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Huffman and Macy Display Talents in 'Transamerica'

Husband and wife actors Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy have collaborated on the new offbeat feature Transamerica. Macy is the executive producer on the project, which features Huffman as a male-to-female transsexual who is contacted by the son she never knew she fathered.

42:33

Other segments from the episode on May 16, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 16, 2005: Interview with William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman; Commentary on Charlie Poole.

Transcript

DATE May 16, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman discuss their
acting and directing careers individually and jointly
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guests are two great actors who are also married, Felicity Huffman and
William H. Macy. Huffman has recently become a household name as a result of
her role on "Desperate Housewives" as Lynette. She also starred in the
critically acclaimed but short-lived series Sports Night. William H. Macy is
currently in "Sahara." He received an Oscar nomination for his role in "The
Cooler" and won writing and acting Emmys for the tele-movie "Door to Door."
His other movies include "Seabiscuit," "Fargo," "Boogie Nights" and
"Homicide."

Now Macy is the executive producer of a new movie that stars Felicity Huffman
called "Transamerica." It played last month at the Tribeca Film Festival,
where Huffman won the best actress award. It's scheduled to open theatrically
at the end of the year. Huffman plays a transsexual man who's preparing to
have final gender reassignment surgery and is already passing as a genetic
female. In this scene, she's being evaluated for the surgery by a
psychiatrist. This scene and parts of the interview may not be appropriate
for young children.

(Soundbite of "Transamerica")

Unidentified Man #1: Do you consider yourself a happy person?

Ms. FELICITY HUFFMAN: (As Sabrina Claire Osborne) Yes. I mean, no. I mean,
I will be.

Unidentified Man #1: Ms. Osborne, there's no such thing as a right answer in
this office.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Sabrina) Yes, I'm a very happy person.

Unidentified Man #1: How can I help you if you won't be honest with me?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Sabrina) You can sign that consent form. Please.

Unidentified Man #1: The American Psychiatric Association categorizes gender
dysphoria as a very serious mental disorder.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Sabrina) After my operation, not even a gynecologist will be
able to detect anything out of the ordinary about my body. I will be a woman.
Don't you find it odd that plastic surgery can cure a mental disorder?

Unidentified Man #1: How do you feel about your penis?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Sabrina) It disgusts me. I don't even like looking at it.

Unidentified Man #1: What about friends?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Sabrina) They don't like it, either.

Unidentified Man #1: No, I mean, do you have the support of friends?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Sabrina) I'm very close to my therapist.

Unidentified Man #1: What about your family?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Sabrina) My family is dead.

GROSS: Soon after the session, she receives a phone call from a teen-age
runaway looking for his father and learns she fathered him in a brief
relationship. When she goes to bail him out of jail, her life is thrown off
course.

Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Thank you.

Mr. WILLIAM H. MACY (Actor): Thank you.

GROSS: Felicity, in "Transamerica," you play a woman playing a woman who is
transforming himself into a woman, so the obvious first question is: How come
you were cast in the role and not a man?

Ms. HUFFMAN: It's a great question, and it's one that I actually asked
myself and the director. After I got the job, I called Duncan Tucker, who's
the director and the writer, and I tried to convince him to cast a man, and
then I went, `Thank you so much for the part. Now you really ought to cast a
man because, you know, not to be crass, but everybody knows what's under my
skirt.' And he said very astutely that the movie is not about what's under
your skirt; the movie is about becoming who you really are. And he wanted to
be true to the essence of a transgendered woman, which would be that they're a
woman, as opposed to the externals.

GROSS: Now the kind of woman that you're playing as a man who's becoming a
woman is a different kind of woman than I suspect you are. In other words...

Ms. HUFFMAN: What are you saying, Terry?

GROSS: Well, here's exactly what I'm saying, that he's kind of inhabiting a
kind of woman who is probably female in a way that's slightly different than
you are...

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...with an almost studied wiggle in the walk. And you know, we'll
talk about learning the voice in a second. But he's learned how to be a
woman, and you just are a woman. And there's a certain type of female manner
that I think people who are transsexuals adopt that's a little different than
a lot of women who are just women, who are in some ways less feminine.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Well, it's a journey, because most transgendered people who are
transgendered do it later in life when they actually have the finances to do
it, 'cause it's very expensive. And also, you know, after quite a few years,
30 or 40, of struggling with this decision because, you know, they're caught
between a rock and a hard place--either they can be alienated from themselves,
you know, not presenting who they really are, or they can have the sexual
reassignment surgery, and then they're going to be alienated from society. So
it takes a long time before you're willing to sacrifice society for yourself,
if that's clear.

And the reason I preface that is because you take a 40-year-old guy and you
say, `All right, starting tomorrow, I want you to wear a dress and earrings
and makeup and present to the world as a woman,' because you have to dress as
a woman for a year before you are OK'd for the sexual reassignment surgery.
And, you know, they're--they don't know how to do that.

Mr. MACY: A lot of women don't know how to do that.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah, myself included. So, yeah, I think what I chose for
Sabrina Claire Osborne, which is what my name was in the movie, Bree, it was a
very studied, learned, almost beauty-pageant kind of femininity because she
had to go to that extreme to learn it before she could find it in herself. I
think in the last scene of the movie, you can see her being a little more
settled in her own femininity. I also happen to know a lot of transgendered
women who, you know, are completely comfortable being a woman and aren't that
sort of mannerisms--don't have those kind of mannerisms that I adopted in the
movie.

GROSS: Felicity, your--the movie starts with your character watching a
videotape of a woman demonstrating for pre-op transsexuals how to place their
voice so that they sound more like a woman. And that's the kind of thing you
try to--your character tries to achieve through the movie. And there's
something that's so convincing about what you've done with your voice for this
film. Could you talk a little bit about placing it for the movie?

Ms. HUFFMAN: Sure. Let me give you some background, though. Sexual
reassignment surgery and hormone therapy does not alter the vocal cords. So
you can have someone that looks like Kate Moss sound like James Earl Jones.
And it's one of the most difficult challenges they have, because it's hard to
find your female voice. And the woman at the beginning of the movie who you
see in the videotape is Andrea James, and that's one of the things she does is
she coaches--as you said, she coaches men how to sound like women. And, you
know, you want to sound authentic. You don't want to sound like a guy, but
you also don't want to sound like Tony Curtis in "Some Like It Hot."

So I--women don't even have the chest cavity or the head cavity that men have
to drop it down. I mean, you saw Andrea on that film go (makes vocal sound
descending in pitch) you know, finish up for me, Bill. She went, like...

Mr. MACY: (Makes low-pitched vocal sound)

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah, she went down like that. So I couldn't find a way to do
it, and I knew it was key. And I finally went to--we were rehearsing in New
York, and I went to a wonderful voice coach named Katie Bowle(ph). And,
through a bunch of work, we figured out how to find a voice that sounded like
it was transition, which is as close as I could get.

GROSS: So the interesting thing about what you're doing with your voice is
that it's lower than your actual voice as a woman, but it's higher...

Ms. HUFFMAN: By about four octaves, yeah.

GROSS: Wow.

Mr. MACY: Lay some on her. Lay some on her. It's odd.

Ms. HUFFMAN: I can't get there without a...

Mr. MACY: You did it a minute ago.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Talk amongst yourselves.

Mr. MACY: There it goes. I heard her.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (In low-pitched voice) Hi, Terry. Hi. I'm really happy to be
here at NPR.

That's about as low as I can get right now.

Mr. MACY: Pretty good.

GROSS: Yeah. So it's much lower than your voice, but it's probably higher
than a lot of men's voices. So you had to find something in between.

Mr. MACY: The thing that Felicity did that's so great in this film is that
you--we now all know her very well because of "Desperate Housewives," and you
look at this character and you know it's Felicity in there somewhere, but it's
just all a little wrong. It was perfect. She really has done a number. She
erased her face somehow. I don't know she did it.

GROSS: Oh! No, exactly, yeah.

Mr. MACY: And then painted it back on. So it's her face, but it's just not
right somehow.

GROSS: I noticed that, actually, just watching it. And what I was thinking
about was that--Felicity, tell me if you think this is right--that you do want
to--your face is almost like a mask in the movie, as if you're trying to not
betray too much of what you're feeling, 'cause what you're feeling at this
point is such kind of confusion. And so...

Ms. HUFFMAN: No, she's not feeling confusion. What she's feeling is
intense--and I can't think of the right word--it's like intense, Mach 4, of
self-consciousness, because she doesn't represent to the world the way she
feels inside, so all she can hope is she comes in under the radar, you know,
`Just don't look at me. I'm not tall. I'm not big.' You know, she doesn't
know how to do her makeup. You know, her hair's a little funky from hormones,
which happens. And so it's not that she's lost; it's that...

Mr. MACY: What's the phrase they use when they're made or when they're...

Ms. HUFFMAN: Clocked.

Mr. MACY: Clocked. When someone realizes that it's a transgendered person,
they're clocked. And that's the biggest fear.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah. They just--yeah, they live in--yeah, it's horrible,
because you're pointed out as, ooh, a freak.

GROSS: So, Felicity, you won a best acting award at the Tribeca Film
Festival. So, Bill Macy, what's the next step with the movie, you know, as a
producer, now what?

Mr. MACY: Harvey Weinstein has bought it for his new company, and it will be
released late in the year, December, hopefully. And it will go on to make a
hundred million dollars domestically and break all records in Europe.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Felicity Huffman and William
H. Macy. And she's starring in this movie "Transamerica" that he produced.

And now, Bill Macy, the last time you were on FRESH AIR...

Mr. MACY: Oh.

GROSS: ...this was, like, 1993--we talked a lot about your approach to acting
and what you'd learned from working with David Mamet in theater and in movies.
And I remember you talking about how you're not into the Method and you're
into always asking, like, what's your motive, like, what do you want the other
person to do, what action are you trying to get them to do with what you're
saying. And it's kind of different from, like, the Method approach of, like,
drawing on your deepest emotional memories that, like, approximate what the
character's going through. Do you both have the same approach to acting? Do
you...

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah.

Mr. MACY: I think we do, and I think "Transamerica" is an excellent example
of that. Felicity has a serious characterization to do. Her voice is
different; her walk is different; her look is different. Every physical thing
about her is different. But why the film works so well is that she doesn't
forget to act, and that happens so often for an actor; when it's a high-wire
act with this characterization, you forget to act. You forget to look at the
other person. And the reason the film works so well is that it's just her,
ultimately.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah, I think we approach work the same way. I mean, I was
constantly--'cause Bill was home a lot with the girls. I would say several
times a day I was calling Bill for coaching on a scene, and we work that way a
lot. I call him from "Desperate Housewives," and he solves it for me.

GROSS: What kind of advice do you ask?

Ms. HUFFMAN: Oh, I read the scene over--I fax him the scene or the rewrites
and we read it together, and I sort of say, `What do you think it means? What
do you think she wants? How should I approach it?'

Mr. MACY: We do it with each other. Sometimes you can miss the forest for
the trees. When it's a scene...

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah, me, I can, yeah.

Mr. MACY: When it's a scene, you have to act in moments, really. An outsider
can look at it with a little bit fresher eye, really.

GROSS: My guests are actors William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman. More after
a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, two great actors
who are also married.

Bill Macy, you became well-known before Felicity Huffman did. And now,
Felicity Huffman, you're now well-known yourself through "Desperate
Housewives." Did you ever worry about an imbalance of fame or success within
the relationship? I mean, that's in some relationships a real problem if one
person becomes well-known or successful in their line of work before their
partner does. And that--for some people it doesn't really matter; for others,
it can be a real problem.

Mr. MACY: Felicity's always been nothing but generous but me. It exists for
me. If my career were suddenly in the toilet, I would--I think it would be an
issue for me. But so far, I love her success and I'm in no hurry to go back
to work. And she can support me in the manner to which I'd like to be
accustomed for a long time before it's going to hurt my ego.

GROSS: But for a long time, you were well-known and, Felicity Huffman, you
weren't known at all...

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...or barely. So was that problematic for you? Did...

Ms. HUFFMAN: I've never--I can honestly say--and it's not because I'm
virtuous; I've never had a moment's problem with it. I think because it was
the way it was when we got together. I mean, when we got together, Bill
was--he wasn't known on the level he's known now, but he was known as a great
actor around New York City, and he's always been the kind of actor and the
level of his game is something that I aspire to, so I sort of came in doing
that. You know, I knew where it was. And you know, he's always--I don't know
how to say this, but you're just always better than I am and smarter than I
am, and so I like it.

GROSS: How did you both meet, Bill?

Ms. HUFFMAN: The Atlantic Theater Company.

Mr. MACY: We met through the Atlantic Theater Company in New York City.

GROSS: And you were both acting in it?

Mr. MACY: I was teaching and Felicity was a student. But I didn't touch her,
Terry. I didn't touch her...

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. MACY: ...until long after she had graduated, hours after she had
graduated.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So...

Ms. HUFFMAN: I can't believe you said that. I was so willing to, like,
(makes whooshing noise) go right around it.

Mr. MACY: Let it go. The word's out. It's no hiding anymore.

GROSS: Right. Was that awkward while you were her teacher?

Ms. HUFFMAN: We didn't get together until after--it was I was graduated.

Mr. MACY: The company had been formed for a while.

Ms. HUFFMAN: It was the theater company.

Mr. MACY: Our relationship was really more of company members.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah.

Mr. MACY: And I...

Ms. HUFFMAN: Except that all the girls had crushes on Bill, I have to tell
you.

Mr. MACY: Now she tells me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Let me play a scene of you together, and this is from the series
"Sports Night," in which, Felicity Huffman, you played a producer of an
ESPN-type sports show. And, Bill Macy, for a few episodes, you played a
consultant who's brought in to boost the ratings, and you have very strong
opinions of how to do that, and you're trying to tell the producers what they
should be doing to improve the show. So here's a scene where you've come into
the control room and you're telling the producer, Felicity Huffman, what she
should do.

(Soundbite of "Sports Night")

Mr. MACY: (As Sam Donovan) Hey.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana Whitaker) Good evening.

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) Sure seems a little stiff tonight, don't you think?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) Yes, I do.

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) Maybe even stiffer than last time.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) I believe it is.

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) You know why?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) 'Cause you're freaking everyone out?

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) Could it be?

Unidentified Man #2: Stand by, 57 and 58.

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) You know what I'd do if I were you?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) Kill myself?

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) No, I'd whisper in your ear.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) I beg your pardon?

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) The two of you, whisper something in their ear.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) What are you talking about?

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) Men like the sound of a woman whispering in their ear.
They get playful.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) Why don't we just go do a lap dance?

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) No, we don't have that kind of time, but I like your
thinking.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) Listen...

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) Whisper in their ear.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) I'm not whispering in their ear. Natalie's not
whispering in their ear.

Ms. KAYLA BLAKE: (As Kim) If you want, I...

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Dana) Kim's not whispering in their ear. You've gotten
everything you've wanted. We've been totally cooperative. But I'm afraid
from 11 to 12, this is my show, and I'll deal with things the way I deal with
things.

Mr. MACY: (As Sam) OK.

GROSS: That's William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman in a scene from the former
ABC series "Sports Night," which is out on DVD.

So when you worked on that together, did you talk--again, you know, like your
approach to acting has to do with what are you getting the other person to do
by saying what you say. Did you talk about that kind of thing to each other,
or should you not show your cards to each other when you're going to be in a
scene together.

Ms. HUFFMAN: No, we totally show our cards to each other. Yeah. It's not
a...

GROSS: It doesn't, like, diminish the power or anything 'cause the other
character knows...

Ms. HUFFMAN: No, because...

GROSS: ...how you're trying to manipulate them?

Ms. HUFFMAN: No, no, no, because it lives in the moment. It doesn't live in
what you practiced in the dressing room or rehearsals in the afternoon. It
was in the moment. And if Bill does something different, I'll react
differently. And if I do something different, he reacts differently. So you
don't bring in something you rehearsed earlier. You live in the moment, and
that's constantly changing.

Mr. MACY: And it's not as if it's a secret. I mean, if a scene is
well-written, it's pretty clear what's going on. The playwright is not out to
trick us; he's out to make it as clear as possible.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah. And Aaron Sorkin--wasn't it fun to hear that?

Mr. MACY: Oh, that guy can write.

Ms. HUFFMAN: That guy can write.

Mr. MACY: He could do it professionally.

Ms. HUFFMAN: He could.

GROSS: So this scene sounds like it was a lot of fun to do.

Mr. MACY: That whole series was fun to do.

Ms. HUFFMAN: It was fantastic. It was so great to have Bill come on. And we
got to make out and get paid for it.

GROSS: (Laughs) You know, I always think that when you start out doing David
Mamet plays, as you both did, that in some ways it's got to be all downhill
from there. I mean, how many people write dialogue on that level? Have you
ever felt, either of you, in roles where, like, you know, it was a good part,
you should be doing it, but it just wasn't kind of reaching that level that
you wanted?

Mr. MACY: I think when you're--I think various scripts bring various things
to the table. David can certainly write dialogue as well or better than
anybody else. But sometimes there's a great story to be told, or sometimes
it's a great character to play, or sometimes the dynamic with all the
characters. There's different elements to the party each time. It doesn't
have to Mamet dialogue each time. Also, Mamet dialogue is a double-edge
sword. On one hand, it's fun to speak, but it's impossible to learn and very
complicated.

GROSS: Why?

Ms. HUFFMAN: And difficult to do well.

GROSS: Why is it complicated and difficult?

Ms. HUFFMAN: He writes in iambic pentameter most of the time, and it's a
very--the wording is very specific. And it's not casual.

Mr. MACY: It's not casual at all. Sometimes when you read a Mamet script, it
takes you three or four readings just to understand exactly what the
characters say. And interestingly, when you read it, you'll read a sentence
on the page and you're not sure of what it means, but the second you say it
out loud, it's clear.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yes.

Mr. MACY: He has a tendency to cut some of the words out of a speech, as we
do in natural speech.

GROSS: William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman will be back in the second half
of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, more of our conversation with actors William H. Macy and
Felicity Huffman. Also, rock historian Ed Ward plays some vintage recordings
of banjo player Charlie Poole, a three-disc set of his music from the 1930s
that's just been released.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Felicity Huffman and
William H. Macy, two great actors who are also married. They collaborated on
the new film "Transamerica." Macy is the executive producer. Huffman stars
as a transsexual who's preparing to undergo final gender reassignment surgery
and is already passing as a woman. It opens later this year.

Macy's movies include "The Cooler," "Fargo," "Boogie Nights" and "Homicide."
Huffman is now one of the stars of "Desperate Housewives." She plays Lynette,
a woman who gave up her career to raise her four children. Lately she thinks
her husband has lost interest in her, and she's afraid it's because his former
girlfriend has just started working in his office. In a recent episode, she
tried to spice up the marriage by dressing in a French maid's costume but fell
asleep before he came home from work. Here's what happened the next morning.
Her husband is played by Doug Savant.

(Soundbite of "Desperate Housewives")

Mr. DOUG SAVANT: (As Tom Scavo) Honey, you were wearing a French maid's
costume. I mean, come on, what were you thinking?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Lynette Scavo) I was thinking our marriage was in trouble,
and one of us ought to do something to try and save it.

Mr. SAVANT: (As Tom Scavo) Whoa! Since when is our marriage in trouble? OK,
so we haven't had sex for a few days. Big deal. It happens.

(Soundbite of car horn)

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Lynette Scavo) Oh, that's Annabel. How ironic.

Mr. SAVANT: (As Tom Scavo) How has Annabel rolled into this conversation?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Lynette Scavo) Because she now comes to this house every
morning to remind you of what I'm not.

Mr. SAVANT: (As Tom Scavo) What?

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Lynette Scavo) She's the fantasy, Tom, the hot woman you
work with every day with her manicured nails and her designer outfits. And I
am the reality, the wife who never wears makeup and whose clothes smell like
a hamper.

Mr. SAVANT: (As Tom Scavo) OK. This may be the stupidest thing you've ever
said.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Lynette Scavo) I used to be the fantasy. There was a time
when I didn't need a maid's outfit because I knew I was enough for you, even
wearing a smelly T-shirt. And clearly that's no longer the case.

Mr. SAVANT: (As Tom Scavo) OK, honey, I don't know what to say. Look, if
there's a way for me to fix this, I will do it. Just tell me, and I will do
it.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (As Lynette Scavo) No, there's nothing to fix. You've changed.
It's all I'm saying.

GROSS: You know how you were talking about before, that the way things work
out, one of you works on a film or a TV show while the other stays home, takes
care of your two children? And you try, I guess, to alternate with that.
Felicity Huffman, when you were offered a part in "Desperate Housewives," did
that create a big discussion about the amount of time that it would take to do
it and who would take care of the children? And, Bill Macy, what effect did
that have on your career?

Ms. HUFFMAN: Well, you know, you never know if those things are going to go.
I've done so many pilots, and a lot of them have been wonderful, and they've
died an untimely death. But, you know, the prerequisites that I needed before
I'd go in and audition on something was that it had to be ensemble and that it
had to shoot in LA. And since I'm--can't do sitcoms and have been fired off
several, I decided not to go for sitcoms (laughs). And so with that, I knew I
would shoot in LA so I could be home, and it was part of an ensemble so, God
willing, I wouldn't work every day. And--Thank you, Marc Cherry--that's what
I got.

GROSS: You were fired from sitcoms?

Mr. MACY: I knew you'd pick up on that.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah, I was.

GROSS: What was...

Ms. HUFFMAN: I've also killed several of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, why were you fired?

Ms. HUFFMAN: I was bad. I'm not kidding you. I was bad. My best friend--I
remember one I did when we shot the pilot, and it was with an audience. My
best friend came and--a member of the Atlantic Theater Company. She was so
sweet. She brought me flowers, too. She was like, `Congratulations.' And I
said, `What'd you think?' And she goes, `Oh, you were pretty bad.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HUFFMAN: And, sure enough, I got fired.

GROSS: But anyway, getting back to the series in general, did you think it
was going to, like, be a subject of the culture wars when you started? Did
you think it would get to that level?

Ms. HUFFMAN: Well, again, I have to preface this by saying, you know, you
never think it's going to get out of the box, you know. I mean, I've learned
that over the years. You do a pilot, and you go, `I wonder what I'm going to
do after the pilot,' because you never think it's going to get picked up.
And, gosh, you never think it's going to have the ride that "Desperate
Housewives" did. And in terms of it being, you know, a cultural phenomenon,
from the standpoint of my character--I mean, the reason I was attracted to
Lynette--because I swore I would never play a mother, and I didn't want to
play a wife because I found them two-dimensional, and I found them not to be
true to my experience of either one of those jobs, I guess I would say.

That Marc Cherry wrote a portrait of motherhood that spoke to me. I know it's
not everybody's, but I felt it my experience of motherhood, which is that it's
phenomenally difficult and crazy-making, and you lose yourself, and you can't
remember what it was like. And you're really ugly, and most of the time
you're fat. And it's not out there socially, and it's not out there in the
media. You know, the most you can get from mothers is, like, `Yeah, I'm
really tired.' But my experience was, I'd turn to mothers and I'd go, `I'm
losing my mind, and I can't do this. And I love this kid, but I'm--obviously
this is not the job for me.' And they'd go, `Huh, but don't you love being a
mother?' And I'd go, `It's so much more difficult. That question doesn't
even apply.'

So that's the long way of getting back to, did I think it would be a cultural
phenomenon? No. But it spoke to me on that sociological level because I've
experienced that. You know, it's the idealization of motherhood. It's that
motherhood is one of the last icons, and there's one way to do it. And that
makes me crazy. And I think Marc writes to that, and I appreciate it. So
that's why I took it, and I'm glad that it's hit a nerve with mothers, not all
mothers. I certainly know--I'm not speaking for them all, but I just feel
like that experience was silent.

GROSS: My guests are actors Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy. We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are actors William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman. They're
married and have collaborated on several projects. In addition to being one
of the stars of "Desperate Housewives," Huffman stars in the new movie
"Transamerica" as a male-to-female transsexual, who finds out she fathered a
child years ago. Macy is the executive producer of the movie. Parts of our
conversation may not be suitable for young children.

Felicity Huffman, in "Transamerica," in which you play a pre-operative
transsexual, your character still has a male body in the movie. And, as you
said, you know, the movie's kind of a road trip, and you're in the car with
the young man you've just found out is your teen-age son, who you fathered
before...

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yes.

GROSS: ...you decided to become a transsexual. But anyways--so there's a
scene where you have to relieve yourself.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: And so you have a prosthetic genital there.

Ms. HUFFMAN: I do.

GROSS: And that's kind of interesting, because we see this from a distance,
and you look very uncomfortable. I mean, obviously you don't want to be seen.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: But, also, you just look uncomfortable in your own body at that point,
and...

Ms. HUFFMAN: More uncomfortable than I have before? Are you saying I look
uncomfortable handling Andy?

Mr. MACY: Well, I...

GROSS: Yes, that's what I'm saying.

Mr. MACY: Andy?

Ms. HUFFMAN: I called him Andy.

GROSS: That's what I am delicately saying.

Mr. MACY: Yeah, she named it Andy.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. MACY: I felt when I saw that scene, where she's relieving herself beside
the car, I thought it was sort of wonderful, that discomfort that you're
talking about. You could see it, that this--here is a woman who's stuck in
the wrong body, and I thought it showed in that scene.

GROSS: And, Felicity, I thought it must be interesting--must have been
interesting for you to have that prosthetic and to be in a man's body for a
moment.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Well, you know, it's interesting. When we started shooting in
New York, Andy was not on the scene. And at the first day of shooting, I
realized something was missing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MACY: Happens to me all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HUFFMAN: And I turned to the wonderful Kate Bailey, who was helping me
out on the movie, and I said, `Is there such a thing as Andy?' And she went to
some store where men get them for their swimming suits, and I am not kidding.
And so I got Andy, and my undergarments--you know, I spoke to a lot of
transgendered women in various stages of their transformation. And some of
them wear really tight underwear, then pantyhose over that and then a girdle,
so that not only is everything tucked in, but, you know, they have a shape a
little bit; they have a waist. And I did that because I needed the rigidity,
and I needed the feeling of discomfort. And I also wore Andy in there because
it just felt--it just added to the alienation that I needed to play the part,
and--except in Arizona, when it was about 120 in the shade. And then, you
know, two was a crowd.

And, actually, you know, that scene where Bree is on the side of the road
relieving herself and her son sees that she is, indeed, a guy, that was added.
We were up in the high desert in Arizona, and Duncan came to me and said, `You
know, I think we might want this scene,' 'cause we never--we were--it wasn't
going to be shot before. It was just him looking back, and you infer what
Toby sees. But Duncan wanted it shot, and so--it's funny because, you know,
we always say--I always say I'm not a method actor, but I have to say, when
Duncan said, `We really have to see Bree's penis,' I burst into tears, because
I felt so exposed and so embarrassed, you know. And I'd done that nude scene
in the bathtub and all that stuff, but that felt so intimate. And I think
that is the part living in you. You know, in the best of circumstances,
hopefully that happens.

GROSS: Is that uncommon for you to almost break into tears because you're
so--because the character would be so uncomfortable?

Ms. HUFFMAN: Not when I'm actually shooting, not when it's in a scene. But
just because it's not how I approach the work, you know, that I don't
recognize it when that happens, when the character lives in me, until
afterwards. I mean, I only--I was talking to someone a couple weeks ago, and
I went, `Oh, that's what that moment was about.' I thought I was just tired,
but now I think it was the character of Bree living in me that didn't want to
show what she wished wasn't there.

GROSS: Bill Macy, in one of your recent movies, "The Cooler," you had a sex
scene with Maria Bello.

Mr. MACY: I did?

Ms. HUFFMAN: `A' sex scene? `A' sex scene?

GROSS: Yeah, right. OK, several. And we also got to see you naked from
behind. And I guess I'm wondering if, you know--I think that was, like, the
first time on screen that you were naked from behind. Was that, like, an
issue for you? And I ask you this, in part, because it got so much attention.
Like, people were saying, `Oh, Macy's doing a sex scene,' you know (laughs).
I mean--you know what I mean? That was...

Mr. MACY: Why'd they wait till I was...

GROSS: Did I mention you got nominated for an Oscar for this? I mean, not
only for the naked part, but, I mean, for the role. It was, like, you know,
an important role. But I guess I'm wondering whether that was something that
made you uncomfortable, how you reacted to the reaction to it.

Mr. MACY: I was nervous about it. I'm north of 50 years old, so the idea of
taking off my clothes in front of all the world was daunting. But Maria Bello
is very, very cool about it, and she said it was no big deal. Felicity was
supportive about it. She said, `You've got a nice rear end.' And ultimately,
just like anything, if it advances the plot, if it's good story-telling, I'm
willing to do it. And I--the only thing that I wish is that I'd started
working out a little bit earlier for that, before I had to do that. But,
yeah, it made me nervous. I had a--my acting teacher was on set with me; his
name's Jim Beam.

Ms. HUFFMAN: (Laughs)

Mr. MACY: And that helped a lot.

GROSS: Oh, oh, I get it. I was going to say, what a coincidence.

Mr. MACY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, but that could really dull your senses, that Jim Beam.

Mr. MACY: That's what I needed...

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. MACY: ...dulled senses. It looks like it would be--I just had to watch
Felicity making out for an hour on ABC the other night.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Oh, my God, I kissed. I kissed Doug Savant. That's all I did.
Bill is naked with Maria Bello, who's--What?--10 years younger than me...

Mr. MACY: You didn't kiss Doug Savant.

Ms. HUFFMAN: ...and stunning. And...

Mr. MACY: You did...

Ms. HUFFMAN: Shut up. Shut up.

Mr. MACY: ...surgery on his mouth.

Ms. HUFFMAN: And, like, 10 pounds lighter than me. Bill's running around
naked. She's, like, got her hands on young Will and the twins. I mean, it's
unbelievable.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Ms. HUFFMAN: But suddenly he can't look at me because I happen to be kissing
Doug Savant.

GROSS: Now I know you're kidding each other now, but is it--does it really
make you uncomfortable when you see that?

Mr. MACY: I hate it.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Oh, he's so sweet.

Mr. MACY: I hate it. I just don't watch. I sort of look away and hum so I
can't even hear the dialogue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MACY: I don't need to see that. What am I going to say to her? `Hey,
good job, honey. Boy, that guy's going to stay kissed for a while.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Bill, another question. When you started to become, like, much better
known--and I think, like, maybe "Fargo" was a really big turning point, 'cause
I think a lot of people who might not have been aware of you before were very
aware of you after that and that your subsequent films just kind of built on
that, and you became better and better known. But it seems in some ways that
when you become a successful actor, you end up being offered roles in movies
that you wouldn't necessarily like, because some of the really big box office,
high-paying movies aren't necessarily the kind of movies that, you know, the
movies--they're not necessarily the kind of movies you'd go see or that would
really speak to your sensibility. Do you know what I mean? I'm not talking
about you. I'm talking about one in general, you know, like, actors in
general.

Mr. MACY: Time out. You're talking about doing it for the money.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Is that what you're talking about?

GROSS: Well, I guess what I'm talking about is this, that one of the things
that success buys you is the opportunity to work in movies that you might not
like that would pay really well.

Mr. MACY: Really well for...

GROSS: Do you know what I mean? 'Cause a lot of the really wonderful films
that really take chances on the script and the direction and the casting are
the lower-budget movies, and a lot of the really big-budget `We'll make you
rich' kind of films are more formulaic, action-oriented.

Mr. MACY: It's--I think Felicity and I have both come to this conclusion,
that you can have the best agents in the world, but the long and the short of
it is that you're in charge of your career, and there's nobody above you. You
have to make the decisions. And you're right. A film can come along or a TV
show can come along that is no good, and no one's going to tell you not to do
it. You have to decide not to do it on your own. And I think this is not to
be confused with just big budget. I've done some giant-budget films and had
the time of my life, and I'm happy with them. I'm in "Sahara."

GROSS: I know.

Mr. MACY: And it's...

GROSS: I know. I haven't seen it yet.

Mr. MACY: It's a popcorn movie. It's a popcorn movie. I mean...

GROSS: What's your role in it?

Mr. MACY: When you get to my age, sooner or later, you get to say, `The
commissioner's on my ass. I'll give you 48 hours.' So I say, `The
commissioner's on my ass. I'll give you 48 hours' to Matthew McConaughey.
But it's a magnificent popcorn movie. It's great fun. I did "Jurassic Park
III." I've never had so much fun in my life. I mean, on one hand, it's the
third of the "Jurassic Park" series. On the other hand, I watched the best
people in the world doing work better than they'd ever done before. Some of
the technical wizardry in that film boggled my mind, and I--if there's a
"Jurassic Park IV," count me in.

So I think the question is not big budget or little budget. It's does it
speak to anything that has to do with the human condition? Is it despicable?
Has it got cartoon violence? Is it on the right side of the questions, the
correct side of the questions?

GROSS: Well, I think you're both great, and I really appreciate your talking
with us today. Thank you so much.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Thank you.

Mr. MACY: Thanks, Terry.

Ms. HUFFMAN: I love your program.

Mr. MACY: We think you're great, too.

Ms. HUFFMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: Oh, gee, thanks.

Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy. She stars in the new movie
"Transamerica." Macy is the executive producer. Huffman also stars in
"Desperate Housewives."

Coming up, Ed Ward reviews a new collection by country music pioneer Charlie
Poole. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Profile: Wild career of Charlie Poole
TERRY GROSS, host:

Charlie Poole isn't a household name, but he was a pioneer of country music
until his death in 1931. Columbia Legacy has just released a three-disc set
of his music called "You Ain't Talkin' To Me," and Ed Ward examines the wild
career of this banjo-playing singer and his band the North Carolina Ramblers.

(Soundbite of music)

ED WARD:

Country music is a lot of different things, so no one can be said to have
invented it, but Charlie Poole comes close. Born to an itinerant North
Carolina laborer in 1892, he made his first banjo out of a gourd when he was
eight, but it was only a hobby. Like many children in that part of the
country, he worked in the mills.

It was as a mill worker that he arrived in Spray, North Carolina, in 1918, and
this proved to be a smart move. Before long, he hooked up with a fiddler
named Posey Rorer and joined him in running a still in the nearby woods where
they'd work out tunes together while waiting for the whisky to get made.
Their cut of the profits was enough for Poole to pay $118 for a new banjo.

It was actually pretty amazing that he could play the thing. Some years
earlier, he'd made a drunken bet that he could catch a baseball with his bare
hands and had broken three fingers, permanently disfiguring them. But he
worked out a unique style that didn't require playing fast, and it turned out
to be perfect for the odd amalgam of tunes he was learning from records.

In 1925, he and Rorer, whose sister he'd married, and a guitarist named Norman
Woodlief, decided to try their luck in New York, where they thought they could
get to make a record. Financing the trip with odd jobs along the way, they
eventually made it to Columbia Records' studios, sat down and played a tune.

(Soundbite of "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down")

NORTH CAROLINA RAMBLERS: (Singing) Now I've been all around this whole wide
world, down to Memphis, Tennessee. Any ol' place to hang my hat looks like
home to me. Now I left my little ...(unintelligible) standing in the door.
Throw her arms around my neck, saying, `Honey, don't you go.' Now I've been
all around this whole wide world, done most everything. I've played cards
with the king and queen ...(unintelligible). Boys, don't let your deal go
down. Don't let your deal go down. Don't let your deal go down. 'Cause my
last gold dollar's gone.

WARD: "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" by the North Carolina Ramblers, as they
called themselves, with "Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister?" on the
other side, was a hit, selling 102,000 copies. Poole, Rorer and Woodlief
split the $75 fee and considered themselves rich. They got another $75 for
another pair of songs that day, too.

(Soundbite of "The Girl I Left In Tennessee")

NORTH CAROLINA RAMBLERS: (Singing) On one morning bright and clear, my old
home I drew near, just a village down in sunny Tennessee. I was speeding on a
train that would bring me back again to that girl I left in sunny Tennessee.
I could hear those voices singing as she bid farewell to me far across the
fields of cotton, my old home still I could see. But as the moon rose in the
glory, there I told the saddest story of that girl I left in sunny Tennessee.

WARD: "The Girl I Left in Sunny Tennessee" was a pepped-up version of a
Victorian parlor tune, and on the other side was "I'm the Man Who Rode the
Mule Around the World," better known as "I Was Born About 4,000 Years Ago to
Folkies."(ph) This pairing sold another 65,000 records. Columbia was, to say
the least, impressed and wanted Poole to go record again. But Poole found out
he'd been snookered and wanted more money. He got it. So the North Carolina
Ramblers, now with the teetotaling Roy Cecil Harvey on guitar and acting as
manager, returned to New York. The three-day session produced a number of
Poole classics, including what must be the only semi-humorous song about a
presidential assassination ever recorded.

(Soundbite of "White House Blues")

NORTH CAROLINA RAMBLERS: (Singing) McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled. Doc
said to McKinley, "I can't find that ball" from Buffalo to Washington.
Roosevelt in the White House, he's doing his best. McKinley in the graveyard,
he's taking his rest. He's gone, long, long time. Hush up, little children.
Now don't you fret. You'll draw a pension at your papa's death from Buffalo
to Washington.

WARD: Charlie Poole drank, and he drank a lot. In 1927, Posey Rorer
confronted him about missing royalties that had turned into whiskey, and when
Poole refused to discuss it, Rorer quit. Poole hired Lonnie Austin, and the
repertoire turned towards the pop songs he'd learned off of records, which
Columbia favored.

(Soundbite of music)

NORTH CAROLINA RAMBLERS: (Singing) Take me home to a place where I first saw
the light, to the sweet sunny style, take me home where them mockingbirds sing
me to sleep every night. Oh, why was I tempted to roam? Oh, I think of
regrets of the dear home I left and the warm hearts that cheered me then,
of the wife and the dear ones of whom I'm bereft and sigh of the old place
again. Take me home...

WARD: By now, plenty of other string bands were cashing in on the North
Carolina Ramblers' sound, and their records weren't selling as well as they
had, but their fame meant that they were making good money on the road, at
least for a while. But the Depression came and the record business began to
falter as people had less money to spend on non-essentials. By 1931, Poole
was forced back to working at the mills, and Columbia had canceled his
contract. Then a miracle happened. A Hollywood producer sent him train
tickets to California so he could provide music for a film. Poole was
ecstatic and took off on a 13-week drunk through the streets of Spray. `Old
Charlie's been drunk a lot of times,' he said one evening to some men who
helped him back home, `but this time Old Charlie's going to kick the bucket.'
Sure enough, he did that night. He was just 39. But what he'd started
couldn't be stopped. His mixture of sentimental pop songs, traditional fiddle
tunes and novelty numbers was the brew from which country music itself was
distilled. And his banjo style helped spark bluegrass. The '60s folk revival
was fed by a number of his songs, and plenty of them are still played today.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. The new collection of Charlie Poole
recordings has been released by Columbia Legacy. I'm Terry Gross.
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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