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Artist Mills Adds 'Thumbsucker' to Resume

Graphic designer and music video director Mike Mills is making his feature film debut with Thumbsucker. The film, based on a novel by Walter Kirn, stars Vincent D'Onofrio and Tilda Swinton.

18:21

Other segments from the episode on February 10, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 10, 2006: Interview with Michael Hurwitz; Interview with Mike Mills; Commentary on 1960's band Joy of Cooking.

Transcript

DATE February 10, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Mitchell Hurwitz discusses Fox comedy, "Arrested
Development," which is airing its final four episodes
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

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

My guest is Mitchell Hurwitz, creator of the brilliant but low-rated Fox
sitcom "Arrested Development." Tonight, opposite NBC's opening night coverage
of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, the Fox network is showing its final four
episodes of "Arrested Development." But it's less a show of faith than a
sacrificial lamb.

Yet the Fox sitcom isn't dead yet. It won't be returning on Fox and
preliminary talks to have ABC pick it up didn't go anywhere. But Showtime,
the cable network that has increased its profile lately with "Weeds" and
"Huff" and "Sleeper Cell" definitely is interested. The plan is to produce
about three dozen more episodes for Showtime with the entire original cast.
That would result in 100 episodes and make the show a more attractive and
lucrative offering in syndication. This move from network to cable TV would
be extremely rare but not unprecedented. The CBS version of the legal drama
"Paper Chase" went to Showtime as well as PBS back in the 1980s. And what's
exciting about the prospect of a cable version of "Arrested Development" is
that it could be even more outrageous, which is hard to imagine. The only
thing holding up the Showtime deal, according to my sources, is Hurwitz
himself, who isn't sure he wants to keep doing more "Arrested Development"
after three seasons. Tonight's four episodes, he thinks, wrap things up
nicely and he's exhausted. But the show is so good and has so much life left
in it, I hope he decides to keep going.

Tonight's final four episodes on Fox are full of witty masterstrokes, like the
casting of star Jason Bateman's real-life sister, Justine Bateman, from
"Family Ties" as a guest star. Jason stars as Michael Bluth, the only
seemingly normal member of a very bizarre family. And Justine plays Nelly
Bluth, who's possibly his long-lost sister and definitely a high-priced call
girl. In this scene, Michael learns the truth about Nelly from his eccentric
father, played by Jeffrey Tambor. And Michael confronted his father:

(Soundbite of "Arrested Development")

Mr. JASON BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) I know who N. Bluth. It is Nelly and
I found her.

Mr. JEFFREY TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) That's your sissy cousin Larry.
Even then, we knew that's why we called him Nelly. Do you not know that
expression, Michael? I thought we were on the same page here?

Mr. BATEMAN: That's a nice try, pop, but in your old computer, I found a
Nelly. You're trying to tell me that that is not my sister?

Mr. TAMBOR: Yes. It's perfectly innocent. She's my prostitute. I'm a
red-blooded man, I have certain needs that your mom can't satisfy.

Mr. RON HOWARD: But sex wasn't one of them.

Mr. TAMBOR: I just want my brother to envy my money but he's got that hair.
Why can't I have hair and money and him nothing?

Mr. BATEMAN: She's not my sister. I let her into the company.

Mr. TAMBOR: You didn't her access to the cash, did you?

Mr. BATEMAN: She said she liked me.

Mr. TAMBOR: She's a prostitute! That's her job. Oh, no. the N. Bluth
account!

Mr. BATEMAN: What? The N. Bluth account? That is your account?

Mr. TAMBOR: Maybe. And it's only embezzlement if you spend it outside the
company.

It's gone, it's empty. She got to it!

Mr. BATEMAN: Well, there goes the company.

Mr. TAMBOR: OK, now hold on now. Let's not--oh, let's not panic because I
know someone who can find her. His name is Frank.

Mr. BATEMAN: Let's face it. You're going to prison.

Mr. TAMBOR: You haven't heard from Moscow lately have you?

Mr. BATEMAN: No.

Mr. TAMBOR: OK.

Mr. HOWARD: And the next day, Michael returned to the office to tell the
employees that Black Friday had indeed arrived.

Mr. BATEMAN: Hey, Ted, what's going on?

TED: Yeah. Nelly got us all our checks and these great new computers and if
you think...

Mr. BATEMAN: Excuse me. Nelly, you did this?

Ms. JUSTINE BATEMAN: (As Nelly Bluth) I took it out of the N. Bluth account
and if you spent it within the company, it gives the prosecutors nothing.
Also, it was the only way to get myself the 10 grand that you owed me.

Mr. BATEMAN: Ten grand? What did you do with these guys, exactly?

Ms. BATEMAN: They mostly just cried. You've got a real morale problem here.

Mr. BATEMAN: You cried? Listen. I thought that you were going to...

Ms. BATEMAN: Steal it?

Mr. BATEMAN: Yes.

Ms. BATEMAN: But I might be your sister, remember?

Mr. BATEMAN: Well, the fact that you didn't steal it might actually be proof
that you're not. Even if we're not related, I think I would like for you to
work here. You're very, very good at it and what you do for a job is not
really a great way to make a living, you know?

Ms. BATEMAN: I make 300 grand a year.

Mr. BATEMAN: Marry me. That's weird on so many levels.

BIANCULLI: "Arrested Development" is weird on so many levels, too. But
they're all great. It's won Emmys for Outstanding Comedy and for Comedy
Writing. And Jason Bateman's co-stars as members of his fairly twisted
family, include Tambor and Jessica Walter as the parents, and as his equally
oddball siblings and in-laws, such quirky and delightful actors as David Cross,
Tony Hale, Will Arnett and Portia de Rossi. I spoke to Mitchell Hurwitz in
November and asked him about the show's fast-paced, multi-layered brand of
humor.

BIANCULLI: The show is almost always described as `smart,' but it's also
dense.

Mr. HURWITZ: Yes, it's dense.

BIANCULLI: But...

Mr. HURWITZ: It's dense. Well, listen, you know, I mean, it's funny, one of
the things that has been--one of the joys of doing this show is filling out
the details. It has been just a hallmark of the show for some reason. I
think it's because myself and the other writers all come from situation
comedy. And in situation comedy, you know, you're working in front of an
audience, you're getting laughs, but you're only really able to get three
laughs per page, and we've all done that for a while. And this has really
been an opportunity to just pack in as much comedy as we can 'cause we don't
have to hold for laughs. But, you know, the hope is that we can tell stories
about characters that aren't stock characters by showing, you know, the
inconsistencies within the character, whereas in situation comedy oftentimes
you can only tell one story. A character just becomes a dumb character or a
greedy character or a selfish character. And, hopefully, these characters are
more nuanced, although just as absurd.

BIANCULLI: If I understand this right, Ron Howard not only narrates it and is
an executive producer, but it was his idea to film using handheld digital
video cameras?

Mr. HURWITZ: That's right.

BIANCULLI: Is that true?

Mr. HURWITZ: It is. You know, he definitely was the visionary behind this
whole thing. He wanted to do--you know, he had done, both as a producer and
as an actor, both single-camera television shows, which are shows that are
shot like a movie, and multicamera shows, which are shows that are, well, shot
like a bad movie, I guess you would say. They're shot like a sitcom with
several cameras shooting the action all at once in a three-walled set. And
his feeling was that, you know, the comedy was sharper on the multicamera
shows, the sitcoms, because there was time to vet the comedy, there were
run-throughs and you got a number of takes at it. And in film, you know,
there's so much time spent lighting and putting together the technical package
that when you finally get a chance to do the takes, you really only have time
to do two or three takes. And, you know, he kind of was aware of this new
technology, this 24p, which is 24, I guess, per-second, 24 frames per second,
videotape, which looks very much like film, doesn't require extensive lighting
and, you know, uses kind of the vocabulary of shows like "Cops" or "Blind
Date" or some of the...

BIANCULLI: There's something to shoot for.

Mr. HURWITZ: ...reality shows. Yeah, exactly.

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Mr. HURWITZ: But, you know, the savings was going to be in rehearsal and in
run-through, and, in effect, that is basically what we have today. You know,
we don't have a formalized rehearsal period, but if we get on a set at 8:00,
we're up and lit and ready to shoot at 8:10, and, you know, you can run the
scene 14 or 15 times. And that's really where the comedy comes from, and
particularly in a family piece, you know, that's where people really start to
interact and overlap and learn each other's rhythms.

BIANCULLI: There are plenty of inside jokes in the show.

Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: And I'm wondering...

Mr. HURWITZ: It's very self-referential in a way.

BIANCULLI: Well, there are some that--for example, one of the easiest ones is
you always end the show with `Next on "Arrested Development"'...

Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: ...and have cast members act out things that never happen.

Mr. HURWITZ: That don't happen, yeah.

BIANCULLI: I don't know that that's ever happened before in television. How
did that idea come about?

Mr. HURWITZ: No, maybe that's not working for us. I--you know, the--you
know where that came from? The question they ask when they test these
pilots--you know, there's an enormous amount of testing they do on pilots
before they decide which ones to put on their schedule. And one of the main
questions is: `Would you like to see this again next week?' So I just thought
it would be funny to kind of trick them and say, `Here's what's going to
happen next week,' right before they're asked that question. And, you know,
it worked to a certain extent. And then we found, you know, this is a great
way to wrap up stories and get a couple of extra jokes in, and, you know, you
get to end on a big laugh, whereas if you didn't have it, maybe you'd have to
end on, like, a clever piece of dialogue. And it has become just a really fun
part of the show but also a really onerous part of the show because we'll get
done writing the scripts and then say, `Oh, now we've got to write the next
on, which is never going to happen.

Look, the tough thing about this show is that it does reward those who pay
attention, and my feeling has always been that there is a market for that kind
of thing. I know I'm that kind of TV viewer. I love studying "The Sopranos,"
and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Office," you know, both the British and
the American one. And so--although that--"The Office" is a very different
tempo, obviously, than this show. So, you know, in a funny way we often feel
that we're really making a show for the new technology here. We're making a
show for TiVo and we're making a show for DVD and it really becomes, you know,
part of our objective in making this thing. So it becomes this new challenge,
whereas when I started writing television, much of it was disposable. There
is kind of the feeling that this might stick around for a while. So we're
encouraged to put as much in as we can while they're giving us the keys to the
building, you know.

BIANCULLI: Mitchell Hurwitz, in an interview from November. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to our interview with Mitchell Hurwitz, recorded in
November.

Mitchell Hurwitz, your TV credits are pretty limited but they start with a
hit. I mean, "Golden Girls," I think, is the first thing that you're credited
as doing.

Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah, that was amazing fortune, really.

BIANCULLI: So how did you get that job and what did you learn there?

Mr. HURWITZ: You know, I got that job the way I advise many people who want
to break into this business to get a job. And I started working at the
production company as a runner, which is like a gofer really, and picked up
the coffee and delivered the scripts for Paul Witt and Tony Thomas, who ran
Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions and they produced "The Golden Girls." And I
spent about a year and a half with them and worked with them personally and
kind of became a type of assistant for them. And, you know, was writing in
the meantime and had been writing since high school and before, obviously.
But I really learned the business that way and used that connection to get my
scripts read.

There are many ways to do it. Many people come out and just write what are
called spec scripts or speculative scripts for episodes--for shows that
already exist and, you know, hope to find an agent and use contacts and that
kind of thing. This happened to be the way I did it by getting to know the
people involved. And...

BIANCULLI: But how do you go from here's your coffee to here's my script when
you're handing them things?

Mr. HURWITZ: Well, you know, those are tough years. Those are really--for
me, anyway, they were very anxious years. And I really--I just kept writing
and more than anything kept learning and getting better. And, you know, by
developing relationships with these people--and it works this way for me now
with the people that work on my show. I'm more inclined to read a script of
someone who's been working on the show and has been giving themselves to it
than I would just to pick a script off a pile or read an agent's submission.
So, you know, at least for my way of thinking, that has been a more effective
way to get into the business. And, you know, I'd turn in these scripts and
ask people to read them. And at a certain point in my develop they
were--development they were impressed enough to let me write an outside script
and then from there get into a staff writing position, which is what happened
on "The Golden Girls." And then, you know, you sort of rise through the ranks.
I had developed a very strong relationship with Paul Witt and Tony Thomas and
they were, you know, unbelievably generous with me and put me in what they
call a show running position early on, in fact, right after "The Golden
Girls"--"The Golden Girls" spin-off, "Golden Palace" which is often confused
with a Chinese take-out place. And that was maybe the funniest thing about
the show.

BIANCULLI: Now, excuse me if I have this wrong, but "Golden Palace" didn't
Marc Cherry of "Desperate Housewives" work on that as well?

Mr. HURWITZ: You know, I'm not speaking to Marc Cherry. I'm extremely
resentful and I want to make that very clear. Yes, Marc and I--well, Marc and
I worked together on "The Golden Girls." Marc is a very good friend actually
and then we did "Golden Palace" together. And, you know, we both had similar
kind of roads. We both kind of knocked around for a while and, you know, Marc
was always so talented. We sort of had no doubt that he would be successful.
But, you know, you need a lot of luck, too.

BIANCULLI: Well, has appeared in your show so obviously...

Mr. HURWITZ: Yes, he was...

BIANCULLI: ...you guys are still at least cordial.

Mr. HURWITZ: The children picketed Marc Cherry's house. The children
picketed for, you know, keep sex within marriage.

BIANCULLI: On the show, we should say.

Mr. HURWITZ: On the show, yes, they picketed. And he came and he poked out
his window and yelled, `It's a satire.' That was his cameo.

BIANCULLI: Well, what was it like this year when you won the Emmy for best
writing in a comedy and you beat out Marc Cherry for a "Desperate Housewives"
pilot?

Mr. HURWITZ: Well, that was--I mean, obviously it was very surprising and we
didn't expect that to happen. And if anything it was, you know, it--we just
saw it as a promotional opportunity and focused on that. It was, you know--I
feel that the academy and the critics have been very generous towards us
because they want to encourage risk-taking television, which seems to be
happening more and more, by the way. That there does seem to be more
risk-taking in primetime television. But I've always felt that we're the
beneficiaries of that goodwill and I think that might have been an example of
that where the academy felt like, `You know, they've got enough rewards over
at "Desperate Housewives." Let's do what we can to keep this show on the air.'
And I think it did keep the show on the air.

BIANCULLI: But since you and Marc worked together in the trenches, what did
you say to each other afterward?

Mr. HURWITZ: I, you know, mocked him and I poked his belly with the Emmy.
I--no, we--he was very happy for me and I was, of course, extremely happy for
me.

BIANCULLI: I'm sorry you said, no. I liked that image, by the way. OK.

Mr. HURWITZ: Oh, no, he's a great guy. He's so supportive. And, you know,
the only loss was we so sure that Marc was going to win the Emmy that we had
actually written a scene where Marc Cherry, the character that has appeared in
our show, sued the Bluth Company for building a faulty house that he bought
and we were--and the image was going to be Marc Cherry putting his Emmy on the
mantle and the Emmy crashing to the floor as the mantle gave way. So I really
wanted to do that gag and poke fun at ourselves for losing the Emmy. But then
we won it.

BIANCULLI: Yeah, ruined a good joke.

Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah, we lost a good joke.

BIANCULLI: We're talking with Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of "Arrested
Development."

This isn't the first time that Fox has given a somewhat shortened season
order. When they did it to you the first time and cut you back from 22 to 18,
that ended up on the air somehow. Can you talk about that and how that was
received internally?

Mr. HURWITZ: That was a little seditious. But, you know, we made fun of
ourselves, too, because we're legendarily behind on scripts. You know, I'll
turn in a script at 3:00 in the morning that's going to start shooting at 7
that morning. So we had just gotten the cutback from 22 to 18 and
coincidentally we were looking for a device to say that their business was in
peril, the Bluth Company housing business was in peril. So, you know, what
seemed the obvious thing to say was that they had, you know, sold this order
for 22 houses and they'd just found out that it had been cut back to 18
houses. And every time someone said that, you know, another character would
say, `Those bastards.' But we called ourselves on it, too, because Jason, the
Michael character, was on the phone saying `You know, this is outrageous. You
know, we were commissioned for 22 houses. You cut it back to 18. We had the
plans drawn up and everything and that's,'--we had Ron Howard say, `Actually
that part wasn't true. But they would have gotten them done on time. They
always had.' So, you know, we were at least saying, `Listen, we're not
prepared either but we would have made it.

BIANCULLI: And then, Mitchell, my final question sort of puts on my other hat
of being a TV critic as well.

Mr. HURWITZ: Sure.

BIANCULLI: One of the things that's so much about watching "Arrested
Development" is how much it rewards people who have watched a lot of
television. There are so many TV jokes and TV performers who come in and just
the Ron Howard, Andy Griffith jokes that keep going back and forth.

Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah. Isn't that fun? We had Henry Winkler jump the shark in
one of the shows. The shark--they found a shark they thought had bit off
Buster's hand...

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HURWITZ: But it wasn't, in fact, you know, the right animal. So he
said, well--it was actually the episode where we were asked to mention Burger
King, which was kind of a jump the shark moment, to use the television
nomenclature. So Henry Winkler said, `Well, I'm going to Burger King' and
jumped over a shark.

BIANCULLI: But you guys are not like anti-TV snobs that are doing a different
type of television to be better than television. You are people who came...

Mr. HURWITZ: Yeah, I hope not.

BIANCULLI: ...from television and are sort of--I don't know--glorifying in
it.

Mr. HURWITZ: I hope so. I mean, it really is, you know, there's nothing
mean-spirited about it. I mean, we do come from this and we were raised with
this and, you know, it is a big part of our culture. And we, you know, look,
it's so great having Ron Howard's voice on this thing because we've heard this
voice for 30 years. So, you know, what fun to be able to mention Andy
Griffith. In fact, in one episode--maybe the episode you're talking
about--they had hired Andy Griffith to sit behind them in the courtroom and
kind of look like Matlock. And he saw the dressing room that they'd given him
and split. In fact, he was supposed to be on the show but we couldn't get him
out in time so we had to rewrite it. But he saw the dressing room and left
and the line we gave, I guess Lindsay, was he thought we were making fun of
him. And suddenly the narrator speaks up and says, `Nobody was making fun of
Andy Griffith. I can't emphasize that enough.'

BIANCULLI: Yeah.

Mr. HURWITZ: So there is, you know, this deference that Ron was paying to
Andy which is kind of fun.

BIANCULLI: Well, Mitchell Hurwitz, I hope you have many more years of writing
and doing this sort of stuff on "Arrested Development."

Mr. HURWITZ: Well, thank you. That's very nice of you to say.

BIANCULLI: Thank you very much for being on FRESH AIR.

Mr. HURWITZ: Well, thank you, David. This was really fun.

BIANCULLI: Mitchell Hurwitz, recorded in November.

The season's final four episodes of his Fox sitcom, "Arrested Development,"
are shown tonight. If the program reappears, it'll probably be on cable. But
tonight's episodes could be the last. So enjoy them. And enjoy this final
clip from earlier this season in which Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Bateman, as
father and son, are discussing possible courtroom tactics in the father's
trial. I'm David Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Arrested Development")

Mr. TAMBOR: Now listen, we can't just go in there and plead not guilty. We
have to have someone big behind us, our own private Matlock. So I made some
calls and I got him.

Mr. BATEMAN: Got who?

Mr. TAMBOR: Andy Griffith. What you never say "Matlock"?

Mr. BATEMAN: Not a real attorney, dad.

Mr. TAMBOR: Now for 10 grand he'll actually sit behind us in court and read
the paper. For 15 he'll actually sit at the defense table. For $20,000 he'll
twice lean forward and whisper something in your ear. Oh, white suit, that's
extra.

Mr. BATEMAN: Well, that's an awful lot of money for the stupidest idea I've
ever heard.

Mr. TAMBOR: The juries love him.

Mr. BATEMAN: That's just it, dad. There won't be a jury because we are
pleading guilty.

Mr. TAMBOR: I am not guil--I didn't want to tell you this. Are you ready
for the bombshell?

Mr. BATEMAN: Andy Griffith wasn't the bombshell?

Mr. TAMBOR: I'm a patsy. I was set up by the Brits. A group of British
builders operating outside the OC...

Mr. BATEMAN: Don't call it that.

Mr. TAMBOR: ...contacted me for a partnership to build homes overseas. I
did not know they meant Iraq.

Mr. BATEMAN: We've got a picture of you with Saddam Hussein.

Mr. TAMBOR: I thought that was the guy who played the soup Nazi.

Mr. BATEMAN: Come on.

Mr. TAMBOR: I told him how much I liked his work.

(Announcements)

Announcer: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, film maker Mike Mills tells us about his varied career
designing skateboards, directing commercials and music videos and creating his
first feature film, "Thumbsucker." Also, rock historian Ed Ward explains why
the joy of cooking is more than a collection of recipes.

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

Interview: Mike Mills discusses his earlier years as an artist,
working on commercials and his first feature film, "Thumbsucker"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli filling in for Terry Gross.

"Thumbsucker" is the first film directed by our guest, Mike Mills, but you've
probably already seen some of his work. He's directed commercials for Nike,
Levis, Volkswagen and Mastercard. He did the Gap khaki commercial inspired by
"West Side Story" and he's done a number of music videos and album covers.

Mills grew up in a home Mills grew up in a home in which design and painting
were very important. His father directed an art museum in Santa Barbara and
his mother sold Vera scarves and was a contractor and architect. Terry spoke
with Mike Mills last fall when "Thumbsucker" was in theaters. The film is
adapted from a Walter Kirn novel and has just come out on DVD. It stars
Vincent D'Onofrio, Tilda Swinton and Lou Pucci. Pucci plays a 17-year-old
high school student who still sucks his thumb out of insecurity. His guidance
counselor has an idea. She thinks he has attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder and suggests medication. In spite of his mother's skepticism, he
begins the pills and the transformation is amazing. He has more energy and
focus and is relatively self-assured. Here he is with the school's debate
coach, played by Vince Vaughn.

(Soundbite of "Thumbsucker")

Mr. VINCE VAUGHN: (As Mr. Geary) How are you doing with the medication?

Mr. LOU TAYLOR PUCCI: (As Justin Cobb) I read "Moby Dick" straight through.

Mr. VAUGHN: That's great. But how do you feel?

Mr. PUCCI: I feel like me. I never really did before.

Mr. VAUGHN: Have you had any other breakthroughs besides the book?

Mr. PUCCI: It used to be kind of a hassle to put on underwear in the
morning, but now it's kind of easy, you know. I actually listened to the
words to the Pledge of Allegiance today, and it gave me chills.

Mr. VAUGHN: I've always felt that you have a real sensitivity when it comes
to language. And I know that you're smart. I think that you see a lot more
than you take responsibility for. And that kind of perception that you have,
that can't be taught by anyone. Rebecca left the debate team. Did she say
anything to you about why or...

Mr. PUCCI: No.

Mr. VAUGHN: Well, I need somebody to step up and take her place. I'd like
for you to compete with us.

Mr. PUCCI: You think I could do it?

Mr. VAUGHN: Yes, I do.

TERRY GROSS, host:

That's a scene from Mike Mills' new movie, "Thumbsucker."

Mike Mills, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. MIKE MILLS (Director, "Thumbsucker"): Thank you.

GROSS: Now the main character in the film, in "Thumbsucker," can't stop
sucking his thumb even though he's a teenager on the verge of going into
college. Is there anything you relate to about that?

Mr. MILLS: Well, I didn't suck my thumb, but I had all the anxiety. It
might have been a good thing if I did suck my thumb; I might have been able to
soothe myself a little bit. But I mean, beyond that, it's not like I had any
of these kinds of tics or these sort of mannerisms, but I so much relate to
that Justin character, and it became a very personal project for me writing
through him.

GROSS: You know, it's funny. I know that you were also a skateboarder as a
teenager. And I would think that as a skateboarder, you would've--you know,
you would have had, like, your crowd and you would have been assertive in your
own way and that it would've been different for you than the kid in the film.

Mr. MILLS: Hmm. You know, skateboarding now is quite a trendy--you know,
it's a great way to get a girlfriend, to be a skateboarder now. Skating, when
I was really doing it, when I was competing in it, was really just the biggest
bunch of misfits you ever met, and, you know, all the people who couldn't find
a place in the rest of the world found it in skateboarding. So we were all,
you know, very disenfranchised from any sort of friendliness or any sort
feeling of like, you know, `We've made it.'

GROSS: You know, the teenager in your movie is having a lot of troubles, and
he's diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is given
pills for it. And he decides to take the pills, and it really changes him. I
mean, suddenly he's, like, more focused, he's more successful, he's more
aggressive, and in some ways, he's more obnoxious. Did you have much
experience with pills like that, either taking them or watching friends who
did?

Mr. MILLS: Not at that age. You know, I'm 39, and I do feel like a lot of
that--you know, the medication of--you know, the introduction of pharmacology
into the high school wasn't really there when I was there, or maybe it was and
I just didn't know about it. But it's funny. When we were doing the film, we
would go around to high schools looking for locations, and, of course, I had
to look--I had to go try to find a nurse's office that was right for us, and
then they'd say, `Well, do you want to see where we keep the meds?' And I was,
like, `Sure.' And we open the door, and there's probably 100 bottles, you
know, at each public high school we looked at, and I thought, `Wow, that's
stunning.' That's so unlike my world and the world that I knew. And maybe
that's part of why I find it interesting or--you know, it's in the book, but
it's definitely something that I find so contemporary.

GROSS: Now I know that skateboarding has been a big part of your life, both
as a skateboarder but also as an artist. Some of the first work you did
related to skateboards. You designed your own skateboards, and you designed
logos for or graphics, I should say, for those skateboards. So what kind of
art did you design for your skateboards when you were a teenager?

Mr. MILLS: Funnily enough, this kind of fits the Justin character. So when
I was in high school, I actually made some skateboards in my wood shop, as
ridiculous as that is. And I would get lots of blank boards because I knew
people in different companies and I could get blank boards. But I was trying
to make them all look adult and official and legitimate, you know? It
wasn't--they weren't underground or punk in any way. I was actually trying to
look sort of corporate or, like, real, you know? And then later on, you know,
in a funny way, skating kind of came back in my mid-, late-20s, and I started
doing designs for companies like Stereo, which is a skate company, or Supreme,
which is a shop in New York, and in that way, it sort of--that's why I think
people sort of associate me with the skate culture. But it really is funny.
I'm doing the same thing I did when I was 14, 15 years old.

GROSS: When you were actually doing it for real and getting paid for it, did
you still feel that they should look like official, corporately made
skateboards, or did you try to make them more unusual?

Mr. MILLS: Well, funnily, and to really put all this together, my whole way
of dealing with punk rock, like, as an adult, has been sort of to really look
at the cliches of punk rock, because by the time I'm 30, punk rock is sort of
a cliche. CBGB, mohawks, whatever you want to call it, sort of a ripped and
torn culture, is sort of what you expect. So I often play with doing things
very straight, very almost corporate-looking as a subversion of what you'd
expect from punk rock. I did a Sonic Youth cover once that was--had a picture
of their merchandising shirt on the front, and everything about it was, like,
regular and straight and, in a way, just trying to flip what you'd expect from
them. The same thing I did with Supreme. I did things that were very neat
and regular and plain, and it was, again--it just felt wrong for what you
would expect from that culture, from that person, from the kid wearing that
shirt on the street. It felt wrong, and that's why I liked it, and to me,
that is--the excitement I got out of punk in the first place was that
wrongness, that incongruity, that sort of banana peel under people's
expectations.

BIANCULLI: Mike Mills, speaking with Terry Gross. More after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with "Thumbsucker" director
Mike Mills.

GROSS: You came to art through what you were doing in punk music and in
skateboarding. Your father was the director of an art museum in Santa
Barbara. He was in the high art world. Did you relate to that world when you
were growing up?

Mr. MILLS: Not at all. I hated it. You know, I--the worst thing to do, to
have to go to the museum. It was a pain in the ass. You know, we had to do
it all the time, go to these openings. And my father was--you know, my father
was sort of like a social king, and he had to talk to everybody, and trying to
get my father to leave any party or leave the museum was this endless
Kafkaesque, you know, `Oh, he's never gonna leave,' you know? So it was a
pain.

And they were very social, my parents. They had parties, you know, probably
every two weeks with, like, 100 people over at the house, and, I mean, all
these strange, you know, characters that drank too much and were lurking
around the house. And my impression of the whole thing was, like, these
people are just nuts, you know, and this whole thing is nuts. And it's your
parents, you know? It's the last thing you're going to identify with. And I
used to have to--he would make me take these after-school art classes or art
clinics because, you know, you're the art museum director's son. You have to
support the arts. And luckily I did have a thing about drawing, but it was
largely against my will participating in all these kind of formal things.

And I didn't come around to art--see, now all the art I was doing was, like,
you know, posters for my band, stuff around skating and, you know, my parents
really--they encouraged me, but they didn't really--it wasn't art, you know,
and to me, it certainly wasn't their art, and there was this gap between me
and them. And when I had that, you know, epiphany at 17, 18 of, like, `Oh,
man, I'm not going to be a professional skateboarder,' I suddenly, you know,
had to go over--I remember one time asking my dad, `OK, Pop, tell me about
20th century art.' And then it was this seminal moment in our relationship
where I caved in and kind of went over to his side.

GROSS: And did you like the art world any better when you were in art school?

Mr. MILLS: I did at first, and I, you know, loved so many people I went to
school with and I was so amazed by them and influenced by them. Cooper Union
at the time was a strange place to go to school. It had all, like, the
emotional warmth of, like, the Port Authority, you know? There's no, like,
counselors, there's no dorms. You live at the 92nd Street Y. There's--in my
freshman year, someone shot a BB gun at somebody else in a critique and
someone else beat someone else up.

And, you know, it's--but, you know, we had a great time, and then one of my
biggest teachers or the person who influenced me the most was a man names Hans
Haacke, who is, you know, a conceptual political artist who does lots of work
about the institutions of art and the kind of duplicities of it. So, you
know, all my teenage rebellion from art all of a sudden got a new father
figure who gave me rational, justified opinions on why I should hate art
again, you know, and eventually led me and a lot of my friends who were kind
of just--you know, this is the '80s art world, Mary Boone Gallery blowing up;
people like Julian Schnabel are huge. We're all feeling a little, you know,
disillusioned, and a lot of us got into graphics or anything like that because
the money was up front, it's obviously crass and because you're more in the
public sphere, and I remember the first time I saw one of my posters, "Wheat,"
pasted on Broadway, I thought, `Oh, I made it, you know? I am not in the
rarified world of art. I am participating in the world of people and I'm in
the real world, you know?'

GROSS: Well, yeah. It's interesting that you put it that way because--I
mean, we're talking about the gallery scene, the painting scene in the '80s as
having this, like, really unpleasant business underside that--where money was
really important and there was plenty of it. At the same time, you went on
to--you didn't really want that, and at the same time, you went on to do
commercials, and two of your best-known commercials are Gap commercials for
khakis, and these are the two, like, "West Side Story" commercials. One was,
like, choreographed to "Cool" and the other to the mambo from the "Dance at
the Gym." And, I mean, they're really catchy commercials. But they're
commercials, and I know, like, when I was coming of age, the idea of doing
commercials seemed so, well, commercial, you know?

Mr. MILLS: Right. Exactly.

GROSS: You did commercials, you were selling out, whereas now...

Mr. MILLS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...with commercials, I mean, bands break records in commercials, bands
get discovered in commercials. I mean, commercials are considered, like, much
more hip and less strictly just about money. So where did you see yourself
fitting in there? What did doing commercials mean to you?

Mr. MILLS: Yeah. Well, it's a very complicated road that I--I don't have
resolved or solved, and I think it's one of the more interesting problems of
being some sort of, whatever you want to call it, artist-type person who's
trying to have a larger audience than the art world provides. And our problem
with the art world wasn't that it involved money but that it hid the money,
and it pretended that it was all about sort of an auteur definition of the
artist and his creativity in his mind and that somehow it was above and
beyond, you know, human duplicities.

And then when you work for a print maker and you see that, you know, I did
it--there's a very famous artist who I won't name, and I worked for a print
maker and I had to--he came in one morning really hung over, sketched out his
wood print--his wood block that he wanted on a napkin, tossed it to me. I cut
the whole thing out, you know, blew it up to the size he'd want, executed the
whole thing. We printed it up. Someone from The Brooklyn Museum came by and
said, `Look at the maturity in the handwork and the beauty, and you can
clearly see his'--I'm going to give it away, partly--`his Scottish roots' and
da da da. And I just was, like, `Oh, my God. This is, you know'--and to be
honest, it kind of--it's, you know, like my parents again, reminding me of all
the things that you don't like about your parents.

And so anyways, we just didn't like that it was hiding the money and that it
was hiding--it was, you know, mythologizing things that weren't really true.
So that's kind of what got us into wanting just the money to be--you know, the
crassness of it to be more exposed, more transparent, more on the surface.
And I should say, it's not like what I'm saying is right, you know? This is
me at 20, you know what I mean? That was my thinking at 20, 21 and what we
were trying to do. And as imperfect as it was, that was our thinking at the
time.

And then getting into ads, you know, it's a thorny thing. Like what you said
before about how ads are now hip and not--you know, sort of perceived as not
selling out is, I think, exactly why they're so dangerous and even to film
makers like myself. And in the ad world, you're treated like a king as a
director. The director's really overvalued. And you're kind of led to
believe that you are making art, that you're not making commerce, you know
what I mean?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MILLS: At the same time, if you didn't go to film school and you don't
know how to operate a crew, you haven't done anything and you have some want
to practice, you know, and art school does develop this idea that you should
practice your craft or you need to practice to get a certain level--I mean, me
and a lot of people I knew did ads as kind of like going to film school or as
a way to learn, 'cause it's so expensive, you're going to learn on someone
else's dime. And I remember one of the first big ads I did was for Nike, and
I didn't know how to do--I didn't know what a medium shot and a wide shot and
a tight shot was. And I remember, like, two days before the shoot, I went
into the accountant at the production company, 'cause I knew that he wouldn't
tell anybody.

And I said, you know, `Tom, is a medium shot where--it's like from your head
to your waist?' You know? And, `So what's a tight shot? From your head to
your midchest?' I mean, you can just put--cut them together and it'll work?'
And he's proudly telling me because, you know, a director's asking him a
question, and I went and shot it the next day, you know. So I really felt
like I was getting one over on the man, you know, and that I was being Robin
Hood. And I was taking the money I was earning and I was paying for my short
film and documentaries, and I was making it so that I could do art in a
gallery and not have any need to make any money off of it, you know. And at
the same time I thought I was being somehow subversive by being out in the
public in that level, being, you know, that hugely exposed and, at the same
time, having a gallery show about death, you know? And I thought, `Oh, this
is--I'm interesting.'

GROSS: As a teenager, you were into skateboarding. Do you still ever do it?

Mr. MILLS: Oh, yeah. I mean, I don't skate all the time, but I definitely
still skate. And my--this is a funny image, but, you know, my skateboard is
in the back of my, you know, Volvo station wagon. That's who I am now.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. MILLS: That's who I've become. But, you know, there's some parks around
that I like to go to and sort of skate in a very retired-like fashion, you
know.

GROSS: What design is on your skateboard?

Mr. MILLS: I got this one--it's kind of totally unlike me. I got it when we
were shooting the film. It's from a shop up in Portland, and it's, like,
black with a skull on it. It's completely unlike my taste.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. MILLS: But there you go. I can't control everything.

GROSS: I bet it looks great in the station wagon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MILLS: Yeah.

GROSS: Mike Mills, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. MILLS: Thank you. It's been a real honor being on your show.

BIANCULLI: Mike Mills speaking with Terry Gross. His first feature film,
"Thumbsucker," has just been released on DVD.

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on a '60s band named after a famous
cookbook, "The Joy of Cooking." This is FRESH AIR.

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

Profile: Historian Ed Ward reviews 1960's band Joy of Cooking
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The San Francisco music scene of the late '60s was a pretty male-dominated
one. But towards the end of the decade, Berkeley across the bay was
experiencing a sea change. Some of that change was generated by a band led by
two women called the Joy of Cooking. Ed Ward, who saw them many times,
remembers them today.

(Soundbite of Joy of Cooking)

Joy of Cooking: (Singing) Oh, hush, hush now, somebody calling me. Hush,
hush, now, somebody calling me. Hush, hush, somebody calling me. And I know,
yes, I know my time ain't long.

I'm going to move my pillow. Going to move my pillow. Turn my pillow around.
Turn it around. Going to move my pillow. I'm going to turn my pillow around.

Mr. ED WARD: In the '60s there was a rule, if you got to have a chick in the
band, she's up front. In other words, you had a chick singer. She was
pretty. Maybe she banged a tambourine, but she didn't write the songs or play
an instrument. which might have been OK in some parts of the country but not
in Berkeley, California. By the end of the '60s, Berkeley chicks were
different. For one thing, they didn't like being called chicks. For another,
there was a folk scene out there that had gone in a different direction from
the one on the East Coast, which produced the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan
Baez. The Berkeley scene was a lot looser, a lot more political, and a lot
funkier. It didn't disdain straight on country music or electric blues, and
thus it was that two veterans of that scene, Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite,
set up in 1967, through mutual friends who thought they should form a band.

Brown wrote country songs while Garthwaite leaned toward a red-hot-mama stage
persona. Brown played keyboards and Garthwaite guitar. It took awhile but a
band formed. David Garthwaite, Terry's brother, played bass. And there were
two sources of rhythm, Fritz Kasten on a regular drum set and Ron Wilson on
congas and other percussion. This lineup led naturally to a kind of jamming,
with songs lasting for a long time, which pleased the dancers who started
showing up to see them just fine.

They cooked so hard that they stole a name from a culinary classic, the Joy of
Cooking.

(Soundbite of Joy of Cooking)

Joy of Cooking: (Singing) Here she comes, here she comes. Did you go
downtown? Did you, did you go? Did you go downtown? Did you take a look
around? Buy me some shoes, some gifts, a brand new dresses and rings to wear.
Could you...(unintelligible). I want to know, did you go to a train? Here
the bell ring. Did you see my man, ask him if he can. Ask him if he can.
Oh, tell him I can. I want to know...

Mr. WARD: Before long, the Joy had a regular gig at Mandrake's, a tiny club
at Berkeley that booked everyone from solo folk singers to Rahsaan Roland
Kirk. As more or less the house band, they opened for touring acts and also
had their own weekly headlining gig. They also played around the San
Francisco ballrooms, and this brought them to the attention of Capitol
Records, who signed them in 1971 and put them in the studio in San Francisco
to make their first album.

(Soundbite of Joy of Cooking)

Joy of Cooking: (Singing) Well, I'm going to Brownsville. Going to take that
right hand road. Well, I'm going to Brownsville, going to take that right
hand road. But I won't stop walking until I'm in...(unintelligible). You
know, the man I'm loving, he's got pretty long curly hair. The man I...

Mr. WARD: Capitol released the band's reworking of blues man Furry Lewis'
"Brownsville" as a single, and it became a big hit in Boston, rising to 66 on
the national charts. The Joy toured and found themselves filling clubs in
Philadelphia, New York and New Orleans, among other places. Everyone was
happy with the debut, and in the summer of 1971, they went to Los Angeles to
record the follow-up, "Closer to the Ground."

(Soundbite of Joy of Cooking)

Joy of Cooking: (Singing) The people everywhere going out of their minds,
looking for answers in simpleton signs. They ain't no answers hidden up in
the sky, you know, I got to give another try. You got to get down a little
closer to the ground is what you have to do. Yes, down a little closer to the
ground. Now, those men up there...

Mr. WARD: Terry's brother David was gone, replaced by Jeff Neighbor, and the
sound of the album was fuller, more produced, with more overdubs. In short,
it was to the taste of radio at the time. But in a story that was to become
ever more frequent over the next decade, the executives at Capitol who had
supported the Joy of Cooking's first record, left the company. And although
the band was as good as ever live, and Toni Brown's songwriting was getting
more prolific than ever--she wrote the majority of songs at this time--"Closer
to the Ground" wasn't promoted and there was no hit single. But a contract is
a contract, so the next summer the band convened in their Berkeley rehearsal
studio to record a third album, "Castles."

(Soundbite of Joy of Cooking)

Joy of Cooking: (Singing) Let love carry you. Let love carry you. Lean
back, let love carry you along. Let love carry you. Let love carry you. Let
love carry you. Let love carry you. Lean back, let love carry you along.

Times when you feel tired, everything's gone wrong, when you wake up in the
morning just knowing that the day is going to be too long. And you need
somebody to talk to but your best friend's not at home, and you're looking out
the window, and everybody feels so alone.

Let love carry you...

Mr. WARD: It was far and away the band's best effort. The best song writing
and singing and playing they had ever recorded. Why the record company
packaged it in a silver cover showing an industrial site and then failed to
promote it at all is a complete mystery. But the lack of promotion, along
with the band being tired of touring, saw them fall apart. Toni and Terry
gave Capitol a last album of country material to fulfill their contract and
the Joy of Cooking was no more.

Today, Terry still sings on occasion around San Francisco, and Toni is a
successful artist. The old Joy records have worn well, as have the idea that
women in bands are far more than decoration.

BIANCULLI: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.

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

Profile: Composer of 1954 "Godzilla" score, Akura Ifukube, dies
at age 91
(Soundbite of large footsteps and roar)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

That's Godzilla's pounding footsteps and horrific roar. We've learned that
Akura Ifukube, the composer who wrote the score for the 1954 Japanese monster
classic, died earlier this week at the age of 91. We'll close with music he
wrote for that film.

(Soundbite of "Godzilla" soundtrack)

(Credits)

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