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V. Stiviano Cleopatra Coleman, Jacki Weaver Interviews

V. Stiviano Cleopatra Coleman, Jacki Weaver Interviews

FX on Hulu’s limited series Clipped is certainly a surprise watch of the summer.

Based on the viral Los Angeles Clippers scandal a decade ago, Clipped, the screen adaptation of the hit ESPN 30 for 30 podcast The Sterling Affairs, takes a fly-on-the-wall approach (similar to HBO’s now-canceled Lakers series Winning Time, but with a lot more fireworks) to dive into the fallout, as well as the imagined philosophical and real details, of the explosive chapter surrounding Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s recorded racially charged comments to his dubious and attractive “employee” V. Stiviano, whom he reportedly met at a Super Bowl party in 2010.

In the recording, made public by TMZ Sports on April 25, 2014, Sterling responds very negatively to Stiviano’s Instagram post of her and a friend with Magic Johnson, telling her that, “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with Black people.” The irony, of course, was that Stiviano herself is the product of a Mexican mother and a presumably Black American father she never met. 

There was an immediate NBA firestorm, which didn’t help the Clippers’ run for a ring. In the end, Donald Sterling and wife Shelly sold the team for $2 billion. Yet, one of the gratifying things about Clipped is that it goes beyond the natural male-dominated leanings of the scandal, with Sterling (Ed O’Neill), Clippers coach Doc Rivers (Laurence Fishburne), star player Chris Paul (J. Alphonse Nicholson) and others weighing in, to give space to the main women in the saga — V. and Shelly. The clash between the two women — one very young and in an entanglement of sorts with the married Sterling, and the other his long-suffering age-appropriate wife — has unexpectedly become one of the more engaging elements of the series.

“Ladies, this story has a girl, a tape, sports, racism, money. I mean there is something in it for everyone,” says Shelly’s crisis PR consultant Glenn Bunting (played by Jason Butler Harner) in response to Shelly and her friend Justine’s (Harriet Sansom Harris) pushback to his expert advise in episode five. And it proved to be more than true. 

At the height of the scandal, Shelly, who had been married to her husband for nearly 60 years, wanted to hide from the press, while V. embraced it as her own “Kim Kardashian” moment, creating merchandise to sell. In public, she donned a full-face visor and was frequently on roller skates. While neither woman was born rich, as a woman of color V. had the tougher journey. And, interestingly, at the time of the scandal, she was in the process of adopting the two young Black boys she fostered.

In anticipation of both women recreating their sit-down TV interviews with Barbara Walters — which plays out in episode five, the penultimate one in the series — The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Cleopatra Coleman and Jacki Weaver, the actresses (both coincidentally Australian) who respectively play V. and Shelly.

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What did you know about the scandal prior to joining Clipped?

CLEOPATRA COLEMAN I’m Australian, but I was in LA. I had just sort of recently begun my LA journey and was getting to know Los Angeles, and this extremely iconic situation came up. I do remember it, but I didn’t obviously understand as much of the context and detail that I do now through the process of making the show and all of [sportswriter who wrote and reported The Sterling Affairs podcast] Ramona Shelburne’s research. It’s been really fascinating to learn a lot about the behind the scenes of what we were all reading about at the time.

JACKI WEAVER I’m a real news junkie, and even though I’m Australian, I’ve been living in Los Angeles for about 14 years now. So when it happened several years ago, I followed it really closely. I read all about it, and, like most people, I was shocked and appalled and fascinated with this family. So, I knew everything that was reported about the family.

Cleopatra Coleman as V. Stiviano in Clipped.

FX/Kelsey McNeal

What was your approach to playing your character?

COLEMAN Well, as an actor, the job is always to empathize with the character, and so V is no different. I approach her with compassion and a genuine desire to play her authentically. And I say that with a slight caveat, which is that we’re not making a documentary. Here it’s based on a true story, and I really feel like I’m playing the myth of V, you know this character that she put into the media that was so fascinating. And so we’re sort of unpacking that myth, almost like a heightened version of her. I tried to really look at her as a character on the page the way I would look at any character, and try to get as deeply into the truth of what we were trying to say about her. And thankfully, [showrunner] Gina [Welch]’s take on this was so nuanced and thoughtful, and so complete as a human.

WEAVER It’s not a documentary; it’s a piece of fiction based on true events. So a lot of it, you have to stick to the true events that you know about, that there’s evidence for. Otherwise, you have to use your imagination for a lot of what went on. But we did have a lot of stuff to access. There were interviews that Shelly and everybody did, and I listened to tapes of her phone calls that people had recorded. So I think I got a fairly accurate grasp of what she was like.

Who is the woman you play in real life or, at least, on screen? What is her character sketch?

COLEMAN This woman is an outlier. She’s different from her surroundings. She’s different from her siblings. She’s a survivor. She’s come from poverty. This is someone who is self-made, but doesn’t have a family that’s going to have her back financially. This is someone [for whom] the stakes are rather high, and they must provide. And that’s where all this behavior comes from. It seemed to really make sense to me in that way when I latched onto those key elements. There’s no way to know everything, but there were certain clues, at least playing the character that we were putting in the show. In terms of her voice and certain mannerisms, and the little vibrations I wanted to have, I was able to watch interviews of hers and get that as well.

WEAVER She’s a soft-spoken, introverted sort of woman who didn’t like attention, and so she kept a low profile deliberately. At one point [in Clipped] she says, “I’ve never done an interview in my life and I’m not going to start now.” She really did say that, apparently, so it was of her own doing. I think she loved the game. She loved being wealthy, but she didn’t want to be the center of attention like Donald did. With Donald, it seemed it was almost compulsion to be totally the center of attention. I think a lot of people probably dismissed her as not that important. But in fact, we do show how she practically ran that real estate business [which consisted of] all those buildings all over town that they owned, where they made their billions from. She worked very hard on that.

Jacki Weaver as Shelly Sterling.

FX/Kelsey McNeal

Cleopatra, what is V.’s relationship dynamic to Donald and Shelly in Clipped?

COLEMAN Well it is very complicated I think. Essentially, he’s a father figure. She had a gap to fill in her life in that way and I think she was seeking security and safety, and he provided that. And then I think obviously, for years, they were operating as a trio, sort of without any issues, at least not enough to blow up like it eventually did. So perhaps Shelley wasn’t always such a threat to V. until things started to boil over. But I feel like it was a relationship of convenience for all of them. V. was not the first woman that Donald had around. And I think it was something that Shelly had more or less accepted. No one knows really how she felt. But seemingly part of the deal was that he was going to do that. It seems like they were just living their lives. But I think, unlike previous assistants or whatever you’d like to call them, she wasn’t content to be voiceless or to stay in her lane. She was really an ambitious person, and it’s very easy as a society for us to hate women who are openly ambitious; it can make you a target. And she was happy to, more or less, take Shelly’s place. So Shelly drew a line and then retaliated. I see it as a simmering pot of water that eventually boiled over. 

Jacki, why does V. get under Shelly’s skin so?

WEAVER V. was just one of dozens and dozens of girls that he’d screwed around with, and I think it was the last straw because he was so brazen about it with V. And the embarrassment of that tape was just too much, I think, for Shelly in the end.

How did you prepare for the recreation of the Barbara Walters interviews?

WEAVER Just watching it and trying to get it as close as possible. I know the dialogue was word for word. Where we did have clear evidence, we were very faithful to it. It’s just behind the scenes that had to be imagined and made up. 

COLEMAN I have never been in a position to recreate a viral video before, and I guess this is sometimes what it means to be an actor in this day and age. So that’s really interesting. It was a theme that I was sort of looking forward to doing and also kind of dreading because it is iconic. And I just don’t think you can really compete with the timing and the cadence. Just the whole thing is really an amazing piece, something really worth watching. So I was really looking forward to it, and then I was also a bit like, “gosh, I don’t know how this is going to go.” But I think it turned out really well.

The FX series Clipped is currently streaming on Hulu, with episodes releasing on Tuesdays through the July 2 finale.

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