‘West Side Story’ Actor Brian d’Arcy James on Why Movie Remakes Should Be Embraced

Welcome to this week’s “Just for Variety.”

Talk about a warm welcome. Brian d’Arcy James tells me that Steven Spielberg surprised him during his first day of shooting on the much-buzzed-about “West Side Story” remake. “Steven Spielberg has this fantastic tradition of stopping after the first shot that you’re in, and basically announcing and applauding anybody who has entered into the making of the movie,” says James, who plays Sgt. Krupke. “The first scene that I was in, I was way in the back — I might as well have been wallpaper. He says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Brian d’Arcy James is in the movie!’ And then he went on and did that for everyone else too.”

It didn’t take long after Spielberg announced he was remaking the classic that some wondered why he would tinker with such a beloved film. James defends the decision, pointing to the frequent restaging of plays and musicals on Broadway. “I’m not precious about these things. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time in the theater, where revivals are a main thread of what we do, particularly musicals,” says James, a three-time Tony nominee. “Any chance to reimagine or inject new life into something people already know is a little less sacrosanct in the theater. So that kind of thinking spills into this scenario. Then when you add in the idea that it’s Steven Spielberg and [writer] Tony Kushner, then you really don’t have to think twice.”

James talked with me from the L.A. set of his upcoming untitled CBS comedy, based on the true story of a laid-off autoworker from James’ hometown of Saginaw, Mich., who becomes a professional bowler. James won’t appear on the show, but the project marks his producing debut. “I do feel responsible for being the diplomat, in a way, of Saginaw because it means a lot to me,” says James, who can also now be seen in “Hawkeye,” the new Marvel series on Disney Plus. “I try to pipe up when I feel like something is working and when it isn’t. But of course, I want anybody who’s from anywhere in Michigan to say, ‘This is great.’”


Having played Nux in George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Nicholas Hoult knows a thing or two about the franchise. And it’s no surprise that he’s excited to see Anya Taylor-Joy star as young Furiosa in Miller’s next installment, “Furiosa,” because he raves about working with her in the upcoming Searchlight Pictures film “The Menu.” “She’s going to be a great Furiosa because she’s a brilliant actress,” Hoult tells me. “She just really cares about story and her cast. Her and George combined, they’re going to develop that character in a new, exciting way. Talking to her, I know how dedicated she is to it.”

When I met Taylor-Joy earlier this year at the “Last Night in Soho” premiere in L.A., she told me that training for the action role will be “intense.” “Someone once told me that there’s certain things that you can’t afford to be nervous for because that energy can be better placed somewhere else,” she said. “I think this is potentially one of those times.”

“Hacks” Season 2 filming has begun! “I can tell you it feels like it’s becoming more of an ensemble, which is so exciting,” says Hannah Einbinder whose work as Ava on the HBO Max series earned her an Emmy nomination. “So many of our amazing supporting characters are getting more screen time, which is so cool.” Asked who she’d like to see pop up on the show, Einbinder names Las Vegas comedy icons Paula Poundstone, Wendy Liebman and Cathy Ladman. “They’re funny comics who would kind of be in Deborah’s world [Jean Smart plays the legendary stand-up comedian on the show] a little bit, or they would at least know of each other.”

Speaking of dream guest stars, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” actor J.B. Smoove has some ideas for the Larry David series. “I would love to see some more sports guys,” Smoove tells me. “You know, Larry’s a big Jets fan, and I’m a big Jets fan. He’s a big Knicks fan. I’m a big Knicks fan. I want to see some legends pop up on the show. You know who I think would be great? Joe Namath — in a fur coat! Maybe he goes back to his heyday, and we get him to guarantee something [Namath famously personally guaranteed the Jets’ Super Bowl win in 1969] and Larry confronts him about it!”

At Wednesday night’s premiere of “Right to Try,” Octavia Spencer held back tears as she recalled how she became a producer on the documentary short about the search for an HIV cure. The Oscar winner watched the film after first reading about it in “Just for Variety” in June. Directed by “The Late Late Show With James Corden” producer Zeberiah Newman, the doc (available on Peacock) chronicles veteran casting director Jeffrey Drew’s participation in an experimental treatment trial to cure him of HIV and follows his work in HIV/AIDS advocacy in Los Angeles. “I kept wanting to see more,” Spencer said during a post-screening Q&A moderated by James Corden at the West Hollywood Edition hotel. “I kept wanting to know Jeffrey. I kept wanting to make sure that the word got out [that] we need to do something about how medicine is distributed in this country and for Jeffrey to be so selfless, I don’t know if I could ever do that.”

Guests at the premiere included Max Greenfield and Melanie Griffith.

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