On the eve of HBO Films’ all-star adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s #1 New York Times bestselling book, Claudia Dreifus moderates a conversation with the author, members of the Lacks family and actors from the HBO film to explore the many facets of this remarkable true story.

Told through the eyes of Henrietta Lacks’ daughter, Deborah Lacks, the film chronicles her search, along with journalist Rebecca Skloot (Byrne), to learn about the mother she never knew and understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Lacks' cancerous cells in 1951 led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever. The story’s multilayered approach raises questions about race, class and bioethics in America. Before you see the movie (which stars Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks), hear the story of how the book came to be; the impact this historic contribution to science has made on the Lacks family’s lives; how Skloot hopes to be able to use her work to help create a kind of justice for the late Henrietta Lacks and her descendants; and about the HBO adaptation.


(Click the names below to expand info.)

Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot is the author of the award-winning book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Part detective story, part scientific odyssey and part family saga, it told how the cells of a 1950s African-American cancer patient, Henrietta Lacks, were harvested without her knowledge and were used to create the first immortal human cell line. The story’s multilayered approach raises questions about race, class and bioethics in America.

The book, which took more than a decade to research and write, was an instant New York Times bestseller and remained on the list for more than four years. HBO Films’ adaptation of the book, starring Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks and Rose Byrne as Skloot, is currently in production.

In this conversation, Rebecca Skloot will tell how she transformed a little-known bioethics story into a nonfiction blockbuster. She will also speak of how she’s used her work to help create a kind of justice for the late Henrietta Lacks and her descendants.

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Rose Byrne

Rose Byrne is best known for her role as Ellen Parsons in Damages, opposite Glenn Close. The series, created by Daniel Zelman, Glenn Kessler and Todd Kessler, ran for five seasons on FX and later DirecTV. Byrne earned two Golden Globe nominations and one Emmy nomination for her role. She is also known for her role in the Paul Feig directed comedy, Bridesmaids alongside Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Comedy and Musical and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Recently, Byrne completed production in the live-action/animated film, Peter Rabbit, alongside James Corden, Daisy Ridley and Elizabeth Debicki. The film is slated for an April 2018 theatrical release.

Next, Bryne will star in HBO’s original film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, opposite Oprah Winfrey. The film is an adaptation of Rebecca’s Skloot’s critically acclaimed, bestselling non-fiction book of the same name. The film will premiere on HBO on April 22, 2017.

At the end of last year, Byrne returned to the stage in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow. The production ran from November 8, 2016 – December 17, 2016 at the Roslyn Packer Theatre.

Last summer, Byrne reprised her role as Moira MacTaggert in X-Men: Apocalypse, which was released in theaters on May 27, 2016. Additionally, she reprised her role as Kelly Radner in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, alongside Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Chole Grace Moretz. This was released in theaters on May 20, 2016.

Earlier that year, Byrne appeared in The Meddler, opposite Susan Sarandon. The film follows an aging widow from New York City who follows her daughter to Los Angeles in hopes of starting a new life after her husband passes away. The Meddler was released on April 22, 2016.

In 2015, Byrne appeared in the independent film, Adult Beginners, alongside Nick Kroll and Bobby Cannavale. The film premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2014, where its distribution rights were acquired by The Weinstein Company’s boutique label, Radius-TWC. The film was released in limited theaters on April 24, 2015. Byrne also appeared in the Paul Feig directed comedy Spy, opposite Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law. The film opened on June 5, 2015.

Earlier that same year, Rose had her Broadway debut in the limited engagement run of You Can’t Take it With You. She played the lead role of "Alice Sycamore" opposite James Earl Jones and Kristine Neilsen.

At the end of 2014, Byrne appeared in the remake of Annie, alongside Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhane Wallis, Cameron Diaz and Bobby Cannavale. The film opened in theaters on December 19, 2014. That same year, Byrne also appeared in Shawn Levy’s This is Where I Leave You, alongside Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver and Jane Fonda. The film was released in theaters on September 19, 2014. She also appeared in the Nicholas Stoller comedy Neighbors, opposite Seth Rogen and Zac Efron. The film opened in theaters on May 9, 2014 and earned over $268 million worldwide.

In 2014, Byrne also starred in the film, The Turning, which was released in Australia on January 26, 2014. She won an award in the category of Best Actress in a Supporting Role from The Australian Film Critics Association and The Film Critics Circle of Australia.

Byrne’s other film credits include: The Internship, The Place Beyond the Pines, Insidious, Get Him to the Greek, X-Men: First Class, Marie Antoinette, Troy, Adam and 28 Weeks Later, among others. Theatre credits include Sydney Theatre Company’s La Dispute and Three Sisters.

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Claudia Dreifus

Claudia Dreifus writes and produces the “Conversation with…” feature that appears in the Tuesday Science Times section of The New York Times.

She is also teaches science communication and journalism to graduate students at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Ms. Dreifus first began writing for Science Times in 1998. Over the years, she’s published revealing conversations with, among others, E.O. Wilson, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Frans deWaal, Paul Greengard, Eric Kandel, Mary Claire King and more.

Here’s a link to a collection of her New York Times interviews.

Like many journalists, Claudia Dreifus has spent her life working as a curious generalist. Before becoming a science interviewer, she did cultural and political interviews in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Over the decades, at different moments, she’s worked as an interviewer for all of the New York City dailies. Her magazine articles and essays have appeared in Smithsonian, Audubon, Scientific American, the Chronicle of Higher Education and the various sections of The New York Times. Ms. Dreifus is the author of six books, including, Scientific Conversations, and Interview which are used as texts in journalism courses worldwide. When the scientific honor society Sigma Xi awarded her an honorary membership, they cited her interviews as “transforming science journalism.” Currently, she is researching a book on the 2016 Presidential election with her husband, the political scientist, Andrew Hacker.

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Details & Ordering

  • Science Talks: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

    Date: Thu, Apr 13, 2017, 7:30 pm

    Location: Lexington Avenue at 92nd St

    Venue: Kaufmann Concert Hall

    Price: from $32.00

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