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Troy Miller, Director of the Hulu Series Deadbeat

There's little that producer/director Troy Miller hasn't done over the course of his three-decade-long Hollywood career. He's helmed episodes of your favorite television shows (including Parks & RecFlight of the Conchords, and Bored to Death), filmed shorts for the MTV Movie Awards, directed feature films, produced specials and shows with his company, Dakota Pictures, and shot segments for the Oscars. And last year, Miller teamed up with Mitch Hurwitz to revive Arrested Development—six years after the show's cancellation by Fox—producing and directing the show's fourth season for Netflix.

Miller's latest series, Deadbeat, follows hapless medium Kevin Pacalioglu as he helps ghosts while trying (and failing) to get his own life together; Hulu will drop its first season on April 9. We talked to Miller about the benefits of binge watching, the end of appointment television, and whipping up the perfect recipe for ghosts.

How did you get involved with Deadbeat? What drew your interest?
Kevin Beggs, who runs Lionsgate, had taken the writers' pitch, and then sent it over to me, as a friend, to read the pilot. I liked the pilot idea so much that I said "Count me in!" Then I developed the script with the writers, and with Charlotte Koh, the programmer at Hulu, driving it. We had all the scripts done before we started shooting, and then, from a director/producing standpoint, I treated this show like a movie.

Do you find that that's the standard procedure now when a show is being released all at once, on the Internet? That it's developed more like a feature film than like a typical TV show?
Not really. I think it becomes a financial necessity because the budgets are smaller. Also, when all the shows drop all at the same time, like what Hulu or Netflix are doing—I don't know so much about Amazon—you can weave in better story arcs. I've directed Parks & Rec and The Office and other shows, [where] you may only be a few weeks ahead. [This way, if] we just finished episode 8 and found out a lot of good things here, we can back and change up episode 2 and 3 so episode 8 is more fulfilling. When I write features or direct movies, the real fun of it, as a director, is stepping into something and crafting a whole world.

These people in these new companies can create apps that allow you to watch television on whatever device it is. I'll watch Hulu or Netflix on my television—it's pretty seamless now. It's a little bit alien but it's exciting to see they're trying in a different way. Not because they want to be different, but because they don't know any better and they're all such smart, creative people at these companies, it kind of engages you again. The creative community in Hollywood, anyway.

Are there benefits to this sort of method of releasing all the episodes at once? It changes the viewing experience, obviously. I have a lot of friends who binge watched LOST and they were like, "All the plot points were so obvious!" Because they were watching all the episodes one after the other.
It's funny that you mention Lost. That was my first binge viewing experience—Lost in its second year. It was over Thanksgiving, I think, and I hadn't even seen one [episode]. I got the first year on DVD and I watched all of them in three or four days. I'm a video game guy, too—I could play Call of Duty for six straight hours—and [watching Lost that way] was an immersive experience, like playing a video game. It made me really only want to have On Demand, whereas other shows, like The Sopranos—which is one of the greatest shows ever made—I would really look forward to watching it and seeing where the stories were going and I liked the anticipation.

But when there's so many other choices, what I find myself doing, even now, is recording them and waiting until I have three or four because I'd rather create a feature experience for myself, trick myself into watching more than one. It's like having the power like watching six episodes of Deadbeat—having the power to watch when I want to watch overrides the want of anticipation of the event of it coming in.

But it's changing. I have teenage kids, and all they know is Hulu and Netflix and this new world of television, as opposed to making an appointment to sit down and watch a television show. I think it's going away pretty quickly. So to be a director working there in this kind of revolution that's starting to happen, it's exciting because I'm crafting it as a fan, as a viewer, but also as a filmmaker. [Before, you'd think], I can't put something in Episode 3, because by Episode 6 or 7, the viewer will forget about it, but now, they're going to see it in another hour and a half.

Arrested Development was that way. That's the brilliance of Mitch Hurwitz. He was adding so many little clever nuggets throughout the show—the original series and the one we did this past season—so the binge seers were really rewarded and many went back and watched it again, to find even more little nuggets.

That's what we have in Deadbeat. Ultimately, in repeat viewing, people will find little things that we put in. Having all the scripts in advance, and doing it all at once, like a feature, it allows you to spend a little more precious time there.

I want to talk a little bit about the cast. I was surprised by Cat Deely, who plays Chamomile. Everyone knows her as a very sweet host on shows like So You Think You Can Dance, but she's such a villain in Deadbeat, and she's good at it. Can you talk about how she got involved and how you came by the rest of the cast?
That's in testament to our casting director, Cindy Tolan. She liked Cat on House of Lies—she had a guest role in that. I honestly haven't seen her dance show, but I saw that clip, and she did embody what an outspoken medium could be, but adding in an element of self-preservation with her evilness. Cat brought all that in. She just had such a strong point of view of what that character would be. And being able to kill them with kindness and then how she would react when the cameras were off, and she brought it on the first day. She just has this innate instinct at a performance level.

We looked and auditioned for [the Kevin Pacalioglu part] for four months. Tyler Labine is such an affable guy in life. He really did a lot of improv too. He took that character on and created it. He's really the breakout. He's been a working actor in subordinate roles and a couple of leads, but this is his first really lead role. We have an ensemble, but Tyler drives every scene. Everybody else has their own story arc, but it all seeds what Kevin's motivations are.

We were looking for a sidekick for Cat's character and we wanted someone who wasn't the same look—someone who was harried and put upon. Lucy Devito was in a play in New York, and she sent in a self-tape with only two takes on it with nobody off-camera. She just did it on her own. It became kind of a monologue and it was just captivating. She came in so well-prepared and had such a good grasp of the character that the writers quickly expanded it, and you will see toward the end of the season, her part just gets bigger and bigger.

And then Brandon T. Jackson, who is Kevin's sidekick/drug dealer, he was a real get, because it wasn't a big role for him and he's had lots of starring roles. He and Tyler already knew each other, and they knew from a comedic standpoint they'd have the right rhythms. As an improv director, I kind of just guided them a little, and let it go. A lot of the stuff they do, it was all them just riffing it out on the set.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the ghosts themselves. There are obviously some visual effects involved. How did you film them?
You know Freddy Wong? He's an example of a guy who does great homemade effects. With us, the budget is relatively low for a major effects show, but high for one of these cable or internet companies. So I had to basically retro-fit what effects I could do.

I wanted the ghost to be unobtrusive, in the everyday life, like Bringing Out the Dead. Not to align myself with anything as great as that, but just how Scorsese captured the ghosts in that film—the Nicolas Cage character can see people who have passed on, and they're just walking among us.

As a show that shoots in New York, we move very quickly, and we have portable green screens with us. Often times, you'll shoot and then shoot the ghost or transparency weeks later just on a green screen stage. But on Deadbeat, doing comedy, I had to have the rhythm of the scene. So it was not always the most cost efficient way, but we would do a scene with the ghost actor in it, and then do it again [without them], and I would direct Tyler or whoever the person driving the scene was where to look. It's a lot of cheated eyeline. And then we would pick it apart for how we would do the effects.

So that's kind of the technical part of it, but it's driven by, I think, the filmmaker's point of view—how do we make these ghosts just appear as if they are all around us and this one guy, Kevin, has a special gift that he can see them? It's hopefully discreet enough that when you're watching the show, you only see the ghosts in Kevin's point of view and you're occasionally reminded that oh, other people can't see them. Most times, when I cut to a wide or distant shot, you won't see the ghost, but when you're in coverage with Kevin, that's when you see the ghost. It's really driven by the point of view and then secondarily it is how do we do it and the economics.

The ghosts have a very distinct look—almost like they're undulating. How did you come up with that?
It's kind of a special recipe in the effects company we used, and I added in a kind of waviness to it. Our DP is a very talented filmmaker, and he was really pushing when we were doing our scouting, looking for reflections as if we’re seeing [the ghosts] through windows. We went for a few different paths while working and then came back to, what if the ghost was in a mirror? Then we added, basically, an after-effects layer. And it undulates and moves as if the ghost body is refracting the light. It came alive, and it's a lot of work. You’re doing frame by frame animation, and we had many effects artists working on many scenes at one time to make our schedule. I'd go in and supervise each one. Once you create the recipe, then everyone’s just following suit like any animated show.

When you're directing, you're sometimes also doing Steadicam. Why is that important for you to do? Does it give you a different take on the scene than standing back and watching it happen would?
I'm always active. I'm not a passive viewer. I'm very physical when I’m working. If I go off and freelance a show, I can just watch the monitor—I’m really crafting the rhythm of the scene. Whereas the shows that I’m creating, I’m in there with the actors talking as I’m going, and I’m doing repeated takes. I’ve been a handheld camera operated my whole career, and then it was a natural progression to being a steady cam operator which I’ve been for about the past ten years. On almost everything I direct, I’m also Steadicam, because I need to be with the actors—when I’m directing from a monitor in between takes, I’m talking to a DP, who's talking to a camera guy, who's talking to his dolly operator. There’s like three or four layers that it has to get through. [If I'm on Steadicam,] I can physically design the shot by telling an actor to step left or step right or say it again or do it louder or softer.

On Deadbeat, there are a lot of Segways—I have this system of mounting a big heavy Steadicam on a Segway, which allows me to do more repeats, faster shots. We used it a lot on Flight of the Conchords, too, in the last season. It's like a trick, part of my secret sauce that gives some of my stuff a different look. I find the tools that I need to get there quickly. When you're doing low budget shows, I keep my crew size to single digits by shooting it myself.

What's coming up next for you?
When I'm not on a movie or television series, I tend to fall back into development at my production company, Dakota Pictures, trying to get into more interesting projects going. We are bringing out new reality shows that are done from a film point of view. We're expanding our company, adding directing executives to the development department, all driven by this success we had with Netflix last year and Hulu this year.

The want of most of new cable seems to be going towards this lower budgeted, high production value alternative comedy world—which my company, if you look its history, it’s kind of a last man standing. There are not a lot of companies that still are independent, not owned by a studio, they take all the financial risk, and also have a creative showrunner such as myself in senior management.

As a producer, I'm producing an incredible pilot now called Dr. Brown for FX with Phil Burgers, who is a really talented performance artist. It's a perfect show for us because much like Mr. Show or Tenacious D or Flight of the Conchords or even Bored to Death—those are all shows we produced—it has a cult following. There's specialness to them. Whereas Arrested Development, Mitch Hurwitz brought me in on that, but it kind of encapsulated all that specialness, so I do feel like the audience and the world is catching up to what I've been doing for 25 years. Now, it's more exciting that the stuff I've wanted to do, people are asking me to do instead of me asking them. It's coming to us, so I just want to take advantage of those opportunities.

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11 Things You Didn't Know About Dolly Parton
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Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. YOU WON'T FIND HER ON A DOLLYWOOD ROLLER COASTER.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. SHE ENTERED A DOLLY PARTON LOOK-ALIKE CONTEST—AND LOST.


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Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. SHE SPENT A FORTUNE TO RECREATE HER CHILDHOOD HOME.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. SHE WON'T APOLOGIZE FOR RHINESTONE.


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Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. SHE IS MILEY CYRUS'S GODMOTHER, SORT OF.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. SHE RECEIVED DEATH THREATS FROM THE KU KLUX KLAN.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
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In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBT members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted, "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. TO PROMOTE LITERACY, SHE STARTED HER OWN "LIBRARY."

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. PARTON'S HOMETOWN HAS A STATUE IN HER HONOR.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. THE CLONED SHEEP DOLLY WAS NAMED AFTER PARTON.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. SHE TURNED DOWN ELVIS.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. SHE JUST EARNED TWO GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

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15 Things You Didn't Know About Betty White
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Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 96th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. HER NAME IS BETTY, NOT ELIZABETH

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. SHE'S A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. HER FIRST TELEVISION APPEARANCE IS LOST TO HISTORY.

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Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. WHITE'S RISE TO STARDOM WAS DERAILED BY WORLD WAR II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. HER FIRST SITCOM HIT WAS IN THE EARLY 1950S.

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Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she's won five times.

6. WHITE LOVES A PARADE.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. SHE HAS BEEN MARRIED THREE TIMES.


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White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. HER MEET-CUTE WITH HUSBAND #3 HAPPENED ON PASSWORD.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. WHITE ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF BLANCHE ON THE GOLDEN GIRLS.

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Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. IF SHE HADN'T BEEN AN ACTOR, SHE'D HAVE BEEN A ZOOKEEPER.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. SHE DIDN'T DO AS GOOD AS IT GETS BECAUSE OF AN ANIMAL CRUELTY SCENE.

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White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A FACEBOOK CAMPAIGN MADE WHITE THE OLDEST SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE HOST EVER.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. SHE IS THE OLDEST PERSON TO EARN AN EMMY NOMINATION.


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In 2014, White earned her 21st Emmy nod—and her third in a row for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program—for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. SHE LOVES JUNK FOOD.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. SHE WANTS ROBERT REDFORD.

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White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

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