Living doll: why Amy Schumer’s the best thing to happen to Barbie

Why all the fuss over Schumer in the role of the iconic toy? Its a winning situation for the actor, her fans, Sony Pictures and Mattel. The only losers are the misogynists

There is a certain perspective on the current wave of female-led movies the recent Ghostbusters remake and the similarly pitched forthcoming reworking of Oceans Eleven that well call, for simplicity, the Ernie Hudson rule. It suggests that these movies really ought not to exist at all, but if they must exist, let them feature gorgeous young women primed to appeal to male filmgoers base instincts.

Hudson, who played Winston Zeddemore in the original 1984 Ghostbusters, typified such thinking when he told the Telegraph in 2014 that the new version of the classic supernatural comedy, then just an apple in director Paul Feigs eye, was a bad idea. I love females. I hope that if they go that way at least theyll be funny, and if theyre not funny at least hopefully itll be sexy.

The Ghostbusters remake was pretty sexy, in its own way. But most of the movies va-va-voom came from Kristen Wiigs hilarious meta-infused objectification of Chris Hemsworths Kevin the receptionist and Kate McKinnons inoffensive flirting. Charlies Angels with proton packs it certainly was not. And why would anyone expect it to be? The original Ghostbusters Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Zeddemore and Harold Ramis did not take down Gozer and his minions while wearing skimpy, tight-fitting clothing. So where did sexy come from for the all-female rejig?

Hudsons comment was stereotypical of a Hollywood system that values male stars for their charisma, charm and screen presence, while continuing to define women by their youth and vital statistics. Hence the barrage of criticism greeting the appointment of Gal Gadot as the new Wonder Woman, and now the disgruntlement in certain darker corners of the internet and Twittersphere over the reported casting of Amy Schumer as Barbie in a new live-action movie about the famously hourglass-figured doll. Presumably the mens rights types who got themselves in a tizzy over Charlize Therons supposed upstaging of Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road, would have been less upset if the South African actor had been in full glossy, demure and polished Dior mode, rather than appearing as a one-armed skinhead.

Buck Buckelson (@BuckyBuckBuck1)

@GodfreyElfwick “Barbie Goes to Fat Camp” starring Amy Schumer.

December 2, 2016

One can only imagine the rigid world view that inspires such anger. Clearly a Hollywood where Ghostbusters and Oceans Eleven movies feature all-male casts and Wonder Woman and Barbie are played by buxom 20-somethings with tiny waists is the only thing holding some people back from apoplexies of outrage. Who knew that upon such curious details were built so many filmgoers sense that everything is right in the world?

The good news is that there is no bad news, for Schumers casting means we might just be getting a Barbie movie that rises above the toys rather naff roots. One can only imagine that the executives at Mattel saw the fabulously affectionate job Pixar did with the sartorially obsessed doll in the Toy Story movies and decided to take an even bigger risk with their brand. And why not? The Lego Movie has done nothing but favours for the Danish toy-maker.

Schumer brings with her a veneer of spiky feminist cool, not to mention a singular mode of warm-hearted yet hard-hitting satire. She challenged attitudes towards female promiscuity with the fiercely honest and surprisingly joyful Trainwreck, but no one should expect a Schumer-led Barbie film to veer into such obviously adult territory because it doesnt need to. Even without her trademark ribald humour, the comics involvement on a creative level (she has been given permission to polish the script in her own image) transforms a project that would surely have struggled at the box office Barbie movies have previously been TV-only affairs into one with serious buzz.

Moreover, Schumer embodies the kind of healthy female empowerment that Mattel increasingly seems to wants to tap into, if the companys introduction of a new fuller-figured doll earlier this year is anything to go by. And the American actor gets to introduce herself to a younger audience that might not have been aware of her work. Everybody wins.

Except, perhaps, those who would rather see an actor with more over-the-top proportions playing the doll. But unless Im much mistaken, these are hardly genuine Barbie fans who have been crying themselves to sleep at night over the prospect of Schumers appointment. There are no childhoods being ruined here, only the possibility that a much-loved plaything might soon be better known for being played by the hottest kick-ass comic in Hollywood right now, rather than for having enormous bosoms.

The 18 Best Fiction Books Of 2016

Each year, when best-of lists start popping up all over promptly on Dec. 1, it feels too soon. Really? We’re saying goodbye to the year already? It’s barely 11/12ths over! 

For 2016, many have been wishing it gone for some time already. It will have taken with it Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, and the dream of a first female president of the United States (for the foreseeable future). 

But let’s look back on the good nay, the transcendent. This year may not have been the all-time greatest, but there was some all-time great literature published since we wrapped up 2015. Subtle, shimmering short fiction; sprawling family sagas; searing portraits of social trauma: 2016 had it all.

Though we read many wonderful works of fiction this year, these 18 novels and collections were particularly outstanding:

  • “The Vegetarian” by Han Kang

    In a three-part novel told from the perspective of a womans status-conscious husband, libidinous brother-in-law and desperate sister, the central character, Yeong-hye, suddenly chooses to give up all meat and animal products. This seemingly simple action blows up her entire social and family life around her — but Yeong-hye quietly continues to refuse meat. Han Kangs first novel to be translated into English, The Vegetarian seethes with quietly violent imagery and grapples with immense questions about human survival, patriarchal societies, the consequences of abuse, and, of course, eating meat. A work of magical realist horror, domestic psychological fiction, and a layered exploration of ethics, its one of the years true fiction must-reads. Claire Fallon

    Read our review of The Vegetarian.

  • “Another Brooklyn” by Jacqueline Woodson

    Theres no question that Jacqueline Woodson — whose National Book Award-winning young adult novel Brown Girl Dreaming is written in verse — is a stylish writer. The negative space in her first adult book, Another Brooklyn, communicates as much as the words on the page. The story of a girl whose family relocates to Brooklyn after a disorienting loss is peppered with anthropological views on death, sex, music and gentrification. Its heroine, August, once defined by her relationships with the young girls in her neighborhood, now works as a social scientist. Her reflection on her own coming of age is a big story in a small, melodic package. Maddie Crum

    Read our review of Another Brooklyn.

  • “The Seed Collectors” by Scarlett Thomas
    Soft Skull Press

    A bequest from an eccentric aunt sends a family of middle-aged siblings and cousins into turmoil, in this darkly comic, genre-tweaking novel. With pinches of fantasy and subversion, Thomas builds a rich and rollicking world of dysfunctional marriages, even more dysfunctional former flings, holistic yoga retreats, vanished parents and botanical exploring. Its somehow too witty, too human and too fantastical all at once to forget. CF

    Read our review of The Seed Collectors.

  • “Ninety-Nine Stories of God” by Joy Williams
    Tin House Books

    A curiosity shop of reflections and vignettes, Williams collection of very short stories centers on the different forms God takes on when released unto the hands of mortal wonderers and worshipers. God can be the anticipated dinner party guest who never shows; God can be a fairy tale shared at bedtime. Read together, Joy Williams stories are a humanist manifesto, a celebration of our most mysterious values, desires and prejudices. MC

    Read our review of Ninety-Nine Stories of God.

  • “Zero K” by Don DeLillo

    With the same brainy humor he brought to all-consuming techno-clouds and hyper-capitalist TV execs, Don DeLillo turns his critical eye to the latest technological advancement threatening to alter the fabric humanity: cryonics. Jeff is unsettled by his absent fathers financial involvement in a facility meant to freeze the dying until medical advancements have caught up. The Convergence — built smack in isolated Kyrgyzstan — is part research facility, part spiritual center. Its message is perpetuated by men who spew jargon that wouldnt be out of place in Silicon Valley. So, When Jeffs father reveals that hes not just trying to save the life of Artis, his young, new wife — hes hoping to freeze himself, too — Jeff struggles to make sense of it. MC

    Read our review of Zero K.

  • “The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan

    Karan Mahajans sophomore novel artfully and empathetically sketches out how small incidences of terror come to be, and how the effects tear through the lives of the victims and communities. Set mostly in Delhi, India, where a small bomb explosion forever alters the lives of the primary characters, The Association of Small Bombs pulls readers into the lives of bombmakers, jihadists, peaceful activists, victims and victims families. Mahajans jittery, sometimes disorienting narrative is propulsive reading, but also seems to mimic the effects of trauma left on his characters as they stumble through an uncertain world. His excellent novel leaves readers with a fuller, more human sense of a subject often caricatured or ignored by American media. CF

    Read our review of The Association of Small Bombs.

  • “Goodnight, Beautiful Women” by Anna Noyes
    Grove Atlantic

    In a world of books with “girl” in the title, Anna Noyes writes, instead, about the fraught lives of young women. In her debut collection of connected stories, she never romanticizes the danger and sexual tension that colors the lives of her heroines. Instead, she studies these experiences as facts of life, harsh as a New England winter. Many of the stories are set in Maine; several center on a mysterious town quarry, where young swimmers explore, in spite of its unknowable dangers; all of them are emotionally resonant, with touching, memorable characters. MC

    Read our review of Goodnight, Beautiful Women.

  • “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead

    If you wont listen to the National Book Foundation, which recently awarded The Underground Railroad its 2016 Fiction Award, listen to us: Read this book. Colson Whitehead weaves together a sordid history of white American violence toward black Americans, during and after slavery, into one steam-punked, sci-fied escape adventure about a woman named Cora. The writing: electrifying. The scenes: often horrifying. The book: unmissable. CF

    Read our review of The Underground Railroad.

  • “Private Citizens” by Tony Tulathimutte
    William Morrow

    It would not be difficult to write a parody of millennial toil. So many of our generations tragedies — connected as they are to the virtual world — seem disconnected from real, affecting consequences. Itd be easy to be nihilistic about all that, to write a scorching, heartless satire. But in Private Citizens, TonyTulathimutte critiques the young, West coast set while still managing to love his characters, even the fame-obsessed, even the porn-addicted, even the self-righteous startup leaders. Each is handled with wit and tenderness. MC

    Read our review of Private Citizens.

  • “The Past” by Tessa Hadley

    A family of middle-aged siblings gets together for one last summer at the old family house to discuss selling it. Old dynamics arise. Children experiment. Old hat — but in Hadleys sure hands, the result is a rich, earthy, unsettling and memorable read, full of luminous turns of phrase and striking images. Her observations of the natural setting of the narrative are particularly gorgeous, making the summer house, the woods, or a stream seem both tangible and laden with meaning. — CF

    Read our review of The Past.

  • “The Red Car” by Marcy Dermansky

    Spare, strange and Murakamiesque — in fact, Marcy Dermansky references the author in her latest novel —The Red Car follows a young, married woman on a trip from the East Coast to the West, where she used to work in the HR department as the protg of Judy, a woman who moonlighted as an artist. Just out of college, Leah turned her nose up at the pleasure Judy took in material delights — specifically, a red sports car. So when Judy dies, and bequeaths her the car, Leah must revisit the life she left behind, and reevaluate the life shes chosen. A thoughtful meditation on class, art, and the many lives we inhabit on the road to growing up. MC

    Read our review of The Red Car.

  • “Problems” by Jade Sharma
    Coffee House Press

    The self-loathing, self-destructive, and eminently hateable protagonist has been a staple of literary fiction for decades, but theyre usually white men — or at least white. Jade Sharma told Publisher’s Weeklyof her heroine, Maya, Indian girls can be crazy bitches, too. Problems tells Mayas story of heroin abuse, personal flailing and recovery in raw, razor-sharp prose, painting an unromanticized yet witty and profound portrait of addiction. CF

    Read our review of Problems.

  • “Imagine Me Gone” by Adam Haslett
    Little Brown and Company

    Adam Haslett writes lyrically and affectingly about mental health, and about Generalized Anxiety Disorder specifically. Two characters in his familial drama — John and Michael, father and son — wrestle with the same beast, in coruscating, upsetting chapters wherein their separate neuroses unravel. Both men rely heavily on their loved ones for survival, and both their presence and their absence influences those around them. Johns wife, Celia, does what she can to uphold tradition; his daughter, Celia, loses herself in monogamy; his second son, Alec, chases his dream to become a journalist, exploring his sexuality along the way. The resulting story is a layered look at music, history, and how love and illness can transcend generations. MC

    Read our review of Imagine Me Gone.

  • “Pond” by Claire-Louise Bennett

    Pond is the sort of book that demands to be read slowly, deliberately. A debut book of fiction which reads like an unconventional novel but has been described as a book of linked short stories, it gives voice to the quotidian musings of a young woman who lives alone in a cottage near a small Irish village. A failed academic, a bit at sea, she swims in a rich inner life that even overwhelms the friendships and romances she cultivates. She reads a dystopian novel and draws drastic conclusions about her own broken stove; she becomes obsessed with throwing a dinner party because she hopes a certain acquaintance she finds intriguing will come and sit precisely on her ottoman; she analyzes the mechanics through which rain drops fall on and through thick foliage, and later fall from the leaves after the rain has ended. Claire-Louise Bennett has the gift of felicitous word choice, crafting phrases you want to luxuriate in rather than hurry through. The book is brief, and light on narrative, but readers will want to stretch out their time with Pond and its pensive, neurotically funny, gentle and yet rather mordant narrator as long as possible. CF

  • “The Bed Moved” by Rebecca Schiff

    Rebecca Schiff brings the humor and insight of a stand-up routine to her short stories, most of them centered on the sexual exploits of young women. Also like a comedian, she uses her medium as an opportunity to bust open social norms. Her characters question the most appropriate ways togrieve, and how one should behave at the wedding of a friend whos marrying a man they dont respect. These arent didactic lessons, but emotionally honest observations about the rift between how were expected to act, and how wemore often feel compelled to behave. MC

    Read our review of The Bed Moved.

  • “The Nix” by Nathan Hill

    As Donald Trump was hurtling, unpredictably, toward the presidency, Nathan Hills doorstopper of a debut was hitting bookshelves and showing a fictionalized America that looked far too familiar for comfort. Weaving together online gaming obsessions and millennial app addictions with an overarching saga surrounding a man, his long-lost mother, and the demagogic presidential candidate she threw gravel at, The Nix cleverly riffs on the most vapid impulses of our political, news media and entertainment industries. Throughout it all, Hill finds warmth and humanity in his cast of characters. CF

    Read our review of The Nix.

  • “The Girls” by Emma Cline
    Random House

    Emma Clines debut is thrilling — its carefully plotted, a quick and engrossing read — but it does more work than most thrillers do. Readers who pick up the book will know whodunit, as the crimes committed in the story are loosely based on the historic murders carried out by Charles Manson. The tension, then, results from whether Clines fictional heroine, Evie Boyd, will get sucked into the alluring world of drugs, sex, rebellion and love shared between women. Isolated from her family and former friends, Evie slides easily into the Russells — i.e., Mansons — community. Most of us would in her situation, The Girls seems to imply. But how far will she go before losing herself completely? Guided by Clines playful prose, we stay with Evie as she tests the limits of her morality. MC

    Read our review of The Girls.

  • “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith
    Penguin Press

    Few can compete with Zadie Smith when shes in form, and Swing Time is just that. Set in her childhood home and literary stomping grounds, North West London, the novel follows two black girls mutually drawn together by their identical light-brown skin, biracial background and passion for dancing — then separated by their unequal talents and family situations. Smiths dry humor, deft characterization and thematic richness are on full display in this bittersweet story of black girlhood and growing up. CF

    Read our review of Swing Time.

Leslie Mann gets seriously funny in ‘The Comedian’

(CNN)Leslie Mann didn’t set out to be funny.

Mann told CNN that she considered herself a “dramatic actress” after studying acting in her early twenties — until she realized her “serious” performances were eliciting laughs.
    “I remember auditioning for things and really taking myself very seriously and people would just kind of laugh at me,” Mann said. “Not always, but sometimes enough to where it was concerning and I think that I just started slowly going into a different direction.”
    Mann and her husband, writer/director, Judd Apatow have become a comedic force in Hollywood. Mann has starred in several of his biggest hits including “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “This Is 40,” all of which have solidified her as one of the most sought after comedic actresses of the past decade.
    Mann next stars in the upcoming dramedy “The Comedian,” alongside Robert De Niro and Danny DeVito. She plays a woman who has a short-lived romance with a comedian [De Niro] trying to revive his career. Mann’s performance in the film is already generating award season buzz.
    “I’ve always loved ‘Harold and Maude,’ ‘Terms of Endearment,’ movies that are so funny but so real and grounded, human. So, I think that that’s where I find myself now,” Mann said. “Luckily, I just kind of found my way into making the kind of movies I loved growing up.”
    And there’s one funny woman, in particular, who Mann would like to share a table with.
    “Shirley MacLaine, love her. She’s kind of like my number one. I love her the most. I met her briefly but I wish I could have lunch with her or something, that’d be great.”
    “The Comedian” hits theaters January 13.

    Tim Roth: If you neglect the working class for so long, they will rebel against you

    The actor, who plays a serial killer in new BBC drama Rillington Place, talks about the rise of fascism in the US, the abuse he suffered as a child and why he cares only about reviews from the staff in his local supermarket

    It is a balmy afternoon in Pasadena, California, with winter sunshine flooding the hotel terrace. Tim Roth exudes a dash of dandy in a kneelength vintage black coat. The illusion dissolves when he chucks it over a chair revealing a wrinkled black Tshirt, old jeans and stained black boots plonks in a chair and orders a beer. He could be an offduty plumber.

    He lights up a vape and proceeds to puff minty clouds. Kids got me on to it, years ago,to get me off the fags. It works, but I vapetoo much. The Londoner is 55 and wearsit well: hair swept back, trim beard, relaxed. Over three decades, he has played memorably tormented characters who suffer or inflict suffering; a vicious skinhead in AlanClarkes Made in Britain (1982); an apprentice assassin in Stephen Frears TheHit(1984); a literal abomination in The Incredible Hulk; a psychotic simian general inPlanet of the Apes; bloodied or hapless characters in Quentin Tarantinos Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight. Likewise, heis usually tragic or villainous inindies andTVgigs.

    Yet Roth remains an enigma. He lives quietly with his family in Pasadena, a leafy part of Los Angeles. He avoids the celebrity circuit and is wary of the media; he has a reputation as a prickly interviewee. But today he proves gregarious and gracious, even whenhe is raging aboutthepresident-elect.

    He has played memorably tormented characters: Tim Roth as Trevor in Alan Clarkes Made in Britain. Photograph: BFI Stills Posters & Designs

    I hate Trump. I hate everything that he stands for. He should never be forgotten or forgiven for anything he said on the road to the White House. There should be no concession to him. No Lets give him a chance. None of it, he says. Grab them by the pussy, right? Look at where we are now and who is in charge of this country and, by extension, a good chunk of the world someone with misogynistictendencies.

    Roth rooted first for Bernie Sanders, then Hillary Clinton (although, as a non-citizen, hecould not vote). He says he predicted a Trump victory early on. If you neglect the working class for so fucking long they will rebel against you. There was a dire need to stop a rise of fascism in America and we didnttake it seriously enough.

    This leads to discussion of Roths journalist father, Ernie Smith. He grew up dirt poor, fought in the war with the RAF, changed the family name to Roth, partly in solidarity with Jews, and joined Britains Communist party. He quit the party in the 1970s, Roth recalls, partly over sex scandals that appalled him. He was anabused kid, my dad, and it was aterrible childhood that he had, and hetookthat shit seriously.

    I am startled. When Roth made his directorial debut, The War Zone (1999), based on Alexander Stuarts novel about a father abusing his daughter, he revealed, without much elaboration, that he had been abused asa child. Now he is saying his dad was, too?

    He was an abused kid, my dad … But nobody had the language. Thats why I made it: Lara Belmont and Ray Winstone in The War Zone. Photograph: Allstar/Channel 4 Films

    He nods. He was a damaged soul. Iloved him. He was funnier than fuck. He puffs on the vape. He was abused. And I was abused. But I was not abused by him. I was abused byhis abuser.

    The same abuser?

    Yeah. It was his father. Roths grandfather. His voice drops. He was a fucking rapist. But nobody had the language. Nobody knew what to do. Thats why I made The War Zone.

    Roth looks out at the hotel gardens. A few minutes earlier, they were green and sunlit. Asif on cue, rainclouds appear and turn everything grey. In one especially horrifying scene in TheWar Zone, the camera is motionless, an impassive observer, as the father rapes his daughter. Some festival audiences walked out.

    Roth closes the subject and our conversation moves on. But clearly the theme still draws him, because he may tackle abuse in his second directorial outing a film about child welfare services set in 1980s New York. He may also direct a Harold Pinter script of King Lear and reprise Trevor the skinhead inasequel to Made in Britain.

    He left London in 1991. He fears the UK is heading down a dark path. I like working there, but Im done living there. I fell out of love with it. I think the tabloid sensationalism world of it just became too overwhelming for me. Its here, too, but you dont notice it so much. And now with Brexit … I dont know what to make of it all. Strange thing.

    A psychotic simian general: Roth as Thade in Planet of the Apes. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

    Pressed, he continues. Its been taken over. Its The X Factor, Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Tony Blair nature of it all. He fancies Jeremy Corbyn, who may peel off his usual vote for the Greens, but he plans to remain inthe US, even though he cannot vote here. Ican handle this a bit better, weirdly. There are a lot more lefties out here.

    LA has not dented his use of south London idioms, nor induced airs about acting. The methodists? Not interested in any of it. I dont take acting as seriously as people expect me to. I used to think I should. I thought you weresupposed to live and breathe it.

    This approach probably helps when playingpsychos (he was once slated toplay ayoung Hannibal Lecter). It used to be that Id have all the [research] detritus lying around the house and my wife would freak out. Now, its all on computer, so I can just close it and it all goes away. It doesnt affect me. I dont carry my work around with me at all. When youre preparing is when its difficult. But once you start its easy to switchit all off. And once filming wraps? Have a good shower, move on.

    He is currently appearing on TV playing areal monster: John Christie, the seemingly meek serial killer who strangled at least eight women and hid the bodies in his house and garden in London between 1943 and 1953.

    Roth studied the archives. A lot was tabloid sensationalism. But there were also police records, interviews with people who knew him, from local prostitutes to familymembers.

    Christie was from the Midlands and spokein a whisper, prompting Roth and a dialect coach to cast around for a particular accent and tone to help channel the sociopath. Step forward son of Leeds Alan Bennett. It was oneof the voices we found that really helped,says Roth.

    He tilts his head, adopts a strange smile and does the voice. His very quiet voice, very comforting, very sweet, here, have a cup of tea. The effect is deeply creepy, not least because Bennett is a beloved playwright and arguably the least menacing man in Britain.

    He played a gentle, old, quite respectable fellow. That was the character. But it was not him: Tim Roth and Samantha Morton as John and Ethel Christie. Photograph: Des Willie/BBC

    You can see the results in 10 Rillington Place, a three-part BBC drama in which Roth is almost unrecognisable: bald, stooped and shuffly, a manipulator who fools victims, neighbours and police. Before eventually catching Christie, the authorities hanged an innocent man, Timothy Evans, for one of the murders, contributing to Britains abolition ofcapital punishment.

    We shot a lot more than they showed in terms of what he did, what he liked, what he did to women. Whats interesting is that the neighbours liked him and the local kids liked him. He played a gentle, old, quite respectable fellow. That was thecharacter. But it wasnothim.

    Roth zig-zagged to Hollywood. He studied sculpting at Camberwell College of Arts before switching to acting, a decision emboldened byRay Winstones depiction of a borstal tough in Scum (1979). I watched it again and again, back to back, and thought: If he can do that, Ican do that. When you see a performance like that coming from a background like that, it makes itpossible for you.

    Roth felt part of a working-class wave Winstone, Kathy Burke, Gary Oldman, Phil Davis and Steve Sweeney, among others crashing through Britains thespian portals. It was an extraordinary thing … none weretoffs.

    They thrived, but the gates seemed to shutbehind them. The wealthy and middle class now dominate Britains creative industries. Rich people have a safety net … so they can afford to fail, they can afford to be unemployed, which is most of what you are when youre an actor, says Roth. Im notsure its about the toffs so much as cost. Youre in debt for fucking life if you want to goto drama school. The government isnt going to support you any more; thats all over.There are no grants.

    Roth got his big break as Mr Orange in Quentin Tarantinos Reservoir Dogs. Photograph: Allstar/Rank Film

    That said, the eldest of his three sons, Jack, the product of a relationship with writer and producer Lori Baker, works as an actor in London. He makes his own way, pays his own way. But its hard, says Roth. He groans and laughs when asked about Jacks choice of career. Please dont do that, oh God. Its kind of funny, really all my boys are in the arts. Nikki Butler, a fashion designer whom Roth married in 1993, is the mother of his other sons.

    He bears no grudges against toffs, singling out Rupert Everett as hugely delightful. He shoots down the internet rumour that he would like to name a hippo Colin as a riposte to Colin Firth bagging leading roles. Colin is one of my favourite names to name dogs, he says, wryly. Flinty political statements aside, Roth says he can respect and work with anyone. My father-in-law is a Republican. Hes one of the most decent men Ive ever met. Hes a good human being. I work with Scientologists; it doesnt matter to me. I work with Catholics; Jesus, figure that one out. If people are good, theyre good. If they have different political convictions, its irrelevant, unless theyre harmful. If they can bend a bit … Ithink youre all right.

    When he moved to California, he discovered a niche. Everyone had to be pretty; in movies, that was the deal. That was why they were boring. I thought: Theres a hole in the market for proper character actors again. Directors such as Tarantino, James Gray and Steven Soderbergh concurred. They employed me. Itwas unbelievable. You didnt have to look like a matinee idol, you could actually be human.

    Roth has to get his kit off in an upcoming project, he confides, bemused why anyone would want to look at a 55-year-old geezer, but he feels it is almost a duty to show his flaws on screen. You want to have real men, not fake men … none of that gym culture. He pities hostages to six-pack tyranny. If beauty is your worth, or that version of beauty is what youre paid for, you have to keep that fucking up. Ryan Gosling, for one, is too savvy to be trapped, he says. Hes used it welland will absolutely escape that nonsense. Fortunately, I make a living not out of that.

    On cue, a waiter brings another beer. But Roth, let it be noted, has no hint of a gut.

    I loved working with Nicole Kidman, but I just dont like looking at myself: Roth as Prince Rainier III in Grace of Monaco. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros

    A Zelig-type arc through US film saw him co-star with Tupac Shakur in the comedy drama Gridlockd, filmed not long before the rappers murder in 1996. I loved him, he says. He was an actor, firstly, before he was a rapper. He nicknamed Tupac New Money for his flashy lifestyle. His nickname for me was Free Shit, because Id take anything that was free T-shirts, anything that was going.

    That impulse has ebbed, but Roth still frets about paying bills. Fear of unemployment drives actors. If I couldnt make the payments on the house, Id be in trouble. He did a commercial in Japan before A-listers bagged those gigs. I was a genie, I came out of the instant coffee. All I had to do was stand in a studio in front of a green screen. Sam Jackson has that tied down now. George Clooney, too. There are jobs you do for yourself and there are jobs that you do for money. The ones you do for yourself and your creative needs generally are the ones that dont pay. So you have to balance it out.

    Which brings us to United Passions, last years critically reviled paean to Fifa A disgrace … excrement, said the Guardian inwhich Roth played Sepp Blatter, since ousted in a corruption scandal.

    Roth takes a long puff and sighs. The Fifa thing was school fees, college fees, all of that. That was: Fuck it, man, you know what, Ive got to do this, got to pay the rent and got to look after the boys. So, thats what that was. Im sure I was soundly criticised for it, as I should have been.

    That was: Ive got to do this, got to pay the rent and got to look after the boys: Roth as Sepp Blatter in United Passions. Photograph: Allstar/Screen Media Films

    He paid penance during the World Cup in Brazil, he says, by shunning Fifa-supplied VIP tickets. For every match. Every one. And it was just too embarrassing to go. He laughs. How fucked up was that? Thats the price forplaying a guy like that.

    Roth says he does not read his own press, nor watch his own films. I stopped reading reviews 15 years ago. Its kind of great. And often I dont see the things Im in. I just move forward. Except for that time at Cannes whena red-carpet scrum swept him into a screening of Grace of Monaco, in which he played Prince Rainier III.

    It was received quite well by the audience, but the reviews were already out and we got slaughtered. But I couldnt get out of it. I normally turn up, say hi and fuck off. I got stuck. It was the most disturbing night. Not because the film was particularly bad or anything, and I loved working with Nicole [Kidman], but I just dont like looking at myself. Whats the point? Film is a directors medium.

    He shrugs off accusations of occasional hamming up. I get criticised for that, but I dont fucking care. The audience can either switch of or engage. Its up to them. Its for theaudience. Im not the audience. But Im sure I get slagged a bit. Maybe I should.

    The only critics he cares about, besides his wife and children, are staff at his local supermarket. I was there yesterday, did a major shop. I love doing the shopping. All the guys there know me. I get my reviews from them. Theyre quite honest.

    Killers, skinheads, gangsters, princes whatever the gig, he tries to nail it for them. I derive great satisfaction from their pleasure if I get my job right. Theres nothing like entertaining folk. Most unRothian statements. He shrugs and laughs. It sounds so corny, but thats all right, because I wont read it anyway.

    Episode two of Rillington Place is on BBC1 on Tuesday at 9pm

    Beryl Vertue: ‘Sherlock is a family affair’

    Sherlocks godmother, a pioneer of independent TV production, says making things for accountants wouldnt be much fun

    On Wednesday BBC1 aired the trailer for the new three-part series of hit drama Sherlock, driving social media speculation about what will happen next to Benedict Cumberbatchs detective and Martin Freemans Watson when all is revealed in January.

    As Sherlock Holmes said: When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth and fans are eager to discover the veracity of the rumours circulating about the show.

    Co-writer Steven Moffat hinted earlier this year that this series is darker, and its executive producer, Beryl Vertue, tells the Guardian it is, a bit.

    Its stunning, Im thrilled with it. Theyre three cracking episodes and I think audiences will think this is a good way to start the new year. I think its very exciting and very moving as well, and beautifully acted.

    Sherlocks last outing, at the start of this year, took the festive laurels with 11.6m viewers tuning in to see the latest story in Moffat and Mark Gatisss reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyles famous detective.

    With Benedict Cumberbatch at the Women in Film and Television awards. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

    The 90-minute special, The Abominable Bride, was released in more than 6,000 cinema screens in Asia and was seen by over 5 million people there something that may be repeated.

    That in itself has been exciting, says Vertue, whose company, Hartswood Films, makes the drama. Its so loved worldwide its huge in China, Russia and Italy. This year we had our own Sherlock convention. Loads of people came from abroad just for a few days and brought bring things for Benedict and Martin theyd made.

    There will probably be another UK convention next year and one is already planned for Los Angeles in May.

    Vertue praises the fans, particularly the Baker Street regulars who turned up during filming and were terribly orderly with one even making 70 cupcakes for the crew, so its all lovely. Im very proud of it. its so well written and performed.

    Produced by Vertues daughter Sue (Vertue says she has done amazingly well, its got a continuity about it I think) who is married to Moffat, the show is quite a family affair, says Vertue.

    Youve got Steven and Sue and Im the mother-in-law and Benedicts parents are in it and Amanda [Abbington] and [her husband] Martin its lovely. My other daughter, Debbie [Hartswood director of operations], is very involved too. Its a pleasure to go to work really.

    The family atmosphere, the writing and the fans response helps explain why the cast are so keen to continue, despite their hectic schedules.

    I dont know when well do some more but I wouldnt say that we wont do some more because I think we probably will actually, says Vertue. But because its moved into a 90-minute format it can come as an event and people, as indeed they are here, are quite happy to wait.

    It depends on everybodys availability. Martin and Benedict have become world stars and Steven and Mark are always doing things. Sherlock has become quite an industry to be honest, theres lots of merchandise which Sue personally vets so its classy. Hartswood works like that, like a family they all help each other and thats how I wanted it really.

    Like the Conan Doyle short story that shares her name, The Beryl Coronet, Vertue is highly prized.

    She has been given a CBE and won numerous awards including the Women in Film and TV lifetime achievement award which was presented on Friday by Cumberbatch whose mother worked with Vertue on Coupling and Men Behaving Badly. He described Vertue as Sherlocks godmother and praised her determination, fortitude and vision over the years.

    The cast of Men Behaving Badly Neil Morrissey, Leslie Ash, Martin Clunes, Caroline Quentin in 1996. Photograph: Brendan O’Sullivan/Rex

    She has worked with some of televisions biggest names including Steptoe and Son creators Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Tony Hancock and producer, music entrepreneur and impresario Robert Stigwood. She did the contract for Daleks creator Terry Nation which gave him some rights to the Doctor Who villains.

    It was the money Stigwood gave her after he wound down his organisation that enabled her to set up Hartswood in the late 1980s (named after one of the houses she had lived in) choosing Shepperton Studios for her one-man band office so it looked good on the notepaper.

    For five years, she couldnt get going with anything. I began to lose confidence. I thought: I cant do it. Then I happened to see a piece of paper on a desk God mustve put it there or somebody some blurb from a publisher, and there was this book Men Behaving Badly. I thought Ill send off for that, its a funny title, it might be a film I read the book and then thought its a TV series, thats how it began.

    Her story mirrors the evolution of broadcasting over the last few decades. As well as being one of the pioneers of independent production, she is credited with helping create the format deal with Till Death Us Do Part after realising that while other countries wouldnt buy the UK version, the ideas funny, Ill sell that.

    She began her career typing scripts for her schoolfriend Simpson. I learned as I went along really. What I have got and Im aware of this is Im a rather logical person, and I think: well that sounds good, Ill do that. So thats what I used to do.

    Her latest idea is to make a new version of Boris Pasternaks Doctor Zhivago, written by The Tudors writer Michael Hirst, whom she has long wanted to work with. The rights are held by an Italian publishing company and took months to get but her reputation helped her beat a big American company that bid more.

    If we get a commitment for a series, which Im working on at the moment, Michael would write them all and that would be wonderful. Weve not quite got to that point but are moving to that area. Wed need about 16 episodes to do it really properly.

    Times have changed though in that its harder to realise her vision sometimes, she says. People have become more risk-averse, theyre nervous and worrying more than they used to.

    In a world of big super-indies, the family-owned Hartswood is unique.

    Unsurprisingly, Vertue says, they have had quite a few offers to buy Hartswood. Then you think: no, I dont really want to do that. Weve all got a house and weve all got a car. We very much value our independence, and the minute people pay a lot of money for you you must do what they say. So youre making things for accountants if youre not careful, and thats not much fun.

    You cant say never but at the moment were very happy as we are.

    Sue Vertue and Steven Moffat at the Women in Film and Television awards. Photograph: Jonathan Hordle/Rex/Shutterstock

    Despite beginning her career at a time when things were harder for women, she never saw herself as any different from men: There was a man on a plane and he said to me, You women and your feminism, I dont know how you think youre going to drive a 20-ton truck. I said, Well Im not sure thats my ambition. I mean, what a ludicrous thing to say.

    She agrees women should be paid the same as men Hartswood does so. I think people are freer now about saying I cant do that Ive got a parents meeting people didnt used to say that.

    Technology has changed a lot. We didnt have emails. Theyre lovely, emails, except theyve stopped us talking to each other, which of course is not such a good thing. And Twitter you can be president-elect and do that on Twitter now who would have thought? It sort of lowers the whole tone, doesnt it, really?

    She underplays her success. You just have to work hard. Just be nice, be truthful. I think Ive got the reputation of firm but fair. I find the whole thing still ever so exciting.


    Age 85

    Education Mitcham County School for Girls


    1960s Associated London Scripts, typing scripts, then agent and producer

    1967 Deputy chairman of the Stigwood Organisation

    1980 Founded Hartswood Films

    1992 Producer, Men Behaving Badly

    2000 Executive producer, Coupling

    2007 Executive producer, Jekyll

    2010 onwards Executive producer, Sherlock

    2015 Executive producer, Lady Chatterleys Lover

    2016 Awarded CBE for services to television

    Jonathan Safran Foer: technology is diminishing us

    Have you found yourself checking email at dinner, or skipping from book to screen, unable to focus? The closer the world gets to our fingertips, the more we stand to lose

    The first time my father looked at me was on a screen, using technology developed to detect flaws in the hulls of ships. His father, my grandfather, could only rest his hand on my grandmothers belly and imagine his infant in his mind. But by the time I was conceived, my fathers imagination was guided by technology that gave shape to sound waves rippling off my body.

    The Glasgow-based Anglican obstetrician Ian Donald, who in the 1950s helped bring ultrasound technology from shipyard to doctors office, had devoted himself to the task out of a belief that the images would increase empathy for the unborn, and make women less likely to choose abortions. The technology has also been used, though, to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy because of deformity, because the parent wants a child of a certain sex. Whatever the intended and actual effects, it is clear that the now iconic black and white images of our bodies before we are born mediate life and death. But what prepares us to make life-and-death decisions?

    My wife and I debated learning the sex of our first child before birth. I raised the issue with my uncle, a gynaecologist who had delivered more than 5,000 babies. He was prone neither to giving advice nor anything whiffing of spirituality, but he urged me, strongly, not to find out. He said, If a doctor looks at a screen and tells you, you will have information. If you find out in the moment of birth, you will have a miracle.

    I dont believe in miracles, but I followed his advice, and he was right. One neednt believe in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them.

    One neednt believe in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them Jonathan Safran Foer Photograph: Emily Berl/Getty Images Portrait

    Psychologists who study empathy and compassion are finding that, unlike our almost instantaneous responses to physical pain, it takes time for the brain to comprehend the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation. Simply put, the more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the expense of depth redefining text from what fills the hundreds of pages of a novel, to a line of words and emoticons on a phones screen the less likely and able we are to care. Thats not even a statement about the relative worth of the contents of a novel and a text, only about the time we spend with each.

    We know that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk. You wont risk killing anyone if you use your phone while eating a meal, or having a conversation, or waiting on a bench, which means you will allow yourself to be distracted. Everyone wants his parents, or friends, or partners undivided attention even if many of us, especially children, are getting used to far less. Simone Weil wrote that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.

    Novels demand many things of readers, but the most obvious is attention. I can do any number of other activities while watching a TV show or listening to music, and I can carry on a conversation with a friend while at an art gallery, but reading a novel demands putting everything else aside. To read a book is to devote oneself to the book. Novels always traffic in empathy, always bring the other closer, always ask us to transcend our perspectives, but isnt that attention, itself, a generous act? Generous toward ourselves?


    My father was not present for his childrens births it was customary, then, for men to be in the waiting room. I witnessed my sons being born. My experience was richer, deeper, more memorable and fulfilling than my fathers. Being physically present allowed me to be emotionally present.

    We think of technologies as wielders of information and manipulators of matter. Google, we all know, is in the business as they put it of organising and making accessible the worlds information. Other technologies are more earthy the car propels us over land at speeds our legs cannot attain, and the bomb allows us to kill many enemies in ways our bare hands cannot.

    But technologies are not only effective at achieving or thwarting the aims of those who encounter them, but are affective. Technology is not strictly technical. I love you the same I love you issuing from the same person with the same sincerity and depth will resonate differently over the phone than in a handwritten letter, than in a text message. The tone and rhythm of voice craft the words, as does the texture and colour of stationery, as does the glowing font of the text chosen by our mobile phone manufacturer. We love our Macs more than our PCs because Apple was more interested in harnessing and inflecting the affective resonances of its technology and in restricting a smaller coterie of elites to guard and guide these affects so as to create a distinctive ecosystem. We find ourselves playing with smartphones in a way we never did with the functional handle of a traditional landline phone because, whereas the first phone was designed by engineers thinking in functional terms, the phones in our pockets nowadays are always built in dialogue with marketers who have carefully noted how colour and curve, brightness and texture, heft and size make us feel.

    We consumers forget that technology always plugs into and produces certain affects, the building blocks of emotions, as well as full-blown emotional experiences. We forget this, but successful companies do not. They remember and profit enormously. We forget at the expense of who we are.

    Most of our communication technologies began as substitutes for an impossible activity. We couldnt always see one another face to face, so the telephone made it possible to keep in touch at a distance. One is not always home, so the answering machine made a message possible without the person being near their phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered, for whatever reasons, too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster and more mobile messaging. These inventions were not created to be improvements on face-to-face communication, but a declension of acceptable, if diminished, substitutes for it.

    But then a funny thing happened: we began to prefer the diminished substitutes. Its easier to make a phone call than to make the effort to see someone in person. Leaving a message on someones machine is easier than having a phone conversation you can say what you need to say without a response; its easier to check in without becoming entangled. So we began calling when we knew no one would pick up. Shooting off an email is easier still, because one can further hide behind the absence of vocal inflection, and of course theres no chance of accidentally catching someone. With texting, the expectation for articulateness is further reduced, and another shell is offered to hide in. Each step forward has made it easier just a little to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.

    The problem with accepting with preferring diminished substitutes is that, over time, we too become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little. Or just feeling whats been designed and sold to us to feel.

    The novel has never stood in such stark opposition to the culture that surrounds it. A book is the opposite of Facebook: it requires us to be less connected. It is the opposite of Google: not only inefficient, but at its best, useless. Screens offer a seemingly endless supply of information, but the true value of the page is not what it allows us to know, but how it allows us to be known.


    Like so many people I know, Ive been concerned that phones and the internet have, in subtle ways, made life less rich, provided bright pleasures at the expense of deep ones, have distracted me, made concentration more difficult, led me to be elsewhere far too often. Ive found myself checking email while giving my kids a bath, jumping over to the internet when a sentence or idea doesnt come effortlessly in my writing, searching for shade on a beautiful spring day so I can see the screen of my phone. Have you?

    Have you found yourself putting loved ones on hold so you could click over to a call from an unidentified number? Have you found yourself conflating aloneness with loneliness? Have you found your relationship to distraction reversing: what was once a frustration is now sought?

    Do you want to click over to the other call, want to have an email to have to respond to, want even crave the ping of an incoming, inconsequential message?

    Isnt it possible that technology, in the forms in which it has entered our everyday lives, has diminished us? And isnt it possible that its getting worse? Almost all new technology causes alarm in its early days, and humans generally adapt to it. So perhaps no resistance is necessary. But if it were, where would it come from, and what would it look like?

    With each generation, it becomes harder to imagine a future that resembles the present. My grandparents hoped I would have a better life than they did: free of war and hunger, comfortably situated in a place that felt like home. But what futures would I dismiss out of hand for my grandchildren? That their clothes will be fabricated every morning on 3D printers? That they will communicate without speaking or moving? Only someone with no imagination, and no grounding in reality, would deny the possibility that they will live forever. Its possible that many reading these words will never die.

    Lets assume, though, that we all have a set number of days to indent the world with our beliefs, to find and create the beauty that only a finite existence allows for, to wrestle with the question of purpose and wrestle with our answers. We often use technology to save time, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. Its not an either/or situation being anti-technology is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly pro-technology but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.

    One day, nanomachines will detect weaknesses in our hearts long before any symptoms would bring us to a doctor. And other nanomachines will repair our hearts without our feeling any pain, losing any time or spending any money. But it will only feel like a miracle if we are still capable of feeling miracles which is to say, if our hearts are worth saving.

    Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer is published by Hamish Hamilton. To order a copy for 16 (RRP 20) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

    Nico Rosberg drew the best from himself before bowing out as a F1 champion | Paul Weaver

    The 31-year-old never earned acclaim in his homeland like Michael Schumacher but he was diligent and intelligent and was finally rewarded with a world championship title

    For a driver who strove with such fierce diligence to win the world championship Nico Rosberg has given up its fruits very quickly; champion on Sunday, retired on Friday, he was not even a six-day wonder.

    For many years he has been one of the more anonymous of Formula Ones leading drivers. Now, finally thrust into the spotlight of glory, it is almost as if he could not stand the glare.

    In truth Rosberg knows how almost impossibly difficult it was to win the F1 title, how repetitive luck as well as formidable skill played their parts. In all likelihood he would always have remained a one-time winner. His achievement, though, is monumental. He not only climbed the mountain but left Lewis Hamilton in his shadow. That is Hamilton, the three-times world champion, faster and more race-crafty and the man who had beaten him almost on a consistent basis for 16 years.

    It was Hamiltons greatness that defined Rosbergs championship as a worthy one; as Nicos father, Keke, would ruefully testify, the crown does not always go to the quickest driver.

    Nico Rosberg took 10 years in Formula One to finally win his prize only Nigel Mansell took longer, with 12. By doing so Rosberg confounded the many people who said he would never be capable of prevailing against Hamilton over a season, and with 21 races we have just seen the longest campaign in F1 history. He has also been acclaimed, belatedly, in his own country following the second place in Abu Dhabi that got him over the championship line.

    He was born in Wiesbaden, in Germany, 31 years ago but left with his family to live in Monaco at the venerable age of four weeks, and has lived there ever since, apart from when he is at his mansion in Ibiza.

    The trophy is relegated to the floor as Rosbergs Abu Dhabi celebrations continued in the changing room. Photograph: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    For Germans, Michael Schumacher was always the great racing hero. Schumacher was the driver with more wins and championships than any other. Crucially, though, he also had the common touch. After Schumacher there was the four-times winner Sebastian Vettel. The quiet and cerebral Rosberg failed to connect there in the same way. There is something essentially international about the man who speaks German, English, French, Italian and (a little less fluently) Spanish.

    The introverted image is a little misleading. Last year Nicola Pohl, of the German newspaper Bild, told me: Hes actually very funny on social media. He has jokes and he is teasing all the time. The picture, though, was one of a calculated driver who has worked immensely hard, always talking to his mechanics and engineers, approaching each circuit with the care of a cartographer.

    Nor did his racing take up residence in the memory. When it came to wheel-to-wheel battle he was second to Hamilton, though his vital passing move on Max Verstappen during the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi was accomplished and courageous.

    Rosberg was a high-class journeyman, an eliminator of mistakes, usually two or three tenths of a second a lap slower than Hamilton but more likely than his celebrated Mercedes team-mate to extract the absolute maximum out of himself in every grand prix.

    His gentle manner also belied an essential toughness. When Schumacher joined Mercedes people speculated he would wipe the track with Rosberg but it did not happen. And now he has come out on top against one of the quickest drivers the sport has seen.

    There was also a keen intelligence. When Rosberg joined Williams and took their mandatory engineering aptitude test, he scored the highest marks in the teams history. He turned down the opportunity to study engineering at Imperial College London to pursue a career in racing. Everything relates to physics and maths, he once said. He reads the business pages for fun.

    He started karting when he was six and it was while racing karts at 15 that he came up against Hamilton. The German was behind, as usual, but the two became friends, playing football, eating ice creams and pizzas, competing on unicycles and telling each other how cool it would be if they ended up in F1.

    Rosberg moved to German Formula BMW in 2002, and won the championship. He moved to Formula Three and tasted F1 when he first tested for Williams in 2004. He won the GP2 title in 2005 and at the end of the year was confirmed as a Williams driver for 2006. The following year he was a seven-times points winner, including a best of fourth. His first podium came in 2008.

    He joined Mercedes in 2010, winning his first race in 2012. Hamilton joined him the following year. They got on well at first but then a series of clashes soured the relationship.

    Then, in Austin last year, Hamilton won the title, barging Rosberg wide on turn one as he did so. Rosberg took it badly and the race was followed by the famous cap-throwing incident. Rosberg went away and had a long think. He returned a tougher competitor and a championship-winning driver.

    Frog That Looks Like Princess Leia Sparks Photoshop Battle, And The Results Are Hilarious

    After we wrote about Tanto Yensen, an Indonesian photographer who takes stunning pictures of frogs, it was just a matter of time when someone started a photoshop battle. One of his frogs bears such a striking resemblance to Star Wars heroine Princess Leia, that it’s hard to tell them apart.

    Where some saw Leia, others sawBeethoven or a DJ. The internet seems to never run out of ideas. What do you see? Upload your photos below and as always – vote for your favorites.

    Download Original | Download Cut Out

    #1 Slave Frog Leia