Maybe this is silly, but we've always found it charming when famous people get nervous around other famous people. When two-time Oscar winner Sally Field arrived for our first-ever Emmy Roundtable, America Ferrera, the radiant young star of ABC's freshman hit series "Ugly Betty," stayed bolted to the floor. "I'd go up to her, but I'd just say something dumb," Ferrera said. "All I could say is 'Hi.' I mean, what do you say to Sally Field?" Fortunately, "Entourage" nominee Jeremy Piven broke the ice during the photo shoot. "Is it awkward if I do this topless?" he asked. Then our five guests sat down, fully clothed, with NEWSWEEK's Devin Gordon and Marc Peyser for a two-hour conversation about success, auditions,speeches and why Masi Oka's mom won't be her son's date when the awards are handed out on Sunday night.
Since this is our first Emmy Roundtable, let ' s start with the hard stuff. Who ' s your date going to be? Jeremy, you took your mother last time, right?
JEREMY PIVEN: I did. I take her all the time.
Are you taking her again?
PIVEN: You know what? I think she's over it. She said to me, "You know, Jeremy, I think it's time for you to take someone else." So basically she turned me down. It was awkward. [Laughter]
SALLY FIELD: Maybe you'd like to take me.
PIVEN: Absolutely! We're all definitely going, right?
Sally didn ' t go once.
FIELD: I didn't.
It was the year you won for " Sybil, " though there are conflicting stories about why you didn ' t go. So what ' s the real story?
FIELD: Well, I'll tell ya. First of all, it was a very strange year because they canceled the Emmys—some weird thing happened, some kind of boycotting thing. So they invented this other award, and I got nominated for that. I went with the person I was dating at the time.
FIELD: Uh, Burt Reynolds. [Laughter] So I went to the thing, and I didn't win. Which was fine. But being me, I thought to myself, "Oh, of course. Why would I win? I'll just crawl back into my worthless hole." But then they decided to resurrect the Emmys. It was all done very quickly, and I just didn't feel like it was real. I thought, "Wait, first it's not happening, now it is happening … and I didn't win the last one, and I don't have a dress, and I'm working, so I'll have to get on a plane, and Burt doesn't feel good …" so I just didn't go. I guess I should have.
AMERICA FERRERA: You're going this time, right?
Apparently she ' s going with Jeremy. Seriously, who are you taking?
FIELD: Probably my youngest son, Sam.
MASI OKA: I want to take my mom, but I can't get her to come.
Why not? Is she playing bridge with Jeremy ' s mother that night?
OKA: She's very shy. She doesn't like cameras. I can't convince her. She says if I force her to come she'll fly to Japan. [Laughter]
Did any of you know that Masi, in addition to being a terrific actor, is also a visual effects wizard?
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: Wow, really?
FERRERA: I heard something about this.
He worked on " Star Wars " and " Pirates of the Caribbean " and " The Perfect Storm " for George Lucas ' s company, Industrial Light & Magic. Do you still work for them?
OKA: I'm still on their payroll, but just for one day a week. It's more like consulting now. "Heroes" is definitely my top thing.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: So you really are like a superhero!
OKA: Supergeek, maybe.
PIVEN: Do people come to you and go, "Look, man, you've gotta help me out with this situation with my computer"?
OKA: I do get that a lot, actually. Even on our show, they'll ask me about some of the effects. Sometimes they go, "Hey, maybe you can do this for us for free."
Do you guys watch much TV?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I have a 10-year-old son—I almost brought him today because he's addicted to your show [to Oka].
FIELD: I have a 19-year-old son who's addicted to your show [to Piven].
Sally, do you find TV and movies to be very different? Are they less different now than when you started in the business?
FIELD: I started in sitcoms in 1965, and at that time, television was the poor stepchild of the motion-picture business. I did three television series before I was 25, but people were telling me they didn't want me to read for any films—my own agent was, too. I remember what he said very clearly: "First of all, you're not pretty enough. And second of all, you're not good enough." And I said, "OK. Goodbye."
FERRERA: I had a very similar experience to Sally. I didn't start acting professionally until I was 17, and I had a really small agent and manager, and they were sending me out for anything—bail-bondsman commercials, whatever. And I never got a single callback for anything. Because they'd always say, "Can you speak English with a bad Spanish accent?" They were always, like, "We don't get it—you're Latin but you don't sound Latin." Even my own family, my own friends, they would say to me, "Look, we think you're really talented, and it's not that we don't believe in you—we just don't believe that industry is accepting of any kind of variety."
Jeremy, you probably didn ' t have a tough time convincing anyone you could play Ari.
PIVEN: I knew that Ari's energy was so interesting that if I did it right, then I could make it something bigger. There's a reason why certain people are blowhards and want to take up all the space in a room, you know? At some point in their lives they were crushed and they had to overcome it. I remember I had this mantra for Ari: $40 million by the time he's 40 or he'll kill someone.
What happened to Ari? What ' s his secret pain?
PIVEN: That's something I keep pitching to our writers. I came onto this show late in the game as a hired gun. So I would love to be more a part of … Oh, I'm saying all the wrong things now.
Keep going, Jeremy. [Laughter]
PIVEN: I don't care about titles or whatever, how you're billed on the back of your chair, any of that stuff. I just like to be in the mix, you know? So you asked: what is Ari's secret pain? I think this show can keep exploring these characters. Like, for instance, what is Passover like at Ari's house? Why does he desperately need to prove himself? It's kind of tragic. I mean, when people meet me, they're usually surprised that I'm so calm. They're disappointed that I don't bark at them.
Do people still identify you with Elaine, Julia?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. Still.
Is it annoying? Or do you find a way to be —
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I find a way to be very gracious. [Laughter] Look, it has its challenges, but ultimately what actor wouldn't want an experience like that? To complain would be moronic.
PIVEN: You know the way Elaine would shove people? Has anyone ever done that to you? Like, literally pushed you?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Nobody's ever pushed me. But people do feel they can be very close to me. Maybe it's because I'm short.
FIELD: Oh, they do that to me, too. I'm sure you get that, America.
FERRERA: Oh, yeah. They touch you.
FIELD: Yes! They'll grab you.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I think it's because you're in their homes. They're very familiar with you. But it's important to remember that it's very, very fleeting. This is an incredibly rough business, and 10 years from now, who knows? Look, I'm assuming everything's going to be great for everybody at this table, and I certainly hope so, but who knows?
Let ' s talk about the ceremony. Do you prepare a speech ahead of time? Do you practice your expression if you lose? Julia, you ' ve won and lost a few times.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I've lost more than I've won. So it makes me uncomfortable to prepare. Which may be a mistake, but I always think I'm gonna lose anyway, so let's just leave it be.
Now we have to ask you, Sally.
FIELD: [With mock irritation] Yes? What?
Do you prepare your speeches or are you in the moment?
FIELD: Whatever do you mean by that? [Laughter] I've always been in the moment—that's the problem. That's always been the problem.
PIVEN: And there's your quote.
That famous speech, of course, is misquoted all the time — you never actually said " You really like me. " You said: " And I can ' t deny the fact that you like me right now. You like me. "
FIELD: Yes, totally misquoted.
So why did you say that?
FIELD: Because I was scared s––tless! When you're sitting in that room, your heart is literally beating outside your body. Like, it's sitting in the chair in front of you. And I never feel like a very glamorous, graceful sort of person, so when I got up to walk up there, I was afraid I was going to go topsy-turvy over myself. Like, literally fall on my ass.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I know what you mean —you're thinking, "Just please don't let me die up here."
FIELD: Yeah! Your body can't tell the difference between going down on the Titanic and getting up and accepting an Oscar. Your body is saying, "Dive! Dive!" So when I won for "Norma Rae," I just kinda got up and said, "Thank you very much and I'm glad to be alive," and then I got off the stage. I don't even remember being there. So then the second time I thought, "You know what? This belongs to me. I want to remember it. I want to look out at it. I want to feel it." When anyone says to you, "Good job, first rate, you really did it," then you have to own it. If you don't own it, then you don't have the strength to go the next 150 miles of bad road before you get that next great little twinkle.
Have you guys had parts that you ' ve desperately wanted and didn ' t get?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I'm not sure I want to go down this road. There are a lot of parts I wish I'd gotten and didn't. But then I got some big parts, so I focus on that.
PIVEN: I wanted to play Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker's role in "The Last King of Scotland." [Laughter]
FIELD: The part that sort of changed things for me was in this tiny movie that Bob Rafelson directed called "Stay Hungry." When I went to read for it, I heard Rafelson yelling from the back room, "How dare you let her in here. I have better things to do than see Sally Field!" But by then, I knew how to use the fury, the rejection. The "I'm not good enough, I'm not sexy enough." Certainly "I'm not sexy enough" was a big one.
And this audition was for a very sexy, risqu é role, right?
FIELD: Yeah. By then I had learned that people go with whatever they've seen you in last. Because they have so little faith in people knowing how to act. So I had to convince them that everything they had seen me do before was acting and what I really am is this absolutely sleep-around tart and, gosh, that Flying Nun sure was hard for me to pull off because this is who I really am.
So did you dress provocatively?
FIELD: Oh, yeah. And I straddled the guy I was reading with. I, like, sat on him.
Did any of you ever straddle somebody in an audition?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, yeah. For every job.
How about going to great lengths to get a part?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: One time I screwed up an audition very badly, but I really wanted this role and thought I was perfect for the part. So I went back to the hotel where I'd met with the producers and I wrote a note saying, "I feel strongly that I'm this person, blah blah blah, and could you please give me another chance?" Sure enough, they called me back in again—and I still didn't get the part.
At what point in your career was this?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Early on.
So you were still willing to humiliate yourself.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: You always have to be willing to do that. You have to be willing to write that note because you have to put yourself out there. You've got to fight.
FERRERA: I had a friend who is a writer, and he wrote this beautiful, beautiful script and I fell in love with it. I said, this is me, I have to do this. For a while it was a possibility and then it was, like, Well, listen, the producers don't want—they're looking for someone who's blond and who has, you know, lighter skin. And basically that was it. I didn't even get to fail on my own. It was the first time I felt really angry. And so I went out and bleached my hair.
How old were you?
FERRERA: I was 17, and it was the first time I'd done something out of anger. I bleached my hair and put on lily-white powder makeup—whiteface, I guess. But my friend called me up and was, like, "I get it, I understand that it's warped and twisted and it sucks. But you still don't have the part."
Do you feel a certain obligation as a role model for young women and Latina women?
PIVEN: I do. Oh, I'm sorry. [Laughter]
FERRERA: I feel like what the show is doing—and not just what they've done for Latinos or for young girls but for the gay community—has been immense. The show does it, so I don't feel like I have to go about my days preaching it.
Masi, have you found that it ' s hard to get roles as an Asian-American?
OKA: For me, being a minority has made it easier to break in, to be perfectly honest, because there are a lot of small parts that go to the minority of choice because of affirmative action or something. "Oh, we want to show diversity, so we'll give this small part to him." But the ceiling is very low, without a doubt.
Sally, you did an extensive Playboy interview years ago.
FIELD: An interview.
But there was a really interesting line in it. You were talking about your father very candidly, and you said, " I ' m trying to do my job and be honest here. " Do actors really want to be honest and candid with the press?
FIELD: I grew up feeling very isolated. That's part of being a celebrity. And I think that part of me wants to talk to this big audience of people. Of course it isn't all the truth; it's just a bit of the truth. But it's important to me that it not be all full of b.s., that I'm revealing something real.
It seems like most actors today believe that there ' s a risk to being candid.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, there's a camera everywhere now.
OKA: Especially with the Internet. And blogs. Things spread so quickly. We're all humans. We all make mistakes. But it gets difficult when you have cameras everywhere. It's part of our job to be in the public. I accept that. But at the same time, I don't want to think of being human as a job.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: It's a whole new universe. In the last 10 years the celebrity culture has utterly changed. It's jaw-dropping.
FERRERA: Anyone with a phone is a paparazzi. They sit there and take pictures with their phone and they think you don't see them. They don't even ask. Sometimes you feel like an animal in the zoo.
Didn ' t you expect this?
FERRERA: I don't know. I understand where it comes from. I mean, I grew up worshiping people like Sally Field, and when you meet them, they mean so much to you that you're hoping that it'll be a life-changing experience. But you just can't be that for everyone you see. It's exhausting. When do I get to shut it off? I know that sounds like complaining, but at the same time there is a lack of respect.
We can ' t have an Emmy Roundtable and not talk about " The Sopranos. " Julia, as someone who was on a legendary show whose finale also got mixed reviews, what did you think?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: At first I thought, like many people, that my TiVo was broken, and I got on the phone and started screaming. I'm kidding. Then I felt totally ripped off. And then, the next day, I thought it was absolutely brilliant television. I thought it was fantastic. I loved it.
The reaction to the finale had an interesting subtext, because it became an argument about what the creator of an enormously popular show owes us. Are we owed an ending for our years of loyal viewing? Or is an artist only obliged to do what he believes is right for the show?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don't know what being "owed" an ending means. I think you owe your best work, and David Chase felt that this was his best work. If he doesn't, he should.
But you said you felt initially ripped off, like a lot of people, which suggests that they were owed something in some way.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Oh, I guess—just in that moment, yeah, I guess for a moment I thought, "Wait a minute, can't I hear the rest of the story?" But then when I stood back from that … I mean, at the risk of sounding haughty, it was like when you look at a piece of art or at first you don't like it, but then you step back and you say, "Oh, yeah, that is interesting." And I think Chase achieved that, really wonderfully.
Did you like the " Seinfeld " finale?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, you know, I was in it. It was like a high-school reunion. There's the Soup Nazi! We were just sitting there at that table howling laughing. We got a kick out of it. But I couldn't believe all the attention it got. That was remarkable to me. That kind of attention was very surreal.
Wasn ' t the finale something of a commentary on what Larry David thought about television, being held captive to it?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don't think he was necessarily commenting on television. I think he was commenting on these people who should all be in prison, and he did it. And also I know he wanted to bring back the dialogue from the pilot episode of the show. So the dialogue within that jail cell was in the pilot, which is why I didn't say anything—because I wasn't in the pilot.
How sick are you of hearing about the " Seinfeld " curse?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I'm thrilled you brought it up.
We did make Sally talk about her Oscar speech.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: I thought it was just so absurd, and I still do. I think there's the curse of showbiz, which is to say, it's really hard to hit it out of the park. It wasn't a "Seinfeld" curse—it was a "Seinfeld" blessing. Lots of people have success in their lives and then try to have it again, as they should. And sometimes they get it and sometimes they don't. And that's life.
We ' re almost out of time, so let ' s end with a question about the big night. Is there any part of it that you ' re not looking forward to?
FERRERA: The red carpet is the most nerve-racking, isn't it? The focus is all on something I'm just not comfortable with. The whole point is to stand there so people can criticize you—What are you wearing? It's a meat market.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: Who are you wearing!
FERRERA: I'm not saying I'm against red carpets, but what's really wonderful is sitting there and being a part of the celebration. And that red carpet doesn't feel like a celebration.
Couldn ' t you boycott, just not do it?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: My sister said to me, "I think you should just keep wearing the same dress over and over."
FIELD: I think we should just rebel and all go in sweatshirts and jeans and say, This is it, folks!