Olivia Cooke admits she didn’t know much about “Game of Thrones” when she first auditioned for its spinoff prequel, “House of the Dragon.” “When I read the script, I hadn’t seen any ‘Game of Thrones,’” the British actor, 27, tells me from her London home. “But then I binged it and now I’m obsessed.” It was announced in early December that Cooke landed the role of Alicent Hightower, the daughter of Hand of the King Otto Hightower. “I had to do so many self-tapes,” Cooke says. “I was on hold for ages.” She was offered the job in October but had to keep mum for two months. “People would ask, ‘What’s up for you next?’ and I’d have to be like, ‘Nothing.’”
She insists she doesn’t know what her wardrobe and hair and makeup will be like. “I’ve had one sort of preliminary fitting when they just draped some fabric on me but that was it,” Cooke says. She has, however, read some scripts – but she is, no surprise, sworn and signed to secrecy.
She can be seen in Amazon’s awards-buzzy “Sound of Metal,” playing the lead singer of a heavy metal band whose drummer boyfriend (played by Riz Ahmed) loses his hearing. Of the film’s big concert scene, Cooke says, “The singing is just like screaming. You just scream. We did that performance about eight times, and then I completely lost my voice. You do it until you lose your voice.”
She trained with New York City musician and performer Margaret Chardiet. “She taught me how to scream and the guitar and how to loop,” Cooke says. “The first time I met her, we went into a booth in a warehouse in Bushwick and she was like, ‘Just scream!’ But, I mean, when was the last time you screamed. I was really nervous. I was giggling. I felt so embarrassed. But then I just let it rip and it was really cathartic.” Cooke was amazed by Ahmed’s command of the drums. “He just looked so powerful,” she says. “It looks like as soon as he beat the drum, he was going to go all the way through. But that’s what that music is. It’s so full-bodied.”
When Paul Bettany was asked to meet with Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito in 2018, he assumed his time with “Avengers” and the MCU was over. “My contract was up, and I had just died twice in ‘Infinity War,’” he says. When he walked into the room, the actor says he told the executives he was thankful for the work, but he understood their decision. “They said, ‘Are you kidding?’ and I said, ‘Aren’t you firing me?’” Bettany, 49, recalls. Little did he know that they wanted to talk to him about starring in what would become the Disney Plus series “WandaVision,” which bows Jan. 15.
Wolfgang Puck is at home recovering from back surgery. “I had it two and a half weeks ago, and it’s finally getting better now,” the celebrity chef, 71, tells me. He’s also awaiting the Jan. 14 premiere of HBO Max’s “The Event,” a four-part reality series about his catering business tackling such gigs as feeding the 1,200 attendees of last year’s SAG Awards. “It’s bittersweet in a way,” Puck says. “I think it’s going to be weird to just watch it on TV for all of us and the employees instead of actually doing it this year.”
Puck doesn’t appear in the series often because he insisted the spotlight be on this team, especially catering boss Eric Klein. “I’m not part of the catering every day,” Puck says. “It’s really Eric, not me, doing the hard work.”
And the series, which was greenlit by Kevin Riley when he was president of HBO Max, does not overdramatize their process. In other words, there are no requisite villains in this reality series. “It’s not something hyped up or we’re making other people look crazy or mean,” Puck explains. “I just wanted people to see what is actually going on behind the scenes.”
Puck reports that he recently was able to bring back some of his furloughed workers for jobs like preparing 10,000 boxed meals for Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles medical center. He hopes to hire back 75% of his staff for his L.A. restaurants by spring. “But the way it looks now, I don’t even know if we’ll be opening in March,” Puck says. “It’s so bad. It really shows how inefficient the government is. It started all with Trump ignoring the problem.”
He was also hopeful that his company’s most prestigious job, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Ball following the Oscars, would be a go when the Academy Awards were pushed to April 25. “I really don’t think anything’s going to happen because the way they organized the vaccinations. It looks like it’s going to take them some time to get it right,” he says.
Gina Torres, who played Cas in the second and third “Matrix” movies, is surprised that a fourth film is being made. “I’m so curious about where they’re going with this and what’s their jumping off point and what story they wanted to tell…because it just felt like they told it,” the actor, 51, says on this week’s Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.” Torres, who is best known for her work on as Jessica Pearson on “Suits,” is back on television, joining the second season of “9-1-1: Lone Star” opposite Rob Lowe. “Being up close to [Lowe], that doesn’t disappoint,” she says, laughing. “It’s ridiculous. Like I used to be the pretty one in the room, but I just give that up.” Click here to listen to the fulI interview with Torres.