By Allison Kugel
The Arquette family are a band of actors, artists, provocateurs and activists. With the image that David Arquette has crafted for himself as the family’s resident goofball, his newest film, a documentary titled, Survivor’s Guide to Prison, is a departure from the David Arquette persona people have come to know. His latest project champions a cause close to his heart and gives a window into another side of the actor as concerned citizen and defender of your personal freedom. Hitting theatres and on VOD February 23rd, David Arquette presents to you, the Survivor’s Guide to Prison.
David Arquette, along with his wife, Christina Arquette, heard the call by hailed documentary filmmaker and friend, Matthew Cooke (Deliver Us from Evil, How to Make Money Selling Drugs). They came on board Cooke’s latest documentary film and social movement, Survivor’s Guide to Prison, as producers, with actress Susan Sarandon joining the cause as the film’s Executive Producer.
This documentary film is an eye opening, unsettling and informative look inside America’s criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex, an industry that has continued to grow exponentially with no signs of slowing down. You’ll be introduced to the players - politicians, law enforcement officers, our judicial system and the prison-for-profit industry. You’ll gain a clearer picture of the inner workings of mass incarceration in the United States of America.
As stated on PrisonPolicy.org, “[The United States] has the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.” According to SentencingProject.org, the number of people incarcerated in our American prison system has grown from 100,000 in the year 1925 to 2 million by 2015, with only 52.9% of prisoners locked up for violent offenses. We’re locking people up at staggering rates. This film examines why and explores some productive alternatives to our current punishment-based mass incarceration model.
Survivor’s Guide to Prison tells the story of how we as a society got to this place. You’ll hear the rules for surviving arrest, interrogation, a criminal trial, and incarceration, should you be convicted of a crime. You’ll hear evidence presented to you about a disturbing and growing trend of a guilty until proven innocent system that has taken hold, how to advocate for your own personal liberties, and a growing call-to-action for criminal justice reform.
The film is collectively narrated, and the cause explained, with on-camera appearances by Susan Sarandon, Patricia Arquette, Danny Glover, Danny Trejo, Ice T, Jesse Williams, Macklemore, Dr. Deepak Chopra, Quincy Jones, Busta Rhymes, B-Real, Q-Tip, Warren G and other notable figures.
You will also witness the testimony of two men who tell their excruciating true stories; Bruce Lisker and Reggie Cole, both of whom served lengthy prison sentences for crimes they did not commit. You’ll live their journey with them, from being falsely accused to conviction based on the presentation of circumstantial evidence, the impact of long-term incarceration and eventual exoneration and release.
David Arquette and company, present to you the Survivor’s Guide to Prison.
Allison Kugel: What attracted you to becoming involved as a producer on the documentary, Survivor’s Guide to Prison?
David Arquette: I was first aware of the project because I’m friends with Matthew Cooke, who is an amazing Oscar nominated documentary filmmaker, who worked on the documentaries Deliver Us From Evil and How to Make Money Selling Drugs. With Survivor’s Guide to Prison, Matthew highlights the prison system, how corrupt it is, and how it’s prison for profit. It’s a model that is outdated; it doesn’t work anymore. The punishment model has been proven not to be successful and it’s time for change. Matthew put a really amazing documentary together. My wife, Christina Arquette, and I watched an early cut and we both came on board as producers. We worked with Matthew and got a bunch of great people involved. Susan Sarandon is a producer on it, Gina Belafonte, Jesse Williams; just some really great people who have done a lot of great work to help change the prison system.
Allison Kugel: So many people came on board for this film. Adrian Grenier is also a producer on the film. Danny Trejo, Ice T, Busta Rhymes, Danny Glover, Deepak Chopra, your sister Patricia Arquette, and on and on. When people watch Survivor’s Guide to Prison, they will feel how deeply impassioned everyone who appears on screen is about this cause. Were there discussions off camera about why they all wanted to participate?
David Arquette: Danny Trejo, specifically, was so generous. He’s had family members who were directly affected by it, recently getting out of prison after being in for a crime they didn’t commit. He had also been in prison way back, a long time ago, when it was a different era, but it’s close to him. Danny sees what it does to communities. One of the things that’s so horrible about this current [Criminal Justice] system is that it takes parents away. The United States locks up more women than any other country in the world. You see how horrible it is, and the dangers of dismantling the family structure. The War on Drugs, and all these different initiatives to incarcerate people, has proven to be destructive to our society. A lot of the people who are involved with this project believe there is a better way that we can rehabilitate people, and treat them like human beings rather than animals, and imprison them.
Allison Kugel: Do you think The War on Drugs has been, at least in part, a war on minorities and on poorer communities?
David Arquette: Absolutely. The laws that were enacted during the crack epidemic, specifically; the fact that if you had crack rather than cocaine, you would get a far worse sentence. There are tons of people locked up for small marijuana offenses. It’s a dated model. They’ve noticed that people who get into programs when they’re locked away, they thrive. Whether it’s an art program, or they get schooling. So that’s what we are looking at. We’re trying to change things. We are working with an organization called Cut50, which is Van Jones’ organization. He’s really dedicated to cutting the current prison population in half. We’ve developed a shirt with Omaze.com, and it’s called the Dignity Shirt. We’re selling this shirt to raise money for legislation reform. That is the only way things really change, is if you change them within our political system. We’re also working to get women some basic human rights that they deserve. In a lot of states, if you’re giving birth in prison, they will have you shackled.
Allison Kugel: While you’re in labor?
David Arquette: While you’re in labor, yeah. Many women in prison are sexually assaulted. They can still be strip searched by men or watched in showers by men. There are several things we are trying to accomplish through the process of government legislation. We are fighting for basic human rights, and for people to be treated with respect, which in turn will allow them to have more dignity.
Allison Kugel: Had Survivor’s Guide to Prison been made in the mid-1990s during the time of the OJ Simpson murder trial and subsequent verdict, how do you think the events of that day would have impacted the messaging and direction of this documentary?
David Arquette: That was a flashpoint in our history, with the black community feeling targeted and feeling not heard, and they galvanized. There were many incidents during that time that were tragic. For example, when a young black woman was killed by a Korean business owner… there were a lot of issues during that time that came up. The interesting thing is that this whole prison industrial complex has grown since then and has become a profit stream for a lot of people. We still live in a country, and in a world, that has racial injustice all around us. It’s time to speak up and be honest about it, provide change and put money into communities that have been held back all this time. We really look at this movie as a movement rather than just a film.
Allison Kugel: What do you hope the public gains from watching this film?
David Arquette: It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, the title, Survivor’s Guide to Prison. We say that because we see people who have survived the prison system as survivors. Just calling people “prisoners” or “inmates” and giving them numbers, it’s such a way of de-humanizing them. So, the idea of this film is to bring some compassion back into the discussion. That’s what we’re trying to do with the stories we highlight in the film about two men who were wrongly accused and went away for decades (Bruce Lisker and Reggie Cole). It totally transformed their lives and changed them on such a deeply painful human level. We’re telling their stories, and we want people understand that they are more likely to be locked up in the United States than anywhere else in the world. If we are truly the land of the free, we have to start making laws that allow us to be free, and we have to recognize the difference between violent crimes and non-violent crimes. We need to start prioritizing and downgrading some of the sentences.
Allison Kugel: Do you think there is any way to ever separate politics from our Criminal Justice system?
David Arquette: I think the only way to change the Criminal Justice system is to change it through the political system. It’s where the real work happens, and the real change happens.
Allison Kugel: If a District Attorney is counting on a certain quota of convictions to get re-elected, how do you take that skewed dynamic and turn it on its head for the greater good?
David Arquette: That is part of the problem. Part of the problem is our bail system, not having public defenders that are up to par, and that really represent people. There has been some change with that. There are a lot of people going into that field that are doing it for the right reasons; they want to represent people who typically can’t afford a high-powered lawyer. But it’s true; in this country if you have money, the chances that you’re going away to prison are a lot less likely than for someone who doesn’t have the funds.
Allison Kugel: If you, David Arquette, were charged with a crime, chances are you would not go to prison, not for one day.
David Arquette: Statistically, compared to someone without money behind them, yeah. I have a far better chance. And, in the meantime, I’ll be out on bail. I won’t be sitting in a jail for a year or two until my case gets settled.
Allison Kugel: During the making of this film, did anyone bring up the phrase “white privilege” at all? The reason I ask is because it’s been said to me, and it stopped me in my tracks.
David Arquette: They didn’t, but it is a real thing. There is a lot of dialogue now and people are becoming “woke,” as they say. It’s time that we faced the truth about these things and realized, “Yeah! I’ve had it a lot easier!” I was a graffiti artist as a kid, so we would be out spraying art everywhere. If we got caught in a white neighborhood, we’d get taken back to our house and dropped off. I got caught in a white neighborhood by a black cop, and then I got caught in a black neighborhood by that same black cop, and then he really treated us a lot differently (laughs). We didn’t get arrested because they didn’t catch us in the act. But they knew we were up to trouble, so they did things like make us kneel on the concrete and slam our faces into the ground.
Allison Kugel: How old were you?
David Arquette: I was probably about sixteen.
Allison Kugel: Was this in LA?
David Arquette: The first time it was in Hancock Park, and the second time it was down on Jefferson and La Cienega (South Central Los Angeles). And it was, uh, my white privilege was taken from me (laughs).
Allison Kugel: Are there plans to take the film to Washington and screen it before congress?
David Arquette: We definitely want to take it to Washington. Christina’s (Christina Arquette, David’s wife and a co-producer of “Survivor’s Guide to Prison”) uncle, Mack McLarty, was Chief of Staff to President Clinton in his first term, so he’s got a lot of connections there. We’ll hopefully have a screening at the Kennedy Center, or somewhere where people can see it. A few months after it comes out (release date, February 23, 2018), it’s going to be on Netflix and then it will be out there for everyone to see it. We have a bunch of panels that we are putting together in New York and Los Angeles, where people can come and talk and share their feelings about this issue.
Allison Kugel: Why is Hollywood so liberal and so fiercely against the conservative agenda?
David Arquette: As artists, part of our job is to look around, see what’s going on, and to feel emotionally connected to injustice and what’s going on in the world. There are a lot of people in Hollywood who are very religious, very straight laced, and not your typical Hollywood kind of liberal. They are more conservative, but they are good people. I think what it really comes down to is that we want good people to thrive. We want good people to have opportunities, we want good people to make up our laws and become our politicians. I love people that are religious, that believe in Jesus, and who find hope that way; or people who are devout in their practice in other religions like Judaism or Islam. I love that dynamic because there’s a real sort of structure there. There is a real understanding of right and wrong. I do think that when you get into extremism on either side, it then becomes destructive and it becomes where you start saying, “Us and Them.” The Hollywood community wants it to be “Us.” I love the kind of movements that are happening, where you see on television the diversity of skin tones that are more representative of what our actual culture is, what our population is. We know from research that American culture and ethnicity is vast, and it’s ever-changing. We are a nation of immigrants, so it is about having that represented in Hollywood on the screen. It’s great to see people like Shonda Rhimes, and a lot of these voices coming out and doing great work.
Allison Kugel: What do you foresee the Arquette family legacy being in decades to come?
David Arquette: Ultimately, we’re performers; we’re entertainers. That’s what our past, and the history of our family is about. It’s been about entertaining people. It’s really what I’m passionate about. I like acting. I like making people laugh. I like the idea of somebody having a rough day at work and being able to zone out and watch something. On that note, this isn’t the film that does that (laughs).
Allison Kugel: (Laughs) No. It’s an engaging film, it really pulls you in and it’s a must-see. But it’s not an easy watch. Parts of it are actually heartbreaking to watch.
David Arquette: This film is about asking some important questions. And that is another side of entertainment, shining light on darkness.
Allison Kugel: Your grandfather was a comedian, your parents were actors, your siblings are actors. Is that something you’re hoping will continue with your own children?
David Arquette: My daughter Coco (Arquette’s thirteen year old daughter with Courteney Cox) loves singing and performing. She’s really good at it, and she’s got a great head on her shoulders about it. We’ve kept everything unprofessional, like afterschool plays and that sort of thing. We just want to allow her the time to grow up. Growing up in LA is already kind of slanted, and not completely grounded in reality. We want to allow her to have a childhood and not have to have the pressures of auditioning, rejection and all that stuff. It’s important.
Allison Kugel: What do you think is the right age developmentally and emotionally for your daughter, Coco, or any child, to go through the process of auditioning for acting roles?
David Arquette: Totally an individual thing. If she was really pushing us, like, “Listen, mom, dad, I want to do this, I want to audition, I think there’s something to that; a kid who’s so passionate about that being their life’s goal. But she’s been cool about taking it at a slower pace.
Allison Kugel: Out of all the Arquette siblings, who would you say is the most courageous, and why?
David Arquette: My whole family, I just love and respect them all. Rosanna is doing so much to stand up to all of the horrors of what’s happening in Hollywood, and in businesses in general. She’s really behind the #MeToo movement, and I’m really proud of her for that. She also supports tons of different charities. Patricia is incredible. She’s got GiveLove.org, that helps places like Haiti with their sanitation system and helps to provide clean water. Alexis was amazing; the way Alexis stood up for who she was. She was out and transgender before it was really talked about as much, and she really was a hero of mine.
Allison Kugel: I’m sorry for your loss.
David Arquette: Thank you. I miss her, but she was ready to move on.
Allison Kugel: Yes. I believe that. What is your favorite form of artistic expression these days?
David Arquette: I love painting. I took a Bob Ross instructional course, so I can teach people how to paint in the Bob Ross, wet on wet technique.
Allison Kugel: Bob Ross, the happy trees guy?
David Arquette: Yeah. I went to take a three-week course, where I learned how to teach his happy trees [painting] method. I work with an organization called Art of Elysium, that’s really great. We’re gonna go to hospitals and teach kids how to paint some happy trees. Painting is such a great stress reliever and calms my soul. But I love acting. When I get to work with really talented actors and directors, writers and producers, and dive into that and show what I’ve learned over my twenty-nine years of acting, I really love it. And when those things come together, and you get to work with great projects it really is a gift.
Allison Kugel: Is there a heavier, more serious role in you? A side of you that people haven’t seen?
David Arquette: I’ve done a few films where I got to tap into that and it’s always great when you have that opportunity, so I would love that. But my favorite thing is making people laugh. I love the sound of laughter. I used to say to people who were passing away, crossing over, I’d say, “Go towards the laughter.”
Allison Kugel: Instead of, “Go towards the light,” “Go towards the laughter.” I love that.
David Arquette: Thank you.
Survivor’s Guide to Prison is in theatres, on VOD and on iTunes, February 23, 2018.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
By Allison Kugel
Her beauty is luminescent, her conviction fierce. It’s a potent combination and why actress Logan Browning’s portrayal of student activist Sam White in the Netflix hit series Dear White People has struck a chord with younger audiences. The series, based off the 2014 movie of the same name, also created by Justin Simien, seems custom made to address the uproarious intersection where President Donald Trump’s politics and Black Lives Matter collide. More importantly, beyond its pop culture relevance, is the show’s ability to humanize a people and their collective point-of-view to a larger population of viewers.
Logan plays a biracial Ivy League university student, Sam White, host of a popular, albeit controversial, campus radio show titled, Dear White People. Her character’s radio show within a television show is a platform for Sam’s grievances, her bottomless questions, and the racial and cultural issues that continue to surface on ethnically diverse college campuses around the world. It also serves as the show’s anchor point, introducing each episode’s message and plotline. And if you think the first season was binge-worthy, you haven’t seen anything yet!
As Logan and I discuss the second season of Dear White People, streaming May 4th on Netflix, we segue from her thoughts on acting and developing the character of Sam to social and political activism, the emotional triggers behind race and color, and some of the most pressing issues that our younger generations face in the age of social media and our relentless news cycle.
It becomes clear to me half way through our conversation that actress Logan Browning shares the values and concerns of her television alter ego, Sam White, but with a graceful confidence and ease of spirit that continues to allude Sam in the show’s second season.
Allison Kugel: Typically, when I’m researching an actor, there’s a clear distinction between them and their character. With you, the unique challenge I faced is that I couldn’t clearly discern where your character, Sam White, ends and you begin.
Logan Browning: That’s an interesting observation. During season one, I was much further away from who Sam is. A lot of my portrayal of Sam was coming from a place of discovery and nervousness at taking on this role that Tessa Thompson originally played (in the 2014 movie, “Dear White People”). In season two, part of me becoming comfortable with Sam, was to stop fighting the parts of her that I thought were so different from me, when really they’re not. There are similarities between the two of us. With most characters I’ve played, I find myself pushing back on any similarities because I don’t want people to think I’m not playing a character. I find joy in bringing someone to life who’s very different from me. But part of why I ended up getting the role of Sam is because I do fall into who she is very easily. Though her perspective on life is different from mine.
Allison Kugel: How so?
Logan Browning: In terms of how she responds to the world, and some of her reasoning within her debates. I do believe that the longer you play a character, they naturally bleed into your real life. I’m not surprised that some of who Sam is may show up in who I am. I find myself saying some of the same quips that she does in my responses to things. I also find myself using what she says, like, “This has to be right, because Sam said it!”
Allison Kugel: Has she brought out the activist in you?
Logan Browning: It’s made me more comfortable in being an activist. I’ve always been drawn to giving a voice and a face to people who aren’t seen or heard. I feel like that’s a part of what comes with being an entertainer and being in the public eye. When people say that actors and musicians shouldn’t be policy adjacent, I think that perspective is ridiculous. They’re put in this position where they are in the public eye and people listen, so it makes sense that these two things go hand in hand. Because people are looking to my character, Sam, for that, they naturally look to me. It would be a huge disappointment to people if they saw that I was not speaking out on certain issues.
Allison Kugel: Do you feel compelled to speak out because of the weight Dear White People holds with its audience?
Logan Browning: If you scroll through my Twitter, I’ve been vocal all the way back. You can even dig up my MySpace (laughs), way before this show, and you’ll see! I watched the film, Dear White People (2014), when it came out. I saw myself in Sam when I watched the film. Did seeing the character of Sam in the film influence me? Maybe it did. Playing Sam only aides in this burning desire I have to speak out. But I don’t feel compelled by it.
Allison Kugel: You feel empowered by it…
Logan Browning: Yeah, I feel empowered by it, and I feel that being on a show like Dear White People makes me want to use my voice. I’m inspired by the people I’m surrounded by. I’m surrounded by so many young, influential artists who have great talent and great passion, and a desire to leave a mark that goes beyond their artistry. It’s a new kind of energy in comparison to when I first started acting at the age of fourteen.
Allison Kugel: What are some of the hot topics you guys discuss on set when you’re all off camera?
Logan Browning: On set, honestly? We goof off. If you’re a person who knows what it’s like to live a life of trauma or a life of less than and difficulty, then you know that the best therapy is laughter. And that’s what we do, we laugh a lot. It’s a part of our culture. Black people together just have a good time. When you get black people together, they don’t want to have a depressing time. Yes, heavy conversations can happen, and they do happen a lot. Sometimes they’ll happen in our group texts or once an issue comes up. More serious conversations will happen when people ask us about the show and we talk about those topics with other people. I may read something that one of my castmates said in an interview, and then I’ll talk to them about it and say, “Hey, I didn’t know you were affected in that way. Tell me about it…”
Allison Kugel: Can you give me an example of an issue that’s come up?
Logan Browning: I’ve always felt I understood and was aware of my privilege as a light skinned person in this world, and in my industry. I was always aware of it, but I’ve realized that I was still missing the mark until I started to see some of what my fellow actors have said in interviews. I’ve realized that there’s a larger part of their experience than I was understanding. I want to make sure I’m not just being an ally to the black community, but also addressing these more specific issues that are even more nuanced than I’ve personally experienced.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about the nuance of color within the black community. Being that you are light skinned and with green eyes, has there ever been a time in your life when you wished to have darker skin and dark eyes to fit in socially? Were there ever social consequences associated with your appearance?
Logan Browning: I’ve been grateful to have the parents that I had growing up, and I’ve never had any kind of self-loathing in terms of wishing to be something else. But I definitely grew up in a place where I wished people treated me the way I wanted them to. If they were treating me like I didn’t fit in, then I just wished to be treated differently, but I never wished I looked different.
Allison Kugel: Were you treated as something “other”?
Logan Browning: In both ways, I was. I’m on a spectrum. From white people I was treated a certain way, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Same for the African American community. I was accepted sometimes, and sometimes I wasn’t. It’s a spectrum that I exist on. It’s part of my experience, just kind of being stuck in the middle. As you get older it changes from wishing they would treat you differently to just trying to understand them, and not worrying as much about fitting in. You realize the reason you’re not fitting in is because you have a privilege that they don’t have. You have to understand their experience.
Allison Kugel: Your character Sam has mixed emotions about having a Caucasian father, and yet, she falls for a white guy on campus who has a similar energy to her father. She has mixed emotions towards both of those men in her life, and it’s an interesting parallel.
Logan Browning: Absolutely. She feels so comfortable with Gabe because he reminds her of what she has been around her whole life. She’s been around a white male energy her whole life. In the same breath, she’s also been around African American male energy because of her mom and her mom’s family. Sam does feel that pull towards Gabe, possibly because of her dad. Yet, because she has also been exposed to the strength of a black man, she wants to be around that as well. It’s difficult for her to try to navigate that. Deeper than what Sam’s dad looks like, if you look at the characters of both Reggie and Gabe (both love interests), they both have an intelligence that is mirrored in her dad. The reason she leans more towards Gabe than Reggie is because Gabe challenges her like her dad challenged her.
Allison Kugel: What are your personal rules about dating your co-stars? Yay or nay?
Logan Browning: Naaayyy (laughs)! Number one, I’m more attracted to the opposite of myself. I’m attracted to more of an engineering mind. When you’re on a set, you’re falling for someone else’s character sometimes. I think [actors] forget that you’re in hair and makeup all day and you’re seeing people in their most glorified state, so it’s very easy to fall in love with anyone you’re around. I would never.
Allison Kugel: I found an older quote from you that reads, “I don’t want people to know how I’m feeling, because it makes you more vulnerable.” Are you still that way?
Logan Browning: That was a part of something else I was saying, but I think that comes and goes with me. I know when it comes to being in a public space, I actually do like being really open with people. I feel like it’s my motive to educate the world that the people they see in the public eye are just like them, and they have issues just like them. I’m always trying to take celebrity off its pedestal. Even though there is power in it, I sometimes find myself trying to knock myself off any kind of pedestal I would ever be put on, because I don’t feel that way. So, in that way I do make myself open and vulnerable, and I feel like it does connect me to other people. I’m way more open publicly than I am if someone is trying to get to know me. I put my guard up and guard my heart. But there are certain personal things I can be vulnerable with. I don’t mind telling the world I get depressed sometimes. I don’t mind telling the world that I don’t live in a huge house. I don’t mind telling the world things that make me relatable. But there is a whole other part of Logan that I keep to myself, and that’s just because I want to be safe.
Allison Kugel: After the Parkland, Florida school shooting, some of the more outspoken students commented that the news media did not cover the diversity that exists at Stoneman Douglas High School. They focused their cameras on white students and white parents. What are your thoughts about this obvious exclusion?
Logan Browning: Every single act of gun violence is absolutely terrible, but it’s just so interesting that these young people’s voices are finally being heard now. It’s like, really? Now? In 2018? I’m not bitter at all about the fact that this movement is happening now because any kind of talk is good, and any type of move towards progress I’m on board with. But it is one of those obvious things where images that are more palatable are the things that people want to talk about. I think that’s why a show like Dear White People is so important. It puts these colored faces on the screen and forces the audience to begin to relate to these characters who possibly don’t look like them.
Allison Kugel: What do you hope Dear White People does for 18 – 21 year olds who are watching you from their college dorm rooms?
Logan Browning: I hope that the show is comforting for that specific age group. I hope that it’s a love letter for them, so that they feel like their voices are heard and time-capsuled and represented. We’re not re-inventing the wheel. These kids already exist on college campuses, and they are being super active in terms of being activists. I hope they feel seen and it further encourages them to do the great work that they already plan to do. I really hope and pray that older people will watch as well so they can understand what 18 to 21 year olds are experiencing, and what their world is now. It’s reminiscent of what their world might have been when they were younger, when the civil rights movement was happening.
Allison Kugel: This new generation is experiencing everything on steroids because of our 24- hour news cycle. I think that is something the older generation needs to fully understand, if they don’t already.
Logan Browning: We all are experiencing so much trauma and it’s not being addressed in terms of our mental health, especially kids. When I was in middle school, I would learn about what was going on if I came home and my parents happened to have the news on, or maybe if they were talking about it at school. But I didn’t have a device that was constantly telling me about every shitty thing happening in the world, 24/7.
Allison Kugel: I came of age in the nineties, which has been called our “break from history,” because tragedies seemed to be far and few between in mainstream America. However, they were not a rare occurrence in many urban communities. Looking back as a mature adult, I remember that acts of gun violence were happening on a regular basis in our urban communities. In my suburban community and in my own circles, I felt safe. So who really got that break from history?
Logan Browning: That’s a good observation.
Allison Kugel: Now that acts of gun violence are happening in the “good neighborhoods,” suddenly it’s everybody’s problem. Connecting those dots is humbling.
Logan Browning: It’s along the same vein as the Parkland activists. It’s great that everyone’s aware of it now, but what about all those people we’ve forgotten for so long?
Allison Kugel: Why do you think black men in our society are both feared and fetishized, simultaneously? This is a dynamic that’s depicted on your show, Dear White People.
Logan Browning: Slavery. That sounds like something Sam would say, but it’s our history. You take any people out of their homeland and you make them a hot commodity… you’re selling them up on how strong they are, how big they are, how hard they work. America created this. They created that dichotomy of what they imagine a black man to be.
Allison Kugel: What storyline are you most excited for audiences to see in the second season?
Logan Browning: Oh man, in a general sense, I love all of the characters’ stories and all of the individual storylines because you are really getting to know these people. I do love Coco’s storyline. I think it’s a great conversation starter. Every episode in the second season is a conversation starter, which is more what I look forward to than any one storyline. I just know I’m excited about the issues that are covered this season.
Allison Kugel: Finish this sentence: “Dear White People…”
Logan Browning: It’s so funny, the other day, Justin [Simien, Creator of Dear White People] said, “Dear White People, You’re Welcome.” (Laughs) I think it’s “Dear White People… whiteness, blackness; all of it is a creation. It’s a human device that we have created. More specifically, it’s one that white people in history created, and it’s malarkey.” It’s now something that we all have to mill about it, but it’s a complete fabrication. We have different experiences, yes, but we are all the same. In order to get to the point where we all see each other as the same, we would have to first go back and dissect every life experience each of us have had before we can wipe the slate clean and say, “Yup, we’re all the same. Back to square one.” Whiteness and blackness are malarkey, but in order to get to that place, we would have to better understand each other.
Season two of “Dear White People” premieres May 4th on Netflix.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
By Allison Kugel
From playing Curtis for two seasons on ABC’s megahit, Black-ish to starring alongside Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish in the TBS hit series, The Last O.G., multi-hyphenate actor-writer-entrepreneur, Allen Maldonado, is a modern-day renaissance man. He’s the ideal fit for the role of Cousin Bobby, Tracy Morgan’s instigating but well-meaning sidekick. The Last O.G., created by Oscar winning filmmaker, Jordan Peele, is part of a 2018 wave of #blackexcellence sweeping Hollywood.
The show’s irreverent humor is inspired, thought provoking, and hilarious, as it manages to tackle the issues of post-incarceration societal re-entry, fatherhood and the gentrification of Brooklyn, New York.
Maldonado’s character, Cousin Bobby, attempts to help Tracy Morgan’s character “Tray” in his quest to turn his life around and put his family back together. YouTube and Instagram videos aside, I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed out loud at my screen. Allen Maldonado’s comedic genius lies in the art of setting up the joke. Allen sets them up, and Tracy Morgan drops the hammer on the punchline. Morgan and Maldonado are a classic comedic team in the making.
Allison Kugel: What has working alongside Tracy Morgan on The Last O.G. taught you about great comedy?
Allen Maldonado: I love being observant, taking in my surroundings and my audience, and being able to improvise at the drop of a hat. Anybody who has ever watched Tracy work knows he is very spontaneous and raw. He says what’s on his mind. Coming from other people, some of it might be construed as inappropriate, but that’s what makes Tracy so special. He can say things that, if someone else said it, it might be seen in a negative light. But when he says it, it’s hilarious. Being in that type of space where you can make people laugh in that way, that’s what I’ve learned from working with Tracy.
Allison Kugel: Jordan Peele is the creator of this show and he covers so many issues, while making people laugh. The Last O.G. examines the concept of getting a second chance after being incarcerated, the gentrification of Brooklyn, and the importance of fatherhood. Beyond the laughs, what is The Last O.G. communicating to its audience?
Allen Maldonado: It’s about second chances at life as Tracy’s character is released from prison after serving fifteen years, second chances with his family, including my character Cousin Bobby, and with his children. And a second chance with the woman that he let down before going to prison (played by Tiffany Haddish). It’s not so much about building a relationship with her based on the past, but about building that relationship for the future and co-parenting his kids with her. What makes this show special is that we have a lot of dramatic tones because of the subject matter. TV audiences go in with the assumption that this show is a sitcom, but I’ve heard people say many times that the show is a lot deeper than they thought it would be. Same as in real life; there are things that are fall out of your chair funny, and other things that will make you fall out of your chair from crying. We have a perfect balance of that in our show.
Allison Kugel: In the episodes I’ve watched so far, there hasn’t been much co-parenting going on with Tray’s kids. How involved will Tray and Cousin Bobby be in Tray’s kids’ lives, in upcoming episodes?
Allen Maldonado: There’s a natural progression that takes place. He’s been in prison for fifteen years, so she’s got to feel him out and get an understanding of who he is now. Who she knew was the man who was locked up fifteen years ago. You’ll see a natural process we will go through with the kids and that relationship. In upcoming episodes you’ll see them be more and more involved in everybody’s lives. That said, the story leaves a lot of room for mistakes and comedic situations.
Allison Kugel: You have a history with Tiffany Haddish going back to the beginning of both of your careers. Tell me about working with Tiffany, back then, and now…
Allen Maldonado: Just being able to see her star rise over the past couple of years, knowing her several years back, when we did a television pilot that never saw the light of day… from our first interaction meeting her on that set, she was hilarious back then. To be able to see her grow into the star she is, and the beautiful person she is, I couldn’t be prouder to call her my co-star on this show.
Allison Kugel: What qualities did you see in her back then that made you say, “She’s going places.”?
Allen Maldonado: She was true to herself and organically real, with a leading type of mentality. That’s a quality that Tracy [Morgan] shares as well. A lot of superstars have that confidence to say, “This is who I am, and take it or leave it.” She was always assertive in that way, and her style of comedy always resonated with me. It’s real and coming from her truth. The world is now seeing her talent, and it’s her time.
Allison Kugel: Your character, Cousin Bobby, is a classic comedic sidekick. There have been many classic comedic sidekicks throughout television history. Did you borrow inspiration from any of those?
Allen Maldonado: Cousin Bobby came from a real place. I didn’t really draw from a past television character.
Allison Kugel: Did you draw inspiration from your own life?
Allen Maldonado: I drew upon my life and different family members I knew growing up, and that one cousin who has always been by himself and when he finds you it’s like he’s being resuscitated back to life. Suddenly, he’s driven to do things he was never driven to do before, because of your presence and the way he looks up to you. That’s where Cousin Bobby came from for me.
Allison Kugel: Will we see an evolution take place with Cousin Bobby?
Allen Maldonado: I would hope so! I’m very excited to say that I’m on the writing staff for the second season of the show. Certain things I can’t reveal; writer’s code.
Allison Kugel: But you’ll have a say in what happens to your character…
Allen Maldonado: Of course! That’s one of the pluses of being in the writers’ room. You can definitely drive certain story lines.
Allison Kugel: Cedric the Entertainer is another great talent on this show. His character runs the halfway house where Tray lives after being released from prison. Will your character, Cousin Bobby, cross paths with Cedric the Entertainer’s character, Mullins, in the second season?
Allen Maldonado: We’re going to work that out. That was something I was disappointed in, that in Season One it didn’t happen. But we will cross paths in Season Two! It’s something I will make sure of. He is such a legend and incredible talent, and an incredible person. And I love to learn, so being able to share some comedic blows back and forth will be amazing.
Allison Kugel: You recently spoke with Janice Williams, a reporter at Newsweek, about gentrification and how it’s covered on The Last O.G. Tracy Morgan’s character, Tray, goes away in 2002. When he’s released from prison in 2017 and he comes back to his old neighborhood in Brooklyn, it’s this upper middle class, suburbanized enclave, and he has to adjust. What are your thoughts on gentrification of certain urban communities?
Allen Maldonado: There are pros and cons. Being that certain urban communities were underserved, it’s unfortunate that when these communities are finally getting served, the people that were in need are being forced out. I grew up in a rough neighborhood and didn’t have much. It’s one of those things where if we had a little more assistance or a little more help, there are so many other individuals aside from me who would have made it out of those tough circumstances. When help finally arrives and you are unable to receive it, it’s sad. Growth is always good, but not being able to service individuals who need it the most, that’s my problem with it. Being able to co-exist, it’s what I would push when it comes to gentrification. There has to be balance.
Allison Kugel: Will the show’s creator, Academy Award winner Jordan Peele, make an on-camera appearance next season?
Allen Maldonado: I don’t know. I would love for that to happen! But I don’t know. We will see…
Allison Kugel: Growing up in your neighborhood, did you have someone you looked up to the way Cousin Bobby looks up to Tray on The Last O.G.?
Allen Maldonado: Yes, I did. I grew up around some rough characters, and some that would be considered the underbelly of society. I had the opposite of what most people would think these individuals would influence you to do. They kept me away from being in gangs. They kept me away from selling drugs. They kept me away from doing a lot of negative stuff because they saw something special in me. The reason they made those choices is because, and this is sad, but they felt they had no other option. And again, that goes back to being able to serve these communities with additional help. A lot of these kids are boxed in and don’t have hope due to their surroundings and a lack of resources and opportunity. They brainwash themselves into thinking they can’t achieve their goals in life. Something that my O.G.s around the neighborhood stressed to me was education and staying away from drugs. They kept me away from that stuff because they knew it was wrong, but that was their only option. I have nothing but good things to say about the O.G.s that I grew up with.
Allison Kugel: Better to have a flawed father in the picture whose made bad decisions and been incarcerated, or no?
Allen Maldonado: No matter what position a father is in he’s going to be flawed. It all depends on the individual. Having proper guidance doesn’t necessarily fall upon your father or your mother. Your surroundings by the people in your life will inspire you and inject inspiration and hope into your life. I grew up without a father. My father passed when I was young, so if he was here I don’t know how it would be. I’ve been driven by having to be independent and by not having that presence in my life, and sort of being my own father. I don’t know if I would be as driven as I was if he was here.
Allison Kugel: Being raised by a single mother, what did that teach you about life?
Allen Maldonado: She’s the hardest working person I’ve ever met. She would wake up at four o’clock in the morning and not get home until 8 PM. She would take two trains to commute to work. She was also studying in college and taking courses, all in the process of taking care of three kids by herself. I feel lazy compared to my mother. To be able to do all that she did with no help and no family nearby. Knowing how torn she must’ve been to not be able to spend the amount of time you would like to with your child because you have to provide, that psychological type of stress is more impressive to me than the actual physical work.
Allison Kugel: Has Tracy Morgan discussed his 2014 accident with you, and how it changed him as a person and as an artist?
Allen Maldonado: We discussed it because we share similar near-death situations. I was twenty-one and I was hit by a drunk driver, walking, and the driver was going 65 mph. We both can attest to the fact that scientifically we’re not supposed to be here.
Allison Kugel: But you are supposed to still be here, because you’re here…
Allen Maldonado: That is correct. The impact that something like that, that powerful of a situation and you being able to stand strong again with a certain amount of faith and understand that you have a purpose that, no one that shares that kind of story can explain it to you. It’s like, how do you explain love? How do you describe it? These near-death situations, the power of God, and the strength of your spirituality growing from this near fatal event, we both share that, and we’ve had conversations about how the grass is greener, the sky is bluer. And we both understand that you’re not promised tomorrow. Now I live by a motto that every time I go to bed I ask myself a question, “If I don’t wake up tomorrow, can I look down at myself, at my body, and say I worked as hard as I could to fulfill my dreams?” If I can’t say that, then my day was not fulfilled. That’s how I live my life now. I would never want to look back once this chapter is closed and say, “I could have done more.”
Allison Kugel: You were a writer for the Starz series, Survivor’s Remorse, about a young man from an underserved urban community who finds fame and fortune as a basketball player, and he feels guilty about his success. Do you have survivor’s remorse, or survivor’s guilt, about your success?
Allen Maldonado: I do. That’s why I do so much for the community. I have my kid’s foundation called Demo Nerds. We teach film acting and filmmaking to foster kids. My survivor’s remorse is in understanding the psychological difficulty that these kids have, thinking that they don’t have options. It’s very difficult for a child to listen to their parents, go to school and do everything right, when they’re struggling to keep the lights on and put food on the table, and everybody that’s doing something wrong is going around with expensive cars, jewelry, and things that people want. For me, visual representation is everything. Speaking with these kids and letting them see that there are successful individuals who look like them, sound like them, talk like them in different areas of business, entertainment, or what have you, is what I strive to inject into the community.
Allison Kugel: And you’re helping filmmakers showcase their work with your app, Everybody Digital.
Allen Maldonado: We’re the first streaming short film app. We showcase short films from around the world. We have thousands in our catalog right now. We’re also producing original content on the app and it’s free and available on the App Store and Google Play. To all my short filmmakers, if they want to submit, all they have to do is go to EverybodyDigital.com. The app is giving more exposure to short films. Since the 1980s they were taken out of theatres and kind of put into a student film world where the average consumer doesn’t know these short films exist. So we are re-introducing short films to the world.
Allison Kugel: You play Litty in the upcoming remake of the movie SuperFly. Tell me about the re-make as is compares to the original movie from 1972.
Allen Maldonado: I wouldn’t consider it a remake, I would call it a remix. The premise is loosely based off the original, but it’s not a period piece. It’s set in modern times and there’s a different spin on it, being that we shot it in Atlanta. It has the same style and flair as the original SuperFly movie, but in a different beat and rhythm. It’s heavily inspired by the original. I haven’t seen the final cut yet, so I’m excited to see it as well, and June 15th is right around the corner. I know the red carpet is going to be fantastic and a lot of people are going to be paying homage to the original [SuperFly movie]. I look forward to everybody looking superfly!
Photo Credits: Courtesy of TBS
The Last O.G. airs Tuesdays at 10:30 ET/9:30 CT on TBS. Check local listings.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
This interview was produced in partnership with TireAgent – the easiest way to replace your tires. Installation at home, or anywhere you choose; and with The Wellness Universe – Mind, Body, Spirit, Planet… your complete wellness resource.
By Allison Kugel
The life of Damon Dash appears to be an epic triumph to some, a Shakespearean tragedy to others. It depends on where you’re standing when you look at him. After speaking with the hip hop mogul turned entrepreneur and filmmaker, I can tell you Dame Dash’s story is more nuanced and complex; and is still being written. Dash hopes his new film, Honor Up, a semi-autobiographical story about the code of street honor, executive produced by Kanye West, and starring Dash, Nicholas Turturro, Michael Rispoli and Cam’ron; will give audiences an authentic portrait of who he is beyond the media’s checkered narrative. He tells me the unwavering code of honor depicted in the movie has informed every choice he’s made in his adult life.
A kid from Harlem, New York, who lost his mother in his youth, Dash quickly took on a hustler’s mentality, adopting the OG street code which propelled him from promoting nightclubs and rap artists to reaching the apex of the music industry with the success of he and Jay Z’s Rock-A-Fella records label, and the urban lifestyle brand, Roc-A-Wear. It was Dash’s unwavering vision and tenacity, and his loyalty to artists he believed in, that launched the careers of Jay Z, Kevin Hart, Kanye West and his ex-wife, fashion designer, Rachel Roy.
Since splitting from Jay Z and dissolving Roc-A-Fella records, he’s been painted by the entertainment industry as an incorrigible and unruly outsider; a man who wouldn’t drink the Kool-Aid or fall in line with Hollywood or music industry politics. As Dash made clear to me during out conversation, he refuses to ever bow down to corporate demands, and therefore chooses to self-fund his many projects, from film and art to fashion. After years of personal and professional heartbreaks, Dash found an unwavering ally in longtime love and business partner, Raquel Horn. Horn is Dash’s creative muse and collaborator, while Dash is Horn’s mentor and idea facilitator. Together, the two have launched Dame Dash Studios, Dash Diabetes Network, their Poppington fashion line, and the beginnings of an independent movie studio. Damon Dash is a man in his creative renaissance… and in love.
Allison Kugel: Tell me about the most influential people in your life… birth to present day?
Damon Dash: My mother was a big influence in my life. She passed away when I was fifteen. I would say Muhammad Ali was a big influence on my life, my OG Daniel (Dash’s childhood mentor, Daniel Jenkins, the inspiration behind Dash’s new film, “Honor Up”) is one of the most influential people in my life from when I was younger. That was one of the reasons why I made the movie, Honor Up.
Allison Kugel: Your mom passing when you were fifteen, how did it impact who you became?
Damon Dash: It made me fearless. The one thing I was afraid of up until I was fifteen was that my mother would die, and then she did. It made me very aware of my mind, in that, if you worry about something it usually realizes itself. I try not to worry about anything. Because my mother spoiled me, and she wasn’t there to spoil me anymore, it made me the business savage that I am. I wanted to maintain that lifestyle. At the time, my pops wasn’t going to be able to give me that, so I had to do it myself. I think in a strange way, if my mom was still here I wouldn’t have made the history that I’ve made, because nothing would have felt so urgent. Someone can teach you how to survive, but you really don’t get those skills until you have to. [Her passing] made it where I had to, and she taught me well.
Allison Kugel: You refuse to take a paycheck. You’re someone who has to have ownership in everything you do. Speaking for myself, I can say there was a time in my life when I asked myself if I was for sale, or if I was not for sale. Can you recall a defining moment when you asked yourself that same question, and determined that you were not for sale?
Damon Dash: I’ve been a street entrepreneur since I was very young, since my mother died, because I had no choice. I’ve never had a boss. I’m from Harlem and I think I’m cooler than everybody, so it would be hard for me to have someone telling me what to do. It’s not about working for somebody, because I always have equity. I have something, and then I may need to take it to another level, so there would be a business relationship or a partnership. But I would always walk away from certain partnerships, because I didn’t like the moral value of that person. I would probably end up having to strangle them because it’s very frustrating when people don’t have principals and morals. It’s offensive when someone that I don’t respect presents me with an opportunity to work for them and tries to control me. I don’t even know what that means, working for someone else. It’s not a mathematical equation that makes sense to me.
Allison Kugel: How do you define God?
Damon Dash: You can’t define God. That’s how I define it. It’s undefinable. I can’t fathom God; just one entity controlling everything. I have no idea, and the 90% of our brain that we can’t use or access, we can’t really fathom what that is. Maybe if I had access to more of my brain, I could begin to fathom that.
Allison Kugel: You don’t have a sense of knowing, or belief about it?
Damon Dash: If there is a God, it’s a woman.
Allison Kugel: And why do you say that?
Damon Dash: Why wouldn’t it be that way? Men are stupid. God could never be a man, because men are too insecure. There’s wars, we fight. It’s illogical and stupid. That’s all insecurity. I don’t think God would have those characteristics.
Allison Kugel: What did you learn about love from your time with Aaliyah?
Damon Dash: I learned exactly how happy love can make a person. It was a feeling that I never knew existed before. What it did teach me is to recognize love, and to appreciate love. It also taught me never to mess with an artist, because they’re always on the road. You never see them. The more you love them, the more you miss them. It made me appreciate what I had in that moment, and it made me recognize love with my girl Raquel (Dash’s girlfriend and business partner, Raquel Horn). I knew that feeling. It was familiar to me, because I felt that with Aaliyah.
Allison Kugel: Describe Aaliyah’s character; the person you knew her to be.
Damon Dash: Aaliyah loved life. She loved to laugh. She was color blind, a great soul, a ridiculous amount of swag and great taste. And those were the same exact qualities I saw in Raquel. For me, the greatest thing about Aaliyah was that we were both from somewhat of an extreme circumstance, you know, urban, in the hood. And we both had such a desire for things that were so unhood. But in those environments that were unhood, we would still have that hood swagger and we could laugh at things. Aaliyah and I used to spend a lot of time laughing at the corniness of life. We both found people’s insecurities very funny.
Allison Kugel: How many times in your life have you had that feeling?
Damon Dash: Two. Aaliyah and Raquel.
Allison Kugel: Would you like to see a movie made about your beginnings, during the rise of Roc-A-Fella Records, and that time in your life?
Damon Dash: That’s inevitable, whether I make it or somebody else does. I am very aware and clear of what I have done, and my impact on this world. They’ve already made Aaliyah’s story, and I was in that. Let’s say they don’t do my story, everyone else’s story that I’ve been a part of, I’ll be in there. At the end of the day, I like to control my likeness, so I’ve already started that process. This movie, Honor Up, is about me and my ideals growing up.
Allison Kugel: We’re going to get to the movie, so don’t comment on it yet because we’re going to go in-depth with it.
Damon Dash: I love when a woman tells me what to do (laughs).
Allison Kugel: (Laughs) What is your opinion about how the media has cast you over the past decade? What have they gotten right, and what have they gotten wrong?
Damon Dash: I’ve been able to manipulate them exactly the way I’ve wanted to. I’m very aware that an independent person like me that does things on his own, that my success would mean other people’s failure. Everyone that’s getting robbed, and everyone that’s doing the robbing, would fail. I’m the guy that doesn’t rob and does everything honorably. If I can show that I can do things honorably, that would make other people need to do things honorably. The way they were portraying me in the newspapers, it wasn’t very intelligent.
Allison Kugel: Do you think you’ve been caricaturized?
Damon Dash: In the beginning, it was more brazen and arrogant, and about me pouring champagne on women, which was a character. That was Champagne Dame. They never showed Damon Dash the businessman; Damon Dash, the single father raising his son alone from the time he was eight years old; Damon Dash living with Type 1 Diabetes; or the man who’s running all these different companies.
Allison Kugel: Where did the negative portrayals of your character come in?
Damon Dash: I didn’t want to do Rock-A-Fella anymore. I wasn’t trying to just do music. I didn’t want to be typecast. I wanted to do fashion. I wanted to do things that were multicultural, and I wanted to run around the world. And I knew walking away from Jay Z, that all Jay Z fans were going to start with me and try to get at me. I know that controversy sells papers. At that point, I was like, “Yo, I’m about to Makaveli myself (a reference to the late Tupac Shakur). I’m out. I don’t really need to be here no more. I want ya’ll to leave me alone.” I needed everybody to think I wasn’t doing well so nobody would ask me for nothing no more. But all those years, I was owning Rachel Roy, a $75 million company. I was running around the world, I had galleries and things like that. But Dame was under the radar. And they left me alone. I always thought it was funny that they made me the underdog. I could have been nice. I could have worked with these people that have no morals and no values and spent their money instead of having to keep re-investing my own money.
Allison Kugel: But you walked away.
Damon Dash: I decided freedom was priceless, happiness is priceless. I needed to raise my daughters. It wasn’t conducive for my daughters in a hip hop environment, because you have a bunch of young, insecure, aggressive men. And I didn’t want to have to go to jail for nothing. I realized that with the internet there is no buffer, and I can tell the truth whenever I want. No one can stop me. Whoever wants me will come find me, and they’ll see the truth.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about your new movie, Honor Up. You wrote and directed this movie, you play a central character, and you put up your own money to make it. How long has this story been in you, wanting to come out?
Damon Dash: I always knew I would tell this story, but what made me want to tell it now, and in this way, was a moment when I was hearing a lot of things about people I was close to from my past, that contradicted all our morals and values. It bugged me out, because these were the people I respected the most. I just couldn’t believe it, and it hurt. Then there were other things going on that were bringing me down. [Director] Lee Daniels (Precious, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) owes me $2 million. He’s doing well and he’s running around, and he’s not paying me. The shit is pissing me off. Where I’m from, he would have ended up in a trunk. You know what I’m saying? I can’t do those things, and I’m not going to do those things. So I made a movie about it. I want people to understand my morals and principals, why I don’t look the other way and who taught me. I also ran into my OG (a mentor of Dash’s named Daniel Jenkins), who I hadn’t seen in about twenty-five years. He was a guy who was very influential in the neighborhood. Because he was cool with me, all the dangerous guys looked at me a certain way as well, so I never had to be scared. One day I saw him walking across one of the toughest blocks in Harlem and he had his kids with him. He was fresh, his kids had little motor cars and they were fresh, and I was like, “That’s the kind of dad I want to be.” I want to be that guy as a dad. That was probably the most impactful lesson he ever taught me, because I’m a great dad and that’s more important than anything. When I finally got back with him, I knew I had to make a movie about our story.
Allison Kugel: This movie, Honor Up, will help people to better understand you and what makes you tick.
Damon Dash: I think people need to know the rules. Maybe people aren’t living by them now, and that’s the reason I kind of stay in my bubble. Maybe now people will understand why I don’t compromise, why I won’t bend over for a dollar. Because I was taught the right way by certain kind of people. With this movie, I want people to hear the voice that taught me, from the voice that taught me. When you see this movie, you’re going to see my real OG, the voice I heard when I was fifteen.
Allison Kugel: A big theme in Honor Up is the street code of not being a snitch, not talking to the police. Let’s set up a scenario. In December 1990, John Gotti was arrested by the FBI and NYPD. He was indicted on multiple counts of racketeering, extortion, jury tampering and murder. He strongly believed in the oath of silence he took as a “made man” with the Gambino family. He didn’t provide any information to the government; he didn’t strike a deal with prosecutors. John Gotti went away for life and he died in prison. Weighing everything: family, life, everything… had that been you, would you have stuck to the street code like he did, and gone away for life?
Damon Dash: You’re joking right?
Allison Kugel: No. I’m not joking.
Damon Dash: If you’re gonna do the crime, do the time, period. Two people sign on to a contract, whether everybody else’s principals are different, you sign on to a contract, and you have to abide by it.
Allison Kugel: You do know that a lot of guys don’t abide by it.
Damon Dash: That’s why I made the movie. That’s why I got out of the streets. I knew that at some point I would have to kill, or I’d have to go to jail and I would have to do the time.
Allison Kugel: You would not make a deal or rat anybody out. You would go away for life.
Damon Dash: Yeah. If I did the crime? Yeah. That’s the game. You think I would be so low as to put one of my friends in jail? Someone that I hung out with, I know their kids, I know their girl? Just so I don’t go to jail, I put him in jail? Nah, I couldn’t live with myself. If you make a conscious choice to do something, you got to stand behind it. Now if you’re a civilian, and let’s say someone accused you of doing something you didn’t do, you never hustled and all that other stuff, you didn’t sign on to that game. That’s a different story. But for someone that signed on to the game, you know you’re not supposed to be doing that.
Allison Kugel: Is there a spiritual component to your beliefs?
Damon Dash: I understand spirituality. I read The Seat of the Soul [by Gary Zukav]. That book changed my life. That was actually the connection between Aaliyah and me.
Allison Kugel: Did you read that book together?
Damon Dash: All of those books, yes. And I made my whole crew read that book. Me and Aaliyah, that was our connection. We read all of those books. That book scares me, because when she died I had all those books around me. I had one book called, When You Lose Your Soulmate right on the bed. I was so into that, that I almost felt like it was to prepare me for her death. If I hadn’t read those books, I don’t think I would have dealt with it the same.
Allison Kugel: Have you read, Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss? That’s my favorite one.
Damon Dash: Yes, I did. I read so many of those books. That’s what got me through [Aaliyah’s] death. But I had so many of those books scattered around my room. At every bed post I had something related to the soul and the evolution of it. I think I’m about at a deep purple right now.
Allison Kugel: (Laughs) Your crown chakra is fully activated.
Damon Dash: I’m floating.
Allison Kugel: Kanye West executive produced your movie, Honor Up. The two of you go way back to when you launched his music career. What was different about working with Kanye on a film, versus musically?
Damon Dash: This time I’m the artist and he’s the businessman. Whereas, I used to showcase his art, he’s now showcasing mine. He used to play his records for me. Now, I was coming back and playing cuts of the film for him. It was a total role reversal. It was a great example of the OG being happy that someone younger than you can have more power than you with certain things, and can help you. You build people, so they can build you. I wasn’t expecting him to do all that he did. You never know what Kanye’s going to do, but I know that he’s inspired by art. It was the first time that, instead of me helping somebody, somebody was helping me. He gets it. Some people don’t understand that helping people makes you the happiest. The happiness that Kanye got from helping me, it was contagious.
Allison Kugel: Can you see you and Kanye West forming an ongoing partnership with a film production company?
Damon Dash: We just started one, that’s what we’re doing! You know me; I don’t play. I hit you with flurries. I’m prepping to shoot my third movie right now. This film was the first time, to my knowledge, that I have ever seen Kanye put his name on something that he can’t control. The fact that he acknowledged my art in that way, shows that this is some real art. Kanye is not going to co-sign something corny. But the respect level was there, which is what I appreciated the most.
Allison Kugel: What do you say to people who feel that a movie like Honor Up, which does depict street violence, is perpetuating a stereotype, or that it’s a negative influence on your younger fans?
Damon Dash: Any movie that’s about war, you have to show the war to learn from it. Whoever looks at it like that, isn’t from the street. They don’t understand. I’m not trying to preach to the converted. That was my reality, and that’s what I learned from. That’s what smartened me up. I hope that people can see every element in this movie. The story is authentic. There’s so many different artistic levels. It’s not just bullets. It’s about the message. It’s art, and I think anyone who really looks at it will recognize it as art.
Allison Kugel: When you wake up in the morning and your feet hit the floor, which is foremost on your mind, making money or making art?
Damon Dash: Making art. Never making money. I think money is overrated. That’s why I spend so much of it. I don’t even want to hold it; get it out of here. It makes people go crazy. I wouldn’t do anything for money that I wouldn’t do for free.
Allison Kugel: A lot of people may not know that you are a Type 1 Diabetic and have been since the age of fifteen.
Damon Dash: I made it public a long time ago, but people don’t talk about those kinds of things. I always thought it was important to bring awareness to it, because I’ve had it since I was fifteen and I have noticed all the misconceptions that come with it. It’s a 24-hour disease. And for me, as a diabetic, I always want to hear about another diabetic’s story. I know if they are winning, that I can win. And there are a lot of celebrities that have it, and they don’t want to talk about it. I’ve never understood that. They think it’s a weakness, whereas I think it’s a strength. I want people to know that every great thing I’ve done, every time I’ve made history, it’s always been as a diabetic. We started a network called the Dash Diabetes Network. We talk about diet, working out, mental well-being and just being healthy, overall. When you’re a diabetic you have to live a healthy lifestyle. You have no choice. I’m a vegan. Well, let me say I eat a plant-based diet. I can’t say I’m completely vegan, because I still own a leather jacket or two and I have leather seats in my car. Rocky (Dash’s nickname for his girlfriend and business partner, Raquel) has created a vegan handbag as part of our Poppington fashion line.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about your network, Dame Dash Studios. It features your films, your radio show, musical projects, your Poppington fashion line, Dash Diabetes Network and your personal travels around the world. It’s like a VIP ticket to all things Dame Dash. Tell me about the vision for this studio…
Damon Dash: At the end of the day, the direct to consumer relationship is the new wave, and it keeps me independent. I can stay uncensored and I can say what I want; can’t nobody fire me. I can do whatever I want, and above and beyond anything, I can pass it down to my children. I can pass it on to my wife. Raquel is wifey for lifey. She is the one who inspired me to embrace my artistic nature after watching me make everybody else famous. Falling in love, embracing art, that’s why I say that I’m purple right now (referring to the color associated with spirituality), because I’m elated. I’m happy. I just love the fact that I’m being artistic, that I’m being unapologetic about my point of view and fearless about speaking on my art.
Damon Dash’s movie, Honor Up, hits select theatres and On-Demand February 16, 2018.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
Allison Kugel: When you stepped off the Roseanne set for the last time in 1997, did you ever think, in a million years, that you’d be playing Becky Conner all these years later?
Lecy Goranson: No (laughs), I didn’t! Being back has made me realize the time I missed when I was away. It’s an interesting feeling that hit me, that the show continued without me. Everyone was still together after I left. I had a lot of mixed feelings about it. Not regret, but I thought, “Wow. I really love these people and I made a move, but it’s been such a blessing to be reconnected with everyone.”
Allison Kugel: You’re referring to your character Becky being re-cast with actress Sara Chalke during the fifth season of Roseanne. There are three characters in television that were famously re-cast during the height of a show’s success. You’ve got the two Darrens from Bewitched, the two Lionels from The Jeffersons and the two Beckys from Roseanne. I’m sure you’ve talked with Sarah Chalke at length about her taking over your role all those years ago. What was it like for Sara to step into your shoes halfway through the series run?
Lecy Goranson: I never really had a chance to talk to her until we were on Amy Schumer together. We went out to dinner and it was interesting to hear what she had to say, which was a lot! Anyone who gets a job like that, it’s very exciting, especially if you’re a small-town girl from Canada, which she was. I was talking with some of the other actors about what it might feel like to be a guest star on our show. For me, I know all these people and I’ve worked with them for years, but I still feel like I really have to bring my A-game. There’s a heightened feeling of responsibility in working with such amazing people. I can only imagine how intimidating that was for her, beyond the sheer joy of having a job like that. Stepping into a character that was already established, it was challenging for her. But she stepped into an environment where there were a lot of loving people, and talented people to help her bring her game up.
Allison Kugel: I’ve heard you say in several interviews that you left Roseanne during the height of its success to have a normal college experience. I have to ask, what prompted you to become a child star in the first place?
Lecy Goranson: I was a dancer and there’s a place in Evanston, IL called the Noise Cultural Arts Center where they have dance, acting, painting and different classes in the arts. I was taking dance classes, and right down the hall was the Piven Theatre Workshop, started by Byrne and Joyce Piven who were coming from The Second City [Comedy Troupe]. I started taking classes there and Burt and Joyce were affiliated with an agency in downtown Chicago. They asked me to go on a couple of open calls. My parents wanted me to be involved in activities because they were working a lot. So that was the amount of their vested interest, just to keep me busy and productive. I did two auditions and the second one was for Roseanne. I think they hired Laurie Metcalf, who was also from Chicago, and I, because they wanted to have some actors that were actually from the Chicago area to give the show that flavor. But yeah, it was a total fluke.
Allison Kugel: Now it makes sense to me that you would one day, as a teenager and young adult, realize you wanted to step away and just be a college student.
Lecy Goranson: Yes. But after college I had to say to myself, “Look, you love being an actor and this lifestyle of suffering (laughs). This is what you really want.” It’s funny when you have to parent yourself.
Allison Kugel: Twenty years later, what are you now bringing to the role of Becky Conner on this Roseanne reboot?
Lecy Goranson: I’ve been doing theatre for so many years. Like any skill, you build muscle by repetition. I’ve also had the privilege of working with great actors in the New York theatre community. The character of Becky is really strong, grounded and wise. It’s interesting re-approaching a character in this way, with all of my own life experiences. And I feel it when I am there; I feel my age! I’ve been around the block, but I think back to my former self as a child and I think, “What was it like?” It’s hard for me to remember a lot of it. There is a part of youth that is so unconscious, and there’s such a beautiful thing about that in retrospect. That unconsciousness gives you a lot of bold confidence.
Allison Kugel: As an adult, have you sat and watched the old Roseanne re-runs? And do you feel connected to it?
Lecy Goranson: This is a bit of an inside joke. I feel like, “Oh yeah it’s me, but it feels like it is so long ago and distant. Michael [Fishman] and Sara Gilbert have children, and they would sit down with their kids to watch the episodes and tell their kids, “This is what I used to do.” I haven’t really done that. Although you can’t stay away from it, because it’s on so often if you’re flipping through the channels. One of the interesting things about re-visiting the show is to not only have memories come back for me, but to hear other people’s memories, and then to also have this shared feeling come up sometimes of, “We don’t remember anything at all!”
Allison Kugel: Tell me about growing up with Roseanne Barr and John Goodman as your TV parents and spending countless hours with them as you were growing up.
Lecy Goranson: I’ve always felt really close to John. Our personalities are similar, and I have always felt very connected to him. I hate to use the term “genius” because people throw it around, but they both do have a genius for the work. Roseanne, the way her mind thinks comically, is really advanced. And John is such an incredible actor. His genius is in being so present in every moment and tweaking the script in his own way. He is one of the most present actors I have ever been around. The two of them together are just like a couple of big kids, encouraging each other to go further. They are a great team, and they bring out the best in each other. There is a side to both of them that is just total goofball, and they both love humiliating the kids in a scene. Yes, they get off on embarrassing us. Now that we’re all back together I remember just how much we always laughed.
Allison Kugel: How about your TV siblings Sara Gilbert and Michael Fishman, who play Darlene and D.J.? What’s the relationship like between the three of you?
Lecy Goranson: I live on the east coast and they’re on the west coast. Apart from Laurie Metcalfe and John Goodman who do theatre in New York occasionally, I don’t see everybody that much. Sara and I are very close. We spent all this time apart and then when we were reunited, I remembered how well we know each other. You can’t help but be close like that if you see each other every day for however many years, and you’re the only two young ladies on the set. Michael is just a doll. He’s turned into such a mature, loving, wonderful person. I feel a lot of pride for the fact that we have turned out pretty good.
Allison Kugel: How did a Roseanne reboot come together?
Lecy Goranson: It had a lot to do with Sara. I also know that Roseanne was thinking about doing it for a long time, independently. Michael and Roseanne had been talking about it. It all came together, and Sara took on the role of Executive Producer. When Sara reached out to everyone, we all said, “Let’s do it!”
Allison Kugel: I love the fact that everyone was game to do it. If you are known and beloved for playing an iconic television character that people identify with, and you are a part of pop culture history, that’s amazing! What’s wrong with that?
Lecy Goranson: I think also the fact that our show is about a family, that there is something appealing about keeping that family unit alive and revisiting them at a later time. Of course, Roseanne is a special show to me, but I do think it’s a special show to a lot of people and the family dynamic that we have makes it special.
Allison Kugel: Does this Roseanne reboot bring the same flavor, and the same meat and bones as the original?
Lecy Goranson: Oh, absolutely! There are certain episodes we did where we all thought, “This is vintage Roseanne.” It felt like an original episode.
Allison Kugel: Why should people tune in to watch the Roseanne reboot?
Lecy Goranson: Because it’s the best show on TV, of course!
Listed by Sports Illustrated as one of the greatest wrestlers in WWE history, few wrestlers, or entertainers for that matter, have done more to brand their name than Chris Jericho. From the eponymous List of Jericho, a bit he made famous on the WWE stage, to his rock n’ roll persona which has become part of his identity from the wrestling ring to his heavy metal rock band, Fozzy, “Jericho” is synonymous with an over-the-top drive that knows no bounds, and some say, an ego to match. We discuss the motivation behind his unrelenting self-promotion, and work ethic, throughout our talk.
Talk is Jericho is his popular Westwood One podcast show; But I’m Chris Jericho, a streaming comedy series, is going into its second season (CBC Canada); and a collaboration with Hot Topic clothing stores on a T-shirt featuring his likeness and emblazoned with “Jerichoholic,” ensures his name and image are everywhere these days.
In Chris Jericho’s new book (the fourth one he’s written, if you’re counting), No Is A Four-Letter Word, Jericho describes himself as an underdog who set his sights on professional wrestling and rock n’ roll, while growing up in a small town in Winnipeg, Canada. As a teen, he dreamed about making it big, though he says he got little support from friends and acquaintances in his small “prairie town” as he puts it. It was his father, a retired NHL hockey player, and his grandmother, an enthusiastic wrestling fan, who gave him the confidence needed to pursue his dreams.
He favors using his name, Jericho, to saying “I” or “Me,” when speaking about himself, and pulls no punches when discussing his success, both, inside and outside the ring.
Chris Jericho is determined to give the biblical Walls of Jericho a run for its money with respect to historical value.
Allison Kugel: Tell me about your stage name “Jericho.”
Chris Jericho: It just sounded cool. I originally thought up the name “Jack Action,” and the guy I was originally training with started laughing at Jack Action (Laughs). At the time I needed to think of a name quickly, because I had a show coming up in three weeks. I was into a band called The American Dream, and they had an album called Walls of Jericho. I was in my car, I looked at that album and I thought, “That’s a pretty cool name.” I was also a big fan of the show Teen Titans back then, and there was a character called Jericho, although he was the character with the worst superpowers. But the combination of the two and I thought, “Chris Jericho.” When I was training in Canada, they wanted me to be a country western type of character called Cowboy Chris Jericho, and I was mortified about that because I was a rocker guy. In my very first match, I’m listed as “Cowboy Chris Jericho” from Casper, Wyoming.
Allison Kugel: Then you quickly made your transition to a rock-n-roll character, I’m assuming.
Chris Jericho: Well, yeah. I mean, my character wasn’t necessarily a rocker at that point. I just wasn’t a cowboy (laughs).
Allison Kugel: I read your latest book, No Is A Four-Letter Word. You’re a Mountains in the Distance kind of a guy. You don’t rest on your laurels. It’s not about the mountain that’s already been climbed; it’s about that next mountain in the distance. Even though you’ve done a million different things, is there a dream or goal yet to be fulfilled?
Chris Jericho: I don’t really have an answer for that, because I don’t set goals or boundaries for myself. I react and go with the flow of opportunities that are offered to me. When I was a kid I wanted to be in a rock n’ roll band and I wanted to be a wrestler; those were the two goals. People didn’t think I could do either of them. But here we are 27 years later. Once you get that kind of confidence and success rate, then you become dangerous. Now I’ll try anything and most of the time it’s a success. I don’t do anything for the money. I don’t do anything that I don’t feel that I want to do. Therefore, it all flows together because I’m just being me and committing to something, and wanting it to be good. It’s when you don’t feel right about something. It’s like if you were writing a piece about someone that you’re not really feeling, and not into. It’s never going to be as good as something that you’re excited about and want to do. Even talking about But I’m Chris Jericho, this is an idea I had in 2005 when I left the WWE and took a break because I was burned out. I went to LA to study acting. I’d go to these auditions and there would be ten guys who looked exactly like me. You go in and do one line like, “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” And it was like, “Thank you. Next.”
Allison Kugel: I like the Seinfeld reference…
Chris Jericho: I’d be thinking, “But I’m Chris Jericho. I have a fanbase and notoriety.” I learned in Hollywood that nobody gave a shit. I thought, what would happen if Jericho got blackballed from wrestling and had to start from scratch as an actor? That’s where the idea came from for But I’m Chris Jericho. I pitched the show for 8 years! It was finally sold in 2013 for a first season. Then it took four years for the second season to be made.
Allison Kugel: Why is that? I watched the first season of the series, which was hilarious. Loved it! Why did it not get picked up for a second season until 2018?
Chris Jericho: That’s the million-dollar question, because it was a hit and it won a lot of awards. At the end of it, I realized it was really good, and we created this universe with all these wacky characters; Scott Thompson was in it, Colin Mochrie was in it from Who’s Line Is It Anyway. Andy Kindler from Everybody Loves Raymond and Bob’s Burgers. These are really funny people. We won awards at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival.
Allison Kugel: How did the show get revived?
Chris Jericho: CBC Network in Canada called a year ago and they wanted to do another season. It’s really gratifying. If I believe in something, I will do everything I can to make it happen. After we did the first season, and you were talking about the mountain, I wanted to do more. I knew there was something to this show that was special and funny. Thankfully, finally, CBC agreed with that. If you really want something to happen, sometimes it doesn’t happen easily, and that’s okay. You have to believe in it and stick with it, even if it’s not easy.
Allison Kugel: Do you consider yourself to be a great manifester?
Chris Jericho: I look at it as being positive and believing in yourself, and eliminating negativity. That was something I learned way early on in my career when I was starting out as a wrestler at nineteen. People see me now as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, but that wasn’t always the case. Everyone laughed when I originally said I wanted to be a wrestler; literally laughed. One time at church the pastor said, “Chris is going to Calgary to be a wrestler,” and he started laughing. I eliminated those people. Anyone who thought that I couldn’t do it or gave me any kind of negativity, I didn’t allow it to permeate.
Allison Kugel: What do you teach your three kids about making their dreams come true, or do you simply lead by example?
Chris Jericho: Just set an example, because they’re young right now. One thing I don’t tolerate in my house is if they say, “Well, I’m not good at this,” or “I suck.” No, you don’t! If you want to be good at something, you have to put the time in. That’s the thing with a lot of kids these days, or maybe always; trying once or twice, and if it doesn’t work out they go on to the next thing. If you really want to do something, for example, if you really want to play basketball, it takes more then three free throws at the net to get good. You’ve got to spend hours practicing. That’s what I show my kids, that hard work always wins.
Allison Kugel: Denzel Washington has a saying he uses a lot that I love – “anything you practice, you get good at.”
Chris Jericho: It’s true. And some people do have a natural talent for something. I could play guitar every day, and I’m not necessarily going to be Eddie Van Halen, but I could probably get to be a pretty damn good guitar player. And don’t worry about what this guy down the block is doing or succeeding at. It’s about, how can you improve yourself on a daily basis? How can you get better at what you want to do? Don’t worry about anybody else. Be happy with what you’re doing.
Allison Kugel: Which opportunity came first for you, the WWE or your band Fozzy?
Chris Jericho: I started playing music when I was thirteen or fourteen. I began wrestling at nineteen. The wrestling took off first, but I still always dabbled in the music. Then I finally met the right guys, and the music came to fruition in 1999. I was finally able to start working on music because I had finally met the right guys that I wanted to play with. I’ve always had to keep both vocations separate, because a lot of times a celebrity will start a band more as a novelty and sometimes they’re not really all that good at it. I knew I would have to work twice as hard to get respect because of who I am, but that’s fine. There is a select group of people who can do both. Taylor Momsen of Reckless, Jared Leto with 30 Seconds to Mars, or Johnny Depp with Hollywood Vampires. If you’re good, you’re good. A good song and a good musician is a good song and a good musician. Doesn’t matter what else you do on the side. I don’t mind going the extra mile to prove to people that Fozzy is a great rock n’ roll band. Judas (the group’s 7th studio album) has been in the top ten for nine weeks on radio, and doing ten million streams.
Allison Kugel” Do you feel that Fozzy has arrived? Or do you feel you have something more to prove?
Chris Jericho: We’ve definitely arrived, and we’re bigger now than we’ve ever been. If we stopped tomorrow that’s fine, but until we’re headlining arenas, headlining stadiums there’s always more you can do and bigger you can get. But I’m not worrying about what the Rolling Stones are doing; I’m worrying about what Fozzy is doing. As of right now, we’re the biggest we’ve ever been with a legit hit song, so yeah, we have arrived. We’ve had some other hit songs, but Judas is on a completely different level. I call it The Judas Effect. The awareness of the shows and the awareness of the band, they’re playing it at hockey games now.
Allison Kugel: Do you see Fozzy, at some point, headlining at Madison Square Garden?
Chris Jericho: Absolutely. If I didn’t… quit now. I grew up in Madison Square Garden. My dad (retired NHL player, Ted Irvine) used to play for the New York Rangers. I remember sitting in the crowd at three or four years old watching him play, and hating the fact that it was so loud. The crowd was so loud, and fast forward to 1999, I made my first appearance at Madison Square Garden for WWE. Then fast forward a couple of years later in 2008, John Cena and I had a cage match that broke the box office attendance record for the WWE Main Event at MSG. It all comes full circle. And, yes, now I want to take Fozzy to Madison Square Garden.
Allison Kugel: I want to talk about your dad, Ted Irvine, who as we were discussing, was a successful NHL hockey player with the New York Rangers. Was there ever a time when you wanted to follow in his footsteps to become a professional hockey player?
Chris Jericho: No. After my dad retired we moved to Winnipeg [Canada], and everybody plays hockey there; it’s just what you do. I had fun playing hockey; it was a great childhood experience. But honestly, I just wasn’t very good at it. There were four tiers. Tier 1 were the best guys, tier 4 were the worst. I was always a tier 3 guy. They would have tryouts, and I could never even get to tier 2. I wasn’t the worst player, but I wasn’t the best. My dad knew it; he knew I enjoyed it, but the passion wasn’t there. I was always passionate about music and wrestling. Once I let him know what I wanted to do, he was super supportive. We drove out to Calgary to check out the wrestling school, the year before I left to go in 1989. He drove me out there to see what his son was going to be getting into. He was always very, very supportive because he knew hockey wasn’t my thing.
Allison Kugel: Why wrestling?
Chris Jericho: Why does the world rotate? It always appealed to me. My grandma used to watch it when I was a kid. She’d freak out and yell and scream at the TV. There was always this Saturday trifecta of Bugs Bunny, wrestling and then hockey on television. That was just a Saturday night. She always loved wrestling, and I always enjoyed it and watched it with her. Hockey was always about the team. I liked that wrestling was about the individual and the characters and personalities. Because I was really into music, I liked that a lot of wrestlers had a kind of rock n’ roll type of attitude and image. I became mystified by it.
Allison Kugel: The theatrics of it all; the combination of theatrics and athleticism in one…
Chris Jericho: Exactly, and characters… the personalities. That’s where it all started. I became a big wrestling fan. I was watching a local wrestling show from Calgary and they advertised the wrestling school on there, and that was it. You’d see wrestling shows on television that were from New York, California, Chicago. Back then, New York might as well have been Mars! How the fuck was I going to get to New York? But Calgary, I could get in my car and drive there in thirteen hours. I decided I wanted to go to Calgary and train how to wrestle.
Allison Kugel: You talk in your book about your experience in Saudi Arabia, when you were there wrestling for the WWE. You were shocked that women in Saudi Arabia were not permitted to attend your show. You had a lot of female fans there who weren’t able to come see you. They stood outside by the road to catch a glimpse of you or get a wave from you, because that was the closest they were going to get to seeing your match. In light of what is going on in the United States right now, with women fighting for equal treatment in the workplace, and in general, and the fact that you have daughters, what kind of impression did that experience leave with you? How do you feel about it, and would you go back to Saudi Arabia?
Chris Jericho: I’m not going to protest it. When you travel the world, different countries have different customs. Different religions have different customs; different races of people, depending upon where you are, have different customs. You can’t mess with it, you know? When in Rome, as the saying goes. I’m not going to protest going to Saudi Arabia because they don’t allow women to go to the shows. I think it’s ridiculous, and it hurt the business. You go and play to a 70% full house because there’s only guys in there. The vibe is different. It’s not as fun, because you don’t have that female element and the reaction they give you. And why wouldn’t you want women there? But that’s how it is. I can’t change the entire Muslim tradition and the way they do things. I just observe. It’s like the Prime Directive in the Star Trek universe. You can observe, and if you can’t change it, don’t try to.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about your podcast on Westwood One, Talk Is Jericho. Do you feel like something of a journalist when you are interviewing guests for your show?
Chris Jericho: I don’t do interviews in that way. It’s more of a conversation. It’s more about relating, talking, connecting and just having a great conversation. There aren’t questions or a specific structure. When people leave my show, they leave thinking it was a fun show and they were excited to be a part of it. It’s more about being curious and personable, and respecting people who have accomplished something, whether it’s the most famous of actors, hall of fame musicians or a guy I went to high school with. People follow me because it’s Jericho’s show, not so much because of who I have on.
Allison Kugel: I read you’re making an appearance at WWE Monday Night Raw this year. Can you tell me about this appearance?
Chris Jericho: They’re having their 25th anniversary show. A bunch of people are coming back to be involved in the show, and they asked me to do it. It’s not going to be the Full Jericho Experience, and I don’t want it to be because I don’t want people to think I’m coming back. It’s just one more cameo to say “Hi,” be involved and to be appreciative of the history of the show and all the contributions that I’ve made to it.
Allison Kugel: Do you think you have a big ego?
Chris Jericho: Absolutely. Not in a dangerous or bad way, but you have to be aware of who you are and what you’ve accomplished. You don’t brag about it, but ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You talk to anybody that’s accomplished anything and they’re going to have a little bit of an ego, because you know how much you went through to get it. Like you said about Denzel, you practice something enough, and you get good at it. Well if you practice something and you become good at it, you become one of the best at it, how could you not have an ego? But there’s still a way to be humble and have an ego, if that makes sense. Someone giving you accolades and their undying admiration, that’s a pretty cool thing. To know you’ve changed somebody’s life or influenced somebody’s life in a positive way, it’s very powerful. That is very humbling and one of the reasons I still love doing what I do after 27 years. A lot of people rely on me to entertain them and to help them out of situations where maybe they’re having a bad day. They can have a laugh on me. I also know that when I walk down the street, 9 times out of 10, someone’s going to want to take a picture or say hello, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have that sort of ego. If it is, then I’m guilty of it. I don’t think it’s possible to not have an ego when you have been doing as much as I have and had the level of success I’ve had over the years.
Allison Kugel: You’re now 47. What are your thoughts about turning 50? What does the number 50 signify in your life?
Chris Jericho: Nothing, really. I just had this match in Tokyo (at the Tokyo Dome for New Japan Wrestling) and it was a great match. People were calling it the best match of Jericho’s career, and saying, “Who can believe he did it at 47?” I don’t think of myself that way. I think of myself as someone who’s still in his prime. Because of an age, people are supposed to say that you’re not? Is aging going to happen? Of course, it is. You can’t stop time. But for now, at 47, I feel like I did when I was 27. But I’m a lot smarter and a lot better. Fifty? As long as you still try these days, you can still look good, you can still be cool, and you can still contribute. I saw the Stones last year. Mick Jagger at 74 was still the best front man in rock n’ roll. Not a great front man for 74, a great front man, period! I saw Ann-Margret the other day, she’s 75, and still amazingly gorgeous. There’s no retiring at 55 with a gold watch, anymore. My dad still works at 74. Why shouldn’t he?
Allison Kugel: So, Chris Jericho at 50 will be a non-event?
Chris Jericho: Jericho at 50? What happens if at 50 I have a better match than I had at 47? What happens at 50 if Fozzy has a Number 1 song? I’m much smarter now than I was when I was young. As long as my attitude and drive don’t go away, it doesn’t matter what age you are.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
Kind, conscientious, courageous and refreshingly candid, Ms. Vivica A. Fox has proven that as Hollywood careers go, second acts are often the sweetest. The multi-hyphenate actress-director- beauty entrepreneur-author is embracing life and not looking back, except to pull from her well of wisdom for her new memoir, Every Day I’m Hustling. And if you know Vivica like I got to know her during our conversation, you’d think the book’s title quite fitting. She enjoys hard work and has no plans to slow down.
Born Vivica Anjanetta Fox on the outskirts of Indianapolis, she went by Angie Fox, one of four siblings being raised by divorced mother who worked overtime to provide for her children. Her childhood home was hectic but loving and provided fertile ground for Vivica to aspire for things grander than her midwestern upbringing.
After high school, she made her way to Southern California to attend college, all the while seeking out opportunities in Los Angeles to model and act wherever she could. It was in LA that Angie became Vivica A. Fox. She worked her way through the ranks on sitcoms and daytime soaps, and in 1996 got her breakthrough role opposite Will Smith in the classic blockbuster, Independence Day. Next came a string of fan favorites including Set It Off, Soul Food, Two Can Play That Game, Kill Bill Volume I and II, and a string of subsequent roles in film and television, including Larry David’s sharp-witted houseguest, Loretta Black, on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Skye in the campy Sharknado franchise. Her eclectic career has kept her on the move for nearly three decades.
In 2016, Vivica joined the cast of the smash hit television series, Empire, playing conservative suburbanite Candace, Cookie Lyon’s (Taraji P. Henson) older sister and character foil.
During our interview we covered everything from movie stardom and maternal instincts to social media drama, setting boundaries and finding love.
Allison Kugel: When are you Angie and when are you Vivica? When do you take off the Vivica and become Angie from Indianapolis?
Vivica A. Fox: Well first off, that’s Angie Fox from 38th and Emerson in Indianapolis (laughs)! I’m Vivica Fox when I hit that red carpet and I’m ready to slay the game. That’s what I do. But I love that I have in my life, and in my journey, learned when to be Angie Fox. And that’s mainly when I’m with my family, time off, hanging out with my godchildren, having my Me Time and learning to take Me Time. That’s when I’m no makeup, baseball cap, chilling and blending in.
Allison Kugel: Do you prefer yourself that way?
Vivica A. Fox: Oh my gosh! To be honest with you, the older I’ve gotten, the more I prefer it. I work so much; I’ve been so blessed and so busy lately that I enjoy when I can have that Me Time. In fact, today I don’t have to be on. That’s what I really love about being with my godchildren. When they see me, I’m just G.G. or G-ma. G.G. stands for Gorgeous Godmother. G-ma, I don’t know where they got that one from, but I have five godchildren. Two of them call me G-ma and the other ones call me G.G. They like hanging with me. Not the drama or the glamour, they just want me.
Allison Kugel: I love the part in your book where your godson, Christian, sees you all done up as Vivica A. Fox, and he gives you that side eye like he doesn’t recognize you, and you say, “It’s okay, I’m just wearing my Vivica costume.” Then he asks, “You’re still my G.G., right?” And you reassure him that it’s still you.
Vivica A. Fox: It’s funny because he was just a baby the first time he saw me like that, and he was like, “Who are you!?” He was so used to seeing me in my tracksuit and baseball cap. But now at seven, he kind of likes it when he sees the reaction I get from people. He’s done a couple of red carpet events with me and he knows the difference between the two.
Allison Kugel: Coming from the Midwest, your father was a school administrator, your mother worked for a pharmaceutical company, so you really had no ties to entertainment, or Los Angeles for that matter. What gave you that spark of courage, that spark that made you believe that you could become a successful actress?
Vivica A. Fox: I was introduced to the world of fashion and modeling by Madame King, my late auntie. She had her own beauty salon back in the day. She was the first one to cut my hair and put me on a runway. I was kind of bitten by the bug at thirteen. From that point forward, I just fell in love with magazines and fashion. Then I went to go see Michael Jackson in concert, and Diana Ross in concert. I had never seen African Americans being so fabulous, and I was like, “Where do they live? That’s where I’m going! That’s what I want to do.” I decided that during my senior year in high school. But I had to trick my mama (laughs) and tell her I was going to college in California, and I did go to college. But I would be sneaking up to Hollywood and going to modeling agencies. I had a girlfriend who was an actress, and I used to read lines with her. She would say, “You’re pretty good at this, you should try it.”
Allison Kugel: Your book is part memoir and part motivational guidebook for success. Tell me about your mentor, or mentors…
Vivica A. Fox: My mentor would have to be a good friend of mine, and my first acting coach, Sheila Wills. I’m her two daughters’ godmother. Sheila, I met when I was doing [the daytime soap opera] Generations. She took me under her wing, and she would work with me with auditions. I would go into those auditions and just nail them. I attribute my success to her. She would say, “Vivica, you’ve got to stay ready. You got to be ready. You’ve got to take care of yourself.” And people who inspired me to be who I am would be Diana Ross and Pam Grier.
Allison Kugel: Do you know that you’re incredibly sexy? Is that something you’re aware of?
Vivica A. Fox: Well, okay now!
Allison Kugel: I’m not pulling your leg. You really do ooze sensuality. Do you know that?
Vivica A. Fox: Thank you! I appreciate that. Got to keep it tight and right, girl (laughs)!
Allison Kugel: More so now, than twenty years ago, in my opinion…
Vivica A. Fox: Maybe because… No, not maybe! Because I am comfortable in my own skin. I’m very comfortable with me. I have embraced my womanhood through my pluses and my minuses. I’m good with me right now, so that’s what you’re seeing. My spirit is happy, more than anything else. It’s taken awhile, and that’s something I want to share with people. My book is a motivational memoir. I, too, have fallen down and had to figure out how to get back up and create new chapters for myself. I want to encourage, enlighten and inspire other people.
Allison Kugel: Why did you choose to share your journey with menopause in the book?
Vivica A. Fox: It’s part of life. It’s going to happen. And it’s like you just asked, “Do you know that you’re sexy right now?” But do people also know that for the last few years, that’s what’s been going on in my life? I embraced it and I got in front of it. I didn’t let it define me or make me want to whittle away. I don’t know why with women, we can’t talk about our bodies and what we go through, share it with others, and not feel like we have to hide that from people. I’m sharing it, and I got in front of it and took care of myself. I really feel like it made me take good care of myself.
Allison Kugel: And being that your image is sexy, you weren’t afraid of putting that out there…
Vivica A. Fox: No, not at all. You’re going to have naysayers and people that are going to try to come and say something, and they can. But I’m still me. It doesn’t change who I am. I’m still all woman.
Allison Kugel: When it comes to social media feuds and this clap back culture we’re living in, when do you take the high road and not respond, and when do you feel the need to clap back?
Vivica A. Fox: I will clap back occasionally, but to be very honest with you, if it’s not necessary, I don’t like that. I’m not one of those people who became famous by being a controversial celebrity. Normally, I’ll click on who that person is and see if they’re even worth it. If it’s somebody that you can tell is wanting to make TheShadeRoom or seeking attention, I just block them. They’re not worth it. When I clap back, it’s when somebody comes at me or I have to set the record straight.
Allison Kugel: Technology has made it very easy for people to say something mean spirited or join in the angry mob. For me, I try my best to practice the art of what I call Non-Reaction, where I feel like every time I don’t react I’m passing that next spiritual test. But occasionally, something will get me and I’ll react. And then I’ll wonder, was that a failure on my part, or was it warranted in that situation? Do you share that same internal struggle?
Vivica A. Fox: It’s an internal struggle with me too. Some days I’m like, “Why did I give that person my energy?” There are some people, they just come on your page to be mean, and you kind of want to go, “You looked me up, and took the time to write a response to be mean to me. Hmm, what does that say about your character?” There’s an old saying your mama told you. “If you ain’t got nothing nice to say, don’t say nothing at all.” I try to live by that old school motto. I don’t try to pass on bad energy to others, I don’t. If I don’t have anything nice to say I just keep my opinion right on over here. But you know, this generation with the social media, a lot of people like that negative feedback. They feed off it. I don’t.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about motherhood. I know you have all these nieces and nephews, and godchildren. I feel like motherhood, meaning the energy of motherhood, is something that is innate in all women. We have a need to nurture. How does that energy express itself through you?
Vivica A. Fox: I’m Mama Bear all the time! I have a nurturing instinct and I think I get that from my mother. My mother always loved to take care of others. Still to this day, she doesn’t take as good care of herself, because she is always looking out for others. I got that quality from her. When I’m on the set, I’m always looking out for others. When I walk on a set, I’m always making sure that I speak to everyone, that I try to make people as comfortable as possible. In that way, I am very motherly. It’s just something in me, I like to look out for others. But the older I’ve gotten, I’ve learned to look out more for myself, as well. And I’ve learned a very important word: No. Because people will take, take, take from you child, till you drop! Then they’re satisfied, and you’re left over there feeling completely empty.
Allison Kugel: At what age did you learn how to say No?
Vivica A. Fox: It was in my late forties, or maybe just when I got to be about fifty, that I started really looking at my relationships and asking myself if they are all reciprocal relationships. I had that tendency to give, give, give, and I finally took off my Captain Save-A-Ho cape.
Allison Kugel: (Laughs).
Vivica A. Fox: I mean that. Sometimes you’ll talk to friends on the phone, and we all vent, it’s human. But if you talk to somebody that is constantly draining and negative, at some point… I’ve cut ties with a couple of friends and not felt bad about it. I call it the season of shedding, where not everyone’s going to the next chapter or the next level with you. And it’s okay. You don’t have to hate them, but there’s nothing wrong with making good choices for yourself.
Allison Kugel: How do you define glamour and beauty?
Vivica A. Fox: Someone who is a goddess, who just radiates confidence; someone who owns her moment, who seizes her moment. The older I’ve gotten, I believe that beauty radiates from the inside. Especially nowadays with these build-a-bodies, and everything is just makeup and fakeness in my opinion right now. It’s when you meet a person and they are a beautiful person, they radiate confidence and kindness. I find beauty in a woman that has no makeup on, but she’s confident in her own skin and radiates kindness and does for others, to me that’s beautiful.
Allison Kugel: In your book you give advice on achieving different areas of success in one’s life. I personally think that so many people have a misconception about success. People want that insta-recognition, that insta-success. I said to someone the other day that for all the people who think they would love to trade places with Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah, for example, most of those people wouldn’t make it through the first week if they saw the tremendous amount of work, pressure and sacrifice that it takes to be in that type of position.
Vivica A. Fox: To piggyback on that point, for myself, people don’t realize that for the last two to three years I slept on planes. I was always traveling, always busy, taking meetings, not sleeping, going here, going there, and going through changes of life and never letting it slow me down. There’s a lot of work required. All those seeds that I’ve planted, I’m now seeing them all blossom. But I had to do the work. That’s what I tell people. In my book, in the chapter about Being the Head Chick in Charge, I say, “Don’t let anyone outwork you.”
Allison Kugel: What do you think is the biggest misconception about success?
Vivica A. Fox: That it’s easy. When you’re successful, usually it’s taken a long time to build a career. It isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time to build a career, and a career means being able to go through different stages and chapters of a career, not just being the hot chick of the moment. For me, I went from being the hot ingenue chick, to now building my brand and producing and directing.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about Empire. I started watching it last week, all four seasons in a row!
Vivica A. Fox: Oh, you binge-watched…
Allison Kugel: Yes, I binge-watched! I’m talking carrying the iPad with me all over the house; the show is that addictive and entertaining. Entertainment value, on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 12 plus. The one thing I had mixed feelings about is the way African Americans are depicted in the show. On one hand I’m loving it, on the other hand I’m thinking, “Does this play on negative stereotypes, the way this family is being portrayed?”
Vivica A. Fox: Well, I think that’s why Empire has been so successful. It’s raw and right there in your face. It makes you uncomfortable. What I commend Lee Daniels and the cast of Empire for is they are like, “It may make you uncomfortable, but we are who we are. We’re not going to sugar coat this. We’re going to give it to you straight, no chaser.” That’s what made it a phenom. Some people felt like they couldn’t handle the gay [subject], or they feel it’s a little bit too raw, but that’s Empire. They have stayed true to what the show is about, and I have to commend them for that. That take courage, not to bow down to social or peer pressure.
Allison Kugel: Did Lee Daniels ever share with you the moral of the story of Empire, or his vision for the show?
Vivica A. Fox: Not really. The thing I love about Lee is that he is who he is. It’s taken awhile for him to become comfortable in his own skin, and that he’s a gay man and that he has talent, and he doesn’t have to hide who he really is anymore. We’ve all been in this business for twenty years, and I’m going to tell you that it’s been a long journey for him to put out a show like this. Some of the storylines in the show, absolutely, with the mother saying to her kids, “You’re this, you’re that (referring to the character, Cookie, having a penchant for hurling insults).” The father throwing the kid in the dumpster, it tugs at the heartstrings. It makes you uncomfortable, but it happens. I feel that with knowledge there’s power.
Allison Kugel: What will Candace be up to in the new season?
Vivica A. Fox: I can’t give away a whole bunch, but I will tell you that Candace is back and that you will get the chance to finally meet our mother, Renee, played by the very beautiful and talented Alfre Woodard.
Allison Kugel: Do you judge your character, Candace, the same way that Cookie judges her?
Vivica A. Fox: No. I believe we all have those relationships in our families where we’re all different, but we’re still family. In my career right now, I’ve embraced my womanhood and people are like, “Ooh, Vivica, you’re going to become today’s Diahann Carroll.” And I’m like, “Wow! Thank you for that.” But firstly, Vivica is a little bit more like Cookie. I like to have my rock star moments, and I love wearing the crazy clothes and all that stuff. But Candace is who I’m evolving into.
Allison Kugel: In your book you provide some back story about your mom and dad’s relationship, and how it’s affected your own love life. What I got from what you wrote is that in watching your mom nurse a broken heart over the divorce from your father, you saw her as a victim, and that framed your own love life.
Vivica A. Fox: Absolutely.
Allison Kugel: Do you still see her as a victim, or do you see things in a different light now? And what would it take for you to let your guard down in love?
Vivica A. Fox: I see my mother now as a survivor. My mother grew up in a time where you stuck by your guy. He was her one true love, and I definitely have those qualities. What I learned from her, in wanting her to live and to love and to laugh more, I wouldn’t take those same steps that she did. I can open my heart again. For my part, I’m making sure that I’m not lustful anymore. I don’t look at somebody and right away say, “Oh yes, he’s the one!” I make sure that I take the time to get to know someone. That’s something I pass along in my book, as well. Don’t jump into the shallow end of the pool head first. You’ve got to take the time to get to know people. So yes, I am open to love. I want to love again and have someone that’s really special. But he has to prove himself, and I would have to prove myself to him, that I’m worthy to be his mate. Sometimes women are so afraid to be alone that they just take that first thing coming, and they get the short end of the stick. They keep dating the same guy over and over again. That’s why, in the book, I say to make your chart out. Do you keep dating the same guy over and over again? Because you’re going to get the same result.
Allison Kugel: Do you want Hollywood to be colorblind in writing and casting roles, or do you want to be identified, and cast, as an African American actress?
Vivica A. Fox: Of course, I always want to be seen as a talented African American actress, because that’s who I am. I feel that right now, what’s going on in Hollywood is that, man, that glass ceiling has been busted wide open. It’s been a long time coming, with the success of Black Panther, with the success of television shows like Scandal and Empire and How to Get Away with Murder; with Oprah having her own network. It’s about damn time.
Allison Kugel: Is it an I Told You So moment?
Vivica A. Fox: I don’t know if it’s I Told You So as much as it is, Finally.
Allison Kugel: Finish these sentences for me. I know I can trust someone when…
Vivica A. Fox: When I’ve truly gotten to know them.
Allison Kugel: I know that God is speaking to me when…
Vivica A. Fox: Woo! Hmm. All the time. Every day when I wake up and I can thank Him for letting me see another day. I would say, I know God is speaking to me all the time, and He helps me make better choices.
Allison Kugel: My spiritual mission in this life is…
Vivica A. Fox: To be kind, to do unto others and to leave a good mark.
Vivica’s memoir, “Every Day I’m Hustling,” is available everywhere books are sold April 3rd and available for pre-order on Amazon.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
Actress Andie MacDowell’s appeal is in her ethereal glow. From her crown of dark cascading curls to her porcelain complexion and delicate features, MacDowell’s sweet yet sultry sensuality captivated movie-going audiences with hits like Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Green Card, Groundhog’s Day and Four Weddings and a Funeral. She has always played the woman of great desire who orbits just outside of the male lead’s reach... that is, until he figures out how to win her over.
As Andie tells it, her “it girl” status throughout the late eighties and the whole of the nineties was a thrill ride, but left her feeling torn between an A-List movie career and being a hands-on mother to her three children. It was then she resolved to stop making movies back-to-back, but to choose her projects more carefully, kicking the tires first to be sure the role was worth time away from her family.
Over the last eighteen years, MacDowell has continued to work steadily, choosing roles that move her, make her think, and those that allow her to unpack her more provocative side. In 2015’s Magic Mike XXL, MacDowell played Nancy, the flirtatious older woman who unapologetically has her way with Joe Manganiello’s character. It’s safe to say that at this stage in MacDowell’s career she is doing anything but playing it safe on screen.
In her latest film, Love After Love, MacDowell tackles the role of the beautifully confident Suzanne, a wife and mother of two grown sons (played by Chris O’Dowd and James Adomian). She is loving her life (including her sex life) until her husband’s declining health and his death leaves her and her family reeling with grief, bitterness, and fear, as they try to regain their equilibrium.
Andie and I sat down for a frank discussion about growing older in Hollywood, embracing each stage of life, the #MeToo movement, finding her spiritual center and the enigmatic definition of happiness.
Allison Kugel: When you’re making a movie like Love After Love where the subject matter is heavier and about loss, do you feel pressure to entertain the audience, or is your allegiance solely to bringing out the truth of this character?
Andie MacDowell: I don’t think about it as entertaining the audience. I think it’s about touching your audience. When I read a book or watch a movie, I feel what the characters are feeling. Sometimes when I watch a movie, I almost feel like I’m in the movie. It’s more along the lines of being honest. And this character, Suzanne, she is so beautifully written. It’s about taking someone on the same journey that these characters go on. In the beginning of the film, she has such confidence and she is very lucky in her life. You see her drinking and having fun with all these people, and there is so much love around her. Then she goes through complete devastation from the loss of her husband, and then it’s the slow road back, including her learning how to have sex with another man. Our director, Russell Harbaugh, is a true artist and I think this movie looks like a piece of art. Although there is nudity throughout the whole film, it’s done in such an artistic way that it makes the story that much richer because you just feel like you are watching these people’s lives.
Allison Kugel: I watched your interview on Off Camera with Sam Jones and you were talking about being sick and tired of women being objectified on film, but there is a difference in how nudity is presented in Love After Love.
Andie MacDowell: Nudity in this film feels human, and similar in the way men’s and women’s nude bodies are depicted. The forms and the shapes and how we were laying on the bed. It’s shown as being real and a part of life.
Allison Kugel: You can see your humanity in the way it was filmed.
Andie MacDowell: And that’s the difference. It wasn’t how women are usually seen. I think women have quite often been used in movies as an object for men. And, you know what, there’s a lot of naked men in this movie. It’s part of the story, and the way it’s presented, you don’t even think about it in that way.
Allison Kugel: You’ve said that you were starving for this type of a role. Beyond the need to no longer be typecast, did playing Suzanne in Love After Love allow you to work out events and emotions from your own life? Was it therapeutic for you?
Andie MacDowell: I have such a well and a huge depth of life experience that I haven’t had the opportunity to use on film. I saw so much that I could do with this character. She has all these different parts of herself. She has this lusty confidence; she’s a self-assured woman that’s not ashamed that she had an open marriage. And then she crumbles. But she is heroic in taking care of her husband, and then devastated at losing him and you then see her destroyed. And then she is trying to start over, and she has that humbling experience of having sex with the person she works with. In the scene where she loses it on the young actress, I really wanted to play that part of things, the ability to be cruel because you’re in pain. We do that as mature women. We’re fed up as mature women and we lash out sometimes. It’s a true moment in the film.
Allison Kugel: Do you feel a sense of relief that the kinds of roles you’re getting to play now are more character-driven, as opposed to the young female lead that you played in the nineties?
Andie MacDowell: I’m thankful for all the jobs I’ve had, and I’ve gotten to do some great parts. I don’t have any regrets, and I think those roles suited me at that age and time. I think as you get older, you are a character (laughs). You have a lot more depth by the time you’re my age, because you’ve had to struggle. My life has not been a piece of cake. I understand what it is to have a complex life, because my life has been complex. By the time you’re my age, you see things differently and I think you have more to offer in a way.
Allison Kugel: How did you feel about being cast as Chris O’Dowd’s mother in this film, playing the mother of an adult child?
Andie MacDowell: I am old enough to be his mother. And I just played another character, recently, where I tried to look even older. I don’t have a problem with looking older. I think I can play ten years older and ten years younger. At some points in the film I looked older than at other times. I think that happens all the time, in real life too, depending on how you’re feeling. I think when you’re sad you look old. I looked younger in the beginning of this film, because I’m happy. And I looked older later in the film because I was damn tired and sad! I think you age like ten years when you’re that sad.
Allison Kugel: This movie is about grieving and finding your way back after the loss of a loved one. What are the things that you turn to when the ground starts to shake beneath your feet? How do you come back to center?
Andie MacDowell: Oh, I’m always looking for center. I hike a lot and I like to be in nature around trees. I love to ride horses…
Allison Kugel: Me too!
Andie MacDowell: Do you? They say that it has a physical effect on you.
Allison Kugel: I believe that. I always say that riding horses is my yoga. People are always bugging me to do yoga and it’s not really my thing. Riding gives me that meditative state.
Andie MacDowell: I should be riding right now. It’s soothing and calming, it lowers your cortisol levels. It’s good for everything. Being around animals in general is really comforting.
Allison Kugel: What do you teach your kids about emotional and spiritual resiliency?
Andie MacDowell: They are spiritual, which I am thankful for. I put no pressure on them to believe anything that I believe, but I think it’s healthy to have spirituality in your life. They also do a lot of yoga. They are very peace-seeking people, and love-seeking people, on the inside. To me, God is love, so they are headed in the right direction.
Allison Kugel: In your late twenties and into your thirties and you were doing movie after movie – Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Green Card; Groundhog’s Day; Four Weddings and a Funeral – and all eyes were on you. What did that moment in time feel like for you?
Andie MacDowell: Well, I could have done a lot more, but one year I did three movies in a year and I realized that I could not be a good mother and do that many movies. I was so popular, and I was so young, that it was easy. I could usually decide when I wanted to work and go find a job; it was that easy. And I would always try to do one independent and one studio film. That would be my goal each year. Life was great. I have to say it was wonderful to be in that position.
Allison Kugel: And then you entered your forties.
Andie MacDowell: Yes, it’s true. People would keep saying to me when I would get interviewed, “How does it feel to turn forty and know that you’re not going to work anymore?” And it really was… kind of like a light switch.
Allison Kugel: Even though you still looked gorgeous and had the same abilities…
Andie MacDowell: Even though I looked gorgeous. It gets harder. I never wanted to complain or whine too much because I always thought it was unattractive. I find it really fascinating that women are finally in a place this year where we are no longer seen as whiners. We’re seen as legitimately having a truth to tell that is finally being told.
Allison Kugel: In the early years of your career, did you ever have a #MeToo moment?
Andie MacDowell: I didn’t ever have sexual problems in the context of my career. I never found myself in any kind of position in this business. I had #MeToo issues, but not in the business. But for me, what I find as relevant and equally as important as the #MeToo movement regarding sexual assault I strongly believe that this is the first time we have had any voice. Women have always been accused of being too emotional. If you’ve studied therapy, early on, according to Carl Jung, a woman who wanted to be independent was crazy. That’s how far we have had to come. Just to be independent, not too long ago, we were called insane. There are so many social issues right now that are really important. My hope is that every aspect of how we have been diminished is going to be opened up. People will see and question why they would have to ask a woman the question that they asked me when I turned forty, yet not ask it of a man. It’s important that we take a hard look at that. That cannot be overlooked if we are to finally be seen as equal human beings on this planet.
Allison Kugel: With Love After Love you did find a role that shows the complexity of a female character.
Andie MacDowell: I am astounded by this film and this role. And Chris O’Dowd is a great person and very talented actor. I was surrounded by remarkable people.
Allison Kugel: Was there a lot of improvisation in this film?
Andie MacDowell: There was a good bit of improv. But with the script, I love the words that [filmmaker] Russell Harbaugh wrote for me. They are not words that I would come up with, so I liked using his words and speaking the way that he wrote her. I’ll tell you what is improved, is the very first scene at the opening of the film, that was improved, the line “Your dad’s pretty good in bed.” That whole thing was improv. There is something really fresh when you do improv because it surprises you. That being said, almost everything else in the script was written and it’s somebody else’s intelligent words being given to me.
Allison Kugel: The question in that first scene that’s asked to your character is, “What is happy?”
Andie MacDowell: That was an honest answer that my character gives, “You can’t always be happy.” A therapist told me that one time (laughs). It was a big revelation; you can’t always be happy.
Allison Kugel: How do you define happy? What does happy mean for you?
Andie MacDowell: I think happiness is peace of mind. It’s definitely not superficial. Happiness is not a big house. I’ve had a big house and I’ve had a small house, and I think I was happier in the smaller house. Happiness is never going to be things. It’s also love and attachment, but to me happiness is really peace of mind.
Allison Kugel: What do you believe in, and who or what do you pray to?
Andie MacDowell: Ha! I pray to a very liberal Jesus. I grew up going to church and it was a warm environment where my mother played the organ and my favorite song was Jesus Loves the Little Children. It’s such a corny little song, but I love it. “All the children of the world; black and yellow, red and white; they’re all precious in His sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I grew up going to Sunday school and sang that song, and it was sweet. It’s nothing to do with politics or any concept that everybody has unfortunately thrown onto my concept of who He is. My belief is in kindness. I’ve also read a lot on Buddhism and I’m a Yogi, and I don’t like the concept of what people have of what the church is nowadays. The whole political thing has ruined it.
Allison Kugel: I love the saying, “Instead of being Christian, be Christ-like.” So much of the judgment that people spew is so interesting to me, because Jesus was a liberal in terms of His lack of judgment on His fellow man.
Andie MacDowell: He was definitely a liberal. He loved the poor people. And He would go into the church and knock over things. He couldn’t stand that kind of behavior. The way my family observed [Christianity] was very sweet. There are so many positive aspects to it. There’s a lot of negative aspects to it too. But if you just sit down at a table, and everybody gets together and holds hands and simply says, “Thank you for the food.” I want to tell people that I’m the good kind, I’m not the ugly kind.
Allison Kugel: “I’m not here to judge you. I have no interest in judging you.”
Andie MacDowell: Right! I’m not here to judge you. Oh, my heavens! And I don’t think about heaven or hell. I think heaven and hell is right here. You can make the world heaven or hell.
Allison Kugel: Earth is a yin and yang experience. You have dark and light, night and day, good and evil, joy and sorrow. That’s all right here. Speaking of which, what do you see as the moral of the story in this movie, Love After Love? What’s the takeaway from this movie?
Andie MacDowell: That we’re broken. Everybody, all of us. I think we’re all broken and we’re just trying to get through life as best as we can.
Allison Kugel: I feel like there should be a “but” there. We’re all broken, but…
Andie MacDowell: But, we’ll get through it together. We need each other and nobody’s perfect.
Allison Kugel: How are you going to ring in your sixtieth birthday next month?
Andie MacDowell: I’m going to be working which is what I like to do! That’s a good thing. I want to do something special. Maybe I’ll go to India. I’ve been wanting to go to India for a long time.
Allison Kugel: What do you think this new decade will bring into your life?
Andie MacDowell: I know what I hope it brings. I would like to do more spiritual work. Go listen to Ram Dass talk, and Marianne Williamson; go to a yoga retreat and cultivate every aspect of myself so that I can continue to work on peace of mind. As you get older, I feel like if you’re going down the right road there is this clarity that you can see in your eyes. It’s a gentleness that is the most beautiful aspect a human can have. That is my goal, to continue to work on that gentle side of myself.
Allison Kugel: The title of this film, Love After Love, I feel like it holds a double meaning. Does it mean finding your life after losing love, or finding love again after losing love, or both?
Andie MacDowell: For me it means that love is a complex thing. You can’t fit it all in one place. In this film, it could mean that maybe we all loved him so much that we needed to learn to love in another way. If you don’t have a person in your life any longer, then you have to find your way to loving other people.
Photo Credits: Sam Jones, IFC
Love After Love is in theatres and On Demand March 30th.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
Same Jersey Shore cast (sans ex-castmate Sammi Giancola), same nickname… new outlook on life. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi started off our conversation by letting me know that she prefers to be called Nicole. The thirty-year-old married mom of Lorenzo, 5, and Giovanna, 3, was also quick to clarify that a duality still exists in her life: subdued suburban mom by day, Jersey Shore’s outrageously funny Snooki by night. Think Clark Kent versus Superman. Which of Nicole’s personas is the superhero and which is the mere mortal? We’ll let you decide.
During her six-year Jersey Shore hiatus, Nicole Polizzi, has transformed her brand, starring alongside Jenni “JWoww” Farley on the MTV spin-off Snooki and JWoww and on Go90 Network’s, Moms with Attitude. Her lifestyle website, TheSnookiShop.com, sells everything from bikinis to cocktail dresses. Nicole’s podcast, It’s Happening with Snooki & Joey, is a look inside her everyday life, and her social media platforms are all about #momlife and #fitnessgoals.
The Seaside Heights crew is back with their MTV reboot, Jersey Shore Family Vacation. The now thirty-somethings are navigating roommate status and being party pals during this new stage of their lives, as older, successful media personalities and parents. According to Nicole, the cast manages to deliver all of the crazy antics you remember, and as she puts it, there’s no need to re-hash old drama when there is so much new fodder that takes place this season on the shores of Miami Beach.
Allison Kugel: When you look at old footage from the early seasons of Jersey Shore, do you recognize that girl?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: It does feel like a lifetime ago. But if I were to say, “that’s not me,” I’d be lying. You never really lose your personality. Sometimes I am goofy. I like to have fun and I’m outgoing. I’m just not going out to the club and finding men, and I’m wearing underwear now (laughs). Just like anyone else, you grow up, but at the same time you don’t lose yourself.
Allison Kugel: In an interview your dad gave years back, he said you had always wanted to be famous and that he figured if he gave you his blessing to do Jersey Shore, you would get it out of your system.
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: It wasn’t necessarily to be famous. I always wanted to be on reality [television]. I was a huge fan of The Real World and Road Rules when I was growing up. I always wanted to be on a show like that, just to experience it, and then go back to my job and have a normal life. I never necessarily wanted to be famous. It was more about doing reality because I was such a reality junkie; I was obsessed with it.
Allison Kugel: Where would you be today, in life, in love, in career, had Jersey Shore never happened?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: I probably would still be living in upstate New York by my mom. I was going to school to be a Vet Tech, so I’d probably be working in an animal hospital somewhere. But I honestly don’t care. I don’t even want to think about that, because I wouldn’t have my husband and I wouldn’t have my kids. It would be a totally different life that I don’t want to think about. The fact that I met my husband during the show is everything. Everything happens for a reason.
Allison Kugel: Do you still have a love for animals?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: When I decided to marry my husband (Jionni LaValle) I gave up a huge part of my life, which were my cats, because he’s allergic. That was so hard, but obviously my husband is my world. I still do love animals and I do a lot of donations to animal charities. I honestly like animals more than people.
Allison Kugel: Why was Jersey Shore Family Vacation shot in Miami and not the Jersey Shore?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: We filmed in January and February, so Jersey was still 20 degrees, snowy and cold. That wouldn’t have been fun, going down the shore because there was nothing there and just snow everywhere. We wanted to go somewhere close, God forbid something happens with the kids, I could book a flight and be home. And we also wanted to go somewhere tropical and beautiful. You can’t really beat Miami.
Allison Kugel: And no spouses, no kids, just the cast?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Just the cast. I really didn’t want my kids on [the show] that much, and I didn’t want to take them out of school. I didn’t feel it was worth it. I think Jenni (“JWoww” Farley) felt the same way. Also, we haven’t lived with each other in about six years, so bringing everyone else in would be crazy. We’re always home with our kids anyway, so we all just wanted to get away from our lives for a second and re-live us being roomies again.
Allison Kugel: What’s the biggest piece of unfinished business among the cast that gets resolved on Jersey Shore Family Vacation?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Personally, for me, I’m so over the drama. I’m thirty years old, I have two kids. That’s what I worry about now, not petty shit from when we were drunk and fighting. For me, I went in forgetting everything and having a clean slate with everyone. I don’t think anyone resolved any past issues from six years ago. I think we were all just so grateful for the fact that we got this opportunity. We were all like, “If there’s any drama, let’s make it new drama. Let’s not harp on old drama.”
Allison Kugel: What did Sammi Giancola bring to the Jersey Shore cast that you missed while filming this new season?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: The fact that she wasn’t there, obviously it feels weird that one of us is missing. It didn’t feel whole. But that was her own choice and we didn’t want to push her. We respected it, and she was fine with it. We did it without her, but it didn’t feel the same.
Allison Kugel: Why do you think your friendship with Jenni “JWoww” Farley has remained as close as it is today?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: We’re best friends and we’ve been working together ever since Jersey Shore ended. We had our Snooki and JWoww spinoff, and now we have Moms with Attitude (Verizon’s Go90 network) with our kids. It helps that we’re always working together. If we’re not, then she’s doing her own thing and traveling, and it’s hard to see each other. The fact that we still have shows together and our kids are involved, it helps us see each other a lot more.
Allison Kugel: What are Jenni’s best qualities?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: She’s honest, she’s always there for me and always has my back, and she’s just real. That’s what I love about her. We have the same qualities when it comes to having each other’s backs and being brutally honest at times.
Allison Kugel: As you mentioned earlier, alcohol consumption fueled a lot of the drama on the original Jersey Shore. How much do you drink these days?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: On the show we like to have a good time together, so being together again, we went out to bars and we drank. We basically tried to do what we used to do, except the hangovers were a lot worse!
Allison Kugel: Tell me about your lifestyle these days, apart from Jersey Shore?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Ever since I had the kids I wanted to get healthy and be able to keep up with them and carry them, so I wanted to get healthier and stronger and have a better lifestyle. Ever since I had Lorenzo, that’s been my way. These days I eat a lot of veggies and chicken, good fats, and I do a lot of spin classes, boxing and I have a trainer that I train with four times a week.
Allison Kugel: What’s something in entertainment that you haven’t attempted and would like to?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: More hosting. It’s fun, because you have to be upbeat and alive, and funny and outgoing. I’d like to do more.
Allison Kugel: Will you forever hold onto the Snooki persona?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Right now it’s transitioning to Nicole. Everyone knows that as a mom, I’m not Snooki. It’s more of a brand name now, and that brand is evolving. On the show as Snooki and JWoww, that’s our time away from the kids and becoming us again and having alone time. We’ll always have our nicknames, but we’re not Snooki and JWoww all the time now. When it comes to being moms, we’re Nicole and Jenni. Fans now mostly ask me about my kids, and are really invested in what’s going on with my kids.
Allison Kugel: How has motherhood shaped who you are today?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Before the kids, I never really had real responsibility. I was always traveling and waking up late, and just living the life that I wanted to live. Once you have kids, it’s all about them. It made me grow up, because I wanted to. And it made me a better person. I think every mom would say that.
Allison Kugel: Explain to me how it feels to be a woman who was adopted, and now having two biological children of your own. What has that given to you?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Being adopted was never really a struggle for me. My parents are my parents, period. But I always had a problem with feeling like, “Oh, I don’t look like anyone and this sucks.” When I had my kids, they looked like me. They’re my twins! It filled that void of me always feeling like no one looks like me, and feeling weird about that. If anything, I feel blessed that now other people look like me in my family.
Allison Kugel: What is something about your belief system; either religiously, spiritually or philosophically, that would surprise people?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: I’m into meditation and I recently opened up my third eye. I like to meditate a lot, I like to talk to the spirit world and to my spirit guide. It helps me stay grounded and humble, especially now that everything is happening again. It also helps me with my anxiety. One of my best friends is a medium, and I wanted to explore my brain a little bit. The first time we meditated together I met my spirit guide. I think for people who want to get into it, go with a mentor or someone who knows everything about it, who can help you. When you do this on your own, you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s helpful to have someone talk you through the process.
Allison Kugel: Tell me about your podcast, It’s Happening with Snooki & Joey.
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: My podcast is me talking to my best friend about pop culture, about what I did that day, my obsessions of the week, healthy tips. I do the podcast with my best friend, Joey. It’s fun to have an amazing gay co-host, because we’re both outrageous. We like to have guests on who are our friends, who people don’t know. I’ll have my trainer on to share tips, and I’ll have other reality stars on as guests. I love having reality stars on because they get it, they have a personality and they’re not filtered.
Allison Kugel: Who are your dream guests?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer.
Allison Kugel: How have you stayed in touch with the entire Jersey Shore cast over the last six years?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: I feel like all of us have stayed in contact a lot, and I’ve stayed close with everyone. Just because we haven’t been on the show for awhile doesn’t mean that we stopped talking to each other. We’re always in group chat. We’re always connecting, making sure everyone’s okay and asking what’s going on.
Allison Kugel: It feels like a family at this point?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: Oh, of course. Always!
Allison Kugel: Why should people tune in to watch Jersey Shore Family Vacation?
Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi: If you’re a fan of Jersey Shore you are not going to be disappointed because we all went crazy! Even though we’re older, we’re still degenerates, so that’s the same (laughs). And I feel like for new fans, they need to hop on board. Even when you’re thirty years old and you have kids, you can still have a good time. Life isn’t over.
Jersey Shore Family Vacation premieres Thursday, April 5th at 8/7c on MTV.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
Few models have seamlessly made the transition to the silver screen and television as successfully as Brooklyn Decker. Brooklyn leapt from the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue (the Oscars of swimsuit modeling) onto the big screen in 2011’s hit rom-com, Just Go With It. Aside from her classic slow-mo emergence from the Hawaiian sea in a swimsuit, reminiscent of the classic film, 10 starring Bo Derek, she held her own opposite comedic heavyweights Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Hollywood took notice, subsequently casting her in 2012’s Battleship, alongside Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna and Liam Neeson. Next up was the ensemble comedy What to Expect When You’re Expecting (based on the mega-bestselling mom-to-be tome) alongside a bevy of A-list actresses, including: Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick. Decker famously played the young and super fit “pregnant unicorn” who leaves actress Elizabeth Banks’ pregnant character scratching her head in envy and disbelief.
On social media, where most celebrities are retouching their images, Brooklyn thinks nothing of going makeup and photoshop-free at times, fearlessly repping the daily rigors of being a multitasking working mom, while adding tech entrepreneur to her growing resume with her recently-funded fashion startup, Finery.
Brooklyn Decker is currently riding a wave of success, playing the role of Mallory Hanson on the hit Netflix series, Grace and Frankie, now in its fourth season. Decker’s character Mallory is a young married mother of four children, navigating complicated relationships with her parents, played by Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen, and her sister, played by June Diane Raphael.
I caught up with this super babe turned superwoman for a chat about the success of Grace and Frankie, how Netflix is transforming the entertainment industry and the evolution of great characters on television.
Allison Kugel: What have you learned about great comedy through playing the role of Mallory on Grace and Frankie?
Brooklyn Decker: I’ve learned from my colleagues on the show, especially June Diane Raphael who plays my sister. She’s one of the most talented comedic actresses I’ve ever worked with. What I’ve learned from her and from the rest of the cast is the more you’re playing a scene, the funnier it becomes. All of us, when we’re shooting, we play with each other… that sounds very in appropriate by the way (laughs)…
Allison Kugel: (Laughs) Don’t worry. My mind was not in the gutter…
Brooklyn Decker: Ha! We’re like, “Can I push you here? Or maybe can you grab my hair here?” We do get physical, and we find a way to play with each other to bring physicality to the scene. What happens from that is it becomes funnier, and it feels more real. I really learned that from June, who, again is one of the funniest people in my life. And the wealth of talent on our show is just incredible. I’ve really learned that when it comes to comedy, if you’re having a fun time, the audience is going to have a fun time.
Allison Kugel: I agree! June Diane Raphael is a very talented comedic actress, and the two of you play so well off each other as sisters on the show. There’s an interesting parallel of female relationships on Grace and Frankie. You have the close relationship between Jane Fonda’s character, Grace, and Lily Tomlin’s character, Frankie. At the same time, there is the sister relationship between your character, Mallory, and June’s character, Brianna. You don’t often get to see one close female relationship on television, so two female storylines in one show is pretty cool!
Brooklyn Decker: You’re one of the few people who have clued into that. Someone else commented to me that it’s rare to see sisters on television. There aren’t these female relationships that are at a deep level. I feel like Grace and Frankie does a really good job of showing sisterhood as friendship. But yeah, you are one of the few people who have mentioned that.
Allison Kugel: Thank you for that, and I’m surprised more people haven’t made that observation. Tell me the difference between Jane Fonda’s comedic style versus Lily Tomlin’s comedic style.
Brooklyn Decker: They approach their work entirely differently from one another. Lily is just in the scene. She doesn’t care about the technical aspect of a scene. She just wants to be present and then receive. As far as her character Frankie goes, she really embodies that. Jane is so technically perfect. She knows where every camera is, she knows when to take a pause, she knows how to angle her face. They do very few takes with Jane, because everything is pretty perfect. Whereas Lily gets on set and likes to play. You get something different from Lily on every take, because she’s constantly playing, constantly moving. They approach acting so differently; it’s similar to the difference in their characters. It’s fascinating to see the two of them work together. They just rib each other all day long. You can see that there’s so much love and history there.
Allison Kugel: Because they’ve worked together before…
Brooklyn Decker: Yep, 9 to 5!
Allison Kugel: One of my favorite movies of all time! Speaking of which, will Dolly Parton make a guest appearance on Grace and Frankie?
Brooklyn Decker: Abso-freakin-lutely! We beg for it every episode. They’re so secretive about it, that I don’t know if it is in the works, or if it will ever happen. I know that a lot of fans of Jane and Lily have wanted to see Dolly on the show because of 9 to 5. In the first two seasons they wanted to make sure that they fleshed out the show before they brought in what would be the tornado that is Dolly Parton. Now that we are in Season Four, they are playing it super close to the vest.
Allison Kugel: How is it having Martin Sheen, who is also a fantastic actor, playing your father?
Brooklyn Decker: He is such a wonderful person. One of my favorite shows of all time, before doing Grace and Frankie, was The West Wing. Everyone says you should never meet your heroes because you’ll be disappointed. I was nervous to work with him, because I really had him on this pedestal. And he is such a kind, present, lovely person. My son was born when I was shooting the show, and the next week he brought me a rosary with the date that my son was born. He’s so paternal and wonderful, and to be able to play his daughter feels really natural. I have such respect and affection for him.
Allison Kugel: You were pregnant in Season Three? I just watched it and you weighed 2 lbs!
Brooklyn Decker: Well, no, I was pregnant in Season Two, and then I was pregnant with my second this upcoming Season Four.
Allison Kugel: I’m going to be on the lookout for a bump in Season Four!
Brooklyn Decker: It’s so confusing. June and I have four children altogether, off the show, and I have four children on the show. We have trouble keeping up with what’s real and what’s fake. It’s all very confusing (laughs).
Allison Kugel: Do yours and June’s kids have playdates?
Brooklyn Decker: Yes. When I’m in LA they have; when we all get together.
Allison Kugel: Could you see you and your husband (tennis star, Andy Roddick) being parents to four kids like your character Mallory?
Brooklyn Decker: Honestly, that’s my dream! I want a ton of children. Both me and my brother wish that we had more brothers and sisters. Whereas my husband comes from a family with three boys, and he likes the idea of two. So far, we’re good with two and we’ll see where that takes us.
Allison Kugel: Of course, the main plotline of Grace and Frankie is that Robert and Sol, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, come out as gay after their kids are grown up, they announce they’re in love and leave their respective wives (played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) to be together. Your character, Mallory, being one of the grown children, has to process and deal with that on the show. Have you ever thought about how you would react if that were to happen in your real life? If you had a parent who came out later in life and left your other parent, how do you think you and your brother might have handled those circumstances?
Brooklyn Decker: That’s interesting. I’ve had two male friends who had children and came out to their wives later in life. It hasn’t happened to me, personally, but people do go through it and I think I can relate to the kids on the show. During Season One, one of the more poignant moments was a scene when all of the kids were having a conversation, and basically saying, “We’re not mad that dad’s gay. We love dad no matter what. We’re mad that he’s been lying to his wife, our mother and our family, for twenty years. For me it would be about the fact that they’ve been having an affair for twenty years; that would be a big deal. June’s character, Brianna, said on the show, “What if dad had been having an affair with a woman? We would all be pissed. But because it’s a man, we have to accept it.” I think that is so true. That was an interesting thing to tackle on the show, and I feel like that would probably be true in real life. If a parent was having an affair, and had been having an affair with one person for so many years, that would be the issue. For me, it would be less about their sexual orientation.
Allison Kugel: You came on the scene as a model. Back when you were on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, was the end goal an acting career?
Brooklyn Decker: When I moved to New York and first started modeling, I moved thinking that I was just going to pay for school. That was the goal. When I started modeling I was eighteen, and all of my friends were in their freshman year at college. I really missed that. The reason I started studying acting was because I really missed school. My manager said, “Why don’t you get an acting coach and study acting? It will at least give you something to read and study when you’re on the road.” I liked that idea, so I started studying with a coach in New York and we started reading a bunch of Tennessee Williams. We approached it in a weird way, kind of academically. It was less about performance and more about learning and studying. I fell in love with studying acting. When I started auditioning, I didn’t think anything would come from it.
Allison Kugel: What made you come to that conclusion?
Brooklyn Decker: Growing up in Matthew, North Carolina, becoming an actor and becoming a model wasn’t a realistic career path. My brother’s a firefighter, my mom’s a retired nurse. It’s not something that you do where I’m from. We weren’t in the arts. In that respect, it was something that happened by chance. Once I started studying and auditioning, I fell in love with it and then of course I really wanted it. By 2010, I got three movies in one year. The second I booked my third movie, I said to my manager, “I’m quitting modeling. I’m done.”
Allison Kugel: One of those movies was Just Go With It with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston?
Brooklyn Decker: Just Go With It, Battleship and What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Once I booked my third movie, I had the courage to decide to stop modeling and focus on acting, and that was seven years ago.
Allison Kugel: At what point did you feel like you made the transition from a model who’s done some acting, to an actor?
Brooklyn Decker: I don’t feel like that… yet.
Allison Kugel: You don’t??
Brooklyn Decker: I do think that as a model, especially one who was in Sports Illustrated, which really puts you on the map, you have a lot to prove. People are constantly viewing you as one thing, and seeing you as sort of a wannabe (laughs).
Allison Kugel: I get it. When you’re on the Grace and Frankie set, you’re surrounded by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sam Waterston, Martin Sheen, June Diane Raphael who is a seasoned comedienne. You got a seat at the table, but are you constantly questioning, “Do I belong here?” “Should I be here?” Or do you feel like, “Yes! I belong here.”?
Brooklyn Decker: I feel the insecurity that you just said of “do I belong here?” every single day. I think it’s me. It’s my own neurosis. But I do think that no matter what, any actor, and I’ve been acting full time now for seven or eight years, but any relatively new actor would feel insecure working with that group of actors. But I do feel a little bit more insecure because of where I came from, for sure.
Allison Kugel: How does the cast feel about you?
Brooklyn Decker: I don’t think they care. Jane is an ultra-feminist and she does not care what your past is. Her attitude is if you’re here, you are part of the show. I think that is how everyone feels.
Allison Kugel: What would you say is the overarching moral of the story, or the overarching message of Grace and Frankie?
Brooklyn Decker: I think it really is that love and relationships come in all forms. Family can come in all forms. If you look at the central story, it’s the story of two women who typically aren’t represented on television. We don’t usually get to see women who are 80 going through life, and this show explores that. Second to that, I think it shows different forms of relationships. You have the two brothers who are adopted, and you see them navigating that with their parents. You have two sisters who have chosen completely different lives from one another, Grace and Frankie are exploring this sisterhood and family between the two of them, as two single women in their eighties. And Sol and Robert are a gay older couple who have just come out and are married.
Allison Kugel: This show throws a lot of the “shoulds” that society places on us out the window.
Brooklyn Decker: In Season Three, Sam and Martin’s characters were wanting to go to gay clubs and open up their relationship, and they were wondering what gay couples are supposed to do. A lot of it was they thought they were supposed to be doing something because they’re gay. Just like Grace and Frankie feel all of these cultural expectations on them because they’re 80 years old. You see each of these characters defy what the societal expectations and projections are. It’s about busting through expectations placed on people.
Allison Kugel: In past generations, television didn’t reflect the true messiness of life. I can remember my mother telling me that she would watch shows like Father Knows Best or Leave It To Beaver, where everything was so perfect and idyllic, and she would wonder why her family wasn’t TV perfect. The stories we are seeing now on television are embracing the messiness of life, which is what real life is.
Brooklyn Decker: Exactly! And the messiness is more interesting and what’s fun to watch. I don’t know what Netflix’s expectations were, but I do know there was pressure surrounding us when we were filming the first Season. The Netflix streaming demographic was a relatively new concept at the time, and they didn’t know who the audience was for this. What Netflix has discovered, and why it’s such a huge hit, is because it resonates with people in its messiness. The show makes people laugh, makes people cry… there are things people relate to and things that people learn from. Right now, more than ever, people want something that feels real, but also lifts them up. They need thirty minutes to have fun.
Allison Kugel: What are your thoughts on the movement that Netflix has become? The fact that so many talented writers and actors are flocking to this platform, and everybody is coming on board and trying to be a part of it?
Brooklyn Decker: What’s so exciting about it is that, ultimately, the talent wins out. It’s the first time that we’ve really had that in Hollywood. Because there is such a wealth of opportunity now, you are really getting to see talent. The cool thing about Netflix is they can just make really good content, and with that, they can hire really good talent and they don’t have to be stars. Netflix doesn’t have to share their numbers, and they don’t share their numbers. They’re not about making sales at the box office, so they can just focus on making great content. You’re seeing the result of that. With the way the business is changing, talent wins out, and that’s exciting.
Allison Kugel: Apart from the amazing Lisa Kudrow, are there any other interesting guest stars coming up on Season Four?
Brooklyn Decker: I don’t want to reveal who the guest starring actor is, but the important and interesting thing is the storyline with this actor. Sam and Martin are having a hard time in their relationship, and they ask themselves if they should bring a third party into it.
Allison Kugel: The honeymoon phase for Sam and Martin’s characters is over, and now they’re having problems just like any other couple.
Brooklyn Decker: Yep, real relationship problems.
Allison Kugel: Your character, Mallory, announced that she is separating from her husband on the last episode of Season Three. Can you share how that unfolds this season?
Brooklyn Decker: I play a woman who got married out of college and who hasn’t been in the professional world at all. For the first time, I have to figure out what I want to do with my life, and Mallory goes back to work. And I may or may not be seeking employment with one of the family members.
Allison Kugel: On another note, I want to congratulate you on getting funding for your tech startup, Finery! Can you share a bit about what the Finery app does?
Brooklyn Decker: When you think about what iTunes did for music - before iTunes you had tons of CDs in your car or in your house in a CD rack - iTunes took it all completely digital. We are doing that for your wardrobe. Everything is automated these days. Your banking is on your phone, your music is on your phone, your correspondence, everything. The one thing that’s still antiquated is your interaction with your wardrobe. Women will spend two hours a week figuring out what to wear. It’s not because we necessarily love clothes, or because we are fashion loving women, it’s because we need to get dressed. We felt there had to be a better way, and women can spend those two hours doing something more productive. We call ourselves your Wardrobe Operating System.
Allison Kugel: What is a day in the life of Brooklyn Decker? You’ve got the TV show, the Finery app, the two small kids and the husband. How does it all break down day-to-day?
Brooklyn Decker: That’s something I’m still navigating. Fortunately, we have been on hiatus for the show for the last couple of months. When we were thinking about baby #2 we wanted to plan it around Grace and Frankie, so I didn’t have to come back to work right away. Our baby was born at the end of November, and we did our fundraising for this seed round for Finery starting in July and August. It all worked out that I wrapped the show, we did the [fund]raise, and then I was off four weeks before the baby was born, which was good because my doctor told me I couldn’t travel 30 days before my due date. We literally flew from San Francisco and I landed back in Austin (Decker and Roddick’s home city) at midnight, exactly 30 days before my due date (laughs). We had the baby, and now I’m back to work promoting Grace and Frankie and Finery.
Allison Kugel: You’re making me tired! I need a nap now (laughs).
Brooklyn Decker: And I’m not finished! Finery is based in New York, I’m based in Austin and for Grace and Frankie I work on the west coast. Yesterday I had conference calls for Finery, I was getting ready to fly to LA to do all Grace and Frankie press. Tomorrow I’ll fly back to Austin and I’ll be with my family. Our Finery CEO is coming into Austin for meetings. It’s a juggling act, but I have a husband who is retired and who is wonderful. He is around and present with our kids, which is amazing; and I have a nanny. My family couldn’t afford a nanny when we were growing up, but we had neighbors. I’m lucky to have people around me who help, and I swear, it takes a village!
Season 4 of Grace and Frankie is now streaming on Netflix. Learn more about Finery.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
Dr. Drew Pinsky’s long running call-in show Loveline, with Adam Carolla, aired on MTV for 32 years and pioneered a pop culture adaptation of relationship and safe sex education. The show, featuring an assortment of celebrity guest hosts, served as a lifeline to multiple generations. Dr. Drew’s Teen Mom franchise, also an MTV staple, opened the eyes of television viewers to the trials of teen pregnancy and teen parenthood where previous methods had fallen short. Dr. Drew’s critically acclaimed VH1 docu-series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and it spinoffs Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew and Sober House, allowed viewers an intimate look inside the causes of addiction and the arduous road to addiction recovery.
With his HLN show, Dr. Drew On Call, which aired from 2011 to 2016, he broadened his television audience, delving into the behavioral components behind the headlines of the day. Dr. Drew’s New York Times bestselling book, The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America (Harper Collins), examines the widespread adoption of celebrity narcissism within our culture.
A true advocate who has spent decades bringing once-taboo health matters to the forefront of public discussion, he now hosts MTV’s Teen Mom OG, KABC’s Dr. Drew Midday Live and The Dr. Drew Podcast, the #1 health podcast on iTunes.
A health crisis that is gripping our nation is that of adolescent mental health and gun violence. This generation is dealing with a problem that goes far beyond typical teenage angst, as it deals with the frightening fallout from a broken healthcare system and gun control laws that have failed to address our societal landscape. These issues intersect at the corner of one of our biggest political and social quagmires. Unfortunately, gun violence is nothing new to young people from America’s poorer urban pockets who have been living under its threat for decades. Gun-related injuries and fatalities in school settings date back to the 18th century, with the first American school shooting on record taking place on July 26, 1764 in the town of Greencastle, Pennsylvania.
The epidemic of mass shootings in more affluent suburban enclaves entered the public’s consciousness on April 20, 1999 in Littleton, Colorado, at Columbine High School. The most recent school shooting that took place on February 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has left an encouraging and unstoppable movement in its wake, reminiscent of the social and political mobilization of the 1960s and 1970s.
The courage, clarity, and strength the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas have demonstrated in the face of unspeakable tragedy, and their ability to mobilize a nation, inspired me to sit down with Dr. Drew Pinsky for a frank discussion about the state of adolescent mental health and its intersection with gun violence in America.
Allison Kugel: Why are school shootings a recent phenomenon over the last 19/20 years?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: There’s a multiplicity of factors and no simple answer. Obviously, it’s guns and the type of guns. But in addition, it’s the access that people have; people who have a proclivity towards self-harm or harming others (The Florida state Senate just passed a bill upping the legal age to purchase a fire arm from 18 to 21 and mandating a 3-day waiting period. It now falls on Florida state Congress to vote). We all know that adolescent males will complete suicide because of their use of fire arms. It’s not a far reach from feeling that your own life doesn’t have meaning to other people’s lives not having meaning. We’ve connected that bridge now.
Allison Kugel: What leads a young man to get to the point where they no longer value their own life?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Within adolescent depression it becomes a special case when they have this sort of magical thinking that this will solve their problems, and they’ll be around to see the solution after they’re gone. But we’re seeing this in young adults, not just adolescents. I happen to believe, and this is one man’s opinion and it’s hard to substantiate the data, but we’ve been through an epidemic staring in the 1960s of adverse childhood experience. Our families are unhealthy. My work in media has been almost exclusively dealing with people with addiction issues and addiction medicine; people with issues of physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect in their childhood. These are profound injuries. Among those injured are people who don’t have the ability to regulate their emotions or really have any sense of empathy for others. We have a growing population of people who have difficulty with empathy and difficulty with emotional regulation… and a firearm. It’s a pretty potent combination. And we have drugs and alcohol; we have a massive problem with that. I’ve begun to think of it all as sort of this spiritual bankruptcy.
Allison Kugel: When I am speaking with a physician, like yourself, I always wonder how you feel about the intangible factors, like a spiritual component.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I am always challenged by my patients in that regard. They will tell me that their recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, that I turned them towards it, but really it’s the spiritual connection they make that actually leads them into a full recovery. I’m okay with that. Whatever gets them there! I think there can be a stigma with words like “soul” or “spiritual” because people tend to equate them with religion. But I think [spiritual] is a word people can understand without indoctrinating religion into it. Whatever it is, we need to feed our souls and feed our spiritual life in a much better way. It starts with our families and our relationships, and our communities.
Allison Kugel: Do you think social media and being tied into this Matrix-like existence instead of being more community oriented like in generations past, do you feel it’s leading to a spiritual breakdown?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I think it has accelerated the mob, and mob-like behavior. It gives people a sense of pseudo-intimacy, which is quasi-pathological. It’s not real. There is a sense of connection, with no real connection. It gratifies only the most basest of emotions – envy, aggression, arousal, and all of these addictive emotions. It doesn’t do anything for empathy, nurturing, service, making a difference. I don’t see it as the cause, but as an amplifier of these problems. When I wrote my book about narcissism years ago (The Mirror Effect/Harper Collins), I wanted to include a chapter on previous moments in history where narcissism had prevailed and where childhood trauma has been prevalent. Wherever I found those trends, I found mob action, guillotines and mob aggression. We’re seeing it now, and it just happens to be in social media.
Allison Kugel: What are your thoughts about how media chooses to cover these mass shootings and other large scale violent crimes?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: There’s contagion, not doubt about it. There’s contagion with things like suicide, all sorts of violent acts, and with pathological behaviors like cutting. All these things have contagion associated with them. I almost feel like it’s a double-edged sword. Yes, there’s contagion, but we also have to take a good hard look at the realities we face.
Allison Kugel: And when you say “contagion” you’re talking about the copy-cat effect, just to clarify for people. Personally, I feel that releasing the person’s picture and their name, and analyzing their motives is playing into their pathological desire to gain attention for their act.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: There’s no doubt that the thinking of the perpetrator includes things like that, but not saying their name also gives it a kind of energy that I think is weird. I’d like to see the evidence that holding back the name somehow reduces the contagion effect. I just don’t see it.
Allison Kugel: Let’s talk about you. When you were in high school and college, what coping skills did you cultivate to deal with things like anxiety, depression, stress and peer pressure?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I had a problem with that. I had panic attacks. I’m still formally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was depressed when I was nineteen and there were no services for adolescents at that time. I think that’s what got me interested in helping that population with mental health, in general. I was so mishandled, it was egregious. I thought maybe I was having a seizure when I was having a panic attack; I wasn’t sure what it was. But I understood there was a mental health issue. I went for help and I was told that I needed to get my act together, and I should take long walks in the woods. I would have happily gotten my act together (laughs)! And I was socially awkward, I was living in New England in college and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. What got me out of that was finding purpose. Finding medicine and science, getting turned on by that and getting into it, and feeling good about what I was doing. That’s what helped me climb out. And I had therapy, though the therapy I had in college wasn’t very good
Allison Kugel: In the late seventies, wasn’t the field of mental health first really understanding what anxiety was, and first beginning to treat it?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: They knew what anxiety was. They didn’t really understand the developmental phenomenology and psychiatry of adolescents. That was poorly understood, and certainly what to do with it was even more poorly understood. My wife and I have triplets, and we’ve used mental health services all the way through in raising our family, every step of the way, and it’s yielded dividends. We used behavioral therapists when our kids were very young, and it’s always yielded results and been positive for us.
Allison Kugel: What kind of support system did you have around you in those early years?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I had very limited support. I was connected, but not intimately connected, and I didn’t understand really what I was feeling, I didn’t have that insight. I remember reading a lot of material that really didn’t help. There was nowhere to turn at that time, and I’m angry about it to this day. But again, it’s what made me interested in mental health, and in adolescent mental health.
Allison Kugel: Is that why you’ve cultivated this public platform? As Dr. Drew, you are very much looked up to by young people as a valuable source of information.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: It was actually more of a fortunate accident in my life. I’d always been interested in public speaking, and in my fourth year of medical school somebody asked me to give some commentary on a radio show. When I went in there I had this very powerful instinct that this was important. No one was talking to people about AIDS and safe sex. The term “safe sex” hadn’t been invented yet. I couldn’t believe the lack of knowledge out there, and the lack of willingness to talk to adolescents. What I said at the time was that the whole sexual revolution had been perpetrated by adults without ever really thinking about what it was going to do to adolescents. I was twenty-four years old and I thought, “I know what seventeen and eighteen-year olds are up to, and they need to know about HIV and AIDS.” It wasn’t even HIV yet. They had just started calling it AIDS at the time. I was dealing with it in my [medical] training every day. People forget about that period of history. It motivated me to get out there and talk about it.
Allison Kugel: How did you parlay this into Loveline for MTV?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I was doing [radio] once a week. It was a great social outlet for me and it was late at night on a Sunday, so I could fit it into my schedule. I did that for ten years for free. I looked at it like I was doing community service. The week my wife got pregnant with triplets was the week that the radio powers-that-be decided they wanted to put the radio show on five nights a week. To which my wife said, “No more community service. If you’re not changing diapers, you’re getting paid!” I walked into the radio station hat-in-hand and asked for a job. It kept going from there and then these television guys showed up and we ended up doing Loveline on MTV. We would film six shows a week on Friday and Saturday, and the rest of the week I practiced medicine. I was a severe workaholic in those days. It really wasn’t until 2010 when I was doing HLN’s Dr. Drew On Call that I felt it was okay to officially say I’m on to my second career. That’s when I started dialing down my clinical material and started really focusing on creating media.
Allison Kugel: What kind of impact do you feel you’ve had on young people?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I hope I make them think. I’ve broadened the scope of who I want to influence. I’m not just trying to influence young people. I would like to influence all different age groups. Ultimately, particularly with young people, I’ve noticed that the most efficient way to affect their behavior is to give them a relatable source. If you remember, Loveline was about taking phone calls and then we would analyze the cases. With Teen Mom, it’s about looking at the consequences of teen pregnancy. When they approached me about Teen Mom, I knew it would have a positive effect on teen pregnancy; I just knew it. And lo and behold, there is ample research now to show that it did (according to the CDC, teenage births have steadily declined, across all ethnicities, over the last ten years). For young people, I always like looking at the behavior, and then saying, “Here’s how to analyze that, here’s what this means.”
Allison Kugel: I think you should do another television show for that same demographic, focusing on the importance of overall mental health.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Well that’s what Teen Mom is. Teen pregnancy is a symptom of a mental health problem. Other people look at it as a social issue. I look at it as a symptom of somebody who has some mental health issues. And you can see, as these women grow up, there are significant issues there. But television is a strange beast. You can’t be overtly didactic. It has to be hidden in the story.
Allison Kugel: Like you, I live with anxiety and panic disorder. I’ve always had to be pro-active about my mental health, like the way other people go to the gym to stay in shape. My concern is that the importance of staying on top of your mental health needs to be communicated to young people, in mass.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I certainly try. On HLN, almost every night I would chant, “Why do we treat medical conditions above the neck differently than medical conditions below the neck?” In other words, why are brain disorders special? Brain disorders are the same as pancreas disorders. It just happens to affect an organ that is associated with our concept of behavior. Just like you would treat your heart or your pancreas or your lungs, it’s medical matter. And treatment works. People need to stop associating it with stigma, or a moral failing, or as any different than any other medical issue. You and I also know it’s brushing past a larger issue, which we would call “spiritual.” It ties into mental health, and I feel that is a bigger social, psychological problem affecting our society. At its core, it’s about our relationships.
Allison Kugel: We’re seeing a disturbing trend of young males and gun violence. What are we missing when it comes to male adolescent mental health?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Adolescent males, when they have spiritual and psychological problems, become aggressive. And when they don’t have some sort of outlet that they are engaged in, any time there’s social unrest, there’s young males. That’s just the way we’re wired. Males need to be challenged. This sort of co-dependent helicopter parenting over the last twenty years has been about preventing children from experiencing discomfort. I think there is a major deficiency right now. In addition to our spiritual emptiness, we have lost the ability to tolerate ordinary misery. Ordinary misery is good. And our children need to experience ordinary misery to learn how to regulate their emotions and overcome. Unless we are challenged we feel deficient. Because of our narcissism as parents we can’t tolerate seeing the child’s discomfort and disappointment, because it mobilizes our own internal misery, which we avoid. We use drugs and alcohol, and extreme sports, and all kinds of ways of avoiding. But when we include our children in making sure they don’t have those feelings as well, there’s a problem. I think that in some way, it is affecting the young male. It’s probably experienced differently from the young female.
Allison Kugel: Yes, females internalize emotions.
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Women go in, men go out.
Allison Kugel: I’m going to throw a scenario at you, and tell me what you think could be a viable solution: A single parent home with limited financial resources, and an under-supervised child who’s beginning to show signs of deteriorating mental health…
Dr. Drew Pinsky: I feel unworthy of the question you’re asking me, except to say, like we’ve been discussing, make sure there is access to mental health services and that there is no stigma associated with that. But there are other solutions which goes under the heading of Mutual Aid, whether it’s a church or a community. I’m thinking about that book, Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster). Have you read that book? It’s about the decline of club membership in the United States. I think we’re all bowling alone (laughs). And you can’t do it; you can’t do it by yourself! But you also can’t do it with perfunctory supervision. There has to be real, intimate contact and I’m not sure we know how to do that. That’s why where there are resources out there, we need to deploy it and amplify it, and build community around it. Many people are not good at it and don’t even tolerate closeness anymore, mostly because many people have been neglected or abused. When you’ve been hurt as a result of close relation, guess what you want to avoid in the future. We must overcome that.
Allison Kugel: What are your thoughts on the students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and the #NeverAgain movement?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: Like the rest of us, I am so impressed with their poise, and their willingness to make change. They’re taking action. They’re being vulnerable and present. It’s inspirational. What I see gives me great hope.
Visit http://drdrew.com/get-help/ for assistance in finding mental health support services. For help with anxiety and depression, visit https://adaa.org/finding-help/treatment. Tune in to The Dr. Drew Podcast and Dr. Drew Midday Live.
Allison Kugel is a syndicated entertainment and pop culture journalist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel.
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Thank you for visiting, and for taking interest in my work as a journalist. It means the world to me!
I would love to share more of my story with you through my book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Funny title, right? I try to inject irony and humor into everything I do. It makes life more interesting.
Humor aside, my book delves into my life as an entertainment journalist with lots of fun and interesting behind-the-scenes moments. However, I also take you on an intimate journey through my experiences with anxiety, panic attacks and OCD that I experienced since childhood; and how I found healing and strength through those experiences. I would be honored to have you read my story, and I hope it helps you or someone you love.
Just click the Amazon button above, below my book cover, to get your copy.