The 21 Best Variety Cover Stories From 2021

·12-min read

From Issa Rae of “Insecure” to Discovery Inc.’s indefatigable CEO David Zaslav, this year Variety chronicled — as we have since 1905 — the stories of the biggest power brokers, dealmakers and creative trailblazers in Hollywood. Stephen Colbert, Anthony Mackie, Chloé Zhao, Phoebe Bridgers, Michaela Coel, Lil Nas X, Jean Smart and Jack Harlow are just some of our 21 favorite Variety cover stories of 2021. Taken collectively, these stories offer a portrait into another pandemic year in Hollywood, when it wasn’t always easy to conduct business as usual. But these entertainers and executives still powered through, reminding us of the resilience and improvisational spirit that’s always been crucial to the DNA of show business.

. - Credit: Variety
. - Credit: Variety

Variety

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Actors on Actors Movie Issue: A ‘Silence of the Lambs’ Reunion

Jan. 20

Like many things in entertainment, our Emmy-winning Actors on Actors franchise had to go virtual in 2021. But that didn’t stop us from putting together conversations (over computer screens) with 22 of the best movie performers of the previous calendar year. Our favorite of the bunch: Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) reunited with Jodie Foster (“The Mauritanian”), 30 years after making “Silence of the Lamb.” They even wrapped up their conversation in character. “Bye, Clarice,” Hopkins purred to Foster, sounding exactly like Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

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. - Credit: AB+DM for Variety
. - Credit: AB+DM for Variety

AB+DM for Variety

Viola Davis and Stacey Abrams Launch Awards Season

Feb. 17

As two of the most influential figures in their respective fields, Viola Davis and Stacey Abrams came together to discuss the Oscars, 2021’s political climate and wielding their power as Black women. Speaking with Variety’s Angelique Jackson and Jazz Tangcay, the two connected on the core principle of using their prominence to create opportunity for others, and discussed the ever-growing intersectionality of Hollywood and politics. When asked what it meant to her to share the cover with Abrams, Davis said: “It’s a reflection and a confirmation that I’m living my life on a higher level than what I do [as an actor].”

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. - Credit: William Widmer for Variety
. - Credit: William Widmer for Variety

William Widmer for Variety

Anthony Mackie Brings Falcon to Disney Plus

March 4

Just two weeks before the premiere of Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” Variety’s Matt Donnelly caught up with star Anthony Mackie about solidifying himself as a leading man and the importance of bringing representation to the MCU. Of stepping into Captain America’s shoes, Mackie said: “I was really surprised and affected by the idea of possibly getting the shield and becoming Captain America. I’ve been in this business a long time, and I did it the way they said you’re supposed to do it. I didn’t go to L.A. and say, ‘Make me famous.’ I went to theater school, did Off Broadway, did indie movies and worked my way through the ranks. It took a long time for this shit to manifest itself the way it has, and I’m extremely happy about that.”

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. - Credit: Janell Shirtcliff for Variety
. - Credit: Janell Shirtcliff for Variety

Janell Shirtcliff for Variety

Phoebe Bridgers Rules Grammy Nominations

March 10

After receiving four Grammy nominations, indie-rock breakout Phoebe Bridgers looked back on rising to stardom during a pandemic, bashing a guitar on “Saturday Night Live” and her relatable social media presence. “It feels very unreal, because my life has actually changed very little,” the 27-year-old singer-songwriter told Variety’s Jem Aswad. “Even though I’m at home, it’s been a very suffocating time. There is something really weird about going through all this stuff alone.”

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. - Credit: Trotter for Variety
. - Credit: Trotter for Variety

Trotter for Variety

Issa Rae Bids Farewell to ‘Insecure’

March 24

Just before Issa Rae started production on the fifth and final season on “Insecure,” she reflected on her decade-long evolution from “Awkward Black Girl” to multimedia maven with her newly relaunched Hoorae banner. With the cover story, Variety announced that Rae inked a mega-overall deal with WarnerMedia, taking the creator and her company’s influence to the next level.

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. - Credit: Ian Allen for Variety
. - Credit: Ian Allen for Variety

Ian Allen for Variety

The Tough Road Back for Movie Theaters

March 31

Alamo Drafthouse was a model for a new kind of moviegoing experience at a time when most multiplexes were soulless. The beer was eclectic, the food was locally sourced, the staff was friendly, and the chain’s strict “no talking” rules drew passionate fans. But COVID hit and disaster struck, forcing Alamo into bankruptcy. Now, the chains and other theaters like it, must figure out how to successfully reemerge at a time when the pandemic brought the exhibition industry to the brink of extinction.

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. - Credit: The Tyler Twins for Variety
. - Credit: The Tyler Twins for Variety

The Tyler Twins for Variety

Whoopi Goldberg Remembers Her Trailblazing Oscar Win

April 21

On the 30th anniversary of her best supporting actress Oscar win for “Ghost,” Whoopi Goldberg sat down with Variety via Zoom to watch footage from that shining moment on her road to EGOT glory. Goldberg also shared highlights from her four stints hosting the Academy Awards, getting candid about moments like watching Halle Berry become the first (and still only) Black woman to win best actress. With plans to reprise her classic character Deloris Van Cartier in “Sister Act 3” and a continuing presence on “The View,” Goldberg’s groundbreaking career shows no signs of slowing down.

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. - Credit: Andrew Eccles for Variety
. - Credit: Andrew Eccles for Variety

Andrew Eccles for Variety

Chloé Zhao Makes History

April 28

At the socially distanced 93rd annual Academy Awards, Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) became the second woman — and the first woman of color — to win an Oscar for directing. On the morning after her historic win, with her two trophies in hand (she won a second statue for producing “Nomadland,” which won best picture), she sat down with Variety’s Kate Aurthur about her career-changing year. And she even talked about her white sneakers, which went viral after she wore them to the ceremony with a Hermes dress. “It’s a long night, a lot of walking — and I don’t have the courage to be in heels,” Zhao said.

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. - Credit: Sophy Holland for Variety
. - Credit: Sophy Holland for Variety

Sophy Holland for Variety

Michaela Coel: Our Power of Women in Comedy Issue

May 5

By pouring herself into “I May Destroy You,” Michaela Coel turned her personal trauma into catharsis for a public reeling under the weight of the pandemic. Before Coel made Emmy history as the first Black woman to win for limited series writing, she analyzed why the show seemed to strike such a chord with audiences and critics. Coel also revealed the art that brought her catharsis during lockdown, including Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams’ “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”

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. - Credit: Matthew Brookes for Variety
. - Credit: Matthew Brookes for Variety

Matthew Brookes for Variety

Regé-Jean Page Is ‘Bridgerton’s’ Big Heartthrob

May 26

After its Christmas Day debut, Regé-Jean Page quickly became the talk of the town with his portrayal of Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings, on the super steamy Netflix series “Bridgerton.” But when news broke that the star on the rise wouldn’t return for Season 2, fans were left with one burning question — “Why not?!” In his Variety cover story, Page explained why his time as the Duke had come to its natural end, and dished on his high-profile roles in “Dungeons and Dragons” and acting opposite fellow heartthrobs Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans.

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. - Credit: James Wright for Variety
. - Credit: James Wright for Variety

James Wright for Variety

Cannes Returns With Tilda Swinton

June 30

In addition to nearly 100 acting credits, including five projects that debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Tilda Swinton is well known for her mysteriousness, emanating from the eccentricities of her characters and the androgyny of her personal style. The 61-year-old Scot has always been hard to pin down, and Variety’s Manori Ravindran got to the heart of that aura: Swinton doesn’t consider herself an actor. She prefers the German term “mitarbeiter,” more akin to a colleague or collaborator. “I love cooking things up with people, and the way one dares oneself with people you really trust,” she said. “What I love most about it, and the most important element, is the ongoing conversation. The films themselves are leaves that fall off the tree — but the tree is the conversation.”

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. - Credit: Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety
. - Credit: Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety

Mary Ellen Matthews for Variety

How Stephen Colbert Became the New King of Late Night

July 21

As live audiences returned to “The Late Show” after more than a year, Stephen Colbert talked about the pandemic, Trump and the show’s next chapter. Colbert said “Late Show” was not a voice of the resistance to Trump, but simply a voice of reason. He was disturbed by what he saw as the former president’s gaslighting of the public in order to pursue a stealth agenda. “The firehose of misinformation or disinformation and the attempts to make all of us feel crazy by thinking that this was crazy gave us a very interesting place to stand,” Colbert said.

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. - Credit: Peter Yang for Variety
. - Credit: Peter Yang for Variety

Peter Yang for Variety

Scott Stuber’s Movie Mission at Netflix

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. - Credit: Heather Hazzan
. - Credit: Heather Hazzan

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Lil Nas X Changes Music Forever

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. - Credit: Robert Trachtenberg for Variety
. - Credit: Robert Trachtenberg for Variety

Robert Trachtenberg for Variety

Jean Smart Is Simply Fabulous in ‘Hacks’

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. - Credit: Lauren Dukoff for Variety
. - Credit: Lauren Dukoff for Variety

Lauren Dukoff for Variety

Amanda Gorman: A Poetess at Power of Women L.A.

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. - Credit: The Tyler Twins for Variety
. - Credit: The Tyler Twins for Variety

The Tyler Twins for Variety

Shonda Rhimes in Charge

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. - Credit: Tim O’Brien for Variety
. - Credit: Tim O’Brien for Variety

Tim O’Brien for Variety

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. - Credit: Nolis Anderson for Variety
. - Credit: Nolis Anderson for Variety

Nolis Anderson for Variety

Jack Harlow Is Our Hitmaker of the Year

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. - Credit: Art Streiber for Variety
. - Credit: Art Streiber for Variety

Art Streiber for Variety

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. - Credit: Art Streiber for Variety
. - Credit: Art Streiber for Variety

Art Streiber for Variety

Bob Iger Exits Disney’s Magical Kingdom

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