DATE July 1, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren on how your
credit rating is compiled, and how it may be used against you
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
I don't usually talk about my marriage on FRESH AIR, but you can imagine my
surprise when I recently saw a document indicating that my husband lived at
several other addresses under different names and was deep in debt. Tracking
down leads from this document showed that he owed child support payments to
another woman and back payments on an auto loan, when all these years he'd
told me he didn't know how to drive! What was going on? Well, the document I
refer to was a report from a credit rating agency. It was easy for my husband
to convince me the agency had made some big mistakes. It was much more
difficult to convince the agency. That required help from a lawyer.
I offer this as an example of why you might want to know what your credit
rating is and who compiles these ratings and how they do it. Here to answer
these questions and more is Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren. She
specializes in credit card and bankruptcy law. Her books include "The
Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke."
Elizabeth Warren, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Now, I understand why identity
theft would mess up a credit rating, but in my husband's case, it wasn't even
identity theft. It was clerical error. It was just like administrative
errors. There were several different names and addresses on my husband's
credit report. The other people didn't have the same name that he has. How
can that happen?
Professor ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, it happens because there's no real check on
the system. Estimates are that about 80 percent of credit reports contain at
least one error, and one in four credit reports contain errors big enough to
make a difference in your credit rating. I hate to say this, but your husband
is not only not alone, he's part of a fairly large group of Americans who have
credit reports that just don't reflect who they are.
GROSS: So what are the consequences when there are errors in your report and
you are consequently the owner of a lower credit rating than you ought to be?
Prof. WARREN: Well, you know, everyone thinks about--`it will matter if I
try to take out credit.' Everyone understands that. That's why they're called
credit reports. So it would make a difference if you were trying to buy a
house, it might make a difference in the interest rate you get on a credit
card or a car loan. But what surprises a lot of people is it makes
differences in other areas. So, for example, did you know that you might pay
a different price to buy a car for cash if you had a different credit rating?
Prof. WARREN: Well, there's studies showing that when they find out who you
are and they get ready to shoot you a price, that car salespeople run your
name through and do a credit check--even if you're going to pay cash--and that
they actually quote different prices to people with impaired credit. That's
before they get into the question of charging them more for financing. Or how
about car insurance? Insurance companies check your credit rating. And if
you have a low credit score, they charge somewhere in the neighborhood of 100
to $200 more on your insurance than they otherwise would.
GROSS: What are some of the other surprising places that use your credit
Prof. WARREN: Jobs. When you apply for jobs. Some people estimate now that
about 70 percent of employers do credit checks, and they just don't hire the
people who have impaired credit. Trying to rent an apartment, there are
landlords who won't rent to people who have impaired credit. Even if they
have a deposit and are paying in advance. Utilities, there are utility
companies that run a credit check and they make the size of your deposit
depend on your what your credit score is. Cell phone plans. You get
different phone plans based on whether or not you have high credit scores or
low credit scores. Access to student loans. So there are lots of places
where credit scores matter besides buying a house and taking out a credit
card. And believe me, I don't mean to diminish those because that matters and
matters a lot to people who get caught there.
GROSS: Well, there are three big credit report agencies: Experian,
TransUnion and Equifax. How do they get their information?
Prof. WARREN: They get their information from lots of places. Mostly, they
get it from voluntary reports from creditors. So when you take out a loan,
your lending company tells the credit reporting agency, `I've just lent this
much money to Terry Gross,' and then makes a report of what Terry Gross'
regular payments are. And not surprisingly, that's where a lot of mistakes
creep into the system. They get a number wrong, they get an identification
wrong, they get your Social Security number wrong. And so the wrong
information gets attached to a particular person.
The credit reporting agencies, though, also scour the public records. So they
look for things like bankruptcies and foreclosures and tax deficiencies,
liens, anything, lawsuits that get posted in the public records. And again,
they try to make the match between Terry Gross of Philadelphia--looks like
maybe the right address, or maybe not--and then link it up with public
In fact, it very well may be that's part of what happened to your husband.
Once they get a wrong link in there, then they're not only looking for the
person at your current address, they're linking information to somebody who
lived at a different address. And so the mistake just keeps multiplying. A
tiny little mistake gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
GROSS: So there's three different credit rating agencies, and what I learned
is that they might have three different scores for you. Or one of them might
have a really negative score for you with a lot of mistakes while the other
two have a higher score with either no mistakes or at least fewer mistakes.
Why are there discrepancies?
Prof. WARREN: Isn't that amazing? It's because the credit reporting
agencies each gather their information independently, although overlapping.
They may do cross reporting. But they also--there are two different things.
There's different information that goes into the reports. So someone may have
picked up a foreclosure in Montgomery County that the other two agencies
didn't pick up, and that could be correct or erroneous, but it would start
making those reports look different from each other.
But in addition to that, they all run their own subroutines on the reports.
You know, the report is not just a blip of information. They don't just hand
your employer or the person who's going to lend you money just all of the
information and let them kind of sort through it. They give it a score.
You're a 590 or a 640 or a 720. And the way they calculate that score is a
trade secret, which is another way of saying you and I can't know what it is.
All we can know is what information went into it, and then if they want to
weight information differently, they want to say, `Well, you know, that's an
old report. This is a new report. That's a foreclosure, and we think that's
a huge ding. Somebody else thinks it's a moderate ding.' All of those sorts
of things will be weighted differently in the calculation that goes into that
final number, and that's how you end up with different numbers.
GROSS: So when somebody wants to check your credit, do they check all three
agencies, or just one of them?
Prof. WARREN: Most of the time, they check just one because it's cheaper.
And most of the time, they have an ongoing relationship. These
companies--Experian, for example, does about somewhere in the neighborhood of
about 1 1/2 billion in revenues. They're out there selling their product to
potential users. And they set up a cheaper arrangement if you will come to
Experian with all of your queries. So that's what most of the folks do. They
check with the one that they have set up a relationship with.
GROSS: Now, let me get back to my husband's case for a second. As I
mentioned, his credit rating on one of the reports had suddenly taken a
nosedive because they had several other different men included in his report,
and these men all owed money. So how do other people's names end up on your
credit report when it's not a case of identity theft? No one had stolen his
credit card numbers or his Social Security number, as far as we know. His
credit card bills hadn't been charged for false charges. So how can an error
of that magnitude, or several errors of that magnitude be made?
Prof. WARREN: Well, you have remember, they're collecting literally millions
of bits of information every single day on about 280 million Americans. And
the data are not well designed always to identify just your husband and sort
him out from everyone else. The way a computer scientist would describe it,
it's a noisy system. It's got a lot of stuff going on in it. And what
happens is a credit reporting agency picks up someone with a similar name or
someone that's just one number off on a Social Security number or someone that
had a credit card that was one number different. And once they get it in,
their view is that becomes truth. And now it's up to your husband to figure
out how to pry the thing out of there. They have truth in their view.
You know, you have to keep in mind, they don't have a lot of incentives to
spend a whole lot of money to drive these errors out of the system. These
three businesses are doing great. They're making a lot of money. And the
fact that there are a lot of errors in it, they have managed thus far to make
that the customer's problem rather than the company's problem.
GROSS: My guest is Harvard law school professor Elizabeth Warren. We'll talk
more about credit ratings after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: We're talking about credit report agencies, the mistakes you might
find in your credit rating, and how to fix them. My guest is Elizabeth
Warren, a professor at Harvard law school.
You know, some people have strategies for trying to improve their credit
rating, either by opening new credit cards or closing cards that they're not
using or paying off cards that they're in debt on and closing those. Do you
know for sure that any of these strategies actually work?
Prof. WARREN: No. And again, because you can't know with a black box what's
going to make a difference. But there are some that we've begun to realize.
There's enough repeated experience here, that, for example, having a credit
card for a very long period of time seems to improve people's credit scores.
And we just infer that from lots of people comparing their credit scores and
talking about what changes if they cancel an old card. So what that tells
you, if you wanted to be strategic, is, well, you might try not canceling old
credit cards. Isn't that a kind of an amazing thing? You're not using them,
but keep them out there. Keep them alive, continue to accept the card because
a long credit history is better than a short credit history.
Or, for example, here's another one. Not using more than half of your
available credit limit is another device that will make you, we think, look
better to a credit reporting company. So, for example, if all your credit
cards together added up to, let's just say, $25,000 worth of credit and you
were going to borrow 15, you'd be better off to open a new credit card, giving
you another $10,000 worth of credit so that you wouldn't go past the halfway
mark on all available credit.
But I got to tell you about these strategies. We think they work, but nobody
knows the actual formulas because the three credit reporting companies will
GROSS: Now, you're looking at the credit report agencies from the perspective
of the consumer. So from the prospective of the consumer, what's your
critique of what's wrong with the system?
Prof. WARREN: Well, I think what bothers me most is this is information
about me. This is information about the consumer. And this information is
gathered by somebody else and then sold to somebody different without my
permission and without the permission of any other customer. And if there are
errors in the system or if I want to understand what would make my score
better and what would make my score worse, there's no transparency in this.
It's, yes, finally under federal law, we're allowed to look at our credit
reports once a year for free. Other than that, we have to pay. And even when
we pay, we're still not seeing what the formula is that determines the number
that will be given to our employer or to our insurance company that might make
a difference in whether or not they would hire us or whether or not they would
charge us more for insurance. In other words, what I don't like about this
system is I don't like the fact that it's my information and it's
nontransparent about how it's being used. Maybe it's being used for good
purposes. Maybe it's being used righteously. But I can't tell.
GROSS: So how do you get a copy of your credit reports so you can figure out
if yours is reasonably accurate?
Prof. WARREN: Well, it's not hard. Anybody who's got a computer can just go
online and type in "credit report" and get eight trillion offers for your--you
know, to give you your credit report. Of course, what they'll also want to do
is try to sign you up for a service or, you know, where they'll--for a low
fee, they will continue to monitor your credit report for you. Talk about a
scam. You want to hear that scam? They then will send you a little piece of
information to tell you, `There's been a change in your credit score.' But if
you want to find out what it is, you got to buy another credit report.
So there are plenty of opportunities to get them. You can get them online.
But what you want to look for is to get one free if you haven't had one within
a year. And you can get those directly from the three companies. You can
just go to their Web site, type in your information, and they will send you a
copy of your credit report. They're required to. It's federal law. They're
not being nice. They're complying with the law.
GROSS: OK. So say you've gotten a free copy of your report and you see
errors on it. Then what do you do?
Prof. WARREN: Well, now the fun begins. Because the first thing is they're
hard to read. They're not set up to be read by one-time readers. But let's
say you sit down and you look at it and you say there's a mistake here. What
you want to do at that point is you want to go through the credit reporting
agency and report the error. And you want to save a record. Do it in
writing. Send them a letter, do it by e-mail and print it up because they
again, by law, are required to investigate. And if it turns out that the
information listed is wrong, by law, within 30 days, if they haven't heard
back from the original person who put the information in, they're required to
remove it from your credit report. Now, as you learned, that's the law. But
the agency may say, `Well, we have evidence here. We got some information.'
Or they just flat leave it in and they wait for you to come after them with
hammer and tongs to try to get it out of there.
GROSS: The good news is if you retain a lawyer to help you--because a lawyer
knows how to do it and has the clout to do it--if you're right and the credit
reporting agency is wrong, they're required to pay the legal fees.
Prof. WARREN: That's right. That's right. But, you know, that's setting a
pretty high bar to straighten out your own information about yourself.
GROSS: Sure is.
Prof. WARREN: Mm. Costs a lot of money. And it also costs an enormous
amount of aggravation.
GROSS: And time.
Prof. WARREN: And time. It's upsetting to people.
GROSS: If a credit rating agency has made a mistake with your rating, you
discover it and you challenge it, do they end up making money on you through
fees? Because each time you request a report to see if they changed your
report and made it more accurate, you have to pay a fee to them for the
privilege of seeing if they corrected the mistake?
Prof. WARREN: Well, they owe you a free one. But after that, if you've lost
confidence in the company and you just want to make, let's say, a monthly
check to make sure the information's gone and that it stays gone, that's all
GROSS: So their inaccuracies in some ways make money for them because the
more worried you are about their accuracy, the more you got to pay them.
Prof. WARREN: The more worried you are, the more money you spend with the
credit reporting agency. Great system, huh?
GROSS: If you want to actually reach someone at a credit reporting agency and
explain to them what the problem is behind a mistake, how easy it is going to
be to reach an actual person who's going to talk with you and is in a position
to do something about the problem?
Prof. WARREN: I have to say, I don't know because I've never been able to do
it. I've tried. And all I ever get are the endless loops of phone trees and,
you know, `press one.' And the best I've ever done is by e-mail. So I am no
help here on how to find a live human being because I don't know how to do it.
GROSS: Are there any reforms in the works?
Prof. WARREN: Not really. You know, I shouldn't be so flip. Congressman
Mel Watt held hearings; he held two sets of hearings this past year looking
into some of the abuses with credit reporting agencies. And there have been a
lot of independent studies trying to show the error rate and trying to push on
the companies to bring down the error rate and make it easier to correct
errors. But the bottom line is that even the FTC, which takes in the
complaints about credit reports, they take the position that your credit
report is not owned by you. It's owned by somebody else. And the fact that,
you know, it may cost you money, that they may have told what are in effect
lies about you, that's your problem to straighten out, not the problem of the
credit reporting agencies. And I think so long as we start with that mindset,
it's not going to get a lot better. We really do have to think about this
GROSS: Well, Elizabeth Warren, I want to thank you very much for talking with
us about credit ratings.
Prof. WARREN: I'm glad to do it.
GROSS: Elizabeth Warren is a professor at Harvard law school.
We'll close this half hour with a song from the new CD by singer Rebecca
Kilgore and pianist Dave Frishberg, who've performed several times on FRESH
AIR. Their new CD features songs by Frank Lesser. I'm Terry Gross, and this
is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of "Let's Get Lost")
Ms. REBECCA KILGORE: (Singing) The party's rather dull, isn't it?
We'd love to steal away, wouldn't we?
So let's not even ask, should we or shouldn't we?
Let's get lost, lost in each other's arms
Let's get lost, let them send alarms
And though they'll think us rather rude,
Let's tell the world we're in that crazy mood
Let's defrost in a romantic mist
And let's get crossed off everybody's list
To celebrate this night we found each other
Let's get lost
(End of soundbite)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Actor Jason Bateman on his career, sister Justine,
and movie "Hancock"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
"Hancock," the big budget holiday weekend movie opening tomorrow, stars Will
Smith as a reluctant, rude, unpopular, superhero. Our guest, Jason Bateman,
co-stars as Ray, a public relations expert who takes on the abrasive Hancock
as a client after the superhero rescues him. The movie also co-stars Charlize
Theron as Ray's wife, and is directed by Peter Berg, who produced both the
movie and TV versions of "Friday Night Lights."
Jason Bateman has drawn acclaim recently for small but impressive supportive
roles in such movies as "Juno," in which he and Jennifer Garner play the
couple planning to adopt Juno's baby, and "Smokin' Aces." Those roles came
after his 2003 TV showcase role in the Fox sitcom "Arrested Development." He
starred as Michael Bluth, the one seemingly sane character surrounded by a
gaggle of crazy family members. But long before that, Jason Bateman tasted
stardom as a child beginning in the early '80s with regular roles on "Little
House on the Prairie" and "Silver Spoons." Our TV critic David Bianculli spoke
to Jason Bateman.
Let's start with a clip from "Hancock." After the drunken Hancock saves Ray,
Jason Bateman's character, Ray invites Hancock over for dinner with his wife
(Soundbite of "Hancock")
Mr. JASON BATEMAN: (As Ray) Aaron, pal, how was school today, huh?
Mr. JAE HEAD: (As Aaron) Fine.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) Yeah? No more problems with that bully Michael?
Mr. HEAD: (As Aaron) Michel.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) Michel.
Mr. HEAD: (As Aaron) Not like the girl's name.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) No, no, I know.
Mr. HEAD: (As Aaron) It's French.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) Yeah. Michel, Hancock, is this neighborhood bully.
We've been trying to teach Aaron a little bit about conflict resolution. You
know what I mean?
(Soundbite of cutlery on plates)
Mr. WILL SMITH: (As Hancock) Yeah. Turn the other cheek. All that.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) That's exactly right.
Ms. CHARLIZE THERON: (As Mary) Mm-hmm.
Mr. SMITH: (As Hancock) Yeah.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) Mm-hmm.
Mr. SMITH: (As Hancock) Just never turn that one, all right? Never let them
Mr. EMBREY: (As Aaron) Got it.
Ms. THERON: (As Mary) OK, Aaron, eat your food.
Mr. SMITH: (As Hancock) When you deal with bullies, you take your right
foot, bring it right up, catch him in his little...
(Soundbite of cutlery on plate)
Ms. THERON: (As Mary) Please, just stop. Michel is not a man. OK? He's a
little boy and his parents happen to be going through a really, really bad
divorce, and that's why he's acting up. And maybe you don't know this, but
not everything in this world gets resolved...
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) OK. Mm-mmh. I guess, honey, I'm sure he was just...
Ms. THERON: (As Mary) ...with brute force. Not everything has to be bang,
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) I'm all set. I'm all set.
Ms. THERON: (As Mary) ...blood. More blood, you know, just destruction.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) Baby, I got plenty. Angel! We're OK.
She watches so much news...
Ms. THERON: (As Mary) I'm sorry.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) ...that sometimes it gets to be a little too much.
Mr. SMITH: (As Hancock) You got a toilet?
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) Yep. Yeah. Just past the fridge.
Mr. SMITH: (As Hancock) Unh.
Ms. THERON: (As Mary) All right. Did he just take the whiskey bottle to the
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Ray) Do you want him to kill us all?
(End of soundbite)
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Jason Bateman, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. BATEMAN: Thank you for having me. Pleasure to be here.
BIANCULLI: Your new movie is "Hancock." It stars Will Smith in the title
role, and he's playing a guy with super powers, but a very bad attitude and
reputation. And you play Ray, a public relations guy who tries to polish
Hancock's image. I was really surprised when I saw a preview of the movie
that you were as much the leading man as Will Smith was. I mean, it's your
character's story as much as it is his. So how did you get this role and how
long ago did you know you had it?
Mr. BATEMAN: Well, I did a film with Peter Berg called "The Kingdom," and we
were working together for quite some time. And you can accrue quite a number
of incriminating photos on somebody when you're spending that much time with
them; so I cashed those in for this part.
BIANCULLI: What was it about Peter Berg? I mean, he also did the movie and
TV versions of "Friday Night Lights," and he really seems to know how to get
great natural stuff out of his actors, and he responds to actors where he
seems to be looking for something particular in them. But why did you two
Mr. BATEMAN: I'm not sure. I would hate to look too closely at it for fear
of screwing it up; but my guess would be that his approach to directing is
fairly similar to my approach to acting, in that we try to keep things kind of
simple and we don't try to overthink it and make it too precious. Whatever it
is, it does seem to work. He likes to keep things very, very natural and
very, very loose. I mean, he does like to get the scene shot as written; but
once that is done, he definitely encourages you to go off the page and try to
find some of that natural stuff that ends up being pretty funny.
BIANCULLI: You have said that you have sort of a plan for building stardom
the second time, you know, going for roles that aren't necessarily above the
title but that appeal to you. And you can see that plan in "Juno." I was
really impressed by the shadings that you gave to that character, which starts
off as a very likeable character and needs to be a very likeable character,
and then slowly turns over the course of the movie. That seems like even on
paper it would have been a wonderful role to play; but I wonder, was it a
wonderful role to think about how to play?
Mr. BATEMAN: Yeah. You know, reading the script, there's a final scene--or
sort of the peak scene for my character with Juno where, you know, we're
dancing in this basement. And things get a little creepy, and I let her know
that I'm leaving my wife. And the dialogue, as written, as read, points you,
the reader, and me the actor trying to figure out who this guy is and what his
intentions are in all the scenes proceeding this in a particular direction, a
direction of--well, I think he might be trying to hit on this girl. And Jason
Reitman, the director, he and I, we had discussions on this quite a bit
leading up to shooting that scene, through the rehearsal process and then all
the days of shooting before we got to that day. And I wanted to know, `Am I
trying to sleep with this girl? Am I trying to, you know, am I hitting on
her? Or am I just looking for a peer relationship, sort of a connection?'
Mr. BATEMAN: Because if it is the latter, then that informs how I play the
scenes beforehand with my wife. And if it is the former, that's going to
inform how I play the scenes with Juno that proceed that scene. So...
BIANCULLI: Well, before you say which way you decided, lets hear the scene.
This is Jason Bateman and Ellen Page in "Juno."
(Soundbite of "Juno")
(Soundbite of "All the Young Dudes" playing in background)
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) I'm leaving Vanessa.
Ms. ELLEN PAGE: (As Juno) What?
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) Getting a place in the city. Got it all planned.
This is something I've been wanting to do for a long time.
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) No.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) No?
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) No. You definitely can't do that. That's one big fat
sack of no!
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) What is the matter?
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) What the--I mean--you guys are suppose to take care of
this. You know?
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) Thought you'd be cool with this.
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) Cool? I want things to be perfect. I don't want them
to be...(word censored by network)...and broken like everybody else's family.
God. Look, I'll have the baby and Vanessa is going to be so happy. You
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) The baby is not going to fix everything. Besides, I
don't know if I'm even ready to be a father.
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) But you're old.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) How do you think of me? You know, why are you over
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) I just like being a piece of furniture in your weird
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) This? This is what my life is becoming, you know, I
got stuff in boxes. You know, I'm underground. This--that's appealing to
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) Is this my fault?
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) No.
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) Is Vanessa like mad at you because of me or something?
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) It's got nothing to do with it. Vanessa and I aren't
in love anymore.
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) Well, you were in love when you married her. And if
you're in love once, you can be again like my friend Leah, who has been with
the same guy like four different times. You're just not trying hard enough.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) Listen, Juno, I can't believe what an idiot I am.
Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) No, you know what, Mark? Just do not divorce your wife.
Will you please just do me a solid and stay with Vanessa?
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Mark) You're so young.
(End of soundbite)
BIANCULLI: All right. So what did you decide? How did you decide to play
Mr. BATEMAN: Well, basically the short answer is I went for a 70-30 sort of
ratio there between--and the 70 being going for a friendship and a connection
there, as a result of being lonely in my marriage. And the 30 percent was
somewhat more, you know, lascivious, but only perhaps developing maybe two or
three months down the road. So it came as a result of the conversations with
Jason Reitman, the director, and trying to figure out what we should be
Now, he was consistently saying to me, `I'd like for you to play both.' I
understood where he was coming from, and ultimately that did work, but it was
frustrating to me as an actor that I didn't want to get caught in no-man's
land. And I needed to know which side he wanted me to be, and then from there
I would play it somewhat vague or ambiguous. So he ended up saying to me,
`Well, you know, why don't you just decide and just know what my desires are.'
And so the way that we went about doing it was we shot the scene, that
particular scene, about, I don't know, let's say 10 times. It might have
actually been exactly 10.
Mr. BATEMAN: And I said, `Well, in the first take I'm going to play as meek
and as vulnerable and as solicitous of friendship with her as possible. And
by the 10th take, I will be a real creep and, you know, I will come across
like I'm trying to, you know, make it all happen right there on the couch
right then.' And the agreement was that once he gets in the editing room, he
would cobble together a performance out of those 10 takes. And he did that.
And I thanked him so much for putting the scene together like that and helping
me execute that, that fence riding that he wanted so badly.
GROSS: We're listening to FRESH AIR TV critic David Bianculli interviewing
Jason Bateman. Bateman's new film "Hancock" opens tomorrow. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Let's get back to the interview, our TV critic David Bianculli
recorded with Jason Bateman. Bateman's new film "Hancock" opens tomorrow.
BIANCULLI: I've got to say this in a way that sounds like the compliment I
intend it to be rather than the insult that you might take it as.
Mr. BATEMAN: Oh, boy.
Mr. BATEMAN: Here it comes.
BIANCULLI: No. No. I've been a TV critic forever. "Silver Spoons" I
reviewed when it came out.
Mr. BATEMAN: Wow.
BIANCULLI: By the time "Arrested Development" came out, I was so pleasantly
stunned by your performance in the pilot for that show, and then everything
you did since then, that I have to admit that part of the joy was I didn't
know that you had it in you.
Mr. BATEMAN: Yeah.
BIANCULLI: And I know that that sounds kind of insulting, and I really don't
mean it that way.
Mr. BATEMAN: No. I get what you're saying.
BIANCULLI: And I'm wondering, did you know you had it in you?
Mr. BATEMAN: Well, I mean, yes. I mean, you hope to sort of talk yourself
into that. But, you know, my mother is British and so she gave me this very
sort of dry, sarcastic sense of humor, and that works in some projects better
than others, it's more appropriate. In multi-camera television, in sitcoms,
you know, when you have a studio audience, there is an element of performing
that should not be in single-camera comedy. And when I say that, I mean shows
in the format of "Arrested Development" or "Curb Your Enthusiasm" or, you
know, "Sex and the City."
Mr. BATEMAN: Whatever, you know, that are shot like a movie where there
isn't a studio audience and it's not a three-wall set or a laugh track. So I
was basically doing my job and fitting the format and fitting the genre when I
was doing what I was doing on "Silver Spoons" or "It's Your Move" or "Hogan
Family" or any of the other sort of multi-camera, you know, pilots or shows
that I was doing.
And that was also coupled with me getting older and having a different sense
of humor and becoming a bit more cynical or sarcastic or adult. And the
writing supported that. And almost most importantly, I had Jeffrey Tambor.
And this is a guy who taught me a lot about, to quote him, "not winking." You
know, he's got a brand of humor that is very much based in not winking, in
playing everything deadly serious, and that is the humor that somebody would
say something so absurd with such a straight face and believe it so thoroughly
and deliver it so dramatically that you just empathize with this idiot so much
that he's so dumb to treat this subject so seriously.
Mr. BATEMAN: That that generates the laughter; as opposed to, you know, a
pie in the face or some sort of big, broad piece of comedy. Which is equally
good, but certainly not the brand of humor we were doing here. And it just so
happened that Jeffrey had the first line of the first scene of the first show
that we did; and he really set the comedic tone for this show, and I fell
right into it because, I guess, I had that desire to do that kind of comedy,
and it finally fit in this product.
BIANCULLI: Let's hear a clip from "Arrested Development," one that has you
acting opposite Jeffrey Tambor, who plays your father in the show.
(Soundbite of "Arrested Development")
Mr. JEFFREY TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) Now listen, we can't just go in
there and plead not guilty. We have to have someone big behind us, our own
private Matlock. So I made some calls and I got him.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) Got who?
Mr. TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) Andy Griffith. What, you never saw
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) Not a real attorney, dad.
Mr. TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) Now, for 10 grand he'll actually sit
behind us in court and read the paper. For 15, he'll actually sit at the
defense table. For $20,000, he'll twice lean forward and whisper something in
(Soundbite of something hitting wood)
Mr. TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) Oh, white suit, that's extra.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) That's an awful lot of money for the
stupidest idea I've ever heard.
Mr. TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) The juries love him.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) That's just it, dad, there won't be a jury
because we are pleading guilty.
Mr. TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) I am not guilt--I didn't want to tell you
this. Are you ready for the bombshell?
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) Andy Griffith wasn't the bombshell?
Mr. TAMBOR: (As George Bluth) I'm a patsy. I was set up by the Brits, a
group of British builders operating outside the OC...
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) Don't call it that.
Mr. TAMBOR: (As George Bluth Sr.) ...contacted me for a partnership to build
homes overseas. I did not know they meant Iraq.
Mr. BATEMAN: (As Michael Bluth) We've got a picture of you with Saddam
(End of soundbite)
BIANCULLI: That was Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Bateman in a clip from "Arrested
What did you learn about yourself and your acting skills and strengths by
doing that show?
Mr. BATEMAN: That, well, basically, that you can get it done doing less, and
just trust that the camera is watching, and you don't need to do a whole lot.
Obviously if the writing is there, you just simply need to open up your mouth
and say it and not look in the camera. You know, when you look at somebody
like Michael Cera, who, you know, is a guy who--I think he was 14 when we
started that show.
Mr. BATEMAN: You know, he had that already. He had such a strong sense of
his face and his levels, and he's just so, so gifted at such an early age.
That was really, really fortunate that we happened to find him for that
character. I mean, I remember us saying, you know, `Do I look old enough to
be his father?'
Mr. BATEMAN: Because I think at the time we started I was 35, 34, whatever
it was, you know, so, what? I had him when I was 20? I mean, I guess that's
not preposterous but it's just--it didn't look like--he looked a little bit
older than we imagined the actor for the part.
Mr. BATEMAN: But very quickly we got to, `Well, you know, but how are
you--are you going to find anybody as good as Michael Cera?' And, you know,
the quick answer was no; and away we went.
BIANCULLI: When you're on a set with Michael Cera in "Arrested Development"
or Ellen Page in "Juno" or any other young actor--because you were a child
star--do you have, or do you resist the temptation to dispense advice?
Mr. BATEMAN: I don't resist, but really I haven't had to do that with
anybody. You know, Michael's got his head firmly screwed on and is not a real
Hollywood guy at all. And I don't know, it's such a tough, tough business for
adults. And if you're a kid, it's even tougher. There's a lot of people that
are allowing you to be a brat. And the more sort of psychological side of it
is somewhat dangerous, too, in that you are trying to learn how to be
different people at a time when you haven't yet figured out who you are.
Mr. BATEMAN: And that can generate schizophrenia.
BIANCULLI: Oh, that's interesting. That's interesting.
Mr. BATEMAN: You know what I mean? Depending upon how good you are at it
and how sort of deep you want to go in the process, you can kind of mess
yourself up. I had kind of some confusing years. I mean, I don't want to say
that I developed schizophrenia, but I certainly found a lot of different parts
of myself that were becoming very, very fully developed, different
personalities that I could justify wearing and living, when I might not be
instinctually feeling them. So, you know, just rolling out of bed and living
with the mood that you are instinctively in sometimes was a challenge. And I
had a tough time holding onto teachers, you know, I went through a long list
of studio teachers. It got to a point where they wouldn't even send one to
the set, it was shut down at one point.
BIANCULLI: And these are one-on-one tutors, right? So when you're...
Mr. BATEMAN: Yeah. Yeah. So there was nowhere to hide when I was being a
little bastard. There's a lot of brats out there, and I was certainly one of
BIANCULLI: Your sister Justine is also a sitcom veteran from "Family Ties."
And just as you have re-invented yourself in the last few years, she has too,
lately. Recurring roles on "Men in Trees" and "Desperate Housewives," where
she's done very well. And she even guest starred on one "Arrested
Development." Do you two ever talk about these second act careers you're
building and how you're doing it?
Mr. BATEMAN: Yeah, absolutely. We've been really fortunate that we've been
going through this thing all at the same time, and our careers have really
paralleled and been able to have somebody so close to talk it all over with.
And she voluntarily took quite a bit of time off when she had her two kids,
Duke and Gia, and she wanted to be there for those first few years, and now is
very eager to get back into it. But, you know, that is a process that doesn't
happen overnight, you know, unlike how it did happen for her on "Family Ties."
I think she was doing some modeling when I was doing--I think I was on
two--"It's Your Move" at that point. And she wanted to start being able to
maybe stay in nicer hotels or fly maybe in first class or something going to
New York to do some of these modeling things and so she wanted to start doing
some commercial work. And I think she booked three commercials then read for
the pilot of "Family Ties." She read for a guest star part in the pilot, and
they liked her so much they wanted her to read for the role of Mallory, which
was a series regular, and she got it.
You know, this time around it's a little bit more of the traditional path and
pace, and she's fine with it. You know, she's not a rookie. She understands
the way the business works and is taking her time and trying to pick the right
kind of roles that will generate, you know, the kind of career she'd like to
BIANCULLI: Well, Jason Bateman, thank you very much for being on FRESH AIR.
Mr. BATEMAN: Thank you very much for having me.
GROSS: Jason Bateman speaking with our TV critic David Bianculli. Bateman's
new movie "Hancock" opens tomorrow.
GROSS: Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new movie "Wanted." This is
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Film critic David Edelstein on "Wanted"
TERRY GROSS, host:
The new action packed movie "Wanted" was right behind "Wall-E" at the box
office this weekend. It's based on a graphic novel series and stars Angelina
Jolie. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: It's a little embarrassing to tell you the plot of the
amazingly cool new state-of-the-art thriller "Wanted" because it's just so
unbelievably stupid. It's derivative to the point where it's insulting to
halfway intelligent viewer. But here's the thing: A good summer thriller has
a way of taking halfway intelligent viewers and turning them into halfwits for
actions. I came out of "Wanted" on a high. I told friends and colleagues,
`You got to see this.' It took an hour for my heartbeat to slow and brain to
recalibrate. And then I thought, `I fell for that?'
Here's the premise, which is two parts "The Matrix" to one part "The
Terminator," with bits of "Star Wars," "Harry Potter" and the "Bourne" movies
for ballast. All have heroes who suddenly discover their specialness and
long-awaited destinies, often along with latent powers they must learn to
control. The journey becomes a metaphor for growing up, achieving autonomy
and so on and so forth.
In "Wanted," skinny Scottish darling James McAvoy puts on an American accent
as Wesley Gibson, a timid accountant who gobbles fistfuls of anti-anxiety
pills to counter palpitations and visions that look like peculiar wobbles in
the space-time continuum. What he doesn't know is that his father, whom he
never met, passed down unique genes. See, there's this ancient order of
supernaturally gifted assassins presided over by Morgan Freeman. They receive
names of people to kill from a giant loom. It's like God is ordering hits,
although it's not clear why he couldn't just whack people himself with falling
anvils or lightning bolts.
Anyway, Wesley goes to fill an anti-anxiety med prescription and finds his
jitters are about to increase exponentially. There beside him stands Angelina
Jolie. The shot is stunning. Angie's just there.
(Soundbite of "Wanted")
Mr. JAMES McAVOY: (As Wesley Gibson) I'm sorry.
Ms. ANGELINA JOLIE: (As Fox) You apologize too much.
Mr. McAVOY: (As Gibson) I'm sorry about that.
Ms. JOLIE: (As Fox) I knew your father.
Mr. McAVOY: (As Gibson) My father left the week I was born, so...
Ms. JOLIE: (As Fox) Your father died yesterday on the rooftop of the
Metropolitan Building. Sorry.
Mr. McAVOY: (As Gibson) Look, the liquor rounds just over there so if you
want to go...
Ms. JOLIE: (As Fox) Your father was one of the greatest assassins who ever
lived. The man who killed him is behind you.
(Soundbite of Wesley being shoved, guns firing)
(End of soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: There are special effects and there's Angelina Jolie, who is
a natural wonder. Even in what's essentially a supporting role, her aura
reshapes every scene. As Fox--that's her name, just Fox--she whisks Wesley
out of apparent harm's way by firing bullets that seem like extensions of her
will. Then she steers a car with her long legs while directing a fusillade at
the terminator on their tail, a rogue assassin played by Thomas Kretschmann,
now picking off old colleagues. And Jolie does everything with a twinkle of
amusement, as if the whole gazillion dollar movie is her little toy. And it
is a toy, a big expensive FAO Schwarz number.
Despite the absurd plot, the script is very shapely, with good hairpin turns
that flip the stolen "Matrix" tropes on their head. But the real star of
"Wanted" is the Kazakhstan-born director Timur Bekmambetov, who made the
head-trippy Russian vampire opus "Night Watch." The guy is a killer when it
comes to mixing fast and slow motion in ways that really screw up your
"Wanted" isn't about supernatural assassins. It's about supernatural computer
effects. It's about speeds that constantly shift, action that goes forward
and backward, and cameras that move in parabolas. You feel as if you're
riding on the back of bullets as they arc around objects and hit their human
targets with a satisfying splat.
Along with every other hyperbolic critical adjective, state-of-the-art has
been devalued by overuse, so let's move the boundary posts and proclaim
"Wanted" state-of-the-art state-of-the-art.
GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
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.