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Remembering Actress Jeanne Moreau, Icon Of French New Wave Cinema

Jeanne Moreau was an actress of the French new wave who broke the rules both on screen and off. She died Monday in Paris at the age of 89.

34:47

Other segments from the episode on December 20, 1993

Fresh Air with Terry Gross August 4, 2017: Obituary for Jeanne Moreau; Obituary for Sam Shepard; Review of the new album by Randy Newman, "Dark Matter."

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross. Today we remember actress Jeanne Moreau, who died Monday at her home in Paris. She was 89.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGES DELERUE'S "DELERUE: JULES ET JIM: BROUILLARD")

DAVIES: That's the score for the 1962 film "Jules And Jim," directed by Francois Truffaut. The score was composed by Georges Delerue. "Jules And Jim" starred Moreau as a Bohemian woman adored by two men in a tragic love triangle. It was one of the most influential films of the French New Wave, which brought international fame to Moreau, who was adored as a femme fatale of the French cinema. Moreau was known for breaking the rules on screen and off. As a young woman, she kept her acting a secret from her father, who disapproved. When he found out, he hit her and kicked her out of the house. She never returned.

Moreau made over 110 films. He starred in Louis Malle's early films, "Elevator To The Gallows" and "The Lovers," in Truffaut's, "The Bride Wore Black," Luis Bunuel's "Diary Of A Chambermaid" and Orson Welles' "The Trial." At the age of 73, Moreau became the first woman to be inducted into France's Academy of Fine Arts. Terry spoke with Jeanne Moreau in 1993.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: You starred in the early films of Louis Malle.

JEANNE MOREAU: The first films, first films.

GROSS: First films, yeah, like "Elevator To The Gallows" and then his film "The Lovers." You starred in Truffaut's early film "Jules And Jim" and then in "The Bride Wore Black." You had been in at least one film before that or in several films before that. Was it different to work with the new way of directors than it was to work in your earlier films?

MOREAU: It was totally different. In fact, I started filming at the same time as I started acting on stage. I'm born - I'm from the stage. My only ambition was to be onstage. I had never seen a film, was forbidden. It was considered scandalous. I was not allowed to go to see films, and I was not allowed to read the newspapers. That's the way I was brought up. As you can see, it's a very, very, very restricted discipline.

So I started filming. And I must say, the New Wave brought about a total different approach, a total freedom. The old films I had made, I never met the director. I was contacted by the producer. I would meet the costume designer, the camera man. And then maybe two or three days before the first day of shoot, I would have a meeting with the director. The directors on set - on the set besides Jacques Becker was not well known here but was a great, great film director. They never gave an explanation, never asked something special.

And I remember one day, I approached the director. And I said, well, please, tell me exactly what you would like me to do in that scene. And the man looked at me and he said, well, aren't you an actress? I said, yes. Well, you were hired to act - just do it. So, you know, I was quite flabbergasted because on stage in the theater, the committee process was very, very different.

And when I was approached by Louis Malle, at the time, I was doing "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" - Tennessee Williams - on stage, directed by Peter Brook. Very young man, came to visit me with his two producers. And he was 24. And I was 29. And he came up, and he explained to me what sort of film he wanted to do - very small budget, very small crew, hand camera, no makeup, shooting with a very light electrical group in the Champs-Elysees at night.

Oh, I thought, God, isn't that marvelous? No makeup because the big problem - I didn't look like any of the stars at the time. I was supposed to be not very good looking. I had those signs under my eyes, a drooping mouth. And it took hours to make me up.

GROSS: Did they try to make you look more conventional when they made me you up?

MOREAU: Yeah. I mean, everything had to be erased. And when I looked at myself in the mirror - good God. And then suddenly, that was freedom. You know, just a base and a little powder. And I just had to look myself, that's all. And that was a great change. And the fact that it was a very small crew meant that there were no delays. We were moving on.

GROSS: It must have been interesting to you to go from a family that forbade you to read newspapers and forbade you to see movies because they thought it was trashy and they thought acting was like prostitution.

MOREAU: Yeah.

GROSS: Now you were working with a director who was incredibly serious about film and who saw film as a great art form, as I'm sure you did, too.

MOREAU: Yeah.

GROSS: Did that change your whole perception of the world?

MOREAU: It did. Well, I knew it must have been like that, but I do not regret the first films I did because later on, rarely it happened to me to work with people that were less talented than all the names you've given. And at least I could be in charge of myself, you know. I had a knowledge of the camera, of the lenses, of tracks, of movements, what was - technically cinema was about. And I could be in charge of myself. But it's true that opening up with the New Wave confirmed what I was seeking for. And there's something very, very strange while talking with you.

GROSS: What?

MOREAU: I'm thinking about - my father was violently against. In fact, now he's gone since about 10 years, I discover while speaking with you that all my life, I always try to prove to him that I was right. You know, it's funny. It really - it gave me such an impulse. In fact, it helped me.

GROSS: To take movies that seriously to help prove that you were right?

MOREAU: And it helped me that he was - that he reacted so violently. It gave me the drive to resist. I resisted him. And now he's gone, I'm grateful. I thank him. It made things difficult, but then it forced me to go further, you know.

GROSS: Further and deeper.

MOREAU: Yeah, and deeper. I wanted to be amongst the best.

GROSS: In the second movie that you made with Louis Malle, "The Lovers," there's a long and very sensual, very romantic scene toward the end of the film in which you meet a man. And after a little bit of, like, resistance, you - the two of you just, like, fall in love and take a long before...

MOREAU: Well, they make love. They make love everywhere. And they make love all night long.

GROSS: Right.

MOREAU: And it's very kind of you to say it's romantic. Now, it's considered as romantic, I mean, compared to what one is able to see in films. But when it came out in the '60s, it was considered a real scandal. There are some countries where it was forbidden.

GROSS: Well, the camera, you know, it's very clear that the couple is making love, but the camera is on your face and on your hand the whole time. Through the movements of your hands and the expression on your face, you know exactly what's happening, although you don't see it.

MOREAU: I think we should go back to that nowadays. I'm fed up of seeing buttocks and things, you know.

GROSS: What did you think of the scene when it was shot? Did you feel that it crossed a boundary that it shouldn't have crossed it? Did you think it was beautiful?

MOREAU: I - no. It didn't come to my mind. My main preoccupation was my relationship with Louis Malle at the time. We were lovers. And I was - I mean, I was passionately in love with him. And immediately we started the film, I had a very strange feeling. It was as though the more I would give to Louis Malle as a director, the more I would open up to that character on screen, the less would be left of our personal relationship. You know, you understand what I mean? I don't know how you call those things that counts the time, those strange little objects.

GROSS: An hourglass?

MOREAU: Yeah. And I had the impression that as the sand was falling on the lower part, then the last sand - grain of sand - would be the end of our relationship. And I was right.

GROSS: Why did you think that...

MOREAU: I don't know.

GROSS: ...Acting out love in front of the camera as...

MOREAU: Because I was giving up something that was very personal and secret and intimate between me and him. And it's as though I was sacred. And I had the impression I was giving it to him as a film director to go exactly where he wanted to go as a filmmaker. And I had to pay the price. Maybe it's my Christian background - you know, Catholic background - but it worked that way. So I didn't bother to think about, is it going to be scandalous or what?

No. I wanted to be as close to the truth - through a beautiful truth of love making and sensuality. And I say sensuality. I do not say sexuality because a thing I regret nowadays - it's that sex - as deprived people relate to sex - of the beauties of that sacred, spiritual, beautiful glory of each human being - just to be considered like a piece of meat, a slice of steak. What is great in making love - it's that you mix both the senses and the love. And that's it. So I didn't think about scandal.

GROSS: Do you think that Louis Malle had the same fears that somehow making the movie would end the real relationship?

MOREAU: Yes. Later on, we spoke about it. And he said that he felt the same. And I asked for something. Usually, I'm never keen on asking things - special things - to be on the set or in a frame in a film. At the end of the film, when she leaves the house with her lover, she's in one of those old, little, French cars. And across the landscape and on the left side, there's a white horse. And I asked for the white horse because, when I was a child, my grandmother and mother - when they saw a white horse, they would spit on the floor and say, white horse, white horse, give me good luck. Good luck to me. Good luck to you. And good luck to every white horse like you. And I wanted the last image to be goodbye to that love but at the same time good luck to the white horse and to me.

GROSS: Was it worth the sacrifice of a relationship to make a great film?

MOREAU: Of course. It was not a sacrifice. It was symbolic because no love lasts as long as that. And it ended there, and we made not only these two films. But later on, he had another love. I had another lover. He came up, and he asked me to play a part in another film of his. And we love each other in a different way.

DAVIES: Jeanne Moreau speaking with Terry Gross - recorded in 1993. We'll hear more of their conversation after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGES DELERUE'S "JULES ET JIM: MAIN TITLE")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're listening to Terry's interview with actress Jeanne Moreau, an icon of the French New Wave movement. Moreau died Monday at the age of 89.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: Well, I think you've lived your life a step ahead of the times. For example, the first time you got married, you got married just a few days before you gave birth to your child.

MOREAU: Oh, the day before.

GROSS: The day before

MOREAU: The day before.

GROSS: And...

MOREAU: But that's not breaking the rules (laughter) It's just that we didn't want to get married. And then we complied because the families were so worried because of the name of the child. So at the last moment, we said yes just to please the others.

GROSS: Were there consequences that you feel you paid during your life either in your personal life or in your career as a result of having broken certain social conventions?

MOREAU: Well, let's see. Well, maybe at some point, some people considered me as an outsider. But as I didn't mix with that sort of people, I didn't mind, really. So I think, even if I had to pay some price, it didn't hurt me, really, because deeply rooted in me was the belief that I had to be true to myself or true that - to that inner voice. I don't relate only with material things. I don't only rely on what I see and what I hear. I'm always - I try always to be very closely in a relationship with my intuition and in what is beyond what is seen, what is heard and what is shown. I believe in the life of the spirit.

GROSS: I want to get back to your childhood. You told us that your father was dead set against you becoming an actress. Acting was like prostitution to him. But your mother - didn't she dance in the Folies Bergere, which was...

MOREAU: Yeah, of course. She was a dancer.

GROSS: And what did you think of that?

MOREAU: I loved it.

GROSS: What did your father think of it?

MOREAU: Well, my father fell in love with her maybe because she was a dancer. And she was, you know - and she got pregnant. I mean, she married - she didn't marry a year before I was born. She married a few months before I was born. I think that she became a Catholic to be able to marry my father in the church while she was already pregnant. That - you see, in the family, they always considered my mother like a strange person, a foreigner. She always spoke French with a lovely, adorable English accent.

GROSS: And your mother was from England.

MOREAU: Yeah. And she was a - she had been a dancer. And, of course, I'm sure that I was part of the game between my father and my mother because, on one side, my father was against it. And on the other side, my mother helped me.

GROSS: Helped you to act?

MOREAU: Well, she governed my life because, very early, I led a double life.

GROSS: Oh, what did you do?

MOREAU: Well, I studied to be an actress, and my father didn't know.

GROSS: Oh.

MOREAU: And I acted on the stage, and my father didn't know. He discovered it when he saw my picture on the front page of a newspaper.

GROSS: Wow. Because you were in the Comedie-Francaise. It would be hard to keep that a secret.

MOREAU: And my first play was a huge success. And I was on the front page of all the daily newspapers.

GROSS: Well, he must've been mighty angry.

MOREAU: Well, he threw me out.

GROSS: Where'd you go?

MOREAU: In a hotel.

GROSS: How long did you have to stay there?

MOREAU: Six months.

GROSS: That's a long time. Did you ever go back home after that?

MOREAU: No, never. But I made up with my father when I heard he was sick. About four years later, he was in hospital. And I went, and I took him out. And after that, I always took care of him. And he spent the 10 last years of his life in my property - you would call that a ranch - in the south of France.

GROSS: Did he ever say to you, you're actually a really good actress, and you've made some fine films?

MOREAU: Never, never (laughter), never. He was proud when I had an official decoration - you know, the Legion of Honour and things like that. But he used to say, I can't understand. What has she got that is so special? He thought I was a very good cook. That he appreciated.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MOREAU: And it's true. I'm a very good cook. That was his limit. I had to do things with my hands. And I did.

GROSS: Are you living in France now?

MOREAU: I'm living in Paris.

GROSS: Paris. OK.

MOREAU: I'm living alone.

GROSS: Do you like living alone?

MOREAU: I need it.

GROSS: There are a lot of pleasures in living alone. What do you enjoy about it?

MOREAU: The freedom to ask somebody to share my solitude.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: That's very nicely put.

MOREAU: Yeah.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MOREAU: And it's so good sometimes just to spread oneself in one's bed, get up at whatever time you wish. There are lots of pleasures.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. I really appreciate it a lot.

MOREAU: I thank you very much. And to me, it was not like an interview. It was just like a conversation. And I think I'm very privileged to be able to speak about things that are important to me. And I thank you very much.

DAVIES: Actress Jeanne Moreau speaking with Terry Gross in 1993. Moreau died on Monday at her home in Paris. She was 89. Coming up, we remember actor and playwright Sam Shepard, whose breakthrough film role was as test pilot Chuck Yeager in "The Right Stuff." And our rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "Dark Matter," Randy Newman's first album of new material in nine years. We'll end this half of the show with the Miles Davis score for "Elevator To The Gallows," the 1958 Louis Malle film which starred Jeanne Moreau. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS'S "FLORENCE SUR LES CHAMPS-ELYSEES")

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Sam Shepard, playwright, actor and an icon of understated cool, died last week at the age of 73 due to complications from Lou Gehrig's disease. Shepard grew up on his family's avocado farm in California but moved to New York as a young man and began writing plays. He wrote more than 55, many dealing with the American West. Among his plays are "True West," "Fool For Love," "Cowboy Mouth" and "Buried Child," which won the Pulitzer Prize. Shepard was also a compelling if reluctant screen star, appearing in more than 50 films, including "Steel Magnolias," "Days Of Heaven," "Country" and "The Pelican Brief." His breakthrough role was in the 1983 film "The Right Stuff." He played Army test pilot Chuck Yeager, who in 1947, became the first person to break the sound barrier. In this scene, Yeager's having a drink in a desert bar. A couple of Army Engineers who are working on a new aircraft are sitting nearby. They've heard about this pilot, Yeager.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE RIGHT STUFF")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) Hey there, Yeager.

SAM SHEPARD: (As Chuck Yeager) Sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) We were just talking to Slick here about the sound barrier.

SHEPARD: (As Chuck Yeager) Is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) And we feel that the X-1 is ready to have a go at it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) We think the X-1's got the answer to go beyond Mach 1.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) If there is any beyond. So what do you think, Yeager?

SHEPARD: (As Chuck Yeager) Well, I tell you what, half these engineers ever been off the ground, you know. I mean, they're liable to tell you that the sound barrier is a brick wall in the sky. It'll rip your ears off if you try to go through it. You ask me, I don't believe the damn thing even exists.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) Waitress, a drink for Mr. Yeager here.

SHEPARD: (As Chuck Yeager) No, thanks. I got one.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) So do you think you want to have a go at it?

SHEPARD: (As Chuck Yeager) I might.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As character) But since, as you say, this sound barrier doesn't really exist, how much...

SHEPARD: (As Chuck Yeager) How much you got? I'm just joking. The Air Force is paying me already, ain't that right, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) Why, sure, Yeager, but...

SHEPARD: (As Chuck Yeager) So when do we go?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) Well, how about tomorrow morning?

SHEPARD: (As Chuck Yeager) I'll be there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As character) See you there.

DAVIES: Terry spoke to Sam Shepard in 1998. One of the subjects Shepard wrote about was his fear of flying, hardly in keeping with his rugged image or his portrayal of test pilot Chuck Yeager.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SHEPARD: I got to meet Chuck Yeager, you know, when I was shooting "The Right Stuff." And he's a man who's known for impeccable courage and all the rest of it. And I got to talking to him about flying and all that. And he says, it's not true that you don't have fear. You know, fear is - part and parcel of the thing that you take on is that you're able to face it, you know. To me, that's the interesting part about courage, you know. It's not that you don't have fear, it's that you look at in the eye, you know.

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: But Chuck Yeager went on to be, you know, a famous test pilot. You played him in "The Right Stuff," but you don't go up in planes yourself, right?

SHEPARD: I do occasionally, yeah. I'm getting better at it, actually. I go to Mexico once a year and stuff like that. It's just that I'm not crazy about it, you know. And it's a funny thing because I grew up in a kind of rural situation. Most of the people that I've talked to from that kind of background are terrified of flying. And I always thought that was curious, you know, that people who had a background of being sort of stuck in the land don't like to get up in airplanes. And I don't know if that's just a coincidence or - you know what I mean? I have a farmer friend of mine who once a year flies to Las Vegas to have a go at the one-armed bandits. And he can't stand airplanes. He hates them but he goes, you know.

GROSS: Now, did playing Chuck Yeager have any effect on you and flying?

SHEPARD: Any effect on me and flying? No. I went up with him actually once in a little Piper Cub over the desert because, you know, if I'm going to crash, I might as well go down with the world's greatest pilot. So we went to this hangar. And he took this little hook - it was like - looked like an umbrella handle - and pulled this airplane out of the hangar by hand. And it was a single-prop plane. We jumped in the damn thing and took off. And I couldn't believe it. It felt great. It was just a - it was a great feeling. We kind of hovered over the desert. And he showed me different stuff, you know, where he hung out in his Air Force days. And that was fun.

GROSS: Now, I know your father was a bomber pilot in World War II. I'm wondering if that had any impact on you? And if you heard...

SHEPARD: Oh, I'm sure it did (laughter).

GROSS: Did you hear a lot of scary stories about nearly being shot down during the war?

SHEPARD: Well, he - yeah, he had he had quite a few scrapes. He had a bunch of shrapnel hit him and stuff. And one time they had a belly gunner. You know, in those old big planes, they had these glass turrets underneath the fuselages with the machine gun turret. And he - one of his buddies was in that while he was flying the bomber. And the turret got shot off. And he saw his pal go down, you know. Stuff like that. I don't know. I guess it gives you little nightmares when you're a kid and stuff. I suppose it does - it has affected me but I'm not sure how.

GROSS: Now, some of your plays have dealt with family upheaval, family violence. You left your family. As a teenager, you left home.

SHEPARD: I did. I was driven out.

GROSS: Driven out by your parents?

SHEPARD: Well, that's unfair to say. I mean, I left in a kind of holocaust of my old man. You know, he destroyed the house. And I decided it was time to go.

GROSS: What did your father do that destroyed the house?

SHEPARD: What did he do?

GROSS: Yeah.

SHEPARD: Broke windows, tore the doors off, stuff like that.

GROSS: Oh, literally destroyed the house?

SHEPARD: Yeah, physically.

GROSS: Did - how did your mother handle that? She didn't run away with you.

SHEPARD: She's a very brave soul.

GROSS: Was your father very strict when you were growing up? Were there were a lot of rules you were supposed to follow?

SHEPARD: Yeah, he was.

GROSS: What were the rules?

SHEPARD: He was a Air Force guy, you know.

GROSS: Right.

SHEPARD: Crew cut, all that stuff.

GROSS: So what were the rules you were supposed to obey as a kid?

SHEPARD: What were the rules I was supposed to - never show any feeling was one of the rules (laughter).

GROSS: Well, that's interesting. Let me stop you there because in several of your roles, you're a character who doesn't show his feelings. Even in the new movie, it's clear how much he feels for the Diane Keaton character, but he's kind of in her eyes unwilling to demonstrate it enough.

SHEPARD: Yeah. I think you can't - it's very difficult to escape your background, you know? And I don't think it's necessary to even try, you know, to escape it. More and more, I start to think that it's necessary to see exactly what it is that you inherited on both ends of the stick - your timidity, your courage, your self-deceit and your honesty and all the rest of it.

You know, it's necessary to include all of that in order to be able to accept oneself because if I - you know what I'm saying? And the fact that the characters that I portray have to do with that kind of dilemma is fine by me because I know what that is, you know? And I suppose the way it's expressed is part and parcel of who I am. I can't get away from it, you know?

GROSS: No, I think there's a kind of hard-boiled quality about some of your characters so that even if they don't kind of openly express a lot of emotion, they're also - they're vulnerable but in a hard-boiled way as opposed to in a way where they don't express emotion but, you know, behind closed doors, they'd be crying or something. Do you know what I mean? There's - and I'm wondering if you thought of yourself as having that hard-boiled quality when you were still in the house with your parents, kind of in a house ruled by your father.

SHEPARD: No. I never as a kid thought of myself as hard-boiled. That came later. Under the influence of my old man and the family situation and all that, I never for a second believed that I was (laughter) that tough, you know? You can't - as a child, you don't think of yourself as tough. I mean you may be able to bear certain things, but I just never had that kind of image of myself as a tough kid.

GROSS: When your father was tearing doors off hinges and breaking windows, was he beating you up, too?

SHEPARD: Now and then, you know, yeah. But I mean I wouldn't say that I had a particularly horrendous childhood compared to the modern kids. You know, I think the modern kids probably have it worse, you know, having sometimes no fatherly influence at all, you know?

GROSS: When you were young, did you find any resonance in books or movies? You know, with the situation that you were in, did you gravitate to books or movies that seemed to describe families similar to yours? Or did you look for something completely different in books and movies?

SHEPARD: Well, no, I was - it was funny. When I was in high school - again, we were out in the middle of the boondocks, you know? And there was a little, bitty art house theater I remember out in a place called Cucamonga.

GROSS: Oh, wow. You really lived in a place called - near Cucamonga?

SHEPARD: Yeah.

GROSS: Do you remember in the "Jack Benny" show? It was always...

SHEPARD: (Laughter) Right.

GROSS: The bus announcer was always singing Cucamonga.

SHEPARD: Yeah, there really is a Cucamonga. It was surrounded by vineyards, you know? And for some reason, there was this little, bitty art house there. And they'd show foreign films, which was just unbelievable in those days 'cause there wasn't anything around but "Ben-Hur" and, you know, "Cleopatra" and all those kind of things.

So me and a couple of buddies of mine would go out there and - I saw a film called "400 Blows" by Truffaut - black and white film. And that really stunned me, you know? I was like, wow, you know, this kid - I saw a lot of similarities in that between my situation and that, you know?

GROSS: He was sent to reform school in that.

SHEPARD: Yeah. I mean, yeah, he had a pretty rough deal.

GROSS: So you were seeing art films in Cucamonga, wow (laughter).

SHEPARD: Yeah, art films - imagine that.

DAVIES: Sam Shepard speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 1998. We'll hear more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL SIMON SONG, "HOW CAN YOU LIVE IN THE NORTHEAST?")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're listening to Terry's 1998 interview with actor and playwright Sam Shepard. Shepard died last week at the age of 73.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

GROSS: You started off acting in - I think it was a repertory company - a small repertory company that basically...

SHEPARD: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Toured churches.

SHEPARD: Yeah. When I first left home, I got this paper route. And I was delivering papers all over the - I had a '51 Chevy, and I was throwing papers all around the houses and stuff. And at the end of the day, I started going through this paper. And the end of it, in the work section, there was this little ad that said actors wanted.

And I went in and auditioned for this company. It was called the Bishop's Company. And the great thing about it was that it was a traveling company. It was going to get the hell out of there, you know? So they hired me, and the next day, I was on a Greyhound bus to Bethlehem, Pa., and joined up with the company there. And we toured all over the place and did these one-night stands in churches, which was my first real experience with theater.

GROSS: It's funny 'cause you went, you know, from churches eventually to off-Broadway at a time when off-Broadway was, you know, very avant-garde for its time. So it's an interesting contrast. Doing the - playing the church circuit must have been an interesting to see the country and to get started acting.

SHEPARD: Yeah, and also to see this - probably the last of that kind of '50s culture. Although it was the '60s, you know, there was still a '50s feel about it - you know, that culture in small-town America. It was pretty amazing.

GROSS: So you went to New York. I think it was in 1963.

SHEPARD: Yeah.

GROSS: What was it like to be - I think you were living or at least working in Greenwich Village. Was this your first exposure to an avant-garde and to a bohemian life, to a life that was radically different from the kind of military life that you grew up in and also radically different from the churches that you were touring?

SHEPARD: Yeah, it was. I was suddenly on the Lower East Side, on Avenue C and 10th St., living with jazz musicians (laughter).

GROSS: Well, I think your roommate was Charles Mingus's son.

SHEPARD: Yeah, yeah. I'd gone to high school with him. And he was working at a place called The Village Gate and got me a job there as a busboy. So that's how I got initiated into New York.

GROSS: Were you a good busboy?

SHEPARD: Oh yeah, excellent. I got fired, though, because I dropped a - knocked over a candle on a guy's suit. And that was the end of that job.

GROSS: Right, right.

SHEPARD: But in the course of that, I got to see probably the most amazing musicians of their time - you know, like the Adderley brothers and Mingus and Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan. It was just a free show, you know?

GROSS: Yeah, because The Village Gate was a club.

SHEPARD: Yeah, yep.

GROSS: Do you - when you're writing lines for a play, do you speak the lines out loud to just hear how they sound spoken?

SHEPARD: Sometimes, sometimes, yeah.

GROSS: Now, when you're writing dialogue for play, do you ever hear a certain musicality in a line, like, where you hear the accent, where you hear the emphasis as being and then the actor does it completely differently than that?

SHEPARD: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: And maybe it works, but maybe it doesn't work for you. Maybe you feel like your intention was kind of lost. Will you say something to the actor about that if you do feel that the music you're hearing is lost?

SHEPARD: Well, yeah. But I think more often, particularly if you have good actors like, for instance, Malkovich and Ed Harris and Jim Gammon and these great actors that I've had the good fortune to get, they often will land things in an unexpected way that's not only surprising but right, you know, I mean, much more right than you could have intended. You know, in other words, bring the intention of the writing into another domain. Malkovich has an uncanny ability to do that.

GROSS: Any general impressions about most screenplays that you read now about how well they're written?

SHEPARD: (Laughter) Oh, boy. Well, my main problem with screenplays nowadays, you know, that most of the ones I've seen is that there are no characters whatsoever in them.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SHEPARD: That's my main problem. You just don't find any characters, you find these formulas. You find these sort of Hollywood rituals going on, but you don't find characters everywhere. Every once in a while you do. I mean, I don't want to be too harsh. Like this "Snow Falling On Cedars" that I'm doing in Vancouver has very clear characters in it and actual human beings in it.

But many, many of the characters don't even feel human. They feel computerized or faxed or, you know, somebody's mailed it in. And they all kind of sound like the same - they come from the same person. I don't know if it's a secretary out there who's doing it or what.

GROSS: That's the secret (laughter).

SHEPARD: Very weird, you know.

GROSS: You must be able to read screenplays with confidence because you write plays. I mean, I know - like, for me, for instance, it's very hard for me to read a play or a screenplay and really be able to kind of stage in my mind how it would look and sound together.

SHEPARD: Well, screenplays are easier to read because if you can't get past the first five pages, you might as well throw it in the fire, you know. That's it, five pages.

GROSS: Well, I really want to thank you a lot for talking with us about your life and your work, appreciate it very much.

SHEPARD: You bet.

DAVIES: Actor and playwright Sam Shepard speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in 1998. Shepard died last week at the age of 73.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL'S "MESSIN' WITH THE KID")

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Randy Newman's new album "Dark Matter" is his first studio album of new material in nine years. Rock critic Ken Tucker says the album offers a wide variety of the styles Newman's long worked in, from the satirical to the sentimental. Here's Ken's review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GREAT DEBATE")

RANDY NEWMAN: (As Mediator) Welcome, welcome, welcome to this great arena. Durham, N.C., the heart of the Research Triangle. We've come to this particular place tonight 'cause we got to look at things from every angle. We need some answers to some complicated questions if we're going to get it right. To that end...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Randy Newman leads off his new album "Dark Matter" with the composition that is very nearly the reason for this album's existence. "The Great Debate" is almost nine minutes long, and it's Newman's critique of faith over reason, of the hostility of discourse that has overtaken much of the country.

As is true of so many Newman compositions, he assumes various roles - a narrator, a scientist, a so-called true believer. The narrator asks the scientist to explain what dark matter is. And when the scientist responds in abstract chatter, the true believer shuts him down with a gospel chorus and a ringing dismissal of Darwin's theory of evolution.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GREAT DEBATE")

NEWMAN: (Singing, as True Believer) I'll take Jesus. I'll take Jesus. I'll take Jesus every time. I'll take Jesus. I'll take Jesus. I'll take Jesus every time. Yes, I will. Yes, I will. Yes, I will. Yes, I will. I'll take Jesus. I'll take Jesus. I'll take Jesus every time.

(As Mediator) All right, 1-0. Next song's going to be a hard one. It's about the theory of evolution. And it's about animals, also. So give me someone who knows something about evolution and animals. Who you got?

TUCKER: Finally, Randy Newman himself becomes a character in "The Great Debate" - a cynical manipulator, who, his accuser says, has been setting up straw man arguments all his creative life. It's Newman's way of retroactively addressing the literal-minded critics of his work over the years, those listeners who took offense at his satire of offensive stereotypes in 1977's "Short People" or who failed to hear that Newman was condemning racism when speaking in the voice of racists on his albums "Good Old Boys" and "Sail Away."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GREAT DEBATE")

NEWMAN: (As True Believer) You see, the author of this little vignette, Mr. Newman, self-described atheist and communist, creates character like you as objects of ridicule. He doesn't believe anything he has you say, nor does he want us to believe anything you say. Makes it easy for him to knock you down, hence a straw man. I, myself, believe in Jesus. I believe in evolution, also. I believe in global warming and in life everlasting. No one can knock me down.

(As Mediator) Oh, we can knock you down, Mister. We can knock your communist friend down, too. Communist - you call me an idiot. We've been knocking people like Mr. Newman down for years and years, like this - page 35, Georgie (ph). Ms. Dorothy (ph), page 35.

(Singing) I know someone is watching me everywhere I go.

TUCKER: Long and languid, "The Great Debate" proceeds through its three distinct movements beautifully orchestrated. One is left feeling nostalgic. If only we were still in such an era of polite debate. The rest of the album "Dark Matter" consists of fresh recordings of songs new and old. When I listen to "She Chose Me," it seemed so familiar. Where had I heard this before?

Then I recalled - Newman wrote it for "Cop Rock," the legendary 1990 TV bomb from "Hill Street Blues" producer Steven Bochco. "Cop Rock" had police officers busting perps and then bursting into song. It was canceled after 11 low-rated episodes, but Newman hung on to this lovely song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE CHOSE ME")

NEWMAN: (Singing) I'm not much to talk to. And I know how I look. What I know about life comes out of a book. But of all the people there are in the world, she chose me. Most of my life...

TUCKER: Newman does a sprightly version of another TV tune, "It's A Jungle Out There," which was used as the theme song for the Tony Shalhoub detective show "Monk." And this song, first released in 2016, has become even more timely. Titled "Putin," it's a very funny tune ridiculing the egotism of the Russian leader.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUTIN")

NEWMAN: (Singing) Putin putting his pants on one leg at a time. Oh, he's just like a regular fellow. He ain't nothing like a regular fellow. Putin putting his hat on, hat size number nine. You're saying Putin's getting big-headed? Putin's head is just fine. He can drive his giant tractor across the Trans-Siberian plane. He can power a nuclear reactor with the left side of his brain. And when he take his shirt off, he drive the ladies crazy. When he take his shirt off, make me want to be a lady. It's the Putin Girls.

TUCKER: At age 73, Randy Newman has earned the right to take the victory lap that is "Dark Matter." Through the combination of his artful cult albums and his Oscar-winning mass audience soundtrack work, he's managed to have it both ways. He's at once a great cynic and a great romantic wrapped in the American flag without any irony at all.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed "Dark Matter," the new album by Randy Newman. On Monday's show, our brains are wired to avoid the things we fear and to crave pleasure. We'll talk with Robert Wright about the connection between Buddhist mindfulness meditation and what evolutionary psychology tells us about how the mind works. His new book is "Why Buddhism Is True: The Science And Philosophy Of Meditation And Enlightenment." Wright's also the author of the best-seller "The Moral Animal." Hope you can join us.

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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