Missy Pyle plays a Nancy Grace-ish cable-news host in Gone Girl
By Chris Gardner
This story first appeared in the 2014 Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
A huge chunk of the fun in David Fincher’s Gone Girl — based on a nail-biting book and faithful screenplay, both by former journalist Gillian Flynn — is seeing how the storytellers present the media’s pounce on the ratings juggernaut of a modern-day mystery: Did handsome bar owner Nick Dunne kill his beautiful yet complicated (and still missing) wife, Amy? The dishy part of the satire is brought to life with the help of Missi Pyle, 42, who plays sensationalistic cable news host Ellen Abbott, a juicy character inspired, of course, by HLN’s Nancy Grace. Although Pyle and the Atlanta-based mother of twins never have met, they spoke with THR just days after Grace caught Pyle’s performance in Gone Girl.
"I was so proud and pleased that you were the one who played me," said Grace, 55, who admittedly was nervous about how she’d be portrayed. But with the tables turned and the actress asking the questions, it was Pyle who felt nervous as she grilled a playful Grace — whom Pyle has referred to during awards season as a "baller" and "badass" — about her reaction to the Fox film (spoilers ahead!), her favorite Nancy Grace-inspired characters and, naturally, Ben Affleck’s penis.
Read more: Watch the Amazing Cat Version of ‘Gone Girl’
Nancy, I think you’re an amazing lady …
Wait a minute! What happened to badass baller?
You’re hot. You’re very badass. You’re so fun to play and watch. It was the most fun I’ve ever had. Nancy, you’re better at this than I am. I’ve never really interviewed anybody before.
Well here’s a good tip: Just start every question with, “Isn’t it true … ?”
OK, let’s see … Isn’t it true that you loved the film?
I loved the film. Number one, I’m a huge Ben Affleck fan. Number two, the stars — what a lineup. You start with this fantastic book that’s turned into a screenplay, and I did not know the end because I had not read the book. I was just completely knocked out. I will admit, although I love him in person, I wanted to kill [Neil Patrick Harris’ character] in the end. So I don’t blame [Amy] at all for killing him. He was too controlling, telling her what to wear. He had to die.
There’s a lot of media portrayed in the movie. Did you think it was accurate?
The answer to that is yes and no. I’ve seen the media camped out. And in the portrayal of me, I absolutely — and did so with Scott Peterson — comment on behavioral evidence. Of course, Peterson’s case was over the top because he was actually having the affair with Amber Frey after he had just killed his wife. In this case, Nick Dunne was a lot better off because we know that he’s innocent.
On a scale of one to 10, Nancy Grace being a 10, how serious would you say Ellen Abbott was?
I would say she’s pretty serious. She’s so smart and she knows exactly what she’s doing. At least an eight, for sure.
I portrayed a character somewhat similar to you on The Mentalist as well. How do you feel about being portrayed onscreen, and do you have any favorites?
It’s almost too much for me to take in. I’m very flattered. I grew up on a red dirt road drinking water out of a well my grandfather dug. So the thought that someone would portray me or loosely base a character off me in a movie is almost more than I can take in. Even though I get poked fun at, I don’t mind. I thought I had a favorite portrayal until I saw Gone Girl. That’s my new favorite. Of course, I loved Amy Poehler [on Saturday Night Live]. But there was a character loosely based on me on Boston Legal. The good thing about her is that she let me romance Captain Kirk, William Shatner. How could a girl turn that down?
Nancy Grace at the GLSEN Respect Awards in Beverly Hills, on Nov. 11, 2014
I’m kind of shy on some level, but you’re not shy about expressing yourself, which is one of the many reasons you’re so baller. When you started out, were you ever shy?
I would never raise my hand in school. I was always shy. After [my college fiance Keith Griffin’s] murder, I got even more withdrawn and only focused on succeeding in law school. I was out of my element. I had been studying Shakespearean literature, for Pete’s sake. I would have to read one legal sentence four or five times to understand what they were talking about. I was one of those that really had to study and concentrate. I never raised my hand in class. I always sat where I would not be noticed. It was really when I tried my first jury trial that I felt like a bird let out of a cage. I felt like a fish thrown back in the water, and I not only found my voice, but the voice of crime victims gave me a power that I never realized I had. It helped me find that.
You’re such a champion of victims’ rights. How do you turn that off?
Whenever a professional athlete commits a crime, I’m like, “Oh, he can’t turn it off when he leaves the field. He’s so aggressive! He’s crazy! He’s violent!” It’s the same thing with me. That’s another reason I’m so blessed that I have twins. When I was still prosecuting, I was volunteering at a battered women’s center at night. I was immersed in this world of crime. I would be bored out of my skull if I tried to go to a dinner party and listen to everyone chatting. If they were not talking about murder, I was so disinterested. Now I cannot let that world collide with my children. They just turned 7 years old. A boy and girl. They don’t know anything about guns and violence. They don’t know what I do for a living. They’ve never heard my show. And when I leave work or when I leave a trial or a courthouse or I fly back home from being at a trial, it’s like I enter a world where there are fairies, goblins, witches, satyrs, centaurs and dream worlds.
How do you deal with hate mail? People have strong opinions about you.
It’s like this: Be hot or cold. Don’t be lukewarm or I’ll have to spit you out. Love me or hate me. Just have an opinion of some sort. Don’t be lukewarm. To me, the truth is extremely polarizing, and it doesn’t always taste good going down. This is not a popularity contest. I do not expect to go home and be crowned Miss Congeniality. That’s not going to happen.
You said you like Ben Affleck. I’m wondering if you caught his “man part” in the movie?
I heard it made a turn in the movie. I’m assuming that was the shower scene. I’m sorry, I was too focused on the blood to notice Ben Affleck’s penis, so I apologize to the penis because I did not notice it. Has everyone in this country seen his penis but me? Am I the only one?
You were on Dancing With the Stars. Are there other reality shows you’re interested in?
I don’t consider Dancing With the Stars a reality show. I consider it the highest form of competition on the dance floor. And I’ll give you this tiny clue: I have saved my dance shoes in case I return as a fan favorite. I did make it to the top five.
Would you do Survivor?
Yes, but I probably would totally kill the other contestants and eat their bodies. So I don’t know if I’d be cut out for Survivor. I don’t think I could do anything to be away from the twins for that long; it would nearly kill me.
During the film, I realized, “Oh my God, Nancy Grace does this work every day and goes home to her family.” I’m blown away by you.
That’s what I’m all about. Murder and the twins.
* * * * *
Watch the Gone Girl trailer below:
Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox, Associated Press