Yahoo! TV Q&A: ‘The New Normal’s’ Ellen Barkin, unfiltered
Well, you don't have to push too hard to get a strong opinion out of Ellen Barkin. The outspoken actress, best known for her big-screen roles opposite Al Pacino ("Sea of Love") and Robert De Niro ("This Boy's Life"), co-stars on NBC's taboo-busting new comedy "The New Normal" as the wildly prejudiced Nana, who's disgusted by her granddaughter's plan to carry a baby for a gay couple. And Barkin hasn't been shy about defending the series, taking on conservative watchdog group One Million Moms ("let's say three thousand moms, maybe" she quips) for boycotting the show and accusing a Utah affiliate that refused to air the show of censorship.
We spoke with Barkin at length last week, and she had plenty to say about the controversy surrounding her new show, why she jumped at the chance to play such an unlikable character, how creator Ryan Murphy's pilot script convinced her to take a job in Los Angeles, and why she's actually not that different than the decidedly right-wing Nana.
How did you first find out about this project? Were you looking to do TV?
I had been, actually. I would've liked to do cable, because you live under the apprehension that the material is better, and sometimes it's not. Also, it's only ten weeks a year, and if you are viewed by 500,000 people, that's enormous. So I figured if I go to a network, I work a full 26 weeks, and if you do well, millions of people watch your show.
I wasn't necessarily looking to do a sitcom. My only real non-starter was I didn't want to play out my third act in L.A., particularly. So when my agent sent me the pilot, he said it was Ryan Murphy, and obviously I got very excited. Because if you're going to be in television, you might as well start in the genius pool, where he swims all by himself. But my first question was, 'Where does it shoot?' And he said, 'Just read the pilot.' And I said, 'Oh, that means it shoots in L.A. I kind of don't want to read it, because I know it's gonna be brilliant.'
And it was. It was more than brilliant. It certainly wasn't what I would call your average sitcom, or even your well-above-average sitcom. It deals with some very, very serious issues, social issues, political issues. And it deals with them in a very entertaining way. It's just hilariously funny; it's got an enormous amount of heart. And then the character, of course, is just so f---ing spectacular. I just thought, 'How do I not do this?' And then Ryan Murphy came out to New York and we had tea, and by the time the tea was over, we just hugged and kissed and I said, 'I'll see you in April to shoot the pilot.'
You mention that the show is political. You've certainly been outspoken about your political beliefs; is that something that drew you to this project?
Very much so, yeah. We live in a horribly divided, divisive country. I think it's very scary and very real. And if you can present that in a way that's wildly entertaining and very funny and do it with an enormous amount of heart… yeah, it was very important to me. I read the pilot and I thought, 'Boy, if they can pull this off, that'll really be something.' I mean, look, I don't think anyone will ever be Norman Lear. But the way that Norman Lear did that so brilliantly with 'All in the Family' in a country that was also going through a very rocky time… I just think it's a very open-hearted way to try to nudge people to open their minds.