Features 2

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Q&A: Jeanette Bonner Talks 'Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin,' Her Singles Podcast And Ice Cream

Written by 26 September, 2022

I interview a lot of people over the course of a typical year, some more famous than others. And every so often I speak with someone and find myself thinking "If this person ever finds the right role, they are going to be a star."

I certainly had that reaction after I recently spoke with actress/comedian/writer/podcaster Jeanette Bonner. She most recently played the character "Rose" on the HBO Max series Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin. But aside from her acting, she has also created the popular ice cream blog “The Scoop,” which she eventually turned into an 8-episode series. Most recently, she's been working on the podcast #Single, which targets "unapologetically single women who are seeking love but not letting it define them."

During our conversation, we spoke about all of those projects, as well as where Bonner sees her career going in the future. She was a delight to speak with and she is definitely someone to keep on your radar.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Q: Before we get into your other work, let's start with Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin. Had you seen any of the original series before you read for this role?

Jeanette Bonner: No. I am not embarrassed to say that I was not a teenage girl ten years ago. So it was unfortunately not on my radar. That being said, when I got the audition I went back and watched it, just to make sure that I understood the tone of the show. 

But I keep meeting these younger women who were major fans of the show. They were these teenage women who have now translated into this new fanbase. And the fanbase is pretty rampant, I'm not going to lie.

Q: When you booked the show, did you have any idea what was going to happen with your character? Did they have any conversations with you about it?

Jeanette Bonner: Oh, my gosh. No. Zero. I think this is a really interesting story, just to show an actor's journey. I got this audition as a non-speaking co-star. And I know a lot of actors might have turned that down. But I thought, "Hey, it's HBO, I'd love that credit. Count me in" 

And the description was very simple. There were no sides or anything. It just said "a woman experiencing a psychotic breakdown following the death of her daughter attacks a crowd with a knife." Period. That's your audition. Go. I was thinking "what?!?!" I called my manager and he just said to have fun with it.  I have an Improv background, thank God, so I have not scared of jumping in if I have no background and have to just dive in and see what happens. 

And that's exactly what I did. I talked to my brother, because he's a psychologist. And I asked him "what does a woman act like when she has a psychotic breakdown?" And he said "this is not NCIS, this is not FBI. This is Manderley. From Hitchcock's Rebecca." And that was perfect. So I just grabbed a kitchen knife - as you do - went into my bedroom, set up everything and did a couple of random takes, just having fun. 

And what was funny is that I booked the role and I was in the makeup trailer with the actress who plays Noa Olivar (Maia Reficco). And she asked me when I was coming back because she said they were all trying to figure out what happened in the story. It turned out they were keeping things so under wraps that they didn't know who did it. And I said, "I hate to tell you, I'm only booked for this episode, so it's not me." 

I don't know if they developed this as they were filming or they knew where it was going but kept it so under wraps. But I did not know that I was going to have a scene with my daughter Angela, with speaking lines, further down the line. So it was a gift. My manager said they want me back and it's a really juicy scene. But it was all booked off of a really weird, non-speaking role.

Q: So another example of the very common acting lesson that you never know how it's going to work out.

Jeanette Bonner: 100% It's like that old stupid cliché, "there's no part that's too small. Nothing is beneath you." I think it's so interesting that they would audition someone with no lines and just assume they could carry the scene later on. Again, I don't know if that was a choice or just "ahh, I'm sure she'll be fine."

Q: One of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you was that I'm impressed by anyone who can make a little bit of money talking about ice cream. To me, that's a dream job. 

Jeanette Bonner: Isn't it? Oh my gosh, I loved making that show. And I had a lot of people who loved watching that show. And still - even though that was a project that was done several years ago - people keep asking me "What's going on with The Scoop, are you going to do more shows?"

Q: I wanted to talk to you about your #Singles podcast and the other things you're doing that have spun out of that. I'm assuming that this came from your own experiences with dating. So you can you tell me how that evolved into the podcast?

Jeanette Bonner: So I spent a year pitching The Scoop to non-fiction television companies and streaming platforms. Got close, but never got picked up. I felt after a year of that "I need a break. The show needs a break." 

I'm always looking for my next creative project. But also looking for something new, where I can learn. And we're talking 2018, so podcasts were the new thing. From a comedic perspective, I had been writing about terrible dating stories on Facebook, just tp share with my friends and entertain them. And I always finished the stories with the hashtag #singles as a button. Like "this is the joke, this is why I'm single, because this kind of stuff happens to me."

And it was my friend Greg who said to me, "you should start a podcast." And I thought "no one needs another dating podcast. Good Lord, there are so many of them." But the seed was stuck in my head. Because I realized that it's not going to be about me and my dating stories. That's boring. But I want to talk to me about why people ask me why I'm single. It's always uncomfortable to me that people are always addressing the fact that I'm single like "well, what have you done wrong that you missed out on life in this way." Or it's also the other direction, "don't worry about it, you'll find someone. " And I would want to say "It's not freaking me out. Is it freaking you out that I'm a single person in my late thirties?"

It feels like the world hasn't come to terms with this culture shift about why women are okay being single. And this gave me a mission for the podcast. I wanted to connect with other singles, specifically single women. I wanted to talk about what's happening in our culture right now. Why is there so much single shaming? I wanted to destigmatize that status on in-betweenness. That "well, you're single now, but that won't be forever."

Because I wanted to say, "well, how do you know? I don't know!" It's ridiculous. It's like...what if this is my life? Is that going to be okay with me? And is it going to be okay with you?

So I've been doing the podcast since 2018. A couple of years ago, I decided that I would branch out from just speaking to single women and also speak to people who work in the dating and relationship industry. I wanted to give more to single people, so I've spoken with relationship coaches & authors. I just spoke with the owner of a solo travel company and how women are always waiting for something to happen to them. You've always wanted to go to Cambodia? Book a trip on your own! You don't need other people to live your dreams.

I'm so excited about the positive conversations I've had around being single and about being a strong, independent woman. And I'll do the podcast as long as I have the time and resources to do it.

Q: Well, I hope you find someone. Or not. Depending on what makes you happy.

Jeanette Bonner: It's like acting. A job may show up. Or it may not! Either way, you have to figure out how to be happy.

Q: Let's end this by wrapping back around to your acting career. Everyone has this dream of where they'd like to end up. The dream role, the type of work they'd like to have. If you could choose your fate, what would living the dream look like for you?

Jeanette Bonner: You know, I'm pretty obsessed with Phoebe Waller-Bridge. We have a little bit of an overlap in that I have a one-woman show that I took to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was where Fleabag was discovered. And they took a chance on her and they hired her. She was allowed to stay as the showrunner. She was allowed to stay as the main actor. And now she's super famous and she's writing for other people. 

I do a lot of writing for myself. I produce myself and do my own work. And I fantasize about this idea that one person sees something that you've made and they say "Yes! I believe in you and I am going to put money behind you!"  And they take you to the next level. And let you stay with the project. That was just be the dream.

And just on a human idol level, on a pure comedy level, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has my dream career. I'm a little behind in terms of timeline - she was doing Seinfeld in her early thirties. But I love the shows she gets, I love her brand of comedy, I love the confidence she evokes. 

So we'll just put that into the universe. I'd like some sort of combo career that looks like Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Learn more about Jeannette at jeannettebonner.com

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First Look: 'Ghost Brothers: Lights Out'

Written by 23 September, 2022

The Ghost Brothers – Dalen Spratt, Juwan Mass, and Marcus Harvey – flip the switch on paranormal lore by shining their own light on its darkest secrets in the second season of Ghost Brothers: Light Out. The dopest brothers on camera hunting ghosts, these candid and unorthodox paranormal investigators explore iconic haunted hotspots to find out if the legends are really true and if these places are still plagued by the horror of the events that occurred there. They are ready to expose the haunted holdouts hanging around these locations with unconventional experiments.

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First Look: 'Hostages'

Written by 20 September, 2022

On November 4, 1979, Iranian student activists stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking over 60 Americans hostage. What was planned as a 48-hour sit-in to protest American imperialism, ballooned into an international crisis and 24/7 media event that would last 444 days. With never-before-seen archival footage and revelatory new interviews with the American hostages and Iranian hostage-takers alike, the series is a gripping chronicle of one of the most dramatic international deadlocks in American history, a deep dive into the geo-political history that led to the crisis, and an exploration of the political fallout that reverberates today.

A riveting, intricate portrait of an event that made international headlines, Hostages unfolds with ticking-clock urgency through the 444-day ordeal, while the episodes also travel back in time to explore decades of the complex, intertwined relations between the two countries. The series trains its lens on the complexities of U.S./Iran relations that emerge from a history of covert CIA operations, high-rolling oil deals, deposed leaders, revolutionary idealism and religious fervor, a lost presidency, and backdoor arms sales.

The four-part documentary Hostages premieres Wednesday, September 28th, 2022 on HBO and HBO Max.

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First Look: 'CSI: Vegas' Season Two Premiere

Written by 16 September, 2022

CSI: Vegas, the sequel to the Network’s global hit CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, returns for a second season in Las Vegas—the city where it all began. Amidst the neon lights and long shadows, dark threats continue to lurk in Sin City. Maxine Roby (Paula Newsome) leads her brilliant team of Crime Scene Investigators – Joshua Folsom (Matt Lauria), Allie Rajan (Mandeep Dhillon), Detective Serena Chavez (Ariana Guerra), Chris Park (Jay Lee) and Beau Finado (Lex Medlin) – as they use science to solve baffling cases.  Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) returns to help the CSIs face off with a dealer of death who is planning to beat the odds in Las Vegas. This combined force will deploy the latest forensic techniques to do what they do best—follow the evidence—in order to preserve and serve justice in Sin City.

Season two of CSI: Vegas premieres Thursday, September 29th, 2022 on CBS.

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First Look: 'East New York'

Written by 16 September, 2022

From executive producers of NYPD Blue, East New York stars Amanda Warren as Deputy Inspector Regina Haywood, the newly promoted boss of the 74 Precinct in East New York, a working-class neighborhood at the eastern edge of Brooklyn. With family ties to the area, she is determined to deploy creative methods to repair the relationship between the citizens of the community and those who are sworn to protect them. Emmy Award winner Jimmy Smits co-stars as Haywood’s mentor, shrewd veteran two-star Chief John Suarez, on the series premiere of the CBS Original series East New York, Sunday, October 2nd.

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Samantha Morton Talks 'The Serpent Queen'

Written by 11 September, 2022

The new Starz drama The Serpent Queen stars Samantha Morton (Minority Report, Harlots, The Walking Dead), as the nefarious Catherine de Medici, who, against all odds, became one of the most powerful and longest-serving rulers in French history.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Morton about the show and the life of one of the more fascinating women in history. 

Q: I am guessing that as an actress, this is a really fun role to dive into. There's a temptation to see Catherine de Medici as this mean-spirited, angry person who has no soul - it's certainly the way history has seen here. But as the episodes play out, you realize that she is more nuanced than that. And that in many ways, she's a product of the way she was raised.

Samantha Morton: Correct. I hope that people don't just see her as angry and mean. When you start the show, you see her childhood and how she's treated. And actually, for Catherine, it becomes about survival. And then it becomes about love. And then it becomes about country. And then it becomes about peace.

And so she's thinking - it's not a narcissistic world, it's not ego - but ultimately she has to play a very vicious game of chess in order to compete and survive.

Q: Certainly one of the interesting aspects of the show is that while you are playing the adult Catherine, Liv (Hill) is playing the younger Catherine. And I read in a previous interview that you said you didn't want to see how she was playing the young Catherine. That you wanted each portrayal to stand on its own.

Samantha Morton: In a way. It wasn't that I didn't want to see her, but it was that I wasn't able to see her. I was in New York filming the movie and Liv was on set. But had a lot of Zooms and I didn't want to her to feel closeted by the fact that I was going to play the older Catherine. I wanted her to have the freedom to interpret the role as she saw it. 

And I think people change an enormous amount between the time when they are 14 and they're in their thirties. So there was room for interpretation of that.

But we did have a voice coach who worked with Liv - who I've worked with before - to guide Liv with just some similarities in regards to pace and to how we carried ourselves.

Q: One of the things I really like about the show is that most times, history is written by men. And it tends to be the men's version of what historical events were like. The Serpent Queen doesn't feel like that at all. It feels very much like Catherine de Medici's take on her life and what happened. It's not her life as seen through someone else's eyes.

Samantha Morton: That's an interesting way of looking at it. You know, this is based on a book. Written by a woman. And you have Justin - who is a male - telling the story. But what you needed was someone who had an enormous amount of empathy. And an enormous amount of talent. And that is what Justin has in abundance. 

When I was first reading the script, I was asking questions such as "who is making it?" and "why are they making it?" and as we had conversations it was clear that her story was in safe hands as well.

Q: Was that one of the factors that helped you decide that you wanted the role? That it was a take on the character that you were comfortable with and that you felt was a good representation?

Samantha Morton. Yeah. The right people, with integrity and with the right reasons for making the show. Also, for me, in order for me to bring everything I have to something, I need to make sure that everyone is in it for the right reasons and they care. And that we have a talented team. Whether that be the cinematographer, the costume designer, the makeup designer. Justin was so lucky. Because not only did Justin write the show and was the showrunner, Justin directed most of the episodes. And that was incredible. To have that closeness with someone and to take it all the way through. That was amazing.

Q: You mentioned when you were first going through the scripts and reading through them. From an acting standpoint, as you're reading the scripts, what was the biggest acting challenge for you? Either "this is going to be the most difficult thing" and "this is the thing I need to make sure gets done."

Samantha Morton: I think the authenticity of the pieces to the camera was important. That it felt as if they were right, rather than just put in as a story plot. It had to be truthful, it had to be that it was Catherine's inner voice.

And at times, there is humor to it, as if she's talking to herself. And at times, it's desperation. And as the story continues - I don't want to give away too many spoilers - and at times, there's utter heartbreak. And you see the internal workings of her. And I wanted to make sure that it was right.

The Serpent Queen premieres Sunday, September 11th, 2022 on Starz.

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