taste test

Dianna Agron Wants to Throw More Paella Parties

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Tom Mitchell, Getty Images, Everett Collection,

Before Dianna Agron became known as Glee’s head cheerleader, Quinn Fabray, she had a blog. It was 2009, and the Glee cast was in Australia after the pilot had first aired: “Blogging was an easy way to communicate what I was discovering on the road, photographs I was taking, music I was listening to,” Agron says now. She curated all-time favorites like Nina Simone and David Bowie into playlists inspired by her CD-burning high-school days. And while her current roster of acting and music projects doesn’t leave much time for blogging, she’s still feeding her sophisticated taste in culture with Criterion Collection recommendations, volcano documentaries, and Senegalese dance music.

Agron has worked steadily since Glee’s final season, but it wasn’t until 2020, when she played the wife of Rachel Sennott’s sugar daddy in Shiva Baby that she gained a whole new crop of fans. Last year, she did her third residency at the Café Carlyle, where she spent two weeks singing jazz classics in one of New York City’s most iconic cabaret lounges. And now, she’s starring in two very different films: Clock, a psychological horror about a woman who’s desperate to have children, and Acidman, in which she plays the daughter of an eccentric loner (Thomas Haden Church) who’s convinced he can communicate with aliens.

Now that she has wrapped those projects, Agron is looking forward to settling down in one place again, and more important, she can’t wait to get in a good soak: “Last year I didn’t have access to a bathtub for about nine months,” she says. “I dreamed of the day that I might be able to soak in a tub.”

In Acidman, you play a woman who reluctantly joins her estranged father on a quest to make contact with extraterrestrials. Do you believe aliens exist? 

It’s definitely something we contemplated while making the film. There are so many unknowns in this life, our planet, our solar system, so I’m not one to say that I have all the answers. One freezing cold day, we were filming a sequence and a crew member pointed to this cluster in the sky that looked exactly like what we were talking about in the movie. It turned out it was Starlink satellites that were in formation. But it was a nice moment when everyone returned to a childlike place and felt so exuberant about what we were seeing.

I’ll take that as a yes. If you could show one cultural artifact to an alien who just landed on Earth, what would it be?

A cell phone’s pretty freaky. Maybe 2001: A Space Odyssey. Something for us, something for them.

You also star in Clock, a psychological horror film about fertility. Do you like horror movies?

I’m the type of person who needs to experience those types of films between 2 and 4:30 p.m. That gives you enough time before bed to consider other things. I tend to land in the Rosemary’s Baby camp — that, to me, is a safe place. I grew up living in a hotel, because my father was a general manager for the Hyatt, so for many years, I could never watch The Shining. When I was a teenager, I’d get home at night and run as fast as I could from the elevator to our apartment. I’d have visions of doors opening, hands grabbing me and sucking me inside some random hotel room. For many years, The Shining was a big no-no.

Where do you get your best culture recommendations?

Friends are a big go-to. I love Mubi and the Criterion Collection. I was gifted with the knowledge of my parents’ generation of music from the ’50s and ’60s, so most of my musical favorites come from those decades.

Did you ever end up watching The Shining?

Yes, like, six years ago? It felt safe to watch eventually. I find comfort in hotels. Even if it’s not the hotel I grew up in, it often feels like home. I understand the way everybody works together, the ins and outs, the front of house, the back of house, the dynamics, what’s required to have everything run smoothly. There’s something so delightful about being a fish in the fishbowl.

Do you have a hotel check-in routine?

I like to immediately unpack. It feels nice to go out for that first adventure and know what you’re coming back to — where my bag is, what the view is like, if there’s a bathtub. Bathtubs are a big luxury. Last year, I didn’t have access to a bathtub for about nine months, because I was traveling. I dreamed of the day that I might be able to soak in a tub.

What entertainment are you into right now?

There will never be a period of my life that I’m not listening to Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, or Tom Waits. Right now, I’m a fan of Orchestra Baobab, this Senegalese band from the ’70s. If I need joy in the day, that goes on immediately. It’s hard to not dance when you’re listening to their music.

I recently saw the documentary Fire of Love about these two volcanologists who dedicated their lives to studying active volcanoes. It’s narrated by Miranda July, who I think is so extraordinary. They captured this footage of lava in motion that was so cool. I also loved Decision to Leave. I decided to watch The Handmaiden this year, because somehow I’d missed that. It’s fun when one movie from a director’s span of work sends you down a rabbit hole to see where they started, what came next, and the evolution of their storytelling.

What was the last thing that made you really laugh?

I saw Triangle of Sadness at the New York Film Festival in the fall of last year, and I’ve never been so vocal in a movie theater. Tears were running down my face. I was clutching myself. The group experience of being in the audience was … memorable. People were yelling at the screen. The scene where everybody’s sloshing in their own bodily fluids was both deeply uncomfortable and unbelievably exquisite.

What’s the last book you couldn’t put down?

I’m reading Outline by Rachel Cusk. I really enjoy her writing. Her character does a lot of questioning, and it makes me think about how little we ask questions in our lives. Not everybody is good at that.

Best piece of gossip you’ve heard?

I try not to gossip, but I’m very good at secret-keeping. I’m a safe place to bare one’s soul. Then you get to hear some things that perhaps nobody else knows.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Somebody I worked with once said, “It’s not what you say yes to, it’s what you say no to.” Being very intentional about choice is helpful. If you have the opportunity to make choices that are aligned with your deepest desires, you will feel great reward.

What about the worst advice?

When I was younger, a lot of people said things like, “If you do this project, then this studio will reward you and give you another project.” That’s not always how it goes. No scratching backs to get a back scratched. Just lead with your own two cents.

Last meal you cooked for dinner?

There was a five-person seafood and vegetarian paella-making event at my house last Friday. It was a surprise-birthday thing, and I got two paella pans specifically for this event. I thought I could handle it fully myself, but I was working late, so I ended up having 12 hands onboard for chopping and dicing. It’s so much more fun making things with friends. There were only a few blunders, and they were easily correctable, and at the end, we had two delicious paellas. I’m a big sucker for anything crusty and semi-burnt, so we had really excellent socarrat at the bottom, which I guess is the true test of a well-made paella. Paella is my new favorite thing to make. You can build beautiful shapes with how you layer things, so I’m gonna go into paella-design overload.

They say you eat with your eyes first! What’s the worst thing someone can do at a dinner party?

Not have enough food. You don’t want people splitting a stalk of asparagus.

I guess you don’t risk that with the paella pans.

No, there is an abundance.

If you could invite five celebrities to a dinner party, dead or alive, who’s coming?

Nina Simone, one of the finest voices ever known to man. Georgia O’Keeffe — I just saw her exhibition at MoMA, and I understand watercolor in a new way because of her work. Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance. Diana Vreeland — she was such a premiere arbiter of taste and style. Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, an Ethiopian composer and pianist who brings me a lot of peace. Anytime I need a relaxing sound bath, I put her pieces on. She just died at 99 a few weeks ago. These are all women I admire as supreme artistic excellence. And we can have Alice Waters make us an amazing meal.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Dianna Agron Wants to Throw More Paella Parties