Selma Blair could only talk for a half-hour in our first session. That was as long as she trusted her brain and her body to cooperate — any longer and she feared that her focus might start to wander or her speech might begin to trail. “We’re being responsible in knowing that smaller moments will be clearer moments,” she said.
For Blair no day is free from the effects of multiple sclerosis, the autoimmune disease that she learned she had in 2018 but that she believes began attacking her central nervous system many years earlier.
This particular Friday in September had started out especially tough: She said she woke up in her Los Angeles home feeling “just bad as all get out,” but she found that talking with people helped alleviate her discomfort. Blair said she had had good conversations earlier in the day and that she had been looking forward to ours.
So, if she needed to take a break during this interview, she said with a delighted cackle, “it just means you’re boring me.”
That same unbridled bluntness persists in all her interactions, whether scripted or spontaneous, with cameras on or off, even when she is sharing her account of the time she went on “The Tonight Show” wearing a strappy top she accidentally put on sideways. It is a story she told me proudly, within five minutes of our introduction on a video call, while her fingers made a maelstrom of her close-cropped, bleached-blond hair. (By way of explaining this style choice, she burst into a brassy, Ethel Merman-esque voice and sang, “I want to be a shiksa.”)
But Blair’s candor has come to mean something more in the three years since she went public about her M.S. diagnosis. Now, whether she is posting personal diaries on social media or appearing on a red carpet, she understands she is a representative with an opportunity to educate a wider audience about what she and others with M.S. are experiencing.
It is a philosophy of maximum openness that she is taking further by appearing as the subject of a new documentary, “Introducing, Selma Blair.” The film, directed by Rachel Fleit, is an unflinching account of Blair’s life with M.S. and the stem-cell transplant she underwent to treat it in 2019. (The documentary will be released in theaters on Oct. 15 and will begin streaming Oct. 21 on Discovery+.)
As Blair explained, she was hopeful that the film would be meaningful to viewers who feel challenged and uncertain, whether or not they have a chronic illness.
“This is my human condition,” she said, “and everyone has their own, but I think we are united in feeling alone or frightened when we have a big change in our lives. This wasn’t a vanity project at all, and I’m very capable of loving vanity.”
For Blair, the documentary is just one piece of a larger effort to understand herself — to determine how much of her identity has been shaped by her disease, and what will remain or change now that she is being treated for it.
“If this had happened in my 20s, when I’m trying to start a career and set a few shekels aside, I would have been mortified,” she said. “I’m old enough now. I’m getting to know a whole different personality, and I’m not ashamed.”
Thinking back to her upbringing in suburban Michigan, Blair described herself as a 7-year-old who toted around her own copy of the Physicians’ Desk Reference, the massive tome of information on prescription drugs, and wondered why she experienced constant pain, fatigue and unpredictable mood swings.
These difficulties persisted into adulthood: The pain got worse, particularly after the birth of her son, Arthur, in 2011; she had problems with her vision and experienced involuntary muscle contractions in her neck.
Until she received her diagnosis, Blair said, she couldn’t understand why her symptoms varied from setting to setting. “I can walk better in my house, but outside it’s like a sand pit,” she said. “With certain light, my speech becomes intermittent even though my larynx is fine.”
“It never occurred to me that there’s a traffic jam that happens in my brain,” she said.
In the flurry of attention that followed Blair’s disclosure of her diagnosis, she was introduced to Fleit, and they agreed to start shooting the documentary in the days just before Blair traveled to Chicago for her stem-cell transplant.
Fleit said that Blair exercised no editorial control over the film, adding that the endeavor would succeed only if the actress “was willing to show the world what really happened — that brutal intimacy and honesty that you just don’t see — and she was totally open to that.”
Fleit, who has alopecia universalis, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss, said she felt a particular connection to Blair as filming proceeded.
“Being a bald lady in the world has given me unique access to a certain kind of emotional pain,” Fleit said. “It does not frighten me anymore, and I feel uniquely qualified to hold the space for another person who’s experiencing that.”
But not everyone in Blair’s life was immediately comfortable with her pursuing both the film and the stem cell transplant. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Blair’s “Cruel Intentions” co-star and longtime friend, said that she was fearful about the treatment, which was accompanied by an intensive chemotherapy regimen.
“I just felt like it was so risky,” Gellar said. “And her attitude was, yes, I’m managing right now, but in 10 years I might not be, and I won’t be a candidate for this treatment. It was now or never. And now or never is a very good definition of Selma.”
Gellar was also unsure about the film project — “I’m a very private person, I can barely share going to the supermarket,” she said — but she understood Blair’s position: She felt it was important for her son.
As Gellar recalled, “She would say, ‘God forbid, if I don’t make it, then Arthur has a whole video diary of what I went through. He’ll never have to wonder, did I give up? He’ll know how hard I fought to be there for him.’”
To Parker Posey, a friend and colleague of Blair’s for nearly 20 years, the decision to make a documentary was as much a legitimate form of expression as any other artistic enterprise.
“This is the only thing we have — your life as an actor, it’s all material, it’s all story,” Posey said. “Am I going to land in something that gives me meaning, away from the pettiness of most entertainment?”
Posey added, “Anyone who can find purpose in creating what they’re supposed to create and bravely live their life, that’s art. That’s the triumph.”
Blair, for her part, said that once shooting started on the documentary, “I don’t think I noticed. There was really no directing and I mean that in the best way.”
She added, “I don’t think I’ve realized that a film is coming out where I’m the subject of it. I haven’t really processed that.”
With our half-hour coming to its end, we said our goodbyes and I told Blair I looked forward to reconnecting with her in a few days. In a comically ethereal voice, she answered, “God willing, if I’m alive.”
Our next session, planned for that Monday, had to be delayed when Blair fell from a horse she was riding over the weekend. As she told me in a follow-up conversation — this time over the phone, as video calls were making it difficult for her to focus — she had lost her balance and hyperextended her thumb but was otherwise doing OK.
She was more embarrassed by how she felt she’d behaved in our first conversation, using her admittedly outrageous sense of humor to paper over her anxiety. “I get so spooked because there is still, even in my mind, a stigma of, you won’t bring it — you won’t be able to make this mind-body thing work,” she said. “I’ll use the defense of a shtick when I feel like I’m faltering.”
She was also bothered by a remark she had seen on her Instagram account from someone who offered support for her documentary but said, as Blair described the comment, “I wish a regular person were doing it, like a person that’s not a celebrity, because it’s not the same.”
Blair emphatically added, “I am a regular person.”
Cynthia Zagieboylo, the president and chief executive of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said that Blair’s decision to share the story of her experience could be beneficial to other people who have the disease and those who want to know more about it.
“There isn’t a right way to move through something like this,” Zagieboylo said. “There are no two stories of M.S. that are the same and for people to express themselves, it’s very personal.”
When someone like Blair is open about her illness, Zagieboylo said, “people can feel less alone in facing the challenges of their own M.S. People experiencing potential symptoms might recognize something. It could lead to an earlier confirmed diagnosis of M.S., which means people could get treated faster and that leads to better outcomes.”
She added, “By her sharing her journey with the world in a really authentic way, there’s really no downside to that.”
Blair said that she had been told her M.S. was in remission, which she said meant “there is not a clear path for my disease to get worse, and that’s huge. That gives you breathing room.” There was no certain timetable for how long her stem-cell transplant might be effective but, as she said in her characteristic style, “I could get hit by a bus before that.”
One of the strange benefits of this period of relative calm is the chance to learn whether past behaviors that she considered fundamental components of her mood and personality — the outbursts, the impulsivity — might be manifestations of her disease.
Blair described a conversation with a neurologist who asked if she took medication for pseudobulbar affect, a condition that can result in sudden uncontrollable laughing, crying or anger.
“I said, ‘No, this is just me, what are you talking about?’” Blair recalled. “She’s like, ‘Or maybe it’s not.’ It never occurred to me.”
Blair added, “I don’t know if I will ever work my way out of neurological damage. I know I can find new pathways, but I’ve been scarred for so long.”
She continues to help raise Arthur, whose custody she shares with his father, Jason Bleick, a fashion designer and her former boyfriend. But she said her son had not been able to watch all of the documentary.
“About 20 minutes in, he wasn’t comfortable,” she said. “He was worried that people would see me this way and talk behind my back or not give me a job.”
Blair said she very much intended to keep working as an actress and, to whatever extent she’s perceived as having stepped back from the industry, it’s not because she isn’t putting herself out there for roles.
“The parts that I’m offered since I’ve had my diagnosis are the old woman, the person in the wheelchair, the person bumping into walls,” Blair said. “I might be those things, but I’m still everything else I was before, and I shouldn’t be relegated to that.”
But now that she has put herself out there in the truest way she knows how, Blair hopes that her efforts will remind others — and reinforce in herself — that there is value in this kind of transparency.
“There’s a difference it can make to people,” she said. “I don’t mean it in a flaky, soft way. I mean, really make the time to go beyond, because you never know what people are holding inside, and what a relief to know even adorable people like me” — she could not suppress one last knowing laugh — “are troubled by their own brains and bodies at times. That’s the comfort I wish I could give.”
‘Saturday Night Live’ Takes on the N.F.L.’s Jon Gruden Scandal
You know an N.F.L. scandal has wide-reaching implications when it makes it as far as a “Saturday Night Live” opening sketch.
This week, in an episode hosted by Rami Malek and featuring the musical guest Young Thug, “S.N.L.” led off with a segment about Jon Gruden, the former coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, who stepped down on Monday. A New York Times report had detailed emails from Gruden that contained misogynist and homophobic remarks, following the disclosure of another email from him in which he used a racist stereotype to describe a Black union leader.
The “S.N.L.” sketch made use of several members of the show’s cast — even Colin Jost, who’s rarely seen away from the Weekend Update desk, and who played the N.F.L. commissioner Roger Goodell.
Speaking as Goodell, Jost said, “When you see me on TV, it’s never good. This time, one of our coaches is accused of racism, misogyny and homophobia. But hey, at least no one’s talking about concussions.”
Jost added, “I assure you all 32 teams in our league understand that diversity is our strength. And I know our Black coaches would agree. Both of them.”
He then introduced Gruden, who he said “got on his knees and begged, and you know how much I hate seeing someone kneel.”
James Austin Johnson, a new cast member who is rapidly adding to his roster of impersonations, played Gruden with some prominent cheek prosthetics. “I hope you won’t judge me on one email I sent 10 years ago,” he said. “Or the 20 emails I sent last Tuesday.”
Alex Moffat, wearing a closely cropped wig, played the Raiders owner Mark Davis. “We need to do better,” he said. “We need to, as I always tell my barber, aim higher.”
The lineup also featured Pete Davidson as the team’s new coach. “It is an honor to take over this storied franchise and a real shame that I have to immediately resign,” he said. “They just found my emails, too, and they are so much worse than the old coach’s.”
He was followed by Andrew Dismukes, playing an equipment manager, who just learned he’d been made coach and must now also resign because of his old tweets. “I never should have dressed up as Jackie Chan for Halloween,” he explained. “But 2019 was a different era.”
Chris Redd as appeared as the former N.F.L. quarterback Colin Kaepernick. “So much stuff coming out about the NFL is maybe racist, kinda,” he said with a dramatic pause. “Huh. I wonder if anyone tried to warn people about this before.”
Finally, Moffat said he’d found the perfect coach for the team — “someone even Twitter can get behind” — fan favorite LeVar Burton (played by Kenan Thompson).
‘Squid Game’ Segment of the Week
It was only a matter of time before “S.N.L.” took on “Squid Game,” the dystopian South Korean serial that’s become a widely watched hit on Netflix. The show came at it from a somewhat oblique angle in this country music video where Davidson and Malek start out singing about the unusual lengths they will go to in order to earn money. As the lyrics run:
Yes I’m broke and it’s a damn shame
Guess I gotta play the Squid Game
Yes I gotta play the Squid Game
My only option is the Squid Game
Have a number not a real name
‘Cause I’m playing in the Squid Game.
You know what comes next, of course: masks, jumpsuits, and a giant talking doll leading a murderous round of Red Light, Green Light.
Celebrity Overload of the Week
A satirical game show called “Celeb School” allowed several “S.N.L.” cast members to indulge in offbeat impressions of famous figures, including John Oliver (Mikey Day), Jennifer Coolidge (Chloe Fineman), Adam Driver (James Austin Johnson), Kristen Wiig (Melissa Villaseñor), George Takei (Bowen Yang) and Lil Wayne (Chris Redd). But its real achievement may be providing a platform for Pete Davidson to play Rami Malek and for Rami Malek to play Pete Davidson. (One of them nails the assignment, but in fairness he has an Academy Award.)
If that’s too conceptual for you, there’s also this segment in which Malek and Thompson play themselves, competing for the role of Prince in a biopic directed by Jordan Peele (Redd). Stick around to the end and your reward is a cameo appearance from Daniel Craig, dressed as a Renaissance-era prince and air-guitaring the opening riff from “Kiss.” (Craig also appeared in a later sketch, playing an audience member at an unusual improvised musical performance.)
Weekend Update Jokes of the Week
Over at the Weekend Update desk, Jost and his co-anchor Michael Che riffed on President Biden and the latest challenges facing his legislative agenda.
If you’ve felt like you haven’t seen enough Bowen Yang since he became a full member of the “S.N.L.” cast this season, this weekend’s episode made up for that in a big way.
Yang got the spotlight first in a sketch about a middle school bug pageant, where he played a 7th grader cast as a feisty, fashionable daddy longlegs. (Asked how he traps his prey, Yang replied, “I slam my credit card down and say daddy’s got it.”)
Yang later turned up at the Weekend Update desk, playing a gay Oompa Loompa who finds all the coverage of Timothée Chalamet’s “Wonka” movie to be “scrum-diddly-umptious,” but has not yet come out to his parents.
“They live in Loompaland,” Yang explained to Jost. “It’s not as progressive as here. They, like, just got ‘Will & Grace.’”
8 Socially Conscious Wedding Gift Ideas
Even if they’ve requested no gifts, showing up to a wedding without something for the couple can feel awkward. Newlyweds may direct guests to donate to a favorite cause or charity on their behalf, but when they don’t, it can be hard to find an alternative to arriving empty-handed.
In the same way a couple would appreciate a donation in their name, they may appreciate knowing you’ve chosen to buy them something that supports a small business. They may also enjoy knowing you’ve selected a gift that helps them live more sustainably.
The eight ideas that follow come recommended by environmental activists and social-justice advocates who have dedicated their time to making the planet more equitable and inhabitable. They include gifts both practical and charitable, all of which do a bit more good than your traditional toaster oven.
Elizabeth Teo works in communications for the Toronto Environmental Alliance. She uses social media to draw attention to climate- and waste-related issues.
Hive Brands grocery box, from $10
“Customize a zero-waste kit from Hive Brands for the couple. You can pick and choose items to stay within a budget. It saves them the hassle and helps them get started in their new home.”
“This worm composter is a useful gift and a hands-on learning experience. It turns food scraps into nutrient-rich compost for a garden. You can place it in a kitchen without having to worry about the smell or pests.”
Pattie Gonia, a drag queen and an environmentalist, raises money and awareness for L.G.B.T.Q. and environmental groups.
“A membership to a co-op in the couple’s area supports local farmers, ranchers, and producers. It helps our planet and supports a local economy. My favorite: Central Oregon Locavore in Bend, Ore.”
Nori carbon removal, from $15
“Carbon offsets reduce the emissions produced by things like driving or flying. You can purchase them through renewable-energy projects or carbon-sequestering projects like Nori. The gift sparks thoughtful conversations about our environment.”
Francesca Willow is the blogger behind the Ethical Unicorn, which covers sustainability and social justice.
“A subscription to Who Gives A Crap sends bulk toilet paper or paper towels made from recycled paper. For people who are creating new homes together, it’s an easy, sustainable, and convenient lifestyle alternative.”
Choose Love donation, from $1
Choose Love does invaluable work across the world to provide refugees and displaced people everything from search-and-rescue boats to food and legal advice. If a couple prefers charity donations, it’s my top choice.
Gina Danza left a corporate job in television in 2017 to become an outdoor photographer who encourages people of color to explore nature.
“Reusable Stasher bags are great for cooking, traveling, and more. If the couple opens them before the wedding, they can even freeze a slice of wedding cake in one.”
Indigenous Women Hike donation, from $1
“Everywhere you stand is Native land. People get married on Native land. A donation to Indigenous Women Hike will help fund work to raise awareness of Indigenous history on public lands.”
Gadsby and Netflix Employees Pressure Executive Over Dave Chappelle Special
Tensions at Netflix continued to flare on Friday, 10 days after the release of a special by the comedian Dave Chappelle that critics inside and outside the company have described as promoting bigotry against transgender people.
Early on Friday, a Netflix star criticized the company and Ted Sarandos, a co-chief executive, in a stinging social media post. Later in the day, Netflix said it had fired an employee for sharing documents related to Mr. Chappelle with a reporter, and Mr. Sarandos fielded pointed questions from employees during a companywide virtual meeting.
In a rare public rebuke, the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby upbraided Mr. Sarandos by name for his defense of Mr. Chappelle. Ms. Gadsby, whose 2017 Netflix special, “Nanette,” earned an Emmy and a Peabody Award, is the most prominent entertainer to criticize Mr. Sarandos and Netflix, which she referred to in an Instagram post as an “amoral algorithm cult.”
Mr. Sarandos and Netflix’s other co-chief, Reed Hastings, have been unwavering in their support of Mr. Chappelle, who signed a lucrative multiyear deal with the company in 2016 and has won Emmys and Grammys for his Netflix work. In a note this week, Mr. Sarandos countered the arguments of Netflix staff members who had suggested that Mr. Chappelle’s special, “The Closer,” could lead to violence against transgender people, writing that he had the “strong belief that content on-screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
Mr. Sarandos, who joined Netflix two decades ago and became its co-chief executive last year, also said that the company would go to great lengths to “ensure marginalized communities aren’t defined by a single story.” He cited inclusive Netflix programs like “Sex Education” and “Orange Is the New Black” as well as Ms. Gadsby’s specials, which also include “Douglas,” released in 2020.
In her social media post on Friday, Ms. Gadsby, who is a lesbian, objected to the executive’s references to her in his defense of the company and Mr. Chappelle’s special.
“Hey Ted Sarandos!” Ms. Gadsby wrote. “Just a quick note to let you know that I would prefer if you didn’t drag my name into your mess. Now I have to deal with even more of the hate and anger that Dave Chappelle’s fans like to unleash on me every time Dave gets 20 million dollars to process his emotionally stunted partial world view.”
She continued: “You didn’t pay me nearly enough to deal with the real world consequences of the hate speech dog whistling you refuse to acknowledge, Ted.”
Netflix declined to comment on Ms. Gadsby’s remarks.
At a virtual company meeting that started at 10 a.m. Pacific time on Friday, Mr. Sarandos replied to a series of tough questions from employees, who asked about Mr. Chappelle’s special and how the company had responded to criticisms of it, according to three people with knowledge of the gathering. The event became emotional when several employees were persistent in their questioning of Mr. Sarandos and his support for someone who they feel engages in hate speech, the people said.
After the meeting, Netflix said in a statement that an employee had been fired for sharing internal documents pertaining to Mr. Chappelle with the press.
“We have let go of an employee for sharing confidential, commercially sensitive information outside the company,” the statement said. “We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company.”
The documents included private financial information regarding Mr. Chappelle’s Netflix specials that were published this week by Bloomberg, according to a person with knowledge of the termination. The documents included the costs for the specials — $24.1 million for “The Closer” and $23.6 million for Mr. Chappelle’s previous special, “Sticks & Stones” — as well as an internal metric that determines the value of the specials relative to their budgets.
Such data is available to Netflix staff but rarely made public. The appearance of the statistics in a published article is a further sign of how deep the schism is between some Netflix employees and company leadership.
Several organizations, including GLAAD, which monitors the news media and entertainment companies for bias against the L.G.B.T.Q. community, have criticized Mr. Chappelle’s special as transphobic. A group of Netflix workers has planned a walkout for next week in protest.
Nicole Sperling contributed reporting.