneath that glossy exterior. This Hollywood is a reimagining, offering viewers a vision of what might have been, and the art that could have been made, if people had felt able to fully express their authentic selves. It is an unequivocal delight and just the thing to lift your social distancing spirits and take you on a soaring emotional journey without leaving your house. The same can be said of my conversation with Holland. What a legend. Here’s what she told me about the power of authentic storytelling and what lockdown looks like when you spend it with Sarah Paulson and an adorable puppy named Winnie.
DIVA: I’m obsessed with this show about showbiz. It so beautifully explores themes of diversity and representation against this stunning backdrop of the Golden Age of cinema. How important do you think it is that we see people of different races, genders and sexualities on our screens?
HOLLAND TAYLOR: We should see the reality of what human life is in our society. It’s very important that no one be excluded. It’s actually sad that we have to have these active considerations and it isn’t just automatic.
How much has onscreen diversity changed throughout your career so far?
It’s changed tremendously. There used to be such a narrow focus of whose stories would be told. As the storytellers themselves are coming from all groups and insisting that they be part of the picture, our entertainment world is vastly improved. It’s the whole confetti of people that we’re now enjoying. God bless it. Finally.
I love that your character in Hollywood has sexual agency. We still rarely get to see a female characters who are a little bit older being passionate. Was that fun to play?
Well first of all, thank you for the “little bit older”. I’m a lot bit older. It was wonderful to just play a real person, as opposed to some idea that after a certain age you lose part of yourself, which has never been true of people that I’ve encountered in life. Movies are becoming more truthful about what human experience really is.
In the show, the characters who are gay actors are pressured to stay in the closet. Do you think that’s still happening today?
Certain people will feel worried about being public about their sexuality still. There’s no question that we are, in America anyway, a very prurient society. The prurience against homosexuality is always surprising to me.
Is that pressure to stay in the closet something you’ve ever been affected by personally?
I have never concealed who I am. I’m not one to broadcast my private life anyway, but as far as simply being with whoever I’m partners with, of course I’m not going to be hiding in my house. Although in fact, right now we are hiding in our houses, all of us, from the silent enemy that’s all over the globe. But the idea that one would hide in that way still, in some societies, is extremely sad.
It’s such a challenging time at the moment. How are you and Sarah coping with this new way of life?
We’re obeying the law, which is staying home. Actually Sarah just got a puppy, so we do go out for walks, but we do so very carefully. It’s a very strange time. This is a once-in-a-century cataclysmic event. The fearing of that enemy in the air is really something.
You’ve previously described Sarah as “the most wonderful thing” in your life. What do you love about her?
She’s filled with tremendous variety. She’s full of feeling, which is another reason why she’s such an amazing actress, and she’s full of fun and a very positive person with enormous goodwill. So these are very lovely qualities to be around and to be inspired by. And we have a puppy!
What’s your puppy called?
Winnie. Winnifred T. Paulson. She’s six months old and she weighs about six pounds. The perfect little bundle.
She sounds so cute. One of my favourite characters you’ve played has to be Peggy Peabody on The L Word, another groundbreaking show for representation. Did you realise at the time that the show was going to have such an impact?
I thought it was going to make a mark. My character was not completely in that world, but she had a certain attitude about it that was refreshing. And how about the name? I mean you have to love a character named Peggy Peabody. Peggy Peabody is pretty great.
Have you played many LGBTQI parts?
I don’t think I have actually. Nothing comes to mind.
Would you like to?
I’m sure I would! It’s funny. That’s sort of bizarre. I’m just realising now, I don’t think I have. It’s partly my age. But I wouldn’t hesitate if the part was good.
They’ve brought The L Word back. Maybe Peggy could return with a new female love interest?
Well, Peggy seemed to have had some experience in 1974. There was some kiss in a limousine that I remember. Who knows what they’d come up with?
I, for one, would love to see Peggy make a comeback! Last question for you, Holland. Do you believe, as the series Hollywood suggests, that art has the power to change the world?
Oh, completely. We have always learned from great movies that have told us about history or shown us a vision for how we could be. There’s a great potential force there and every filmmaker should know that. Sure, of course, absolutely. Artists do lead.
Hollywood is on Netflix from 1 May
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