DATE October 15, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Billy Bob Thornton discusses his acting, directing and
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
Our guest, actor, director and screenwriter, Billy Bob Thornton, stars in the
new film "Friday Night Lights," based on H.G. Bissinger's best-seller about a
high school football team in the West Texas city of Odessa. Thornton plays
coach Gary Gaines, who leads more with inspiration than intimidation. He's
soft-spoken and offended by the cursing and racial epithets which are common
around town. But he carries the heavy burden of Odessa's expectations for its
legendary Permian Panthers. Here's a clip from the film. It's midseason, the
team is struggling and the coach is being second-guessed. Thornton, playing
Coach Miles, runs into a couple of the team's boosters in a shopping center
(Soundbite of "Friday Night Lights")
Unidentified Man #1: Hey, coach.
Mr. BILLY BOB THORNTON: (As Coach Gary Gaines) Hey, boys.
Unidentified Man #2: How are you doing?
Mr. THORNTON: Man, how you doing?
Unidentified Man #1: All right, coach. You?
Mr. THORNTON: Everything all right?
Unidentified Man #1: Well, yeah. Everything's going to be just fine.
Everything's all right as long we get out there and get what we need to get
done and, you know, win state.
Mr. THORNTON: Boy, I sure hope so.
Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, me, too.
Mr. THORNTON: Yeah, I want it as bad as y'all do, believe me.
Unidentified Man #1: Yes, sir.
Mr. THORNTON: 'Course, you know, Dallas Carter, that's a--that's a tough
team, real tough team.
Unidentified Man #1: Yeah? Well, we're a pretty tough team, too, coach.
Mr. THORNTON: Yeah, it's true. We are.
Unidentified Man #1: So beat 'em.
DAVIES: Billy Bob Thornton is probably best known for the 1996 film "Sling
Blade," which he wrote, directed and starred in. He also co-wrote and starred
in "One False Move," received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting
role in "A Simple Plan," directed "All The Pretty Horses" and co-wrote "The
Gift." Thornton played a hard-nosed political consultant in "Primary Colors,"
and received the best-actor award from the National Board of Review for his
role in three films, "The Man Who Wasn't There," "Bandits" and "Monster's
Ball." Terry spoke with Billy Bob Thornton in 2002.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Would you describe the town where you grew up?
Mr. THORNTON: Yeah. Well, I grew up in two towns. Until I was eight years
old, I lived in a town called Alpine, Arkansas, which was out in the middle of
nowhere. It's in the woods; there's not really a town, it's just kind of this
valley between all these mountains. And we were sort of the only literate
people there. My grandmother had been a schoolteacher in the old days, you
know, like the one-room schoolhouse thing, and my father was going to college
on the GI Bill--he'd been in the Korean War--so we lived with my grandmother
until I was, like I said, about eight years old or nine years old. And my
grandfather was a retired forestry worker, and he killed what we ate pretty
much, you know...
Mr. THORNTON: ...squirrel, possum, raccoon. You know, he would make turtle
soup, all kind of stuff. We had no electricity, no running water. We had
coal-oil lamps, all that kind of thing. And my friends in California usually
don't believe that. I mean, they think that that's only from, like, the 1800s
or something. You know, kids who were raised in Los Angeles, they just don't
get that whole deal. But...
GROSS: How old were you when you got electricity?
Mr. THORNTON: Well, when we moved into this other town of like nine or 10,000
people when I was in the third grade. So that's when things started to--well,
I mean, to us it was like we'd moved to New York or something, you know?
GROSS: So when you moved into this other town, you had electricity, running
Mr. THORNTON: Oh, yeah.
GROSS: How about television, radio?
Mr. THORNTON: You know, I think my grandmother got electricity when I was
more like five or six; when we still lived there, she got the electricity and
actually got an old black-and-white television set. And the reason I remember
that so clearly is because she was mopping the floor and it was a metal
television set. And somehow she touched the TV standing in the water, and I
don't think she was wearing any shoes, and it really got her pretty good. I
remember that. It was kind of like Frankenstein, you know--`Electricity bad'
or something like that, you know. But anyway, when we moved into this town,
it was called Malvern, Arkansas, which is about 20 miles from Hot Springs,
which is where Clinton was from and everything, or where he went to school.
And it was like all of those towns--there are all these towns that are about
that size, you know, and--I guess in every state, you know. And, you know,
the football team is a big deal. You know, there's a country club where all
the doctors and lawyers go. And, you know, it's one of those kind of towns.
GROSS: What about the movie theaters? Were there movie theaters?
Mr. THORNTON: One movie theater. It was called the Ritz Theatre, which, you
know, my movies now play at, which is very strange when I go home and visit
and see something--when I saw "Sling Blade" on the marquee, it was very
GROSS: Is it a multiplex now or is it--you know, did they twin it at least?
Mr. THORNTON: Yeah. Yeah, I think there's like two of them now. It's not
like it was. I haven't been in it, actually. It's weird when I go home. I
want to go home, and yet there are things there that give me such flashbacks
that it's kind of tough, you know?
GROSS: Well, did you have a place to buy records when you were growing up?
Mr. THORNTON: Oh, yeah. There was one record shop, also. I mean, now, you
know, everything's moved out of town. Main Street's a ghost town, you know,
and, you know, there's like the Wal-Mart and all the big shopping centers on
the outskirts of town. But, I mean, I loved the record shop. It was called
Paula's Record Shop(ph). It was run by an older lady. And she was one of
those people that when I would go back home, I would see her, and it's kind of
like--you know like how Dick Clark is always young?
Mr. THORNTON: There are also those people who are always old.
Mr. THORNTON: It's like she was old when I was like five.
GROSS: Absolutely, yeah.
Mr. THORNTON: And then when I was like 35, she was exactly the same person,
you know? And so it was like a music store and a record shop. And like she
sold tambourines, and she had like one drum set. And she would have two or
three guitars, you know, in there. And I wanted nothing more in the world
than to be The Beatles. You know, I mean, that's what I wanted to be, or The
Dave Clark Five or whatever. And I had little bands from the time I was like
nine years old. And so Paula's Record Shop was, you know, like going to Oz
for me. It was just fantastic. And the first record I bought in there with
my own money--I went in and bought "I Want to Hold Your Hand," which the B
side was "I Saw Her Standing There."
GROSS: A good choice.
Mr. THORNTON: Oh, yeah. I love that song.
GROSS: My guest is Billy Bob Thornton.
Now your mother is a psychic, and that apparently was the inspiration for your
movie "The Gift." You wrote the screenplay. It starred Cate Blanchett as a
mother and psychic who investigates a murder in her town that hits very close
to home. What kind of abilities did your mother have, or does she have?
Mr. THORNTON: When I was growing up, you know, we got a lot of flak. I think
it's in the movie, actually, you know, about the kids getting a bunch of guff
at school for it. People would call my mother a witch and things like that.
And then a lot of people would just dismiss it. But at the same time,
everybody in town would come to see my mother. But they didn't necessarily
want anybody to know that. So they would--I mean, especially men. They would
see her in secret, you know, wouldn't want anybody to know that they did
something as crazy or sissylike as to go to a psychic. I mean, it was a very
sort of redneck, male-oriented kind of society that I grew up in.
But the thing about ESP, which is what my mother has, is it's not the way
people think. You don't go to her and say, `Hey, am I going to meet a tall,
handsome stranger?' and she says, `Yes, and it's going to be in October.' You
go and you talk to her. In other words, she feels things about people. She
has instincts about people. And she will tell you when she gets around to it,
but you can't just ask her a question and say, `Hey, is this thing going to
happen?' She may not have that information for you, but she may have
something else for you. Like she'll be talking to you and she'll say, `So
have you been thinking about buying a new car?' and you'll say, `No, I don't
think so. Not really.' And then you'll say, `So anyway, what about this big
business deal? You think it's going to come through?' and she'll say, `Well,
you know, it could. It definitely could. You're sure you're not thinking
about buying a new car?' `Well, no, I haven't been.' And then two days later
somebody calls this person up and says, `Hey, listen, I've got this great GTO
for sale,' you know, and they buy this car. I mean, it happens that way, you
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now you called your movie about a psychic "The Gift." Did
you grow up thinking that your mother had a gift and that certain talents were
just gifts, there were things that you were just given, they came with you and
it was up to you to decide how to use it, but either you had that gift or you
didn't? And did you think of yourself as having a gift?
Mr. THORNTON: Yes. To answer the first part of it, I did think that people
are born with gifts, absolutely. And I had never really questioned all that.
I always thought that if you had to try very hard to do something, it wasn't
worth doing. And I still feel that, to a certain degree. And people always
talk about hard work and perseverance, but I think that the people with the
creative side of the brain, I think those people are the ones--I mean, it's
pretty obvious; they're the ones who are always daydreaming. They usually
don't make good grades. They're always like, you know--they always have a
bunch of weird things, like, you know--well, I've got phobias and different
things like that. Usually just the more eccentric people, you know?
Mr. THORNTON: And then there are other people who are very practical, very
hardworking and that kind of thing. That was the world that I never quite
understood. And although, I mean, both worlds, obviously, you know, are valid
and everything. But I just never related to that world. I always thought
that you can either do things or you can't do them, you know? And I look at
that way and, you know...
GROSS: You mentioned phobias.
Mr. THORNTON: Right.
GROSS: If you don't mind talking about it, what are some of your phobias, and
how do they affect your gifts? Considering your gifts include writing and
acting, do the phobias interfere with those gifts?
Mr. THORNTON: Well, the phobias don't necessarily interfere; particularly
when I did the movie "Bandits," it was helpful, because I played a guy with
phobias. But, you know, my phobias aren't really that much of a hindrance in
my professional life or anything. I have a fear of antique furniture, certain
kinds of antique furniture that I can't be around. I can be around...
GROSS: Wait, wait, wait. Not a common fear. What's the problem with antique
Mr. THORNTON: Well, I just get creeped out by it. I can't be around it. And
there's--a lot of people have this sort of simplistic idea about what that is.
They think, well, it's a past-life thing and, you know, something weird
happened to you at a certain time and, you know, whatever, which I don't doubt
that it's a past-life thing. I mean, one friend of mine said maybe I was
beaten to death with an antique chair. But--or a guillotine...
GROSS: Excuse me for laughing.
Mr. THORNTON: Oh, no, it's fine. But, you know, I don't know exactly what it
is. It involves food, though. I can't eat around antique furniture. That's
the main way it affects me. But anything Asian, I'm OK with. Like if
something is like centuries and centuries old, if it's Asian, I'm OK with it.
But if it's like French or English or Scottish or something like that, I get
so creeped out I can't describe it. Like my worst nightmare is like a castle
with velvet draperies and things like that and those little...
GROSS: It sounds like a Vincent Price movie to me.
Mr. THORNTON: Exactly. Right. Yeah. I can't be in a Vincent Price movie.
I have an unnatural fear of Benjamin Disraeli's hair.
GROSS: Strange, but--yeah.
Mr. THORNTON: Yes, strange but true.
GROSS: Yeah. That's the thing about phobias.
Mr. THORNTON: Yeah.
GROSS: They're sometimes really strange.
DAVIES: Terry Gross speaking with actor Billy Bob Thornton in 2002. We'll
hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's 2002 interview with actor Billy Bob
Thornton. He's starring in the new film, "Friday Night Lights."
GROSS: Now the first movie I saw you in was "One False Move," which you
co-wrote with Tom Epperson.
Mr. THORNTON: Right.
GROSS: And you play just a really bad killer in this. The first scene is so
violent and so--it's very upsetting for a scene...
Mr. THORNTON: Yeah.
GROSS: ...and quite an introduction to you as an actor.
Mr. THORNTON: Yeah.
GROSS: And, you know, a lot of movies, particularly in the Quentin Tarantino
and post-Tarantino era, have been very ironic about violence.
Mr. THORNTON: Right.
GROSS: And there's, like, not an ounce of irony. This is all for real, very
upsetting. Why did you want that to be the opening scene of the first movie
that you're making by yourself?
Mr. THORNTON: Well, I don't know that I necessarily wanted it to be. That's
just the movie that we wrote, and that happened to be the one that got made.
Tom and I had written other things that we didn't sell and that didn't get
made. We, at one point in the '80s, had a three-picture deal at Disney. We
wrote a script for them that never got made. This one just happened to be the
one that got made...
Mr. THORNTON: ...and it got made for very little. And, you know, it wasn't
like we got wealthy from it. It was the one, though, that got us critical
praise and sort of started us off in the business. So I still credit "One
False Move" as being the movie that got me known, at least in the movie
business. "Sling Blade's" the one that made me into whatever I am, but "One
False Move" is the one that really got us working in the business.
And that first scene, you're right, it's very disturbing and it's very violent
and very realistic. The reason we did that--we wanted it to almost look like
a documentary, where you're really seeing these people being murdered. It was
based on a case that--we talked to this policeman who told us about this case
that happened out in LA once. It was kindly of loosely based on that, just
that part of it, the opening.
But we wanted it to look that way because, you know, frankly, I think you
should be kind of responsible with violence in movies, and always did, really.
And if you don't show it for what it really is, I think that is, in a way,
irresponsible. And we want you to--if I'm going to have violence in a movie,
I want it to be violence that's going to make people say, `Wow. Boy, do I
never want to be involved in that.' As opposed to making it look cool or hip
or funny or anything else, I'd rather make it look horrible.
GROSS: Well, you sure succeeded in that scene. It's a terrific film. As you
said, the film you were really noticed for was "Sling Blade," in which you
played a--is `mentally challenged' the right word now? You played a mentally
Mr. THORNTON: Right.
GROSS: ...released from an institution after serving 25 years for killing his
mother and her lover. As you made clear when you hosted "Saturday Night
Live," everyone imitates you doing that part. How did you develop the voice
and the character? You wrote the story, in fact, before the movie was made.
Mr. THORNTON: Right.
GROSS: You had a short film based on the same character, and I think you did
him in a one-man show also.
Mr. THORNTON: Right. Yeah, the first thing I did was the one-man show. I'd
written just the beginning, kind of what was in the short film, that I did in
the one-man show. I did that monologue in the beginning there. It's based on
life experience, is really what it's based on, all of it. I mean, you know,
the character of Karl in "Sling Blade" is based on a couple of different
people. And I wasn't even conscious that it was based on them when I was
writing it so much. It's like later on it's like, `Oh, wow,' you know? As a
matter of fact, my mother pointed out to me that part of that was like this
guy that was in Alpine, you know? There was a guy who was kept out back of
his family's house and they, like, fed him sort of like a dog, you know.
Mr. THORNTON: But the voice came about when I was working on a movie for
HBO. And I was in the little sort of--you might call it a dressing room that
they'd provided for me. I had just a few lines in the movie. I think I had
four lines. And they had peeled my head because the movie took place in the
'20s, and I had this really stupid-looking haircut. And I just was in the
trailer at lunch and I was thinking, `Wow, you know what? I'm just a joke,'
you know? I mean, I was looking at myself and I thought, `I got four stupid
lines in a cable movie here. You know, I'm never going to get anywhere.' I
was just kind of feeling sorry for myself, really, and started making faces at
myself in the mirror, you know, just to sort of, like, make it ever more
exaggerated. It's like--you know, it's almost like pinching a sore, you know?
GROSS: Right. Right.
Mr. THORNTON: And so I made that face, and I started talking in that voice to
myself. I mean, it sounds insane. Maybe it is. I don't know. But that's
where I came up with that part of the character, the look and the voice. And
then I said that monologue to myself in the mirror that day, that whole
monologue. I don't know where it came from.
GROSS: Why don't we hear that monologue.
Mr. THORNTON: OK.
(Soundbite of "Sling Blade")
Mr. THORNTON: (As Karl) My daddy worked down there at the sawmill, down at
the planer mill, for an old man named Dixon. Old man Dixon was a very cruel
feller. Didn't treat his employees very well, didn't pay 'em too much of a
wage, didn't pay my daddy too much of a wage, just barely enough to get by on,
I reckon. But I reckon he got by all right. Hmm.
They used to come out, one or the other of them, usually my mother, feed me
pretty regular. Mm-hmm. Oh, I know he made enough to where I could have
mustard and biscuits three or four times a week. Hmm. Hmm.
But old man Dixon, he had a boy. Hmm. His name was Jesse Dixon. Guess he
was really more cruel than his daddy was. He used to make quite a bit of
sport of me. When I was down there at the schoolhouse, he used to take
advantage of little girls there in the neighborhood and all. Hmm. He used to
say that my mother was a very pretty woman. He said that quite a bit from
time to time when I'd be down there at the schoolhouse.
Well, I reckon you want me to get on a ways and tell you what happened. I
reckon I'll tell you. I was setting out there in the shed one evenin', not
doing too much of nothin', just kind of starin' at the wall and waitin' on my
mother to come out...
GROSS: Billy Bob Thornton in a scene from "Sling Blade," which he also wrote
and directed. I want to say something about your voice when you're talking.
It sometimes reminds me of Jimmy Carter and sometimes, particularly in certain
roles, of Hank Hill from "King of the Hill."
Mr. THORNTON: That's funny.
GROSS: Do you think I'm crazy?
Mr. THORNTON: No. I mean, I don't really hear myself, so I don't know. I
mean, I know that my voice has a strange range because I sing very, very deep,
you know, on certain things, and on other things I sing really high. Like, on
my second record, I did most of the harmonies on the record, and I have a
very, very high voice. I can sing, you know, like, high harmonies and stuff.
As a matter of fact, for my tour in Europe--we're doing a tour at the end of
March in Europe--and I've had to hire a female backup singer to sing the parts
that--you know, because the other guys in the band don't sing as high as I do.
So we hired her to sing the high parts, because I got to sing the low parts.
But, yeah, "King of the Hill," I like his voice, Hank Hill. Mike Judge does
that. He's a friend of mine. He's really terrific. I love the way he says,
(as Hank Hill) `Bobby.'
DAVIES: Actor, director and screenwriter Billy Bob Thornton, speaking with
Terry Gross in 2002. We'll hear more of their interview in the second half of
the show. I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Coming up, we continue our interview with actor Billy Bob Thornton.
Also, singer Nancy Sinatra. Her new CD includes songs written for her by
alternative artists, including Morrisey, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Bono
and Peter Yorn. And David Edelstein reviews "Team America."
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
Let's get back to Terry's interview with actor, director and screenwriter,
Billy Bob Thornton. He plays a West Texas football coach in the new film
"Friday Night Lights." Terry spoke to him in 2002.
GROSS: What's different about being famous than you imagined? Because most
people who want to act or make movies imagine what it would be like to be
Mr. THORNTON: Well, I think probably when you're growing up and you think,
`Hey, one of these days, what if I'm famous or whatever?' I think what you
probably dream of is you dream of, like, The Beatles getting out at the
airport there and everybody's screaming at you and everything and yelling your
name. And then when you get famous, it's like the last thing in the world you
want, you know what I mean?
Mr. THORNTON: It's like--maybe in the beginning. It's probably kind of fun
in the beginning, you know?
Mr. THORNTON: But, you know, I'm a little bit embarrassed around people.
I'm not sure why, but I'm very embarrassed in public at events. You know, I'm
not comfortable with it. And, you know, like, these red-carpet deals and
things like that--I get every embarrassed by that kind of thing. I think it's
having all the attention--you know, it's like a surprise birthday party, you
know? I'm terrified of that. It's like my worst...
Mr. THORNTON: It's my worst nightmare to walk in my house and have, like, a
bunch of people yell, `Surprise!' and make a big deal and have to open my
gifts in front of everybody. I can't--actually, I've had that happen to me
twice in my lifetime, and both times I almost had a seizure. But I kind of
feel that way.
It's like, you know, when all the attention is on you, it's just--there's
something embarrassing about that. And also, I feel, I think, I have a lot of
guilt from, you know, growing up poor and everything, and then suddenly having
stuff. I feel a little bit guilty about that.
And my brother, who died in 1988, I was always thought it should have been me
GROSS: How did he die?
Mr. THORNTON: He had a heart problem that nobody really knew about. They
think maybe he had rheumatic fever as a kid and they didn't know that or
something. But he would never go to the doctor. And I think he also had his
time of drug abuse, you know, which I don't think helped him.
GROSS: Why did you think it should have been you?
Mr. THORNTON: Well, I don't know. He was my younger brother. I was the one
who had been sick and been near death a couple of times and had real, real
problems with all those other things, you know? I mean, I've been clean of
drugs for over 20 years, but I had a really bad time with it and, you know,
the worst stuff, you know? And--I don't know. He was just a really talented
person, I always felt far more talented than me, and he was a sort of genius,
my brother, and he was completely honest, which I am these days; haven't
always been. I mean, I mainly have been, but, I mean, he was the kind of
person who was so honest that--you know, the way I talk about my life these
days, you know, I just don't hold anything back. And if I think something
about something or someone or whatever, I say it, and my brother always did
that, and I think I learned that from him, that you just say it, you say what
you believe in. He always did. And I think I felt like I was a weaker person
than him and all that. So I think sometimes I feel guilty about my success.
Mr. THORNTON: I think he should have had it.
GROSS: I want to squeeze in one other scene of yours, and this is from a
movie called "A Simple Plan." You starred in it. This is about three people
who steal money they find at the site of a plane crash and, you know, they're
a little conflicted about it, but they go through with it. In their attempts
to cover their tracks, things go terribly bad. This is a scene where your
brother is dropping you off at your house and you're wondering how money's
going to change your life. Now you're playing somebody who's kind of mentally
slow in this and who isn't physically attractive and, you know, your glasses
are held together by masking tape around the nosepiece.
Mr. THORNTON: OK.
(Soundbite of "A Simple Plan")
Mr. THORNTON: (As Jake) Why don't you think Celine(ph) will marry me if I'm
Mr. BILL PAXTON: (As Hank) You don't need money for that.
Mr. THORNTON: Hank.
Mr. PAXTON: Hey, come on. What about--What was her name?--Carrie
Richards(ph)? She liked you even though you were broke-dick.
Mr. THORNTON: Oh, her, yeah. That was a whole different deal. That was--her
friends, they pitched in a hundred bucks all together and betted her that she
wouldn't go stay with me for a month.
Mr. PAXTON: Jesus, Jake, I thought you guys had a thing.
Mr. THORNTON: Yeah, well, it wasn't that bad. Actually, it was kind of
cool. We used to walk around together a lot, you know, taking walks, you
know? And we talked about all kind of cool stuff. I held hands with her one
time when we were walking around, and my hand sweated so much, she--I kind of
had to let her go. I was nervous, I guess, but it was cool. When the month
was over, she, you know, kind of--she'd say hi to me sometimes in the hallway
when I'd see her. She didn't have to do that. That was cool of her. God,
Hank, I--you know, I've never even kissed a girl before. For--you know, if
being rich will change that, I'm all for it. I don't care. I just want to
feel it, you know? I just want to know what people do, you know? I don't
care if it's because of the money.
(Soundbite of thump)
Mr. THORNTON: Hank, I'm going to be happy now, right?
Mr. PAXTON: Sure you are. We all are.
Mr. THORNTON: Yeah, that's right, we all are.
GROSS: This is a very moving scene in which the character reveals a lot about
himself. Could you talk a little bit about doing this scene and not turning
it into a big fireworks kind of speech, but playing it really low key?
Mr. THORNTON: You know, first of all, as an actor, you're trying to be
realistic, and if you're talking to your brother in a car about something like
that, it is going to be low key. And sometimes, you know, I mean--well, when
an actor tries to make a point of something, it's like being at home
pretending you're like a rock star in the mirror or something. You know, it's
like that's not the way you should do it. You know, you should just kind of
talk or do whatever it is, you know?
And that scene, though, it was very--it was an emotional scene for me. So
what I did really in that scene, because it was, in a sense, autobiographical,
I put a couple--there were a few lines that I put in there about holding the
girl's hand and it was so sweaty I was embarrassed by it, something like that.
I had a time when I was in, you know, elementary school and junior high school
when it was sort of that way for me, and so that scene was very close to me.
And as opposed to trying to put anything more into the scene, I was actually
trying to hold back because I felt a lot of emotion about it. So I was
actually trying to not get emotional, so maybe that's the way it worked--why
it worked out that way.
DAVIES: Actor, director and screenwriter Billy Bob Thornton, speaking with
Terry Gross in 2002. Coming up, singer Nancy Sinatra. This is FRESH AIR.
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Interview: Nancy Sinatra discusses pivotal points in her career
DAVE DAVIES, host:
On today's archive, we hear from Nancy Sinatra. She has her first album out
since 1995, titled "Nancy Sinatra," collaborating with such artists as British
rocker Morrissey and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. Here's a song written by
U2's Bono and The Edge. It was originally written for her father, but never
(Soundbite of Nancy Sinatra song)
Ms. NANCY SINATRA: (Singing) Two shots of happy. One shot of sad. You
think he's no good, well, he knew he was bad. Took him to a place, now he
can't get back. Two shots of happy, one shot of sad. We walked together down
a dead-end street, mixing the bitter with the sweet. Don't try to figure out
what we might have had. Just two shots of happy, one shot of sad. He was a
DAVIES: Nancy Sinatra's best known for hits like, "These Boots Are Made for
Walkin'" and "How Does That Grab You, Darling?," in which she affects a style
that's tough but sexy. The daughter of Frank Sinatra's earlier records were
bubble-gum productions, overseen by Annette Funicello's music director. They
sold overseas but bombed in the States. In fact, her label, Reprise, was
ready to dump her even though the company was founded by her father. But
Reprise gave her one more chance in 1965 and with some help, she changed her
image and her luck. Terry Gross spoke to Nancy Sinatra in 1996.
TERRY GROSS reporting:
Ms. NANCY SINATRA (Recording Artist): Jimmy Bowen, who was head of A&R at
Reprise, put me with a guy named Lee Hazlewood. Lee had approached Jimmy,
unbeknownst to me. He said, `I can get her a chart record in this country.
And if I don't get her a chart record in this country, you can tell me to
leave.' And he said, `I promise a chart record the first time out.' And he
delivered. It was called "So Long, Babe," and it barely made the charts, but
it made the charts. During that session, he said to me, `You can't sing like
Nancy Nice Lady anymore. You have to sing for the truckers.' At about this
time, I was getting a divorce. My husband decided he didn't want to have
children and I did, and he knew it. So we split. And Lee said to me,
`You've been married and now you're divorced, and people know that. So let's
loose this virgin image. Let's get rid of it.' And we did that. And we'd
lowered the key. We dropped my voice down where it belonged; again, where I
was more comfortable early on, in the more R&B-type things.
GROSS: Let's hear "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" from a recent collection
of your greatest hits on Rhino Records.
Ms. SINATRA: OK.
(Soundbite of "These Boots are Made for Walkin'" by Nancy Sinatra)
Ms. SINATRA: (Singing) You keep sayin' you've got somethin' for me,
somethin' you call love, but confess. You've been a-messin' where you
shouldn't've been a-messin', and now someone else is gettin' all your best.
These boots are made for walkin' and that's just what they'll do. One of
these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.
GROSS: Nancy Sinatra is my guest. Did your whole image change after this
record came out--the way you dressed, what--your whole public persona?
Ms. SINATRA: Well, you know, again, timing is everything in life. I had
been on tour in Europe. I'd brought home from Carnaby Street the miniskirt,
and I wasn't crazy about the way my legs looked in the miniskirt. So I put on
the pair of boots. I wore that around. It became my favorite thing to wear.
I wore it to the dance clubs that I went to...
GROSS: I must stop you right here. Were they white boots?
Ms. SINATRA: No. No, they weren't, actually. They were kind of a camely
Ms. SINATRA: And I just, you know, people would make fun of me, saying,
`Well--What?--are you going to play tennis or what?' You know, 'cause the
miniskirt was not a staple the way it is now. As a matter of fact, it wasn't
seen at all, you know?
GROSS: Now a little later on, you recorded a duet with your father,
"Something Stupid." One thing that's always interested me about this record
is it's a song sung from the perspective of two lovers. But you were singing
it as father and daughter. Was that a slightly awkward thing to do?
Ms. SINATRA: No. It was a very natural thing to do. But the disc jockeys
dubbed it the incest song...
GROSS: Oh, really?
Ms. SINATRA: ...at the time, which I think probably added to it in a way,
you know. It gave them something fun to kid about. But no, recording it,
we--there are different ways to love people, I think, you know?
GROSS: Was it daunting to record a duet with your father or were you relaxed
Ms. SINATRA: I was very relaxed about it. I had had a certain number of
hits of my own. The scary part, though, was coming in when--at the end of the
session that they were doing that night with Jobim.
GROSS: Oh, that's the date that you recorded with Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Ms. SINATRA: Mm-hmm.
Ms. SINATRA: It was one of the sessions for that album, the first of their
albums. And so, you know, coming in with my little--I called us the B-Team.
Coming in with the B-Team, and watching the A-Team in action was just
enthralling and--I don't like this word, but awesome, you know? And then, of
course, the A-Team moved over and the little B-Team took over, Lee Hazlewood,
Jimmy Bowen, Billy Strange and our rhythm section, and we cut a number-one
GROSS: Yeah, you delivered.
Ms. SINATRA: Yeah.
GROSS: Why don't we hear it? This is my guest, Nancy Sinatra, and her
father, Frank Sinatra.
(Soundbite of "Something Stupid" by Frank and Nancy Sinatra)
Mr. FRANK SINATRA and Ms. SINATRA: (Singing in unison) I know I'd stand in
line until you think you had the time to spend an evening with me. And if we
go someplace to dance I know that there's a chance you won't be leaving with
me. Then afterwards we drop into a quiet little place and have a drink or
two. And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like `I love
you.' I can see it in your eyes that you despise the same old lies you heard
the night before. And though it's just a line to you...
DAVIES: Nancy Sinatra with her father in 1967. When Terry Gross spoke with
Nancy Sinatra in 1996, she asked about something that was considered pretty
risque, especially for a woman in her mid-50s.
GROSS: You posed naked for Playboy.
Ms. SINATRA: Yes.
GROSS: I haven't seen the picture, but why? Why did you do it?
Ms. SINATRA: When I decided that it was time to get back to work, I realized
that it was a lot more competitive out there then it had been when I left.
And I needed a good shocking promotional tool. And I didn't know in the '90s
what there was available. My publicist said to me, `What about Playboy?' And
I said, `Oh, no, never. I mean, I wouldn't do it my 20's; why would I do it
in my 50's?' He said, `Well, it's a tool.' I said, `But, you know, I sure
would like them to shoot the pictures for the album.' I was doing a new album
at the time called "One More Time."
And I met with Marilyn Grabowski, who's the West Coast photo editor for
Playboy, and Steven Wayda, the photographer. We decided what we were going to
do for the album. And Marilyn said, `Why don't we do a pictorial?' I said,
`I don't think so.' And she said, `Nancy, if you don't like the
pictures'--she said, `You look great. If you don't like the pictures, you can
take them home and burn them or whatever else you want to do with them.' So I
said, `Well, Steven, you'd better take a look at me first.' So Steven and the
make-up lady and I went into a private kind of a room in the Playboy studio,
and I did my little strip. And he said, `I think you look great.' He said,
`Let's do it.' I said, `OK.'
GROSS: But you liked the pictures?
Ms. SINATRA: The pictures were wonderful. They were absolutely wonderful,
and this was before any air brushing or retouching. And I was just--you know,
I was torn. And I thought, `Would this offend anybody? Would this possibly
be offensive to my family, first of all, my children, of course?'
Ms. SINATRA: And I checked with them and they both said, `Why don't you go
for it, Mom? It's probably a good idea.'
GROSS: So did it do what you wanted it to do?
Ms. SINATRA: Absolutely. That and more.
GROSS: Did your father give you his blessing?
Ms. SINATRA: Not exactly, no. No. It was more, `Get more money for it.'
You know, `Get more money.' But he understood the reasons and that--I
GROSS: Nancy Sinatra, thank you so much for talking with us.
Ms. SINATRA: Thank you, Terry. I've really enjoyed this.
DAVIES: Nancy Sinatra speaking with Terry Gross in 1996. Her new album is
called, "Nancy Sinatra." Coming up, David Edelstein on "Team America: World
Police." This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: New film "Team America: World Police"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
The creators of the animated comedy series "South Park" have a new movie
called "Team America: World Police." It's a send-up of action films and all
the roles are played by puppets. Filmmakers Trey Parker and Matt Stone
promised the movie would be more offensive than their usual fare on "South
Park," quite a boast from men who've given us homosexual love between Satan
and Saddam Hussein, Mel Gibson as a raging pain fetishist, and a seemingly
endless run of four-letter words and poop jokes. Film critic David Edelstein
has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:
My favorite TV show is "South Park." I admire it for the ferociously
subversive iconoclasm that bursts from the mouths of its juvenile characters,
and for its exuberant deconstruction of specious middle-brow sitcom homilies.
I also believe that its crude animation, much maligned, actually brilliantly
distills and exteriorizes its makers' welterschutternd. Also, I really love
the talking, singing poop that leaves big splotches of crap wherever it lands.
So I was up, up, up for "Team America: World Police." The title tells you
it's a stink bomb lobbed at American arrogance and overweening militarism.
That'll piss off the right wing.
And the open letter to directors Trey Parker and Matt Stone from lefty
peacenik Sean Penn, decrying their irreverence at a time of international
crisis? That's promising, too. Give him points for stirring bipartisan
outrage. But the real politics here are anti-Jerry Bruckheimer. Parker and
Stone have called "Team America" a Bruckheimer movie with marionettes. And
beat by beat, the movie is patterned on "Top Gun" and its ilk. It's got the
maverick hero with the `guilty, buried-trauma back story resulting in
emotional blockage that must be manfully overcome' template. What's different
is that, yes, he's a puppet and you can see his strings. And he's not a
fighter pilot, he's a Broadway actor recruited by a Charlton Heston-like
father figure to save the world with his acting, by infiltrating an Islamic
terrorist group. But that's hard because his acting once got his brother
beaten to death by guerrillas.
And I'm sorry if I'm spoiling that revelation, but there are so many more.
There's marionette sex, hard-core, and marionette puking, also hard-core.
There's an orgy of marionette violence, really splattery stuff. The hero has
a soulful number where he croons he misses his girl as much as director
Michael Bay missed the mark with Bruckheimer's "Pearl Harbor."
Now real-life politics do make a cameo. In the first sequence, the
paramilitary Team America, three studly hunks and two curvacious cuties, goes
after Islamic terrorists in Paris and ends up blowing up the Louvre to keep
one from detonating a bomb inside. A good joke on the `blow 'em up to save
'em' school of occupation. But after the team destroys the Panama Canal, the
target of the movie shifts from the overweening militarism to left-wing
peacenik, anti-corporate sanctimoniousness in the person of Michael Moore and
a bunch of blow-hard actors, led by Alec Baldwin, all of whom cozy up to North
Korea's megalomaniacal Kim Jong Il in the name of world peace. That's the
part that had Sean Penn wringing his hands and must have puzzled people who
assume that Parker and Stone, with their toilet-talk blasphemy and camp
sensibility, are flaming lefties. They're not. They're Libertarians. They
hate liberals as much, if not more, than their right-wing counterparts. The
biggest surprise here is that there's no Barbra Streisand bashing.
Kim Jong Il is the Blofeld-like criminal mastermind. "South Park" fans will
recognize the voice of the bloated id figure, Cartman, with all the R's turned
(Clips from "Team America: World Police")
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Kim Jong Il) ...(Unintelligible) Hans Brix going
to the palace. Hans Brix? Oh, no! Oh, herro. Great to see you again, Hans.
Unidentified Actor #2: (As Hans Blix) Mr. Il, I was supposed to be allowed
to inspect your palace today and your guards won't let me into certain areas.
Unidentified Actor #1: Hans, Hans, Hans, we been froo dis a dozen times. I
don't have any weapons of mass destruction, OK, Hans?
Unidentified Actor #2: Then let me look around so I can ease the UN's
collective mind. I'm sorry, but the UN must be firm with you. Let me see
your whole palace, or else.
Unidentified Actor #1: Or else, what?
Unidentified Actor #2: Or else we will be very, very angry with you. And we
will write you a letter telling you how angry we are.
Unidentified Actor #1: OK. I'll show you, Hans. You ready? Stand a rittle
to your left. Rittle more. Good.
Unidentified Actor #2: (Makes gurgling sounds)
Unidentified Actor #1: Dere you go, Hans Brix.
EDELSTEIN: That scene's a hoot and there are scores like it. And the
marionette work and production design are an amazing blend of the crude and
the intricately beautiful. But when Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins,
Susan Sarandon and Janine Garofalo moronically align themselves with Kim Jong
Il and start wielding automatic weapons against Team America, well, leftist
actors learned from Vietnam not to cozy up to dictators. Jane Fonda hasn't
worked in over a decade. And it's the left right now, using Kim Jong Il to
hammer Bush about pre-emptive strikes only against countries with oil fields.
And Michael Moore wouldn't be a suicide bomber because he thinks too highly of
his indispensability. This isn't very incisive left bashing.
The thing about the best "South Park" episodes is that the good ones are
profound. There was one that took on John Edward, the guy who claims to talk
to the dead, that's a magnificent summation of the skeptical worldview in 23
minutes. There are others on that genius level. I laughed all the way
through "Team America," but in the end, it pretty much boils down to a lot of
`Nyah, nyah' infantile feces hurling, which we've had quite enough of this
election season, thank you.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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