Lizzo, Will Arnett and the Reality Roundtable – The Hollywood Reporter
The level of talent (and comic timing) at The Hollywood Reporter‘s Reality Emmy Roundtable was in no short supply, but there was still a moment of giddy reverence when one particular participant entered the chat. Will Arnett (Fox’s Lego Masters), Nicole Byer (Netflix’s Nailed It! and ABC’s Wipeout), Padma Lakshmi (Hulu’s Taste the Nation and Bravo’s Top Chef) and Jonathan Van Ness (Netflix’s Getting Curious and Queer Eye) each appeared to adjust their posture a bit when Lizzo, creator and host of Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, first appeared on the early May Zoom. The unwieldy TV genre that brought the fivesome together led to an equally broad conversation that vacillated between light — “under-titty sweat” is an issue that affects many — and deeply serious, as it did when Lakshmi and Van Ness debated the pros and cons of filming in states rolling back rights for women and trans people. The Lizzo adoration, however, proved consistent throughout — and mutual. The pop star stopped everyone for just a moment, holding her phone to the screen before they signed off: “I’m doing a selfie, everyone smile!”
When was the last time that you desperately wanted to not be on camera but had to do it anyway?
JONATHAN VAN NESS Mine is traj. My cat fell out of a window and he died. It was the worst day of my life — and I’m HIV positive and I watched my dad die in the living room. I’ve been through some shit. So, yeah, then I had to go film a [reveal] on Queer Eye, and I just was really bereft. But other than that, honey, I’m usually really excited to be there.
LIZZO I love being on camera all the time. But, while filming Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, I dropped “Rumors” [with Cardi B]. There was a lot of noise on the internet. I came to set and I was in glam, my wig cap on and half my makeup done, and I just kind of broke down. Then I went on Instagram Live and I talked about racism and fat-phobia. I was literally weeping. And they’re like, “OK, let’s finish your glam so you can go in and do this reality show!” I decided to be open with the [cast] and tell them that I didn’t want to go on camera. Turning it into something purposeful is the point — especially in reality TV.
PADMA LAKSHMI After my grandmother died, I went to India for 72 hours before coming back to film with Cambodian refugees on Taste the Nation — these women telling me how they watched their child die of starvation as they were trying to flee the Khmer Rouge. I was at the temple with them, and, all of a sudden, I heard the monks chant. I start crying my eyes out. I just thought, “God, I really wish the cameras weren’t here.” And I rarely say that, because it’s so much about capturing the moment.
LIZZO It is about capturing the moment, but we need some moments for ourselves, too.
NICOLE BYER I don’t have anything as dramatic. I host a cake show. It’s fun. (Laughs.) If something devastating has happened in my life, I get to put on makeup, get on camera and make people laugh. That, in turn, makes me feel better. Getting ready to get on camera then helps me with my personal life. I fell off a motorcycle before I did Lego Masters with Will. And I could barely walk, but again, I got to make people laugh, so then my leg didn’t matter.
WILL ARNETT Yeah, you were a trouper. And you came out in a Lego-built car! For me, the only time I don’t want be on camera … I mean, there’s nothing less funny than 7 a.m. That’s the worst, when you’re not firing and have to feign interest. “Oh my God, tell me more!” You don’t want to hear more.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Reality Emmy Roundtable
The Hollywood Reporter
Who are some of your hosting role models?
ARNETT Ryan Seacrest is the hardest-working man in showbiz. Nobody does it better.
BYER I would say RuPaul. He has a statuesque nature to the way he hosts and I love that.
LAKSHMI When I was little, my mom and I would watch The Carol Burnett Show. She came out at the beginning and just talked to the audience, and there was something so lovable about that. Yes, she was talented. Yes, she was incredibly funny. But it wasn’t that. It was [taking that] moment to say, “Hey, we’re all here to have a good time.” I think that went somewhere in my filing cabinet, very deep.
LIZZO I’m going to echo Nicole. RuPaul really mastered the art of hosting: genuine, off the cuff, hilarious and motherly. Also, he gets to the business and never turns left or right. (Laughter.)
VAN NESS It’s Cher for me. Obviously, I could never, but we can always aspire.
Van Ness (center) on Netflix’s Getting Curious With Jonathan Van Ness.
Courtesy of NETFLIX
Reality TV seems to have gotten less exploitative in recent years, but I’m sure some of you have watched the trashier fare. Any guilty pleasures?
LIZZO Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives, let’s go! I wouldn’t say that it’s trashy, because that was Black reality TV. In Black culture, that was what we had.
LAKSHMI I never feel guilty about taking any pleasure in anything, but I watch stuff like Hoarders.
LIZZO Hoarders?! You should feel a little guilty about that.
LAKSHMI Because of our long hours on Top Chef, every season, for a while, I would adopt a show. I found the Kardashians, 10 years after they started. I knew about them, but I never actually sat down and watched. Same with Hoarders or Forensic Files. That’s my jam.
VAN NESS Do you guys know about Alone? It is so off-brand for me but so addicting. Season one, you can skip because it was all men. Ugh. But after that it was very everybody — some military people, some off-the-grid survivalists. They have to go alone to the middle of nowhere and whoever makes it the longest gets $1 million.
LIZZO That guy who ate the fucking squirrel and cried!
VAN NESS Yeah! Or this other lady killed a beaver or something, but its liver had this disease. Padma, you would’ve hated this: She cooked up that spotty liver anyways and got really, really sick.
We’ve got a few actors in here. Will, earlier in your career, did you imagine that you’d be able to host a Lego competition and not have it lose you acting gigs?
ARNETT No, I didn’t really think that I could do it. And it’s super hard. But it’s also fun. When the people who are on it are having a good time or feel a sense of accomplishment, that feels good in a really real way. That part of it was a surprise and very gratifying. It’s also really nice when you hear people say, “We watch it together as a family.”
BYER I don’t think there’s a stigma anymore. I feel like people have stopped pigeonholing people. You can host, act, do music, everything. Sometimes casting directors will be like, “My kid fucking loves you. We don’t know if you’re actually right for the part, but we’re calling you in anyway.” I’ve never gotten a part that way, but I’ve gotten a different part because of those readings. I love that kids like me. They’re getting me some jobs.
Arnett on Fox’s Lego Masters.
Courtesy of Tom Griscom/FOX
Is Nailed It! a low-key kids’ show?
BYER It’s not low-key. Kids love Nailed It!, genuinely love it.
Will, your Netflix comedy Murderville might as well be reality TV. There’s so much improv, and your guest stars have no idea what’s going on. Can you talk to me about blurring the lines with genre on TV now in the shows that you create?
ARNETT Having been part of Lego Masters helped me when we were doing Murderville, because hosting a reality competition show is improvising. Taking that idea of a scripted show, to the extent that we have a story we want to tell, but bringing on guests who have no idea what they’re doing is exciting. There’s an element of immediacy. Ken Jeong came on and he didn’t know what was happening. Then, we pull the curtain back and we’re on the stage of a Shark Tank-like show. I go, “This is our new product. Go ahead, Ken.” Now he’s got to sell this thing, which was a block of ice, and has no idea what he’s doing. That’s reality.
LIZZO That sounds so fun, Will. Why didn’t you call me?
ARNETT You can watch it. It’s on Netflix. It’s super funny. It just came out.
LIZZO Stare and watch it, bitch! You ain’t going to be on it. (Laughter.)
Byer on Netflix’s Nailed It! and ABC’s Wipeout (with co-host John Cena).
Courtesy of NETFLIX; Courtesy of Warner Media
Padma, what would your advice be to yourself circa 2006, just starting out on Top Chef? You couldn’t have had any idea what you were signing up for.
LAKSHMI I had no idea it would turn into this cultural phenomenon. I had pitched another show to Bravo, and they thought that it was too highbrow, but they were developing Top Chef and asked me if I would come on. I was publishing a cookbook at the time and thought it’d probably give my cookbook a little boost. When they were ready to do the first season, I had gone off to do a movie and they didn’t want to wait. So they did the first season without me. I’m very thankful for Top Chef. And I’m proud that we have changed the way a whole generation of society thinks about food. I love when I’m hailing a cab in New York and little girls come up to me and say, “I had a Quickfire Challenge in my sleepover,” or “I know what an amuse-bouche is.” I didn’t know what an amuse-bouche was until I was in my mid-20s. It has been the great pleasure of my life to have had some little part in the education of the culture on food.
BYER What is an amuse-bouche?
LAKSHMI A little bite that the chef gives you at the beginning of your meal that tells you everything you need to know about her and her tastes — a little teaser to amuse your mouth, your bouche.
Has anyone else pitched shows in any genre that the studio or network was just like, “Hmm, I don’t think so”?
BYER Of course, but no one has ever said that it was too highbrow. They’re more like, “Nicole, this is not going to work.” I get it.
ARNETT I tried to get Netflix to do a show about these law partners in Utah who both had 14 kids. One of their wives leaves the guy for his best friend, and she takes all 14 kids and goes with the other 14 kids. Then, she’s murdered and he’s got to solve the case. But he’s left with 28 kids. It’s crazy. [The execs] were like, “What?”
Jonathan, I feel like Queer Eye opened up a lot for you — your identity and your career. Can you talk a little bit about how participating in the show clarified things for you?
VAN NESS I think being on Queer Eye has only made things less clear for me. My life has changed a lot, but I’m now so much more aware of people and what they’re going through. Whether it’s talking about my HIV status or surviving abuse or whatever, I’ve been open about it. On one hand, I’m happy for my life and career. But how can I get more people into a space of thriving and healing and not feeling so stigmatized by these issues? Because when you do talk about it, you’re very quickly reminded how much people don’t understand or how much they don’t want to understand — which can be kind of daunting.
Lakshmi on Hulu’s Taste the Nation (left) and Bravo’s Top Chef (right).
Courtesy of MICHAEL DESMOND/HULU; DAVID MOIR/BRAVO
And you’re in Austin right now. Padma, you just filmed Top Chef in Houston. States like Texas are enacting legislation that I suspect doesn’t align with your values. Looking at these trends in the country now, how does that impact where you want to be working and the stories that you want to tell?
LAKSHMI It was hard to film in Texas. I still get a lot of comments on my Instagram like, “How could you go there?” But there are a lot of people in Texas. I don’t think that you can penalize all the people of the state because of its legislators. Houston is a really diverse place. I’ve filmed there with both shows. The way that I dealt with it personally … there was a huge march going on while we were filming Top Chef. I wanted to participate in it on behalf of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Bravo was very supportive. They had given us the day off and Tom [Colicchio] and Gail [Simmons] went with me, and I spoke at the rally. It’s hard to penalize a whole state. I’d rather be there and listen to people on the ground. The problem is that we’ve stopped talking to each other. I’m speaking personally. Even with Taste the Nation, I felt like I wasn’t creating the show for people who thought like me, I was creating the show for people in red states who were maybe not that familiar with the neighbors that lived even across the street.
VAN NESS If you look since 2016, hate crimes have risen every single year in the United States against LGBTQI+ people. Too often we have this ask: “Do you think that representation is increasing?” Representation’s important, but what’s the correlation between representation and legislation? Is it that when representation is better, we get more protective legislation? No. As we’ve had more representation, more anti-women, anti-LGBTQI+, anti-choice, anti-freedom-of-speech laws keep happening. We need to do a better job of explaining context and where representation doesn’t really necessarily make people’s lives better day-to-day.
LAKSHMI If there’s more representation in Congress, it will. It’s not happening enough, but it is happening. There are a lot of people getting elected and more will run. You’re using your platform to help those people.
LIZZO That’s a heavy, very real topic, because [my] TV show is not going to save the world. Culture changes a little quicker than the infrastructure of the laws in this country. And when I’ve changed 10 big Black girls’ lives on TV, what about the hundreds of thousands, millions of big Black girls in America who don’t have opportunities, who get talked about and who will never be able to live their dreams? I think about them all the time, because I was one of them. And knowing that my TV show can’t help everyone, it hurts and it sucks. My biggest thing is, “What do you say to people who are struggling right now who see these laws?” It’s hard to say anything to them because there’s nothing that I can do to change their experience. So, I feel you, J.V. I wish that we could reflect Congress. I wish that they could watch our shows and be inspired and say, “These people need protecting, and that’s my job.” But, far too often, we see that it’s quite the opposite. I think that as long as people are inspired, they’ll continue to seek their personal freedom. And I think the more free we are, the more we can fight. It sucks that we have to fight, but this is just where we’re at.
Lizzo, you talked about your Instagram Live that was caught on your show. I know you’ve taken breaks from social media before. What are your rules for engagement right now?
LIZZO I had Watch Out for the Big Grrrls. I dropped my shapewear, Yitty. I dropped a single. I announced my album. And I did SNL … all within two weeks. So, I had to come back on social media. There were lots of things that I was excited about and proud of and needed to share. It’s bigger than me at this point. It was about all of the girls who told their stories on Watch Out for the Big Grrrls. Social media don’t stop nothing over here. Trolls don’t stop nothing over here. I don’t have rules. Because, at the end of the day, the internet don’t have no rules. It’s the wild, wild west out there. I’m out there just blasting all of these hoes up and making my money. It makes me money, honey.
Lizzo (left) on Amazon’s Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.
Courtesy of JASON CLARK/AMAZON STUDIOS
If any of you could turn the camera on anyone in pop culture right now, who would you choose and why?
LIZZO J.V. made an incredible point: Turn it on the politicians. Cancel culture is this massive thing that we have turned into a machine. Cancel politicians. Turn the spotlight on them, the ones passing shitty laws and the ones who are hurting people. Call them out. Put them on reality TV. We’re not judging them enough. We’re judging people over here that don’t really have an effect on our lives. I want to see a reality show about what them motherfuckers do on a day-to-day.
BYER Yeah, I would’ve loved to see what the conversation was behind Nancy Pelosi wearing kente cloth. What was that conversation? “Do you think that’s a good idea?” Nancy’s like, “Yes, let’s put it on. And we’ll kneel.” (Laughter.)
On that lighter note, let’s talk about dream collaborators. Whose incoming call would make you absolutely lose your mind?
BYER I’ll say it. Lizzo, you. People were tweeting me, like “Nicole, you did so well on SNL.” [Lizzo hosted and performed on the April 16 episode.] I get it. I get it. Two fat Black women cannot exist at the same time. But, honestly, I love your work and would love to do anything with you.
VAN NESS I was thinking that, too. If you need an assistant hairdresser or someone to come lay on a puddle for you to walk over, I’m here for that very majorly.
LAKSHMI Lizzo, I will cook you anything you want — anytime, anywhere.
LIZZO Tell Will that. He doesn’t even want me on his show Murderville.
ARNETT I do! I do! I love your spirit. I think you’re awesome. I would love for you to come and do Murderville. You kidding me? You’re the first person I’m calling, Lizzo. And you’d better pick up.
VAN NESS Here’s a compliment for you, Will. On several occasions, while you were answering, you were really shivering my timbers. The tonality of your speaking voice is just … ooh, yes.
LAKSHMI I never noticed how deep your voice was.
ARNETT Nobody pays enough attention! I’ll always take compliments. Somebody said to me recently, “Oh, you only like being around people who like you.” Um, yeah. Who wants to be around people who don’t like them?
What’s the most thankless job you’ve had in the entertainment industry?
ARNETT Oh, God. I’ve had so many. I did a couple of episodes of The Sopranos, years ago, and I didn’t really do anything. I was just this husband of this FBI agent, and they were like, “You don’t really need to say anything.” But I did read for David Chase. I get there, it was in Queens, and they said, “Well, you got one line.” I said, “One line? I thought I was just meeting.” “No, he just wants to hear you say a line.” “Well, this is going to be weird.” So, I go in and sit down with Georgianne Walken, the casting director, and David Chase. She goes, “You ready?” I go, “Yeah.” And I just go, “Line?”— as if I’d forgotten my one line. He ended up laughing, and I got the part. It was thankless, but I felt vindicated that I made him laugh.
BYER One of my first jobs was a Nestlé commercial that I had to fly to Romania to shoot. It was for Israeli Nestlé. In the audition, the casting director was like, “I want you to be as Black as possible. And if you’re too Black, I’ll bring you back.” I was like, “Hmm, white lady, what do you mean by that?” But I ended up getting the part. They would hoist me up — I was a fairy, so I had to fly around — and the stunt man was like, “We found the biggest man here in Romania [to hoist you]. Still not as big as you, but I don’t think you’ll fall.” It was the wildest two days of my life. I was just like a piñata, just swinging there in this big, poofy dress. They had done my makeup there, and they didn’t understand why I looked different than my audition tape. I was like, “You don’t have my colors and you made me look bad.” So, then I had to do my own makeup. It still lives on YouTube. Not my finest work, but she got a $5,000 buyout and she was 25 — so it paid my rent for a little bit.
LAKSHMI I was so thankful that I got my foot in the door, even [when] I did this beer commercial. It was humiliating. I had to bend down and bop this guy on the head, and I was out in the sun for 12 hours. But I went home at the time — and, yes, I was also in my 20s — and I was like, “I did a commercial today!” I was so excited.
LIZZO I’ve worn a lot of hats since the beginning. I was my own tour manager. I was driving the car. I was getting the cash at the end of the day, selling my merch. I was singing backup for the guy we were opening up for. I was my own crafty, making chip salads at the gas station. And I think I’ve carried that spirit into who I am now, in my career now. I’m so hands-on with everything.
Before we go, somebody tell me the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you that made it to air.
VAN NESS I’ll call myself out. We were shooting that last pre-pandemic episode in March 2020. I had just got back from Australia, on a tour. And my foot was not cute. I thought, “What are the chances that we’re going to have a close-up of my foot … the beauty expert?” None. So, I wore this little open-toe heel. Then, of course, there are these slo-mo, get-out-of-the-car shots, close-up on our feet. The very first shot of Queer Eye season six is just my crusty, bunioned big toe. And my heels are just giving you Hardee’s biscuit. When I saw that, the blood left my face. But it’s fine. I’m a human.
LIZZO It’s all vanity. Mine is just sweat. It was so fucking hot in the middle of August, when we did Watch Out for the Big Grrrls. I just have so many moments where you just see sweat under my titties. And I don’t really wear bras like that … free the girls. So, it’s sweat everywhere. I didn’t care, though. Let’s get gritty.
BYER Under-titty sweat is not talked about enough. You don’t even realize it’s there until you take a picture or look in the mirror … and, oh, damn.
LIZZO It’ll get you!
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.