In the television show Pose, which is about the transgender community in New York during the 1980s, Ryan Murphy has created a world full of glory, heartbreak, and sky-high heels that does not—and, seemingly, cannot—exist in feature films. Nowadays, movies must attract a superhero-hungry global audience with mass taste, so television is where directors and actors turn to express their personal interests. Shows like Pose used to be made as independent films—in fact, Pose was inspired by the groundbreaking indie documentary Paris Is Burning, which was released in 1990. For the past three years, we have put together this portfolio to spotlight actors and actresses who shine on TV, and every year there are even more interesting projects, especially for women, on the small screen. Dakota Fanning, for example, was attracted to the strength of her character in The Alienist, which is based on the 1994 best-selling book by Caleb Carr. Originally meant to become a feature film, this potboiler detective story set at the turn of the 20th century was too layered and complex to fit into the traditional two-hour movie format; the TV series, on the other hand, preserves the novel’s dense narratives. Homeland, another complex show, was created with Claire Danes in mind for the role of Carrie Mathison, a bipolar CIA agent. Danes was one of the first actresses to recognize the shifting TV landscape and smoothed the path for women like Rachel Brosnahan, who is wonderful as the frustrated housewife who becomes a stand-up comedian in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Katherine Langford, whose sensitive portrayal of a suicidal teenage girl made her an instant star in 13 Reasons Why; and the brilliant Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is harrowing and powerful as a sex worker turned porn director in The Deuce. TV’s allure is not just about interesting parts but also about creative control. Murphy, for instance, could easily segue to film but has just signed a generous deal with Netflix, where he is free to create unique and multifaceted characters—just ask the actor Evan Peters, who has costarred in eight Murphy projects, playing everything from a cult leader in American Horror Story to, most recently, a besotted yuppie in Pose. Taylor Sheridan, who was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay for the film Hell or High Water, created Yellowstone, writing and directing every episode, and personally casting Luke Grimes, who is riveting as a rebellious son working on his family’s ranch. Frankie Shaw developed SMILF, her semi-autobiographical story about a single mom–actress–basketball player. After her short film received a prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the project found a perfect home on premium cable. There is also less typecasting on TV. When Daveed Diggs was cast on Black-ish as the coolest family member, he had just won the Tony Award for his performances as Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton, and had not been offered any compelling film roles. Likewise, Tahar Rahim had routinely been considered for film parts as a stereotypical villain. Instead, The Looming Tower, which details the events prior to 9/11, gave him a chance to create a nuanced hero. Conversely, Aubrey Plaza, who is widely known for her quirky dream-girl charm, longed to play more intense roles, and Legion lets her embrace her darker tendencies. Dominic Cooper is also best known for sunny characters in films like Mamma Mia!, and yet, in Preacher, he gets the opportunity to be malevolent and antisocial. Best of all, working for television no longer precludes a film career, as it once did: Take it from our two cover stars. Millie Bobby Brown rose to stardom as Eleven, a girl with supernatural powers on the hit series Stranger Things, and will soon star in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Letitia Wright cut her teeth on British TV, starring in Holby City, Top Boy, and Humans before being cast as Shuri in the block-buster Black Panther. That’s not to say that they are leaving their TV days behind. Quite the opposite, in fact: Brown reportedly just signed a $3 million deal for the new season of Stranger Things; and what did Wright take on, straight after filming for Black Panther wrapped up? A suitably unexpected, challenging role on the Netflix hit Black Mirror.
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
When I auditioned for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I wore this yellow shirt that I thought was adorable, but they asked me to change my clothes for my second audition, so I guess it wasn’t as adorable as I thought! The costumes are a huge part of Midge, my character. Her outer appearance is something she takes an enormous amount of pride in. Between the corset, the petticoats, the tights and the beautiful dresses, hair and makeup, I feel completely transformed when I walk out of my trailer. That’s my favorite part about being an actor. It always has been.
Mrs. Maisel does stand-up comedy. Were you nervous about being funny in front of an audience?
Comedy is terrifying. It’s probably the worst thing i could imagine anyone doing to themselves–and also the most exhilarating. But I would absolutely not attempt stand-up as myself. Nope. No. No. No. Never. Even as Midge, I do a lot of power posing in my dressing room to gain confidence.
Brosnahan wears a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress and boots.
Source: W Magazine