Just How Big a Deal Are the New Oscar Rules?

Just How Big a Deal Are the New Oscar Rules?

In the corners of Twitter that talk about Oscar buzz year-round, at least, there was a swift and and intense reaction on Tuesday to the new inclusivity standards announced by the Academy. Beginning in 2024, films hoping for a best picture nomination will be asked to meet new benchmarks, all aimed at improving diversity in Hollywood both on and off screen. It was a bold, forward-looking move for an organization that’s often criticized for being behind the times, a response first announced in June as protests for racial justice escalated around the world. But do the new standards go too far? Not far enough? Will they actually change anything at all? 

For this week’s Little Gold Men podcast, Richard Lawson, Katey Rich, and Joanna Robinson reconvened for a quick emergency segment about the new standards, looking closely at what they entail— it’s not just about saying a film’s cast and crew has to be more diverse—and what it says about the Academy’s priorities years after the initial #OscarsSoWhite backlash. In the rest of the episode, recorded before the standards were announced, they looked at the films making a splash at the Venice Film Festival and what to expect from the Toronto Film Festival, happening largely virtually this week. And Joanna got on the phone with Haley Lu Richardson, a standout in films like Columbus and Support the Girls, who stars in the new HBO Max film Unpregnant.

Listen to the episode above, and find Little Gold Men on Apple Podcasts or anywhere else you get your podcasts. 

Vanity Fair: I’m going to tell you something and I hope you take it as a compliment, because this is how I mean it. I saw you in three separate films, Columbus, Support the Girls, The Edge of Seventeen, before I realized you were the same actress.

Haley Lu Richardson: Oh, I think that’s cool.

You so disappeared into those, and I just think you are an incredible chameleon in what you do. And I’m wondering if you are, in your career so far, intentionally going after roles that feel distinct and different to you? What are you after right now?

Well, first of all, I definitely do take that as a compliment and it means a lot to me. So thanks. Yeah. My favorite actors are ones that you don’t recognize at first. I love that about acting is that you can bring a hint of your soul and what makes you you to something, but then totally dive into something totally different than you. I think that earlier on in my career, I got pretty lucky with getting projects that were and characters that were not the same thing over and over again, or typecast or whatever. And, that was kind of just luck because I was desperately trying to do any project that would hire me. And now I feel like I’ve been able to channel that more into like in the decisions that I make and being more selective about exploring totally different walks of life and characters and all of that.

You told me you’re wearing headphones that were inspired by John Cho, your Columbus co-star. I’m wondering, beyond amazing taste in headphones, is there anything else that you’ve picked up from people that you’ve worked with so far in your career that has really helped you figure out what you want to do going forward?

Yeah. Well, I do have the superficial things that I pick up from people like John Cho’s headphones and Colin Farrell lights incense in his trailer and has all the lights off and has incense. Literally you just walk in and it’s fog. It’s like a haunted house of incense. But now I do that. On the one movie I’ve done since working with him, I did that every single day. So there’s those more superficial things, but yeah, I feel like, yeah, when I’ve gotten the chances to even just watch. I got to work with Sir Ben Kingsley and I literally had a scene and a half with him, but whenever I was on set and he was working, I would just kind of watch how he was. And just his approach was so specific. And just getting to see how all of these actors that I really respect are all so different and have such different approaches to what they do. And I don’t know, taking some things and then looking at things and being like, “Hmm, I don’t know if that’s right for me,” but then other things are like, “Oh wow. I’ve never seen it that way.” So yeah, definitely. Trying to learn whenever I can from whoever I can.

And my impression of a project like Support the Girls is that it is very different from your standard filmmaking process in terms of improv or the way that everything is put together. Is that accurate? And, if so, what did you learn from that experience specifically?

I mean, every movie I work on feels like a totally different experience from the last, but that one was very unique because the story and movie itself was so unique and so specific. But I look back at that movie and I feel like that was the only movie that I’ve done where I genuinely had fun and felt joy all the time and nothing was an agonizing day for me, or a really tough scene. I just genuinely had fun acting in that movie. And sometimes acting even when it’s extremely fulfilling isn’t fun. I would not use the word fun to describe a lot of my most memorable or exciting times on sets. But yeah, that movie was just so fun for me. And I think that just had to do with the character I was playing and her energy and stuff, but I’m sure a lot of people were annoyed at me for having that energy 24/7. 

So for something like Unpregnant you talk about, you’re at a point in your career where maybe you’re able more to pick and choose specifically what you’re going to do next. So what was it about Unpregnant that made you decide this is something you definitely want to do?

Oh man. Well, honestly, when my agents first called and told me about this movie that they wanted me to be in about a girl that gets pregnant in high school, decides to get an abortion, goes on a road trip to get an abortion, and it’s a comedy, I was like, “How is that going to happen?” And then I read the script and it really is such an ambitious goal to try to make a movie about something that’s so real and that’s so sensitive, and people are very against that. But to handle it within this lighthearted adventure movie.

So I was a little bit nervous. I wasn’t like, “Oh yeah, definitely sign me up.” I was nervous because that’s putting myself as a person into this whole world where people are just going to hate me and it’s going to be inevitable that people will hate me because I’m associated with making a movie talking about abortion. And so I was, not unsure, but I was nervous. And just like, “I don’t know if this can work,” at first. But then I met with [writer and director] Rachel [Lee Goldenberg] and I knew her because we did a Lifetime movie. When I first moved to LA, we did a Lifetime movie called Escape from Polygamy. So it was cool.

Oh my God. I really want to track down Escape from Polygamy.

I know. That’s a whole nother story. We can do another podcast about that by itself. But it was just cool to reconnect with her after all this time on a project that was very different than escaping polygamy, and she was so passionate about it and she had a really strong vision. It meant a lot to her. I was inspired by her. And then in the end when I committed to do it and committed to myself that I’m going to be a part of this and I’m going to commit, it was kind of the same thing that made me nervous and hesitant at first that then got me excited and inspired me to like, “Maybe this can work and it can be seen by a broader audience and start real and important conversations.” 

When it comes to something this political, this potentially divisive, do you feel like it’s a message better delivered through comedy? Is there something about comedy that helps make sure that what you want to come through, which is the humanity of these characters rather than the larger political issue, is what it comes across in Unpregnant?

I don’t really know. I mean, obviously, people deal with things differently in their life. Sometimes when there’s a really important situation someone’s in, or when they’re faced with adversity, or whatever, an important to decision, everyone handles it completely differently, whether they go away and sob for days, or whether they make jokes about it, whether they don’t accept it, whether they’re whatever. So I feel like it really just matters if you do it right in whatever genre or vehicle you use to tell the story. And I think that in this, with Unpregnant, my biggest focus every single day with every single scene was trying to balance the tone of the movie and then the importance in the reality and the weight of what my character is going through. So I feel like I had to surrender to the lighthearted nature and the fast-paced, chaotic nature of the movie and the tone without ever taking Veronica’s situation lightly. So, I don’t know. I don’t know how I did it. It was very hard for me.

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