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Comedy Actresses Roundtable: Debra Messing, Tracee Ellis Ross, Drew Barrymore And More

This year’s comedy actresses talk about pushing boundaries, demanding fair pay and the Me Too movement. 

 “It wasn’t until we started having these conversations that I realized I’d been sexually harassed.”

Seven of TV’s top funny ladies chat about current issues in the industry and how they have dealt with it.

Molly Shannon (‘Divorce’), Rachel Brosnahan (‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’), Frankie Shaw (‘Roseanne’), Drew Barrymore (‘Santa Clarita Diet’), Debra Messing (‘Will & Grace’), Alison Brie (‘GLOW’), and Tracee Ellis Ross (‘Black-ish’) join Close Up with The Hollywood Reporter for this season’s FULL, uncensored Comedy Actresses Roundtable.

One of the stand out moments of this roundtable was when these women were asked about the #MeToo movement.

Whether we label this the #MeToo era or the Time’s Up era, how have your world and your perspective changed as a result?

ROSS For me, the conversation and the narrative are exactly the same, the thing that’s changed is the connection and the relationship with other women. There is a camaraderie now. If the Golden Globes is one weird example, that red carpet experience was especially different. It wasn’t about, like, (her voice rises several octaves) “Oh, I don’t want to share [what dress I’m wearing] because she might want to wear it.” No, there was a real …

MESSING Purpose.

ROSS Right and we switched the power relationship on that carpet, we were there as a collective force.

SHAW There has also been a collective release of shame.

ALL Mmm-hmm.

BRIE These conversations used to happen in tiny rooms just with your best girlfriend of like, “I don’t think this is OK.”

ROSS With a little shame involved.

BRIE Totally. “Maybe I read it wrong?”

BARRYMORE I was always a producer. And before that, I was a kid, and unless you were a paedophile you weren’t messing with me and thank God no one was. But I was never an ingenue. And then when I started my production company, men never looked at me that way and I never had an issue because I was always working with them on their side. I think that dynamic saved me from a lot of situations.

Are there examples of conversations that you wouldn’t previously have had or actions you wouldn’t have taken before this movement began?

MESSING At the Golden Globes, when I spoke on live TV about E!, saying, “Why aren’t you paying your women equally?” I never would’ve ever even thought about doing that before. The reason I did was exactly what you were talking about (looks to Ross). It was the community, being connected on a daily basis with groups of women, and saying, “Well, what can we do? How can we use our collective energy and platforms to focus the conversation?” It was actually Amy Schumer. She was like, “Debra, if you can get there first, that would be awesome.” It was her idea. And [I only did it] because I knew that there were tons of women who were like, “I’m with you, there is not gonna be fallout because we are all here standing right beside you.”

SHAW Do you guys have any fear of the fallout?

MESSING No.

ROSS I don’t either. I honestly don’t. I can’t go backwards.

MESSING Do you think it’s because we’re older?

ROSS Maybe.

SHAW There was a writer in my room whose dad told her not to put Time’s Up on her Instagram because he’s like, “You don’t know where this movement’s gonna be in four years.”

Debra Messing on ‘Will & Grace’ Revival: “We Didn’t Have to Apologize” 

BROSNAHAN That makes me so mad.

ROSS I’ve had male friends say to me, “OK, you’re going too far with this Time’s Up shit!” And I’m like, “What the fuck does that mean? I’m going too far with this equality thing? Like, what are you talking about? I’m going for equal, buddy.” (Laughter.)

BARRYMORE Maybe what that dad is questioning is: Is it going to be such a male takedown that, as women, we’re going to [regret it]?

SHAW Or just, like, people who think like that are gonna die out?

BRIE Are gonna die out? Women aren’t going anywhere. (Laughter.)

ROSS But the point is not for you to do something you’re not comfortable doing. You’ve got to go as slow as the slowest parts of yourself and everybody has a different way, a different place, a different kind of voice. It’s not about shaming someone for not being able to speak up or put #TimesUp on their platform. I remember when I was campaigning for Obama early in 2007, I was terrified and I also felt annoyed by myself. I was like, “What the fuck? Like, I get that I’m a human being and a citizen and an actor who has a platform but, as an actor, why? Like, why should I be going and doing this?” But my feeling was, “You know what, if the fact that someone watches Girlfriends, which at the time was the show, and comes here to see me because I’m on Girlfriends and I get to turn their attention to something else and shine light somewhere else, then that’s all that matters.”

BRIE It’s also what a lot of our shows are doing. Early on in shooting GLOW, [my co-star] Betty Gilpin described our show as a Trojan horse to get these real stories about women into men’s homes who expect to see girls in tiny clothes wrestling each other — but actually we’re smuggling in the truth and dynamic female friendships and heart.

BROSNAHAN I can’t stop thinking about all of you in your leotards jumping out of the horse, meanwhile Alison’s talking about female friendship. (Laughter.)

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