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For Anglophiles, Three New TV Shows To Enjoy.

Three shows, all with ties to Britain, premiere Jan. 9. TV critic David Bianculli says all three -- a period drama on PBS and two comedic adaptations on Showtime -- are clever, well-acted and pleasures to watch.

06:05

Other segments from the episode on January 7, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 7, 2011: Interview with Alan Lomax; Review of television programs "Episodes," "Shameless," and "Downton Abbey"; Interview with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay; Review…

Transcript

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Folklorist Alan Lomax: Everyone Has A Story

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for
Terry Gross.

The name Alan Lomax may or may not be familiar, but if not for his pioneering
work seeking out and recording folk singers and other isolated rural artists,
other names would be less familiar, as well, the names of Woody Guthrie, Muddy
Waters, Leadbelly and other artists whom Lomax was the first to record.

Alan Lomax died in 2002 at age 87. A new biography has just been written by
John Szwed, a professor of music and jazz studies at Columbia University called
"Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World." To note the book's publication
and to salute one of the most important folklorists of the 20th century, today
we're going to do a little audio archiving of our own and listen to an
interview Terry Gross recorded with Lomax in 1990.

Alan and his father, John Lomax, traveled the South together making recordings,
which introduced Americans to musicians in every type of folk music made on
porches, living rooms, plantations, prisons and chain gangs. Their 1959
recording of a chain gang at Mississippi State Penitentiary is featured on the
"O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack.

(Soundbite of song, "Po Lazarus")

JAMES CARTER AND THE PRISONERS: (Singing) Well, the high sheriff, he told his
deputy: Want you go out and bring me Lazarus. Well, the high sheriff told his
deputy: I want you go out and bring me Lazarus. Bring him dead or alive. Lord,
Lord. Bring him dead or alive. Oh, well, the deputy, he told the high
sheriff...

BIANCULLI: When Alan Lomax and his father recorded musicians, they used one of
the first portable recording machines.

Mr. ALAN LOMAX (Folklorist): The first machine that my father and I took out
was a Thomas Edison cylinder machine, and then the Library of Congress kindly
replaced that with a disc machine that embossed the groove on an aluminum disc.

But for a long time, I was a media bug, because I saw that the job of a
folklorist was to make a bridge between people who had no voice and the big
world of communication. And that's what I did for the first, oh, I don't know,
half of my life, was simply run with a recording machine and record, and here,
in the West Indies, in Italy, in Spain, in Great Britain and to encourage other
people to do it and to publish the results, because this was the way that
people could learn that other folks were out there just as interesting as they
were. That's the first big lesson of the recording machine.

GROSS: When you first started recording, you were a teenager, and you were on
the road with your father. What were your responsibilities in those very early
days?

Mr. LOMAX: Well, basically, I ran the machine and lifted it and carried it. The
whole thing weighed about 500 pounds, and I broke it down and put in the back
of our Ford, Model A Ford, often two or three times a day. It kept the fat off
of me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Your father had been fired from his position at the University of Texas
for recording cowboy songs, which were considered very dirty at the time. What
was the reputation of folk music then? Did people not really understand what it
was about, I mean, so much so that your father would be fired for taking it
down?

Mr. LOMAX: The Puritan West Europeans really haven't ever had much use for art
or for recreation or for fun. And so the arts have always been something extra.
And they had to mind their place. They had to conform to the rules of society.

So the big threat, of course, was that the subject of S-E-X would be mentioned.
Remember, America in the 19th century was the most hung-up part of the whole
world, or maybe ever had been, on the question of sex. Women were just
untouchable.

So anyway, my father kicked out of the university for collecting cowboy songs
on the grounds that some of them were dirty. They weren't, not in his book.

And then later on, at the Library of Congress, when I was running the folksong
archive there, the archive was shut down by a rabid, born-again Southerner who
attacked it because we had recorded that cantankerous, rambling ballad-maker
Woody Guthrie.

He just then, by the way, composed recorded "This Land is Your Land," and I'd
recorded it for the Library of Congress. But they were so severe about it that
they cut the whole Library of Congress appropriation out. Later it was put
back, but the archive didn't recover for many years. And I think that's just
the kind of thing that's happened recently.

GROSS: Folklorist Alan Lomax is my guest. Let me get back to the days when you
were on the road, traveling through the South, recording songs. You and your
father were, I think, the first people to actually record in prison camps in
the South. Why did you want to go there to record songs?

Mr. LOMAX: Well, there's always been an anomaly in the black community. All
secular songs - then this follows up my Calvinist hypothesis - were considered
sinful. Anything that wasn't religious was sinful, so that the whole of the
secular, great secular songs art of the blacks, the blues, the hollers, the
work songs, all the casual songs of amusement were forbidden.

You could be church. You could be kicked out of the church for singing them if
you were a black person in a respectable black community. So it was difficult
for us to get at this rich and unknown treasure trove of American music and
lyricism without - in the normal black community. People were scared to sing
them, scared of criticism.

So we decided to go where the devils were - I mean, the people who were beyond
redemption. And we found them in the prisons, and we recorded a whole
literature, which is still virtually unknown, an enormous song bag of beautiful
tunes, new kinds of melodies and all sorts of things we found in the prison
camps of the South.

GROSS: I think the best-known of the recordings that you made of prisoners was
your recordings with Leadbelly, and you continued to record him after he got
out.

Mr. LOMAX: Yeah, we did the first singer biography of him.

GROSS: Let me play one of the recordings you made by Leadbelly, and this is
"Midnight Special." Would you like to say a few words about the circumstances
under which you recorded it or the song itself?

Mr. LOMAX: Well, Leadbelly was - had been in the Texas pen a couple of times,
but we found him in the Louisiana Penitentiary, where prisoners were not
allowed to sing in the fields, but they could have their own entertainers. And
Leadbelly was a camp entertainer. He had his guitar there.

And we went to Camp Number One, and when he heard we were there, he was - he
ran 100 yards from his cell to where we were, arrived without even breathing
hard and sat down and sang - "Irene Goodnight" was the first song he sang us.
And he sang a song to appeal to the governor of Louisiana to let him out of
there, because his woman was mourning for him.

And then he sang, among other things, the great "Midnight Special," which is
actually the song of the - it's the main theme song of the Texas Penitentiary:
Let the midnight special shine his ever-loving light on you.

I think of prisoners who don't know whether they'll live through the next day,
who are working from dawn in the morning to dark at night, if they fall afoul
of a guard, may be beaten to death, hanging on the bars, absolutely stone weary
and watching the headlight of some on-rushing train flash across the walls of
their prison and into their faces. That's the mood of the song.

(Soundbite of song, "Midnight Special")

LEADBELLY (Musician): (Singing) Yonder come Miss Rosie, how in the world do you
know? Well, I know her by her apron, and the dress she wore. Umbrella on her
shoulder, piece of paper in her hand, well, I'm going to ask the governor,
please turn a-loose(ph) my man.

Let the midnight special shine your light on me. Let the midnight special,
shine her ever-loving light on me.

When I gets up in the morning, when that big bell rings, go a-marching to the
table, see the same old thing. Knife and fork are on the table, and nothing in
my pan. Never say anything about it, having trouble with the man.

Let the midnight special, shine her light on me. Let the midnight special,
shine her ever-loving light on me.

GROSS: That's Leadbelly. And that was recorded by you and your father?

Mr. LOMAX: Well, I don't know. I've recorded it so many times with him, I don't
know which recording was which.

GROSS: I see. OK. Right. When Leadbelly was released from prison, he traveled
with your father for a couple of years, and your father put on a lot of
concerts for him. Do you have any memories of what it was like for Leadbelly
going from the South to the North and suddenly, like, performing for
folklorists, for intellectuals, performing at Harvard University? Was there a
period of culture shock and serious adaptation for him?

Mr. LOMAX: Not at all. He was just in triumph. He - in his mind, and it was
true, he was the best in the world. He was the king of the 12-string guitar
players in the world. He had a voice you could hear for a mile - absolutely
beautiful, silvery, tenor voice.

He's never been heard, by the way. It's only on our first recordings. It began
to go as he lived in the city.

GROSS: When you were recording musicians, did you ever take co-composer credit
for one of their songs? I know that was often the case with people.

Mr. LOMAX: No. That came very much later. See, what happened was that we gave
out our songs from the Library of Congress in our books for everybody to use.
And then along came, oh, a lot of new people in the field who simply
copyrighted them completely. Lonnie Donegan, in England, copyrighted all of
Leadbelly's songs.

And in order to protect the material, the only way that the publishing industry
saw that I could do it was for me to co-claim them with some of the singers,
and I did that. And that made it possible for the singers and their families to
get royalties and for money to be - to come into my hands so I could continue
to do research.

BIANCULLI: Alan Lomax, speaking to Terry Gross in 1990. More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 1990 interview with folklorist Alan Lomax,
who died in 2002 at age 87.

GROSS: I want to ask you about I think what's considered to be among the most
important recordings you've ever made, and I'm thinking of the recordings you
made with Jelly Roll Morton, the Library of Congress recordings, which features
both him singing and playing, as well as talking about his life. How did you
get to make those recordings with him?

Mr. LOMAX: Well, as I used a recording machine in the field, I began to
discover that what an artist would say about the song at the end of a
performance was usually psychologically and emotionally very revealing.

And I began to record more and more of these codas to songs. And gradually, the
codas began to stretch out longer and longer, until I was recording whole life
histories.

And I was - I had done a number of these by the time Jelly Roll came to the
Library of Congress, anxious to prove to the world that jazz was not from
Memphis - as Handy said it was in a Billboard interview - but was from New
Orleans.

And Jelly Roll, an extraordinary intellectual he was, had the whole story
worked out when he came to me in my office, which was backstage of the Coolidge
Auditorium in the Library of Congress.

On the stage was a grand piano. Around the hall, there were the busts of Bach
and Beethoven. Jelly Roll sat down at the piano completely at home with his
peers - because he was, after all, our first literate native composer - and
began to tell the story of jazz.

Naturally, I was no great fan of jazz at the time, because jazz was driving
folk music into obscurity, in my view. But this man was so fascinating that I
thought I would try to find out how much, well, folklore there was in him.

And within an hour, he'd said such wonderful things that I raced upstairs, got
permission to work with him for a week and to use any number of discs to take
down his life. That's how it all happened.

GROSS: Let me play a short excerpt of the oral history that you recorded. Jelly
Roll Morton is talking about when he started to play in the Tenderloin District
in New Orleans.

Mr. JELLY ROLL MORTON (Musician): In my younger days, I was brought into the
Tenderloin District by friends - young friends, of course. Even before we were
in long pants, we used to steal long pants from around the fathers and brothers
and uncles, and so forth and so on.

Mr. LOMAX: Did you go down there before you had long pants on?

Mr. MORTON: Why, the policemen would run you right in jail. They'd run you
ragged. Of course, we kids, from time to time, would climb those eight and 10-
boarder - 10-feet-high board fences. We'd really climb them and get away from
these people, but they kept us right out of the district.

They'd take the straps on the end of their clubs and just make switches out of
them, cut our legs into ribbons. I was very frightened, very much frightened.

I happened to invade that section, one of the sections of the district, where
the birth of jazz originated.

Mr. LOMAX: Where was that. How old were you?

Mr. MORTON: At that time, that was the year of 1902. I was about 17 years old.
I happened to go Villere and Bienville, at that time one of the most famous
nightspots after everything was closed. It was only a back room where all the
greatest pianists frequented after they got off from work.

All the pianists got off from work in the sporting houses at around four or
after, unless they had plenty of money involved, and they would go to this
Frenchman's - hat was the name of the place - saloon. And there would be
everything in the line of hilarity there.

They would have even millionaires to come to listen to the different great
pianists, what would no doubt be their favorites maybe among them.

GROSS: Jelly Roll Morton, recorded by my guest, Alan Lomax, back in 1938.

How did you meet Woody Guthrie? I want to play one of the records that you made
with him. How did you first meet him?

Mr. LOMAX: Well, at the time, I was doing a series of radio programs for CBS
called "Back Where I Come From" in the evening, and then we had a morning
series about the wellsprings of music. It was the first time that folk music
was on a coast-to-coast radio network in the country.

And I was looking for people for that show. I was the master of ceremonies at a
benefit congress - at a benefit evening for Loyalist Spain, and Woody was on
the program. And he just got in from California, and this little dusty-headed
man stood up there, and he told stories more than he talked at that time. He
could hold an audience just like Will Rogers, and sang, "So Long, It's Been
Good to Know You" and his other songs. And he went home with me that weekend to
Washington. He spent a week at my house. And we cooked up the program that I
put on CBS with him at the time.

GROSS: Well, let's hear some of "So Long It's Been Good To Know You." And we'll
hear the end of "So Long It's Been Good To Know You," and then a little bit of
Woody Guthrie talking about why he wrote the song.

(Soundbite of song, "So Long It's Been Good To Know You")

Mr. WOODY GUTHRIE (Musician): (Singing) The church houses were jammed and
packed, people was sitting from front to the back. It was so dusty, the
preacher couldn't read his text. So he folded his specs and he took up
collections, said: So long, it's been good to know you. So long, it's been good
to know you. So long, it's been good to know you. This dusty old dust is
rolling me home, gotta be drifting along.

Mr. LOMAX: What did you people do then? What happened to your folks, your
relatives and neighbors and acquaintances and people like you all through that
country, from the panhandle to Nebraska?

Mr. GUTHRIE: Well, Alan, they didn't know what to do. They sat around and
talked there for weeks and weeks, hated to give up what they'd worked there for
for 50 years and been born and raised on and had their kids on, and their kids
had been born and raised and married on and had their kids on this land.

They didn't know just exactly what to do, but they couldn't pay their debts.
They owed the bankers 3,500, $4,000 on a combine harvester, $1,100 on a
tractor. They owed them a year's fuel bill. That's always amounted to several
hundred dollars. They owed a grocery bill for about a year. They owed all kinds
of bills, seed bills and everything else.

When they couldn't pay them, well, naturally, they come down with the mortgage
and took their land. These people didn't have but one thing to do, and that was
just to get out in the middle of the road. Incidentally, the 66 Highway runs
just about a mile...

GROSS: Woody Guthrie is featured on the Library of Congress recordings made by
my guest, folklorist Alan Lomax.

How do you think your role as folklorist has changed over the years? Or perhaps
I should ask: How do you think the role of the folklorist has changed?

Mr. LOMAX: Well, so far as I'm concerned, I'm still doing the thing that I was
inspired to do in my early recording sessions, when people would look at the
microphone and say: Mr. President, I want you to come down here and help us
people, where we are in our hard times in this place.

They looked at my father and myself as a channel to tell their troubles and to
let their lives be known. That's what I've essentially tried to do all my life.

BIANCULLI: Alan Lomax, speaking with Terry Gross in 1990. John Szwed's new
biography, "Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World," has just been
published.

I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR. This is Fred McDowell, recorded by
Alan Lomax.
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For Anglophiles, Three New TV Shows To Enjoy

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli.

It's a busy weekend for television, with three new series premiering Sunday on
cable and public TV - "Episodes" and "Shameless" on the Showtime cable network,
and "Downtown Abbey" on PBS.

A few things about these new shows should be noted at the start - they're all
very well-acted, cleverly written, fun to watch and a little unusual. Not one
of them comes from commercial broadcast TV, which continues to play things safe
and boring this season. And, by coincidence, all of them have something to do
with the United Kingdom.

"Downtown Abbey," the latest miniseries import from what used to be known as
"Masterpiece Theatre," is a great new period drama made the way the British
used to make them, back in the days of "Brideshead Revisited." "Shameless," a
new comedy starring William H. Macy, isn't a British show, but it's an American
remake of one. And "Episodes," a new comedy starring Matt LeBlanc, is about a
British sitcom that's being adapted for America, like "The Office" was - and
with the former star of "Friends," playing himself, offered the leading role.

Let's start with "Downtown Abbey," the best imported miniseries since "Bleak
House." It's written by Julian Fellowes, who wrote the movie "Gosford Park,"
and it's a kind of modern take on "Upstairs, Downstairs." It's got the same
division between the downstairs people - the servants - and the upstairs
people, their wealthy employers. Except in "Downtown Abbey," which takes place
in the early 20th century, money is so scarce the residents of the Abbey may
soon lose title to their own estate. And while the servants downstairs iron the
morning newspaper so the ink won't run on the hands of the Earl of Grantham,
the headlines themselves deliver some unsettling news about other people of
privilege - aboard the "Titanic." Jim Carter plays the head butler, Mr. Carson,
and Hugh Bonneville plays the Earl, who turns out to be surprisingly - and
endearingly - sensitive.

(Soundbite of PBS, "Downtown Abbey")

Mr. HUGH BONNEVILLE (Actor): (as Earl Grantham) Good morning, Carson.

Mr. JIM CARTER (Actor): (as Mr. Carson) Good morning, my Lord.

Mr. BONNEVILLE: (as Earl Grantham) Is it true what they're saying?

Mr. CARTER: (as Earl Grantham) I believe so, my lord.

Mr. BONNEVILLE: (as Earl Grantham) I'm afraid we'll know some people on it. I
don't suppose there are any survivors yet.

Mr. CARTER: (as Earl Grantham) I understand most of the ladies were taking off
in time.

Mr. BONNEVILLE: (as Earl Grantham) You mean the ladies in first class? God help
the poor devils below decks.

BIANCULLI: This miniseries pays equal attention down below and up above, with
characters that are full of surprises and quirks, and storylines that offer the
same. It's not unreasonable to expect a period drama like "Downtown Abbey" to
offer scenes of illicit romance and unexpected death - but at the same time?
All that, and there's a fox hunt, too.

"Shameless," based on a British series that has run for eight seasons now,
stars William H. Macy as an irresponsible drunk with a bunch of kids who cope,
mostly, not because of him but in spite of him. This American remake, like the
original, is written by Paul Abbott, and if you've watched a lot of British
imports, you know his work: The detective series "Cracker," the original
miniseries version of "State of Play."

"Shameless" is a comedy, but a really, really dark one - one that almost dares
you to like its central character. The series is daring in other ways, too. For
one thing, Macy, the star of the show, barely appears in Sunday's premiere
episode, which focuses instead on his eldest daughter, played by Emmy Rossum,
and the other kids. But they're strong enough to carry on without him - which,
in this show, is the entire point.

There's a similar trick pulled in the opening program of "Episodes," which
stars Matt LeBlanc as an exaggerated version of Matt LeBlanc. He shows up in
the opening scene, but only to launch a flashback - which takes up the entire
seven episodes of the show's first, limited season. He doesn't even reappear
until episode two - but as with William H. Macy in "Shameless," the show works
just fine until he shows up.

The real focus of "Episodes" is on Sean and Beverly, writers of a fictional,
award-winning British TV comedy - one that an American TV executive persuades
them to come to America to remake because it's his favorite show. Only after
they sign up and show up do they realize he's never even seen it.

And in episode two of "Episodes," when they take a courtesy lunch meeting with
Matt LeBlanc, it's only because they're told he saw and loved their series
while making a movie in England. It doesn't take them long to learn that's not
quite true, either. Stephen Mangan plays Sean, Tamsin Grieg is Sean's wife and
writing partner Beverly, and Matt LeBlanc, approaching the restaurant table
while talking on his cell phone, is himself, sort of.

(Soundbite of Showtime's "Episodes")

Mr. MATT LE BLANC (Actor): (as himself) They're asking if we have the
financing?

Unidentified Actor: We think that it's...

Mr. LE BLANC: (as himself) Screw that. Tell him that we're looking at another
location and if were not closed by the end of today the whole thing is off the
table. Bye. Sorry. Trying to buy a restaurant.

Ms. TAMSIN GRIEG (Actor): (as Beverly) Hi, I'm Beverly. This is Sean.

Mr. STEPHEN MANGAN (Actor): (as Sean) Hey.

Mr. LE BLANC: (as himself) So. I'm here, why?

Mr. MANGAN: (as Sean) Yeah, well, to talk about our show.

Mr. LE BLANC: (as himself) What show?

Ms. GRIEG: (as Beverly) Brilliant.

Mr. MANGAN: (as Sean) Did, did you recently shoot a movie in England?

Mr. LE BLANC: (as himself) No.

Mr. MANGAN: (as Sean) So, you're not a huge fan...

Mr. LE BLANC: (as himself) Of England?

Mr. MANGAN: (as Sean) No. No, of us?

Mr. LE BLANC: (as himself) Of you? No.

Mr. MANGAN: (as Sean) Oh, well, if this isn't a total awkward.

Mr. LE BLANC: (as himself) Let me ask you something. Would you go to a
restaurant where you roll your own sushi?

Ms. GRIEG: (as Beverly) Absolutely not.

Mr. LE BLANC: (as himself) See, that's what I'm afraid of.

(Soundbite of cell phone buzzing)

Mr. LE BLANC: (as himself) Oh, one second.

BIANCULLI: "Episodes" is unexpectedly good, sharp and funny - and knows the
territory, because co-creator David Crane was one of the creators of "Friends."
And he doesn't just focus on Matt LeBlanc, either. Tamsin Grieg, especially a
joy.

In fact, all three of these shows - "Episodes," "Shameless" and "Downtown
Abbey" - are pleasures to watch. And not one of them, it's worth reiterating,
comes from the standard Hollywood system.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Coming up, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, the star and director
respectively, of the cop comedy "The Other Guys" which is now out on DVD.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)
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Will Ferrell, Adam McKay Champion 'The Other Guys'

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Our next guests are Will Ferrell, star of the cop comedy "The Other Guys," and
Adam McKay, who directed and co-wrote the film. It's just come out on DVD. The
movie is the latest in a long string of collaborations between the two, who
first teamed up when Ferrell was a cast member of "Saturday Night Live" and
McKay was a writer.

"The Other Guys" is a satire of buddy cop movies and action films, about the
cops were not the action heroes of the police force. Will Ferrell and Mark
Wahlberg played cops assigned to desk duty. Ferrell's character is happy where
he is. Wahlberg's character is not.

Early in the film, too daring members of the police force, played by Samuel
Jackson and Dwayne Johnson - The Rock - returned triumphantly to police
headquarters, after catching some bad guys. They're welcome to with a round of
applause.

(Soundbite of film, "The Other Guys")

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. SAMUEL JACKSON (Actor): (as P.K. Highsmith) We know, we know, we know. All
right, all right, all right, listen up, listen up. We're having a celebration
tonight at Butter(ph). Brody Jenner's going to be there, and most of you are on
the list.

Unidentified Actor: You're the best.

(Soundbite of applause) (Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. DWAYNE JOHNSON (Actor): (as Christopher Danson) Let me say something right
now. We couldn't do our job if it weren't for you guys doing all the paperwork,
answering the phones...

Mr. JACKSON: (as Highsmith) All the gunfights, all the car chases, all the sex
we don't want to have with women but we have to, all due to what you guys do.
Thank you.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Allen Gamble) And we'd do it again and again.

Mr. JACKSON: (as Highsmith) Hey, hey, hey, you shut your face. If we want to
hear you talk, I will work your mouth like a puppet, you hear me? Cash bar.

(Soundbite of applause) (Soundbite of cheering)

BIANCULLI: Terry Gross spoke with Will Farrell and Adam McKay last year and
started by discussing another scene from the film.

TERRY GROSS: Now I love the opening scene. It's a great satire of the
obligatory opening car-chase scene in cop movies. Now, there's the bullet
flying in slow motion before it hits its target, the cars crashing, cars flying
through the air, cars crashing through glass windows. One of the cops jumps
onto the hood of a moving car. Innocent bystanders are watching in horror. And
it's all so quickly edited that you can't follow what's going on or who's doing
what to who.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So what are some of the elements that you really wanted to parody in the
opening?

Mr. McKAY: Well, that was the idea, was the gross excess of the whole sort of
modern-day heroes as they're kind of perceived through movies and TV, just how
sort of ridiculously over the top they are.

And, you know, the real truth is cops had to stop doing high-speed chases
because they were doing too much property damage. So it was an agreement with
most police that they go, OK, let's back off and eventually, we'll catch the
guy.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: And so the end of our giant chase, of course, you find out that it
was all over a quarter pound of marijuana and that they destroyed 40 vehicles
and blew up a building.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah, we actually went on a couple ride-alongs with NYPD
detectives. And I kept asking the guy I was with, like, do you have any crazy
chase stories? And they basically said, no, we kind of lay back and know that
they'll probably come back again. So don't try to be a hero. If you want to be
a hero, join the fire department.

So it's funny to kind of make fun of the, like Adam said, the gross excess.

GROSS: One of the other things you make fun of, too, is how in cop movies, the
cops are always making - well, not always, but in a certain kind of cop movie,
the cops are always making witty retorts just as their lives are most at risk.
So can you talk about trying to write the best retorts?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McKAY: We actually wrote some that, it might have been a little too inside
for the audience, but at one point, Samuel Jackson and Dwayne Johnson crash
through a bus in their car, and there's just sort of a beat where they're in
the bus, and obviously, he's supposed to say a funny line.

At one point, we had him say a line like, man, I feel a lot of pressure to say
something clever right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McKAY: And that really made us laugh, but I think it was - like, it's
funny. You make fun of it, but you also want it to be a little funny for the
audience, and that one got dead silence. But, yeah...

GROSS: Is that why you cut it out, because it didn't test?

Mr. McKAY: Yeah, you know, if something's on the fence, we'll certainly put it
in, even if it doesn't play, but when it completely dies and sort of stops the
energy of the movie, we will actually heed the advice of the audience in those
cases.

Will Ferrell, would you describe your look as the cop who likes to do the
paperwork and the forensic accounting?

Mr. FERRELL: I hate to sound so simplistic in that I knew that my character
would wear glasses, but that was kind of a key element, and once I found kind
of the right glasses for this guy, it kind of set the character off.

But he's a guy who's very kind of well-put-together, but all of his suits are
probably bought at the next step below like a Men's Warehouse, not quite a
Men's Warehouse.

Mr. McKAY: Marshalls? Yeah.

Mr. FERRELL: Maybe a Marshalls. And so he's very sensible, very prudent with
his finances, and yeah, so we try to embody that character in the look.

Mr. McKAY: We said a little bit, it was like Keith Olbermann with a gun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McKAY: Sort of the vibe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You mentioned the eyeglasses, and they're kind of like the '80s version
of aviator glasses.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah, they're not - they're just a little off.

GROSS: Those wire-rimmed aviator glasses. Yeah.

Mr. FERRELL: As soon as I found them, we forwarded pictures to Adam, and Adam
was like, that's it. That's the look.

GROSS: How did you look for them?

Mr. FERRELL: Just with the propmaster, and just kind of looked through a sea of
glasses, and...

GROSS: The propmaster brings it in. You don't go to, like, LensCrafters and
say, give me something very '80s.

Mr. FERRELL: Right. No, I didn't do that. But I did go to a - I wanted to give
myself a standard-issue haircut, and I did go to a Supercuts in the San
Fernando Valley and just walked in and got a standard haircut, and I then
forwarded the pictures to Adam. And you kind of were shocked. You...

Mr. McKAY: It was a thing where we heard Will was going to do it...

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: And in theory, it sounded like such a great idea, but you know, you
have to remember, when you're about to go into a movie, that look is what you
carry for the whole movie. So...

Mr. FERRELL: I think your quote was: We still want you to look good on camera.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERRELL: But the haircut was - was perfectly bad, in a way...

Mr. McKAY: Oh, yeah.

Mr. FERRELL: ...and we kind of had to reshape it.

GROSS: Did the haircutter not know who you were?

Mr. FERRELL: She cut my hair for 15 minutes, and then halfway - she didn't say
a word, and then finally, towards the end of the haircut, she's like, you're
one of the "Step Brothers," aren't you? And I said yes. And then that's all we
mentioned it. We didn't talk any more. So that was, it was kind of funny.

GROSS: Now, "The Other Guys" may be a comedy, but the explosions in it have to
look real. They have to look as real as a real cop film would. And so what are
some of the things you each had to learn in order to pull off the explosions
and the stunts?

You know, like, you know, there's like, a wrecking ball that smashes into a car
and then into a building, and there's cars crashing into each other. There's
explosions...

Mr. McKAY: We were actually pretty thrifty with this movie because, you know,
we had to shoot in New York. It was a pretty big movie. So all told, we only
crashed, like, destroyed, like, four cars.

Mr. FERRELL: Right.

Mr. McKAY: And we were doubling a lot of cars. And that's kind of what we
learned is that even though these movies look big and excessive, our second
unit guys were very thrifty with it. And when we would shoot our stuff, we
really had to plan when we were going to break something because didn't have
doubles on it.

It wasn't like a $200 million movie, where you just do whatever you want. So
that was a little surprising to us. And then the rest of it is just a lot of
planning, like a lot of storyboarding. You go over it and over it, and you do
safety checks.

And, I mean, some of this stuff's pretty scary, what they do. I mean, we have a
car that shoots into a building that explodes at one point and jumps another
car. And sort of halfway through, you're like, oh my god, like, if anyone got
hurt because of this - it's just a comedy. You know, so I think that's about as
far as we would ever go with those kinds of stunts.

GROSS: So you said, Adam McKay, that you had to double cars because you didn't
have a big budget. What does that mean?

Mr. McKAY: It means you crash into one, and you wreck the right side of it, and
then in another scene, you turn it around so you only see the left side, and
you wreck that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McKAY: It's real tricky stuff like that. But, yeah, they do it. They re-use
it. Or if there's not a whole lot of damage to it, sometimes they'll fix it in
their own shop, our second unit, and - I mean, these guys are super crafty.
They know what they're doing. So we got a lot of use out of a lot of things.

Mr. FERRELL: But to speak to what you were initially bringing up, Terry, the -
I think it is so funny because the action does look so real, and we never wink
at any of that.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah, there's actually a couple scenes that are pretty cool, like
the slow-motion shootout in the office and in the Gehry Building. And, I mean,
that was kind of our goal. Like, if you're going to do - it's the same thing we
do with "Talladega." If you're going to have race scenes, let's at least make
them cool.

So we did our best. We did our darnedest with them, and I think a few times, we
get off some pretty cool moments.

GROSS: So even though it's a comedy, you know...

Mr. McKAY: Why didn't you agree with my statement that we...

GROSS: Oh, no, I agree.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I was going to start describing it, but I figured how much of the movie
should I be giving away.

Mr. McKAY: We're very insecure.

GROSS: No, I love the part where Mark Wahlberg is kind of - he seems to be on
some kind of, like, roller cart or something because he's kind of shooting and
rolling backwards at the same time.

Mr. McKAY: That's all we needed.

GROSS: He's officially on some paper, but yeah, yeah, I won't give it away.

Mr. McKAY: That's all we needed, Terry, just affirmation like that.

GROSS: Yeah. Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McKAY: We work hard. We're very vulnerable.

GROSS: So again, you know, these - it's a comedy, but the stunts had to look
real, and you used the same kind of stuff that the real action movies do. So,
Adam McKay, that meant you had the real responsibility of making sure no one
got hurt. Not the kind of thing you'd have to worry about as much in something
like "Anchorman."

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But - so was that a lot to carry around?

Mr. McKAY: Well, you know, all you can really do as director is sort of set a
tone. And the tone I tried to set was I just constantly said safety first.
Don't do anything that's risky. I constantly checked with, you know, Conrad,
our second unit director, and Brad Martin, our stunt coordinator, and is there
anything that's edgy? Please don't do it. Don't do it. It's not worth it.

And I just kept saying that over and over again. Fortunately, you know, Conrad
and Brad are, like, consummate pros. So they were super safety-conscious. And,
you know, we had, you know, there's always a couple close calls, but you know,
knock on wood, thank God, no one was seriously injured, and you get through it.

But it's crazy. It's a part of filmmaking people don't often think about that
people do get hurt doing these insane stunts, and so that's the only thing you
can do. There's some, you know, some people shoot a little looser from the hip
and say, just get it done. And I just tried not to do that and over and over
again said be safe. And our producers said the same thing.

Will, on the other hand, had a whole different attitude about it.

Mr. FERRELL: I would then behind Adam's back tell everyone don't listen to him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FERRELL: We got to get this shot, and you're fired if you don't. So between
the two approaches, I think it came out pretty good.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah. I wasn't happy with what he was doing, and it undermined a lot
of my credibility as a director, but the movie did work out and no one was
injured. And what are you going to do? You know, Will wants the movie to be
good.

GROSS: Now, there's also, like, a financial crisis, financial scam, reform
theme through the movie because the main villains are involved with financial
misdeeds. And, you know, there's references to the Federal Reserve. There's a
few, like, Federal Reserve and SEC jokes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Like, what's it like to write jokes like that and not worry that people
won't get it?

Mr. McKAY: Well, you know, there's nothing the people love more than a Federal
Reserve joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now, don't I know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McKAY: Yeah, I mean, you can tour the Midwest for years based on prime
rates and actuarial jokes, and yeah. No, we thought that was kind of a cool
thing with - the reason you could do a cop buddy movie was because crime has
changed so much.

You have a guy like Bernie Madoff literally steal $80 billion. You have, you
know, AIG steal hundreds of billions, Goldman Sachs. Crime has changed so much,
and to really do a movie with, like, drug dealers or drug smugglers is kind of
almost quaint at this point.

So we wanted to have that sort of laced throughout it and yet, you know, not be
too didactic or boring about it. And it fit in pretty nicely. It doesn't tend
to stop the rhythm. And I think people can feel the stakes of it, too. They
know that it relates to all of us. It actually is high crime. So you, you know,
it's a comedy, but you somewhat care what they're doing.

GROSS: So do you have another project that you're going to be working on
together now that "The Other Guys" is finished?

Mr. McKAY: We actually want to do the FRESH AIR movie.

GROSS: Oh, of course. Of course you should.

Mr. FERRELL: We just need you to sign a release, Terry.

Mr. McKAY: You've been very difficult through all the legal proceedings.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, I'm happy to play myself. It's an adventure film, right?
It's an adventure film where I sit in a chair reading all day. But it's
exciting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McKAY: It's going to be for IMAX. It's going to be 3-D.

Mr. FERRELL: It's a 500-day shoot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, congratulations on the new one. Thanks so much for coming back to
FRESH AIR.

Mr. McKAY: Thank you so much Terry, it's a pleasure.

Mr. FERRELL: Thanks, Terry, thanks for having us.

BIANCULLI: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay speaking to Terry Gross last year. Their
comedy film "The Other Guys" is now out on DVD.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews a new film that's not a comedy, "Blue
Valentine." This is FRESH AIR.
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'Blue Valentine': A Romance Raw And Unhinged

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The breakdown of a marriage is the subject of the new drama "Blue Valentine."
It stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a young couple at the end of
their marriage. Through flashbacks, the movie also shows them in earlier, more
romantic times.

Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Gone are the days when filmmakers kept a respectful distance
from their characters. In "Blue Valentine," writer and director Derek
Cianfrance is obsessive in how he uses the hand-held camera to get in his
actors' faces. Yet there's something in those faces to see - something
momentous, angry, desperate, unmanageable. The film is a rough ride with the
shock absorbers removed.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a married couple, Dean and Cindy, with
a little daughter named Frankie. Dean paints houses and Cindy is a nurse. The
movie's opening is as ominous as any horror film. The family dog is missing.
Cindy is strangely cold toward Dean and fed up. Something bad is clearly
coming.

"Blue Valentine" has a time-warp gimmick. Cianfrance cuts back and forth
between what might be the end of this marriage and its bumpy but charming
beginning. Now, beginnings and endings are relatively simple to diagram; the
true drama is in the unresolved middle zone, when a couple's attraction and
repulsion seesaws. Here there's no seesaw - just the see and then the saw. But
when we look at the beginning of Cindy and Dean's relationship from the vantage
of hindsight, we see things we wouldn't otherwise. The very things that are
right about them back then are years later wrong.

It turns out Dean saved Cindy, in a sense. She was stuck in an awful
relationship with a local jock and dominated by an abusive father. And Dean was
funny and smitten and, more important, eager to take care of her. In one of the
film's high points, they duck into the doorway of a closed store, and Dean
induces Cindy, with much prodding, to tap dance while he plays guitar and
warbles like Tiny Tim; her surrender is infectious and enchanting.

It's only from the perspective of the future that we detect a compulsive, even
scary quality in Dean's jokiness. Cianfrance cuts to years later, when Dean
hopes to rekindle the marriage and books the couple into a gimmicky theme
motel, where they're ensconced in the blue-lit quote "Future Room" that seems
suitable only for android mating. Too much cheap vodka adds to the non-fun.
Finally, Cindy comes out with what's been eating her up: that Dean is going
nowhere.

(Soundbite of film, "Blue Valentine")

Mr. RYAN GOSLING (Actor): (as Dean) Listen, I didn't want to be somebody's
husband, OK? And I didn't want to be somebody's dad. That wasn't my goal in
life. Some guys it is, it wasn't mine. But somehow I've - it was what I wanted.
I didn't know that and it's all I want to do. I don't want to do anything else.
That's what I want to do. I work so I can do that.

Ms. MICHELLE WILLIAMS (Actor): (as Cindy) I'd like to see you have a job where
you don't have to start drinking at 8 o'clock in the morning to go to it.

Mr. GOSLING: (as Dean) No, I have a job that I can drink at 8 o'clock in the
morning. What a luxury, you know? I get off of work. I have a beer. I go to
work. I paint somebody's house. They're excited about it. I come home. I get to
be with you. What's - like, this is the dream.

EDELSTEIN: That's not too promising, and Gosling's Dean becomes increasingly
unhinged. He jabbers at her instead of engaging. As she withdraws, he seems on
the verge of snapping. Gradually, Dean loses stature, while Cindy, a killjoy in
the early scenes, becomes the movie's true protagonist.

I frankly found it hard to watch Michelle Williams without thinking about her
breakup with Heath Ledger, the father of her child, and the impact of his
subsequent death. That's not a problem, though - if anything, it makes her seem
more vulnerable. She has always been a raw, see-through actress, and under the
camera's tight scrutiny, her emotions seem more seismic than ever - even when
her face is still. We sense the strain that comes with Cindy's self-protection.
She holds it in and holds it in until she can't anymore.

Some critics have found "Blue Valentine" monotonous, the same note hit again
and again. I don't entirely disagree, although I think that its oppressive
monotony evokes the dissolution of a marriage shockingly well.

There's another major figure on whom to focus: the little girl, Frankie. Faith
Wladyka is an unusually convincing child actress, and her playful rapport with
Gosling's Dean makes you like him despite his demons. The child is the movie's
truest casualty, and the one whose future relationships will doubtless be
colored by what happens to her parents' marriage. In "Blue Valentine," the bad
vibes just keep rippling.

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

You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair. And you
can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

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