Welcome to this week’s “Just for Variety.”
Reggaeton star Adassa, who made her acting debut starring as Dolores in “Encanto,” says she’s “not surprised” that Disney didn’t submit the song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” for Oscar consideration because “Dos Oruguitas,” which is up for best song, is the “heart and soul of the film.” She adds, “Did we know ‘Bruno’ was going to become what it is? No!” Even though it isn’t nominated, Adassa is hoping she will get to perform it at the Oscars: “Hand me the mic. I’m ready for the stage!”
Adassa auditioned for Dolores with a performance of Céline Dion’s “All by Myself.” But then she got COVID. “I was almost dying,” she recalls. “I told doctors I wanted to go home and die with my kids [she and husband Gabriel Candiani have seven children]. So I came home and wrote my will and I held my kids as best I could.”
When she was offered “Encanto,” Candiani advised her to turn it down because she was so ill. “I said, ‘I’m taking this. You can call them back and tell [them] I’m not taking it only if I’m dead,’” Adassa says. She had three weeks to recover before the production began: “It was like a miracle. It was like I was training like Rocky for a fight. Every day it was like, ‘I’m going to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen.’ Then it was, ‘I’m going to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen to the living room.’ It was baby steps until I was in the studio recording. I had a great recovery.”
In addition to the best song nomination, “Encanto” also picked up Oscar noms for best animated feature film and original score. Inspired by Colombian culture and storytelling, Adassa hopes “Encanto” is the start of new Disney franchise. “I knew this was going to change lives, but I never could predict the full impact it was going to have,” she says. “Seeing people on TikTok and doing ‘Encanto’ cosplay? People writing to me and saying, ‘My daughter finally feels like she sees herself on screen’ or ‘My son finally feels heard,’ it’s really changing people’s lives.”
Jeremy O. Harris was going to have his Tony-nominated “Slave Play” filmed à la Disney Plus’ “Hamilton,” but plans were nixed due to the pandemic. “It was disappointing because we were going to do some exciting things that had never been done before with a Broadway show,” Harris told me at the play’s L.A. opening at the Mark Taper Forum.
Harris says he’s been approached several times about adapting the work as a feature film, but “I don’t know that I’m interested in having ‘Slave Play’ be anything but a play. I don’t plan on ever making a ‘Doubt’ or an ‘August: Osage County’ of ‘Slave Play,’ even though there have been many actors and producers who have wanted to.” He’s not a big fan of stage-to-screen treatments: “I think I like five of them and one was made in 1966 and that was ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’”
Harris teases that he may be talking to Joaquin Phoenix about a future collaboration. “He’s my neighbor,” he says. “I think that would be really cool.”
Troye Sivan dives into a divisive topic with me on this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast when he says he thinks straight actors should be able, at times, to play queer roles. In Paramount Plus’ “Three Months,” he stars as a gay high school student who thinks he may have been exposed to HIV during a one-night stand. But Sivan says Hollywood needs to work harder in casting queer actors: “I would say to the people who are casting: ‘Have you really looked? Why are you casting that person?’” Authentic casting can be “life-changing for someone. When they see themselves on the screen in a real way, it makes a big difference.”
Jessica Chastain has recorded a tribute to longtime LGBTQ+ and AIDS activist Steve Pieters for the audio component of Stories: The AIDS Monument, the upcoming West Hollywood Park memorial honoring those who have died of AIDS or are living with HIV. In the Oscar-nominated film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Chastain re-creates televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker’s historic 1985 TV interview with Pieters, who was diagnosed with AIDS at the time, on the PTL Christian television network that she fronted with her husband Jim Bakker.
Get ready for Murray Bartlett on “Physical.” As I was the first to tell you, the SAG Award-nominated “The White Lotus” star is joining Rose Byrne for the second season of the aerobics-centered Apple series set in the 1980s. “Murray and Rose have such chemistry,” EP Stephanie Laing tells me during a phone call from the set. “It was instant. Having Murray here was inspiring.”
Does Bartlett wear vintage short-shorts? “Perhaps,” Laing says, laughing. “He definitely wears very white sneakers.”
I talked to Laing ahead of the release of “Family Squares,” the ensemble feature she directed and co-wrote about a family that has to say goodbye virtually to their dying matriarch (June Squibb). The movie, featuring Ann Dowd, Margo Martindale, Henry Winkler, Casey Wilson, Judy Greer, Elsie Fisher, Timothy Simons, Sam Richardson, Billy Magnussen, Scott MacArthur and Zoë Chao, was directed entirely remotely. “We had a long editing process because we had 22 cameras,” Laing says. “It was half scripted and half beat sheet of improv. I was like, ‘Everyone step on each other. Just be real.’”
Laing originally wrote “Family Squares” years ago after her grandmother died. Her manager suggested she take another look at it after she had to say goodbye to her mother over Zoom. While she didn’t die from COVID, she passed away during the pandemic. Laing is now thinking a non-virtual adaptation of the film could be in her future. “My dream is to get the family busted out of their boxes and let them take a trip together,” Laing says. “We had this bonding that happened that I didn’t expect in this very unique period of our lives.”