ELLE’s 2021 Women in Hollywood November issue is here! The issue features nine remarkable women being honored for the creative and cultural contributions they have made to the worlds of music, film, television, and beyond. The 2021 honorees grace the November covers of ELLE, on newsstands November 2, 2021.
There were moments over the past 20 months when it felt like we might never be able to safely step foot inside a movie theater again. Near the start of the pandemic, Hollywood stars, like all nonessential workers, were sidelined, left to cheer on health care workers and ponder their own purpose in a changed world. Some jumped into action, protesting police brutality, or lending their platforms to activists on the front lines. And then, slowly, COVID protocols in place, filming began again.
ELLE’s 2021 Women in Hollywood honorees are the definition of resilient: They channel trauma into art (Jennifer Hudson) and speak truth to power (Jodie Comer). They’re barrier breakers, from Rita Moreno, the first Latina to win an Oscar (for Best Supporting Actress), to Halle Berry, the first (and still only) Black woman to win the Best Actress Oscar, to Lauren Ridloff, who, like her Eternals character Makkari, is deaf, a first for Marvel films. Ridloff’s costars are tireless advocates for refugees (Angelina Jolie) and domestic violence survivors (Salma Hayek), and have spoken out against AAPI violence (Gemma Chan).
Likewise, while Gal Gadot’s art thief character in Red Notice is no superhero, offscreen she has bravely stood up to on-set mistreatment, protecting her colleagues in the process: “My sense of justice is very strong,” she says. Meanwhile, Berry, who directs and stars in this month’s mixed martial arts film Bruised, is used to “fighting for the right to be,” she says. “I’m grateful that I’m still here, and I’m a part of this awakening. Because I really feel inspired by what’s happening now.”
On the bond the four women developed on set and the different strengths each woman brought to the table: “A lot of times as an actress, you’re that individual strong woman, or you have one sister; you don’t often have this family where you really get to know women and see all the different strengths. Gemma’s grace and elegance and the way she walks through the world. Salma’s motherhood and power, and Lauren’s connection and intelligence. Everybody came as themselves. Maybe there’s something to that, that the characters weren’t as far off [from ourselves]. I think there’s a secret that we don’t know that our director knows, because if you look at her films, she casts a lot of real people as their roles and it shapes her films.”
On the power of the Marvel universe’s scope around the world: “There’s a place for different kinds of films and different kinds of storytelling. For me, one of the most powerful things about Marvel films is that they are seen globally—the reach of them. That’s an in- credibly powerful thing. I love the fact that Marvel has been bringing in directors from the independent film world who have a unique point of view on the world. You think about the diversity of this cast and what message that’s going to send to all corners of the globe. I love independent film, but the reality is that maybe a smaller indie film is not going to have that reach. There is something about the potential and the impact that these films can have, which is amazing.”
On playing the first deaf character to be featured in a Marvel movie and why this film is an opportunity to show representation on screen: “I have to say, it was something that I didn’t even think about. I just knew it was the right thing for me to do, for somebody like myself, a woman, a person of color who is deaf. With this film…I think it’s an opportunity for us to show representation on the screen. It’s clear, it’s not hidden. Obviously, our differences are apparent: our race, our culture, our values, our abilities. But I think our representation, it doesn’t carry the story. It’s not the point of the story, but it’s still refreshing. It’s new.”
On being cast as a superhero in a Marvel movie and feeling seen by director Chloé Zhao: “One day I got the call and I’m like, ‘What?’ And I thought, Okay, I’m going to play the grandmother. I never thought I was going to be one of the Eternals. It doesn’t happen. It’s never happened to me like that before without a fight and like, ‘I can do this, please hire me!’ When she told me I was one of them, I was like, ‘Me, Mexican, Middle Eastern? Me, in my fifties? I’m going to be a superhero in a Marvel movie?’ Sometimes as a woman, as a woman of color and with the age, you feel so overlooked. It was one of those moments where you think, Okay, I held on in this industry, survived for this long. I just felt acknowledged by somebody I admire and didn’t know she was watching me. I kept feeling like, S**t, this one is cool. She’s got balls, she’s interesting.”
On life after Killing Eve and her upcoming role in the The Last Duel, a historical drama directed by Ridley Scott with a screenplay written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon—their first since Good Will Hunting—and Nicole Holofcener, the Oscar-nominated co-screenwriter of Can You Ever Forgive Me?: “I’ve grown so much on this job, especially in regard to finding my own voice,” she says of Killing Eve. “Now as I’m stepping into this new world, I feel more ready and aware, and like all my ideas aren’t complete and utter rubbish. It’s really given me confidence in myself.” The Last Duel follows Marguerite as she accuses her husband’s best friend, played by Adam Driver, of rape; in turn, her husband, played by Matt Damon, challenges her attacker to a duel. “People keep saying, ‘Oh, it’s just so relevant,’ and I’m like, That’s so sad, because we could say that for every period in history,” Comer says. “There’s never been a decade when a woman hasn’t spoken her truth and been shamed for it.”
On why she was drawn to her upcoming project Bruised—which she directs and stars in—about a troubled mixed martial arts fighter who tries to get back into the sport when she regains custody of her son: She grew up watching boxing movies like Raging Bull; she loved the idea of a “strong, noble man” who triumphs in the end. “Fighting for the right to be is something that I know,” she says. “I started my career 30 years ago when Black women didn’t really have a prominent place in the industry, so I understand what it is to fight for what you believe in. I love stories that are about redemption, allowing people second chances—and in our case, last chances. I love knowing that we can all make mistakes and be forgiven.”
On standing up for herself and others after being mistreated by Joss Whedon on the set of Justice League: A Hollywood Reporter story alleged that Whedon verbally abused Gadot when she shared concerns about her character and dialogue. Whedon declined to comment for that story. While his on-set remarks haven’t been made public, Gadot said on Israeli TV in May that Whedon “kind of threatened my career and said if I did something, he would make my career miserable.” Asked about her initial reaction to those comments, she says, “Oh, I was shaking trees as soon as it happened. And I must say that the heads of Warner Brothers, they took care of it…. Going back to the sense of righteousness that I have…you’re dizzy because you can’t believe this was just said to you. And if he says it to me, then obviously he says it to many other people. I just did what I felt like I had to do. And it was to tell people that it’s not okay. I would’ve done the same thing, I think, if I was a man. Would he tell me what he told me had I been a man? I don’t know. We’ll never know. But my sense of justice is very strong. I was shocked by the way that he spoke to me. But whatever, it’s done. Water under the bridge.”
On being an activist throughout her career and why Hollywood needs to address ageism: “Standing up for causes may not have been the safest thing for my career, but that’s when my conscience came into play,” she says. “I decided a long time ago we have to help people when we can and if we’re able to.” From AIDS efforts in the 1980s to supporting bills expanding voting rights today, Moreno has continuously refused to stay silent. As she enters her tenth decade, Moreno now finds herself facing another unpleasant foe: ageism. “Hollywood hasn’t even begun to address this problem, considering the doting-grandmother typecasting that happens to silver-haired women like me,” she says. Not that she’s accepting any of those roles. In next year’s indie dark comedy, The Prank, Moreno plays a teacher accused of murder who is “one mean b**ch,” she says. “It was so much fun.”
On playing Aretha Franklin and receiving Franklin’s approval to play her in her biopic: “I sit and think about it, like, What artist is built like that?” Hudson says, via Zoom, while trying to describe Franklin’s gift. “She was music. She was anointed, and her life was anointed.” But Franklin clearly saw something in Hudson, asking to meet with her following her Oscar-winning performance in Dreamgirls, and finalizing the decision while Hudson was in The Color Purple on Broadway. “It was my dream to play her,” says the actress, 40. “So then for her to say she wanted me to play her, it was a dream come true.” The next dream biopic role she’s currently manifesting: “I would love to play Oprah,” she says.
[Photo Credit: Greg Williams/ELLE Magazine]