Skip to main content

Actress and Director Angelica Huston.

Actress Anjelica Huston, the star of the films "The Grifters," "Prizi's Honor," and "The Dead" and daughter of film director John Huston. She directs and stars In the new film "Agnes Brown" adapted from the Brendan O'Carroll book, "The Mammy."

36:46

Other segments from the episode on March 8, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 8, 2000: Interview with Anjelica Huston; Review of John Tchicai and Charlie Kolhase's album "Life Overflowing" and Dave Bryant's album "The Eternal Hang"; Review of…

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 08, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 030801np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Anjelica Huston Discusses `Agnes Brown'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.

On today's FRESH AIR, a conversation with Anjelica Huston. She directed and stars in the new film "Agnes Brown." It's based on a novel that was a best-seller in Ireland. We'll talk about her movies, growing up in Ireland, and her father, John Huston, who directed such classics as "The Maltese Falcon" and "The African Queen." He directed Anjelica Huston in "Prizzi's Honor" and "The Dead."

Also, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews new CDs featuring saxophonist John Chakai (ph) and Charlie Colhase (ph) and keyboardist Dave Bryant (ph).

And TV critic David Bianculli reviews "God, the Devil, and Bob," the new animation show with James Garner as the voice of God.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First, the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Anjelica Huston, is best known for her roles in such films as "Prizzi's Honor," "The Grifters," "Enemies: A Love Story," "The Addams Family," "The Dead," and "Ever After." She's the daughter of John Huston, who directed such classics as "The Maltese Falcon," "Key Largo," "The Asphalt Jungle," and "The African Queen." He directed Anjelica in "Prizzi's Honor" and "The Dead."

Even though movies were her father's business, Anjelica Huston grew up far away from Hollywood in Ireland and England. Now she's starring in the new movie "Agnes Brown," which she also directed. It's adapted from the novel "The Nanny," which was a best-seller in Ireland.

When the movie opens, Agnes Brown, played by Huston, has just become a widow and has to figure out how to feed herself and children. In order to get enough money to bury her husband, she goes to the local loan shark, Mr. Billy, who preys on women and children. In this scene, she wants to pay off the remainder of the loan, but the loan shark, played by Ray Winstone, isn't happy about losing out on future interest.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "AGNES BROW")

ANJELICA HUSTON, DIRECTOR/ACTRESS: That's two pound.

RAY WINSTONE, ACTOR: Thanks.

HUSTON: And the (inaudible) I owed you. That's (inaudible).

WINSTONE: That's way too much (inaudible).

HUSTON: It's all that I have (ph), Mr. Billy.

WINSTONE: I just want the two pound. That's the deal.

HUSTON: That was the deal. But I'm paying it back, all of it. I've already given you the 16 pound and interest, and now you're all paid up in a lump sum. I'm finished.

WINSTONE: (inaudible). Don't you ever ask me for a loan again.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Anjelica Huston, welcome to FRESH AIR.

HUSTON: Thank you.

GROSS: Now, I know you grew up in Ireland, but you grew up on an estate. You weren't poor like Agnes Brown. What connection do you feel to the character you play in this film?

HUSTON: Well, I -- yes, I grew up in the west of Ireland, and my father had a very beautiful Georgian house in County Galway. But to have been brought up in Ireland, really, in the late '50s, early '60s, was to have had a certain experience with a poor country. It was not the affluent country that it is today.

And much of my time was spent playing with the sons and daughters of local farmers. And so I wasn't entirely sheltered from real life, or shall I say life with people who perhaps weren't as affluent as we were.

GROSS: The movie is adapted from a novel by Brendan O'Carroll, and -- who also did a radio serial about the same characters. How did you find out about the story?

HUSTON: Well, I'd formed a friendship with Jim Sheridan, the director, some years ago when he made a film called "My Left Foot," which I tremendously admired. And so after he saw my first film, "Bastard Out of Carolina," and we talked maybe about collaborating, I was thrilled when he brought me the book "The Nanny," by Brendan O'Carroll.

And at that point I didn't really know what I was going to do. But we discussed it, and ultimately we agreed that he would produce and I would direct. We had an actress in mind, and we went ahead and cast, and then unfortunately at the last minute, she fell out of the project, and I was forced to come in as the actress.

GROSS: How did you feel about taking on the role? Did you feel right for the part?

HUSTON: I felt rather -- well, I was a bit under stress, because really if I hadn't come in, we'd have lost the film. It was at that point prohibitive to go out to other actresses, just because we didn't have the time. We -- our offices were open in Dublin, we were spending money.

So I think it was sort of under duress. But ultimately I'm glad I did it. It was worth it. It got the movie made. And it was a test at times, but I'm ultimately glad it happened.

GROSS: When did your y move to Ireland? This was, I think, shortly after you were born?

HUSTON: Yes. My father was, I think, rather disappointed with what was going on in America in the early '50s. He was a liberal and a Democrat, and McCarthyism was at its peak. He was making a film called "Moulin Rouge" when he was first invited to go to Ireland on a fox-hunting trip. And after having gone, fell in love with the country, decided he wanted to live in the west of Ireland, and brought his then quite young wife -- I think she was about 19 years old -- and his two young children to live there.

GROSS: One of those young children was you. (laughs)

HUSTON: That's right.

GROSS: What was it like to grow up on an estate? Did you feel isolated, did you have a lot of friends? Were you near neighbors?

HUSTON: Well, the people I saw were generally the people who worked on the estates, so the man who looked after my father's horses, our groom, Paddy Lynch (ph), had a family of seven, and I think his wife was actually very much a role model for Agnes Brown. I used to put all the Lynch children in the bathtub and scrub them up of a Saturday night.

So those were really my playmates. We were about an hour from Galway town. We were in the middle of the country, and I would say, apart from the Lynch kids, my best friends were my animals, my horses, my dogs.

GROSS: Did you go to school?

HUSTON: I went to school -- I was tutored at home for several years, and then I went to the local convent in Loch Ray (ph), the Sisters of Mercy.

GROSS: Were you Catholic?

HUSTON: No, my parents weren't Catholic, and of course I was longing to be a Catholic, and I longed to have my first Holy Communion and wear veils. And -- but it wasn't to be. So to compensate for that, I used to borrow my mother's old tutus and put them on my head and sort of attempt trial marriages on the front lawn.

GROSS: Did you have a screening room on the estate where you could watch either the popular movies of the day or, you know, the movies your father was making, or the movies he'd already made?

HUSTON: My father's -- well, we didn't have screening rooms, but we had a projector, and I remember hours spent trying to loop the film into the projector. This was a process that would last for hours before we'd be able to view any one particular film. And then the film was generally "African Queen" or "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," or any one of maybe the seven to 10 films that my father had of his own films.

So I must have seen "Maltese Falcon" at least 125 times before the age of 12. As to anyone else's movies, however, I was pathetically ignorant. So I think the first time I saw "Tammy Tell Me True" at the local theater in Galway, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

GROSS: Did you have a sense of your father's fame and what it meant to be a movie director, growing up away from America?

HUSTON: Well, I visited him on practically every set that he was on, so I had an idea of what was going on. I never particularly enjoyed being on his sets as a child, because one was always being shouted at and told to be quiet and to get lost or -- So I was always happier sort of not being on the sets proper. But I knew what went on, and I knew it was a lot of hard work. I didn't have a lot of illusions about the glamour of filmmaking.

GROSS: Your father was shooting "The African Queen" in Africa when you were born, and in fact, I want to read a paragraph from his autobiography, "An Open Book," about how he got the news. And this is while he's making "The African Queen," and he was describing how much sickness there was on the set, and that he and Bogart were the only ones who didn't get sick, probably because they drank Scotch with their water.

HUSTON: Right. (laughs)

GROSS: And then he writes -- (laughs) he writes, "One afternoon I was working on a scene with Katie and Bogie when a runner carrying a message from Budiaba (ph) appeared. It had taken him three days to reach us. We had no other means of communication with the outside world.

"He handed me an envelope, and I glanced at the cable inside. It was from California. Ricky" -- your mother, his wife -- "Ricky had had a daughter. Both she and the baby were fine. I stuck the paper silently in my pocket and went on with the scene.

"As I had expected, Katie couldn't stand it. `John,' she finally blurted, `for heaven's sake, tell us.' And I did."

GROSS: Have you often thought about what it was like for him to be in so remote a location when you were born, and what it was like for your mother to have him be in so remote a location when you were born?

HUSTON: Yes, I think it must have been very sort of confusing for both of them, probably more so for my mother, because she was very young, and my brother was by then a year old. And I think it must have been very lonely for her. And, of course, Africa in those days, I think, would have obviously been tremendously difficult for him to accompany him, although he was prone to making forays into the bush. (laughs)

He was not a typically sort of stay-at-home husband, and I don't think she expected that of him any more than I did later on.

GROSS: Since he wasn't a stay-at-home husband, he was often on some set shooting a movie, did it put more of a distance for the family to be in Ireland?

HUSTON: I think Ireland was a big comfort to him. He always used to describe St. Clarence (ph), our house in Galway, as a place where he could go and lick his wounds. It was really a sort of sacrosanct place for him. He felt very personal about Ireland. I remember whenever we'd have guests come to visit, and we'd take trips out in the car to Canamara (ph) and County Clare, and we'd look out over the cliffs and the heather would be in bloom, and his guests would compliment him, and he would say, "Thank you," as though he'd invented the place.

So (laughs) I think it was a great love of his.

GROSS: Did you want to act as a kid? I mean, you said you didn't like to be on the set, so...

HUSTON: Yes, and although I didn't like to be on a set because it mostly meant being in the way as a child, I always thought it was a sort of exalted position to be an actress. Actresses...

GROSS: What made you think that?

HUSTON: Well, actresses were beautiful, divine creatures. They were special, they were treated with great care. But I think mostly it was -- to make myself perfectly superficial, I think it was their beauty, their physical appearance, their -- and the attention that that brought them.

GROSS: Did you act as a kid? Did you...

HUSTON: Oh, I never stopped. I was always trying to amuse people. I don't know how amusing I was, but yes, I used to do plays in the front hall at St. Clarence. In fact, the first play that I attempted, at the age of 7, was "the Scottish play," the one we shan't name, and with two little friends of mine, both who were slightly older than myself. And I think the audience was comprised of my father and Peter O'Toole, and my mother and his wife, Peter's wife, Sean (ph).

And I went dry on the line "Toad under cold stone" and ran from the room and hid all night and wept bitterly. That was my first sort of terrible tragic foray into acting.

GROSS: My guest is Anjelica Huston. She directed and stars in the new film "Agnes Brown." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: Anjelica Huston is my guest. She stars in and directed the new film "Agnes Brown."

Well, let's talk about your early film career. You had your first starring role in a film that was directed by your father called "A Walk With Love and Death." I'm going to read something that he wrote in his memoir, "An Open Book," about the film.

He says, "I immediately saw it as a good possibility for my daughter, Anjelica. It was set during the 100 Years' War and was a tale of two young people, children almost, who were in love and trying to escape from a world that was all violence and desolation. The girl, Claudia, a young noblewoman, was a perfect part for Angel. And Moshe Dayan's son, Assi, played opposite her in the role of the poet Heron (ph).

"When Fox announced the picture and its cast at a press gathering in Hollywood, I was of course challenged. Didn't the casting of Anjelica amount to nepotism? I replied that it did indeed. That's why I was making the picture. The whole point was to launch my 16-year-old as an actress."

Did you think this was a good idea at the time? Did you want to be in the movie? And did you want to make your first big movie with your father at the helm?

HUSTON: No, I was absolutely set against it. (laughs) I read the script, and I wanted to be -- you know, I wanted to be on the road with the Rolling Stones...

GROSS: (laughs)

HUSTON: ... I didn't want to be playing a sort of 15th century maiden locked up in a tower with no makeup on. I was fond of quite a lot of makeup at the time, I think probably because I wasn't very secure. And my father had quite a number of objections about that, but that's another story.

And a school search was going on for Juliet, for Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet," a part that I was dying to play, because not only was Juliet, of course, the great romantic heroine of all time, but also it meant that I'd be in Italy with Franco Zeffirelli, and far away from any sort of criticism at home, or lock and key.

And of course that wasn't to be. My father wrote a letter to Zeffirelli saying that, you know, he really shouldn't consider me for his film, because I was going to do this film with Dad, and basically to cease and desist.

So we were supposed to shoot the film in France, but then it was 1968, the student revolution broke out, and that was sort of prohibitive and impossible. And my father and I at the time were practically not on speaking terms. I was avoiding him assiduously. And ultimately, we made the film in Vienna, and I can't say that it was an enjoyable experience at all. I was very reluctant. I was uncomfortable in the part. It was just not a -- overall, not a comfortable situation at all.

GROSS: How was he at directing you? I mean, it's sometimes so hard to learn anything, whether it's how to play piano or how to drive a car, from someone in your family. And all this kind of dysfunctional family stuff interferes with the actual lesson. And when you're 16, it's such an uncomfortable period, usually, between parents and children anyways.

So what was it like taking direction in your first leading role from your dad?

HUSTON: Oh, it was awful, and I wasn't really -- oh, I wasn't good at learning my lines, and I didn't really know -- well, I knew what it entailed. But I felt in some way that if I made myself as small as possible, that the whole thing wouldn't exist. And of course (laughs) that didn't work.

It was extremely difficult for me to accept direction from him in that I didn't really like the original material. I didn't really like the character I was playing. And when I think back on it, to this day I don't believe that one can play a character that one doesn't like on some level, albeit the grand high witch or, you know...

GROSS: The film didn't get very good reviews in the States. You must have felt like saying, I told you so! (laughs)

HUSTON: Yes, I did, but more than that, I felt like burying myself underground.

GROSS: Sure, sure.

HUSTON: For a long, long time.

GROSS: Well, I think you went into modeling for a while after that.

HUSTON: I did, yes, for about four years.

GROSS: What -- how was modeling different from acting in terms of your sense of self?

HUSTON: Well, I had a good time modeling. I worked with some wonderful people.

GROSS: You were modeling clothes?

HUSTON: Yes, and one of my first assignments as a model was for American "Vogue," when Diana Vreeland was editor in chief. And I went on a trip to Ireland with Richard Avedon, and it was a very beautiful issue. And I had a very good time modeling. I liked it very much. I liked making pictures. I liked learning. I liked knowing about lighting. I liked the whole act of creating a photograph.

GROSS: What did you learn about your body and your face that was useful for you as an actress?

HUSTON: Well, I knew where to look for the light. I know where the light should be. I learned that my hands are a lot too big for my wrists, so how to work my hands so that they wouldn't appear very large. I didn't much like my photographs initially. I was very self-critical. I look at them now and I think, well, I don't know what I was complaining about so much. But it was more about the action of modeling, more about the action of doing it. I liked doing runway a lot. I was pretty good at it, I think.

GROSS: Anjelica Huston will be back in the second half of the show. She directed and stars in the new film "Agnes Brown."

Tom Jones makes a guest appearance in the film. Here's a song from the sound track.

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

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "IT'S NOT UNUSUAL," TOM JONES)

(BREAK)

(AUDIO CLIP, JAZZ EXCERPT, JOHN CHAKAI AND THE CHARLIE COLHASE QUINTET)

GROSS: Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews the CD we're listening to now, featuring saxophonist John Chakai and the Charlie Colhase Quintet. TV critic David Bianculli reviews the new animated show, "God, the Devil, and Bob." And we continue our conversation with actress Anjelica Huston.

(BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Anjelica Huston. She directed and stars in the new film "Agnes Brown."

Huston's first starring role was in the 1969 film "A Walk With Love and Death," directed by her father, John Huston. It was a big flop. Sixteen years later, her father directed her in her breakthrough film, "Prizzi's Honor." In it, Anjelica Huston plays Mae Rose, Mae Rose Prizzi, the granddaughter of a Mafia don. Jack Nicholson plays Charlie, her family's hit man.

Mae Rose and Charlie grew up together and had been lovers. They meet up again at a family wedding. A few nights later, Charlie turns up at Mae Rose's door.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "PRIZZI'S HONOR")

HUSTON: What's with you?

JACK NICHOLSON, ACTOR: We gotta talk.

HUSTON: Wanna talk out here? You wanna come in, sit down and talk?

NICHOLSON: Sure.

Oh, this is some beautiful setup you got here, Mae.

HUSTON: Yeah, the colors are right. That's what counts. Not everybody sees shapes differently, but colors are forever.

NICHOLSON: Yeah.

HUSTON: Why'd you call, Charlie?

NICHOLSON: We wasted a lotta time, Mae.

HUSTON: Four years. You call that a lotta time. How come you didn't wait till I was 50?

NICHOLSON: You coulda been a fat Wap bug (ph) by the time you were 50.

HUSTON: You wanna do it, Charlie? Is that what you want?

NICHOLSON: Whoa, take it easy. What the hell, Mae.

HUSTON: Nobody took it slower than me, Charlie. Four years. Answer the question. You wanna do it?

NICHOLSON: Well, uh, yeah.

HUSTON: So, let's do it.

NICHOLSON: With all the lights on?

HUSTON: Yeah, right here, on the Oriental, with all the lights on.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: I asked Anjelica Huston how she and her father came to work together on "Prizzi's Honor."

HUSTON: Well, my father had been celebrated by AFI the year before...

GROSS: That's the American Film Institute.

HUSTON: That's right. And I was emceeing that evening. And sometime before, I guess I'd just come off a film called "Ice Pirates" that his producer from "Man Who Would Be King" was making at MGM, and had very kindly given me a part in. And John Forman (ph) was his name. He came to me with a Richard Condon book called "Prizzi's Honor," and said, "Read this, and tell me what you think."

So I took it home and read it and loved it, and told him so, and he said, "Well, what do you think about Mae Rose Prizzi?" And I said, "Oh, it's fantastic, John, I'd love to do it." And he said, "What do you think about your father to direct and Jack Nicholson to play Charlie Partana?" And I went, "Oh, God, no!" (laughs) "Don't do this to me."

GROSS: (laughs)

HUSTON: But then we sort of...

GROSS: (laughs)

HUSTON: (laughs) -- we figured it out and talked it through and decided to go ahead. And so that night when I was introducing my father's segment of AFI, I asked him if he'd consider working with me again, and so we launched off on "Prizzi's Honor," which was exactly the reverse experience of "A Walk With Love and Death." And at that point, I'd been to acting class, I had some experience under my belt, I knew a lot more about what I was doing, and had a wonderful teacher called Peggy Fury (ph), who really changed my life around.

So I came equipped with a little knowledge and a little experience to that part, and I think it made all the difference.

Also, the part was so great that you really couldn't fail.

GROSS: One of my favorite roles of yours is in "The Grifters," in which you play a con artist who is also a mother who is cold and cruel, to (inaudible)...

HUSTON: I disagree, but -- (laughs)

GROSS: OK, but -- disagree about her, or about...

HUSTON: Oh, yes. I mean, I always felt that she was a victim of circumstance, poor Lily Dylan.

GROSS: OK. Good, well, that's what I wanted to know, where do you find this character in yourself?

HUSTON: I had a lot of sympathy with her. She comes from seriously questionable auspices, and whatever she's got, she's had to fight for tooth and nail. She's the kind of woman -- she's like a she-wolf. When she gets caught in a trap, she'll bite her own leg off. And I think it's about survival for her in the only way that she knows how to survive, like an animal.

So maybe she's feral, but I don't think she's cruel.

GROSS: You mentioned that before "Prizzi's Honor," you had taken acting lessons with Peggy Fury and that she turned your life around. Was there a period when you decided to get more serious about acting after the modeling period, and is that when you decided to take the acting lessons?

HUSTON: Yes. Well, I was living with Jack Nicholson at the time, and he was receiving a lot of attention, as indeed he still does. But -- so when the phone rang, it rang for him, and I was feeling somewhat thwarted being his girlfriend. Not that I didn't like being his girlfriend, but I was not unambitious.

So -- but at the same time, it was hard for me to accept the idea of handouts. I never liked the idea that I would get things without working for them. That's, I know, sort of a bit mad, but it was important for me to feel as though I had some real input into the feedback. And I think it was really through my decision to go to Peggy Fury's acting class that my life began to change, and I began to grow some confidence.

I think that maybe I had talent, but talent without exercise is simply that. I think it really changed my life around to have somebody tell me that what I was doing was right. And I remember one particular occasion, very early on with Peggy, where I was in a scene, and I was pointing this out, and I think I had to ask for money, and I extended my hand. And she said, "Anjelica, Anjelica, you know, when you're on stage, we notice you. You don't have to put out your hand if you're asking for something."

GROSS: You know, I think it's often easy for women, particularly young women, to end up in the shadows if they're with very strong men. And in your case, you know, there was your father, John Huston, and then your boyfriend, Jack Nicholson. Do you think that that made it a little harder for you to find yourself professionally?

HUSTON: Possibly. But on the other hand, there was certainly always something there to aspire to, and both men were extremely inspirational, busy, thoughtful, forever planning something, very eclectic, very energetic. So I think certainly there was more advantage to being connected with both of them than not.

GROSS: Well, you're certainly very well known yourself now, and I'm wondering what you learned about celebrity from watching your father, from living with Jack Nicholson, that you've tried to, you know, apply to your own life, things that -- lessons that you learned from watching them that you've tried to, you know, apply now that you're a celebrity yourself.

HUSTON: Well, I think, you know, you got to take it all with a grain of salt, don't believe your own myth too much, try to stay level, try to stay even. Remember what and who you love and what and who loves you. And stay true.

GROSS: Are those rules that they sometimes didn't follow themselves?

HUSTON: Oh, I wouldn't go that far. I don't know. I actually don't -- no, I think they were true people. And I think, you know, honesty starts at home. If you create an illusion, you have to be very careful about not creating a delusion. So I think it's good to always have one foot in the street, you know.

GROSS: You directed your new film, "Agnes Brown." It's your second film as a director.

HUSTON: Right.

GROSS: Do you feel you learned a lot from watching your father direct, watching him direct you?

HUSTON: Yes, although I can't really be specific about what it was exactly that he did that I'm attempting to do now. I think, though, maybe if I were to be a bit general, it's -- well, first of all, I think it's about casting. I think casting to type and casting people that you like or that you believe in or that you have a feeling for, it's important to have that dialogue.

Also, I think one can really -- you know, if one casts properly, leave it up so much to the actors, having done that initial work, that then trust is easy, and you don't feel as though you have to dictate to anyone.

GROSS: Anjelica Huston, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

HUSTON: Ah, thank you, it was a pleasure.

GROSS: Anjelica Huston directed and stars in the new movie "Agnes Brown."

Here's a scene from her film "The Grifters." Huston plays a con artist named Lily. She suspects that her son, played by John Cusack, is also getting into the life. He's denied it. They haven't stayed in touch, but Lily shows up to visit her son in the hospital after he's been beaten up.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE GRIFTERS")

HUSTON: The manager at your place said your boss called. Really pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, huh?

JOHN CUSACK, ACTOR: What are you talking about? So I've got a job. So what?

HUSTON: Stop kidding me. Four years in a town like Los Angeles and a peanut selling job's the best you can do? Expect me to believe that?

CUSACK: Well, it's there. The boss called, you said so yourself.

HUSTON: That dump you live in? Those clown pictures on the walls?

CUSACK: I like those.

HUSTON: You do not. Poor Dylan, cornball clown pictures, commission salesman. It's all a front. You're working some angle, and don't tell me you're not, because I wrote the book.

CUSACK: You're one to talk. You still going to play back money for the mob?

HUSTON: That's me. That's who I am. You were never cut out for the rackets, Roy, and if you...

CUSACK: How come?

HUSTON: You aren't tough enough.

CUSACK: Not as tough as you, huh?

HUSTON: How'd you get that punch in the stomach, Roy?

CUSACK: I tripped on a chair.

HUSTON: Get off the grift, Roy.

CUSACK: Why?

HUSTON: You haven't got the stomach for it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews a new CD by John Chakai and Charlie Colhase.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Actress Anjelica
High: Actress Anjelica Huston has starred in the films "The Grifters," "Prizi's Honor," and "The Dead," she is daughter of film director John Huston. She directs and stars in the new film "Agnes Brown," adapted from the Brendan O'Carroll book "The Mammy."
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Actress Anjelica
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Anjelica Huston Discusses `Agnes Brown'

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 09, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 030802NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Review of `Life Overflowing'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:40

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says some jazz fans think of Boston only as a place where young musicians go to study, at Berkley College or the New England Conservatory, for example. But there are enough seasoned players around to keep the scene hopping. Many of these players record together in various large and small combinations, and sometimes they match up on a record with top talent from out of town, such as saxophonist and occasional singer John Chakai.

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, JOHN CHAKAI AND THE CHARLIE COLHASE QUINTET)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, JAZZ CRITIC: Jazz musicians are habitual travelers, going where the work is. But even by jazz standards, John Chakai stands out. Born in 1936 to Congolese and Danish parents, he was raised and began playing saxophone in Denmark.

In the early '60s, he spent time in New York, where he recorded with John Coltrane, Albert Eiler (ph), and other jazz revolutionaries. Chakai then returned to Denmark, and along with English, German, and Dutch players, helped create a distinctly European style of free music. That made him the only musician to play a key role in '60s upheavals on either side of the Atlantic.

Chakai had a singular style to match his experience. He was one of the first musicians to use minimalist ideas in his improvising, grabbing one idea or lick and sticking to it for minutes. He had and still has a thin and slippery tone that set him apart from the pack.

(AUDIO CLIP, JAZZ EXCERPT, JOHN CHAKAI AND THE CHARLIE COLHASE QUINTET)

WHITEHEAD: John Chakai now lives in northern California, where he teaches at UC-Davis, and he's continued to travel the world, from Asia to Africa to the Caribbean in search of musicians to play with.

In truth, they are not always on his level or wavelength, but he meshes very well with four Boston-area players on the CD we've been hearing, "Life Overflowing," on the Nada Music label. Chakai co-leads the date with baritone and alto saxophonist Charlie Colhase. Like the rest of the band, he's a generation or so younger than Chakai.

The saxophones blend smoothly. The rhythm section is loose and springy. And the tunes the players contribute pull the quintet in various directions.

(AUDIO CLIP, JAZZ EXCERPT, JOHN CHAKAI AND THE CHARLIE COLHASE QUINTET)

WHITEHEAD: Two players on the CD, keyboardist Dave Bryant and bassist John Turner, in one of the same tunes, are also on Bryant's new CD, "The Eternal Hang (ph)" on Accurate Records. Dave Bryant plays in Ornette Coleman's loud (ph) band, Prime Time, where his electronics add a high-tech sheen.

His own writing showed Ornette's influence even before he joined Prime Time, but Bryant's quartet/quintet mostly favors a more open texture than that dense group. The track "Kiss Noise" almost sounds like Ornette's music played by some kind of whacked-out jazz organ group. That's a new wrinkle. The tenor saxophonist is Boston hero George Garzone (ph).

(AUDIO CLIP, "KISS NOISE," DAVE BRYANT QUARTET (ph))

WHITEHEAD: Some of the music on Dave Bryant's new album is a bit too ferocious for mass consumption, but taken together with the new John Chakai-Charlie Colhase CD, it suggests the range of styles modern jazz musicians can play with taste and conviction. Much as they hop around, these guys never sound like they're dabbling. They play every note like they really mean it.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing," which is now out in paperback. He reviewed "Life Overflowing" by John Chakai and Charlie Colhase, and "The Eternal Hang" by Dave Bryant.

(AUDIO CLIP, JAZZ EXCERPT, JOHN CHAKAI AND THE CHARLIE COLHASE QUINTET)

GROSS: Coming up, a review of a new prime time animation show.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, Kevin Whitehead
Guest:
High: Some jazz fans think of Boston only as a place where young musicians go to study, at Berkley College or the New England Conservatory, for example. But there are enough seasoned players around to keep the scene hopping. Many of these players record together in various large and small combinations, and sometimes they match up on a record with top talent from out of town, such as saxophonist and occasional singer John Chakai.
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Boston

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Some of the music on Dave Bryant's new album is a bit too ferocious for mass consumption, but taken together with the new John Chakai-Charlie Colhase CD, it suggests the range of styles modern jazz musicians can play with taste and conviction. Much as they hop around, these guys never sound like they're dabbling. They play every note like they really mean it.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing," which is now out in paperback. He reviewed "Life Overflowing" by John Chakai and Charlie Colhase, and "The Eternal Hang" by Dave Bryant.

(AUDIO CLIP, JAZZ EXCERPT, JOHN CHAKAI AND THE CHARLIE COLHASE QUINTET)

GROSS: Coming up, a review of a new prime time animation show.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, Kevin Whitehead

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MARCH 09, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 030803NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: New Cartoon Comedy `God, the Devil, and Bob' Draws Fire
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: NBC is premiering a new prime time series tomorrow night that, even before its debut, has proven controversial enough for at least two network affiliates to refuse to televise it. The series is a new cartoon comedy called "God, the Devil, and Bob," and TV critic David Bianculli has this preview.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: There are three worthwhile things to look at when it comes to "God, the Devil, and Bob," and I'm not talking about the title characters. First, there's the controversy about this new show. Second, there's the show itself. And third, there's a larger question of prime time animation, whether it's an idea whose time has come and gone.

The controversy, to be blunt about it, doesn't mean much. One of the stations refusing to show the animated series is in Salt Lake City, which isn't exactly unexpected. Besides, the last time some local stations were concerned enough about program content to pull a network offering was back when ABC premiered "NYPD Blue." If you remember, the media attention about the protests didn't exactly hurt that show.

The difference this time is that "God, the Devil, and Bob" isn't that good a show. Basically, it's a modern cartoon update of "Faust," with God and the devil betting the fate of mankind on the value or lack of it of one randomly chosen representative of the human race.

The show isn't bad. You can watch it without embarrassment and with a definite appreciation for its concept and casting. But it's no "Simpsons." For that matter, it's no "King of the Hill" or "Futurama."

That's too bad, because the actors providing the voices are wonderful. French Stewart (ph), who plays Harry on "Third Rock From the Sun," and acts like a human cartoon anyway, is Bob. Alan Cumming (ph), who won a well-deserved Tony award as the sinister MC in Broadway's revival of "Cabaret," is the devil. And in the best casting coup of all, God -- who looks like Jerry Garcia -- is played by James Garner, who finally gets a starring role in a TV series that won't bang up his bad knees.

Garner's droll delivery is perfect. Unfortunately, the script isn't. There's a difference between humor that's understated and humor that's not funny. "God, the Devil, and Bob" doesn't quite get the difference, so even the most promising scenes are drawn and written without any real inventiveness.

Here's a scene where God meets the devil at an auto show, engages in some small talk, then walks outside and is depressed by the urban decay he finds there.

(AUDIO CLIP, "GOD, THE DEVIL, AND BOB")

JAMES GARNER, ACTOR: How are things in hell?

ALAN CUMMING, ACTOR: How are things in hell? It's a festering pit of agony and despair. Ooh, I put in a coy pond (ph).

GARNER: Good for you.

CUMMING: They all died.

GARNER: You check your filter?

CUMMING: I did everything the guy told me. I can't keep fish.

GARNER: Well, fish are hard. Get a parakeet. Nothing kills those things.

Oh, look at this.

CUMMING: Nice place you've created here.

GARNER: Yeah.

CUMMING: Yeah, that's it. You're not going to come back at me with little Timmy Taylor, who gave his sainted nana his last kidney.

GARNER: No. I've got to tell you, more and more these days...

CUMMING: What? You can tell me.

GARNER: ... sometimes I think about chucking the whole thing and starting over.

CUMMING: I can't tell you how glad I am to hear you say that. I know it was hard, but I think it's the first step.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BIANCULLI: Then there's the animation question. "God, the Devil, and Bob" stretches itself only rarely, and the closest it comes to being really clever is during a visit to a nightclub in hell. "Tonight and Every Night," reads the sign at the front door, "Guy Lombardo." And the only song played, over and over, is "Auld Lang Syne."

But we may soon be singing farewell to the prime time animation craze in general. The novelty has worn off, so the shows that are going to last are the shows that have the best characters, situations, and scripts. That means, even though it's been on the air 10 years, "The Simpsons" is safe. It also means, even though "God, the Devil, and Bob" is brand new, it probably won't be around for long.

GROSS: David Bianculli is the TV critic for "The New York Daily News."

Country Music Hall of Famer Pee Wee King has died after suffering a heart attack. He was 86. King introduced electric instruments and saxophone to the Grand Ole Opry. He also co-wrote the songs "You Belong to Me" and "The Tennessee Waltz." Let's hear one of his recordings of "The Tennessee Waltz" with King on accordion and the song's co-writer, Red Stewart (ph), on vocals.

(AUDIO CLIP, "THE TENNESSEE WALTZ," PEE WEE KING AND RED STEWART)

GROSS: "Tennessee Waltz," co-written by Pee Wee King, who was featured on accordion. He's died at the age of 86.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today was Joan Toohey Wesman.

I'm Terry Gross.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, David Bianculli
Guest:
High: NBC is premiering a new prime time series tomorrow night that, even before its debut, has proven controversial enough for at least two network affiliates to refuse to televise it. The series is a new cartoon comedy called "God, the Devil, and Bob."
Spec: Entertainment; Television and Radio; Religion

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: New Cartoon Comedy `God, the Devil, and Bob' Draws Fire
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.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

43:07

Has Tucker Carlson created the most racist show in the history of cable news?

The NY Times did an exhaustive survey of the Fox News hosts' broadcasts. Reporter Nicholas Confessore says Carlson's show is based on ideas that were once "caged in a dark corner of American life."

08:23

You can't 'Trust' this novel. And that's a very good thing

Hernan Diaz’s new novel, Trust, is about the power of money in the stock market, and its potential, as a character says, "to bend and align reality" to its own purposes.

42:05

British 'Office' co-creator Stephen Merchant isn't afraid to fuse comedy with tragedy

Merchant co-created the British Office and Extras with Ricky Gervais. His new show, The Outlaws, is about people court-ordered to do community service for low-level crimes. He spoke with producer Sam Briger about what inspired the new series, his best writing advice, and how being very tall (6'7") has informed his personality.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue