With Time’s Up and #MeToo continuing to dominate the public conversation and headlines, Oscar-winning screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan is defending “Manchester by the Sea” star Casey Affleck, who has been the subject of backlash over previous allegations made against him.
The 2017 best actor Oscar winner was hit with two sexual harassment lawsuits by women who worked with him on his film “I’m Still Here” in 2010. That same year, he settled both suits out of court for an undisclosed amount.
When asked if he felt Affleck was treated unfairly in the wake of #MeToo, Lonergan responded, “I couldn’t be more all for the #MeToo movement and I couldn’t feel more strongly that he’s been treated abominably. It’s not good for anybody.”
In the wake of the controversy, the Oscars broke tradition after Affleck opted out of presenting the best female actress award. He was replaced by Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster.
As for Affleck’s opponents who fault the Academy for honoring him with an Oscar in the first place, Lonergan said, “People really don’t know what they are talking about, I’m afraid.” He added, “And I’m afraid they are doing it in the name of a very good cause.”
Lonergan was introducing the remake of “Howards End,” just hours after receiving a BAFTA TV nomination for best mini-series, as Starz’s new adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel received unanimous praise from the crowd at the show’s lavish New York premiere party at the Whitby Hotel on Wednesday.
For Lonergan, the acclaimed playwright whose screenplay for “Manchester by the Sea” earned him an Academy Award last year, writing the “Howards End” script was an “exciting” and “challenging” experience that, he said, allowed him to pen the importance of equality.
“The story is interesting emotionally, culturally, and intellectually,” Lonergan told Variety. “I think what makes the story timeless is people want to participate in their culture as equals and that never goes away. There’s always going to be obstacles to equality. I hope the obstacles dwindle.”
The 108-year-old novel continues to resonate and is timely as ever in the midst of a cultural reckoning started by the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements shining a spotlight on how women and minorities are treated at work and in their daily lives. “Howards End” centers on an unlikely relationship between the socially-justice-minded Margaret Schlegel (Hayley Atwell) and the bourgeois financier Henry Wilcox (Matthew Macfadyen), which disrupts their families’ lives and also challenges theirs views on ethics, social order and women’s equality.
The BBC production had already been broadcast in the U.K. and has earned enthusiastic reviews for it’s modern feel and relevant dialogue despite the elaborate formalities of Edwardian England. Atwell — best known as agent Peggy Carter in the Marvel “Captain America” movies and the “Agent Carter” TV spin-off — plays the headstrong Margaret Schlegel is the multifaceted role that she relishes and deems as a positive role model.
“For me, it’s just a joy to be able to have the opportunity to play the kind of women that I see represented in the real world and the women that I know, that I relate to and respect and admire,” said Atwell. “To be including these types of characters as part of the narrative of what’s happening at the moment is a wonderful and positive contribution toward gender equality.”
The four-hour dramatization of the book began when producer Colin Callender called Carmi Zlotnik, the president of programming at Starz, asking if he’d be interested in reading a script about “Howards End.” Zlotnik’s first thought was, “Who would want to remake ‘Howards End,’ an Academy Award nominated movie?” Zlotnik candidly shared to the audience at the screening. The story was previously made into the Oscar-winning 1992 Merchant-Ivory film, with Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins. “And Colin said, ‘Kenneth Lonergan is writing it.’ And I told him okay, send it to me immediately! I need to read that. We got the scripts and they were fantastic.”
“Howards End” airs April 8 at 8 p.m. on Starz.