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Kate McKinnon Gets Serious For Charlize Theron’s Fox News Movie

This particular Roger Ailes-based project can count on some excellent character actresses to bring its vital narrative to life.
By  · Published on September 25th, 2018

The inexorably funny and confidently charming Kate McKinnon deserves so much better than what Hollywood has afforded her. Wide-ranging, regular appearances on Saturday Night Live – ones that have been ongoing since 2012 – demonstrate that she is truly a versatile and fearless comic. McKinnon has even won two Emmys for her work on SNL. Merely keeping her talent for all manner of voices and facial expressions relegated to the variety show alone would be a total waste. A feature film career would legitimately suit her.

Unfortunately, many of McKinnon’s projects have puttered out. I’m all for Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters and cannot fault Finding Dory, but McKinnon’s big-screen affairs have otherwise tended to achieve meager results. She lights up the screen regardless of bad material, but I continue to champion for her to get on board something more advantageous to her career in the long run.

Could that finally be possible now that McKinnon has found arguably her biggest and most serious movie to date? Deadline announced that she is the latest in a prodigious line of actresses to join Jay Roach’s Fox News movie, which focuses on disgraced executive Roger Ailes. More specifically, the film aims to shine a spotlight on the women who went up against him with allegations of sexual harassment.

The film has tentatively been christened Fair and Balanced, although there is still no confirmed title for it at this time. Roach, normally in the business of political dramas like Trumbo and Game Change anyway, will helm the film from a script by Charles Randolph (The Big Short). This is one of many Ailes-related projects that have and will end up on screen.

Much like the movie’s plot, details about McKinnon’s character are kept close to the vest. All we know for now is that she will depict a fictional producer who is not based on any real figure caught up in the scandal. Moreover, McKinnon is actually the second cast member to join Roach’s film in the last week, after Allison Janney snagged a critical role in the production, as well. Hence, after already drawing together the likes of Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, and John Lithgow as Ailes himself, Roach clearly has no trouble putting together a vibrant cast of Hollywood’s best for his takedown movie.

According to a separate Deadline report, Janney will play Susan Estrich, the lawyer who infamously worked as Ailes’ legal counsel in the wake of the damning accusations leveled against him. As a woman who staunchly remains in the mogul’s court, Estrich’s actions are particularly difficult to reconcile. Her decades-long work as a trailblazing feminist legal scholar – becoming the first female president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to run a presidential campaign in the process – is totally incongruous with her support of Ailes (whom she has called a close friend).

In which case, we can affirm that this is the perfect role for Janney, a highly-decorated actress who has taken home an Oscar, seven Emmys, seven SAG Awards, and more. Janney has played her fair share of laudable and despicable women alike, and does so to excellent effect.

Going from embodying a role model like The West Wing’s C.J. Cregg to an acerbic and abusive mother like LaVona Golden in I, Tonya is the ultimate showcase of Janney’s thoroughly malleable career. Her ability to exude self-assurance, compassion, and emotional depth as C.J. makes her a fan favorite in The West Wing, and one of the best female characters of all time, in general. Yet when she’s spitting hot-blooded insults towards Robbie’s fictionalized Tonya Harding (and indeed, anyone who’ll listen) in I, Tonya, there is no way you could really root for her.

Despite largely being a character actor, Janney steals the show in whatever she’s in because she never seems particularly concerned about portraying likable people. Rather, her innate charisma lets a manner of different archetypes soar. Janney can play total caricatures (Hairspray) before turning around to be far more pragmatic (Juno and The Help). Currently, in the CBS sitcom Mom, Janney explores a knack for the dysfunctional family dynamic yet again. If anybody can fully personify Estrich’s nuances, she can.

And I’m even more fascinated by the prospect of observing how a strictly comedic performer like McKinnon flourishes in Roach’s drama. At the moment, her dramatic resume is admittedly paper-thin. Nevertheless, while McKinnon is often plucky or weird enough to be an unforgettable and lovable side character in mainstream comedies – besides Ghostbusters and The Spy Who Dumped Me, think Rough Night and Office Christmas Party – she hints at more substantial acting chops in Netflix’s Irreplaceable You.

This is McKinnon’s only dramatic feature film credit to date (and even then it’s a “dramedy”). She plays a member of a cancer support group called Glass Half Full Kate, and yes, that name alone is already a bit of scene stealer. Although McKinnon delivers plenty of her lines with a presumably funny undertone, she displays subtle and believable emotional weight in Irreplaceable You. Of all the disparate character tropes populating this tiny romance film, McKinnon turns out to be the diamond in the rough. Perhaps not for the fate of movie’s storyline (which is only passable at best), but for her future in branching out of her comedic comfort zone.

Thus, how could I not get increasingly excited about Roach’s Fox News film? For McKinnon in particular, this movie marks an excellent turning point in her big-screen filmography in general. But both she and Janney are consistently memorable enough to stand on their own two feet among big names. This film may end up being a crowded ensemble piece, but we can trust character actors like McKinnon and Janney will know exactly what to do with the material.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)