Three Great Things: Cole Escola

Actor, writer and comedian Cole Escola, who can currently be seen in the musical drama Please Baby Please, shares some of life's essentials.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current release on VOD of Amanda Kramer’s flamboyant musical drama Please Baby Please, starring Andrea Riseborough, Harry Melling, Demi Moore, Karl Glusman and Cole Escola, comedian and actor Escola shared some of things they love most in life. — N.D.

A Crazy Fact About Apples
There is a crazy fact about apples I didn’t know until very recently. It turns out that every apple seed grows something, but you never know what it’s going to be, so the way they grow apples is by grafting two branches together and growing the apples that way. At one point in the United States, there were more than 15,000 varieties of apples, but most of them were just not very good, so they were used to make ale. Now, though, there are only 10 or so varieties that are mass produced.

I found all this out from a science facts YouTube video. In order to go to sleep, I have to watch something educational. I have a hard time falling asleep, so I need something calming, but not boring. It has to hook my attention or else my mind will just wander. But then, of course, when I learned that fact about apples, I did not fall asleep! I was just texting people. It’s crazy to me that I didn’t know that. Now I just have fantasies of buying property and planting random apple seeds until I find a new special variety. A lot of them will end up not tasting very good. The Honey Crisp apple was developed in a lab in the eighties, but there are also lots of varieties that are now extinct because they weren’t grafted to keep them alive.

I also watch ASMR videos to help me get to sleep, but mostly I’m into ones that are focused on an activity, like restoring an old typewriter or cooking something. I tend to watch videos just one time and that’s it. I am curious if rewatching would feel as nice.

Vivian Pickles
For a long time, I knew who Vivian Pickles was because I saw her in Harold and Maude when I was a teen, but then I recently watched Elizabeth R, the miniseries starring Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth. It’s like six 85-minute plays, and they’re just incredible. Vivian Pickles plays Mary, Queen of Scots and her performance is remarkable. When I watched that, I thought, “Oh my God, who is this woman?” When I looked her up, I was shocked to realize she was the mom from Harold and Maude! So then I ordered a DVD of Isadora, Ken Russell’s film on Isadora Duncan, in which she plays the title role. She was amazing in that and is just so unselfconscious as an actress. And so big.

Every time I act in something, I always get a note from the director that I’m too big. What bothers me is they say, “Can you do it a little smaller? It’s too big. Can you be a little more grounded?” It’s a pet peeve of mine that “big” and “grounded” can’t exist together. But Vivian Pickles is big and grounded. She’s also not winking or watching herself be big, she’s just throwing herself completely into it as if she’s not even thinking about it. She goes there immediately and I just love that type of acting.

Vivian Pickles is a new obsession, but I feel like she has given me permission in my acting to not overthink, to not be self-conscious and to not try to watch myself. I’m excited to do a role where I can put that into practice. I’ll apply it to the next thing I was going to do anyway, rather than creating something with that in mind.

Ironically, the new movie I acted in, Please Baby Please, is one where the performances are really big, and Andrea Riseborough embodies that bold style of acting so perfectly. As I’m so shell-shocked by getting notes from directors that I’m too big and Please Baby Please is my first film, I thought, “Well, this is a movie, so I have to keep it smaller.” Watching it, I regret some of my choices and wish I would have gone bigger. I would have done more had I known how big the film as a whole was going to be! But I think I always have regrets when I watch stuff I’m in.

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia
I like old Hollywood paraphernalia. I have Marlene Dietrich’s library card. There’s a line on it that says “Occupation” and she wrote “Actress,” which is so funny to me. I don’t know why. Marlene Dietrich was the first old film star that I fell in love with. I found out about her because a cover version of one of her songs, “Falling in Love Again,” was used in a car commercial. I was about 12 or 13. I found her version on Napster, which began my love affair with her.

I also have a coin purse that belonged to Carol Channing and a muumuu-style gown that Olivia de Havilland wore when getting some sort of lifetime achievement award from Bette Davis in France. I just love that sort of stuff. They feel like good luck charms and the weirder they are, the better for me. Clothes are almost too on the nose – I’d much rather have the toilet handle from Olivia de Havilland’s bedroom bathroom!

Marlene Dietrich’s library card and Carol Channing’s coin purse. (Photo courtesy Cole Escola.)

I usually track down this kind of stuff when someone dies. I’ll go to the old auction websites like Julien’s Auctions or eBay and search for a person I like and then sort the results from highest to lowest price, because then usually the memorabilia is at the top. But there are also a lot of shady people out there selling things that are definitely not genuine memorabilia or paraphernalia. I almost bought a brooch that was apparently worn by Barbara Stanwyck in The Big Valley, but something about the seller seemed off, so I scanned every episode of The Big Valley looking for that brooch, and it wasn’t there. The resolution on the YouTube videos of The Big Valley is so bad that there was one episode where I was like, “That might be the brooch …” so I bought the DVDs to double check it wasn’t there!

There’s a brooch on the Olivia de Haviland muumuu that I might take off and wear in the next project I’m doing, which is a fake pilot for a ’70s Western where I’m going to play a lot of characters. The brooch would be like a good luck charm, I guess. I also have a shirt that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor that I like to wear, so when people say, “Oh, I love that shirt,” I can say, “Thanks. It was Elizabeth Taylor’s.”

Featured image shows Cole Escola and Andrea Riseborough in Please Baby Please, courtesy Music Box Films.

Cole Escola currently plays Billy in Amanda Kramer’s new film, Please Baby Please, which is out now on VOD. Most recently, Cole played Chip Wreck on HBO Max’s Search Party and Chassie Tucker on At Home with Amy Sedaris, for which they also won a Writers Guild of America Award for their work on the show as a writer. Cole’s solo sketch show, Help! I’m Stuck!, had sold-out runs in New York and L.A. as well as a 12-city tour. During quarantine, Cole released a scrappy, lo-fi version of the show as a special which they filmed alone in their apartment. It was raved about in the New York Times. Cole’s other TV writing credits include Hacks (for which they won two more WGA Awards), The Other Two, Ziwe, Difficult People (on which they also played the role of Matthew) and Life & Beth. Other TV acting credits include Mozart in the Jungle, Nurse Jackie, Law & Order, Man Seeking Woman and Netflix’s The Characters. They also co-created, wrote, and starred in the lo-fi, cult-hit TV show Jeffery & Cole Casserole. (Photo by Mitch Zachary.)