The Hollywood Reporter‘s Drama Actress Roundtable was set to take place two weeks before it actually did. But as the country hit a boil, erupting in protest following the killing of George Floyd, its early June timing no longer felt right.
The actresses — The Morning Show‘s Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon (also of Little Fires Everywhere and Big Little Lies), Homecoming‘s Janelle Monáe, Euphoria‘s Zendaya, Mrs. America‘s Rose Byrne and The Crown‘s Helena Bonham Carter — collectively decided they needed the space and time to properly process what was happening around them. And with it, a chance to listen and learn.
When the sextet ultimately came to the (virtual) table on June 20, they spoke candidly about their own reckonings along with their professional fears and the power that they, as women, have now like never before. As Witherspoon says at one point, “We know that we matter.”
We are living through a unique moment in history, both with the pandemic and, more recently, the social unrest. What have you learned about yourselves during this time?
REESE WITHERSPOON A lot, and I’m continuing to learn. I think being an awake, aware, conscious, empathetic, thoughtful human being, if you have even an ounce of any of that, it’s pretty exhausting and morally trying. And it’s been a time to really dig deep and examine what are you doing in your life and in your business and in your work and really look at those things with new eyes.
JENNIFER ANISTON And having the [space] to be alone and not be distracted has been almost divine timing in terms of the order of how everything has unfolded. I think that’s a blessing of this pandemic because there wasn’t any chance for people to get distracted going back to work or going out to dinners or whatever. We were all pulled together, and it feels extremely unifying and oddly beautiful. And I’ve never read more in my life.
HELENA BONHAM CARTER I’m over here in London, and it’s extraordinary that there is one thing that has unified us all and yet we are all having very different experiences, depending on your privilege, your situation economically and also your health. I haven’t been directly affected or known anyone who’s been badly affected by COVID, so it’s the luxury of time that we don’t [ordinarily] have. It’s fascinating that we have to rely on the whole world stopping for us to stop.
BONHAM CARTER And with the Black Lives [Matter] movement, because it’s happening now, we have the time to properly consider it and see what everyone can do about it. People have said, “Do you think it would have happened if COVID hadn’t happened?” And I feel unfortunately not.
ANISTON I agree with you.
BONHAM CARTER Everyone has the time and the space to actually change society on a profound level. But it’s extraordinary living through history. We are very privileged. And I know that this time for me has been utterly precious and I think I’ll come away with things that are profoundly changed. Also, as an actor, it’s a nice thing because everybody is as unemployed as I am and I don’t have to worry about it. You’re always looking over your shoulder. (Laughter.)