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Music festivals: The unpredictable hell of Woodstock 1999: Burning stages, sexual abuse and a stream of feces | Culture

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Woodstock 1999 began promising three days of “peace, love and music.” It ended with stages in flames, sound towers reduced to smithereens, tents razed to the ground, the press and performers running like hell, promoters barricaded in their offices, and thousands of hungover and exhausted young hooligans wallowing in a stream of feces. The San Francisco Examiner aptly called the event “the day live music died,” alluding to the day the music died, which Don McLean sang about in ‘American Pie.’ On August 3, Netflix released Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99, a documentary directed by Jamie Crawford. In three chapters of about 45 minutes each, Trainwreck offers a grisly post-mortem of what many consider one of the most chaotic music festivals in history.

Between Friday, July 23 and Sunday, July 25, 1999, in Rome, New York, a crime was committed against music, sanity, and decorum. If Crawford’s documentary makes anything clear, it’s that there were multiple perpetrators and even now none of them seem willing to take responsibility for the sorry episode.

Michael Lang, who created the Woodstock brand (and passed away last January), and John Scher, the event’s main promoter, were the first to pass the buck. Both had already been interviewed for Woodstock ‘99: Peace, Love and Rage, the HBO documentary that premiered last summer. In the earlier film, Lang and Scher blamed each other. In Trainwreck, both blamed the audience. They alleged that the generation of young people in the late 1990s was “irresponsible, aggressive and anarchic,” far removed from the original (1969) Woodstock’s spirit of peace and love. However, almost none of the other people who participated in the film support the pair’s self-serving version of events. The documentary’s other interviewees include journalists who covered the event, such as ABC News’s David Blaustein and MTV’s Ananda Lewis; performers Jewel, Fatboy Slim, Gavin Rossdale (the Bush frontman) and Jonathan Davis (Körn’s lead singer); production staff; public health officials, civil servants and Rome’s mayor; and a dozen attendees who were between 14 and 25 years old at the time.

The rain and the mud

The background of Woodstock ‘99 is clear. The 1969 iteration was an organizational disaster but an indisputable cultural success. The original Woodstock featured peace and love, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Grateful Dead, Santana, and hippies mobilizing against the Vietnam War. Michael Lang promoted all that in a display of quixotic countercultural entrepreneurship, but he took heavy losses and only recovered his investment over ten years later through sales of the film’s soundtrack and merchandise.

Michael Lang, the creator of the Woodstock brand, and John Scher, the primary promoter of the ill-fated 1999 iteration, on the festival stage on July 24, 1999.
Michael Lang, the creator of the Woodstock brand, and John Scher, the primary promoter of the ill-fated 1999 iteration, on the festival stage on July 24, 1999.John Atashian (Getty Images)

To coincide with the original Woodstock’s 25th anniversary, Lang and his new partner, Scher, launched the peaceful and artistically satisfying sequel to Woodstock in 1994, but they lost money hand over fist. In 1999, they conspired to capitalize on the Woodstock brand once and for all with a professionally conceived and executed event, minus the naïve idealism that had turned previous iterations into ruinous business.

The 1999 festival was held at Griffiss Air Force Base, a decommissioned military base just outside Rome, New York, over 100 miles from Woodstock’s original location. Griffiss was an unsuitable venue for a three-day music campout. It had a huge lot full of asphalt and unkempt grass, and the two main stages were nearly four kilometers apart.

That weekend, the state was experiencing an extreme heat wave; temperatures reached 102.2 F (39 C) degrees that felt like 104 F (40 C), slightly hotter than the heat wave the East Coast is facing this year. An estimated 400,000 people paraded through the ugly, inhospitable outdoor venue that weekend; on Saturday night alone, there were over 250,000 attendees.

From an alternative tribe to an angry mob

According to Heather, who attended the event when she was 14, many began to feel that they were being treated “like animals.” The exorbitant prices at which the commercial tents sold food and drink particularly upset attendees. They charged four dollars for a bottle of water (the equivalent of seven today) and between eight and 10 dollars for a slice of pizza, a sandwich, or a burrito (today, about 18 dollars), at an event that had prohibited bringing provisions from outside and for which concertgoers had paid 150 dollars (266 dollars today).

They were also indignant because of the woefully inadequate waste management service (“we woke up on Saturday morning in a sea of garbage that nobody picked up,” explains Heather), and the portable latrines, many of which burst after a few hours because of overuse, flooded the place with human waste and an indescribable stench.

Woodstock ’99 attendees in the front row wave to the camera on July 22, 1999.
Woodstock ’99 attendees in the front row wave to the camera on July 22, 1999.John Atashian (Getty Images)

Moreover, as one of the health service workers acknowledges in the documentary, the free fountain water that people used to quench their thirst, shower, and brush their teeth became unsafe to drink. Feces from the latrines contaminated that water. Not only was it undrinkable but in many cases mere contact with it caused skin rashes or lip and gum infections.

The festival lineup did not help improve the mood. Hard rock and nu-metal (a style that mixed hard rock and hip hop and briefly took young white Americans by storm) bands dominated the delirious program. Among those acts were Korn, Creed, Kid Rock, and Limp Bizkit, the big stars of the moment. Additionally, there were bands, such as Offspring, Metallica and Rage Against the Machine, whose abrasive sound and visceral discourse were totally alien to the first Woodstock’s spirit of peace and love. Thirty years ago, fans of Joe Cocker and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had happily and stoically faced the inconveniences and inclemency of a precariously organized mass event. Janis Joplin had even worried from the stage about their welfare and urged them to complain if they felt they were being treated disrespectfully (“you don’t have to go take anybody’s shit, man…So…if you’re getting more shit than you deserve, you know what to do about it, man.”).

However, as early as Friday, July 23, 1999, it was clear that fans of Korn’s charismatic lead singer, Jonathan Davis, shared with the hippies of three decades earlier only a propensity for public nudity. That concert, described by Ananda Lewis as “an insane explosion of energy,” already demonstrated that the Woodstock ‘99 crowd was not going to be a docile one. Indeed, they were vehement, aggressive young people who were quite willing to push the limits of an atmosphere of freedom and impunity and had little tolerance for the discomfort they experienced. The turning point came during the Limp Bizkit concert on Saturday night. As David Blaustein put it, “three different versions of Fred Durst [the band’s singer] competed on stage.” Durst’s instincts told him that something big was brewing among the crowd of ecstatic and hysterical kids, many of whom were naked. His common sense told him to try to lighten the mood. His ego urged him to become the revolt’s high priest. His ego won. Durst gave a frenetic performance, inciting his audience to give in to their rage and “break everything,” to not resign themselves “to the conformist shit that people like Alanis Morissette [also in the festival’s lineup] want to sell you.” They listened to him. Some audience members stormed and smashed a sound control tower.

A Woodstock ’99 festivalgoer sleeps in the sun on a concourse littered with garbage.
A Woodstock ’99 festivalgoer sleeps in the sun on a concourse littered with garbage.Andrew Lichtenstein (Getty Images)

Just off the stage, Durst gave an interview that was as brief as it was revealing:

-Have you ever seen anything like this before, Fred?

-No, I’ve never done anything like that.

-I suppose you’ve seen from the stage that there have been serious incidents.

-Well, yes, but that’s not our fault.

Hours later, the climate of violence moved to the electronic music tent where Norman Cook, better known as Fatboy Slim, was performing. At 2 a.m., a van suddenly drove onto the dance floor, forcing Cook to stop his performance. When security personnel gained control of the vehicle, they discovered a half-naked and drugged teenage girl inside who exhibited obvious signs of having been gang raped.

Illuminated by fire

But the real disaster occurred on Sunday night during the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, which ended the festival. It was triggered by an absurd decision that most interviewees attribute to Michael Lang: handing tens of thousands of lit candles to attendees and asking them to perform a spontaneous homage to the victims of the mass shooting at Columbine, which had taken place months before.

Instead, the audience used the candles to set fires. The band ignored the promoters, who’d suggested the band ask for calm on stage. Anthony Kiedis, the lead singer, told an increasingly overwhelmed John Scher that “they wouldn’t listen to me, I’m a musician, not a prophet.” The Red Hot Chili Peppers simply said that the fire at the foot of the stage reminded them of Apocalypse Now. Then, they decided to perform Jimi Hendrix’s Fire as the band’s encore, an inopportune choice.

In the barely three minutes that the song lasted, the three or four existing fires became a dozen. A pitched battle involving thousands of young people followed the concert. The pyromaniac impulse gave way to euphoric violence befitting the novel Lord of the Flies. They razed everything to the ground, leaving the venue in a state that one organizer likened to war-torn Bosnia. They destroyed the commercial tents, broke into cash registers, toppled sound towers, razed the hippie-inspired murals covering the security perimeter, and tried to force their way into the VIP area and the organizers’ offices.

Woodstock ’99 attendees set fires to protest the music festival’s poor organization.
Woodstock ’99 attendees set fires to protest the music festival’s poor organization.Andrew Lichtenstein (Getty Images)

Judy Berman of Time magazine notes that “they vented all the anger [they had] accumulated during three days of aggressive music, inflammatory messages and systematic mistreatment by incompetent and unscrupulous organizers.” Berman contends that “the festival was a complete trainwreck from the beginning; it assumed that 250,000 people could function for three days as a community capable of self-regulating, under conditions of total abandonment by the organizers, [and that] no serious incidents [would take place].”

The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson similarly interprets the events, adding that “Woodstock [19]99′s most sinister legacy is the sheer number of rapes and acts of sexual abuse and harassment that took place over those three days,” a consequence of both “poor security” and the “climate of impunity and toxic masculinity that pervaded the rock scene of the late 1990s.” The glorification of nudism, recreational shamelessness, and free love hid “an atrocious machismo and a nauseating lack of respect for women’s sexual freedom.” Ananda Lewis goes further to say that, to some extent, the Me Too movement is “a reaction to the culture of misogynistic abuse that was brought out, very forcefully, at Woodstock ‘99.” But perhaps Heather’s reflection is the farthest reaching. A teenager at the time, a couple of decades later she acknowledges that Woodstock was one of the best weekends of her life. But she also notes that “we don’t accept what happened any more … I’m glad that my daughters will never have to see that and think that is just the way it is.” The disastrous night that live music died 23 years ago still casts a long shadow.

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Alejandro G. Iñárritu: ‘To migrate is to die a little’ | Culture

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Bardo, the seventh film by the Oscar-winning Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, is full of “Easter eggs” – obscure references to past works, hidden throughout the film like secret little treats. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (the work’s full title) has echoes of Amores Perros, Birdman, The Revenant, and even Detrás del dinero (Behind the Money), a TV series Iñárritu co-directed with Pelayo Gutiérrez in 1995. Iñárritu’s new movie, a three-hour-long work of autofiction, is an intimately personal project – a kind of distillate of its creator’s own selfhood.

Iñárritu discussed the intricacies of his latest, and most personal, film during a recent long-distance interview with EL PAÍS. The film is a work of great maturity, and a reflection on the identity and experience of someone who, like Iñárritu, has left his country for the United States. It is also a portrait of a person who cannot help but see success through the lens of uncertainty. Iñárritu attended the San Sebastián International Film Festival in northern Spain in September to celebrate the premiere of a new cut of the film. “These films need time,” says Iñárritu. Bardo will play in select theaters in October, and will be available for streaming on Netflix on December 16.

Question. The Chilean writer Benjamín Labatut has said that Bardo is not an autobiography, but rather a succession of mental states.

Answer. That’s a good interpretation. I’ve always said that Mexico is not a country; it’s a state of mind. When you leave a country, your involuntary memory becomes your richest source of imagination. That uncertainty of sensations, feelings, memories, fears and illusions is the foundation of Bardo. I tried to put all these impulses in order. Or at least to give them a sense of meaning the only way I know how, which is through images and cinema. I wouldn’t call it a film with a coherent or traditional structure. My sense is that they’re traces of memory.

Q. After Biutiful, you said that you were feeling somewhat tired of conventional narratives. It seems like critics are judging Bardo based on ideas of a certain traditional model of storytelling.

A. You make some films for the public, and with others you have the luxury of making them for yourself out of a vital or existential need. Bardo is one of those films. Sometimes you make films not to reaffirm conventions, but to break them. There’s an implicit risk in what we’re doing; there’s no recipe to follow. These films need time, in contrast to what we now call “content” – consumer products, structures, genres and tones that are already well understood within an industry. This film obeys another set of rules.

Q. You’ve said that to make a film without fear is an exercise in banality. That fear is an ally. What were your fears in making Bardo?

A. To open the cellar of one’s own history is always terrifying. It’s also useless. To make a film is useless. So is to dream. All of this is useless except for those who do it. Then, doing it becomes an essential, life-affirming act. What I realized over the years is that the narratives that bind together entire countries, the stories we’re instilled with from childhood, are always interpreted through our nervous system. They’re built into us. They give us identity, a sense of belonging and collective power. When you leave, you start to see these narratives in perspective, and with time and distance they dissolve. Your own experiences and relationships, your feelings of affection toward your parents, your friends, your country. The stories our mind weaves start to unravel, to be questioned, and everything becomes uncertain. This is why the main character says that memory has no truth, only emotional conviction. This is the most complicated and delicate part. I don’t remember my childhood; I have no images of those years. I envy anyone who can build a narrative of their life, and find their reason for existing, from there – from the beginning of everything. For me, it’s the other way around. It’s perhaps the past 25 years of my life where I might find some clues about what my early years were like. And that’s what I’m doing. These are the questions I ask myself, that have no answers.

The actor Daniel Giménez Cacho in an exclusive image from the film 'Bardo' by Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
The actor Daniel Giménez Cacho in an exclusive image from the film ‘Bardo’ by Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu.ETTORE FERRARI (EFE)

Q. During filming, you were considering Limbo as a title. At what point did you decide to change it to Bardo?

A. They’re similar concepts. One from Catholicism, where limbo is a place for the souls of infants and small children who die before being baptized and are thus denied entry into heaven. That’s a bit reductive. But bardo is a similar concept in the Buddhist tradition – a state in which all things are in constant transition. We die and are reborn all the time. For me, to migrate is to die a little. It implies a certain acceptance of the end of something, of being reborn again and of reinventing yourself. That integration into a new culture implies the disintegration of what came before. That’s the bardo I’m talking about. And in the end, the final migration, which is inevitable and touches us all: death. At my age, you start to think about it. It makes you laugh, makes you reassess, forces you to try to put things in order.

Q. You mentioned your childhood. In one scene, the protagonist, who has become a child, encounters his father in the bathroom at a dancehall. His father tells him that success is something you should only take a little taste of, and then spit it out, because otherwise it poisons you.

A. That’s literally something my father said. He always maintained a very guarded attitude toward success, something he never experienced himself. I used it because it’s something that stuck with me. With my father, there was never really any praise. Not because he had bad intentions; he just thought that reinforcing someone’s successes or virtues might make that person believe it so much that they’d stop doing what they did naturally. The character, in one part of the film, is grappling with his own mind. The first 25 minutes are about him, his award, his interview. Then it gets diluted and becomes a film about the heart. For me, Bardo is full of humor, moving between the sublime and the stupid, the ridiculous and the painful, just like life. It’s not a dive into obscurities, but a glide over the surface.

Daniel Giménez Cacho in a still from 'Bardo,' which was filmed in the streets of Mexico City's historic center.
Daniel Giménez Cacho in a still from ‘Bardo,’ which was filmed in the streets of Mexico City’s historic center.SeoJu Park (Netflix)

Q. You opt for catharsis in all of your projects. Was that the case here?

A. For me it was a compulsory exercise because of my age and my need to free myself, and thus to be able to share, without filters or disguises, a very fragile mental and emotional state that’s difficult to articulate in words. If I had been a painter, I would have painted a self-portrait, which is always a well-received endeavor. Or a maximalist mural in the vein of [José Clemente] Orozco. But I don’t know how to paint. And words? Only writers like Octavio Paz or Jorge Luis Borges, or Rulfo, [Julio] Cortázar, César Vallejo – only they were able to make sense of the nonsense. With those talents far out of my reach, I stuck to what I could do with the 32 cinematographic sequences that make up this film.

I think those of us who have this experienced share something that’s difficult to speak about. Those of us who have left, even if we return to our country, we can never return. There’s no going back. This is a feature of the hybrid culture that very much defines our times. For those who have not left – in this case, people from the United States, who are culturally self-contained and speak a language that’s spoken all over the world – this can be difficult to understand.

A scene from 'Bardo,' premiering in theaters on November 18 and available for streaming on Netflix starting December 16.
A scene from ‘Bardo,’ premiering in theaters on November 18 and available for streaming on Netflix starting December 16.SeoJu Park (Netflix)

Q. You met Guillermo del Toro when he came to help you edit Amores Perros and suggested that you cut the film down. That it was 20 minutes too long. In Venice, Bardo received a lot of criticism for being three hours long. Do you think this criticism is unfair?

A. I think some one-hour movies are totally unbearable and way too long. And then there are films that are three and a half hours long and they’re some of my favorites. This kind of thinking seems superficial to me. There’s an obsession with runtime or the box office, as if these things were important. Editing a film is an endless process. It’s like editing a book. Rulfo spent nearly 17 years editing Pedro Páramo, an audacious process of extraction. It’s always hard to know where the final waters of a film will flow. My processes are long. In fact, with a lot of my films I’ve made edits up to the very last minute. I was making little tweaks to 21 Grams until the day it premiered. You let a film go because of a deadline, like a festival or a premiere. In this case, with Bardo, I finished the film two days before I left for Venice. I’m very happy to say that I’m just now incorporating some extra scenes that weren’t finished in time for the premiere. I also tightened up the internal rhythm of a few other scenes. The essence of the film is intact, but I had the opportunity to put a final touch on it, to do a little acupuncture. I’m very rigorous. I’m a butcher. I share that with Guillermo del Toro; we’re very hard on ourselves.

Q. There’s a plot throughout the film, playing out in the background, in which a large corporation is about to buy up a part of Mexico. It’s a commentary on colonialism that I think has been missed or overlooked by the Anglo world.

A. The reductions or personal accusations based on what other people assume my intentions were in making this film have made them unable to see everything that’s there. This film speaks to all of that, and much more. It summons the smells of Mexico City and speaks of the last, lost gasps of my dying father, who left before I could be by his side. It speaks of childhood adolescence, which arrives without warning. Of the fading memory of our son Luciano whom we lost – a central focus of the film. It speaks of our friends with white hair that we didn’t notice were aging. Of the weddings and funerals we missed, of the city that no longer is. And it speaks, also, of life, cumbia, and the heat of Mexico coexisting with death, with disappearance and impunity. It’s a very Mexico City film, I think.

Q. You make the film’s protagonist, Silverio Gama, into a reporter working in the deadliest country in the world for journalists. But I didn’t notice any commentary on the violence experienced by the press in Mexico.

A. In a way, the relationship between two characters, Silverio and Luis, his nemesis, speaks, I think, to the situation of journalists who stay in Mexico, who are very brave, and speaks to the impunity that exists, but also to the way truth is subjected to an increasing series of distortions. We all have this feeling, that truth is slipping out of our grasp.

Q. After working with cinematographers like Rodrigo Prieto and Emmanuel “El Chivo” Lubeski, how did Darius Khondji end up being the cinematographer for Bardo?

A. Darius is a brother I didn’t meet until I was 59. He’s French-Iranian and has a universal soul. He’s also experienced a version of this cultural dislocation, from living in another country, which is France, but having Iranian roots. We share that genesis and we share an excitement for visual exploration. Never in my life have I worked so hard for a film to have such fluidity of time and space, to appear this dreamlike and surreal. There was a lot of storyboarding, a lot of design and motion work, to be able to enter the stream of consciousness. It’s a fluid film that took many, many months to make. I’d say about two years of pre-production, and then it was interrupted twice because of the pandemic.

Q. The film draws very clear connections to Birdman. You teamed up again with screenwriter Nicolás Giacobone. Why return to an exploration of the ego after making a film with such a perfect tone and form?

A. Unlike Riggan Thompson, the superhero actor played by Michael Keaton who’s furiously trying to be seen and recognized again, this film is not about ego; it’s about uncertainty. The protagonist questions the appreciation he seeks from those who despise him. It’s about uneasiness and success, which is this smoke that escapes him and never satisfies him. It’s a reflection I make, out of the things that one exchanges. It’s not about ego, but about questioning the ego. That’s just part of it; the rest is diluted into much deeper things.

Translated by Max Granger

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Foreign residents in Geneva could get voting rights

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This legislation, adopted on Friday by the Geneva parliament, introduces several reforms, including the sorting obligation for households, businesses, and public entities.

It aims at at reducing the amount of waste generated in the canton, improving recycling, and disposing of trash in an environmentally friendly manner.  The initial objective is to lower incinerable waste by 25 percent within the next three years.

Geneva is the only canton in Switzerland that has not required the use of taxed trash bags, as every other city and canton has. These are either specially designated bags, priced according to their size (35, 60, or 100 litres) and place of residence, or a sticker to be affixed to a bag.  Taxes collected from the sale of these bags are used for municipal waste management.

However, Geneva has relied “on the voluntary collaboration of people” and has not required the bag tax, “which represents a high cost for households and whose effects in other cantons have not been convincing over time”, cantonal authorities said in a press release.   

In Geneva, the only rule is that “household waste must be placed in sturdy, watertight and closed bags meeting the OKS standard and then deposited in a container”.

OKS garbage bags are tested and certified for quality and resistance in accordance with the guidelines of the Swiss Association of Municipal Infrastructure.

However, as everywhere in the country, only non-recyclables can be bagged and tossed in the container; everything else should be sorted and properly recycled.

READ MORE: Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

What are the new rules?

The new legislation not only makes sorting and disposing of waste mandatory for everyone, but it will also ban single-use plastic, including disposable tableware and non-recyclable containers for take-away food — the only canton so far to take such measures.

Also, all plastic bags available in stores, including those intended for fruit and vegetables, will no longer be free of charge.

Additionally, all shops must provide special space for the customers to sort the packaging and leave waste on the premises. “This obligation should encourage retailers to drastically reduce the packaging of goods”, according to the canton.

What changes will you have to make?

While up to now you might have skipped on the sorting and recycling front, at least some of the time, the new law makes it compulsory everywhere in the canton, so it is no longer a matter of doing it sometimes but not always, and hoping nobody will notice.

These official links tell you what the canton expects you to do to reduce and properly dispose of your household waste.

And if you think any rule-breaking will go unnoticed, it probably will not.

“The noise, weight, smell and shape of the bags are all relevant indicators for assessing the quality of household sorting”, the canton said.

Inspectors will carry out spot checks and offenders will be fined for non-compliance.

While this system already exists in some communities, it is more random. In Geneva, on the other hand, it will become more thorough, as “powers of the municipalities in this area are extended”.

You have, however, some time to get used to the new rule.

Geneva’s Council of State will decide when the new law will enter into law and what the penalties will be.

The ban on the use of single-use plastic , however, will be enacted no later than January 1st, 2025.



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Jennifer Coolidge returns to ‘The White Lotus,’ the series that brought her late-in-life success | Culture

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When Jennifer Coolidge was announced as the winner of the Emmy for best supporting actress in a miniseries for The White Lotus, on September 12, the 1990s house song “Finally” played in the background. The chorus (”Finally it has happened to me”) was appropriate for the actress’s long-awaited moment of recognition. Thanks to the dark comedy by HBO Max and a character that her friend Mike White, creator of the show, conceived expressly for her, the actress has finally been embraced by an industry that had ignored her for decades.

Her bizarre award acceptance speech, in which she confessed to bathing in lavender which caused her to “swell up” inside her dress, ran out of time and ended up dancing on stage, won over the audience. The viral moment blurred the line between fact and fiction, evoking the character of Tanya McQuoid, the delusional millionaire that Coolidge plays in the series whose second season begins on October 31.

“Two years ago I was about to buy a flower shop because I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to pursue acting. And look where we are now,” said the actress in April in Taormina (Sicily), during the filming of the new episodes of The White Lotus. Little did she know that her Emmy would arrive five months later.

Her career was marked by her role in American Pie (2000), where she seduced one of her college son’s friends. But she feels like she was typecast almost from the start, in the early 1990s, when she debuted with an episodic role on the hit show of the day, Seinfeld. “So, there was a certain type of woman with, let’s say, non-standard beauty who always played the crazy best friend of the protagonists, the weird sidekick. I told my agent that I was no longer interested in doing that, that I wanted to do stand-up comedy. And I spent four years trying to make a living from it. Until I returned to those characters,” she recounted from Italy, as she resumed the role with which she managed to vindicate her career.

After a series of jobs to make the rent, and public appearances not unlike that at the Emmys, Coolidge became a charming disaster, an aesthetic reference known for tacky haute couture, always sweet and often clumsy and out of place.

Left to right: Aubrey Plaza, Will Sharpe, Theo James and Meghann Fahey in the second season of ‘The White Lotus.’

A small role a few years ago in the celebrated Promising Young Woman changed things somewhat. But, the actress says, everything took a great qualitative leap when her friend Mike White brought out The White Lotus. “No one had asked me to be the protagonist of their story until he arrived. It’s like he gave the rest of the industry permission to give me those kinds of roles.” Coolidge is now preparing projects with leading roles alongside David Harbor (Stranger Things), Anthony Mackie (the new Captain America) and Reese Witherspoon. Ryan Murphy has cast her in his Netflix feature The Watcher, and she will join Jennifer Lopez in Shotgun Wedding.

She and Mike White met while playing a wedding couple in the independent comedy Gentlemen Broncos (2009) by Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess. They have been close friends ever since. They travel together and live together for months on end. “He has me hooked. I think he finds it hilarious that I can continue to live as I am,” says the actress. For 15 years, he had promised the actress that he would write a series or a movie exclusively for her so that she could shine. He completed a script in 2018 and pitched it to as many networks as possible, but no one was interested in the pitch. When The White Lotus arrived, White cast her to compensate for not having kept his promise, not knowing that the consolation prize would give her the triumph that she had only glimpsed.

In the first season of the comedy, the actress plays a woman from a wealthy background named Tanya McQuoid. She encourages Natasha, one of the workers at the luxury resort where she is on vacation, to set up her own business with her financial help. But Tanya meets a man and gets distracted from her initial project of helping her new friend. In the new episodes, the millionaire gets what she wants. She has high expectations regarding her love life, but she discovers that it may not bring her happiness. “When you have a lot of money, it is much more disappointing to not do the right thing. It is in your hand to change other lives for the better. But there are also times when people tend to think that if you are in a privileged position, you can do anything. I’ve been asked many times for help getting into a film or television project and, when I don’t succeed, people have stopped talking to me,” she confesses.

Jennifer Coolidge in 'The White Lotus'.
Jennifer Coolidge in ‘The White Lotus’.

The actress is aware that she is a muse of someone special in Hollywood, who, in his own way, is loyal to her. White was an unsuccessful actor who decided to spend his unemployment time writing his own stories. He created Enlightened, a comedy that played with the bipolarity of its protagonist. He had a modest win with the story on HBO between 2011 and 2013. Then his career hit a slump again, until The White Lotus came on the same platform. As his face was not well known among the general public, a couple of years ago the writer and director decided to participate in the reality show Survivor, which in the United States is reserved for anonymous contestants. A few weeks ago, White lost all anonymity after receiving the highest recognition in the television industry.

“Mike always knew she was a star who hadn’t found the right material yet,” says David Bernad, executive producer of the comedy and one of the first people to whom they both dedicated their Emmys. Coolidge was faced with the responsibility of playing a character that White had written expressly for her. The actress has underscored the humility that the felt, although when she tells it, she can’t help but make even serious things sound funny: “Sometimes it’s painful. You see how a person who is really smart can see you. And it is not always in an attractive way. It is a difficult mirror to look at. When I read what he writes sometimes I think: ‘Oh, God, Mike has seen me in situations where I’ve been ridiculous. And on top of that, the guy records it through a character. But one of these days I’m going to write about him and what he’s like,” she jokes.

Coolidge understands her friend’s sense of humor: ”Uncomfortable situations are funny to him,” she explains. Sometimes, she adds embarrassing aspects to Tanya that she knows he will like. At other times, she allows herself to become a puppet in White’s hands. In a somewhat tragic scene in the first season, during a funeral aboard a ship, Coolidge improvised, out of necessity, part of her speech, while her co-stars tried not to laugh so as not to spoil the shot. “I don’t remember very well what I did because I was terribly ill. Mike knows I hate boats. He has seen it with his own eyes. That’s why he decided to do that dramatic sequence in one of them. I was filling an entire bucket of vomit inches from my castmates. It was disgusting and I had no privacy at all, because the boat was much smaller than what I was promised. But he thought it was all very funny,” she says, feigning indignation. “I knew she didn’t like going on a boat… Well, it’s true that sometimes I torture her a bit for the sake of comedy,” he admits with a laugh.

“Mike has a memory like an elephant for all the embarrassing situations I go through, but he also pays close attention to what I want. That’s also in my character. With him, I don’t feel like I’m acting. He has a broad and compassionate perspective and sees the good and the bad in people. He forgives his characters, however they may be. I guess that’s why I forgive him,” admits the new queen of comedy.

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