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Actor Adrien Brody

He won an Oscar this year for his role in Roman Polanski's The Pianist. Brody played Wladyslaw Szpilman, the Polish pianist and Holocaust survivor. Brody's other films include Summer of Sam, The Thin Red Line, Restaurant, and The Affair of the Necklace. He's now starring in Dummy.

21:52

Other segments from the episode on September 17, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 17, 2003: Interview with Adrien Brody; Interview with Miriam Colon; Review of Carlos Guitarlos's new album “Straight from the Heart."

Transcript

DATE September 17, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Actor Adrien Brody discusses his new film, "Dummy"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Adrien Brody, won this year's Academy Award for best actor for his
performance in "The Pianist." It was based on the true story of Wladyslaw
Szpilman, a Jewish pianist in Warsaw who survived the Holocaust by hiding from
the Nazis. Brody has also been featured in Spike Lee's film "Summer of Sam,"
Barry Levinson's "Liberty Heights," Ken Loach's "Bread and Roses," and starred
in the independent film "Restaurant."

Now he's starring in the independent film "Dummy," which was actually shot
before "The Pianist." He plays a young man who's unemployed, still living with
his parents and sister in the suburbs. His fantasy is to become a
ventriloquist. So even though his family mocks him, he buys a dummy and
starts teaching himself how to throw his voice. He expresses himself more
freely through his dummy than he can on his own. Here's a scene in which he's
talking with his dummy. The dummy has been criticizing him for being a loser
and for not having any friends.

(Soundbite of "Dummy")

Mr. ADRIEN BRODY (Unidentified Character): I guess I didn't really have that
many friends in high school. I didn't really have any.

DUMMY: What about Fangora.

Mr. BRODY: Yeah, I guess we were friends, you know. She didn't have many
friends, either.

DUMMY: Go figure.

Mr. BRODY: Kind of stayed close, even when I went off to college.

DUMMY: You went to college?

Mr. BRODY: Yeah. Went to community college for two years.

DUMMY: Hmm, the regular Einstein. There.

Mr. BRODY: I stopped going 'cause I didn't really like it.

DUMMY: You failed out of community college? You are a moron.

Mr. BRODY: Well, I didn't fail. I just needed to work at my own speed.

DUMMY: Oh, so you're slow.

Mr. BRODY: No.

DUMMY: Look, the thing I don't understand is, you always knew you wanted to
be a ventriloquist. Why'd you wait so long to do it?

Mr. BRODY: Well, I just think people need to go at their own pace, and there
were other things that I had to do.

DUMMY: Well, I got news for you, buddy. You're almost 30 years old. You
quit your job to buy a doll. You failed out of community college, and you
live at home with your parents. You are a loser.

GROSS: I asked Adrien Brody how he learned ventriloquism for the film.

Mr. BRODY: Well, I think, you know, when you're doing independent movies, on
most movies you rarely have enough time to prepare. And I was coming off
another film and going right into another one right after this, and I had
about two weeks to learn how to become a ventriloquist. Fortunately the
character was a mediocre ventriloquist, and so I was perfect. And so I
basically lived with this dummy and slept with the dummy, which.

GROSS: You slept with the dummy?

Mr. BRODY: Everyone thought I was a little strange, but...

GROSS: Why did you need to sleep with the dummy?

Mr. BRODY: Well, it had to become a part of me in a sense. It had to become
someone I was very comfortable with. And I basically took him with me and
incorporated him in my daily activities and would watch programs on TV. I
remember researching it and watching all this old footage of ventriloquists
and Edgar Bergman, and I would be watching programs and commenting on their
routine and discussing it with my dummy. And, you know, my mom would come
over and visit, and I'd be laying in bed with a wooden creature, a little
wooden boy.

GROSS: Wait till the tabloids hear about this.

Mr. BRODY: It was very strange. Yes. I'm sure they'll have a field day.

GROSS: So you had to develop a voice for your dummy.

Mr. BRODY: Right.

GROSS: Who taught you how to do it?

Mr. BRODY: Well, I worked with a coach who is an actual ventriloquist who
built the dummy. We had one custom built for me, and they have ventriloquist
tapes that you can actually purchase at home and basically practice the
alphabet, and certain letters are harder to pronounce than others, and you
just kind of--it's all about practice.

GROSS: So what letters are hard to pronounce with your lips closed?

Mr. BRODY: B's, as in boy, because you--and W's. I thought I was going to
certain words. Certain words...

GROSS: God, I...

Mr. BRODY: ...are harder, you know. Basically anything that you'd actually
have to touch your lips to create that sound are impossible. So you end up
having to do that with your tongue way back in your palate. And so you're
creating a whole different way of speaking. It's actually--you're creating
the illusion that you're saying B (pronounced bee) but you're saying B
(pronounced thee), which I actually do without moving my mouth, and...

GROSS: Is this ever going to come in handy again?

Mr. BRODY: I doubt it. It was interesting. You know, I--the wonderful
thing about acting is that you experience all these things that you would
never come across in your life and that may have a purpose at some point and
may not. I mean, I used to be fascinated with magic as a young man, as a boy,
and you kind of came across ventriloquists in the magic on the road, so to
speak.

GROSS: Now you used to perform magic as a kid. I think you used to call
yourself The Amazing Adrien, yes?

Mr. BRODY: That's correct.

GROSS: Was there supposed to be any irony in that title?

Mr. BRODY: Yes, absolutely.

GROSS: Good.

Mr. BRODY: Yeah.

GROSS: What was your act like when...

Mr. BRODY: Obviously. I mean, believe me...

GROSS: ...you were 12?

Mr. BRODY: ...I was 11 or 12...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BRODY: ...and, you know, I would do children's parties. I mean, first
of all, I had a fascination with magic I think partially because you could
pull the wool over adults. And, you know, I think it was my introduction to
acting, in a sense, because when you purchase an actual magic trick, they give
you a basic outline of a patter, and that's your routine. And then it's up to
you to embellish upon that, and what I did was I would learn a trick and then
run with it and create this whole story to go with it, and that's what it's
about.

GROSS: I didn't realize that when you buy a magic trick, they give you patter
with it.

Mr. BRODY: They'll give you an outline. You know, they'll say, `You know, I
was at a bar the other day and I came across this guy and he handed me this
coin, and he asked me,' so on, so on, this and this. As an 11-year-old kid,
you couldn't say, `I was at a bar the other day,' so you'd say...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BRODY: ...`I was on line at the lunchroom, and I found this quarter on
the floor, and I realized that if I focused hard enough that I could actually,
by using my powers, I could bend'--you know, whatever it was, and that's how
it goes. And my favorite trick I used to do was breaking a pencil with a
dollar bill because as long as there was a pencil in the room and a dollar
bill, I could do a magic trick, and it was fun.

GROSS: Adrien Brody is my guest. He's starring in the new movie "Dummy." He
won the best actor Oscar for his performance in "The Pianist."

How did Roman Polanski choose you for "The Pianist"? Was he familiar with
your work?

Mr. BRODY: I'm not sure how familiar he was. He knew of my work, but his
casting director thought that I would be a good person to meet, and I was
actually in Paris shooting "Affair of the Necklace," and we sat down for
coffee, and the only information that I had was that Roman was going to be
doing this new film about a pianist who survives in Nazi-occupied Poland. And
we sat down and we spoke and had a lovely time, and we met again and he got
his script to me and we discussed it. And it was an incredibly challenging
role, and even on the page it was challenging but impossible to understand
what an ordeal it would be to...

GROSS: Oh, sure, look...

Mr. BRODY: Yeah.

GROSS: ...I have trouble watching Holocaust movies because you know what the
characters are in for, and you know how horrible it's going to be, and you
know, in some ways, you want to protect yourself from even living through it
as a viewer watching a movie.

Mr. BRODY: Right.

GROSS: So even living through it as an actor, you know, must be pretty rough.

Mr. BRODY: Well, there was a huge responsibility, I felt, because how does a
young man from Queens, who has not really experienced hunger at that level,
has not suffered on a real level like that, truthfully portray these things
and these emotions, and there are so many people who have experienced this
firsthand and whose families have--you know, whose lives have been permanently
changed by these events, and it was also such a personal story for Roman, who
had lived through these experiences himself.

GROSS: How did you answer that question that you just posed? You know, how
does, like, a young man from Queens, who's never experienced anything close to
that level of suffering--how do you convey in an honest way that experience?

Mr. BRODY: Well, Roman helped me suffer. That was one thing, but basically,
before I left to do the movie, I--basically when I started the film, I
understood that I had to experience a few key things and understand them well.
One is loss and loss of comfort and loss of safety and hunger, and so before I
left, I gave up my apartment. I had a place in New York; gave up my
apartment, put whatever I had in storage, sold a bunch of things. Sold my
car, disconnected my phones, got rid of my cell phone, and I left and I went
to Europe for about seven months with a few bags and my own keyboard.

And when I got there, I had to do a crash diet because we shot in reverse
chronology, and I had to lose a lot of weight because there was a physical
transformation that was necessary which also gave me a greater connection not
only to understanding hunger, which made me understand the sense of emptiness
and loss that I wouldn't have known, but I was practicing piano for four hours
a day at that time, and interestingly enough, the piano playing was a perfect
distraction from the hunger, which allowed me to identify with the music in a
way that I had never really grasped before.

And I should also say that Roman, when I say that, you know, Roman made it
tough, he did make it tough in a sense, but he toughened me up in a way
because he wouldn't tolerate any kind of what he would call his Hollywood
actor behavior, which would, you know, essentially be asking for something
like a piece of bread. That was intolerable. You know, he reminded me, you
know, of what is important, and I admire him tremendously.

GROSS: My guest is Adrien Brody. He's starring in the new film "Dummy."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Adrien Brody. He's starring in the new film "Dummy." He
won this year's best actor Oscar for his performance in "The Pianist."

How much weight did you lose? I mean, you're already pretty thin by anybody's
standards.

Mr. BRODY: I lost 30 pounds. I'm 6'1". I went to 130.

GROSS: Wow. OK. So that's a lot. Did you ever ask yourself when you were
making the movie, like, `Am I ruining my body? Am I breaking my body? Am I
doing, like, irreparable harm for a role'?

Mr. BRODY: Yeah, it frightened me afterwards. It kind of became--I have a
really strong willpower, and it's something that I am proud of, and it was
kind of like an experiment that I was having with myself to see how thin I
could get, which was the plan. It wasn't, like, `OK, 130 is a safe weight.'
It was, like, I really couldn't get below that, and you know, it may have
fluctuated below that or above that here and there, but I pretty much stayed
at that weight for the time that I needed to stay there. And then I would
gradually increase it because we would have to slowly shoot in reverse
chronology and slowly get thinner. So I would slowly gain weight, and then I
had to gain a lot of weight towards the end. And that was--yeah, it did have
an effect on me, but...

GROSS: Well, what's the point in shooting in reverse chronology, of shooting
the end of the movie first?

Mr. BRODY: Most...

GROSS: It seems so counterintuitive...

Mr. BRODY: Yeah.

GROSS: ...especially for a movie like this, where you're experiencing a
constantly diminished life and you're in constant growing danger.

Mr. BRODY: It basically comes down to what works for the production. You
know, any time I've done a film, it's usually the most difficult scenes come
first. Your love scene comes first. Your death scene comes first.

GROSS: Well, do you ever come out the other end and think, `If I had only
gone through this in chronological order, I would have played that ultimate
scene differently'?

Mr. BRODY: Well, the advantage in this film--I mean, part of the reason was
they had to have seasons, and the war, at the bleakest moment, was at winter.
And we shot at wintertime, and then spring in Poland is actually beautiful and
becomes very green and lush, and that took place prior to the war to give it
this kind of more serene, happier environment.

The advantage of shooting in reverse chronology was that I understood this man
in a way that I wouldn't have understood playing a man who was extremely
talented and lived a very normal, kind of happy yet non--it wasn't very
specific, his existence prior to that. You don't know what defines this human
being. You don't know what he's capable of, and the challenge came later in
trying to let go of all the kind of pain that I absorbed and tried to absorb
and create a sense of lightness and stubbornness and hope of humanity, but I
think it was completely advantageous to me to shoot in reverse chronology in
hindsight.

GROSS: Adrien Brody is my guest, and he's starring in the new movie "Dummy."
He starred in "The Pianist" and won an Academy Award this year for that
performance.

Your mother is Sylvia Plachy, a photojournalist who has worked for years for
The Village Voice. Did you ever go on assignment with her? Did you get
introduced to people and places and ways of living that you never would have
gotten to see firsthand if it wasn't for the fact that she was on assignment?

Mr. BRODY: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Basically, not only was I introduced to
wonderfully interesting people but also getting an understanding of things
through her perspective, which is wonderful. And you know, the beauty of
photography as an art form is that you're capturing so much beyond the actual
image, and you're conveying so much, and she has a wonderful eye, and I think
I've inherited a bit of that partially through osmosis, and it's also probably
made me a better actor because she notices everything and we would discuss
what she noticed and what she saw in this thing, because when she's taking a
picture, she'd say, `Oh, look at this. Look at those birds and look at what
they look like. Don't they look like a face coming off this--you know, and
the way the sun is reflecting in the water, doesn't this image look
wonderfully like some old European world?' And it was almost like a story. I
often describe my process as a very similar, process except I don't like to
lug cameras around and spend my time in a darkroom. She sees and witnesses
everything and captures it on film, and I see and witness everything and try
to absorb it and recall it later and incorporate it in characters that I
portray in the future.

GROSS: Did your mother take a lot of pictures of you when you were growing
up?

Mr. BRODY: Oh, yes. Yeah, I have an infinite amount of photographs of me
from childhood on.

GROSS: Does that make you anymore less self-conscious about, `How do I look?'

Mr. BRODY: Far less self-conscious, I think, because the other advantage was
that she didn't ever want me to pose, and I think another advantage that I
have is that I grew up in front of a camera in a very nurturing environment,
and my mother was ever present with a lens on me either in my face or with me
and with my friends. And it became second nature to me. So I wasn't
encouraged to ham it up. I wasn't encouraged to pose, and so I just lived
with the presence of a camera in a very safe place. And so, you know, there'd
be a camera while I was taking a bath. There'd be a camera while I was
blowing my nose. There'd be a camera when I was sleeping and a mess, and
those pictures ended up in her books and in magazines, and so it kind of took
the pressure away of worrying about being beautiful all the time because I
didn't feel like that was what was expected of me.

GROSS: Right. Right, compared to, like, the people who just get photograph
for the occasion where you have to, like, look your best and look really happy
because this is the memory that will be preserved, and you want to preserve it
like...

Mr. BRODY: Yeah. Or...

GROSS: ...in a transcript.

Mr. BRODY: Or it being--pardon me. Yeah, or it being an awkward moment
every time your parents pull out the camera and...

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. BRODY: ...they're, like, `Smile. Smile. Why aren't you smiling?'

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. BRODY: `Please. You know, this is a happy moment. We need you to be
smiling here. I mean, come on, it's going to be a bad memory.' And how can
you ever be relaxed?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BRODY: And then you want to follow your dreams of being an actor.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. BRODY: My pleasure.

GROSS: Adrien Brody stars in the new movie "Dummy." I'm Terry Gross and this
is FRESH AIR.

Coming up, actor Miriam Colon, founder of the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater,
talks about playing Mexicans in Westerns of the '50s and '60s. Her new movie,
"The Blue Diner," is about to be shown on PBS, and Milo Miles reviews the new
album from singer and guitarist Carlos Guitarlos.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Miriam Colon on her acting career and most recent film
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Miriam Colon is probably best known for her role in "Scarface" as Al
Pacino's mother. She also co-starred in the John Sayles film "Lone Star" and
Billy Bob Thorton's adaptation of "All The Pretty Horses." Earlier in her
career she worked with Marlon Brando in two movies, "One-Eyed Jacks" and "The
Appaloosa."

Colon grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to New York, where she founded the
Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, which she still directs. Her new movie "The
Blue Diner" premieres tonight on many public TV stations. It's about two
generations in a Puerto Rican-American family. Colon plays a mother who
doesn't speak English and can't communicate with her bilingual daughter after
the daughter mysteriously loses her ability to speak Spanish.

Now early on in your career you played in a lot of TV Westerns, roles in
"Gunsmoke," "The Virginian," "Bonanza," "Have Gun Will Travel," "Bronco." Did
Westerns provide a lot of opportunities? Because a lot of them were set near
the Mexican border, did you play a lot of Mexicans in the Westerns?

Ms. MIRIAM COLON (Actress): Oh, yes. Oh, yes. When I go to Mexico, I always
have to be careful. I always have to have my passport because they think I'm
Mexican. And coming back, you see, sometimes you're careless, and you don't
carry your passport with you. I mean, a couple of times, I remember, when I
was in "Back Roads"--that and I think in one of the John Sayles films that I
think I was near a border towns, a couple of times they sort of put their eye
on me and said, `You!' I said, `Who?' They say, `You. Could you step aside
please?' I knew immediately that they thought I was a Mexican sneaking into
the border.

GROSS: Did you have a favorite of the TV Westerns that you performed in?

Ms. COLON: I don't know. I played so many things for so many years that I
don't know that I had a favorite. I do know that I would die as an Indian. I
think I was Ricardo Montalban's Indian in one of them, and in another I was
Ricardo Montalban's secretary, you know. Then I was Ricardo Montalban's
mistress.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COLON: Many different roles, yeah.

GROSS: How was your English when you got to New York?

Ms. COLON: It was very difficult. I had a thick accent, much thicker than I
have now, and it was a long process to try to eliminate the accent and to be
understand. And I spent a lot of money in speech classes. Then you go for
the role, and they tell you, `No, no, no, don't sound so sophisticated. She
only went to the fifth grade.' So I had to go back to unlearning things that
you sort of sharpened in the pronunciation.

GROSS: Have you met Mexicans who've seen your many roles as a Mexican in
Westerns and thought that you were Mexican?

Ms. COLON: Yes. Yes. I remember Alendio Fernandez(ph), the legendary
Mexican director. And one day he was drunk and he said, `Ah, you're more
Mexican than the tequila.' You know, I was so flattered that Alendio
Fernandez would say that to me. It was his way and his style of saying that I
looked very Mexican. And, I don't know, I am very, very fond of the Mexican
culture, and I consider it an honor.

GROSS: Now you were in two movies with Marlon Brando, both Westerns, "The
Appaloosa" and "One-Eyed Jacks," which he also directed.

Ms. COLON: Yeah.

GROSS: How did he cast you in "One-Eyed Jacks"?

Ms. COLON: I don't know. I was called and told me that I had an interview
for a movie called "One-Eyed Jacks" in which Brando was playing the leading
role. And I was very excited. But what I didn't know when I got there was
that he was not only acting in it but he was directing in it, so that the
person who interviewed me was him. And I was not prepared for that. So it
was such a pleasant surprise. It was a nervous surprise, you know, because
there he was and very nonchalant. I said, `Hey, listen, is this suppose'--and
he said, `No, no, he's directing now. He's directing now.' So I realize that
there had been a discussion--I don't know, some disagreement--and he wound up
directing the movie. And it was wonderful. He was wonderful with the actors.
It's a great joy to work with him.

GROSS: Was there any advice he gave you that stuck with you?

Ms. COLON: Well, there was no script. I mean, the interview, he just more or
less threw a few questions at me, and he tried his Spanish on me. And I spoke
in Spanish to him. And then he said, `We don't have a script at this moment,
but let's do a little improvisation.' He loves improvisation. And I was very
much at ease with improvisation. I've, you know, trained in good schools, in
the Actors Studio and many other places, and doing improvisations is one of
the elementary things that you have to do, improvise. And so he said, you
know, `We're going to pretend that we are meeting now, and you don't want to
admit that you know me. But I know that I know you.' And we started from
there, you know, with kind of a flirt and her obscuring that they had met on
an occasion before.

I had no idea what direction we were going to go, but it went into just a
simple improvisation of this young girl meeting this man, and I guess it was
in a bar. And they were flirting a little bit and sort of not revealing right
then and there what they knew about each other. It was very nice, and he gave
me the role.

GROSS: Describe your part in the movie.

Ms. COLON: My part is a young bar girl that works in this--I guess it was
like a tavern with hotel rooms upstairs, like you see in the Western, and
that's what it was.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite scene?

Ms. COLON: Well, I guess I loved the entire--my role in "One-Eyed Jacks" is
very small. I just play this bar girl, and he flirts with me at the
beginning. Then I have a scene with Karl Malden. But "One-Eyed Jacks," the
film itself--and they made so much fun of Brando. They made so much petty
discussions. It was so much chitchat going on, laughing and commenting, `How
could he be directing?' You know? And then when he went over the budget
that--at that time I think it was like $6 million--my God, he had gone over $6
million; it was the talk of the town. I said, `Does that really matter?'
What came out was a beautiful, beautiful Western.

GROSS: Why don't we hear your first scene in "One-Eyed Jacks"? And this is
the scene with you and Marlon Brando. You play a young woman who works in a
saloon with a hotel on top, and he's just coming to town into your saloon.

(Soundbite of "One-Eyed Jacks")

Ms. COLON: (As Red) Chico. Chico, you remember me?

Mr. MARLON BRANDO: (As Chico) Sure do. How you been, Red?

Ms. COLON: (As Red) ...(Unintelligible). How about you?

Mr. BRANDO: (As Chico) I'm all right.

Ms. COLON: (As Red) What are you doing here?

Mr. BRANDO: (As Chico) Just killing time.

Ms. COLON: (As Red) It's five or six years since I've seen you. I hear you
got in some bad trouble.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Chico) Mm, little bit.

Ms. COLON: (As Red) Mm. That's bad. Hey, what happened to your friend?

Mr. BRANDO: (As Chico) Well, I don't know. I kind of lost track of him.
When's the last time you seen him?

Ms. COLON: (As Red) Well, not since you was here the last time with Jude.
You remember when the Rileys(ph) came and killed that guy. My Chihuahua.
Maybe he run back over the border.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Chico) Yeah.

GROSS: That's a scene from "One-Eyed Jacks" with Marlon Brando and my guest
Miriam Colon. Her new movie, "The Blue Diner," premieres tonight on many
public TV stations. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Miriam Colon. She founded the Puerto Rican Traveling
Theatre company in New York. Her films include "One-Eyed Jacks," "Scarface,"
"Lone Star" and "All The Pretty Horses." Her new movie, "The Blue Diner,"
premieres on many public TV stations tonight.

Do you ever turn on the TV and surprise yourself by seeing yourself on TV in
an old television or a movie that's being shown?

Ms. COLON: That happened this week. I was...

GROSS: What was it?

Ms. COLON: This was my husband; I had to ask him. He says he was home, and
he turned on one channel and there was I in one old, old movie. He turned to
another channel, and there was I in the second film that I had done. The same
night an hour later he turned another channel, and I was in, you know, an old
television show. He says, `You're everywhere.' So I said, `Oh, well, that's
good.' Maybe I'm leaving the impression that I'm all over the face of this
nation when actually it's just showing old films.

GROSS: You're now starring in "The Blue Diner." What does that role mean to
you professionally?

Ms. COLON: It's a good role. It's a woman that is very simple, that is
hardworking, that has a sense of honor and dedication. She cares for her
daughter, and she's very vigilant about what that daughter is going through,
what is she getting involved, you know, like all mothers. In a way this woman
reminds me very much of my own mother, whom I lost about three years ago; may
she rest in peace.

GROSS: What about this character reminded you of your mother?

Ms. COLON: Because my mother was this hardworking, she and I would fight
sometimes. My mother maybe went to the sixth or the seventh grade, but she
had a wisdom in herself, a kindness, a humanity that really determined my
life. I had such admiration for her, and I was so sorry that she had to work
so hard. But such dignity and pride, she was the best image I had. I wish I
could be like her.

GROSS: Is it fair to say, though, lately you've been playing mothers who are
more conservative and strict than their children, I mean, you know, who are
from a culture that is more conservative and strict than the culture their
children are growing up in?

Ms. COLON: Yeah. And I just relish--I guess that's why the people loved so
much what I did in "Scarface." This was another woman--in fact, I enjoyed...

GROSS: Describe your role in that.

Ms. COLON: Oh, the mother was my mother. The mother in "Scarface" is my
mother, so that's another instance in which I just swam into it. It was like
a tailor-made dress that was made for me: the mother that also works very
hard; that is very stern; that has standards in her house; the fact that she
is poor and they may not have an automobile, that they may not have a nice
house, that they may live in the outskirts of the city cannot under any
circumstances be used to try to put them down or to be disrespectful to the
them. And this is what she did to the character played by Pacino. The thing
of honor, the stern--well, she's the only one that defied him, told him, `Get
the hell out of here,' that didn't wind up with her head cut off. I love
characters like that, and I think I can play them very well. And that's also
great because I have such sympathy for those women.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite scene from "Scarface" that you're in?

Ms. COLON: The scene with Pacino where I'm watching him coming to introduce
himself into our life again. And I know that he's pushing drugs, and I know
that we may be poor, but we are not in the drug world. And I know that those
suits cannot be bought from working in a factory or something like that. So I
think I instinctly know. But what is worse is his insinuating himself into my
kitchen, into my house, into the relationship with my daughter, which is all I
have left, is very dangerous. And that's why I throw him out. And everything
I said would happen happened. He destroyed her.

GROSS: OK. This is Miriam Colon in a scene from "Scarface" with Al Pacino.

(Soundbite of "Scarface")

Ms. COLON: (As Mama Montana) You know, all we hear about in the papers is
animals like you and the killings. It's Cubans like you who are giving a bad
name to our people, people who come here and work hard and make a name for
themselves, people who send their children to school, pay their taxes...

Ms. MARY ELIZABETH: (As Gina) Mama, Mama, please, please, what do you say?
That's your son.

Ms. COLON: (As Mama Montana) Son? I wish I had one. He's a bum. He was a
bum then, and he's a bum now. Who do you think you are, hm? We haven't heard
a word from you in five years ...(unintelligible). You're still going to show
up here and throw some money around and think you can get my respect? You
think you can buy me with jewelry?

Mr. AL PACINO: (As Tony Montana) Oh, Mama, no.

Ms. COLON: (As Mama Montana) You think you can come into my house with your
hotshot clothes and your gay manners and make fun of us?

Mr. PACINO: (As Tony Montana) Mama, you don't know what you're talking about.

Ms. COLON: (As Mama Montana) No, that's not the way I am, Antonio.

Mr. PACINO: (As Tony Montana) OK.

Ms. COLON: (As Mama Montana) That is not the way I raised Gina to be. You
are not going to destroy her. I don't need your money. Gutless. I work for
my living.

GROSS: That's Miriam Colon in a scene from "Scarface."

Do people recognize you a lot from that role?

Ms. COLON: Oh, yes.

GROSS: "Scarface" is such a cult film now. I mean, it has such a following.

Ms. COLON: Oh, yes. You know what? Youngsters. I've had the weirdest, the
weirdest, all true, episodes in the subway platform.

GROSS: Yeah?

Ms. COLON: It's happened not twice, not four times, at least a half a dozen
times. They're staring, and I say, `Oh. Oh, my God, they're coming in my
direction. What are they here for? Are they going to push me off the
platform or something, or are they going to take my ring or something?' And
then it turns out that they come close and they say, `Mama Montana?' I say,
`Si, I'm Mama Montana.' They say, `Yeah!' They have done this scene for me
saying my lines and his lines. They have memorized the entire scene. But
I've seen kids that I know they don't have any money, and they told me, `Oh, I
own that film.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Miriam Colon, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. COLON: Well, thank you for inviting me.

GROSS: Miriam Colon stars in the new movie "The Blue Diner." It premieres
tonight on many public TV stations. Her other movies include "One-Eyed
Jacks," "Scarface," "All The Pretty Horses" and "Lone Star." Here's music
from the soundtrack of "Lone Star."

(Soundbite of Spanish song)

GROSS: Coming up, Milo Miles reviews a new CD by singer and guitarist Carlos
Guitarlos. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New album by Carlos Guitarlos
TERRY GROSS, host:

The ruined lives of rock, blues or pop musicians are as much a trademark of
the music as stardom. But music critic Milo Miles says San Francisco's Carlos
Guitarlos proves that not everyone's fall from grace is a simple story with a
predictable conclusion.

Mr. CARLOS GUITARLOS: One, two, three...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GUITARLOS: (Singing) The mighty Mississippi to Atchafalaya, don't know
where to go. Hundred years ago they took another boat down the Atchafalaya
go. Well, a way down yonder in New Orleans, it was the city folks, don't you
know, because a hundred years ago another pack of liars down the Atchafalaya
go.

MILO MILES reporting:

Publicity people in the music business often push a record on me by noting
what a terrific story lies behind it. I always say, `That is a terrific
story. How does it make the album any better?' Having said that, I have to
add that every once in a while it seems that traces of a musician's hard-luck
tale can be heard in the work and make it more effective. I don't believe the
old saw that suffering improves your ability to sing certain types of music,
but perhaps it's no accident that the three down-and-outers I find most vivid
had a fondness for country weepers and the blues.

Ted Hawkins is the most well known, a jailbird, a junkie and a sometimes
homeless street performer who discovered that his own failures and bitter
disappointments were his best subject matter. The next is a little-known
former Elvis imitator called Little Enis(ph). He emerged from alcoholic
stupor and a ruined career to record a final record called "I Kept The Wine
and Threw Away the Roses(ph)." He had become far more than an Elvis imitator.
He had become himself. And the third is San Francisco street musician Carlos
Guitarlos.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. GUITARLOS: (Singing) Lord, won't you help me? I've fallen again.
Straight from the heart, you can hear my tear when you're calling again. Help
me make a new start. It's been years and years since we talked as friends
straight from the heart. It's been one spit in the wind, two strikes I can't
win. You've been calling me, calling me, calling me, calling back again.
Lord, won't you help me?

MILES: When he was Los Angeles guitarist Carlos Aliah(ph), he was kind of a
slow starter as a pro musician. But at age 30 in 1980 he was finally in the
right place at the right time. He met rock and R&B singer Top Jimmy just when
"Roots" met punk in the LA music scene, and bands like X and The Blasters
became the rage. Fronting Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs, Carlos and Jimmy
embodied a certain hip bar-band ideal of the times, living every bit of the
wild times they sang about, as willing to brawl as play. The only album
anybody ever saw from them was solid work, but the title said it all: "Pigus
Drunkus Maximus."

The script is standard. Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs fall apart; scene fades;
sharp guitarist for second-tier band becomes a footnote. But Carlos rewrote
the ending. With some help from his nephew Damon and the will to stay sober,
he lifted himself above street performer. Top Jimmy's death from liver
failure probably had something to do with it. The songs on Carlos' solo album
are built from basic blues and boogie materials and familiar language. But
he's not just derivative. In fact, he shows such flare for the fundamentals
that you're sure you've heard the best tunes before, even if you haven't.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. GUITARLOS: (Singing) So now I'm lovin' you, and everything is fine.
Yeah, I'm still working hard. Yes, I'm really trying. I'm out there every
day doing what I can, and then I'm coming home to be with you again, hey,
there lovin' you, hey, there lovin' you, baby, hey, there lovin' you every
day.

MILES: Carlos Guitarlos does his share of numbers like "The Sea of All My
Troubles," but some ostensibly up-tempo, party tunes on "Straight From The
Heart" have a rueful undercurrent. In the music world, where hedonism is no
longer shocking, Guitarlos' hint of wisdom is most welcome. He may raise hell
anyway, but he knows there will be a tomorrow. This bittersweet is all over
the album's highlight, "Two Tavern Town."

(Soundbite of "Two Tavern Town")

Mr. GUITARLOS: (Singing) I know everybody here playing cards and drinking
beer, and I'll tell you what, my dear. You can't get to there from here. I'm
drinking in a two tavern town. Now, baby, don't listen to him. I have never
seen you here. Would you like a drink, my dear? We could dance and make
romance if you'd like to take a chance. I'm drinking in a two tavern town.
I'm drinking in a two tavern town.

MILES: It's no disrespect to say Guitarlos' voice lets him down at time, but
that the vocal help he gets from X's John Doe and The Blasters' Dave Alvin
provides a welcomed change of pace. He really is doing whatever it takes to
be the best he can. Carlos Guitarlos sounds like a former swaggering tough
guy who's been frightened and knows the value of a second chance.

GROSS: Milo Miles is a contributing writer to Rolling Stone. He reviewed
"Straight From The Heart" by Carlos Guitarlos.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. GUITARLOS: Women and whiskey.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. GUITARLOS: Women and whiskey, yeah, are going to be the devil in me.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. GUITARLOS: Not drinking enough sure got the best of me. I'm rockin' and
rollin'. Yeah, that's my last full rights. I'm rockin' and rollin', baby,
yeah.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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