TIME movies

Luke Wilson: How I Made My Award-Winning Short Film Satellite Beach

The actor opens up on writing, co-directing and starring in an evocative new short film

In the fall of 2012, the actor Luke Wilson and a small film crew trailed the Space Shuttle Endeavor as it moved through the Los Angeles streets to the California Science Center. Wilson, along with his brother Andrew, shot largely improvised footage of a character named Warren Flowers (played by Wilson) who believes he is in charge of the shuttle’s journey; the footage became a 20-minute evocative short film called Satellite Beach (now available to purchase online). For Wilson, the experience allowed him the chance to make a film in a different way and to explore space travel, a subject he says he finds compelling.

A hit at festivals, where it’s snapped up a string of awards, Satellite Beach is an unusual film, and one that deftly twists the viewer’s expectations while showcasing what it was like to drive a space shuttle through LA’s busy streets.

Wilson spoke with TIME about how this project materialized, how it challenged him as an actor, and why it’s set him and Andrew up to direct an upcoming feature film.

TIME: Where did you get the inspiration for this short film?

Luke Wilson: There was an article on Sunday in the LA Times about the man who was in charge of the moving of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. He said a couple of interesting things, like that he went to bed thinking about it and he woke up thinking about it. He drove the route almost daily. He was obsessed with it. I thought it would be interesting to do a guy that thought he was in charge of it, but turns out not to be.

So did the people moving the shuttle know you were making this movie around them?

We just filmed here and there. There would be people that didn’t notice me; there would people who thought I was an official. And then there would be people that recognized me. If I was going to ask guys to move on a roof or something, I’d say, “We’re doing a little movie. Do you guys mind if I ask you to get down from there?” Everybody was into it. It reminded me of going to the Rose Bowl Parade as a kid, where we were in these parts of the city, and everyone was in a good mood, and there was a going-with-the-flow attitude.

Did you write the story beforehand, or just improvise as you went?

I worked it out all as I did it. I had the idea for a few scenes, and had the idea of how it would start and what would going on — knowing that gradually this guy would unravel, and people would see him unravel. Initially, the ending was supposed to be a gala at the California Science Center, and you think this guy is in charge until the end, when he can’t get into the gala. And then the transporter that moved the space shuttle broke down the first night, and they had to fix it. I always knew there were would be voiceover, and the voiceover would be dictated by the shots that we got.

That’s an interesting way to make a movie.

Yeah, it is. Not that it hasn’t been done, but I certainly hadn’t done it. And I’d always been interested in certain filmmakers or actors like Dennis Hopper, making experimental films. Or even Andy Warhol. I liked the idea of doing something off-the-cuff. When you’ve worked on a bunch of projects that have been stuck in development or waiting you think, “Gosh, someday I’d really like to make a movie my way” — which I still haven’t gotten to do, but we did get to make this short in this way. But it definitely came about from trying to emulate people I’d read about over the years.

You had directed previously, right?

Yeah, I had directed The Wendell Baker Story. It was this movie I’d written about ten years ago. My brother Andrew and I directed it together like we did with Satellite Beach. I’m not one of those actors who’s hell-bent on directing. It just seemed like a way to cut out the middle man. It’s hard enough to make a movie and we had a limited amount of time, so I didn’t want to have to be explaining to a director what I was trying to do.

As an actor, what’s exciting about being in a short film that’s largely improvised?

I found it really nerve-wracking! And I’m surprised we didn’t get arrested, frankly, as close as we were to the shuttle. We were asking people to move and going up to police and jumping over barricades. When they moved it across the Manchester Bridge they were filming a Super Bowl commercial, and I walked right into the middle of that. I went up to the mayor dressed as the character. I was definitely on edge the whole time, which I think helped. I was waiting to be put in the back of a squad car.

Did it feel like you were playing out some childhood fantasy about space travel at all?

It did. Just growing up, The Right Stuff was a big book and then a big movie. For me and the few friends who made [the movie], it was a huge deal to be around the space shuttle. Everybody was incredibly excited to see it and to be that close to it. It was the kind of thing where we were all elbowing each other and high-fiving each other. Also, getting to get to go Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That, too, was incredible. Just getting to be on that land that is so historic and iconic. We saw the Apollo launch pad. It kept changing the project — to think it just started with an idea from the newspaper and then it became this movie.

You’re also in The Skeleton Twins right now. What compelled you about that role?

I was a big fan of both Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. It was one of those particularly strong SNL classes. I really liked their characters and I knew, having worked with Will Ferrell, that I love working with SNL actors. I watched SNL every Saturday night growing up. My dad would get us revved up when it was coming on in the ‘70s. So I still feel that way about the show and the people on it.

How does that role play into where you want to be in your career overall?

I always admire people that have a set plan. I really don’t. I like to work because I always feel like I’m learning something and I always feel like I’m meeting somebody, whether it’s an actor or a crew member, who I want to work with again. I don’t really have a set plan and I don’t know that you can have a set plan unless you’re Brad Pitt, where you can pick and do exactly what you want.

Do you have more movies upcoming?

I have this movie called Ride, which Helen Hunt directed. And then I have this movie called Prison Love that I wrote. We’re going to be doing it in the next few months, that Owen [Wilson] is going to be in. I will be directing it with Andrew, my brother. That will be fun to try and do that again, obviously on a larger scale than Satellite Beach — although I feel like Satellite Beach was helpful in terms of directing.

Is there a director you’ve worked with who has inspired how you want to do it?

Wes Anderson, for sure. I’ve also always liked what I’ve read about Clint Eastwood as a director. He’s not walking around shouting into a megaphone and wearing an ascot. I like the idea of it being a workmanlike job, and that you are a part of a team. Even though you’re in charge, you want people to feel free to contribute.

Wait — have you worked with a director who wore an ascot on set?

I don’t think so, but I’ve definitely worked with a few directors where I’ve found myself not listening to their direction. I was just imagining them wearing the ascot.

TIME Music

Nick Jonas: I Want a Career Like Elvis Presley

Nick Jonas
Nick Jonas rehearses in Los Angeles for his new self titled album on August 22, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. Gabriel Olsen—Getty Images

Also: his new single was inspired by a time when another guy was looking at his girlfriend's ass

Nick Jonas is redefining himself this year. The musician and actor, formerly one-third of the Jonas Brothers, will unveil an R&B-inspired solo album this fall and stars on Kingdom, a gritty TV drama about martial arts fighting. For the series, which premieres October 8 on DirectTV and also stars Frank Grillo, Jonas bulked up and learned how to fight, focusing intently on creating a role that showcased a more dramatic side of his acting abilities. His album is equally sincere, but not quite as serious, a collection of songs that reveal a new side of Jonas as a musician.

The self-titled album features collaborations with Mike Posner, Angel Haze and Demi Lovato. TIME caught up with Jonas at his management’s Los Angeles office, where he and his live band have been rehearsing the new material.

TIME: Is your new album finished?

Nick Jonas: Yeah, we’re finished. Just working on liner notes and album art now, which is the fun part. The plan is actually to roll right into another [album]. I want to get it started and ready to go hopefully in the next month or so. The mentality was to take the new way of releasing music, which is to just always have something out. It feels like a good plan.

Did you go into this album with a vision for the music?

I did. I came in really wanting to make a record that was different from anything I’d done in the past, but that was true to my influences: Stevie Wonder, Prince, Bee Gees. And then, more recently, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. That whole vibe of alternative R&B/pop. It just fell into a really natural place really early. To the point where we were six songs in, like, “Oh, we have a record taking shape.” I came in really sure of what I wanted to do.

What did you want to say on the album lyrically?

I think that fear was a big thing in the songs I was writing. The song “Jealous” — the root of that is fear. A song called “Nothing Will Be Better” has fear at the forefront. In a lot of ways, as an artist you’re best way to free yourself of whatever it is that’s bothering you or causing the fear is to just write and get it all out. I tried to do that. I think I said a lot. I made myself uncomfortable at times in what I was saying, which I think is good. I wanted to make the kind of record that left the audience with more questions than answers. I think the best art does that. Hopefully the second installment answers some of those [questions].

You said the album poses a lot of questions. What do you think is the most significant question it asks?

One of the biggest questions is, “What is it you fear and why do you fear it and how does it affect you?” For me, it was fear of the unknown, fear of my next steps, fear of making bold choices. In creating the music and feeling free in that way, I think the questions were answered and the fear was gone. I feel really good now!

What do you think was the boldest choice you’ve made with your solo career?

Just starting it. That was pretty bold. That took a lot just to get to that place where I could have that conversation and roll it out from there. And I really did push myself to step outside of my comfort zone and work with people that I’d never worked with before. I’d become really selective with who I worked with, and I think that limited me in a lot of ways. Trying to open my mind up to new people and new collaborators was a big thing.

What’s your goal for your career overall going forward?

My goal is to be the kind of performer that can be in movies and television shows, like the show Kingdom I’m doing now. Be in that and have a career in that, but also do my music. Both are a form of my artistry and it’s a shame that sometimes you’re limited to one. A lot of people feel like you have to focus on one at a time, but I want to be greedy and do both. I hope I can. I look at people like Elvis, who did both, and it was amazing. There’s a million examples of people who have made the transition from one to the other, but I’d love to be able to do both and make an impact in both.

How did you get the role in Kingdom?

Once the [Jonas] Brothers and I finished that chapter, I met with the team and said, “I want to make acting a priority.” I took a bunch of meetings. There were a lot of obstacles to overcome, trying to make a transition to things that were grittier and had heavier subject matter. There were a lot of “no”s. I kept working hard and finally got in for this show, which is a big reach. But they said my work was great, and the role was mine. It was a big win. It’s very intense. It’s heavy. It was about an hour drive to set every day and I was so thankful for that ride because on the way home I needed an hour just to turn on some classical music and clear my head because it was really heavy stuff.

Do you know yet if it will get a second season?

We don’t know yet. We literally finished last Tuesday. We’ll probably find out after the first week.

You clearly got really fit for the role. How did you prepare physically for playing a fighter?

I’ve gotten pretty into physical fitness this last year. Getting to the gym more, eating healthier. I really enjoyed that and when I got this role the goal was to put on 15 pounds of muscle. Just to have an animalistic aesthetic and feel. These fighters have a very specific physicality so it was about trying to capture that. I worked with a trainer here in LA and did the fight training on top. I was on a really strict diet plan that had me eating about 4,500 calories a day, just getting huge.

So you actually learned how to fight?

I did, yeah! It was really amazing training. We worked with this guy Joe Daddy Stevenson, who is a famous fighters himself. We did a bootcamp with him for a couple of weeks and really got in the mind of the fighters. We all built up our own reasons why we, as our characters, were fighting.

Have you personally ever been in a fight?

No. Growing up with brothers, you push each other around and wrestle a little bit. Now they don’t really touch me, because I actually know how to handle myself.

How do your brothers feel about you pursuing your own career?

Any kind of transition, when you come from a family set up both in a band and also the extension of that, is going to be complicated at first. Luckily we’re all in a place now where we’re all doing what we want and what we love. That’s where it needed to be. So Kevin is with his family and enjoying that, and Joe is starting to work on some music projects and some DJing stuff. It feels like a really good time in all of our lives.

When you look back at the Jonas Brothers do you feel like that music represents you as an artist?

Yeah, I think so. We really tapped into a moment in pop culture that was band oriented. When we broke through it was on the back end of the pop-emo takeover. When we came into that our pop-rock sound fit. It was organic to who we were. We were writing all those songs. It was important to us then. And now, looking back on it, are there things I would have done a little differently? No, I don’t know that I would have. It was who we were then and each moment as an artist is that moment. You have to continue to grow and that happens over time.

Can you tease anything about your upcoming single “Jealous”?

The night before [we wrote it] I was out with my girl and this guy looked at her ass while we were out. I was all hyped up on the fighting I was doing. I was had to be like, “Okay, let’s stop for a minute.” Not only was I frustrated that he was disrespecting me like that, but also, I could actually take care of this situation. I got really passionate about it. I realized that jealousy was something that I was harboring so I wrote this song about it. It’s a fun song so it’s ironic that it came out of a situation that made me so angry. I love the song. The video is really special. I think it’s the best video I’ve made.

So instead of fighting people you’ll just write songs about them?

Yeah, that’s better. Make art, not war, right?

TIME movies

The Rover Finds the One Place in the World Where Nobody Will Follow Robert Pattinson

The Rover
Matt Nettheim / Rover Film Holdings

Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce find solace and inspiration in The Rover's desert setting

When making his new film, The Rover, director David Michod may have uncovered the only location on Earth where Robert Pattinson is not followed by a hoard of paparazzi. The poetically sparse film, out nationwide this Friday, takes place in a desolate world 10 years in the future after the collapse of society, and reveals what could happen if humans are forced to survive by any means necessary. To create that world, Michod took Pattinson and his co-star Guy Pearce to the Flinders Ranges in the Australian desert, an area several hours north of Adelaide with few roads and fewer people. The cast and crew spent eight weeks shooting in early 2013, moving around to various locations throughout the desert, including the town of Marree, which has a population of 90.

“I didn’t quite realize how remote a lot of it was going to be,” Pattinson tells TIME. “It’s quite a big paparazzi culture in Australia. So I was expecting more of that. I remember setting up the contract and really thinking ‘If we’re going to be shooting exteriors all the time there’s going to be tons of people around. It’s going to be awful. I’m going to be playing this part and everyone’s going to think I’m weird.’”

“For Rob to shoot in a city like here or London you’re going to have a hundred people following the film set around,” Pearce adds. “Imagine if that’s how your work environment was all the time. So it’s not surprising that Rob thought it was going to be awful. But it wasn’t like that. There was like one person and the crew stopped them. I pity that one photographer that managed to find where we were.”

It was a hot, dusty environment that lent itself to the film’s bleak narrative, which follows a weathered man named Eric (Pearce) who encounters a simpleminded young man named Rey (Pattinson) and uses him to find his stolen car. It’s a minimal premise that showcases the grittiness of this future world, packing a subtle but hefty punch at the end. For the actors, the landscape helped channel the visceral survivalist nature of the story. “You know you’re going to be out there when you read the script and you’re aware of that being an aspect of the whole piece,” Pearce notes. “You almost can hear your own heart beating and you can hear yourself breathing. That feeling of possibly left out there alone is really palpable.”

The production moved from small town to small town over the eight weeks. Pearce, who drove himself the long distances, scored a crack in his car windshield that grew each leg of the journey. Pattinson, who says he was not allowed to drive himself, found the nomadic process fascinating and unlike any of his previous filming experiences. “The driving was incredible because there’s one road,” Pattinson says. “There’s so much wildlife [that has] not quite figured out that there’s a road. Literally every day someone would hit a kangaroo. There was blood all over the cars. It was crazy.”

Michod, who wrote the initial story for The Rover with actor Joel Edgerton back in 2008, selected this as his follow-up to 2010’s Animal Kingdom, his debut feature, largely because it embraced this elemental sense of survival in a hostile place. There is little explanation of what has happened that caused society to crumble in the story, but Michod’s underlying idea feels realistically possible.

“There wasn’t one single, sudden, almost unimaginable event that destroyed everything,” the director explains. “There was just a breakdown that was, in all likelihood, caused by a Western economic collapse probably running in tandem with the effects of extreme environmental degradation. Possibly the kinds of wars that might come as a consequence of peoples and countries fighting over limited resources. My hope is that you would just generally get the sense that things have just broken apart as opposed to exploded.”

Pearce and Pattinson’s characters are our window into this broken world, one with a brutal, animalistic instinct and the other with no real method of self-preservation. Pattinson embodies Rey as a twitchy, awkward migrant worker with a deep Southern accent. Michod sees the character as “not fully comfortable his own skin” and was impressed with Pattinson’s immersion into a role that is so different than his prior work, particularly in the Twilight series.

“I didn’t have any concerns,” Michod says of casting an actor as recognizable as Pattinson. “I don’t think I really had any idea how that baggage might manifest in terms of the film is received. And if anything I really liked the idea of taking someone so recognizable and giving them something wildly different to do. I found it kind of exhilarating watching him demonstrate that he’s actually a really wonderful actor.”

“I had quite an obscure, kind of obtuse, backstory for him,” Pattinson says of Rey. “Part of the whole thing with Rey is that his brother has played all the positions in his life. He doesn’t even really have memories – maybe there are memories of a place but it’s not like he had to put any particular effort in as he was growing up. Everything is blended together. It’s like being an actor – you can’t remember anything.”

The film takes on a meditative literary quality, falling somewhere between The Road and Of Mice and Men, which makes its moments of violence even more jarring. The Rover is the first film where Pattinson has really had to use a gun and he was not entranced by the opportunity. “I’m quite anti-gun, especially for idiots like me,” Pattinson says. “I didn’t like it at all. I don’t like the feeling of it. I get the thrill and the power trip of it but I felt silly as well holding a gun, especially pointing at targets and stuff. It’s just this bang-making machine. After a while it loses its luster.”

“I, too, have a real issue with guns,” Pearce adds. “I think they should be banished off the face of the earth. They’re awful things. There is an incredible thrill and sort of power as soon as you have one in your hands. That understanding of what you’re capable of doing with this thing is off the charts. It’s ridiculous and it’s enticing and it’s awful all at the same time and it just astounds me that so many people own guns in the world.”

Seeing as this possible incarnation of the future involves a lot of weaponry and the ability to commit violent acts, would either actor survive a similar collapse? “I think I’d end up in the opium den flophouse,” Pattinson says, referencing a depressed drug den seen briefly in the film. “Just hanging out like ‘I’m good.’” Pearce agrees, “Yeah, I’d probably end up there as well.”

TIME Food and Spirits

Haylie Duff Wants You to Start Ordering Kale Online

The actress' new show on the Cooking Channel aims to make the art of cuisine a little more straightforward

A few years ago, actress Haylie Duff launched a blog called Real Girl’s Kitchen to share recipes and cooking tips. Last year, the blog expanded into a book of the same name, allowing Duff the opportunity to more fully explore her love of all things culinary. Now, this weekend, Real Girl’s Kitchen takes a whole new evolution — this time in the form of a ten-episode cooking show on Cooking Channel. The series, which premieres on June 7, follows Duff as she explores various facets of the food world and teaches viewers how to turn chef at home.

For Duff, who has several movies in the works as well, cooking is a way to showcase her true self. The actress talked to TIME about how Real Girl’s Kitchen became a TV series and why, exactly, we should all get on board with kale.

TIME: When did you shoot Real Girl’s Kitchen?

Haylie Duff: We’ve been shooting on and off for the past six months or so. We took our time making it because originally it was a web series. We did our own schedule, and I did some movies in between shooting some of the episodes. And now we get to go onto the Cooking Channel, which is crazy!

How did that come about?

Truthfully, by the grace of the universe. We shot the series as a web series and put a promo out, and then a executive at Cooking Channel saw the promo and we went in for a meeting. We figured out how to make both work – we did the show online first, and then on Saturday we premiere on Cooking Channel. It will air as if it’s a new series that has never been online before, which is sort of a bizarre concept, but it’s new and different.

Did you ever think you would be someone with a Cooking Channel show?

One hundred percent not. I still pinch myself. I think about who I was when I typed up that first blog post, and I never in a million years would have thought this would happen. I’m so grateful and I try to be present every step of the way.

Have you always been interested in cooking and food?

It’s more of a new revelation as an adult. I talk in my cookbook about my mom discovering my take-out menu drawer. We were never the family that ordered pizza, and my mom never came home with a bucket of fried chicken. My mom always made home-cooked meals. We always sat down at the dinner table as a family. So my mom was devastated when she learned that I ordered delivery all the time. The look on her face spawned me wanting to learn how to cook. I had a lot of disasters in the kitchen as I learned.

What’s the first thing someone should learn how to do in the kitchen?

I think the first thing you should learn is how to roast a chicken. Once you can roast a chicken you can pretty much figure out anything else. And who doesn’t like roasted chicken? It’s a classic. You can serve it at a dinner party with a salad and a nice side and it has a great presentation, or you can put it in the oven after a day of work. It’s a go-to dish for me. There’s so many things you can do with it.

Has learning to cook made you more aware of where your food comes from?

Yes — to the point that I drive people crazy! I’m interested in where it comes from. I love the idea of farm to table and farmer’s markets. I enjoy a meal more if I know I’m eating something that’s good quality and good for me. I think it scares some people, maybe, and that’s why they don’t want to dive too deep. There’s a lot of scary stuff out there.

What are some of the culinary themes your show will tackle?

It’s a loose format, which is one of the cool things about it. The first episode we go out to Malibu for a girl’s weekend to eat green juice and turmeric shots and all that kind of detox stuff. We go to Brooklyn in one of the episodes and go to two incredible restaurants. We visit a rooftop farm while we’re in Brooklyn, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We do a big crab boil in my backyard with my family. We recreate burgers from Plan Check [in Venice, CA]. I visit a goat farm and make goat cheese. We cover some miles.

What’s the coolest thing you learned how to do?

It might have been when we went to Soledad Farms and made goat cheese. I always buy this goat cheese when I’m at the farmer’s market and it has flavors — there’s a lavender one, a honey one. It’s the most delicious but light goat cheese I’ve ever had in my life. I had done some research on this farm and they’re also an animal rescue. Julian [Pearce] is a French cheese-maker who bought a farm in California and he rescues any animal that comes his way. He claims that his goat cheese is more delicious than any other goat cheese because the goats are all happy.

That seems like a really good reason to have a cooking show.

Yeah! In my actual life, a food adventure is my favorite thing to do. To get to do it on the show was amazing.

You mention in one episode how much you love kale. For those who are skeptical, can you defend its merits?

I love kale. I ate it for lunch today. It’s just the best thing ever – it’s so good for you. There’s so many things to do with it. You can eat it raw, you can massage it into a salad, you can sauté it. It’s just the best little green ever. However, I get a lot of people who write to me on my blog and on Twitter who say they live somewhere where they can’t find kale in their stores. So one thing I’ve been encouraging people to do is order it online. It’s so easy to grow in the ground! It’s truly the easiest thing to grow. You can bring kale to you.

As you continue to pursue both acting and cooking, do you have a goal for where you want your career to go?

That’s such a good question because I’ve been very lucky this past year. I’ve been able to continue to make movies and also make the show and keep up with my blog and go on a book tour. I’ve been able to have the best of both worlds. I definitely don’t take that for granted. I think if I could continue doing that I’d be the happiest girl around. But really, Real Girl’s Kitchen has been my focus for the last year. It changed my life. I discovered myself in a whole new way. I would love to see a second season for the show. I’d love to write another cookbook. In a perfect world, I’d get to keep doing both.

What do you hope people take away from the show?

I’m not a trained chef. I’m a self-taught cook and I want people to be like, “Yo, I could do that! Maybe I didn’t think to or maybe it seemed harder than it really is.” That’s one thing people are going to really like about it. It’s not unattainable.

TIME Music

Lucy Hale Gets “Raw and Real” on Debut Album Road Between: Q&A

Hollywood Records

The Pretty Little Liars starlet-turned-country chanteuse details what to expect from her debut LP — and on the new season of her hit show

Lucy Hale may be best known as Aria Montgomery on ABC Family’s sudsy primetime soap Pretty Little Liars, but the actress has always been a musician at heart: Hale grew up in Tennessee as a country music enthusiast, and has had her sights set on releasing an album of her own ever since.

Now, that dream comes to fruition: Hale’s debut album Road Between, a collection of twanging, hooky country tunes she recorded while on breaks from shooting her TV show, finally drops June 3 on Hollywood Records. Meanwhile, Hale is filming the fifth season of Pretty Little Liars, which premieres on June 10, while prepping to tour in promotion of her new music later this year. The busy actress squeezed in some time for TIME to discuss how Road Between came together, and what lies in store for Aria this season.

TIME: Did you have a moment where you felt compelled to finally make your first album?

Lucy Hale: Yeah. I’ve done music for as long as I can remember. I actually moved out to LA initially for music, not for acting. Because of the success of my shows, the music got put on the back-burner. I got signed and there was a moment where I was like, “I’m ready. This needs to happen.” I just felt comfortable with who I was, and I had a stronger sense of self and what I wanted my sound to be and what I wanted to say. I’m grateful that it happened when I was more of an adult rather than when I was younger.

So when did you first start working on the record?

A little over two years ago. That’s an extremely long time to make an album, but I used it to my advantage because we had the luxury of not having a deadline. There wasn’t much stress around it. It was a really fun, enjoyable experience. But we took our sweet time!

Did you have a certain vision for the album when you started?

I knew what genre I wanted. I’ve never doubted country music — I’ve always wanted to do that. But when you’re making a first album, you have the ability to do whatever you want. You only get one first album, and you have to set the stage and tone for the rest of your musical career. No pressure or anything! I just wanted it to be a really clear picture of me. That’s why I’m glad we got to take our time, because I got to draw from so many different experiences and work with a lot of really good people. Once we nailed the tone of the album, it just happened organically and the pieces fell into place.

What is it about country music that attracts you?

Out of any genre of music, the songs tell beautiful stories. I’ve always loved the details of the lyrics. I’ve always connected to what these songs are saying, even as a little girl. When you’re young, you loved reading stories and watching movies, and it was that way with country music. So the same reason I loved it as a kid are the same reasons I love it as an adult. And I find that country music is very relatable, and I think that’s all an artist can really hope for — that their songs can speak to someone.

Which country artists did you like most growing up?

I loved me some Shania Twain. I liked Dixie Chicks a lot. Martina McBride was probably my favorite singer. She’s still one of my favorite vocalists. But I loved Britney Spears and Spice Girls, too.

Were there certain stories you wanted your album to tell?

I’ll be 25 in a couple weeks, but we started the process when I was 23. I had to grow up kind of fast, living out in LA. I felt like I had gone through some stuff that was worth singing about – the experience of being in love, heartbreak. I felt like there was a lot to draw from.

What did you learn about yourself during the process of making the album?

Through the whole process in general – songwriting, recording and even now performing live – I realized I have a lot more self-confidence than I thought I had. I rarely say that I’m proud of myself about something. It’s not like, “Oh, I made this great album, look at this.” It’s that I’m proud of myself for really opening up and allowing myself to be raw and real. Usually, with what I do — being an actress on a TV show in LA — you don’t always get to be yourself. You don’t always get to talk about real life stuff. This music really opened me up and let me be myself more.

Is there a specific song on the album that really showcases that?

Yeah, there’s a song called “Nervous Girl.” The first time I heard it I immediately knew it had to be my song. I didn’t write this one, but I immediately connected with it, and I knew that I had to be the person who sang this song. The lyrics are very important. The message of the song is something I think people need to hear. That’s a song that never sounds the same twice. I feel like I discover something new about it each time I sing it. That’s rare, for an artist to have a song like that.

Do you find that there’s any correlation between your work as a musician and your work as an actress?

No, I feel like they’re really different. The music is me. It’s my stories. I’m not hiding behind anything. With acting, obviously, that’s not Lucy, that’s a character. But because of the success of [Pretty Little Liars] and that area of my career, it’s helped me to have a stronger work ethic. And I have a thicker skin. It’s allowed me to accept criticism. Making an album is really hard. To put yourself out in that way. You’re going to get a lot of feedback, not always good, and it’s helped me develop that thicker skin.

You’re probably sworn to secrecy on a lot of things, but what can you say about the upcoming premiere of Pretty Little Liars?

You’re right – I am sworn to secrecy! But the premiere picks up right where we left off. And we left off where Ezra’s been shot. So you find out the fate of Aria and Ezra, and whether he’s alive or not alive, and what happens. What’s different about this season from the other ones is that Alison is really back this time. Our show, up to now, has been the search for Alison. Now that she’s back, the whole dynamic is different. She’s coming to school, she’s back in the group. Things are changing.

Are you rooting for Aria and Ezra’s relationship yourself?

I really am. That’s the whole reason I wanted to do the show in the first place. I remember I read the script, and it was the heart and soul of the show for me. They have such an interesting love story and it has this Romeo and Juliet feel throughout the whole series. These are two people who are not supposed to be together, but yet they are, and they can’t help it and they love each other. You can really tell that they believe they’re soulmates. So the romantic in me wants to see it work out.

Beyond the love stories, Pretty Little Liars really showcases strong female friendships. Why is that important for a TV show?

We live in a society where females are very hard on each other. For me, I think it’s cool to see four different, very independent girls still be there for each other despite all the chaos that’s going on in their lives. It sets a strong tone. Friends are everything, and female friends are everything. Girls are too hard on each other, and I think the show sets a good message.

How much longer do you see Pretty Little Liars continuing?

I think we have a few more seasons in us. I’d love to see this show end in a good spot, where people really really care about it. I think it’s a show that can’t go on forever. The girls and I are getting older. I don’t want it’s going to end soon, but we’ve been doing this for five seasons. We’re going to do a sixth season, I think, and after that we’ll know how it’s going to end. That will be one epic ending!

TIME Television

David Duchovny Talks Saying Goodbye to Californication

Episode 701
David Duchovny as Hank Moody in Californication Jordin Althaus—Showtime

On the eve of the Showtime series' final season, the actor, who plays troubled writer Hank Moody, tells TIME about letting his rear end call the shots in his career, the legacy of Californication, and his upcoming new NBC series Aquarius

After seven season, Showtime’s Californication is coming to its end. The series, created by Tom Kapinos, has followed troubled writer Hank Moody as he attempts to navigate family and career while continually womanizing, drinking and engaging in general debauchery. The character of Hank, played by David Duchovny, will hopefully find a satisfying — although perhaps not altogether happy — end during the final season, which premieres April 13.

Duchovny is already moving on to his next project, a series for NBC called Aquarius, on which he’ll play a police detective on the trail of serial killer Charles Manson. That project begins shooting in July, but meanwhile, Duchovny has been reflecting on the end of Californication and what the show has meant to popular culture. TIME spoke with the actor about saying goodbye to Hank, what it means to be a writer and why his ass makes all his career decisions.

TIME: Californication is ending! This is so sad.

We’re all sad. We loved each other. It wasn’t a just a job I loved going to every day. I know it sounds like bulls–t when an actor says, “It was like a family!” But it’s not exactly like a family, because usually you want to get away from your family. It was great. It was really a pleasure for the full seven years.

How long ago did the final season wrap?

We wrapped in August. It’s been over for a while. This is normally the time when we’d be gearing up to go again, so I think this is when we’re realizing it. We’ve all been in denial, like, “Oh, we’re just faking it. We’re actually going to do another year.” But now we’re realizing that we’re not.

What was the last day on set like for you?

I was alone. I got to say my goodbyes onset to different actors as we were moving through the last episodes. On the last day. I was alone on that promontory by LAX where we like to shoot, where we watch the planes take off and land. It was just me and the Porsche. I had to say goodbye to the Porsche! That was very difficult. When we cut and the First AD said, “That’s a series wrap for David,” Tom Kapinos, the writer and creator, was there. We kind of just walked off into the sunset and he was crying. I have a picture of it [that] somebody snapped as we started to walk away from the car. I’m glad I have that moment in a photo.

How does the conclusion of this series compare with the experience of ending of The X-Files?

With The X-Files, it was the first time that anything like that had happened to me. It was a phenomenon. It was life-changing. Life-transforming. I went from being somebody who nobody knew to somebody known worldwide. There were all these things that had happened because of the show. By the time we were finishing, I was really ready and eager to move and show that I could do other things, that I wasn’t just going to do this thing. So there wasn’t as much gratitude as I might have had, and looking back I wish I’d had that. I wanted to get out of there. I think we all did. And now, being older, I just try to appreciate things in the moment and be grateful in the moment. I think I was more present for the ending of this one.

When you were first approached to do Californication, what was it about the show and the character that compelled you?

After The X-Files, I didn’t want to do another television show because the schedule is so demanding and all-consuming. What happened with the advent of cable, which I hadn’t foreseen when I was leaving The X-Files and said, “I’ll never do another television show,” was that you could do 12 [episodes]. You could have a life and do other things you wanted to do in your career or your family. It didn’t have to be your sole creative identity or place, so that opened me up to even looking at scripts for television. That was the first step. And then I wanted to do a comedy. And this wasn’t the sort of man-child comedy that I saw most places. To me, it was more like comedies from the ‘70s where men acted immaturely, which is always funny, but not like 10-year-old boys. I was despairing that I was ever going to get a chance to do the sort of comedy I could drive, and then this came along, and I thought it was cinematic in that way. I thought, “Well, I’ll just do this and see if I’m full of shit about thinking I can do a comedy.” And lo and behold, it ran for seven years.

Do you think that Hank Moody, as a character, has changed over these seven years?

Well, the problem with serialized television is that you can’t change, or people get really mad. If people do something different, the fans go, “Oh God, how dare you change! We invested in you, and now you’ve changed.” The nature of it is, actually, to not change, but to keep making the same mistakes that people love to see. So, I don’t think that he changed. I think his focus changed. To me the show was always about this guy getting his family right. This guy’s focus was always his love for Karen and his daughter and wanting to do the right thing, and then getting torn away from that for whatever reasons — immaturity, lack of focus, weakness, drugs. It was always a matter of a guy not changing, but remembering who he really was.

Hank is a pretty flawed character. What do you think is his redeeming value?

He’s honest and he’s sincere. His sincerity is not maudlin. He’s a guy that says, “Look, life is difficult and we’re making choices here, and some of them are the wrong ones. Yet we can’t not make those choices.” What makes him attractive is that he is honest and he’s trying.

Do you have a favorite Hank Moody moment?

They all just popped into my mind when you asked that question, so this one might not even be my favorite. But the first thing that came to my mind is in the first season, when I vomit on the Scientologist, and then she vomits. That was Paula Marshall, and it was her idea. She said, “I should vomit too!” I was like, “Yes! You should vomit too.” One vomit: Funny. Two vomits: Hilarious. And three vomits? Not funny at all. What an interesting calculus.

Over the years, have you had real writers come up to you and say, “This is just not how writers behave”?

It’s more like, this is how writers wish the world worked! Tom Kapinos would eagerly tell you that this whole show has been the wish fulfillment of a writer, which is that the world is a place where writing is valued and writers are attractive to women and well-paid and don’t even ever really have to write.

It was really interesting last season when Hank tells his daughter that writing is sitting down and actually writing but the rest is just posturing. That seemed reflective of the show itself.

Yeah, and as a writer myself, I would say that is true. It’s maybe a cliché, but the hardest part of writing is putting your ass in a chair. Once you start, things are going to happen. But nothing is going to happen unless you sit down.

Do you actively write a lot these days?

I’ve never been good at sitting down! But I did write a short novel that will come out next year. And I’ve been writing a bunch of songs and lyrics. I have been writing. [The novel] will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, probably next spring.

So is this the chicken or the egg: You played a writer and then you wrote a novel, or you were a writer who happened to play one on TV?

Well, we all know the chicken came first. Didn’t they figure that out? But I’ve always been a writer. I was a writer before. I always considered myself a writer, even though I didn’t sit down enough.

Do you have a sense of what Californication’s legacy will be?

I think the show’s legacy might be surprising — I hope it is. The bright lights and the big city aspect of this show has always been sex and nudity, and I think once that comes into play, it’s all people react to, either negatively or positively. That becomes the issue, pro or against. People tend to get blinded to the fact that we were doing a funny show about a family. Which is what I think the show is, really. If it were to attain a legacy, I’d be happy if it was, “That show that was really funny about a family and felt really true.”

Now that you’re going to do a NBC series, will it be weird to be leaving all that sex and nudity behind?

No, it’s the job of an actor. I’d certainly done sex and nudity in films before. And the amount of my nudity and sex in Californication, if you were to go back and look, is a lot less than you might imagine. It was happening a lot more around me than to me. And I’d always say, “If I’m going to show my ass, I’m going to show it in the first episode while I’m still in shape.” That was always the stipulation. If you ever want to see my ass, you look at the first episodes.

For someone who said they wanted to do movies after The X-Files, how is it that you are about to do your third TV series?

Yeah, well, you know, that’s just the nature of the business. Movies have become smaller and smaller, and they’re hard to get. They’re hard to do. The big blockbusters are not necessarily that interesting to me. I’m not saying I’m getting offers and turning them down, but to me, the best work is happening on television, mostly on cable. And now, the networks are trying to compete in terms of content. Obviously they have limitations of language and violence and sex, but I think something like Aquarius is bringing a cable sensibility to a network.

Do you have to get in shape for your role on Aquarius even, with no nudity?

Not that I know of! That’s the good news. I have to consult my ass on my roles now. My ass turned down all the cable shows.

TIME movies

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort Got Vulnerable During The Fault In Our Stars

A Fault In Our Stars
Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort) James Bridges—2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort play brother and sister in the dystopian setting the recent blockbuster Divergent, where humanity grapples with categorization as a means of societal control. But shortly after filming the film, which is based on a novel by Veronica Roth, Woodley and Elgort had to shift their onscreen relationship for another book adaptation. In The Fault In Our Stars, the duo play teenage love interests who are both dealing with impending doom of another kind — cancer.

The film, out June 6, is based on a popular young adult novel by John Green; it follows a 16-year-old cancer patient named Hazel Grace Lancaster who encounters a compelling young man named Augustus Waters in a support group. For Woodley, there were a lot of reasons to accept the role of Hazel, whose witty narration in the novel carries over into the film in voiceover form.

“There were so many things!” Woodley tells TIME about what drew her to Hazel. “The fact that Hazel at such a young age realizes that all of this is fleeting and that none of it matters. That it doesn’t matter how big of a mark you leave on the world or how many great things you do, or if you change the world or if you’re Martin Luther King Jr. or Cleopatra or homeboy down the street. Eventually it’s all going to end, and oblivion is inevitable. So you might as well enjoy every moment and live every moment in a present state of mind. The fact that she understood that at such a young age was so powerful to me.”

The casting for The Fault In Our Stars was announced midway through filming Divergent, but both actors felt able to aptly separate the two films. Elgort, who was cast as Augustus in Fault, plays Caleb Prior in Divergent, the brother of Woodley’s character Beatrice Prior. Caleb is logical and driven by his intelligence, whereas Augustus is a fun-loving teenager who manages to find a bright side to a cancer diagnosis.

“When you’re there and you’re Caleb, you have to be Caleb,” Elgort says. “I hadn’t thought about Augustus Waters yet. And then when you change characters, you change the way you look, you change the way you feel. Everything changes. You almost start to think that Shailene is two different people in the projects. You meld with your character a little bit, naturally. You start to pick up those tendencies a little bit.”

“Ansel and I have an affinity for each other just as far as recognizing and admiring the spirits in one another,” Woodley adds. “It was nice to do a movie like Fault, which does have so many vulnerable scenes with somebody I was already comfortable with.”

Elgort felt a significant connection to Augustus and it’s one that apparently resonated with the author himself. “John Green, after he saw the film, gave me a huge compliment,” Elgort says. “He said, ‘Your work as Augustus was so special because I had never thought about him that much. It’s from the point of view of Hazel in the story, so Augustus wasn’t as real of a person to me until I saw the film.’ Because now you’re watching a real person, you’re not just hearing Hazel’s thoughts about him. So it’s fresh whether you’ve read the book or not.”

Those who have read The Fault In Our Stars are prepared to bring Kleenex to the cinema — and Elgort says they should. He confirmed that moviegoers will cry “pretty hard,” but Woodley has a different perspective on the narrative’s tragic tone.

“It’s pretty sad,” she said. “But it’s also really empowering. It’s like the book. I think the movie really mastered the tone of the book.”

TIME movies

Why Do We Love Dystopian Stories So Much? The Cast of Divergent Explains

Jaap Buitendijk—Summit Entertainment

This is how the world ends — not with a bang, but with a dystopian future

How will the decline of humanity actually go down? It’s a question that’s served as a primary theme in literature and film for the last century, finding various incarnations in books like 1984 and Brave New World as well as films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. In more recent years, the idea of a dystopian society has driven young adult literature — a craze that’s seen a surge of blockbuster film adaptations. Following the success of The Hunger Games franchise, several other young adult series have been greenlit for the screen — most notably Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, the first installment of which hits theaters this weekend.

In the series, set in a future version of Chicago, society has created systemic order by categorizing itself into five factions — Erudite, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity and Candor. Each faction is characterized by certain inherent traits; citizens must fit seamlessly into only one. In the film, which adheres closely to the novel in story, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) reaches her 18th birthday and is forced to chose between her original faction of Abnegation and the lure of Dauntless. The film follows her to Dauntless, where she encounters Four (Theo James) and uncovers certain problems within the faction system, raising the question of whether people can, in fact, be divided into discrete groups.

So for the cast of Divergent — which also includes Kate Winslet, Ansel Elgort, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd and Miles Teller — what does it mean to be a part of another movie about a crumbling future, and what’s the cultural obsession with imagining that future all about? Theo James, who was born in Britain, says dystopian narratives help us grapple with the issues that circulate daily in the news.

“Young people in particular have such a fascination with this kind of story,” James tells TIME. “It’s becoming part of the consciousness. You grow up in a world where it’s part of the conversation all the time – the statistics of our planet warming up. The environment is changing. The weather is different. There are things that are very visceral and very obvious, and they make you question the future and how we will survive. It’s so much a part of everyday life that young people inevitably — consciously or not — are questioning their futures and how the Earth will be. I certainly do. I wonder what kind of world my children’s kids will live in.”

Tony Goldwyn plays Andrew Prior, a leader of the society and father to Beatrice Prior. The sort of power play that unfolds in Divergent is a far cry from Goldwyn’s weekly role as the president of the U.S. on ABC’s Scandal, but the actor sees some parallels between the two: in both iterations of America, the desire for power drives human behavior. Goldwyn wasn’t familiar with the book series when he was offered the role, but accepted it because the script’s story struck a chord.

“It was a young adult story that I thought really resonated for as an adult as well,” Goldwyn says. “The thing that really grabbed me was that for something that could easily could just be a genre movie, it was really elevated by the material. There’s something about dystopian stories. It’s the idea of: ‘Our world is shattered, and now what?’ The shattering of everything that is familiar is a classic, archetypal fear. It’s dramatically really interesting. What happens if our world is destroyed and we have to start over? What kind of society would we build?”

In Divergent, the young heroine Beatrice becomes a vehicle for change by challenging the status quo; Elgort, who plays Beatrice’s brother Caleb Prior, thinks this is integral to the cultural interest in futuristic tales.

“Everyone wants to know what happens in the future,” Elgort says. “We already know the past — movies about the past are interesting, but movies about the future are really intriguing because we want to know what will happen. That’s why dystopian stories are interesting to people. It inspires you. It makes you think that people can make a difference.”

Divergent is one of many film adaptations about this theme set for release this year: The Maze Runner, the first in a recent series by James Dashner, and The Giver, based on Lois Lowry’s classic young adult novel, are both on docket. Both center on the idea that humanity will have to be controlled by some means in order to avoid self-destructing entirely. In Divergent, Erudite leader Jeanine Matthews (Winslet) says that it is necessary to rid society of human nature to survive. But this dystopian scenario being realized is an actual concern for Woodley, who says she didn’t read these sorts of books growing up and has only just started to consider their weight since filming Divergent.

“If we’re concerned, we should probably change it to an optimistic future,” Woodley says of the flood of dystopian stories. “I think it’s a good platform for looking at our society as a mirror. We have drones in the sky now and we’re genetically engineering not only fruits and vegetables, but salmon. We’re creating robotic salmon that people are going to eat; is that going to create robotic humans? It’s interesting to me that we’re beginning to eradicate human nature. We live in a society that bases everything on fear and thought process versus intuition and heart-based impulses — erasing animalistic instincts.”

If the desire to create dystopian narratives arises from a communal fear about our future, then what’s the takeaway from a movie like Divergent? For several of the actors, it’s about realizing that if you can’t control the future, then at least you can control the person you become.

“I think, in a bigger way, this is a story about becoming one’s self truly,” Goldwyn explains. “All of us are in fact divergent. So the idea of being sequestered into one personality type is something everyone relates to and something we struggle with throughout our lives. We go through different points of identity crises of trying to figure out ‘How do I become who I am?’”

“It doesn’t mean that you have to go climb buildings or jump off trains,” Woodley says. “But you can find the courage to stand up for what you believe in and diverge from mediocrity.”

TIME Music

Miley Cyrus Strips Down (Her Songs) and Grinds With Madonna in MTV Unplugged

Miley Cyrus and Madonna team up for Cyrus' 'Unplugged' special. MTV

Dudes in horse costumes, Kerry Washington, little people, and Madonna wearing a grill? Don't worry — it's just a Miley Cyrus concert

“In Nashville, it’s a lot easier to find a log to sit on than it is here.” This is what Miley Cyrus told the audience at her MTV Unplugged taping in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening; the singer had taken a seat on something that looked more like a wooden hitching post than a log, but she was right — logs aren’t common in LA. Luckily, the one she found fit her theme perfectly.

At Hollywood’s Sunset Gower Studios, the producers of Unplugged had successfully transformed a soundstage into a hoedown, complete with bales of hay and a massive light-up wagon wheel. Cyrus’ explanation? “I don’t know if y’all know this or not, but I’m from Nashville,” she told the audience, after dutifully hollering “Yee-haw!” a few times. “I tried to bring a little bit of Nashville here tonight.” (Yep, you might even call it “definitely a Nashville party.”)

The Unplugged special, which airs Wednesday night on MTV, marks the first time Cyrus has played many cuts from her album Bangerz in concert. A few of the tracks will make their live debut in this set — and it’s telling that they’ll see their debut in this format, since Cyrus “unplugged” these songs with a banjo, infusing them with a rootsy country flavor.

In 2012, long she’d signed with RCA and begun transforming into a full-fledged provocateur, Cyrus filmed several acoustic performances outdoors in Los Angeles; she dubbed them “The Backyard Sessions,” offering up strikingly beautiful renditions of well-loved tunes like “Jolene” and “Lilac Wine.” These were pre-pixie cut, pre-twerkgate, pre-wrecking ball; they revealed that the former teenage star was a true singer, that her voice had the capacity to convey real emotional weight, even without the help of studio wizardry. The sensibility of those clips aligns what you’d expect from an Unplugged session — right?

Not with present-day Cyrus at the helm. The singer confessed that she’d hoped to tape the special in a nightclub with a bigger audience, but MTV wouldn’t let her. She unleashed enough profanity to keep MTV’s Standards and Practices department busy all night. And when she arrived onstage to open the show, clad in a tight Western-themed red and white checkered jumpsuit and a blonde wig, she was accompanied by two men in a horse costume and one of her requisite little people dancers. (The entire section of spectating press audibly sighed at the sight.)

For Cyrus, it seemed, stripping down the music didn’t require stripping down her antics: She twerked with the faux horse, ground her pelvis into its back, and petted the little person’s hair; she grabbed her crotch and gyrated relentlessly. Fans hoping for emotional gravity received were met with twangy Western versions of her album tracks and oversexed hyperactivity.

Over the past several months, Cyrus has turned herself into a meme, time and time again. Her cheekily calculated behavior arrives pre-packaged to go viral; it requires little effort on viewers’ part to make her GIF-worthy antics iconic. But she pays a price for that, relying on gimmicky visuals that too often overshadow the merit and sentiment in the music. Her single “Wrecking Ball,” a haunting ballad that packs even more power live, became self-parodying in her music video, allowing shock value to eclipse emotional impact. Even in this taping of Unplugged, which saw Cyrus trade her cowboy outfit for a glittering pair of pants and bikini top partway through the show, she sometimes attempted to emphasize visual comedy over musical skill.

But ultimately, Cyrus is so talented a vocalist and so deeply invested in her own music that even crotch grabs can’t always distract from how seriously impressively she belts out her Bangerz ballads, as aided by a string quartet. Even when special guest Madonna arrived onstage toward the end of the show to duet with Cyrus (the two performed a mash-up of Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” and Madge’s “Don’t Tell Me”), not even Cyrus’s desire to rub herself all over Madonna distracted from the quality of the collaboration.

“That was pretty fucking cool, you guys,” Cyrus told the audience between takes. “It’s pretty cool performing with Madonna.” She added, “It’s a great day. There’s nothing I can complain about. Well, I can’t be stoned when I perform – that’s a little something to complain about.”

The best parts of the taping came in these moments, between songs; unfortunately, you likely won’t see Cyrus gabbing with the crowd in the final show, joking that she’s ruined the SNL skit that parodies her because she now says “pretty fucking cool” instead of “pretty cool.” Cyrus is funny – you can’t twerk with a horse onstage and not be. “I feel like I’m at karaoke but it’s only my turn,” she said at one point. Later, she joked, “MTV is paying me in ones so we can all go to the strip club after this.” Her best line? “You can look at life one way or the other — half-naked or half-clothed.” It’s practically a mission statement.

The singer thanked MTV as she finished the taping, calling the network “brave” for letting her attempt this production, although she probably deserves much of the credit. Musically, it’s fresh and exciting for Cyrus to take pop songs with electronic and rhythmic production and reimagine them with an acoustic country sound; it worked better on some songs than on others, but if nothing else, Cyrus was willing to take the risk. She performed some covers – one obvious, one not so much – and even got two cast members from Scandal to join the audience because the series was taping on the same lot. (Kerry Washington, who passed by the soundstage earlier in the night, couldn’t make it, telling the waiting line of journalists to “twerk hard” for her.)

At its best, an Unplugged session should pare a musician’s work down to its barest bones, to see what it becomes without all the bells and whistles that make a song a hit. On some songs, that’s the result you get with Cyrus, when she calms down, leans against her log and sings. At the heart of these tracks, behind the dancing little people, glittering costumes, exposed flesh and self-deprecating quips, there’s a whole lot of feeling — and that’s, as she would say, pretty cool.

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