WOMAN on outdoor terrace

The Tender Bar’s Lily Rabe Steps Into the Spotlight

Can't wait for the next big thing to drop? Streaming Now catches up with celebrities ahead of their latest launches and learns more about the talents behind our favorite entertainment.

This is not Lily Rabe’s first rodeo. The seasoned actor has performed in countless mediums, from theater to television to film. You’ve seen her in American Horror Story, The Undoing, Shakespeare in the Park’s The Merchant of Venice and a handful of movies over the last decade, but Rabe’s performance in George Clooney’s new film, The Tender Bar, illuminates her sophisticated talent in a new light.

Molly Wilcox: ​​You've acted in so many different capacities, I'm wondering how the different mediums compare? Does a live audience change your process at all?

Lily Rabe: Yes, you know, I started in the theater so it's my first love, but I love doing film; I love doing TV. I love the limited series format because it's sort of like a wonderful hybrid between the two. I always think about those sand sculptures that take such an incredible amount of time, but they're beautiful, intricate creations that aren't meant to last. I think there's something very poignant with theater in that way, unlike with film and television.

woman on terrace
Lily Rabe.

MW: Your character in The Tender Bar seems to always be looking for something better, whereas Uncle Charlie, Ben Affleck’s character, seems a bit more content with his day-to-day monotony. Which character you identify with more?

LR: I’ve always had a sort of restlessness. Restlessness tends to have a bad connotation, but I don’t think of it that way. Something that’s so wonderful about the movie is there’s something identifiable in each character. I also find her incredibly optimistic, resilient and determined. And so even though she keeps getting knocked down by circumstances, she isn't someone who ever completely collapses under the weight of it.

MW: Do you have a moment on set that stands out to you?

LR: I have so many. I've worked through the pandemic quite a lot, and I think there is always this kind of heightened feeling on set because the dial is turned up on the preciousness of getting to work and getting to tell the story. And knowing that any day you could get shut down—I feel like the experience of making that movie has sort of been etched into my bone marrow in a way because of how special it was to be able to make that movie and develop the closeness we had.

I think for Ben and for George, we all felt we all knew how hard it is to get a movie like this made and just felt so lucky to be able to do it. I feel like because of the movie we were making, there were just so many wonderful stories—we would just gather around George and he would tell us these just fantastic, nostalgic, wonderful stories about making these great movies that we all just want to keep making and keep watching.

MW: In that vein, how was working with George Clooney as a director?

LR: Working with George was bliss. He is someone who loves what he does, he shows up every day with so much gratitude for everyone who is there to work alongside him. And he really is a natural leader. He's just the kind of person you would follow into a burning building without question. But he is a beautiful director because of his incredible knowledge of acting, of course, so he’s the real actor's director, but he also is so clear about the story that he's telling. It felt like such a cohesive set, we were all on his ship and were being pointed in a very clear direction and there’s so much freedom when that happens.

He's also someone who can give direction with so little. The shorthand that he and Ben had and the shorthand that I felt with him very quickly is something that I treasure so much as an actor. You just know exactly what the other person is saying.

MW: When are you most creative?

LR: Late at night! Now I have all these little kids so it's not ideal but I've always been that way. My mother would tell me stories about how she would put me to bed when I was a kid and then an hour later, I would have all the lights on, doing homework or something.

woman in kitchen with breeze blocks in back

MW: What music did you listen to on set?

LR: There was so much music on set! George was always walking around listening to the music from that era. And then the music that’s actually in the movie is some of the greatest music ever, ever, ever, ever. I definitely was doing a deep dive into those songs because what a wonderful thing to be able to do while we were making that movie.

MW: What did you learn about yourself through this experience and through developing your character, Dorothy?

LR: That's a really beautiful question. I think I was able to just lean into and embrace and give oxygen to that permission to return to joy and to return to optimism and also to find humor at every turn. I gave myself permission to carry some of that with me when we were done shooting.

MW: I know that you’ve wrapped The First Lady filming. Are there any nuggets you can share?

LR: That was the job I did directly after The Tender Bar and I play a woman named Lorena Hickok. It's an anthology series with three different parts to it. So it covers Michelle Obama, Betty Ford and Eleanor Roosevelt. My character is in the Eleanor Roosevelt storyline and I’m so excited for everyone to see the show and to learn more about this beautiful relationship between Eleanor and Hickok.

MW: Lastly, what do you want people to know about you?

LR: Oh, gosh, probably the less they know the better. I hope that I can hold on to a little bit of mystery.