HBO's 'Coastal Elites' cast tackles social satire, anxiety

This combination of images shows actors, from left, Sarah Paulson, Issa Rae, Bette Midler, Kaitlyn Dever and Dan Levy who will star in the HBO comedy "Coastal Elites," premiering September 12. (AP Photo) (Uncredited)

LOS ANGELES – For Bette Midler and Sarah Paulson, making HBO's “Coastal Elites” in pandemic-forced isolation proved an unsettling challenge.

“It was just bizarre, completely bizarre, because it leads you ... down all these rabbit holes of ‘What’s next? I mean, what else could happen to me?’” Midler said during an online news conference Wednesday about the social satire. It debuts Sept. 12.

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For Midler, the unusual working conditions reinforced how hard the pandemic has slammed the entertainment industry. Most TV and film production came to a standstill in March and is trying to recover, including with socially distanced approaches to taping.

“People used to say that showbiz was depression-proof,” Midler said, with moviegoers keeping it afloat during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Turns out it’s not, she said, and “now we discovered that we’re all out of work!”

“Coastal Elites,” a series of monologues written by Paul Rudnick (“Sister Act”) and directed by Jay Roach (“Bombshell”), also stars Issa Rae, Dan Levy and Kaitlyn Dever. Crews taped the cast at home in early summer under quarantine guidelines aimed at controlling the coronavirus.

The work, originally conceived for New York's Public Theater, offers “contemporary stories of characters breaking down and breaking through as they grapple with politics, culture, and the pandemic,” HBO said in a release.

Midler said she welcomed the chance to take part in the project but couldn’t ignore the oddity of making it. Paulson agreed.

The connection actors share on a set is what “I’m usually the most interested in and inspired by,” Paulson said. The timing also proved affecting.

“Because it had happened deep enough into this time (the pandemic), my paranoia level was high already. And there were all of a sudden seven people in my backyard, and that was more people than I had seen in an area in several months,” Paulson said. “So it’s a little frightening.”

Midler said she did gain some emotional release from making the series. In a series clip, her character vents about politics with a New Yorker's passion.

“I identified very, very strongly with the character. I felt almost as if Paul had written it for me, because he knows how nuts I am on the subject of the current inhabitants of the White House. So it was cathartic for me,” she said. But not enough: “I’m still in a state of rage and anxiety.”

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