No women were nominated for Outstanding Drama Director at last year’s Emmy awards, when the Academy president spoke about TV diversity while Sofia Vergara spun around on a rotating pedestal.
This year, accomplished “Homeland” executive producer and director Lesli Linka Glatter received a nod in the category for her deft work on the Season 4 episode “From A to B and Back Again” (the same that won her a DGA award earlier this year). But the director isn’t under any impression that gender inequality is improving in the entertainment industry. In fact, she says, the percentage of women directors in film and television has remained startlingly stagnant since she first entered the field in the ‘90s.
“To be a director is not for the faint of heart, regardless of gender,” Glatter told The Huffington Post over the phone when asked about underrepresentation in Hollywood, a topic she’s written about at length. “But, to me, the fact that gender is still an issue is insane in this day and age.”
“It is not an equal playing field by any stretch of imagination,” she continued. “To me, that is essential. It shouldn’t be more difficult for women to direct than men to direct — knowing that it’s difficult for anyone.”
Regardless of that environment, Glatter — who has previously received directing Emmy nominations for the “Homeland” Season 2 episode “Q&A” and the “Mad Men” Season 3 episode “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” — has left an indelible mark on the television world. Over the past 25 years, she’s directed episodes of almost every single notable series including “The West Wing,” “ER,” and “Gilmore Girls” (many of which are my personal favorite television episodes of all time).
In advance of Sunday’s Emmy awards, The Huffington Post spoke with Glatter about her nominated episode (“Oh my god, the people I’m nominated with. I’m honored to be in their presence”), how gender discrimination affects women directors and a very iconic “West Wing” moment.
Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for “From A to B and Back Again”!
Oh god, thank you so much.
In the episode, it was fascinating to see how far Carrie was willing to go in her handling of Ayan. Were there new aspects of her character you wanted to get across with that storyline?
I think where Carrie is last season, we find her incredibly functional as far as work. She’s at the top of her game. But on a personal level, she’s completely detached. So that’s where we found her at the beginning of Season 4. She then has some sort of a crack of awakening emotionally with Ayan. She’s not expecting this — he’s an asset; she’s doing what she needs to do to recruit him.
By Episode 6, she’s set him up to go back and lead everyone to Haqqani. The tension around that and mixed emotions of whether he’s going to do it, whether she’s played her cards right … It’s so convoluted and complicated, living in that world of shades of grey. She’s put all of this into getting Haqqani — the one chance to get him — and she’s killed this young guy who she has some kind of mixed weird feelings for, and still hasn’t emotionally dealt with her real issues yet. To me, that is fodder for great stuff.
You’ve been vocal about the unequal conditions for men and women directors in the industry. What are some ways you’ve seen that manifest?
I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say, “You know, we hired a woman once and it didn’t work.”
You would never hear someone say, “We hired a man once and it didn’t work, so no more men.” It would just never be an issue. You wouldn’t hire that person if it didn’t work, that director. But you wouldn’t cut out a whole gender because somebody didn’t work out.
And I do feel like we’re all lumped together in that way. If somebody does well, the door opens up enough for another person. If you look at film schools, they’re 50-50. So what happens going into the real world? We’re in the golden age of television. There’s so much good storytelling out there — great writing, directing and acting. Provocative, challenging material. The fact that this is still an issue is just unacceptable to me.
Over the past two decades, you’ve directed episodes of almost every major television show. Did you have especially memorable experiences on any specific sets?
Oh, there are more than a few. “West Wing” was an extraordinary show to be part of. Amazing writing, amazing cast. The producing director on that show Tommy Schlamme was brilliant. I feel like I learned a lot from him about doing this job. The beginning of “Mad Men” was thrilling and exciting. I loved doing “Twin Peaks.” That was my first series. It was illuminating being around David Lynch. He approached every episode like you were doing this little movie. It was extraordinary. I loved doing “The Walking Dead,” “Masters of Sex,” “Ray Donovan,” all incredible. It’s an exciting time.
Speaking of “West Wing,” you directed Season 4’s “Inauguration Part II: Over There,” which contains a seminal Josh-Donna love moment involving snowballs. So I’ll end with a fangirl question: What was it like to work on that episode and the snowball scene in particular?
I’ll never forget that.”West Wing” was at its height, and all of these incredible politicians and elected officials and state department people would come to the set. It was amazing. That night, it was winter, but it was fairly warm and we had to snow in the whole street. We literally created snow for like five blocks. It was quite an experience. And it was a turning point scene. For Janel [Moloney] and Brad[ley Whitford], it was a key moment in that story. What I loved about “West Wing” is that you were in the backroom with the smartest people on the planet seeing how decisions are made, and yet you get the whimsy of that person still loving the girl and wanting to get her. It’s amazing.