The Tender Bar is a young man’s coming-of-age tale, and if you’ve ever seen one of those before, you know that the role of the mother is an essential part of the story. Thus, Lily Rabe had a lot to capture as the nameless Mom of J.R. (played by Daniel Ranieri as a boy and Tye Sheridan as a young man), especially since the character was based on author J.R. Moehringer’s depiction of his own mother in his memoir.
“She is someone where it can so easily fall into a place of self-pity or, ‘Why me, why does this keep happening to me?'” Rabe tells Consequence in a Zoom interview. “But that doesn’t interest me at all about her. I think those just felt like things she wasn’t interested in herself, and so it really just felt right, it felt electric when I read it.”
Rabe’s career across both film and television includes an eclectic assortment of roles, including in notable projects like 2018’s Vice (playing Liz Cheney) and Barry Jenkins‘ masterful adaptation of The Underground Railroad. The Tender Bar is her first time working with director George Clooney, about whom she raves: “I felt quite seen by George both as an actor and as a human being, and that doesn’t always happen — that you just feel seen, and trusted, and held by your director in such a wonderful way.”
Coming up, Rabe will be featured in the Showtime series The First Lady, playing Lenora Hickock, whose close relationship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson) has been the source of much historical speculation over the years. And as a member of Ryan Murphy‘s American Horror Story ensemble, she says she’s always on board for whatever wild journey Murphy might take his cast and audience on next.
Below, in an interview that has been transcribed and edited for clarity, she talks about why playing Mom spoke to her (even without a true character name ), what it was like auditioning for Clooney, and how doing plenty of research helps her understand these roles.