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Aglow From Toronto's Silver Screen

Fresh Air producer Ann Marie Baldonado has just returned from the Toronto International Film Festival to tell us about the films, the celebrities and the scene on the ground.

07:10

Other segments from the episode on September 17, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 17, 2009: Interview with Ted Danson; Review of the Toronto Film Festival.

Transcript

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Ted Danson, On Life (And 'Death') After 'Cheers'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. In case you haven’t noticed, Ted
Danson has been doing some really interesting work on television lately,
playing characters very different from the shallow and vain bartender
Sam Malone on the sitcom “Cheers.”

On the FX series “Damages,” he’s played a corrupt billionaire CEO. On
Larry David’s HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Ted Danson and his wife
Mary Steenburgen play versions of themselves, friends of Larry David.
Now Danson co-stars in the new series “Bored to Death,” which premieres
Sunday on HBO. It was created by writer Jonathan Ames. The series stars
Jason Schwartzman as a writer named Jonathan Ames who’s stuck.

He’s not getting anywhere with his writing, and his girlfriend has just
walked out on him, accusing him of drinking too much and smoking too
much marijuana. So he tries to emulate the life of the hard-broiled
detectives in his favorite novels. He puts an ad on Craigslist, offering
his services as a private detective, and he starts getting responses.

Ted Danson plays Ames’ boss, a powerful magazine editor named George
Christopher. In this scene from the first episode, they’re at a gallery
opening when Danson asks Schwartzman if he has any pot. He does, and so
they go into the men’s room. Danson is surprised to see that Schwartzman
is carrying his marijuana in a prescription pill bottle.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Bored to Death”)

Mr. TED DANSON (Actor): (as George Christopher) This is my Viagra
bottle. What are you doing with marijuana in my Viagra bottle?

Mr. JASON SCHWARTZMAN (Actor): (as Jonathan Ames) You gave me that
bottle months ago. There were two pills left in it. You told me I should
try them. Now I’m putting my pot in it.

Mr. DANSON: (as George) Are you insane? What if you got arrested for
marijuana possession? Page 6 would have a field day. I can’t have –
hello? Hello? I can’t have the world knowing that I use Viagra.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (as Jonathan) Do you really need to take so much?

Mr. DANSON: (as George) Yes, as a matter of fact I do. My heart medicine
and heavy drinking have taken a toll. I’m not what I once was, but I
accept that. It’s called humility.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (as Jonathan) Then why are you back on pot?

Mr. DANSON: (as George) Because I’m bored. God, I’m bored. Death by a
thousand dull conversations. I don’t know what’s going on, but almost
everybody has bad wine breath tonight. It’s like Chernobyl out there.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (as Jonathan) Do you think we drink too much?

Mr. DANSON: (as George) No, no, we don’t drink too much. Men face
reality, women don’t. That’s why men need to drink.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (as Jonathan) That’s a line from my novel.

Mr. DANSON: (as George) Yeah, well, you stole it from me.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (as Jonathan) No, I didn’t.

Mr. DANSON: (as George) Yeah, actually, you did.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (as Jonathan) Actually, no, I didn’t.

Mr. DANSON: (as George) Fine, Jonathan.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (as Jonathan) Anyway, Suzanne moved out today because
she says I drink too much.

Mr. DANSON: (as George) Oh, I’m not surprised.

Mr. SCHWARTZMAN: (as Jonathan) Why do you say that?

Mr. DANSON: (as George) Because you’re like me, Jonathan. We enthrall,
and then we disappoint.

GROSS: Ted Danson, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. DANSON: That’s a great line. I love that. We enthrall, and then we
disappoint.

GROSS: Yeah. So Jonathan Ames created this series, “Bored to Death.”
What did he tell you about who he based your character on?

Mr. DANSON: He didn’t – I don’t know that he said that he based it on
anyone specific. You know, I read a book about George Plimpton, but
clearly this is not George Plimpton. You know, it was a very small
character in the beginning, and then when I came on board, they decided
to make it bigger. So I’m not – you’d have to ask him if he had anybody
specific, but I don’t think he did.

For me, it’s – I kind of drew on my father’s day, if not directly my
father, that old-world gentleman - you know, very bright, well-spoken,
kind of old-world-style person who always wears a tie kind of, you know,
person.

GROSS: It’s funny that you say you wanted to base a character on your
father’s kind of old-school ways, old-world ways, but this is a
character who, like, smokes marijuana and, you know, drinks too much,
and I mean, that’s – your father wouldn’t have been doing that, I don’t
think?

Mr. DANSON: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: No, no, he wasn’t, but you know, there’s the one side of him
that is - he’s very bright, very intelligent. He’s the editor and

publisher of a, you know, well-respected magazine. He rubs shoulders
with, you know, very intelligent, bright, literary people in New York.
So he is – he can play that game.

And then there’s part of him that hasn’t quite grown up and has had too
many marriages, too many parties, and what he - I think what he really
wants in life is to not be left out by youth. Let me do whatever Jason
Schwartzman’s character is doing. Let me - please don’t leave me out.
Are you smoking marijuana? Then I want some. Are you having a colonic?
Oh, I want a colonic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: You know, it’s whatever Jason is doing, please don’t leave
me out. I want to still be excited by life. So take me with you.

GROSS: You’re getting to play much more varied characters than you did
when you were younger and famous, originally, because people got so used
to you as Sam Malone, the bartender on “Cheers,” who was the opposite of
intellectual, and the power that he had was, like, the power in the bar,
but now you’re playing people who have, like, you know, real power, who
are kind of successful and also often, like, self-delusional and
sometimes with a little bit of an evil streak.

And it’s been really fun for me as a viewer to discover that side of you
as an actor.

Mr. DANSON: Fun for me, too. I have to admit, I think part of me thought
I’d stayed at the half-hour-comedy dance a bit too long, and I think
part of me was going, wow, I’m not as funny as these other people who
are coming up, and I was kind of boring myself in a way. Then “Damages”
came along and really kind of turned things around for me.

GROSS: Well, you mentioned “Damages,” so this is a perfect opportunity
to play a scene from it, and “Damages” is an FX series starring Glenn
Close as a lawyer, and in this you play Arthur Frobisher, a billionaire
CEO who cashed in his stocks, and then the company went under, leaving
the employees without jobs or pensions.

So they hired a lawyer, the Glenn Close character, to file a class
action suit against you. You really want to save your reputation. So one
of the things you have done is get a writer to write a book about you,
but the writer has his own idea, and you know, he wants to do some
investigation, find out who you really are, what you’ve really done in
your life, some of the bad things you’ve done in your life.

You see this book as an opportunity to just, like, burnish your
reputation and talk about, like, your ladder to success and overcoming
the odds. So you show up, very inappropriately, at midnight,
unannounced, at the writer’s house.

Mr. DANSON: And slightly drunk.

GROSS: Slightly drunk, with a whole box of, like, your trophies and your
ribbons and memorabilia that’s designed to show him what each of these
things represent in your life and what you had to go through to achieve
the success that each of these objects represent. So here’s the scene.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Damages”)

Mr. DANSON: (as Arthur Frobisher) Now see, look. This stuff, all – this
is my integrity. Here, look, look. Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) Third prize, middle school spelling bee.

Mr. PETER RIEGERT (Actor): (as George Moore) Great.

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) No, I’m dyslexic. Remember I told you that?
So that’s determination. Here, look, look. Yeah, all right, varsity.
This is interesting. Varsity. That’s the first time I realized that I
was a natural leader.

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) Yeah, you know, all the stuff that you’re giving
me is great, but this book…

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) All right, look, look, look. Here, come here.
This shirt, right? The shirt you’re wearing, you own other shirts,
right? So you know, if I come along and say, you know, define you as the
guy who wears this shirt, I’d be wrong, right? Because you’re not just
one thing. See, that’s what I’m trying to say. You’re not just one
thing. Hey, I told you, right, that I started off dirt poor?

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) You told me yesterday about that.

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) Well, why don’t you write – hey, listen, 17.
I came this close to joining the Army.

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) Look, look, Mr. Frobisher. I haven’t seen Indira
for two weeks. She’s just been traveling, understand, and this is our
night together. So we’ll just cut it short.

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) All right, let’s back up here. Tell me about
your book.

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) My novel?

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) Sorry, your novel.

Unidentified Man #1: (as Moore) It’s hard to describe.

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) Just tell me what it’s about, will you?

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) On the face of it, it’s a love story. It’s about
nostalgia and how that affects our core relationships.

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) Jesus, George, I mean, that sounds like crap.

Are you kidding me? Look what you’re doing here. I mean, you’re living
on – you’re sleeping on a futon. Come on, you know, of course you’re
writing about my life. You don’t have one, you know? And you’re (bleep)
immigrant because, what, you appreciate their culture?

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) Excuse me?

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) The truth is, you’re just trying to feel
superior. Try running a $40 billion industry. See how that makes you
feel.

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) Get out.

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) Yeah, try managing 11,000 employees.

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) Just leave.

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) You want to know why they’re suing me, you
invisible piece of (bleep)? Because I’m worth it.

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) I hope that you lose everything.

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) Now, you be careful.

Mr. RIEGERT: (as Moore) Because you are an arrogant (bleep).

(Soundbite of scream)

Mr. DANSON: (as Frobisher) Hey, guess what? You’re fired.

GROSS: And that punch was the sound of the Ted Danson character hitting
the ghost writer really hard, maybe breaking his nose. That’s such a
great scene…

Mr. DANSON: With my little toy car.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That’s right. I love the way you play that scene. There’s a lot
of words that you only, like, half-say, and it’s almost like – it was
partly because you’re drunk but it’s partly because like time is –
you’re so important, and you have so little time, you don’t even have to
say the whole word, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I read – by the way, I feel like I read the book that you wanted
written, the total, like, self-delusional, self-burnishing kind of
memoir. I’ve seen that book. You’ve said that you worked with an acting
coach before doing “Damages,” and I guess I’m wondering why. You’ve
acted for decades. Why did you feel the need to do that?

Mr. DANSON: I did work with an acting coach right beforehand. His name’s
Harold Guskin(ph), and he’s worked with a lot of people. Glenn Close
actually has worked with him, James Gandolfini, and the producers, Glenn
and the writers, Glenn and Todd Kessler, knew him for years and actually
pulled me aside about two days before we started shooting the pilot and
said we’d love you to go see our acting coach, and it was like, uh-oh,
you know, they hate my work. They want me to do some, you know,
something that they don’t think I’m capable of.

But it was fantastic because what he told me was – we just talked, you
know, read the scene once and kind of talked about it, and what he said
to me was actually kind of exciting for me just as an actor because I
had been doing comedy, half-hour, for so long, which has this rhythm to
it. It’s almost like doing a musical. There is this – it’s not a real
metronome going off in the background, but it feels like it. There is a
rhythm you need to adhere to, even if you disguise it. You know, there
is a clean musical-comedy energy to doing half-hour, and it was very
nice to come and do this drama.

And what he said to me was, you know, don’t – you have four lines you’re
about to do. You have a paragraph in the script. Well, maybe you’re
going to say one line. Maybe you’ll say two. Maybe you won’t feel like
saying the other lines, and maybe you won’t. You’re Arthur Frobisher.
You’ll do what you want when you want, and if you don’t feel like, you
know, don’t be the nice actor. Don’t give them what you want. Do
whatever you want. And he instilled this kind of creative arrogance in
me that was the same arrogance of the character, the billionaire who
doesn’t really have to answer to anyone and can do whatever he wants
because people love him because he’s a billionaire.

And he kind of instilled in me the idea of acting from that point of
view of, you know what, if you don’t like this line, don’t say it. Now,
the lines were brilliant, so I said them, but there was that kind of
arrogance of I can do no wrong, and it was really a great note to give
me.

GROSS: Ted Danson will be back in the second half of the show. His new
series, “Bored to Death,” premieres Sunday on HBO. I’m Terry Gross and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Ted Danson, and he’s now co-starring in a new series
that premieres this weekend on HBO called “Bored to Death.”

On HBO, on the Larry David series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” you’ve played
yourself, Ted Danson. And your wife, Mary Steenburgen, plays your wife
and plays herself. So when you started on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” how
did you figure out who the “Curb” version of Ted Danson was going to be?

Mr. DANSON: You know, it’s probably the same way that I figure out all
parts. I’m very bad at doing homework. I have to – I can’t look at a
suit on a rack and go ooh, I’d like that suit. I have to try it on. So I
try on words. I read the board. If it’s a well-thought-out, very
creative writer, you know, that you respect, then you try on the words,
and you go, you know, when I say these words, it makes me feel this way,
or I feel like doing this.

I think it’s the same thing, even though you’re playing yourself, you
go, all right, what is my function here? My function is to be a foil for
Larry David. My function is to set up road blocks or do something that
heighten what he’s really funny – you know, funny at. So it becomes –
you shape yourself. Even though you’re name’s Ted Danson, and you’re
married to Mary Steenburgen, but the truth is you’re trying to do what’s
best in each scene to highlight Larry, which is why I hate Larry. I
don’t really like him. I’m tired of highlighting Larry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Are you…?

Mr. DANSON: I’m glad you laughed because he’s one of our best friends,
and we, you know, see him all the time socially, and he’s lived in our
guest house for two summers in a row. Mary calls him Larry the Lodger.
He just won’t leave.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So is this why you’re in the series, because you’re already
friends?

Mr. DANSON: Yeah, probably.

GROSS: So are there scenes in episodes of “Curb” that actually came out
of your life or cam out of your real relationship with Larry David?

Mr. DANSON: Not necessarily, although when you go out to dinner with
him, it’s way scarier than acting with him because he’s always pulling
out his notebook; or you don’t know whether or not he’s doing a scene in
a restaurant and being a little louder than he should be because he’s
practicing something for next week or whether this is truly Larry. It’s
a very scary kind of proposition, hanging out with Larry David.

GROSS: I can imagine it would be a little embarrassing when he’s talking
too loud or doing something inappropriate, and you don’t know whether
he’s testing a performance or just being weird.

Mr. DANSON: Oh yeah, we’ve sat in a restaurant, a very sweet, quiet inn,
you know, New England inn with a lot of people with kind of blue-gray
hair. And he came in late, and his back was to the entire restaurant,
but we were looking at the entire restaurant over his shoulder, and he
was whispering this story in a kind of stage whisper that had the F-word
in it a lot. And he basically cleared the restaurant. And then as he’s
walking out, he went: Nice restaurant. A little too quiet for a Jew, but
it’s a nice restaurant - and he walked out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: And it was like – you kind of had to walk in his wake, going
sorry, sorry, sorry, you know, it’s Larry, sorry.

GROSS: That sounds so much like it should be on Curb and maybe will be.

Mr. DANSON: It is, yeah, and will be, right.

GROSS: I want to play a scene from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and this is
an episode in which you and your wife, Mary Steenburgen, have invited
Larry David and his wife to a party, and he doesn’t like parties. He
doesn’t want to go, so…

Mr. DANSON: This is real. This is totally real. This summer, he would
not go to people’s homes for dinner. I’ll go to a restaurant because
then I can leave when I want, but at a home, I’m stuck. I don’t want to
come. And he made this a rule of thumb. Anyway, please go on.

GROSS: Okay, okay, so in this scene, he doesn’t want to go to your
party. So he comes up with his scheme. He’ll pretend he thought your
party was really the next day. So the day after the party, he shows up
at your door, and you know, saying okay, we’re here for the party. And
he expects that you’ll say oh, it was last night, and then he can just
go home, but that’s not what happens. So here’s the scene.

(Soundbite of television program, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”)

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) Hey.

Ms. CHERYL HINES: (as Cheryl David) Hey.

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) What you guys doing?

Mr. LARRY DAVID: (as himself) What’s going on?

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) What do you mean?

Mr. DAVID: Where’s everybody?

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl) We thought there was a party.

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) Oh my God, you thought the party was tonight?

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl) Yeah.

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) Last night. The party was last night.

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) Are you kidding me?

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) No, man. I can’t believe it.

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) It’s unbelievable. What? We got the wrong night?

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) Yeah, you did. I’m actually glad to hear this.
I was a little pissed off that you didn’t call.

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) Well, now you know why we didn’t call.

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) Mary.

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) Of course we didn’t call because we’re coming
tonight.

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) Come on in.

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) Oh no, no, no, we’re not going to come in.

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl) No, we got the wrong night. It’s our fault.

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) It doesn’t matter.

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl) Hey, Mary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARY STEENBURGEN: (as herself) You’re kidding.

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) Can you believe how stupid we are?

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl) All right. It’s good to see you guys. We’ll call
you later.

Ms. STEENBURGEN: (as herself) No way you’re leaving. This is fantastic.
We have so much leftover food. You’re going to come in and help us eat
it.

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) No, you know what? I’ll call you tomorrow. We’ll
get together. We’ll do…

Ms. STEENBURGEN: (as herself) Why?

Mr. DAVID: (as himself) I’ll take you out to dinner. I’m paying, I’m
paying.

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) Hey, Larry, you don’t have any plans. You’re
supposed to be here, you’re here. Come on in. Come on, Cheryl. It’ll be
fun.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) This’ll be fun. Hey, we’ve got leftovers. I’ll
make you an omelet or something.

Ms. HINES: (as Cheryl) You guys, we can’t, we can’t.

Ms. STEENBURGEN: (as herself) It’ll be great. Come on.

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) This is like pulling teeth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: (as himself) Come on in, you guys.

GROSS: That’s a scene from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with my guest Ted
Danson. So let’s look at the scene we just heard. Did you get a script
for that scene? Did Larry David tell you what it was about and then ask
you to just improv your lines? How did it work?

Mr. DANSON: Yeah, that’s something everybody should know about Larry
David. He’s the laziest writer on the planet. You know, if he ever wins
a writing award, I’ll picket – I’m semi-joking. He – what he does is he
works for months on setting up the season, the arc of the season. Then
each show is broken down into scenes, and this is pretty typical of a
writing room for comedies.

You break everything down, beat by beat, so that the last thing you do
is you send a writer off to write the actual dialogue. He takes it right
up to the dialogue part. So it’s very intricate. It’s been worked out.
You know what he needs, but the words that come out of your mouth have
not been written.

GROSS: Our interview with Ted Danson will continue in the second half of
the show. His new series, “Bored to Death,” premieres Sunday on HBO. I’m
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with Ted Danson. He
costars in the HBO series "Bored to Death," which premiers Sunday. He
plays himself on Larry David's HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and on
the FX series "Damages" he's played a corrupt billionaire CEO.

Now, you got your start on the TV series "Cheers," which is one of the
more famous TV series in TV history. How did you get the audition for
that?

Mr. TED DANSON (Actor): You know, I think several things that I heard
later, you know, came out later. Jimmy Burrows, who along with Glen and
Les Charles created "Cheers." He was the director, they were the two
writers, and they had been teamed up for a few years. And I had
auditioned for Jimmy Burrows maybe a year or two beforehand, for a show
that I did not get, and he remembered me. And then, coincidentally, at
the same time they were casting and they had their offices on Paramount
lot. I was doing a guest star on "Taxi." And so I was playing this kind
of light in the loafers hairdresser on "Taxi" and running over to the
offices and talking to them at the same time.

So it came out of Jimmy remembering me and then auditioning. And I
remember that they, you know, at one point they said, well, we're
interested. Don’t take anything else, you know. Don’t take any other
shows without letting us know. And I said, so does that mean you want me
to do this part? And they went, well, just don’t take any other parts.
And I walk out the door thinking, wow, you know, I've got this, and then
I look down this long hallway and saw this line of actors going in...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: ...the other door. And then when we actually auditioned for
it in front of the network and everything, they had three actors and
three actresses to play Sam and Diane and they had a little stage set up
and it was this little act-off, you know, where each couple would come
out and do a scene and then leave, then the other couple would come out,
and that - I think I got the part because Shelley and I were good
together. Shelley was remarkable and I think I got the part because
Shelley was so good and I worked well with Shelley, to be honest. I
think that's how that happened.

GROSS: Did you feel like you knew this character?

Mr. DANSON: No. Lord no. I didn’t. I had no idea how unintelligent he
was. At first I thought he was making these - because Sam would come out
with these things that were funny, and I thought, well, maybe he's being
ironic. You know, maybe he's smart enough to know that he is saying
stupid things in the beginning. I think it took me about a year and a
half before, maybe a season and a half before I had an inkling on how to
play Sam Malone, because he was a relief pitcher, which comes with a
certain amount of arrogance.

You know, you only get called in when you’re in trouble and you’re there
to save the day, and that takes a special kind of arrogance, I think.
And Sam Malone had that arrogance. And I, Ted Danson, did not. I was
nervous, scared, excited about, you know, grateful about my new job.

GROSS: Well, let's hear a scene from season one and we’ll hear the kind
of arrogance that you’re talking about that your character...

Mr. DANSON: Or lack of.

GROSS: Or lack of, that your character Sam Malone had. So here's a scene
with you and Shelley Long.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Cheers")

Ms. SHELLEY LONG (Actress): (as Diane Chambers) Why are you so upset?

Mr. DANSON: (as Sam Malone) You know, this week I have gone out with all
the women I know. I mean all the women I really enjoy. And all of a
sudden, all I can think about is how stupid they are. I mean my life
isn’t fun anymore, and it's because of you.

Ms. LONG: (as Diane Chambers) Because of me?

Mr. DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Yeah. You’re a snob.

Ms. LONG: (as Diane Chambers) A snob?

Mr. DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Yeah. That's right.

Ms. LONG: (as Diane Chambers) Well, you’re a rapidly aging adolescent.

Mr. DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Well, I would rather be that than a snob.

Ms. LONG: (as Diane Chambers) And I would rather be a snob.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Well, good, because you are.

Ms. LONG: (as Diane Chambers) Sam, do yourself a favor, go back to your
tootsies and your ramparts. I'd hate to see the bowling alleys close on
my account.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Hey, hey, wait a minute, wait a minute. Are
you saying that I'm too dumb to date smart women?

Ms. LONG: (as Diane Chambers) I'm saying that it would be very difficult
for you. A really intelligent woman would see your line of BS a mile a
way.

Mr. DANSON: (as Sam Malone) You think so, huh?

Ms. LONG: (as Diane Chambers) Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

Mr. DANSON: (as Sam Malone) Yeah. Well, you know, I've never met an
intelligent woman that I'd want to date.

Ms. LONG: (as Diane Chambers) On behalf of the intelligent women around
the world...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LONG: (as Diane Chambers) ...may I just say, whew.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: Ted Danson and Shelley Long. So Ted Danson, was that before you
felt like you could pull off the arrogance of your character?

Mr. DANSON: Yeah. Actually, it was. I can actually hear it my voice, you
know? I really, you know, I want to sing Shelley Long's praises. I think
the first couple of years, "Cheers" became the hit that it was because
I, I mean everyone was good in it and everyone went on to become
brilliant in it. But I think Shelley and that character hadn’t been seen
for a while on TV, and I think she just did an absolute brilliant,
brilliant job.

GROSS: You know, I remember when I, in one of my interviews with the
late actor Spalding Gray, he said he always had trouble acting on TV
because he's so interior and always so caught up in his thoughts, so
whenever he was on TV he said he'd look like really worried and
preoccupied and that you needed this certain kind of like Zen TV face.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And I'm wondering, you know, I mean you went to Stanford, you
went to prep school, you’re obviously like very well educated. Was it
hard to get that kind of blankness or that lack of introspection that
Sam had?

Mr. DANSON: I just, once again, I think it was, Kelsey Grammer had this
great phrase. It probably has been said before, but I heard it from him,
that you need, an actor needs a requisite disrespect for the material.
Instead of holding it up as the Holy Grail, you know, you need to have a
kind of requisite disrespect for it, because then you’re not eager, too
eager. You’re not too leaning forward.

And when I first started "Cheers," I think I was very eager, and if this
makes any sense, I was tilting too far forward, and it took me that year
and a half, that season and a half, to get that more relaxed, leaning
back, slightly arrogant, you know, let people vote, who cares, here I
am, I'm going to have fun. And when I got that relaxation, I also got
the fun of the stupid character. I got the fun - I mean the stupid joke
is the best joke in comedy. I mean it's fantastic. It's fun. It's full
of innocence and it's really, really funny. So I think that all kind of
came together for me in about a season and a half.

GROSS: My guest is Ted Danson. He costars in the new HBO series "Bored
to Death."

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Ted Danson. Was it hard to
create a new life after "Cheers”?

Mr. DANSON: Well, I had this great solution. I blew my private life up
in such a, you know, a disastrous way that leaving "Cheers" became
secondary to kind of putting my private life back together. So to answer
your question, not really. Not really. There was so much going on in my
life, my personal life that took my focus that, you know, it wasn’t that
hard. I mean it was hard because I missed my friends. It was hard. But
after 11 years - I think we all had been looking for an ending.

GROSS: And let me just say, I think what you were alluding to before
when you said that after "Cheers" your life became public in a big way,
I think you were referring to the relationship with Whoopi Goldberg and
the whole Friars Club thing, where there was a roast of Whoopi Goldberg
and you worked out a sketch with her in which you appeared in blackface
and, like, boy, there were just like movie stars and politicians and
columnists who just were so upset and publicly spoke out against you for
having done that. It must've been a horrible...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...a horrible moment.

Mr. DANSON: It was. But I mean it was of my making so, you know, it was
all on my head. It was definitely a graceless moment in my life. But I
kept thinking, well, I have to go roast Whoopi Goldberg. We were no
longer actually going together at that moment and we had tried to back
out of, you know, of doing this, and they said no, no, no, you have to
contractually, you have to. And I thought, well, how am I going to roast
Whoopi when all the tapes and videos I see of people – a Jewish person
will be saying horrible things about the Jewish person they're roasting,
that it's okay because the Jewish person being roasted is being roasted
by Jewish people?

Or, you know, the African-American is being roasted by an African-
American. So how's, you know, the white kid going to be roasting and
doing a, you know, an outrageous job for this amazingly outrageous
woman? So I thought, I know, I'm not a standup comic but I’ll do, I am
an actor, so I'll do a little performance theater. So that was my
rationale and it was clearly a non-press event, we were told, and within
seconds I realized, ooh, wow. It was like sticking my finger in a light
socket. It was like - it went very still in my head and I went, okay, 50
percent of the people get this and think it's funny. By the way, Whoopi
knew about it and had kind of signed off on it and thought it was funny,
so I thought, okay, I'm going to go for it.

Fifty percent got it, liked it. Thirty percent got it, hated it. Twenty
percent didn’t get it and hated it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: So it was this very, you know, graceless and courageous
moment of, okay, here I go, and it did offend some people, and sometimes
I'd have to rightfully so, other times it was theater and it was done
with love.

GROSS: Do you feel like you walked away learning anything either comedy
or about race in America from that experience?

Mr. DANSON: Well, yeah, the stupidity on my part. The lack of thought to
stand up and go, I'm now going to do race material and think that it
would not draw a lot of heat was stupid on my part. So what did I learn?
You know, I learned that I was at a very adolescent point in my life
where I thought, you know what, I can do whatever I want. It's okay, you
know. And I was wrong. I did not take my family into consideration. I
did not take - I did naively think, because I was told that there would
be no press, so I thought, okay, this is a room full of people who get
this kind of humor, I'll be all right, and that was stupid on my part.
Everything is open to the press now.

GROSS: You know what I found really interesting about what you just
said? You’re saying that, you know, that you think you were arrogant
then, and you were telling before that you didn’t' know how to be
arrogant. Like you were, you didn’t have that arrogance and you had to
learn it to play Sam on "Cheers" and you were telling us about the kind
of arrogance that you needed to have for the part that you play on
"Damages," is this like billionaire CEO who's like very arrogant.

And it's interesting. You’re talking about this moment in your life
where you were arrogant for real, you think, and you got really burned.

Mr. DANSON: Yeah. You know, actually what followed, a week later I had a
replay because evidently I hadn’t learned my lesson, where I was driving
in a car up a hill and it was rainy and I was late and I was driving a
little faster than I should and I could feel my tires start to skid a
little bit and I almost had this literal thought, maybe not quite, but
it was like, Ted, you better slow down, the roads are wet. And I went,
no, I’m all right. I can handle this. And it was that same kind of
arrogance of the world saying, hey, they're rules. Don’t break the
rules. And I spun out and got hit by a pickup coming the other way and
slammed into the side of a cliff. Luckily didn’t go off the other end,
you know, the other side, which was a cliff. And I was taken out of my
car on a board and it was all very dramatic, and I was fine. The next
day I had a stiff neck and that was it. But it was - and that was like
the moment where I went, whoo. Wake up.

GROSS: So what did you do after that like wake-up moment? What did you

change?

Mr. DANSON: Then it was kind of personal, so I won't go into that.

GROSS: No, it's fine.

GROSS: But it was ending things that I should've ended. It was, yeah, I
really did actually take care of business. And about a month later I met
Mary, and I don't think that I would’ve even seen her or she would’ve
even seen me if I hadn't, you know, woken up.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Ted Danson, and he's co-
starring in a new series that begins this weekend on HBO, and it's
called “Bored to Death.” I’d like to talk about your childhood a little
bit. I know you grew up near Flagstaff, Arizona. Your father was an
archeologist and he directed a museum. What kind of museum was it?

Mr. DANSON: It was a natural history museum that - part of it’s mandate
was to honor and stimulate the – the culture and the arts and the crafts
of the Hopi, Navaho, Zuni and Pueblo Indians in the four corners area -
that Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona area. So, most of my friends
growing up were sons of Hopi and Navaho, people who worked at the
museum, and/or Ranchers sons and daughters. I had a really interesting,
kind of idyllic, jump on horses and riding any direction you want,
upbringing.

GROSS: So, did you grow up with aspects of Hopi culture that made an
impression on you?

Mr. DANSON: Yes. But, you know, I was madly running around, playing and
jumping on horses and, you know, playing cowboys and Indians, which was
really weird for us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay, you played cowboys and Indians…

Mr. DANSON: Yeah.

GROSS: …with real Indians…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: Yeah, it was very strange. We would all go up and see, you
know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: …on Sunday, we’d take our, you know, our quarter and go to
the Orpheum Theatre and watch a John Wayne movie and kind of laugh
derisively when the Indians, that were wearing bonnets, which clearly
meant Plains Indians, and they were supposedly Apaches and we’d mock and
laugh them. And then someone would say yatahey, which is actually Navaho
for like a greeting of good morning or how are you? And some Apache
would say yatahey and then we’d all laugh. But then when – when the
cavalry would come and just beat the crap out of the Indians, we’d both
– we’d all be kind of still for a moment…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: …not knowing how to handle this kind of moment of, oh sorry
– sorry…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DANSON: …sorry about this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, when you played cowboys and Indians, were you like the
Victoria’s cowboy beaten up on the Indians?

Mr. DANSON: No, we were always on the same side. These cowboys and
Indians were on the same side. We’re always playing, usually against
imaginary enemies.

GROSS: Well, Ted Danson, it’s really been great to talk with you. Thank
you so much.

Mr. DANSON: Thank you.

GROSS: You can see Ted Danson in the new HBO series “Bored to Death”
which premiers Sunday. Coming up, our producer Ann Marie Baldonado tells
us about what she saw and heard at the Toronto Film Festival. This is
FRESH AIR.
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Aglow From Toronto's Silver Screen

TERRY GROSS, host:

Our producer Ann Marie Baldonado books a lot of our movie and TV guests.
So, we sent her to the Toronto Film Festival to scout out interesting
movies and future guests. She saw 20 movies that were at the festival.
It started last Thursday and concludes this Saturday. Now that Ann Marie
is back, we asked her to tell us about it. So, Ann Marie, in the world
of film festivals, what’s the Toronto Film Festival’s niche?

ANN MARIE BALDONADO: Well, first of all, it’s known as a really people
friendly festival, you know, unlike Sundance or Cannes. Regular people
go to the screenings. Regular people from the city buy the tickets, they
line up. And so, they are seeing these movies with film critics from
around the world, and also with studio execs - either people who have
films here or people who are looking to buy films to distribute. They’re
all seeing these movies together.

And the rep about Toronto crowds is that they’re very generous. You
know, just think about if you’re a regular filmgoer and you get to see a
movie that no one else has seen and maybe the star of the film is in the
theater with you, you’re going to be sort of generous to it. And lots of
studios like to bring their films here because of the fact that they are
probably going to get a better reception than like at a festival where
mostly it’s film critics in the audience…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BALDONADO: …or something. But also it’s sort of the unofficial kick-off
of the Oscar season. You know, it’s the fall and studios release the
films that they think are going to be kind of art housey, or films that
are in Oscar contention. They bring them here and launch them, and hope
that showing them here to generous crowds can give them a little bit of
a buzz and a little of a push that will sort of propel them to the end
of the year and get their films nominated.

And this year, in particular, it’s important because - because of the
economic climate. There are fewer film studios - have fewer films that
they are releasing. And at the same time the Oscars have expanded their
list of best picture nominees from five to 10. So, you know, that’s a
lot of spots to fill. So, I think people are thinking if they make a big
impact at the Toronto Film Festival, they might be on that list.

GROSS: So, are there – are there films that are getting that Oscar buzz
at the festival?

BALDONADO: Yeah. I would say the film that is getting the most buzz is
actually my favorite film of the festival, a film called “Up in the
Air.” It’s Jason Reitman’s third film. Jason Reitman’s first two films
actually both showed in Toronto and did well. The first is “Thank You
for Smoking” and the second was “Juno,” which two years ago did really
well, Oscar-wise.

GROSS: The film “Up in the Air” is based on - on a novel that I really
love…

BALDONADO: Yeah.

GROSS: …by Walter Kirn. And the novel - lot of it is set on an airplane…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …because it’s about somebody who has accumulated all these
frequent flier miles and his goal is to get more. And I read the book on
an airplane…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BALDONADO: Yeah.

GROSS: …on several airplanes. And so, I just really loved it because of
so many descriptions of like, airports and lousy fluorescent lighting in
airports, and being next to passengers who are talking to you when you
don’t want to talk and so on. So, what’s the movie like?

BALDONADO: Well, actually I think Jason Reitman really captures what
you’re talking about. But he uses the book as a jumping off point. And
in a press conference, he was talking about writing the film. He’s been
writing it for a few years now - the Kirn book came out in 2001. And he
said, when he originally started writing it, he – oh, I should back up
and say that this traveler, the main character of “Up in the Air,” who’s
played by George Clooney, he is – his job – he is sort of a corporate
hit man. He is the guy that companies hire to do their firing. The
character would say when you don’t have the guts to do the firing
themselves.

So when he started writing this movie a few years ago, you know, it was
a different economic time. And he was writing the – those firing scenes
for comedic value because his - his films always sort of have a comic
bent to them. But as he was writing it and the economic climate changed,
the firing scenes, you know, they are more real now. They are – it’s
more what’s going on now. And he couldn’t write them that way. So, he
ended up actually putting ads in local papers where they were filming in
different cities in the Midwest, trying to find people who had been
downsized, who had been let go.

And he uses those interviews with these people who have been laid off
throughout the film. And it just – the film just, because it deals with
corporate downsizing. It just feels like the right film for now, just
sort of seems to fit what’s going on in the economic climate.

GROSS: I’m really glad the adaptation was made because the novel came
out just about on September 11th, and everything had changed in terms of
airports and flying. And this really kind of funny perceptive book that
has something to do with flying made no sense anymore…

BALDONADO: No, I…

GROSS: …so it got lost completely.

BALDONADO: Yeah. I think Reitman turned it into something else and I
think he is pretty much issuant get a nomination for adapted screenplay.

GROSS: So “Up in the Air” was your favorite film at the festival. Is
another film or two you’d like to mention that you think our listener
should watch out for?

BALDONADO: Well, I did – I did like the Coen Brothers film. It’s called,
“A Serious Man.” It’s - people are saying that it’s their most personal
film to date. It’s about a college professor in the 1960s - a Jewish
college professor who was going through some hard times. His wife wants
to leave him. He’s having trouble with tenure and his family doesn’t
understand him. And it’s a film that people are kind of assuming, and
probably correctly, that it’s the most autobiographical. For one, it
features a 13-year-old boy who’s getting bar mitzvahed, and people sort
of assume that it’s somehow based on the Coen Brothers experience as
children. So, it might be a hard sell in that there aren’t any stars,
you know, the last film they had had Brad Pitt in it.

But a lot of the critics liked it, coming out of the festival. Oprah was
there as well. She was not in a film but she came to support a film that
she is an executive producer for, a film called “Precious,” which is
also getting a lot of Oscar buzz. It’s a film about an Obese African-
American teenage girl who is abused and actually carrying the second
child that she’s had with her father. So, it’s a - it’s based on a best-
selling novel by the poet Sapphire and it’s just also getting a lot of
buzz for its performances.

GROSS: So, you think we’ll have some good movies to talk about on the
show?

BALDONADO: Hopefully yeah and some great guests.

GROSS: Well Ann Marie, thanks for reporting to us on what you saw at the
Toronto Film Festival.

BALDONADO: Thank you very much, Terry.

GROSS: Ann Marie Baldonado is one of our producers. You can read more
about her experiences at the Toronto Film Festival on NPR’s Monkey See
blog at npr.org. And you can download podcasts of our show on our Web
site, freshair.npr.org.
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