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'All the King's Men': Oscar Bait?

A new film of Robert Penn Warren's novel All the King's Men stars Sean Penn as political boss Willie Stark, a role that won Broderick Crawford an Oscar in 1949. The remake also features Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, and James Gandolfini. It's directed by Steven Zaillian, who won his own Oscar for the screenplay of Schindler's List.

05:43

Other segments from the episode on September 22, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 22, 2006: Interview with James Woods; Review of new drama series, "Brothers & Sisters," and "Desperate Housewives;" Commentary on Don Walser; Review of the film …

Transcript

DATE September 22, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Actor James Woods talks about the roles he played in
his films and his new TV series "Shark"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

James Woods has played his share of tough guys. He was a cop killer in "The
Onion Field," a fearless and sometimes foolish journalist in "Salvador," and a
gangster in "Once Upon a Time in America." He specializes in roles that are
high-intensity, full-octane portrayals. In the films "Casino" or "Videodrome"
or "Any Given Sunday," it's hard to take your eyes off him. He's had a long
and respected film career, but Woods made his first big impact on television
as a concentration camp victim in the miniseries "Holocaust," and he's
returned to TV lately making just as big an impact. He played a dying patient
on "ER" and an exaggeratedly manic version of himself on "Entourage." And as
of this week, he starts in his first weekly series, playing a ruthless defense
attorney-turned-prosecutor in the CBS drama, "Shark."

(Soundbite from "Shark")

Mr. JAMES WOOD: (As Shark) You want to win. Grab a pencil. I live by three
simple rules. My cut-throat manifesto. These rules guide every single
decision I make on every single case. Rule number one: Trial is war; second
place is death. Rule number two: Truth is relative; pick one that works.
Rule number three: In a jury trial, there are only 12 opinions that matter,
and, Miss Troy, yours most decidedly is not one of them. Now from this day
forward...

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: In "Shark," James Woods plays a variation on a familiar theme.
Once again, he goes with his strength, playing a cocky, self-confident,
charismatic snake. When Terry interviewed James Woods in 1999, he told her he
was fascinated by the behavior of extremely charming people.

Mr. WOODS: I have found in my rather voracious reading about many criminal
types, whether they be in politics or in the world of petty crime, that
oftentimes very charming people are in fact highly sociopathic. I mean, they
use charm as a kind of negotiating ploy to lure people into their lives and
into their circles and then kind of vampirize them for their own ends, and I
mean, we see it from the highest level of politics to the lowest level of
street crime, where, you know, very charming people find a way to enlist
compatriots in their worlds of crime.

TERRY GROSS, host:

You mention that you've done a lot of reading about sociopaths. Is that
because you've played so many of them?

Mr. WOODS: Well, in the process of playing them, but also, I mean, in the
news, I'm always fascinated by those kind of offbeat stories. I mean, whether
it's, you know, politicians who pretend to care about a certain group of
people but then, in fact, sell them out but keep smiling and using them as a
political base, you know, to enhance their well-being in their positions of
power. Or the odd news item. I remember, when I was in Hawaii once and there
was a front page article when I was--I think I was in Oahu, and a guy who was
a crisis manager at an anger-like institute--it was a institute for the
management of anger--had beaten the crap out of one of his clients, you know,
at some point. He just got fed up with the guy and, you know, beat him almost
to death, and ended up, you know, putting the guy in the hospital, and he went
to jail. And I just love the idea of an anger crisis management, you know,
guru beating up one of his clients. I mean, that kind of thing always
fascinates me as an actor because I believe that people have a--by and large,
you find that people are, you know, engaged in chronic manic denial over who
they really are so they're always rationalizing or defending a position that
in fact is usually the opposite of how they truly behave behind closed doors
or in moments of--when they don't feel like they're being observed.

GROSS: I'd love to talk with you a little bit about the role that I think of
as your breakthrough role in movies, and this is in the film, "The Onion
Field," where you play...

Mr. WOODS: Right.

GROSS: ...a sociopathic killer. Your character, Greg Powell, was a
small-time thief who thought of himself as a brilliant master criminal, and he
and his nervous partner ended up abducting two cops and killing one of them
after...

Mr. WOODS: Right.

GROSS:...they stopped these two guys on the road. I want to play a clip from
"The Onion Field." In this scene, your character Greg and his partner Jimmy
are on a robbery spree. They're laying over at a motel, and after your
character Greg has had very noisy sex with his girlfriend in a motel, he comes
out to the parking lot to talk to his partner Jimmy.

(Soundbite from "The Onion Field")

Mr. WOODS: (As Greg Powell) We're going back to LA.

Mr. FRANKLYN SEALES: (As Jimmy Lee Smith) LA? Jumping Jesus! One night in
Las Vegas, one night in Bakersfield.

Mr. WOODS: (As Greg) Jimmy, now, Jimmy, we're doing OK. We bought us this
cherry little hot rod, didn't we? We bought us some nice presents, and we had
us some fun, didn't we?

Mr. SEALES: (As Jimmy) Fun, like I got to lose 10 nickels in the damn slot
machines. Greg, the last thing you said, we was going to Frisco. LA's a
two-hour drive in the wrong direction. We moving around like damn Gypsies.

Mr. WOODS: (As Greg) Jimbo, you just don't understand. We are going to
Frisco. But first we got to go to LA and get us some money by pulling another
little job there so we can go to Frisco. You understand? Now we're just
going to leave the wagon here, and we'll be back by midnight. OK? Now, what
you got to do is remind me to get the brake lights fixed on that coupe because
we can't get stopped by the cops for a faulty brake light, now can we, huh?

So me and my little honeybun got you stirred up there, did we? You know, I'm
kind of a virtuoso sexually. That means that I'm a master at pleasing women.
She says that she can never imagine herself with another man ever again. How
about that?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: James Woods, what did you do to get a sense of this guy--of his ego,
of his confidence and his lack of conscience.

Mr. WOODS: By the way, one of the ironies of that scene for people who
haven't seen the movie in quite a while is that the character I'm talking to
that Franklyn Seales played, Jimmy Lee Smith, had just had sex with Greg's
girlfriend in the scene before, and I'm telling him about what a sexual
maestro I am and so on and how she could ever imagine herself with another
guy, and, of course, an hour before he has, of course, been with her, and
it's--I mean, it's one of the ironies of the scene about this guy. You know,
he's such a blowhard and, of course, you know, doesn't know anything about
what's really going on.

That character was fascinating to me because he actually would put on a fake
Southern accent, and it was hard to do because, as you notice, it sounds kind
of weird. It's not really a very good Southern accent but he actually talked
that way. He tried to be always something other than he was, and the irony,
of course, from that scene is that they were stopped for having a faulty tail
light, and that's when they killed Ian Campbell, the police officer, and
kidnapped Karl Hettinger, and it ended up the longest set of trials in the
history of California jurisprudence, you know, trying to convict these guys.

I think the resources of Joe Wambaugh's brilliant book, "The Onion Field,"
which was, as he said, the thing that he felt he was put on earth to do, to
write that novel. It's a roman a clef. I mean, it's written as a true story,
and it is a true story. What was so rich and it showed so much about this
guy's insane charm. And the great thing about true stories is invariably
there are things that take place in those stories that you cannot imagine in
real life. I mean, from the smallest detail, and we researched the film
meticulously. There was a very funny scene in the picture where I turn to the
Jimmy Lee Smith character and I go, `So, you know, Jimmy, how do you like my
disguise?' And he says, `Greg, what disguise?' and I go, `Well, look. I
darkened my eyebrows and I put this little mole on my earlobe, see?' And, of
course, you know, he's like--he darkened his eyebrows and put a mole on his
earlobe.

Well, the irony was when Karl Hettinger later described the assailants, he
said, you know, one was, you know, a black guy, you know, five-ten, whatever,
and the other was a white guy with a mole on his ear.

GROSS: A lot of people say that when you're playing a bad guy as the actor
you're not supposed to focus on what's bad about him. You're supposed to get
into the guy's way of thinking...

Mr. WOODS: Right.

GROSS: ...and into his own self-delusions and think about why this guy has
such confidence, why he thinks he's right. Were you able to do that for this
cop killer when you played him?

Mr. WOODS: Ah, well, I mean, it's a tough one because you're playing a cop
killer but I could--what I try to focus on is the fact that most killers, you
know--I mean, sometimes actors when they're not really doing their work or if

they don't really have, I don't know, the extra sort of indefinable thing that
it takes to be--to portray a character in a unique way. I'm playing a killer
and so they're snarling around and so on. Well, killers aren't killing every
minute of the day, you know. I mean, what they--they still have to go buy
groceries and get their laundry done and you know. I always try to think of,
you know, giving a character like that a life, I mean, an entire life, the way
he would think about all the everyday boring details of living his life, and
then along the way, just unexpectedly this capacity to destroy in just such a
horrific way just erupts, and I think that's the way it is with most
sociopaths, you know. Their approach to life is `Whatever's good for me is
what I'll do. And whatever I need other people do for me, I will charm them
into it.' You have to think about the objectives or the goals that people have
in mind, you know. There is a theory of acting where you talk about having a
through line to a character and a superobjective and then momentary objectives
throughout the beats of each scene, and the superobjective of any sociopath is
how do I get everything I want all the time and pretend to be a normal citizen
when I have to to get other people to do it for me.

GROSS: So, did you--when you started playing roles like this, did you have
enough--did you have any sense of, like, big self-confidence or swagger in
your own life that you could draw on or were you just like studying other
kinds of characters...

Mr. WOODS: That's a good question. I'll tell you, that's a good question.
I think when you're young and maybe when you're young and in particular male,
there's a kind of, just sort of, you know, there's a greater level of what I
now see as a kind of manic self-confidence that comes as a way of sort of
denying your fears, you know. A lot of male behavior, you know, extreme
sports, you know, war, you know, a lot of aggression that comes naturally just
from biological, you know, imprint, you know, of young males, has to do with a
kind of confidence that as you get a little older and wiser, you realize is a
pretty false self-confidence, but confidence doesn't know whether it's true or
false, you know. You just go out there and feel it until you get that first
big whack on the head with a two-by-four from life, and then you go, `Oh, I
get it!'

GROSS: When you were a young actor, did you use your self-confidence and
swagger to talk yourself into roles?

Mr. WOODS: Oh, yeah. Oh, I--well, actually I still do that. I still--I
actually--I don't think I've ever been sort of `right' for any role I've ever
played in the eyes of the people who are hiring me. I mean, it's so funny, I
mean, to this day, I always have--I mean, I always get, `Oh, he's a great
actor but he's not right for the part,' as if these geniuses who make the crap
that you see in the theaters every week of your life, as if they would know
what was right, you know what I mean? It's just unbelievable, you know. `Oh,
excuse me, I'm sorry, you're so brilliant, you just made'--you know, and then
you look--you open the paper. You know, I always say to people, they go,
`Well, you know, you should pick, you know, maybe a better role or something.'
I go, `Really? Name five good movies you saw last year.'

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. WOODS: Five good movies, I mean, not five great ones. Five good movies.
Nobody can do it. Nobody can name you five movies. They make 10,000 movies a
year, and you can't name five that are any good.

GROSS: What's the most extreme thing that you've done to get a role that you
really wanted?

Mr. WOODS: Well, "The Onion Field," actually, speaking of "The Onion Field."
They had already chosen another man to play the part, and they said I wasn't
right because I didn't have blue eyes and blond hair, because, you know, they
never heard of makeup but--so I insisted that I could play the part better,
and blah-blah-blah-blah, and I finally went in and I said, `Look, I want a
screen test. That's the least you can do.' And I knew that Joe Wambaugh was
supposed to be a very fair guy. I said, `In fairness, you should give me a
screen test,' and he said, `Look, the reality is we can't afford a screen
test.' So together my agent and I like sold a car and put the money together
and they did a screen test and the screen test was going to last all day, and
they put the camera on me first and I did one scene, one monologue from the
movie, and I knew that I'd nailed it through the roof like with a nailgun, and
I finished the take, and he said, `OK, now next.' And I said, `We're not doing
any next. If you can't tell by now, you'll never know. Goodbye. Good luck
with your film,' and I walked out, knowing that they'd go, `Huh?' you know,
because I knew that that move, more than the screen test, was going to
convince Joe Wambaugh that this is a tough guy and it was a tough move because
I had a lot on the line. I mean, I was doing what every gambler does which
is, you know what? I got an 18, the dealer has a 10, given me a hit, give me
the card, give me the three, I know it's coming, you know. And that's what we
did, you know.

GROSS: Did you have that planned in advance? Did you know you were going to
make that move?

Mr. WOODS: No, actually I didn't. It was a kind of spontaneous seat-of-the-
pants move. You know, like all great moves in life, you know, you just sort
of get a wild hair up your--you know, and you just say, you know what, I'm
going for it. I'm just going to go for it. I'm just right now, right at this
moment, you know, it's like, you know, with a woman that you fall in love with
on first sight, you just say to her, `You know what'--instead of doing all
that liberal, you know, fruity crap that, you know, that the sensitive man is
supposed to do, instead of saying, `You know, maybe we should go out to dinner
and I should listen to your problems,' you say, `I tell you what, how about
you and I jump on a plane, go to Paris, get married and let's go from there?
What do you think?' You know. And, you know, I don't know, sometimes it
works.

GROSS: And other times it doesn't.

Mr. WOODS: Yeah, but, you know, ah, it's only alimony.

BIANCULLI: James Woods speaking to Terry Gross in 1999.

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 1999 interview with James Woods.
"Shark," the new CBS TV series in which he plays a cut-throat attorney
premiered this week.

GROSS: I want to ask you about your 1984 movie, "Once Upon a Time in
America," directed by Sergio Leone.

Mr. WOODS: Right.

GROSS: And this is a kind of gangster epic in which--epic in terms of the way
it's shot and the amount of time that it spans and everything, the story that
it tells. It's a gangster film staring you and Robert De Niro and it traces
your friendship and your rise and fall. It begins in the early 1900s. I want
to play a short scene with you and Robert De Niro in a car. Here we go.

(Soundbite from "Once Upon a Time in America")

Mr. ROBERT De NIRO: (As David Aaronson) How come you didn't tell me?

Mr. WOODS: (As Maximilian Bercovicz) (Unintelligible)...can change it. I'd
already made the deal with Frankie to get rid of Joe. With a man like Frankie
Minaldi, you don't say yes and then say no. I cannot take the chance that
you'd change your mind. Do you understand?

Mr. De NIRO: (As David)) Well, you're right, I would have said no.

Mr. WOODS: (As Maximilian) Frankie Minaldi is as big as they come. He's got
the combination in the palm of his hand.

Mr. De NIRO: (As David) If we're not careful, he's going to have us in the
palm of his hand.

Mr. WOODS: (As Maximilian) You don't get nowhere alone.

Mr. De NIRO: (As David) I thought you were the guy who said you didn't like

bosses. It sounded like a good idea then. It still is.

Mr. WOODS: (As Maximilian) Let's just think about it, Noodles. They're
going to ask us to come in with them. There's a lot in it for us.

Mr. De NIRO: (As David) Today they ask us to get rid of Joe. Tomorrow they
ask me to get rid of you. Is that OK with you? Because it's not OK with me.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: James Woods, I'm wondering what it was like for you to work with
Robert De Niro because you seem like such different kinds of actors.

Mr. WOODS: Actually...

GROSS: Rightly or wrongly, I think of you as a very extraverted person and
actor, and I think of De Niro as probably a very introverted person. You're
so verbal. He seems so nonverbal off camera, you know offscreen.

Mr. WOODS: Well, you know, actually, Bobby's one of--that was one of the
great experiences of my life, because he is, I think, one of the greatest
actors in the history of cinema, and he is a wonderful guy personally. Very
devoted to the work and to his friends, a very loyal man, and we became
friends then and have been friends ever since. And he's a very, very
intelligent guy, very perceptive about the work and about life and a very
sensitive man. And a lot of people think of him as very kind of introverted.
His basic nature, that of a compressed, you know, somewhat withdrawn person or
having that aura as an actor worked very well for his character, and more
expansive nature that I sort of seem to have onscreen--and I'll take your word
for it--worked great for the character I played, and they were supposed to be
that way. One of was very introverted and one was very extraverted, and it
was kind of on-the-nose casting in that sense and...

GROSS: Did you have a different process for getting in character?

Mr. WOODS: We actually didn't, believe it or not. Bob is one of those
people who has a barometer for the truth of a scene. I mean, he just is--he
just can't act if the scene isn't right. He just isn't able. He just sort of
says, `Well, this feels false.' He just doesn't know how to do it. And if the
scene is right in the way it's kind of set up and conceived and written and
the acting is going pretty well in rehearsals, he just flourishes. He's a
natural, and it's not like he puts his foot down or something. He's just not
very good at doing--he just isn't capable of doing bad acting. He's just not
capable of it, and he's just a natural when everything's right, and I have
sort of the same instincts. I mean, I have a hard time saying sort of
stupidly written lines, you know. One of the funniest things when you're an
actor is people always come up to you and say, `How do you remember all those
lines?' and, of course, the oddest thing about being an actor is that's the
easiest part, and it's really easy if a scene is really beautifully written.
I mean, you can almost have a photographic memory, and if you have trouble
remembering a scene, it's probably because it's badly written--I mean, you
know, bad writing is hard to remember. I'm always like amazed when waiters
come up and they give you a list of the specials for the evening. I go, `How
do you remember that crap?' You know, the beet juice, squid ink pasta. I
couldn't remember it to save my life...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. WOODS: ...but I can remember, you know, 10 pages of Shakespeare, you
know, in the time it takes me to read it because it's so beautifully written
and it makes sense and it's logical and it follows, you know? I mean, the
great thing about great writing is usually what you say next, after a
character has spoken, is what really at its apex, you know, is what your
character would say in that situation, you know, and if it's great writing
like David Mamet or people like that, you know, it's what the person would
say, but in a tremendously eloquent, you know, inventive way.

GROSS: James Woods, what were you like in high school? What do you think
people knew you for?

Mr. WOODS: Well, I was voted three things in high school. I was voted `Most
Likely to Succeed,' `Wittiest' and `Class Clown.' So I was like the guy who
they felt was going to do really well but also was like, always you know, like
flinging pennies at, you know, at Mrs. O'Leary in study hall and stuff, you
know. So I was like, I was sort of a prankster but at the same time, you
know, like the smartest kid in school but instead of being a geek, I was kind
of like a prankster so--and I had a ball in high school. I just had a lot of
great friends and we had a school that actually was a very--I mean, I had like
26 kids in this little class I was in. We had a big senior class but there
was a small group of us called the Academically Talented. You know, it was
like the smart kids or something, and they were actually pretty cool but like,
in my class of 26, I mean, we all went to, you know, to Harvard, Yale, MIT,
Dartmouth, Brandeis, you know, Georgetown. I mean, it was a pretty smart,
wonderful group of kids who, you know, were of, you know, that baby boom
generation where, you know, having a great education was a real premium that
we all aspired to.

GROSS: Now, I'd always heard you had these like incredible IQ and SAT
scores...

Mr. WOODS: Right.

GROSS: ...and I read last night that in high school you got something like
180 IQ and a perfect 800 score in the verbal part of the SATs. Was there
pressure on you to do whiz kid kind of things with scores like that, as
opposed to acting?

Mr. WOODS: Yeah, well, yeah, there was, but, luckily, because I was in a
class of kids who, you know, were all National Merit finalists and, you know,
others had 800 on their college boards in this little class of mine, I sort of
took for granted that there were a lot of other people out there with a lot of
talent, and you know, the only thing that was going to get you across the
finish line, given the fact that we were truly blessed by God with this
intellect, was going to be some hard work, and when I got to my freshman year
at MIT--I mean, the average--I mean, there were 900 kids in my freshman class
and over 400 of them had 800s on their college boards, so you say, `Oh, I get
it,' you know. It's that shocking thing that happens to every high school
debutante when she goes to Hollywood and realizes that she ain't the prettiest
girl in town anymore. She's one of 100,000...

GROSS: Right, right, right.

Mr. WOODS: ...who have the same aspirations for the same three parts, you
know.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. WOODS: And I mean, you know, going to the big city is a great leveler
for all of us, and, you know, my life has been a constant journey down the
road to humility, and believe me, the one thing I have learned that is my
greatest asset is that I have finally, ultimately learned to be humble, and
it's fine to be cocky when you're young, you know. When you're young you're
supposed to be cocky and a Democrat. When you're older you're supposed to be
a little wiser and a Republican, I guess. Joke.

GROSS: Well, James Woods. It was a pleasure talking to you. I want to thank
you very much.

Mr. WOODS: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

BIANCULLI: James Woods speaking with Terry Gross in 1999. His new TV series,
a legal drama called "Shark," appears Thursday nights on CBS.

I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite from "Mack the Knife")

Unidentified Singer: "Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear, and he shows
them pearly white. Just a jack knife has old MacHeath, babe, and he keeps it
out of sight. You know when that shark bites..."

(End of soundbite)

(Announcements)

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

Review: TV critic David Bianculli reviews new drama series,
"Brothers & Sisters," and "Desperate Housewives"' new season
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.

At this point in the show, I'd like to shift from host duties to my regular
job as a TV critic. Today's subject, two of ABC's Sunday night series: The
returning "Desperate Housewives" and the brand-new "Brothers and Sister." ABC
has room to show "Brothers and Sisters" on Sunday because he's moved one of
the night's biggest hits "Grey's Anatomy" to Thursday this year. Why? You
could call it aggressive counterprogramming against Thursday's CBS powerhouse,
"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Or you could call it corporate greed.
Either way, you'd be right. But I don't think it's the right move, partly
because I think CSI will remain very strong and partly because I think
"Brothers and Sisters," despite a very large and impressive cast, turns out to
be very weak. And that's both a surprise and a disappointment, because
"Brothers and Sisters" comes to TV with enough great actors to launch at least
five series. Think I'm kidding? Start with Calista Flockhart, making her
return to series TV after starring in "Ally McBeal." Add Rachel Griffiths,
fresh off her role as Brenda on "Six Feet Under." They play sisters, one
conservative, one liberal. Flockhart is the conservative one, a popular
talk-show host on satellite radio. Sally Field, who started out on TV playing
the gnarly ingenue in "Gidget," now plays the matriarch of the family. And
Tom Skerritt, from "Picket Fences," places the dad. These parents have five
grown children in all, and there are other key players in the drama as well,
including Ron Rifkin and Patricia Wettig. With all that talent, "Brothers and
Sisters" should be amazing, especially since it's created by playwright Jon
Robin Baitz and directed by Ken Olin. But the only truly amazing thing about
it is how slow and unsatisfying it is. The characters in this series may talk
like real people but they sure don't say much.

Here's Calista Flockhart and Sally Field, as long-estranged daughter and
mother, having an awkward conversation in the kitchen, leading to an even more
awkward embrace.

(Soundbite from "Brothers and Sisters")

Ms. CALISTA FLOCKHART: (As Kitty Walker) We probably have a lot to say to
each other right?

Ms. SALLY FIELD: (As Nora Holden) You know what, Kitty? We really don't.
Really, we don't.

Ms. FLOCKHART: (As Kitty) You don't want to talk, really? What kind of a
relationship is that?

Ms. FIELD: (As Nora) It's the only kind of relationship we can have right
now. Kitty, your father is watching us right now, and it is so important to
him--could we hug or something?

(Soundbite of movement)

Ms. FIELD: (As Nora) Thank you.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: I really like both of these actresses, but I don't quite like or
buy their characters here. Or many of the others. Viewers tuning in after
"Desperate Housewives" for a "Grey's Anatomy"-type hour of fun, frolic and
high drama, I suspect, will leave quite disappointment. And, I suspect,
they'll leave by the millions.

On the other hand, if those former fans of "Desperate Housewives," who rightly
gave up on the show when it derailed the start of last season, can find it in
their hearts to give it another chance, they should be thrilled. Sunday's
third season premier is a sharp return to form, with all five leading ladies
getting juicy and funny storylines. The new season retains the only good
plots from last year, with Gabrielle shackled to the surrogate mother of her
unborn child, and Lynnette dealing with the unexpected discovery of her
husband's lovechild. The family with the prisoner in the basement is gone and
the new major mystery plot involves Kyle McLachlan from "Twin Peaks" as Orson.
He's got a skeleton in his closet or buried somewhere, but at the same time,
he's romancing Bree. And though the recovering alcoholic widow isn't sure
about getting into another sexual relationship so soon, Orson wins her over
and has her swooning by being even more fastidious about housework than she
is. The way to her heart, it turns out, is through her wineglasses, which he
cleans better than she does. Here's Marcia Cross as Bree and McLachlan as
Orson.

(Soundbite from "Desperate Housewives")

Ms. MARCIA CROSS: (As Bree) You don't have to wash those. I already did
them.

Mr. KYLE McLACHLAN: (As Orson) Oh, I found some streaks, so I'm wiping them
down with undiluted red wine vinegar.

Ms. CROSS: (As Bree) I've never heard that.

Mr. McLACHLAN: (As Orson) Oh, sure. For tougher spots, I use a 50-50 mix of
denatured alcohol and water, and for those really intractable stains--I mean,
we're talking shower doors--I wipe on lacquer thinner with a towel. Bree?

(Soundbite of kissing, then sound of footsteps)

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: The next scene, in which Bree enjoys herself in bed as never
before, pays off two years' worth of repressed character development. And
like so much of Sunday's episode is a riot. Pass the word. If you used to
enjoy "Desperate Housewives," it's time to return to Wisteria Lane.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Coming up, country performer Don Walser who died Wednesday.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

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

Profile: Remembering country music singer and yodeler Don Walser
who died at age of 72
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Don Walser, the western swing vocalist who was famous for his soaring tenor to
falsetto yodel, died Wednesday after a five-year battle with neuropathy. He
was 72. Although he didn't become a professional musician until age 60, Don
Walser played and sang plenty of music when he wasn't working as a mechanic
and auditor for the Texas National Guard. Away from his day job, he opened
shows for a young Buddy Holly in the 1950s and for another young performer
named Johnny Cash. Don Walser recorded and released his first album, "Rolling
Stone from Texas," in 1994 when he retired from the Guard. It became an
independent label hit and a critic's favorite, and his yodel got him plenty of
attention. A music critic for Playboy magazine, of all places, was so
impressed by Walser's country tenor that he dubbed him "the Pavarotti of the
Plains." Terry spoke with Don Walser in 1994. Before we hear them, let's hear
his recording of the yodeling cowboy ballad, "Cowpoke."

(Soundbite of "Cowpoke")

Mr. DON WALSER: (Singing) Oooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, I'm lonesome but I'm
happy, rich but I'm broke, and the good Lord knows the reason, I'm just a
cowpoke. From Dallas to Austin, the ranges I know, I live with the wind, no
one cares where I go. Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.

(End of soundbite)

TERRY GROSS, host:

Don Walser, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. DON WALSER: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be talking with you today.

GROSS: What happens to your voice when you yodel? How do you do it?

Mr. WALSER: Well, it's kind of done down in your throat and you hit a
falsetto and then you just come right back out of it to something else, you
know. You know, like (yodels). You know, it sounds kind of dumb when you're
doing it like that, but then if you speed it up, it's (yodels). You see what
I'm saying?

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Well, you do an Eddy Arnold song, "I'll Hold You in My Heart
'Til I Can Hold You in My Arms," and one of the things I love about your
version of the song is that you have--you don't yodel in the song but you use
that kind of falsetto yodel-like quality in the melody. You just like work it
into the melody line.

Mr. WALSER: Right. That was Ray Benson's idea. He--we were--him and TJ
McFarland produced this CD, and he said, `Why don't you try a falsetto on the
end of it and just do the melody'--he'd heard me do it before on other songs
and so that's--I have to blame it on him. That wasn't the way I usually sung
it, but I'm glad that he came up with the idea because I really enjoy it.

GROSS: Well, this is "I'll Hold You in My Heart" from Don Walser's new album,
"Rolling Stone from Texas."

(Soundbite from "I'll Hold You in My Heart")

Mr. WALSER: (Singing) "I'll hold you in my heart till I can hold you in my
arms, like you've never been held before. I'll think of you each day and then
I'll dream the night away till you are in my arms once more.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: It's really a beautiful recording. Don Walser, I'd like to get back
to your yodeling for a moment. Do you feel like you know different styles of
yodeling or is there just one style that's the Don Walser-style?

Mr. WALSER: Well, I think that I do a Jimmy Rogers-type yodel. I think we
put--yeah, we did--we put "California Blues" on there, and it's a different
kind of yodel. But I sort of do a Swiss yodel and I kind of patterned that
after hearing the Jimmy Wakeley song that Slim Whitman did back in the late
'40s, I believe it was. I believe it was in the last '40s that he did
"Casting My Lasso." And I liked that Swiss yodeling, and I started doing that
more and, of course, Elton Brit did some things like Cannonball yodel and
stuff like that that got me to doing that.

GROSS: Now what's the difference between a Swiss yodel and a cowboy yodel and
maybe you could demonstrate the difference for us?

Mr. WALSER: Well, a cowboy yodel is sort of like (yodels). Sort of like
that, you know. And then a Swiss yodel is more like (yodels). You know it's
more of a double yodel than the cowboy yodel is. You know, like an old cowboy
song, I remember I used to do one when I was growing up called "Rainbow on the
Rio Colorado," and it has a kind of different yodel to it, too, and I don't
know, it's just a--I just sort of developed a lot of the yodels because I
didn't have access out there where I grew up to anyone else's yodels, and I
still haven't really paid much attention. I've been, you know, so busy
throughout my life that I really hadn't bought and listened to other folks
yodeling.

GROSS: Take us back to your childhood a little bit. Would you describe for
us where you grew up?

Mr. WALSER: I grew up in a little farming community of Lamesa, Texas, right
between Lubbock and Big Springs, right on the Plains, the south Plains of
Texas, a little strip of land right below the Panhandle and my mother passed
away when I was about, not quite 12 years old, and in those days, the Lubbock
County and up in there had a lot of cotton, and the old Lamesa Cotton Oil Mill
was where my father worked and he was the night superintendent, and back in
those days when the mill run, well, you had to be there all the time
because--so he worked from 6 in the afternoon--in the evening until 6 in the
morning seven days a week while the mill was running, and that usually was at
least six to eight months during the year and sometimes even longer, according
to the size of the crop.

GROSS: So your mother died when you were 12.

Mr. WALSER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Your father worked 12 hours a day at the mill. Who took care of you?

Mr. WALSER: Nobody. I just stayed at home and so to--you know, I was kind
of--you know, when you're young like that you kind of--you see things that's
not there, you know, so I kept the radio going all the time, you know. Even
at night, I'd go to sleep with it, and if I woke up during the night, well,
I'd listen to it a while, and it was always on one of those old border
stations from down in Mexico or the Grand Ole Opry, and I just grew up on that
old music and I almost had a photographic memory and I remembered most of
those old songs, and I still do remember most of them, and I never wanted to
sing anything but those songs because they sort of helped me make it, you
know, through life.

GROSS: Is there a song that you found particularly comforting when you were
home alone at night and a little afraid and you'd put on the radio.

Mr. WALSER: Well, I like the old heart songs and the ballads more than I did
the boogie-woogies and things like that.

GROSS: Now I know that where you grew up was not far from Lubbock...

Mr. WALSER: That's right.

GROSS: Lubbock's big star was Buddy Holly...

Mr. WALSER: Now I did...

GROSS: There were times you shared a bill with him, right?

Mr. WALSER: Oh, yes. Of course, back then, I didn't really know who he was
but there was a drive-in theater there in Lamesa, Texas, Skeet Noret had this
old drive-in called the Sky-Vue--and, in fact, it's still operating. It's one
of the last ones that hadn't been closed down. And he had a big projection
room there that he--and he had a little stage on top of it, and he'd bring in
guys like Hall Nicks and Buddy Holly, and they would have them come down and
play at the Sky-Vue between the movies, you know, and I would share bills with
one of them. And then also, one of his first--Buddy Holly's first--I don't
know if he was the manager or just worked with him. His name was Hipockets
Duncan, and I don't know his real name but he was a disc jockey on KDAV there
in Lubbock, and I didn't have a telephone and he would--well, he'd get in
touch with me. He'd say, well, `Some of you folks there in Lamesa, tell
old'--they called me Donny back then--`tell old Donny Walser that I want him
to be at such-and-such place at such-and-such a time.' And that's the way I'd
get word. Someone would hear it, and they'd come tell me. `Hipockets wants
you to be in a certain place,' you know.

GROSS: Did rock and roll make it hard for you to do your music?

Mr. WALSER: Yeah, it put a bunch of us almost out of business there for a
while when Elvis and some of those guys came in, and it was good music. I
even did a little of it myself, but it never was--my heart never was there,
you know, so I just kept doing--plugging away at what I do know, you know.

GROSS: Which Elvis songs did you do?

Mr. WALSER: Oh, "Heartbreak Hotel," and some of those--I guess, three or
four of them. Just enough to satisfy some of the young girls that was in the
crowd.

GROSS: Do a couple of bars of "Heartbreak Hotel" the way you do it.

Mr. WALSER: Oh, boy! I don't even know if I could do it anymore. It's been
so many years. Let's see.

(Singing) "Well..."

Whoops. I've got to find the right key here.

(Singing) "Well, since my baby left, I've found a new place to dwell, down at
the end of Lonely Street at Heartbreak Hotel. I get so lonely, baby, I get so
lonely, I get so lonely I could die."

That's not very good but...

GROSS: That's great. So there was a period when you felt like Elvis and
other rock and rollers were starting to put you out of business. What did you
do?

Mr. WALSER: Well, we just kept playing. We would do a few of those songs,
and I loved Chuck Berry. We used to do a lot of Chuck Berry songs. Not a lot
of them, but a few, enough to get us through the night, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WALSER: No, I think that old rock and roll music was great music, and I
still love to hear it. We got a group here in Austin called the High Noon
Boys that do that stuff. They even made a 78-rpm record not too long ago,
using the old tube stuff that they used to record with back in those days.

GROSS: Did you ever want to be the young singer who was really good-looking
and all the girls fell for and, you know, to become like a big romantic hero,
as well as a singer?

Mr. WALSER: I think all of us did. I had the star syndrome there for a
couple of years until I realized that I was having more fun than the stars
were, you know. I was getting to play for weddings and old VFW halls and
getting right there with the people, and I didn't have to worry about Carnegie
Hall or any of those places. But I did have to take my wife--I told her when
we married, I said, `I'm in the National Guard and I'll stay there 'til I
retire and I'm going to be gone some each year to go to summer camp,' and I
said, `I'm going to play my music all my life, and so you got to get used to
that, and if you want to--if you don't trust me, then you've got to go with
me.' And I sort of insisted when we were young that she go with me and so she
could see that I was straight, you know what I mean? But I wasn't a
bad-looking old boy when I was younger. Had a few pounds off of me and I did
have a few of them try to chase me but they always was afraid of my wife. You
know how that goes.

GROSS: So she could travel with you through the years?

Mr. WALSER: Oh, yeah, she went everywhere I went back in those days. Now
she doesn't go to every place. She comes out to a couple of places and helps
me sell what products we have and so forth. She trusts me now after all these
years, and she says I'm like an old dog chasing a car anyway. If the dog
caught the car, he couldn't drive it anyway.

BIANCULLI: Don Walser speaking with Terry Gross in 1994. He died this week
at the age of 72 and is survived by his wife and four children.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WALSER: (Singing) "Pardon me if I'm sentimental when we say goodbye.
Don't be angry with me should I cry. Though you're gone yet I'll dream a
little dream as years roll go by. Now and then..."

Unidentified Singers: "Now and then..."

Mr. WALSER: (Singing) "...there's a fool..."

Singers: "...there's a fool..."

Mr. WALSER: (Singing) ...such as I."

Singers: "There's a fool such as I."

Mr. WALSER: (Singing) "Now and then, there's a fool such as I am over you.
You taught me how to love and now you say that we are through. I'm a fool but
I love you, dear, until the day that I die. Now and then..."

Unidentified Singers: "Now and then..."

Mr. WALSER: (Singing) "...there's a fool..."

Singers: "...there's a fool..."

Mr. WALSER: (Singing) "...such as I."

Singers: "There's a fool such as I."

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new remake of "All the
King's Men."

This is FRESH AIR.

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

Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews new film version of
"All The King's Men"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

A new film version of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men" stars Sean
Penn as political boss Willie Stark, a role that won Broderick Crawford an
Oscar in 1949. The remake also features Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia
Clarkson and James Gandolfini. It's directed by Steve Zaillian, who won his
own Oscar for the screenplay of "Schindler's List." David Edelstein has a
review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1946 novel, "All the
King's Men," Robert Penn Warren turns the story of the populist rabble-rouser
Huey Long into a tragic morality play. The narrator, Jack Burden, is a
journalist from a wealthy family who becomes an adjunct to an overweening
political boss named Willie Stark. The stand-in for Long, the self-proclaimed
Kingfish, who was governor of Louisiana, built roads and took on Standard Oil,
but came to behave like a corrupt dictator. The weak-willed Burden watches
and even assists in the destruction of everything he loves--a father figure, a
best friend, a true love. And all traces of idealism, political and romantic,
are dragged through the muck. The Oscar-winning 1949 movies had a vivid
mixture of toniness and melodrama, along with Broderick Crawford's putty face
and the ultimate Mercedes McCambridge performance as an aide and mistress to
Willie Stark. The chip on her shoulder seemed radioactive.

Do we need a new version of "All the King's Men"? The ingredients are
certainly timeless in American politics: predatory sexual behavior, unchecked
executive power, more sophisticated dirty tricks. That James Carville is one
of the remake's executive producers is a good sign. If anyone understands the
rock and roll intoxication of bringing a crowd to its feet, it's the man who
approaches politics as voodoo, or as they say in Louisiana "gri-gri." I hoped
that with Carville aboard and "The Sopranos"' James Gandolfini in the cast as
Stark's crooked lieutenant governor, this version would be raunchier, crazier,
with less creaky moralism.

Well, this version turns out to be more or less the same, only slower and
drained of blood. The writer and director, Steven Zaillian, has the opposite
of a populist's touch. He lingers over the narrator's banal romantic longings
while barely dramatizing Stark's political machinations. He's miscast it too,
from top to bottom. As Stark, Sean Penn demonstrates how a brilliant method
actor can make the world's most unconvincing rabble-rouser. In a key sequence
early in the film, Willie tosses away his prepared text and finds his true
populist voice, one that stirs the so-called hicks into a frenzy. Only it
plays like a parody here, because you can't figure out how anyone can hear
him. Penn likes to mumble and brood and get all inward. He doesn't let the
words of his speeches carry him along. He declaims in a thin strangled voice
and adds beats and half-beats to show you how hard he's thinking. Penn is
marginally better in more intimate scenes, like the one in which the governor
wants Burden, played by Jude Law, to blackmail a judge lending his weight to
an impeachment movement. Except that Judge Irwin, played by Anthony Hopkins,
happens to be Burden's surrogate father.

(Soundbite from "All the King's Men")

Mr. SEAN PENN: (As Willie Stark) How you doing digging something up on Judge
Irwin?

Mr. JUDE LAW: (As Jack Burden) Nothing.

Mr. PENN: (As Willie Stark) Nothing. Found nothing, done nothing?

Mr. LAW: (As Jack Burden) Told you there was nothing to find. I could dig
to China and wouldn't find anything. And I'm not framing him.

Mr. PENN: (As Willie Stark) Framing? Ain't nobody talking about framing.
That's never necessary. The truth is always sufficient. You just find the
truth.

Mr. LAW: (As Jack Burden) It's a waste of time and money.

Mr. PENN: (As Willie Stark) Geez, doesn't anybody listen to what I say
anymore? If you don't want to do it, don't do it. Or are you just looking
for a raise? I'm going to give you $100 raise whether you want it or not.

Mr. LAW: (As Jack Burden) If I wanted more money, I'd make it.

Mr. PENN: (As Willie Stark) You want to tell me you work for me for love?

Mr. LAW: (As Jack Burden) I don't know why I work for you, but it ain't for
love or money.

Mr. PENN: (As Willie Stark) Well, that's right. It's not. And you don't
know why. But I do.

Mr. LAW: (As Jack Burden) Why?

Mr. PENN: (As Willie Stark) Boy, you work for me because I'm the way I am
and you the way you are.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: That's about as fast-paced as "All the King's Men" gets. And

as it moves towards its overtelegraphed climax, it actually slows down. Jude
Law is pretty, but limp. He stares into space and moons over his lost love,
played by Kate Winslet. She's bathed in ghostly white light and, in one
howlingly bad composition, photographed through some kind of lacey scrim. The
delightful Patricia Clarkson barely registers in the role that won Mercedes
McCambridge an Oscar. And James Gandolfini? He should leave the accents to
Meryl Streep. The mix of Cajun diction and New Jersey cadences make this
sensational actor a laughing stock.

As I squired through the endless last half-hour of "All the King's Men," I
thought about the waste of talent, not of the director's or of Sean Penn's,
but of James Carville's. The guy was on the payroll. You have to wonder why
he didn't kick the director's butt, light a fire under the editor and dig the
populist parable out from all the layers of arthouse angst and pretension.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(Soundbite of music)
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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