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Record producer and songwriter Neil Innes

Record producer and songwriter Neil Innes (IN-ess). He is a founding member of the comedy-rock group "The Bonzo Dog Band." He's also a member of "The Rutles," the band which he and Eric Idle of Monty Python, created as a spoof of the Beatles. INNES is also considered the "seventh Python" player because he provided and performed comedy music for the Monty Python troupe. The Rutles first came to the attention of the public in 1978 when their spoof documentary "All You Need is Cash" aired. Many of the original stars of Saturday Night Live appeared in the film. The film has just been released on DVD.

13:46

Other segments from the episode on March 30, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 30, 2001: Interview with Neil Innes; Interview with Joan Cusack; Interview with John LeCarre; Review of the film "The Tailor of Panama."

Transcript

DATE March 30, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Neil Innes discusses the new album by The Rutles,
called "Archaeology"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

With The Beatles' collection of number-one hits recently topping the charts
and "A Hard Day's Night" recently re-released, it's a good time to listen to
The Rutles. The Rutles is a band that was created in the '70's to spoof The
Beatles. Their 1978 mock documentary, "All You Need Is Cash," has just come
out on DVD. We're going to listen back to a 1997 interview with Neil Innes.
He co-founded the Rutles with Eric Idle, of "Monty Python" fame. Innes wrote
and produced the music; Idle wrote and co-directed the mock documentary.
George Harrison, a genuine Beatle and a long-time friend of Innes, appeared in
the movie as a TV interviewer. Neil Innes also wrote a lot of music for
"Monty Python" and co-founded the cult music comedy group the Bonzo Dog Band.
The Rutles started after Eric Idle asked Neil Innes to help write a parody of
"A Hard Day's Night" for a British comedy series called "Rutland Weekly
TV(ph)."

Mr. NEIL INNES (Music Producer): That's all it was initially, and then there
was a whole sequence of excitement and disappointment about The Beatles
getting together again in New York. And I think somebody was offering $3
million or something if The Beatles to get back together again. And on
"Saturday Night Live," Lorne Michaels came up with the idea to offer $3,000.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. INNES: And--and they actually got George Harrison to turn up and accept
it, only to be told he had to share it with the other three, although he
needn't tell Ringo--this sort of banter, you know. And then they got Eric
Idle to host the show 'cause he said he could get The Beatles together for
$300. And so, in fact, he couldn't. But, in fact, he went and got the
Rutles. And so they showed the Rutles, instead, on "Saturday Night Live."
And the mailbag response was such that, you know, Lorne was able to go to NBC
and get the money to make the whole story.

GROSS: Oh, so that's how the whole...

Mr. INNES: Yeah.

GROSS: ..the Rutles movie got started.

Mr. INNES: That's right. And it's because of the chance to make the movie,
they turned around to me and said, `Look, can we have 20 more Rutles spoofs by
next Thursday lunchtime?' And that's how I became a parodist.

GROSS: Aha.

Mr. INNES: Aha.

GROSS: So what did you do, go back and listen to all The Beatles songs and
really...

Mr. INNES: No. Well...

GROSS: ...study them and de-construct them?

Mr. INNES: No, I didn't. I knew if I'd listened to The Beatles' songs, it
would have just been, you know--have been over awed. You know, I just
couldn't have got an idea. So I thought back to the various sort of
milestones or signposts of their career, and then thought about how I'd heard
it because, I mean, I'm not a contemporary. I hadn't been around them. I
thought about what I was doing. And I started writing songs from that
perspective. So in my own songs--I mean, I knew they'd have to have different
tunes and different lyrics. So I had to write my own songs. And then, once
the songs were written, I sort of listened to Beatles records very hard to
listen to the production techniques and things like that. And then we had to
put on these silly Rutland accents and talk like that. And that's how, you
know, Rutle music was born.

GROSS: Let me play one of the songs that I particularly like. This is "Hold
My Hand." This is a kind of a summary, almost, of The Beatles' early songs.
Lyrically, it has "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Please, Please Me." And
musically, it also has "All My Lovin'" in it.

Mr. INNES: No, it doesn't. You're just saying that.

GROSS: Yes, it does.

Mr. INNES: Well, I can't hear it.

GROSS: No?

Mr. INNES: No.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. INNES: It's a different tune and a different lyric.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. INNES: Anyway, we'll let the people decide.

GROSS: My producer says I'm right.

Mr. INNES: Oh. Well, in that case, I'm leaving.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. INNES: I'm leaving in a huff. If that's not quick enough, I'm leaving
in a minute and a huff. Your producer's miming the same line. We
obviously--your producer and I like the Marx Brothers. We obviously get on.

GROSS: Well, let's let the listeners be the judge. This is Neil in a song,
"Hold My Hand," sung by The Rutles.

(Soundbite of "Hold My Hand")

THE RUTLES: (Singing) I'm not the kind of guy who likes to play big brother,
but I just seen your date outside, she's with another. I saw you both come
in. Clearly you're no match for him, so please, please hold my hand. Hold my
hand, yeah, yeah. Hold my hand, yeah, yeah. Hold my hand and I'll see you
home. I want to...

GROSS: OK. Neil Innes, who was right?

Mr. INNES: I don't know. You'll have to remind me what the original Beatles
were. In fact, I've been hearing it there and I think the bongos are too loud
because, you know, they'd be amazed to hear there's bongos and things going
on. And so I think we just put in, you know, these various sounds and mixed
them up in our own way.

GROSS: What else did you want to capture from the early sound of The Beatles?

Mr. INNES: Well, also that it was done on a lot less sophisticated equipment
than we were working on. You know, I think it wasn't till "Sgt. Pepper" that,
you know--and then they strung four four-track machines, or even more,
together to get, you know, all the multi-tracking going. And we were working
on 24-track, and it was all rather super-duper. And so we had to actually,
you know, squash the sound a bit to make it sound as though it had been
recorded on less sophisticated equipment.

GROSS: Now they...

Mr. INNES: They haven't--we haven't done that this time around. We haven't
been quite so anal about, you know, accuracy and whatever.

GROSS: I wonder what you were doing when The Beatles first became popular.
Were you out playing music yet? How old were you? Were you...

Mr. INNES: I'm only a couple of years younger than them, maybe four, I don't
know. But I was at art school, I think, when I first heard them. I was about
16 or 17. And I think it was "She Loves You," or something like that, come
on. And I wasn't, you know, really aware of The Beatles much because I was
mucking about at art school. I was quite a serious art student.

GROSS: So you weren't very aware of The Beatles. When did you become very
aware of The Beatles?

Mr. INNES: Oh, well, I think I really started to admire them when "Penny
Lane" came out. I thought that was such a good song. It had sort of lots of
images and a touch of interesting construction.

GROSS: Did you follow them into the psychedelia period? Did you play their
records backwards?

Mr. INNES: No. I mean, I enjoyed them. I mean, 'cause by then, I think,
we'd had our own--got our own band called the Bonzo Dog Doo Da Band. It
started off as the Bonzo Dog Dada Band, but we got rather tired of even trying
to explain to tedious, you know, people who wanted to know what Dada meant.
And to explain what a turn-of-the-century anti-art movement was in a few brief
sentences proved rather difficult. And so we changed Dada to Doo Da. So
that's what we were doing. We were art students. We were playing in pubs,
and whatnot. And, in fact, we--we started looking more like The Beatles
looked before they did. And we were going up with sort of silly mustaches and
we had jackets and trousers. And lo and behold, you know, then out comes
"Strawberry Fields" and they've got mustaches and round glasses. We thought
they were trying to steal our act, you see.

GROSS: Well, the Bonzo Dog Band was--I'm glad you told the story about how
the name came about. I had no idea that you started out as The Dada Band.
But the Bonzos were such a great band, really funny. And you did a lot
of--well, I mean, all the songs, they were absurd or funny or parodies of a
certain style.

Mr. INNES: Yeah.

GROSS: How did that come about?

Mr. INNES: Well, we started off, you know--we just enjoyed making this kind
of terrible row, really. Nobody was very good on the instruments. But we
used to go down to some street markets and find old wind-up 78 gramophone
records, which you could buy for a few pennies. And this is, you know, normal
student fun. You know, the least money on the most fun, is the way you have
to try and budget for.

And we'd take these things back and not know what they were until we got them
home when we put them on the--on the wind-up gramophone. And there'd be a
title to the effect, "I'm Going to Bring a Watermelon to my Girl Tonight."
You see, you sort of--you sniff that one out. You think, `Aha, there might be
something here.' And sometimes there was giveaway on the label saying Novelty
Foxtrot. So you take that home and then you find this silly song, this silly
tune and this silly--a lyric like `I brought my love an apple; she let me hold
her hand. I brought my love a banana; we kissed beneath the band. I brought
my love an orange; she let me squeeze her tight. I'm going to bring a
watermelon to my girl tonight, ba-da-dum-dum-da.' And stuff like `He kissed
her. Who did? He did? Where? On her doorstep last night.'

And we just learned this stuff and played it in licensed establishments. And
it proved to be very good drinking music. And we got, you know, pocket money
for doing it. And one of the things was, you know, we had a manager at the
time that was quite, let's say, frugal. You know, if we'd spent two hours on
the track, and he said, `Right, next one.' And we sort of, `But we haven't
finished, please, sir,' you know. He said, `Well, you can't take longer than
two hours, three hours at the most,' you know. And we had this song, the
"Urban Spaceman" that we wanted to do. And Viv Stanshall was down, I think it
was in The Speakeasy Club in London, and bumped into Paul, as he often did.
And he's moaning about the fact that this bloke, you know, wouldn't let us
finish what we were doing. And Paul said, `Well, I'll come down and produce
it.' And so he did. So Paul came along and produced "Urban Spaceman." And
I...

GROSS: This is Paul McCartney?

Mr. INNES: Yeah, it was--sorry. Yes, Paul McCartney. Who else? This is
The Rutles Show, isn't it? Not any old Paul--I mean, Paul Revere? I mean, am
I--no. Yeah, he came down and he produced "Urban Spaceman" for us. And it
was--anyway, we could get this guy off the control knobs. And it was really
funny, actually, because he came in--'cause we had all met all the lads before
from the "Magical Mystery Tour." But he says, `I've just written this,' you
know. And all of us--you've got to remember, all of us were hyped up to the
fact we had to work quickly in the studio and all this. And he's sort of very
relaxed. He just waddles over to the piano and starts playing, you know. He
starts in, `Hey Jude, don't'--it hadn't been released. It was the first time,
you know, probably anybody outside his close circle had heard it, you know.
And I thought, `This is--he's got a great voice, it's a nice melody and it's
very slow and it goes on a bit. Hasn't he got any idea of how much studio
time costs?' You know.

But eventually, you know, we made the record and it was a very good, sporting
thing of him to do. And he--we said, immediately, you know, `We can't put
your name on it. It'll be a bloody hit immediately,' you know. So he said,
`Well, what do you want to put then?' We said, `Well, how about Apollo C.
Vermouth as the producer?' And he said, `Yeah, all right.' And so it went
out as the Bonzo Dog Band--we dropped the Doo Da because of the change of
style--but the Bonzo Dog Band "Urban Spaceman," produced by Apollo C.
Vermouth. And it...

GROSS: And it's your song. You wrote the song.

Mr. INNES: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. INNES: And the thing was, it struggled up the "Hit Parade" and got to
about 17 or thereabouts, and then management couldn't stand it anymore and
told everyone that, in fact, Apollo C. Vermouth was Paul McCartney. And it
shot up to number five.

GROSS: Wow.

Mr. INNES: But that was the only hit the Bonzos had, and we certainly didn't
intend to have another one. It was a quite rigorous experience.

GROSS: Why don't we hear `I'm the "Urban Spaceman"'?

Mr. INNES: OK.

GROSS: Here it is.

(Soundbite of "Urban Spaceman")

THE BONZO DOG BAND: (Singing) I'm the Urban Spaceman. I'm intelligent and
clean. You know what I mean. I'm the Urban Spaceman as a lover second to
none. It's all out of fun. I never let my friends down. I've never made a
boo. I'm a glossy magazine, I'm ...(unintelligible). I'm the Urban Spaceman,
baby. Here comes the twist. I don't exist.

GROSS: That's the Bonzo Dog Band, a song written by my guest, Neil Innes.
And you're singing lead on it? Yes?

Mr. INNES: Yes. I'm doing the vocal on it, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. INNES: In fact, that funny noise on the end, sort of a whirring noise,
is Viv Stanshall with a garden hose, a trumpet mouthpiece put in one end and a
plastic funnel on the other end. And he's whirling it 'round his head. And,
in fact, the engineer said, `We can't record that.' But Paul McCartney said,
`Yes, of course, you can. You know, just put a microphone in each corner of
the room.' It was a very good, fun session, but it took eight hours.

GROSS: My guest is Neil Innes, co-founder of the Bonzo Dog Band, and the
Rutles, the band that spoofed The Beatles. More after our break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Neil Innes, co-founder of The Rutles, a band he created to
parody The Beatles. He also wrote music for "Monty Python" and co-founded the
music comedy group, the Bonzo Dog Band.

There's something I need to play from the Bonzos. And this is "The Intro And
The Outro," which I think is one of the great absurdist pieces of music ever
committed to vinyl.

Mr. INNES: Yeah, it's a minor classic, isn't it?

GROSS: It's wonderful. And this was written by Viv Stanshall, one of the
members of the band.

Mr. INNES: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, tell us a little bit about what it was like to record this.

Mr. INNES: Well, you've got to realize that Viv was an extraordinary
character. When I first met him, he was slightly overweight and wearing
checked trousers, like Billy Bunter(ph) and a Victorian frock coat. He had
oval mauve powersnay(ph) glasses, you know, the ones without tie-bits(ph),
just perched on the nose, carrying a euphonium under his arm, and large pink
rubber ears, false ears. And I thought, `Well, he's an interesting
character.' And it was his idea to do the intro and the outro. And it's such
a silly, simple idea. But when we did it on four-track, we almost gave up
because we had to sort of bounce everything down to another one-track and then
do more and more. But if you play it, you'll see that it's--these days people
may not believe that it was actually done on four tracks, but it was. But it
was a lot of fun.

We had a politician called Quintin Hogg, who became Lord Chancellor. And we
thought it would be fun to have him on pig grunt. But he was very litigious
in the '60's. And so we thought we'd write a letter saying that, you know, we
wanted to include him on pig grunt, did he have any problems. And his
secretary wrote back and said, `Lord Hogg hasn't had the chance to listen to
the record, but you'd, perhaps, better remove it to be on the safe side.' So
you hear this rather wild...

(Soundbite of snort like pig)

Mr. INNES: ...noise every now and again.

GROSS: Well, let's hear "The Intro And The Outro" of the Bonzo Dog Band.

(Soundbite of "The Intro And The Outro")

THE BONZO DOG BAND: Hi, there. Nice to be with you. Glad you could stick
around. Like to introduce `Legs' Larry Smith, drums; and Sam Spoons, rhythm
pole; and Vern Dudley Bohay-Nowell, bass guitar; and Neil Innes, piano. Come
in, Rodney Slater, on the saxophone; with Roger Ruskin Spear on tenor sax; I,
Vivian Stanshall, trumpet. Say hello to big John Wayne, xylophone; and Robert
Morley, guitar; Billy Butlin, spoons; and looking very relaxed, Adolf Hitler
on vibes. Nice. Princess Anne on sousaphone; introducing Liberace, clarinet;
with...

GROSS: My guest is Neil Innes, one of the founders of the Bonzo Dog Band, and
one of the founders of The Rutles, the band that parodied The Beatles. And
not only is there a re-release on video of the documentary about The Rutles,
but The Rutles have a new record, new songs by The Rutles. The album is
called "Archaeology." And I think it's time to hear something from the new
Rutles. And I'm going to ask you to choose a song that you'd particularly
like to hear from it and to tell us about writing it and what you were
thinking of when you wrote it.

Mr. INNES: Well, why don't we start off with the one that kicks off the
album? I mean, the whole point--all this time has gone by since we did the
first one, and I think we need to remind people what The Rutles were. And
this is a kind of curtain-raiser, and it has a kind of very obvious, you know,
parallel with "Sgt. Pepper." And it's called "Major Happy's Up and Coming
Once Upon a Good Time Band." But this album is much more of an
autobiographical album about The Rutles, whereas the first album was more or
less a semi-official biography of The Beatles, but in a silly way. But this
is "Major Happy." And if you say `major happy,' you see `made ya happy.'

GROSS: Oh, right.

Mr. INNES: It could be `made you happy'--hehe.

GROSS: Or as in major--saluting the Major Happy.

Mr. INNES: Absolutely.

GROSS: My favorite part of the song is the way there's a count-off after the
song has begun.

Mr. INNES: Yeah. Well, anything goes.

GROSS: That's right. OK, this is from the new Rutles album "Archaeology."

(Soundbite of "Major Happy")

THE RUTLES: (Singing) One, two. Once upon a good time, on this very day,
somewhere in another universe, the bands got in the van and drove for miles on
end. They just this minute got here. There's no time to rehearse. They've
not even had a sound check, but don't worry, folks, it's true. Whatever Major
Happy did for them, they'll do for you. Here we are...

GROSS: Neil Innes, what was it like for you to get back in The Rutles spirit
after having left it for so many years?

Mr. INNES: Well, good question because I was a little reluctant, actually.
The whole thing about the first one was in 1978, you know, in much happier
times. Then along comes 1980 and the appalling assassination of John Lennon.
And, in fact, I remember Eric and I talking very earnestly about maybe filming
a special, you know, new ending for the video. But we decided against it in
the end because we knew we'd done it in good faith at that time, and that's
what it had to be. And The Rutles were separate anyway. And for heaven's
sake, you know, you can't do any good by doing things like that.

But, you see, a lot of water's passed under the bridge since then. And what I
don't want to do now, you know, because--if I can explain, you know, partly
why we've done it is because people suggested that we do it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. INNES: So when it was pointed out to me, you know, well, The Beatles have
got their anthology and they're emptying their cupboards, as it were. You
know, surely The Rutles have got to do something. So I asked the others, and
I asked George Harrison. And he said, `Of course, you should, you know. It's
all part of the soup,' which I think is a nice way of putting it.

GROSS: Neil Innes recorded in 1997 and has co-founded The Rutles. The
Rutles' mock documentary, "All You Need Is Cash," has just been released on
DVD. We'll hear from a genuine Beatle in April. I just recorded an interview
with Paul McCartney. So let's listen to one of his songs from "A Hard Day's
Night," which recently returned to movie theaters.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Can't buy me love, love. Can't buy me love. I'll buy
you a diamond ring, my friend, if it makes you feel all right. I'll get you
anything, my friend, if it makes you feel all right. 'Cause I don't care too
much for money, 'cause money can't buy me love. I'll give you all I've got to
give...

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

Interview: Joan Cusack discusses her career
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Joan Cusack has a new ABC sitcom called
"What About Joan." This week on the series' debut Joan was stunned when her
new boyfriend asked her to marry him.

(Soundbite from "What About Joan")

Ms. JOAN CUSACK (Joan Gallagher): Are you trying to break up with me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: What?

Ms. CUSACK: Was that--was that a serious proposal?

Unidentified Man: Yes.

Ms. CUSACK: Why would you propose to someone after nine dates? I'm not
judging you. I'm just trying to get my bearings here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: I don't know. I--look, Joan, since I met you I'm a
different man. I like it. I--I--I had to do something before I let me get
away. Do you understand?

Ms. CUSACK: Nope. I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CUSACK: I--I want to. But I--I don't. An--anything simpler?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Joan, I love you.

Ms. CUSACK: OK. That's simpler, but, see, we never said love before. That
word should come before a proposal. There's--there's an order to these
things. You know, alcohol, sex, love, marriage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Joan, I think should be a lot...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CUSACK: Separation, divorce, alcohol.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: On this archive edition, we listen back to an interview recorded with
Joan Cusack last year after she co-starred with her brother, John Cusack, in
the film "High Fidelity." She also worked with her younger brother in the
films "Say Anything...," "Grosse Pointe Blank" and the "Cradle Will Rock."
She's received Academy Award nominations for her roles in two comedies,
"Working Girl," in which she played a secretary, and "In & Out," in which she
played a woman who finds out that her fiance is secretly gay, a secret he's
even kept from himself. She also co-starred in "Broadcast News."

Let me ask you about one of the comic scenes that you're best known for, and
this is the scene in "Broadcast News" in which you're the person who has to
run down the hall...

Ms. CUSACK: Yeah.

GROSS: ...from the office into the control room...

Ms. CUSACK: Yeah.

GROSS: ...delivering the video clips just a moment before it is due to be
broadcast. Tell us how that scene was shot.

Ms. CUSACK: God. That actually is one of my favorite things I've ever
done--that movie. I just think it's such a great film. But they shot it in
lots of different pieces. And so it was like sort of us running--not running
gag but a running scene that we were shooting all through the film. There was
maybe seven or eight pieces of it that we did at different times. And yeah,
it was, you know--and at the end of it I remember they gave me a huge, like,
one of those horseshoe wreaths like horses get at the end of a race. It was
so cute and sweet.

(Soundbite from "Broadcast News")

Ms. CUSACK (Blair Litton): We have a minute and a half. It's my
responsibility to tell the control room and New York that we won't be ready.

Unidentified Woman #1: I--I will be ready.

Ms. CUSACK: In 84 seconds.

Unidentified Woman #1: Fifteen seconds.

Unidentified Man #1: Sixteen.

Ms. CUSACK: Oh, God. You're single. God.

Unidentified Woman #2: Lay it in, Bobby. Back up.

Ms. CUSACK: They're going to off and the screen will be black.

(Soundbite of tape being rewound)

Ms. CUSACK: And they're going to go to black because we're not there. What
of our careers, huh?

Unidentified Man #2: Blair.

Unidentified Woman #2: Bobby...

Ms. CUSACK: We're not going to make it.

Unidentified Man #3: Whoops. Whoops.

Ms. CUSACK: Whoops.

Unidentified Man #2: Blair.

Unidentified Woman #2: Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby.
Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby.
Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby. Bobby.

Unidentified Man #3: You can do it.

Unidentified Man #2: Blair.

Ms. CUSACK: Oh, God.

Unidentified Man #3: You can do it.

Unidentified Man #1: Got it.

Unidentified Man #3: You got it! You'll make it, Blair.

Unidentified Man #2: Go.

Unidentified Man #1: And go.

Unidentified Man #2: Go!

Ms. CUSACK: Go!

(Soundbite of man anchoring news in background as Cusack is tripping and
falling into various office equipment)

Unidentified Man #4: Hey, Blair. You all right?

(Soundbite of man anchoring news in background as Cusack is tripping and
falling into various office equipment)

Unidentified Man #4: Blair.

(Soundbite of man anchoring news in background as Cusack is tripping and
falling into various office equipment)

Unidentified Man #5: Whoa! Hey.

Ms. CUSACK: Open the damn door. Thank you.

(Soundbite of man anchoring news in background as Cusack is tripping and
falling into various office equipment)

Unidentified Woman #3: Hey!

(Soundbite of man anchoring news)

(End of soundbite)

Ms. CUSACK: That was...

GROSS: What was the trickiest part for you in that scene?

Ms. CUSACK: I think there was a part where they wanted me to slide under
this filing cabinet. And they actually had like a stunt guy like helping me.
And I had like silicon--they sprayed silicon on the floor and I had--and like
newspapers, and I had like knee pads on. They wanted me to get really close
to the filing cabinet. And I remember the stunt guy at the time was kind of
out there; like a little Hollywoody, and he was like, `You've got to be the
cabinet, and then be underneath the cabinet.' And you know, I didn't know
what the was saying, but whatever. I just was like, `All right. I'll just
try that.' And anyway, it was--I think I got really close to the cabinet, so
that was a little scary actually. But it was--you know, like my head
did--like I almost hit it.

GROSS: You got an Academy Award nomination for your role in "Working Girl."

Ms. CUSACK: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You and Melanie Griffith played secretaries.

Ms. CUSACK: Yeah.

GROSS: And she, through all these, you know, mistaken identity things ends up
becoming a kind of...

Ms. CUSACK: Executive.

GROSS: Executive. Thank you. The word I was looking for. And so,
particularly early in the movie, you both have really big hair.

Ms. CUSACK: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you like yourself in this real teased, high hair?

Ms. CUSACK: Well, I feel that it was like my Kabuki performance. But
honestly the guy that did it, Roy Helland, had--he was the makeup and hair
artist who worked with Liv Ullmann for years and years and years. And he was
a fascinating makeup and hair artist. And he did the cool--I mean, it was
such a--you know, I know the secretaries on the Staten Island ferry had 20
minutes from going from Staten Island to Manhattan. And everyone was jammed
in the bathroom--and we actually went and took the ferry, you know, at work
time--teasing their hair. And so it was a do you could do in 20 minutes. You
know, they all came in just with they're--having showered and did their makeup
and hair on the boat. And he was--he just turned it into such a craft.

He actually like bleached the bottom of my hair just a tiny little bit so it
just looked like it was fried. You know, not like it was, you know, a color
that had grown out, but actually just fried hair. And then, I mean, I think
now about doing that, I'm just so grateful he was so good. 'Cause it was
really just a total--it was--like totally enhanced--the character was the
whole--you know, I barely had to do anything. And it was funny.

GROSS: My guest is Joan Cusack. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with actress Joan Cusack.

In 1985 to '86 you were a cast member of "Saturday Night Live" and were you
out of college yet when you started on this?

Ms. CUSACK: Yes. Uh-huh.

GROSS: You were out of college.

Ms. CUSACK: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: How long out of college?

Ms. CUSACK: I actually had just gotten out of college.

GROSS: So who else was in the cast with you during your year on "Saturday
Night Live"?

Ms. CUSACK: Let's see, Nora Dunn and Jon Lovitz and Dennis Miller and Robert
Downey Jr. and Randy Quaid and Danitra Vance, Damon Wayans.

GROSS: You know, it's funny, it's really terrific group of actors, and yet
it's hardly considered one of the high points in the history of "Saturday
Night Live."

Ms. CUSACK: I know. I don't think...

GROSS: I wonder why that is.

Ms. CUSACK: I don't think anyone watched it that year at all. And you know,
it was--they were going to cancel the show, actually, that year. And Lorne
Michaels at the last minute decided to come back, and I think maybe they had
two months to kind of get everything together. And they sort of went
with--more sort of actory type people than comedians, I think, was part of
their thinking. But no one kind of got a chance to sort of get to know each
other that much beforehand, I think, and it was all so fast and suddenly you
were, you know, doing this live show. And so I don't know if that was part of
it, too.

GROSS: Well, it certainly helped establish your identity as a comic actress.

Ms. CUSACK: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Is that the identity you wanted, or did you want more dramatic parts,
too?

Ms. CUSACK: You know, I'd grown up doing both, but I sort of had always--you
know, in our house sort of comedy was a really important value. We grew up
watching Mel Brooks movies and Monty Python and "Fernwood 2-Night" and "Mary
Hartman, Mary Hartman." And you know, my dad always played "The Producers" in
the back yard every summer and...

GROSS: Oh, great.

Ms. CUSACK: It was just like that was part of--really an important value
that they were trying to pass on as comedy. So I think that was always in my
heart. But, you know, I liked doing, you know, like diverse things. I liked
doing theater and more serious things, too.

GROSS: In the recent film "Runaway Bride" you were Julia Roberts' friend.
You've played a bunch of best-friend kind of parts. I'm wondering if you're
like Eve Arden and the kind of...

Ms. CUSACK: Yeah.

GROSS: ...prototypical best-friend actors.

Ms. CUSACK: Yeah. I mean, I think Eve Arden did some great performances,
really. And I actually have come to really like the best-friend role. At
first I think I--because I did it in "Working Girl," too, and I've done it
before. And in "Runaway Bride" I thought it really wasn't worth it for me to
do it again unless I could sort of make it meaningful for myself in some way
and really say, `Wait a minute, if I'm going to be the best friend, I want to
be what a best friend really is and like really say something to my friend
that a best friend would say, or behave in a way that was meaningful in that
way.' In that way the part became meaningful to me.

And I think, you know, in general I've played a lot of character parts, and
I've found that to be a great kind of wonderful life as an actor because, you
know--and I know it especially from John because he's always done kind of
leading roles that it's such--there's such a pressure on you, and it's such a
demanding schedule. And there's something wonderful about being able to go in
and do your part, and show up, and support the film, and be part of the story,
and not have to carry the whole thing, and then go home and, you know, be a
leading lady in your real life. And so I've been really kind of grateful for
those parts. They've really fit my life really nicely.

GROSS: Well, I wish you the best. And I thank you very much for talking with
us.

Ms. CUSACK: Oh, it's just a pleasure.

GROSS: Joan Cusack recorded last year. Her new sitcom "What About Joan"
premiered this week. Here's Cusack in a scene from the comedy "In & Out" for
which she received an Academy Award nomination. It's her wedding night, but
the wedding has been called off because the groom has just admitted he's gay.
She's drinking in a bar wearing her wedding dress talking with a tabloid
reporter played by Tom Selleck.

(Soundbite from "In & Out")

Ms. CUSACK (Emily Montgomery): Will you sleep with me?

Mr. TOM SELLECK (Peter Malloy): What?

Ms. CUSACK: Three years.

Mr. SELLECK: Oh, my God.

Ms. CUSACK: Three years of sunsets, and long talks, and love, and support
and friendship.

Mr. SELLECK: Oh, my God.

Ms. CUSACK: This is my wedding night. I'm there. I'm ready. This is a
medical condition.

Mr. SELLECK: Gee, thank you, but I can't.

Ms. CUSACK: What? Are you married? Are you seeing someone? I don't care.

Mr. SELLECK: No. I--no, I...

Ms. CUSACK: You're a man. I'm a woman.

Mr. SELLECK: I'm gay.

(Soundbite of crickets and door opening and shutting)

Ms. CUSACK: Is everybody gay? Is this the twilight zone? Oh. Oh, hey.
Oh, oh, hi. Hi. Will you marry me?

(Soundbite of cars driving by)

Ms. CUSACK: I--I have the dress. I have the plane tickets. I--I'm packed.
Stop. Stop. Please. Stop. You have to stop. It's an emergency. I need a
heterosexual code red.

(Soundbite of car horn blaring and tires squealing)

Ms. CUSACK: (Groans)

(Soundbite of body hitting a car)

Ms. CUSACK: (Crying)

(End of soundbite)

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

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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

Review: New spy film "The Tailor of Panama"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Our film critic Henry Sheehan has a review of the new movie adaptation of John
Le Carre's "The Tailor of Panama." Henry says that director John Boorman has
designed the film more as an anti-thriller than a typical spy movie.

HENRY SHEEHAN reporting:

John Boorman's adaptation of John Le Carre's "The Tailor of Panama" has all
the usual accoutrement of espionage sagas: purloined papers, cynical
seductions and impending invasion. But it does deprive them of their usual
importance. Instead, the muted conventions of moral slipperiness, weak
character and too easily justified violence are dragged into the sunlight and
exposed with merciless, dry humor. The result is a mixed bag; darkly comic
but a bit slack at times, but it does feature a rogue so astonishingly
repulsive that he's worth the price of admission all by himself.

Andy Osnard is a veteran British agent who has just lost his latest posting
for sleeping with an ambassador's wife. Dispatched to the relative backwater
that is Panama today, he's determined to do something to arrest his declining
fortunes, whether that something is exposing a plot to seize the canal or to
steal some loot for himself, preferably both. Osnard is played by Pierce
Brosnan, who's most famous, of course, for playing James Bond.

But even before he started depicting 007 on screen, Brosnan had managed a
modest career out of playing superficially suave and sophisticated types. The
model was Cary Grant, but, of course, both the age and Brosnan's limited
talents conspired to keep him from working in Grant's league. Yet that very
limitation makes Brosnan perfect for Osnard. His slick charm is so obviously
the result of self-invention that it usually has the reverse effect it
intended. Yet he wields that charm with such icy determination that his more
perceptive targets realize they may be dealing with a psychopath.

Osnard's prime target is Harry Pendel, a transplanted London tailor played by
Geoffrey Rush. Pendel provides suits to the vainer members of Panama's
corrupt ruling class, a position which Osnard assumes makes Harry privy to
potentially intriguing gossip. Osnard is able to press Harry into service
because he's found out that as part of a insurance scheme the tailor once
torched his uncle's London shop. This is a secret not even known to Harry's
beloved wife, Louisa, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.

But in what is either a catastrophic slip-up or a magnificent bit of luck,
Osnard fails to notice that Harry's years of living behind a false front have
turned him into a compulsive fabulist. Before long, Harry is reporting on a
Panamanian political underground that exists solely in his imagination.
Osnard has begun to suspect it doesn't exist himself, until one day Harry
brings him a message from the fictitious rebels demanding cash for arms.

(Soundbite of "The Tailor of Panama")

Mr. GEOFFREY RUSH (Harry Pendel): I haven't come clean with you, you know.
I've been dragging my feet at Bigger's behest, I might add. He has a huge
arms shipment on the way, but he plans to pay for it from another source.

Mr. PIERCE BROSNAN (Andy Osnard): Oh, yeah? Who would that be?

Mr. RUSH: Won't say.

Mr. BROSNAN: No, he wouldn't, would he? How much?

Mr. RUSH: It's big money, Andy. Harry says to me, `Your guys pay peanuts.
This is out of their league.'

Mr. BROSNAN: Well, this is an interesting development, Harry. Give me a
ballpark figure.

Mr. RUSH: Ten. We're talking $10 million, Andy.

Mr. BROSNAN: Ten million dollars.

Mr. RUSH: Yeah.

Mr. BROSNAN: Ten million dollars.

Mr. RUSH: (Laughs)

Mr. BROSNAN: Yeah. (Laughs)

(End of soundbite)

SHEEHAN: Osnard spreads like moss through high and low Panama. At the local
British Embassy Osnard starts hitting on a sophisticated diplomat played by
Catherine McCormick. She sees right through Osnard, even laughing out loud at
his advances. Yet he's so incorrigibly shallow that she finds him
paradoxically irresistible.

But Harry keeps getting shoved in our faces as the poor innocent who's gotten
in over his head; a flawed Everyman paying double for his life's sole mistake.
Trying to placate a double dealer he becomes a double dealer himself. Yet the
movie keeps making excuses for him. Even when it comes time for Harry to
betray Louisa, who works for the Canal Authority, the movie treats it as a
misdemeanor, the very naughty but forgivable lapse of a weak man.

"The Tailor of Panama" has more subplots than most of Boorman's films, as if
the filmmaker were filling the time with action until he pondered just what to
make of his characters. The movie's sly anticlimax leaves good and evil in
the same state of dangerous equilibrium in which they began, as if we were
coming to the end of a chapter and not of a completed work.

GROSS: Henry Sheehan is film critic for the Orange County Register.

(Soundbite of music)

(Closing credits)

GROSS: 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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