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Animator, Director And Writer Andrew Stanton

Andrew Stanton co-wrote and directed the Pixar animated film Wall-E. He also wrote and directed Finding Nemo, which was awarded an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film in 2004, and co-wrote Monsters Inc., Toy Story and A Bugs Life. He joined Pixar in 1990 and was the company's second animator and ninth employee.


Other segments from the episode on September 1, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 1, 2008: Interview with Andrew Stanton; Interview with John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay; Commentary on "The staple singers."


DATE September 1, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM

Interview: Andrew Stanton, writer and director of "WALL-E," on
making the film and his influences

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "WALL-E")



(Soundbite of music, explosion, whooshing noise, ringing)

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's WALL-E and Eve, the two leading robots in the animated film
"WALL-E." "WALL-E" opened at the start of the summer season and it's still in
theaters. We're going to listen back to my interview with Andrew Stanton, the
film's screenwriter and director. "WALL-E" is set 700 years in the future
when the Earth is one big junk pile and can no longer sustain life. Thousands
of people have been on an endless space cruise, waiting for signs that Earth
can sustain life again, which would allow them to return home. When the
people left, they forgot to turn off one robot, WALL-E. That's an acronym for
Waste Allocation Load-Lifter, Earth Class. WALL-E is a kind of cute but rusty
trash compactor who is very lonely. His only friend is a cockroach until a
robot probe named Eve is sent to Earth to look for signs of life.

Andrew Stanton started at Pixar Studios in 1990. Before making "WALL-E" he
directed and co-wrote "Finding Nemo" and co-wrote "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life"
and "Monsters, Inc."

Andrew Stanton, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. ANDREW STANTON: Thanks, I'm happy to be here.

GROSS: Most end-of-the-world or end-of-life-as-we-know-it kind of films have
to do with like war and atomic bombs. In "WALL-E" the Earth has to be
abandoned by humans because it can't sustain life anymore, presumably because
humans have polluted it and just treated it poorly. What made you think about
that kind of environmental end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario?

Mr. STANTON: I went there very reluctantly. I sort of reverse-engineered my
decision. It was all based on character and emotion. The conceit that got me
interested in this movie was the last robot on Earth, doing its job forever,
not knowing that it was a waste of time. And I thought that was the ultimate
definition in futility. I completely was seduced by it so...

GROSS: It's like the Andrew Stanton version of Sisyphus.

Mr. STANTON: Right. And so in my mind, that's what was so charming, was the
last robot on Earth, and so I had to just come up with some conceit that would
make that situation. So, to just get that kind of a character, I was forced
to come up with a scenario, and I just went with logic. I just went with,
well, I wanted him to do trash, and I wanted him to be a trash compactor for
basically three reasons. One, it gives him a very low status. It makes him
like a little janitor and he's a little more endearing for that. Two, because
I knew we'd be using what I call unconventional dialogue through the whole
thing, trash is very visible. It's clear to any age that it's dirty, it's in
the way, it needs to be moved out of the way, almost like a snowstorm in a
city. And three, which was the biggest reason, was that it allowed him to go
through the detritus and the sort of evidence of what mankind was all about,
and that was huge.

So then I just went backwards from that and said, well, one thing I know is
I'm always buying stuff online all the time. There's a million boxes coming
to my house every day between my wife and I and I just sort of extrapolated
that, what if people just did too much of consuming. It didn't really take
too much brain power to sort of go with that possibility. Like I certainly
didn't want to go with anything darker than that. So I sort of came to this
environmental state without really considering the environment.

GROSS: It's funny. Let me just read you a couple of quotes about how
political they see your film as being.

Mr. STANTON: Oh, gosh.

GROSS: So the first is from Frank Rich, who's a columnist in the Sunday
Times, the Sunday New York Times, and he writes, "The movie seemed more
realistically in touch with what troubles America this year than either the
substance or the players of the political food fight beyond the multiplex's
walls." And then in an online column on National Review Online called Planet
Gore, Greg Pollowitz writes, "I saw `WALL-E' with my five-year-old on Saturday
night. It was like a 90-minute lecture on the dangers of overconsumption, big
corporations and the destruction of the environment." Are you surprised to
hear both sides of the reaction to your film?

Mr. STANTON: Sadly, I'm not surprised, but I tried very hard not to have any
kind of a lecture. I just went with logic of how you could be in this
scenario so that I could tell this story of this lonely little robot. There's
no way--I mean, this idea came literally in 1994 and slowly built up over
time. There's just no way I could have been in tune with exactly the
zeitgeist and the headlines of today. I mean, I'm not so much in a box that I
wasn't aware that suddenly the world had changed in the last couple years.
But I didn't want to change the movie for any reason in one direction or
another out of fear. That's not how I'm going to make a story. I'm going to
go with what I think is the honest, truthful way to tell this emotional story
that I've been trying to tell. So, sadly, it doesn't surprise me, but I can't
back up either direction. I really can't.

GROSS: Can you describe the landscape of Earth as you've envisioned it in

Mr. STANTON: Well, basically I just went with a dump. It's a big dump, and
I just felt like what if--I took out all the slimy, wet, oozy aspects of it.
One, it's very off-putting, and two, it's a little more difficult to execute.
And there was something sadder and more forlorn about this sort of arid dump
aspect and just having stuff everywhere.

GROSS: You're more rusty than oozy?

Mr. STANTON: Yeah, exactly, which I take as a compliment. Well.

GROSS: So did you go visit like junkyards or dumps or things like that...

Mr. STANTON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...just to get like a sense of what your version might look like based
on what reality looks like.

Mr. STANTON: Very much. I mean, that's how sexy our research were. We went
to dumps.

GROSS: Oh, boy.

Mr. STANTON: But a lot of it's also very geeky. It's like how
exactly--we're breaking it down to just the tiniest sort of visceral things of
what makes a dump feel like a dump, and there's a lot of things that may not
be obvious to people, but there's always little bits of flapping paper or
plastic, and almost like there's always movement of leaves in a tree. And
it's things like that that you go for research to pick up. It's those little
imperfect or odd details that really take it over the top and make it feel
like we've really tapped into something, for any research, let alone a dump.

GROSS: My guest is Andrew Stanton, and he's a writer and director of the new
animated film "WALL-E."

You know, early in--the robot who's really a trash compactor and is the last
robot on Earth--early in the film he's just, you know, going through junk,
compacting it in basically his robot stomach...

Mr. STANTON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and making bricks out of it and just like piling up the bricks.
It's just an incredibly meaningless existence, but in his home he saves a lot
of the junk...

Mr. STANTON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and he kind of files it away.

Mr. STANTON: Yeah.

GROSS: And, you know, some of the things you have in there is a light bulb, a
Rubik's cube, old like videotapes with...

Mr. STANTON: Yeah.

GROSS: know, like cassettes. How did you decide what would be the
things that WALL-E decides to save and file and keep? And I'm wondering if
any of those items are from your home.

Mr. STANTON: Well, none of them directly came from my home, but animators
are collectors, big-time, particularly of toys and childlike objects and
stuff, so we don't have to go too far to have a lot of options or ideas. But
we actually had to go through tons of objects, either verbally in meetings or
drawing lots of stuff to find things that were immediately "getable" because,
again, I don't have the luxury of dialogue to support where his head's at.
You have to just get right away that oh, if he has a spork, of course you'd be
confused whether it's a fork or a spoon. And to find things that sort of fit
all those requirements, it was actually pretty hard and time-consuming to get

Where we ended up always finding stuff was just kind of going back in our
memories--which isn't hard, again, for an animator to do--of what it's like to
be a kid and go, `OK, I remember being either at my father's tool bench or in
the kitchen and looking through the items and finding things that I had no
idea what they did,' and I got it completely wrong. You know, I thought like
an egg slicer was a tiny little harp. I remember thinking that my mom's
eyelash curler was some kind of awful torture device that must have hurt, and
I couldn't watch her use it, you know. So it's just trying to go back to
remembering seeing the world that innocent and what kind of objects aren't
intuitive, but they evoke a definition. You can't help but go, `I think it
must do X.' You know? So it was a tough assignment.

GROSS: I know you love Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. What have you
learned as an animator by watching their movies?

Mr. STANTON: The biggest thing we learn is there's almost nothing you can't
convey without dialogue. Those guys were the masters of their craft. They
had done almost every kind of situation plotwise, emotionalwise,
relationshipwise, gagwise, combined, and if you add in Harold Lloyd you've
pretty much covered it all. And that we got lazy as filmmakers when sound
came in initially and stopped doing a lot of stuff. And frankly there's--I
think if you were to watch any of the Pixar films and turn the sound down,
you'd be surprised at how much you still understand what's going on, because
even though "WALL-E" showcases that, we put the same amount of effort in any
of our films that the posing and the action and the timing of everything we do
visually is supporting as much as we possibly can the intention of what's
going on in the scene.

GROSS: My guest is Andrew Stanton. He wrote and directed the film "WALL-E."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Andrew Stanton. He wrote and
directed "Wall-E" and "Finding Nemo."

Now, here's one of the challenges you faced in animating "WALL-E." You know,
WALL-E is a trash compactor, a robotic trash compactor, who has, you know,
like eyes and a nose and a mouth and kind of arms and stuff so, you know,
there are anthropomorphic qualities about him. But garbage trucks, like
anything pertaining to trash, we really try to keep our distance. We expect
it to smell.

Mr. STANTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: We expect it to be very unpleasant but we have to really love WALL-E.
We have to--I mean, he's our surrogate.

Mr. STANTON: Yeah. It's...

GROSS: I mean, he's our lonely surrogate. So can you talk about making this
robot that's all about trash and all about like rust and dirt and stuff like

Mr. STANTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and yet you have to make him both human and warm and lovable enough
for us to see him as our surrogate, as the main character, as the hero of the

Mr. STANTON: Yeah. I get asked this a lot, or at least versions of this
question, of how do you make a robot appealing, or how do you make this trash
robot appealing. In a weird way, it's a tough question to answer. I find it
interesting that you said he had a nose and a mouth and he doesn't...

GROSS: He doesn't?

Mr. STANTON: ...and it's funny how...


Mr. STANTON: It's how much you've thrown...

GROSS: I just assumed he does.

Mr. STANTON: It's how much you've thrown...

GROSS: God, I'm--you know...


GROSS: I'm looking at his picture now and you're so right, there's no mouth
there. But I kind of re-drew him in my mind.

Mr. STANTON: But that's more of a statement that you see him as a whole, you
see him as a real person, I think. I learned once I got to college--because I
came from a very small town where I was one of few kids that could draw in
class, and there weren't a lot of kids that liked the same things I did, and
we were drawn to each other. And then when I finally went to college, which
was a school called Cal Arts in Los Angeles, which actually teaches animation,
one of the founders was Walt Disney, I met all these other kids of my type;
and that's when I found out I was a type, that we all thought our bike was
cold in the rain, that our fish was lonely in the fishbowl, that a leaf would
be afraid of heights when it fell. It's just the way we looked at things.
And I can't remember never not looking at the world like that. And I think,
in a weird way, I don't think about things like, `Oh, how do I make this
appealing so that people will like it?' I think it's more just through
scribbling and just observing the world, finding things that already do that
to you, that already elicit that from you, and just taking and capitalizing on

WALL-E's a perfect example, at least his face. I was at a baseball game and I
missed an entire inning because somebody handed me their binoculars because we
had crappy seats, which I blame on my editor, and I missed the whole inning
because I turned his binoculars around and I was in the middle of trying to
design WALL-E and I just started making the eyes, you know, fold at the center
hinge and go sad and then mad and then happy and I saw an entire character
with a soul in it, and it just sort of answered itself. It just sort of
dropped on my lap and...

GROSS: So that's how you ended up giving WALL-E binocular eyes?

Mr. STANTON: Yeah. He's basically a binocular on a stem, yeah, yeah. And I
didn't have any other agenda than I'm just trying to find something that
feels--my big agenda was, you should see it as an appliance first and when it
moves you can't help but convey a character in it. Because I felt that's what
John Lasseter had tapped into with "Luxo Jr." He had done that short just
before I had come to work at Pixar, so I was just a fan and an audience

GROSS: This is a short about a lamp?

Mr. STANTON: Yeah, a little--one of those little desk lamps that's got
springs and bends, and there's nothing about it other than maybe scale where
it's designed to look like a character. It just happens to be an object in
life that feels like it could be a character, and he was just capitalizing on
it. And I wanted that kind of purity out of any of the robots that we did,
even though we had to make them up from scratch.

GROSS: Talk about the rest of WALL-E's body.

Mr. STANTON: Well, he was built out of sort of steps of logic. I knew I
wanted him to compact trash, so we just made him a box. And this is probably
a real geeky association, but we didn't have an art department at the time
that we really started fundamentally designing him, so I had to use my few
story guys, and us, to sort of have these days where we would just sketch
ideas. And I had been to a Peter Gabriel concert in '93, I think it was,
where he had two stages that were connected by a rampway and one stage was
square and one stage was round and he had separated the songs he performed on
them based on what he felt was a more female song and what was a more male
song. Some of those were obvious, some of those were indirect. And I always
was fascinated with just that primary shape of the square and the circle being
associated that way, so I went that way. And I said, `Let's go with a square
with WALL-E and let's go with something roundish for Eve.' And so we said,
`Well, that's perfect. We'll go with a cube where he can spit out trash.'

And then he's got to get everywhere. He's sort of the first wave of this
cleanup task force. He's sort of--they're sort of like army ants. So we put
treads on him so that he could get over all terrains. And I think it was
honestly a couple of months before the head came, the binoculars at the
baseball game.

GROSS: OK. And now for the music question.

Mr. STANTON: OK. Why "Hello, Dolly," right?

GROSS: Why "Hello, Dolly," but let's start with the song. The song--you
know, I went into this movie thinking, if there's a song that's going to open
the film, it'll be, you know...

Mr. STANTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: an original song because there's so many Disney kind of films
that have...

Mr. STANTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...original songs for them. And I heard the song that opened it and
didn't realize it was from "Hello, Dolly." I don't know--I just know like
"Hello, Dolly" and one or two...

Mr. STANTON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...other songs. Didn't know this one. It's actually a really catchy
tune, so let's hear it and then we'll ask why in the world did you choose it.
So here it is, and the song is "Put on Your Sunday Clothes."

(Soundbite of "Put on Your Sunday Clothes")

Mr. MICHAEL CRAWFORD: (Singing) Out there
Is a world outside of Yonkers
Way out there beyond this hick town, Barnaby
There's a slick town, Barnaby
Out there
Full of shine and full of sparkle
Close your eyes and see it glisten, Barnaby
Listen, Barnaby

Put on your Sunday clothes
There's lots of world out there
Get out the brilliantine and dime cigars
We're going to find adventure in the evening air
Girls in white in a perfumed night
Where the lights are bright as the stars
Put on your Sunday clothes,
We're going to ride through town
In one of those new horse-drawn open cars

Mr. CRAWFORD and Mr. DANNY LOCKIN: (Singing)
We'll see the shows at Delmonicos
And we'll close the town in a whirl
And we won't come home
Until we've kissed a girl!

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," from "Hello, Dolly," sung by
Michael Crawford, who is famous for his role originating in the original
"Phantom of the Opera," the original Broadway version of "Phantom of the

Mr. STANTON: That's correct.

GROSS: So this is from the movie version of "Hello, Dolly." So why did you
decide that, instead of commissioning an original song, you were going to open
with a song from "Hello, Dolly"?

Mr. STANTON: I was never interested in commissioning a original song.
There's a lot of unnecessary baggage and conventions that seem to be put on
animation. I've never seen it happen to any other medium, where people just
feel like, oh, it's animated, therefore it must have all these lists of
things, and if there's one thing that I'm very proud of about Pixar is that,
from "Toy Story" on, we've been trying to buck any of those trends and break
any of those convention. So I had no interest in doing a musical, I guess,

But I loved the idea that WALL-E was enamored with the past and had a romantic
heart or a romantic slant to things, and I loved the idea of opening out on
space and having something old-fashioned, something romantic and old-fashioned
playing against the real image of space. You know, it didn't need to be
embellished. It's how amazingly beauty in all its natural glory that space
is. Because I knew that his world was covered in cloud cover and he could
never see the stars as cleanly as we can. So in a weird way you're opening
the movie getting to see his hopes and dreams and hear them before you meet
him. And I was just smitten by that notion from the get-go.

But an old-fashioned song can be, you know, it's endless what you can choose
from. I started listening to a lot of standards, and a lot of standards come
from musicals. And I had done just enough musical theater to know some of
those standards, you know, "Fiddler on the Roof," "Guys and Dolls," and
"Hello, Dolly" was one of them that I had done and so I was--it's like taking
swatches and putting them against your wall and wondering what color you're
going to paint the wall of your house. You're just putting--I was putting
music against the beginning of the film again and again and again and just
trying anything, and suddenly this song, "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" from
"Hello, Dolly," comes on and it starts with this phrase "out there," and it's
like--to me it was like "ta-da!" And just hitting with the image of the stars,
and I just, I immediately loved it.

And I think why it works so well is because the song, in the context of the
play "Hello, Dolly," is about two naive guys that have never left their small
town and they want to go out for one night to the big city and just kiss a
girl, and I said, `That's my main character. That's WALL-E.' So my co-writer,
Jim Reardon, had the idea of, well, WALL-E could find an old videotape of it
then, and that's how he knows it.

GROSS: Well, Andrew Stanton, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. STANTON: Well, thank you so much, Terry. This was a real blast to talk
this long about it.

GROSS: Andrew Stanton wrote and directed the animated film "WALL-E." Our
interview was recorded in July. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


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

Interview: Writer/director Adam McKay and stars John C. Reilly and
Will Ferrell on their new movie "Step Brothers"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This summer's movie "Step Brothers," which is still in theaters, was something
of reunion for my guests Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and
director/screenwriter Adam McKay. They collaborated on the 2006 film
"Talladega Nights." Ferrell and McKay first met in the 1990s when they both
worked on "Saturday Night Live." They also worked together on the movie
"Anchorman." John C. Reilly's other films include "Boogie Nights," "Chicago,"
and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."

I spoke with all three of them earlier this summer when "Step Brothers was
released. The film is about two 40-ish men who still behave like adolescents.
Neither of them has a job and they still live with their parents. Ferrell's
character, Brennan, lives with his mom, played by Mary Steenburgen, while
Reilly's character, Dale, lives with his dad, who's portrayed by Richard
Jenkins. After their parents meet and decide to get married, Brennan and Dale
are forced to live under the same roof and share a room. They start out
hating each other. Dale makes fun of Brennan at the dinner table. Brennan
plays Dale's drums, even though it's forbidden. Eventually their relationship
comes to blows on the front yard in front of all the neighbors. In this
scene, they've recovering from the fight, watching TV on the couch, when their
father/step-father walks in, fed up and ready to turn the TV off.

(Soundbite of "Step Brothers")

(Soundbite of motor noises)

Mr. WILL FERRELL: (As Brennan) It's such power, it's raw power.

Mr. JOHN C. REILLY: (As Dale) Dad, what are you doing? It's shark week.

Mr. RICHARD JENKINS: (As Dr. Robert Doback) OK, here's the deal. You have
one month to find jobs or you're out on your asses. I will arrange interviews
for Monday, and you will go!

Mr. REILLY: (As Dale) Dad, why are you talking to me like this? I'm your

Mr. JENKINS: (As Dr. Robert Doback) I'm not buying that crap anymore.

Ms. MARY STEENBURGEN: (As Nancy Huff) You yelled "rape" at the top of your

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) Mom, I honestly thought I was going to be raped
for a second. He had the craziest look in his eyes, and at one point he said,
`Let's get it on.'

Mr. REILLY: (As Dale) That was about the fighting.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) See?

Mr. REILLY: (As Dale) I'm so not a raper!

Mr. JENKINS: (As Dr. Robert Doback) All right, that's it! You two guys
leave me no choice. No television for a week!

Mr. REILLY and Mr. FERRELL: (As Dale and Brennan, in unison) What?

Ms. STEENBURGEN: (As Nancy Huff) We are so serious.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) You're high!

Mr. REILLY: (As Dale) Are you out of your minds?

Ms. STEENBURGEN: (As Nancy Huff) Goes in Robert's wall safe.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) Come on!

Ms. STEENBURGEN: (As Nancy Huff) And it's going to stay there.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) No!

Mr. JENKINS: (As Dr. Robert Doback) OK.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) This house is a prison!

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Adam McKay, welcome to FRESH AIR. Do
you know a lot of parents with adult children who are still living at home?

Mr. FERRELL: I don't know if I do--this is Will speaking--but I do know a
lot of--I have a lot of friends who left the nest late in life, so that kind
of was more of our experience in terms of writing the script. In fact, I
myself moved back home after completing my university studies--I like to say
university studies--and lived at home for three years before I pursued acting
and comedy and that sort of thing. And I had another friend of mine who I
went to college with who actually got kicked out of his house--or was not
allowed to come back, and so he lived with me at my house as well. So I kind


Mr. FERRELL: Yeah, it was a good deal for both of us.

GROSS: So how much of a script is there in a movie like "Step Brothers" when
you go into it, and how much of it is like more skeletal and you actually
improvise it as you're doing it?

Mr. ADAM McKAY: Believe it or not, we actually worked the script pretty
hard. We rewrite it eight, nine times, we do read throughs. And it's funny
because the goal is to make it feel like it's not a script by the time you're
done, but no, there is a script for our movies.

Mr. FERRELL: In fact, this one, it was such a kind of a--so freeing to write
scenes with, you know, just in kind of a contemporary setting that the script
first rough draft came out at 180 pages, which, you know, would be how long?
What movie would that be?

Mr. McKAY: Be about a four-hour movie.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah. Three and a half hour movie, yeah.

Mr. FERRELL: So Adam and I kept writing these scenes, we're having so much
fun, and, you know, what would normally be a one and a half page, two page
scene would often be 10 pages. And we knew it was ridiculous, but we couldn't
help ourselves, so we had to kind of, you know, cut all that back.

GROSS: In the clip that we just heard, it ends with one of you saying, "This
house is a prison." And I'm pretty sure I remember my brother saying that a
lot, my older brother when I was going up.

Mr. McKAY: Right.

GROSS: Do you remember saying that to your parents in anger?


Mr. McKAY: I think I said "hell hole."

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: I don't think I said prison.

GROSS: What made you want to like bust out when you were a kid? Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: I have to say, if I'd said half the stuff that Dale and Brennan
say to their parents in this movie, I would have been beaten to a pulp. My
parents did not truck the kind of sass mouth that Dale and Brennan get away
with, I think just because they had to maintain control. With six kids, you
couldn't let any of them get too out of control or else it would be mayhem.

GROSS: Where were you in the pecking order?

Mr. REILLY: I'm fifth of six.


GROSS: Fifth youngest.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah.

GROSS: So...

Mr. REILLY: I have one younger brother.

GROSS: One of the fun things about the film is how the adult kids' bedroom
looks, like the themed wallpaper.

Mr. FERRELL: Right.

GROSS: And cowboys on the lampshade, and there's like Wookie masks that they


GROSS: Can you each like describe what your bedroom was like when you were a

Mr. FERRELL: Well, I actually had bunk beds that were constructed by my
father, which was very impressive that my dad, who was this musician, could
also build these bunk beds. That being said, they were very rickety. And it
was, you know, that first kind of, you know, ideal of wanting to have bunk
beds and how cool it'd be is quickly lost when you're in the top bunk and you
have to crawl up every night. And I remember thinking, bunk beds aren't what
they're cracked up to be. This is a lot of work for not that much fun being
on the top bunk. But I think I had a Dodger poster above my bed.

Mr. McKAY: I had football cards. I had Los Angeles Rams football cards
stapled to the drywall of my room, just covering my room.

Mr. REILLY: Wow.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah, it was...

Mr. FERRELL: I had a Rams pillowcase.

Mr. McKAY: Did you?

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: We had--it was me and my three brothers all in the same room, so
we basically each got like a corner of the room, and it was like kind of a
barracks-type situation in there. Eventually when my two older brothers took
over the play room and had their own room, me and my younger brother got a
trundle bed.

Mr. McKAY: Oh. A trundle.

Mr. REILLY: I desperately wanted a bunk bed, but my mom did not think they
were safe.

Mr. FERRELL: That was the compromise, the trundle.

Mr. REILLY: So we got the trundle.


Mr. REILLY: Which I got the regular bed, my brother got the trundle. And
then there was a point where my mom wanted to sort of make the room special
for me and my little brother, and so we collaborated on what the room would be
decorated like, and we came up with like an African animal theme.


Mr. REILLY: And the idea was this pretty cool...


Mr. REILLY: sepia and brown tone animal print wallpaper all over the
top, and then dark brown corkboard, which was in vogue in the '70s.

Mr. FERRELL: Whoa.

Mr. REILLY: Remember that really dark cork?

Mr. FERRELL: Sure.

Mr. REILLY: You could buy it in panels?

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Sounds beautiful.

Mr. REILLY: And that was going to be the bottom part, but then somehow we
just lost steam.

Mr. FERRELL: So that's it?

Mr. REILLY: So we got a couple panels of wallpaper, a few cork things and
the rest of it kind of this pale blue color.

Mr. McKAY: Still, though, that sounds great.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah, I mean, what I really wanted was a chimpanzee habitat for
my room.


Mr. REILLY: And I used to tell my friends that my parents were going to get
that for me like, `Oh yeah, and we're going to get a chimp sometime in the
next six months. It's going to live with me.' My friends were like, `Really?'

Mr. FERRELL: It's a done deal. Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: `Aren't they like dangerous when they get older?' `Yeah, no, but
if you train then from baby.' I was so confident that I was getting a
chimpanzee, it was like...

Mr. FERRELL: How hold were you?

Mr. REILLY: I just taught myself that it was true. I convinced myself. I
was probably 12 or 13 at that point.


GROSS: When you were making "Step Brothers," did you go back and watch any of
the films about like, you know, kids and divorce and re-marriage and step
parents and stuff like from "The Parent Trap" and, you know, "The Brady
Bunch"? What are the other ones like that, like recombined families?

Mr. McKAY: "Kramer vs. Kramer."

Mr. REILLY: "Apocalypse Now."

Mr. McKAY: "Apocalypse Now."


Mr. McKAY: We watched "Apocalypse Now" about 10 times.

Mr. FERRELL: It really didn't help us.

Mr. McKAY: No.

Mr. FERRELL: But we love that movie.

Mr. McKAY: Oh, boy. Get you. That was one of the ideas of the film was
that it was going to have a feeling of like a demented 1960s Disney movie.

GROSS: Like "The Parent Trap."

Mr. McKAY: Exactly.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: "Parent Trap" was a huge source for this. And then when our
composer Jon Brion came in, that was his intent as well, was to give it that
kind of warped old Disney kind of feel to it. So, yeah, those were definitely
an inspiration.

GROSS: Did you know going into the film that there had to be one really kind
of funny, incredibly inappropriate kind of gross moment?

Mr. McKAY: You know, we did not set out to do that. Sadly, it happened
organically, which does not speak well for us. But, yeah, it was mainly the
drum set, which was a big kind of centerpiece of the movie. It came from
John's stories about his brothers' drum set, and we just knew that fight had
to escalate to absolutely absurd proportions and had to go way further than
anything we've done with that. And that's sort of how it came out.

GROSS: So, John, tell us a real drum story from your childhood. Because,
well, just to set it up, in "Step Brothers," Will Ferrell's character moves
with his mother into the home that John C. Reilly and his father have been
living in after their parents marry. And John C. Reilly's character has a
drum set and warns Will Ferrell's character, `Don't touch it. Don't touch the
sticks, don't touch the drums.' And, of course, Will Ferrell can't resist.

Mr. REILLY: The funny thing about the whole setup with the drum set was that
a lot of the conflict in the movie that happens between my character and
Will's character could have been avoided if my character had just said he can
have that extra room where I keep my drums, and I'll move my drum set into my

Mr. FERRELL: So we could have, yeah, separate rooms. Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: But, no, he takes a strong position at the beginning, `That is
my beat laboratory, and I'm not sharing that room. I'm drawing a line in the
sand,' so we're forced to be in the same bedroom then as a result. But, yeah,
growing up, my brother played the drums and was very particular about the drum
set. You know, I've discovered a lot of drummers are actually very particular
about their drum set because there's a lot of things that can move out of
position, and once you find like your perfect sweet spot where you like the
drums set up and everything, you really don't want people messing with it.
But, of course, I, like Will's character in the movie, as soon as my brother
left the house, I was drawn to it like a siren song. I would go down there
and put on the headphones and do like Will does and pretend I was in The Who.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: And, you know, slam away on the drums. And luckily, I was never
caught by my brother. But he still has a drum set in his basement to this


Mr. REILLY: He's a grown man with a family now. He's very good, too. We
had a band when I was a kid called Shark Fighter.

Mr. McKAY: Oh.

Mr. REILLY: And I was the lead singer and...

Mr. FERRELL: Oh my God.

Mr. REILLY: ...a neighbor played electric guitar, and my brother played the

Mr. McKAY: Was it like jazz fusion? What kind of...


Mr. McKAY: No?

Mr. REILLY: A lot of AC/DC, Rolling Stones.

Mr. FERRELL: Oh. Huh.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah. And one original song called "South Side Boy."

GROSS: Did you write it?

Mr. REILLY: I co-wrote it.


Mr. REILLY: With Brian Rafferty.

GROSS: Let's hear it. Let's hear it.

Mr. REILLY: Wow.

Mr. McKAY: Can you recall "South Side Boy"?

Mr. REILLY: Yeah. (Singing) He was a south side boy. He was a south side
boy. South side boy, soon to become a man. (Spoken) It was all about--had
these allusions to being a gambler at the table. And he knew he had the cards
in his hand, and when he laid them down, he's soon to become a man.

GROSS: Story of your life.

Mr. REILLY: It was kind of a rollicking, barrel-house blues number.

Mr. FERRELL: That's pretty good.

Mr. REILLY: It really isn't.

Mr. FERRELL: Shark Fighter. Shark Fighter. I would pay money to see Shark

Mr. McKAY: I definitely would.

Mr. REILLY: I think I'm going to have to resuscitate Shark Fighter.

GROSS: My guests are Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, the stars of "Step
Brothers," and Adam McKay, who wrote and directed the film. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guests are Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. They star in the film
"Step Brothers," which was written and directed by Adama McKay, who is also my

There's a lot of like times when the kids get punished in the film, when the
two stepbrothers get punished by their parents who have just married each
other. And so I guess I was wondering, what were the worst punishments from
parents that you faced as children or the worst or more controversial you've
administered as parents?

Mr. FERRELL: Well, I know the worst, most dramatic punishment I ever
received was--I was a huge "Partridge Family" fan. I loved the "Partridge
Family" show, and I stayed out a little too late in the summertime playing,
you know, baseball in the front yard or whatever, and I was supposed to be in
by a certain time. And my mom showed up and I knew I was busted. So we
walked back to our apartment, and she said, `Here's your choice: spanking or
you miss "The Partridge Family" show.' So I took the spanking, because I knew
I would not miss "The Partridge Family." So I watched "The Partridge Family"
with tears streaming down my face. And she's like, `Really, you want to take
the spanking over?' I'm like, `I'll take it. I'll take the spanking.' And
that was a monumental moment.

Mr. McKAY: I had a similar thing. I had, `Give up one or your G.I. Joes or
take a spanking.' And I remember my dad said, `I'll give you time to decide.'
And there was like a good two, three hours with this kind of "Sophie's
Choice"-type situation happening. And I did the exact same thing. I said
I'll take the spanking. And I took it, and the same thing, too, went and
played with the G.I. Joes with tears in my eyes.

GROSS: Your parents hit hard, huh?

Mr. REILLY: Decisive moment.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: We used to have the specter of my dad coming home from work,
`Wait until your father gets home.'

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: Those were the dreaded words my mom would say. Then eventually
we realized if you just stay away from the house at the hour that my dad gets

Mr. FERRELL: You're good.

Mr. REILLY: ...and you wait until he falls asleep in front of the TV while
he's eating his dinner, then you're kind of good.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: You miss the punishment hour, and then my mom caught wise to
that, and she--you remember those toys, giant tinker toys?

Mr. FERRELL: Oh, yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Sure.

Mr. REILLY: These enormous plastic tinker toys for building things?

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: My mom would wield the big green one, and you knew you were in
trouble when she came at you with the big green tinker toy. And, yeah, but I
was always faster than my mom, so I escaped most corporal punishment. My
kids, I just have to say, like having kids now, I can't imagine hitting them.
It just seems like completely insane to teach kids not to be violent by being
violent. So.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: It's crazy that it was so accepted when we were little. Like, my
mom had the hairbrush. Like spanking, I remember like a good friend of mine's

Mr. FERRELL: Spanking was pretty common, yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Spanking. I went to visit a friend, and his dad spanked me. And
then later my parents were like, `Thank you for doing that, Jim.'

Mr. FERRELL: Thank you. `Yeah. No problem.' And now you would never think
of that ever.

Mr. McKAY: Oh my God, you would literally go to jail...

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: ...if like a friend of yours' kid was over.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: And you spanked them.

GROSS: So how do you punish your kids now?

Mr. FERRELL: I'm not good. I just give them candy. I pay them less money
when they do something wrong. No, I mean, the power of the, `You got to go to
your room and hang out alone and calm down.'

Mr. McKAY: No cartoons is a big one.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: No cartoons works a lot. Dessert is another big one. No
cartoons, no dessert works a lot. And then time-out's very effective.

GROSS: It's been great to talk with you all. Thank you so much for doing
this interview.

Mr. REILLY: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Mr. McKAY: It's a pleasure, Terry. Thank you.

Mr. FERRELL: Thanks so much, Terry.

GROSS: Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly star in the film "Step Brothers."
Adam McKay wrote and directed it. Our interview was recorded in July when the
movie was released.

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward profiles the gospel group The Staple
Singers." This is FRESH AIR.


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

Profile: Ed Ward on the story of The Staple Singers

Soul music is filled with stories of performers who switched from gospel to
pop, like Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin. But there's only one act which
stayed gospel and was popular with soul and pop fans. Ed Ward tells the story
of The Staple Singers, who began in the Mississippi Delta and went all the way
to Talking Heads.

(Soundbite of "Swing Down Sweet Chariot")

STAPLES SINGERS: (Singing) Why don't you swing down, sweet chariot,
Stop and let me ride
Swing down, chariot,
Stop and let me ride
Oh, rock me, Lord,
Rock me, Lord, calm and easy
Well, I've got a home on the other side

Why don't you swing down, sweet chariot...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. ED WARD: Roebuck Staples was born in 1915 in Winona, Mississippi, and
eight or nine years later, he left school to hang around with the local blues
men, most notably Charlie Patton, who sometimes lived on a neighboring
plantation. From Patton he picked up some guitar, and occasionally worked as
a sort of roadie for Patton and the blues men who traveled with him all over
the delta playing on weekends, blues men who included a young Howlin' Wolf and
maybe Robert Johnson. Patton may also have inspired young Roebuck in another
way. When the money was good and the opportunity presented itself, he worked
as a preacher using the name "Elder Hadley."

By the mid-'30s, Staples was singing and playing guitar in a local gospel
group, The Golden Trumpets; and like many black residents of the Mississippi
Delta, in 1941 he moved with his young family to Chicago. He had four young
children to support--Cleotha, Pervis, Yvonne and Mavis--and he worked in a
gospel group called The Windy City Gospel Jubilees. The kids started singing
while he was practicing guitar, and before long Roebuck started home
workshops, gathering them in the living room and working out harmonies with
them. In 1948, he decided they were ready, and they started barnstorming
Chicago churches as The Staple Singers. Cleotha, the eldest, was 14. Mavis,
the youngest, was 11.

(Soundbite of "Uncloudy Day")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) Whoa, they tell me,
Where no storm clouds rise
Whoa, they tell me
Far away, so far away
Whoa, they tell me

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: The Staple Singers weren't at all in the mold of most quartets and
quintets on the circuit. Roebuck's guitar, pushed to an eerie reverb, wove
through the family harmonies with all the darkness of delta blues instead of
just chunking out chords. For another thing, their repertoire, like "Uncloudy
Day," which we just heard, came as much from the white Southern church as the
black church. One of their standout numbers was "May the Circle Be Unbroken"
from the white Carter family.

Their recordings, starting with the ones they made for Vee-Jay in 1952, sold
well in the gospel field, mostly because they didn't sound like anyone else.

(Soundbite of "This May Be the Last Time")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) This may
This may be my last time
This may
This may be my last time, children
This may
This may be my last time
May be my last time, I don't know
Whoa! Now, in the morning
Well, oh, I
Lord, I'm sick sour
Ooh, Lord
Can Jesus
But I'm bound by warts and woes

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: By the time they recorded "This May Be the Last Time" in 1960,
Roebuck knew it was time to move on. They'd begun to get some recognition
from college audiences as the folk revival swept campuses, so they signed with
a folk and jazz label, Riverside, and then were snatched up by Epic, where
they began to get daring.

(Soundbite of "Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) My friend,
You know this old world's in a bad condition
Just the other day I saw a group of little children
Trying to ride a school bus
By them being of a different nationality
They weren't allowed to ride the bus
And I imagine now
If you had asked them about this matter
They would have words like this to say

Why am I treated so bad?

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Nobody was fooled by Roebuck saying the kids were of a "different
nationality." The message was clear and shocking to a gospel world still
trying to figure out if Martin Luther King was safe to back or not. The
Staple Singers took their opinions straight into the churches, and Epic
recorded it on one of the greatest live gospel albums ever.

(Soundbite of "Freedom Highway")

I take the freedom highway

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: There were the expected grumblings from other gospel acts, but the
family forged on. In 1968, they signed to Stax Records in Memphis, where
their first single was "Long Walk to DC," fronted by an exuberant Mavis. Then
came "When Will We Be Paid for the Work We've Done," a catalogue of black
grievances very much in tune with the times. 1970 saw the beginning of a
change. Pervis left the group to take over their management, and middle
sister Yvonne joined. Roebuck's nickname, "Pops," became official. And Stax
executive Al Bell decided they should record in Muscle Shoals, where they
recorded their first number one hit, "I'll Take You There," and this historic

(Soundbite of "I'll Take You There")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) If you're ready,
If you're ready, yeah
If you're ready
Come on, go with me
No hatred...

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Everyone concerned swore they'd never heard reggae when this was
recorded, but with its dove-like bass solo and chunky beat, it sounded like
nothing America had ever heard before.

The Staple Singers continued through Stax's bankruptcy and collapse, rescued
by Curtis Mayfield, who'd obviously learned something from Pops' guitar
playing, and gave them another number one hit, "Let's Do It Again," in 1975.
There were stints at Warners and something called Private I, where they hit
with an unlikely version of Talking Heads' "Slippery People," which, against
all odds, was great. It would take one thing and one thing only to bring an
end to The Staple Singers' story, and it came on December 19th, 2000, when
Roebuck "Pops" Staples passed on after a fall in his home, aged 82.

GROSS: Rock historian Ed Ward lives in Berlin.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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