TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today we conclude our series of interviews with current Emmy nominees. The ceremony is Monday, September 17. We start today's show with Issa Rae, the creator and star of the HBO series "Insecure." She's nominated for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series.
"Insecure" echoes the title of her memoir and Web series, which were both called "The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl." In all those works she's dealt with issues of identity and feelings of not fitting in, things she dealt with all the time when she was growing up. She was one of the few black kids in her high school in Maryland. But when her family moved to South LA, she wasn't considered black enough. She's also lived in Senegal, where her father is from, where she was the only American in her school.
Let's start with a clip from the current season of "Insecure," Season 3. Issa and her boyfriend have broken up, and she's staying with her ex-boyfriend Daniel. She wants to get her own apartment but can't afford to. So she goes to the office of her accountant friend, Kelli, hoping for financial advice. Issa gives Kelli some financial papers, including her credit report, which is bad.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INSECURE")
ISSA RAE: (As Issa Dee) My credit score can't be that bad.
NATASHA ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) Bad would be a step up. The basic credit tiers are excellent, good, poor, bad. This is Issa. It's all the way at the bottom. Look; I'm sorry. There's no way to get around this credit issue unless you get a co-signer - not me - or you could put down three or four months' rent if you've been saving.
RAE: (As Issa Dee) Oh, I have been saving.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) OK.
RAE: (As Issa Dee, singing) I've been saving. I've been saving, I've been saving.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli, singing) Ay, ay, ay, ay (ph).
ISSA RAE AND NATASHA ROTHWELL: (As Issa Dee and Kelli, singing) I've been saving.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli, singing) She's been saving, she's been saving. Ah, ah, ah. Uh-uh, uh-uh. Uh-uh.
RAE: (As Issa Dee) No, you know I eat out a lot.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) Oh, girl. Lids?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) I like my caps fitted.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) That is just - RadioShack ain't even a store no more. Rite Aid? You buying groceries at Rite Aid?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) I buy panties there, too.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) Warren, close the door.
RAE: (As Issa Dee) What? Girl, come on. I've been working a full-time job. I've been lifting. What else can I do?
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) Look; long term, I could set you up with a credit counselor here. And I will help you plan out a budget. But right now you don't have enough money to move out on your own.
RAE: (As Issa Dee) Kelli, I got to do something. I told Daniel I'd only be staying there a few weeks, and I don't want to take advantage of that.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) Well, if it'd make you feel better, then you could throw him a few extra bucks.
RAE: (As Issa Dee) Oh, yeah. You know, he's not charging me to stay.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) I'm sorry, what?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) He not charging me to stay.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) He not? You concubining (ph)?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) What? Kelli, no.
ROTHWELL: (As Kelli) Not even a little bit?
GROSS: In this season of "Insecure," Issa has become even more disillusioned with her job at a nonprofit which works with predominantly African-American schools mentoring and coaching students. When I spoke with her in 2016, we played this clip from the first episode in which Issa's talking to a class of junior high students.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INSECURE")
RAE: (As Issa Dee) As youth liaison, I can assure you that whatever it is you need to succeed, we got y'all. So do y'all have any questions? Don't be shy, guys. Fire away.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Why you talk like a white girl?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) You caught me. I'm rocking blackface (laughter). Any other questions?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What's up with your hair?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) I don't know what you mean.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) My cousin can put some tracks in it unless you like it like that.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You're rude. She African.
RAE: (As Issa Dee) We're all from Africa, guys
IVAN SHAW: (As Justin) Absolutely. Let's stick to questions about the program.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Is this what you always wanted to do?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) No. But I got this job after college, and it fit my interests at the time.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Are you single?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) I don't think that's appropriate.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Yeah, she's single.
RAE: (As Issa Dee) OK, since you guys are so interested in my personal life, here it is. I'm 28 - actually 29 'cause today's my birthday. I came from a great family. I have a college degree. I work in the nonprofit world because I like to give back. I've been with my boyfriend for five years. And I did this to my hair on purpose. So I hope that covers everything. Does anybody actually have any questions about We Got Y'all?
TIANA LE: (As Dayniece) Why ain't you married?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) I'm just not right now.
LE: (As Dayniece) My dad said ain't nobody checking for bitter-ass black women anymore.
SHAW: (As Justin) Dayniece, that's detention. Apologize now.
LE: (As Dayniece) Sorry.
RAE: (As Issa Dee) That's OK. And tell your dad that black women aren't bitter. They're just tired of being expected to settle for less.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Her outfit settled for less.
(LAUGHTER, SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: (Laughter) That's Issa Rae from the first episode of her series "Insecure." Issa Rae, I love the series. Welcome to FRESH AIR.
RAE: Thank you so much, Terry.
GROSS: You really set the tone in that scene. I mean, you work for this nonprofit that - you're the only African-American at that organization. But when you get in front of, like, the African-American students - and I forget if it's junior high or high school...
RAE: Junior high.
GROSS: Yeah. So they just start, like, mocking you, you know, like, your hair, the way you speak, that your clothes - (laughter) they don't like your clothes. You're not married (laughter). So I just think it's so interesting that you start the series off with discomfort coming at you from both the white people that you work with and the black kids that you're trying to help.
RAE: Yeah, we wanted to kind of paint that this character is in between two worlds and is just in a constant state of discomfort. And, you know, that is kind of reflected in the title of the series. But just in terms of her own experiences - you know, not black enough for the black people and not, you know, white enough for the white people.
GROSS: So the things that your character is mocked for by the junior high school kids - where do those lines come from? Did kids in junior high say that to you?
RAE: Yes. Pretty much everything aside from the why aren't you married part I've been asked. Actually, in my adult life I've been asked, why aren't you married? What am I talking about?
RAE: But all of those questions those kids asked I've been asked at some point in time. So that was all truth. And we just wanted to have her face all of those questions at once in a very irritating way.
GROSS: So let's hear a scene at work. So this is from the start of the series where you're describing the nonprofit that you work at, which is called We Got Y'all. And you're talking about the organization. And as you are doing this kind of voice-over thing, we see images of where you work, and we see your white boss wearing a dashiki. The office is full of posters of Martin Luther King and Beyonce and a photo of the boss with President Obama. And at the end of this voice-over, it cuts to you. And you're in front of a mirror. And you're rapping in front of the mirror. In the series, this is the equivalent sometimes of your voice-over narrative - you know what I mean? Like, you're talking to yourself, but you're doing it in rap. So that's how the scene ends, but it starts with a voice-over.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INSECURE")
RAE: (As Issa Dee) My boss founded a nonprofit to help kids from the 'hood, but she didn't hire anybody from the 'hood.
CATHERINE CURTIN: (As Joanne) I'm torn between the Booker T. method and the DuBois method. What would James Baldwin say is most beneficial for people of color?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) In 2016? I've been here five years, and they think I'm the token with all the answers.
VERONICA MANNION: (As Kitty) Let's just ask Issa. Issa, what's on fleek?
RAE: (As Issa Dee) I don't know what that means. I know what that [expletive] means. But being aggressively passive is what I do best. I used to keep a journal to vent. Now I just write raps. (Rapping) Go shawty (ph), it's my birthday. But no one cares 'cause I'm not having a party 'cause I'm feeling sorry for myself.
GROSS: OK, and you rap much better than that later...
GROSS: ...Later in the series.
RAE: Do I?
GROSS: Yes. In my opinion, yes.
GROSS: So part of this series is about, you know, being the person who you think is, like, the token black person at work. And your best friend is the only African-American in the law firm where she works. She's a lawyer. So did you have - I mean, being an artist, like, you're working on TV shows. And this is, like, your own show. It's, like, your creation. Did you work in a nonprofit where you felt similar to how your character does?
RAE: Absolutely. I've worked in a couple of nonprofit settings. I've worked in - briefly in the corporate world and have definitely been the sole person of color, the sole black person. And for me, with this organization in the series, We Got Y'all, I really wanted to just depict my nightmare nonprofit organization. I found the world of nonprofits funny to begin with just because having worked there, you see that people are so altruistic and they're so benevolent and they're pretty selfless and you're working generally for a great cause.
But the atmosphere within the work environment can be oddly competitive. People want the credit. Sometimes they don't listen to the people they're trying to help. And for me, this white guilt is so prevalent at this nonprofit. And they're so - they treat the kids as this pity party. And for me, I would hate to work in an environment like this, but it's ripe for comedy.
GROSS: So let me ask you about the Web title "Awkward Black Girl." That's how you saw yourself for a long time. Where did the awkward part come in - which I imagine is the same kind of part that your series takes its name from, "Insecure."
RAE: Yeah, well, I was sitting on my bed in New York one day and just thinking about - just having a reflective moment and trying to figure out what I wanted to do and what my issues were and just was writing in my notebook and wrote down the phrase, I'm awkward, period, and black. And that was just a revelatory moment for me in so many ways. Like, I knew I was black obviously, but the awkward part really just defined me, in a sense.
Like, it defined why I was always, like, socially uncomfortable. It defined my introvert status. It defined, like, why I didn't fit into mainstream media's definition of blackness. And I just thought that that felt like an identity that I had not seen reflected in television or film before or at least in a very long time, not since the '90s with side characters. But I'd never seen, like, a lead black girl just be awkward.
GROSS: So what made you think that the parts of your life that made you feel awkward and insecure you could claim as an identity and then use that to your advantage and create a character who would be kind of, like, funny and relatable and everything, and that - so you could turn what you perceived as, like, your weakness into a strength?
RAE: Well, for me it came from watching shows like "Seinfeld" and "Curb" - "Curb Your Enthusiasm" - and even "30 Rock" and just identifying with a very specific sense of humor that those shows had but also being like, wow, there are no people of color in these shows that have the same sense of humor, you know? And wondering, like, why is there this segregated humor? There seems to be, like, black humor, and there seems to be white humor. And, you know, a lot of my friends' tastes - you know, we like both, but we don't get to see ourselves reflected on the, quote, unquote, "white humor" side.
And so I wanted to take these traits in the same way that, you know, a lot of my favorite comedians have done it, Ellen included - Ellen takes so many relatable, embarrassing moments and amplifies them and makes it like oh, my God, I've been through that, too, and that's so funny - and have a black character go through those things, and make it very racially specific but universal at the same time.
GROSS: We're listening to the interview I recorded with Issa Rae, creator and star of the HBO series "Insecure." She's nominated for an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Issa Rae, creator and star of the HBO series "Insecure." She spent part of her childhood in Maryland, where she was one of the few black students in her elementary school. When she moved to LA, she went to a predominantly black junior high school. She told me it was a bit of a culture shock.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
RAE: It was just because I was watching a lot of television. So I watched shows like "Saved By The Bell." Even though that wasn't set in LA, I just thought that would be my LA experience.
GROSS: (Laughter) That's hilarious.
RAE: And "90210." (Laughter) And just was excited to be able to go to junior high and have lockers. Like, there was just something sexy and alluring about lockers to me. And there was a culture shock in that way, that I was not the popular girl, that no one cared that I came from Maryland, that I was just not - you know, people always said that I talked like a white girl. And my hair wasn't - did not have the positive traits it had for being natural like it did when I was in Maryland. And I was just, like, out of place. And, you know, I think part of that was also that I was a nerd, too. But I just remember thinking like whoa, I do not fit in. And I wonder why that is. And it's a period of time that I always reference in my work, I find.
GROSS: What was your father's attitude to the whole American thing about what it means to be black and are you black enough and are you authentic and all that? 'Cause coming from Africa, I'm not sure whether all of that would have made any sense to him.
RAE: It didn't. And he didn't really subscribe to those notions. I mean, he understood that there are obstacles that black people faced, but in his mind, those are obstacles that you can overcome just by working hard and by doing the right thing. And we've never really had conversations about race just because, you know, while he acknowledges a lot of the burdens, he's also like his own success story.
You know, he came from a family of, you know, seven kids - the oldest - and came from Dakar, Senegal, and is a successful doctor here. And so he's just, like, very much about working hard. And in some ways, I realize that in not having those discussions with him and just seeing what he's done, I've been able to kind of do that on my end, too. Like, I do refuse to see obstacles to a degree. And, you know, I acknowledge that they exist, but I refuse to kind of let them affect me. And I guess I'm just realizing that about him.
GROSS: You write that the first time in your life you ever felt beautiful was when you went back to Senegal when you were in your sophomore year of high school and that that was the first time you had boys and men pining after you. (Laughter) Were you considered more beautiful in Senegal than you were in LA?
RAE: Yeah. I think when you're in a country of people who look like you and have your features and who are married to people with your features and attracted to, it makes it a lot easier. But, I mean, I just grew to appreciate where I came from more and felt also appreciated in a way that I did not in Los Angeles, Calif.
GROSS: So when you were a kid and watching TV and not exactly seeing yourself represented, you were sending in scripts at a really young age, like, spec scripts. Like, what kind of kid were you (laughter) that you were sending in scripts?
RAE: Yeah, I mean - I will say that - well, when I was a kid, I did have - like, the '90s gave me everything. You know, we had "Fresh Prince." We had "Living Single." We had, you know, all these shows. And it was when I got to I think high school and college that I didn't see myself represented. And when I was younger, like, I felt like I wanted to be a part of the writer's rooms. I wanted to write my own show. And so, like, I remember the show "Cosby" came out, which was a different iteration of "The Cosby Show," and I sent in a script for that.
And I remember going to my first live taping of a show in LA when we moved back when I was 11 - it was "Moesha." And I got to be in a live studio audience and watch what I say was the last, like, regular black girl we had on TV, Moesha - regular lead black girl we had. And I remember just sitting in that audience, taking it all in and loving it. And then I want to say that I won a copy of the script for that episode. And it was pink, and I still have it in a box somewhere. But that script is tattered because I would always use that as, like, the template to write scripts. And so when I wrote my "Cosby" spec script, and when I wrote my original spec script, like, it was always based on that format and...
GROSS: What did you learn by studying that script so carefully?
RAE: I mean, three-act structure, just how - obviously, it was a shooting script so I didn't understand that at the time. So there were so much - there was a lot of lingo that I just didn't get. But for me, it just felt, like, doable. It was like, oh, my gosh. I have the key. I have the secret of how it's done. And the formula is at my fingertips. And I just remember rereading to see like, oh, OK, this was - there was sort of a cliffhanger before this commercial break. So I need to have that in my own script. Or there was a significant plot device for character A but not on the B story. So just, like, really trying to break it down in a way that was familiar to me in watching so much TV. And, of course, I have no doubt that my own scripts were terrible. But it just felt like, oh, I could do this.
GROSS: How did you know who to send the scripts to?
RAE: (Laughter) My grandmother was great about, you know, helping me to research. She was very computer-savvy. And I remember, you know, typing the scripts on her Mac computer and her teaching me how to copyright them and teaching me to, like, Yahoo the head of NBC. And for me, it was just, like, writing a cover letter to who I saw was the head or the president of NBC. And I remember getting some notices back like...
GROSS: Wait. You wrote to the president (laughter) of the network?
RAE: Yeah. But, of course, from NBC being like, hey, thanks for submitting, but we don't take unsolicited scripts.
GROSS: From children, yeah.
RAE: Yeah. From babies, yeah.
GROSS: So I listen to a lot of voices (laughter) in hosting the show. And I love your voice. You have a beautiful voice. It's so, like, deep and resonant and...
GROSS: So when you were like...
RAE: Thank you.
GROSS: ...How old were you when it started to get that kind of, you know, depth, that resonance? You didn't have that in high school, did you?
RAE: Geez. I don't know. I don't - I do not know. It's so funny - this generation - I was saying, we're so used to seeing ourselves and listening to ourselves now that it's just not a big deal. But I remember being - like, hearing my voice on a voicemail and being like, ugh, stop it. Make it stop.
RAE: And, you know, now I just don't even think about it. So I've always thought I had a deep voice since high school, middle school, but I have no idea. But thank you.
GROSS: It's interesting because your voice conveys a certain confidence that you say that you've lacked in real life.
RAE: That's helpful.
RAE: That's very helpful. Well, that might be why people don't think that, I mean - people are always like, oh, it's so funny that you say that you're awkward 'cause you're not. And I'm like, 'cause I fooled you. But I don't - I don't see the same. I don't see what they see.
GROSS: Issa Rae, it's been great to talk with you. Congratulations on your series.
RAE: Terry, it's been an honor. Thank you so, so much.
GROSS: Issa Rae created and stars in the HBO series "Insecure." Our interview was recorded in 2016. She's nominated for an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. After a break, we'll feature interviews with two more nominees, Trevor Noah, host of "The Daily Show," and Peter Morgan, creator of the series "The Crown." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FINE LINE")
JORJA SMITH: (Singing) I see you smiling as you're talking on the phone. Hiding your messages, but I already know that I'm not a part of your game. It ain't right what you're doing to me. It ain't right. You're confusing me. Which side of the fine lines do you want me?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Let's continue our series of Emmy nominees. The Netflix drama series "The Crown" is nominated for 13 Emmys, including outstanding writing for a drama series for our guest Peter Morgan. The series focuses on a young Queen Elizabeth, her husband Philip, whose life is turned upside down by her ascension, her rebellious sister Margaret and her Uncle David, whose abdication from the throne in the 1930s shocked the nation and created a deep rift within the royal family. Peter Morgan also wrote the screenplays for "Frost/Nixon" and "The Last King of Scotland."
He spoke with FRESH AIR's Dave Davies in January. They started with a scene from the first season of "The Crown" a few days after Elizabeth Windsor, then 25, has learned her father has died and that she's now queen. Elizabeth is played by Claire Foy. She's with her husband Philip, played by Matt Smith. We hear first from her private secretary, played by Harry Hadden-Paton.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CROWN")
HARRY HADDEN-PATON: (As Martin Charteris) Though, it would help if we could decide here and now on your name.
CLAIRE FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) My name?
HADDEN-PATON: (As Martin Charteris) Yes ma'am, your regnal name. That is the name you'll take as queen. Your father took George. Obviously, his name is - was Albert. Before he abdicated, your uncle took Edward. Of course, his name was David.
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) What's wrong with my name?
MATT SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Nothing.
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Well, then let's not overcomplicate matters unnecessarily. My name is Elizabeth.
HADDEN-PATON: (As Martin Charteris) Then long live Queen Elizabeth.
DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: And the first time Queen Elizabeth hears those words, from "The Crown," the Netflix series that is created by our guest Peter Morgan.
Peter Morgan, welcome to FRESH AIR.
PETER MORGAN: Thank you.
DAVIES: It's remarkable to imagine a 25-year-old woman suddenly inheriting this responsibility. She says a few times in the series that she would have preferred to live a more anonymous life. And I saw a piece where you were quoted as calling her a countryside woman of limited intelligence. Was this taken accurately or in context?
MORGAN: No, it was - yeah, I've paid for that.
DAVIES: It was in the headline of the story I saw...
DAVIES: ...Of course, yeah.
MORGAN: Just about anything, unfortunately, that I say about the show ends up in the headlines somewhere that I don't want it to end up. So I've ended up being quite private about this and about my responsibilities here. But yes, I do think she would've been more comfortable as a country woman. I do think she is naturally a modest and naturally a shy, retiring person. I think one can sense that. You know, one can sense when someone is hungry for the limelight and when someone would sooner avoid it. That, of course, is quite different from her sense of duty and - you know, which, in itself, is such an interesting thing to explore. You don't get a sense that people talk about duty very much anymore.
And so, you know, when I started sketching out episodes and thinking about what the show could possibly offer me as a writer or an audience, you know, what was the central dilemma at the heart of this psychologically, emotionally for the lead character? It would be, you know, the - who she is as Elizabeth Windsor and who she is as Elizabeth Regina, like, you know, the queen, are two very different things, and the push and the pull between those two things - a bit like Russian dolls, one within the other.
DAVIES: Right. And her mother tells her the crown must always win. You know, it's fascinating as I hear you talk about this. You know, she bore this responsibility of representing this institution properly. You kind of bear the responsibility of interpreting these lives to a lot of people who don't know very much about them. Does that feel like a weight on your head?
MORGAN: I hope that it's - that weight - and it's the responsibility that all dramatists would feel when tackling real-life figures, you know? There came a moment after the film that I wrote "The Queen" had come out where Tony Blair was asked about his audience with the queen. And in his book - in his autobiography, which, of course, came many years after we made the film "The Queen," Tony Blair, when referring back to that critical period in the aftermath of Diana's death, used a number of expressions and quotations that seemed to me to be very familiar because they sounded like my dialogue.
And I remember thinking, well, hang on a minute. That can't be right. That - it can't be right that I got it right. I can't have got it that right. I mean, I think we were all pretty confident we knew what Tony Blair represented. We knew what the queen thought. But surely he didn't say the very things that I've written that he'd said. And I rang a couple of people and said, have you read the Blair biography - autobiography - because it sounds very much like the scene that I wrote. And it seems that even Blair's memory had sort of become blurred with what we had done.
And it's both funny but also sobering because you suddenly realize that, once you watch something on film, it becomes that thing. It becomes the way it was. And so much of what I write can't be exactly the way it was because I don't know. I'm just guessing. And then for Blair, in this particular instance, to have taken those imaginations or guesses and to reconstruct them as the truth was confusing.
DAVIES: Yeah, in his own account (laughter). He's got...
MORGAN: In his own account.
MORGAN: He said, I then said that. I was like, well, you didn't. At least, I don't think you did. Well, if you did, what a stroke of luck on my behalf. But I'm pretty sure you're actually just quoting what I wrote, which you have watched and which you've subsequently denied that you've watched but which you've clearly watched.
DAVIES: Well, what we were talking about - the very young Queen Elizabeth inheriting the throne at the age of 25 and adjusting to the demands of it. And one of the things that we see in here is the effect on her marriage with her husband Philip. And he finds it difficult, you know, the constraints of living in a palace and all of the demands on her and being kind of second to her.
And I wanted to play a scene here. This is in the second season, where Philip has been away on a long trip representing the crown in Australia and some other places. And he's back. And information has been surfacing in the press suggesting infidelity on his part. And this is not a complete surprise to Elizabeth. And this is a scene where they're, I believe, in a room on the yacht. And they're going to have a frank talk about their marriage in the context of the demands of being a royal couple.
And I'm just going to mention one thing for our audience. You will hear Philip refer to the mustaches. He's referring to the functionaries and secretaries who set rules and enforce traditions around the palace. So let's listen to this. This is Elizabeth and Philip. Philip is played by Matt Smith, and Elizabeth is played by Claire Foy. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CROWN")
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Thought we might take this opportunity, without interruption, without distraction, to lay our cards on the table and talk frankly for once about what needs to change to make this marriage work.
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) All right. Who goes first? Stupid question - if I've learned one thing by now, it's that I go second.
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) If I am to go first, that's where I'd start - your complaining.
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) My complaining?
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) It's incessant - whining and whinging like a child.
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Are you surprised? The way those God-awful mustaches that run the palace continue to infantilize me.
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Perhaps if you weren't behaving like an infant.
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Giving me lists, sending me instructions - do this. Don't do that. Wear this. Don't wear that. Say this. Don't say that. Can you imagine anything more humiliating?
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Yes. As a matter of fact, I can. I've learned more about humiliation in the past few weeks than I hoped I would in a lifetime. I've never felt more alone than I have in the past five months.
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) And why do you think that was?
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Because of your behavior.
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Because you sent me away.
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Yes, and why do you think that was?
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) I don't know. You tell me.
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Because you're lost. You're lost in your role, and you're lost in yourself.
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Christ.
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Look; I realize that this marriage has turned out to be something quite different to what we both imagined.
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Understatement.
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) ...And that we both find ourselves in a...
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Prison?
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) In a situation that is unique. Our marriage is different to any other in the country because the exit route which is open to everyone else...
SMITH: (As Philip, Duke of Edinburgh) Divorce?
FOY: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Yes, divorce. It's not an option for us ever.
DAVIES: And that is Claire Foy and Matt Smith playing Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Philip, in the Netflix series "The Crown," created by our guest Peter Morgan. It's a terrific scene. How do you find the voices for this young couple in this situation?
MORGAN: I suppose in some shape or form, it's like the high-wire walker who doesn't notice the distance beneath his wire, you know, or her wire, you know? I - the fact that I'm writing these two people doesn't seem, for some reason, to give me vertigo. It - I just write them. And therefore, you're then writing about a marriage, and that would be something any, you know, screenwriter would be expected to do. I just seem to be able to write them.
And, you know, we know they were holed up on the royal yacht Britannia for a good many hours before they emerged publicly. We know that they were in a storm. We know the dates that they were there. And we know what had transpired. We know that his best friend, Mike Parker, who had also been his private secretary, had just been divorced very publicly by his wife for infidelity.
And so, you know, as a dramatist, you see a series of dots. And what you hope is that, through research, the dots are brought close enough together. We know where they were. We know roughly what their official function was. What we don't know is what they were feeling, what they were thinking. And so it's my job to draw the line between those two points and to do so in the way that we were talking about earlier, in as responsible a way as possible.
GROSS: Peter Morgan created the Netflix series "The Crown." He spoke with FRESH AIR's Dave Davies in January. "The Crown" is nominated for 13 Emmys, including one for Morgan for outstanding writing for a drama series. We'll conclude our Emmy series with Trevor Noah, the host of "The Daily Show," which is nominated for two Emmys, after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DREAMERS' CIRCUS' "A ROOM IN PARIS")
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. We're going to conclude our series of Emmy nominees with an interview with Trevor Noah, the host of "The Daily Show," which is nominated for two Emmys, including outstanding variety talk series. The show's been on a break, but here's a clip from the August 15 episode.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")
TREVOR NOAH: This has been another rough week for the Trump White House - scandals, bad press, bad poll numbers. But the good news is they found someone to blame.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JAKE TAPPER: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders dropping a bombshell on today's White House briefing - she walked in and read a statement from President Trump announcing that the White House is revoking the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the Internet and television. Mr. Brennan's lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary, is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation's most closely held secrets.
NOAH: Unfounded allegations, wild Internet outbursts and lying - sounds like Sarah Sanders is just reading from President Trump's daily schedule. It's just...
NOAH: ...Sounds like to me - it's like, Mr. President, we need to wrap this up. You'll be late for your 12:30 outburst. Come on.
GROSS: I spoke with Trevor Noah in November 2016 after the publication of his memoir "Born A Crime." And he literally was. He's South African, the son of a black mother and white father. When Noah was born in 1984, during the apartheid era, it was illegal for a black person and a white person to have sexual relations. As you can imagine, this led to complications for Noah and for his mother, who he lived with. A film adaptation of the memoir is being made starring Lupita Nyong'o as the young Trevor Noah's mother. Trevor Noah speaks six different languages, including several African languages. His mother speaks several languages, too. I asked him to read a passage from his memoir about how he and his mother used language to navigate difficult situations.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
NOAH: (Reading) Living with my mom, I saw how she used language to cross boundaries, handle situations, navigate the world. We were in a shop once, and the shopkeeper right in front of us turned to a security guard, and he said in Afrikaans, (speaking Afrikaans) - follow those blacks in case they steal something. My mother turned around and said in beautiful fluent Afrikaans, (speaking Afrikaans) - why don't you follow these blacks so you can help them find what they're looking for? (Speaking Afrikaans), the man said, apologizing in Afrikaans. Then - and this was the funny thing - he didn't apologize for being racist. He merely apologized for aiming his racism at us. Oh, I'm so sorry, he said; I thought you were like the other blacks; you know how they love to steal.
(Reading) I learned to use language like my mother did. I would simulcast, give you the program in your own tongue. I'd get suspicious looks from people just walking down the street. Where are you from, they'd ask. I'd reply in whatever language they'd addressed me in, using the same accent that they used. There would be a brief moment of confusion, and then the suspicious look would disappear. Oh, OK, I thought you were a stranger; we're good then. It became a tool that served me my whole life. One day, as a young man, I was walking down the streets, and a group of Zulu guys was walking behind me, closing in on me. And I could hear them talking to one another about how they were going to mug me. (Speaking Zulu) - let's get this white guy. You go to his left, and I'll come up behind him.
(Reading) I didn't know what to do. I couldn't run. So I just spun around real quick and said (speaking Zulu) - yo, guys, why don't we just mug someone together? I'm ready. Let's do it. They looked shocked for a moment. And then they started laughing. Oh, sorry, dude. We thought you were something else. We weren't trying to take anything from you. We were trying to steal from white people. Have a good day, man. They were ready to do to me violent harm until they felt that we were part of the same tribe. And then we were cool. That and so many other smaller incidents in my life made me realize that language even more than color defines who you are to people. I became a chameleon. My color didn't change, but I could change your perception of my color. If you spoke to me in Zulu, I replied to you in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn't look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.
GROSS: That's Trevor Noah reading from his new memoir, "Born A Crime." I like that passage so much in part because when I hear you on "The Daily Show" and in some of your stand-up comedy that I've heard on recording, you do accents and voices so well. Like, you can mimic other people really well. And it seems like that's something you learned to do out of self-preservation when you were young.
NOAH: Yeah, definitely. I think it was something I inherited from my mother who learned to do it. You know, I, like a baby duckling, was merely mimicking the survival traits that my mother possessed. And I came to learn very quickly that language was a powerful, powerful tool.
Language and accents govern so much of how people think about other people. You know, and it's been happening since the beginning of time. I mean, even now in America, you know, when people say they hate immigrants, they're not referring to a Canadian immigrant. You know, they're not referring to somebody who has an accent who's slightly different to theirs.
It's often that voice that throws you off because I sometimes think it's the - you know what it is? It's when you hear somebody speaking in an accent, it's almost you like they're invading your language while they're speaking to you because if you hear someone speak another language, you almost don't care. But when they speak your language with an accent, it feels like an invasion of something that belongs to you. And immediately, we change.
GROSS: You know what I think? Yeah, I think people think that people with accents that are a little hard to understand must be stupid...
GROSS: ...Because you don't understand what they're saying.
GROSS: And, therefore, they're not smart.
NOAH: Yeah. That's - I've seen that everywhere. I've seen that everywhere. People, you know - people make jokes about that. And that was funny. When I first came to the U.S. - because I do accents. And I've traveled the world.
NOAH: And I have friends of almost every single ethnicity. And I would mimic them. And when I came to the U.S., I remember one day we're at "The Daily Show," and I mimicked my Chinese friend. And the guys at the show were like, oh, hey, don't ever do that again.
NOAH: That's really racist. You shouldn't do that. And I said, what do you mean, it's racist? They said, oh, you can't do a Chinese accent. That's - and I said, I'm not doing a Chinese accent. I'm doing my friend's accent. And they said, yeah, you can't do that. And I said, OK, but can I do a Russian accent? And they said, yeah, yeah, of course, you can do that. I said, and a British accent? They said, yeah, go ahead. And I couldn't understand.
And then I came to realize, obviously, because of the historical, you know, significance of that accent and how, you know, people who had Chinese accents or continue to have Chinese accents in America are treated as being stupid or not as intelligent as an English speaker who is fluent with an American accent - I came to realize why. But it's always fascinated me how quickly you can change where you stand with another human being just based on how you speak.
GROSS: We're listening to my 2016 interview with Trevor Noah, the host of "The Daily Show," which is nominated for two Emmys. We'll hear more as our Emmy series concludes after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ELLIS MARSALIS' "JUST SQUEEZE ME (BUT DON'T TEASE ME)")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Trevor Noah, host of "The Daily Show," which is nominated for two Emmys. We spoke in 2016 after his memoir was published. He speaks several languages, is a gifted mimic and can do lots of different accents. When we left off, we were talking about how the way you speak affects how other people judge you.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: One other thing about language - I found this amazing in your book - that you watched American TV shows, but they were broadcast in different languages. But if you wanted to hear it in the original American English, you could simulcast it on the radio.
GROSS: So you sometimes did that. But what was your reaction when you heard the programs in their actual original voices?
NOAH: Oh, they - sometimes it was mind-blowing. There were some characters that I knew of - like, I remember for most of my life, I grew up, and "Knight Rider" was - you know, David Hasselhoff was a Dutch character.
NOAH: ...In my world. I guess in some ways, he still is today. But yeah, it was weird for me because there were certain characters who I had ideas of. Again, I came to realize the power and the importance of language. And it's more than just language and the way we perceive it. If you look at this election, I feel like Donald Trump was speaking a different language to Hillary Clinton. You know, it's not dissimilar to what we saw in South Africa with our president, Jacob Zuma.
I remember sitting with people laughing when they would watch the debates, and they'd go, this guy's a buffoon; oh, man, he has a - such a low word count; he's got the grammar of a 5-year-old. He has the - you know, the vocabulary of a toddler. And I said, yeah, but do you know many people find that appealing right now? He's up there, and everybody understands what he's saying. And they were like, ugh, can you imagine this guy as a president? And I said, yeah, but think of how many people who for the first time are listening to a presidential candidate, understanding every single, quote, unquote, "policy" that he puts forward. And sometimes that's a thing that I will call them - you know, like, elites - not even liberal elites, just people who are educated, they forget sometimes that communication is more important than your grasp of language, you know? Can you communicate effectively with a person? That's what I learned as a comedian.
I remember one time, I went on a little bender where I tried to learn as many words as I could from the dictionary, and I thought, I'm going to increase my vocabulary onstage, and I'm going to expand my word count. My word cloud will be immense. And I got onstage, and I lost half of the audience because half of the people in the audience were going, we don't know what perambulate means; why do we have to think about this? And I realized, you've got to be careful in citing what your intention is. Are you using language, you know, as a flourish, or are you trying to communicate as effectively as possible with another human being? And that's what Donald Trump, in my opinion, did very, very well.
GROSS: Do you find yourself code-switching in the U.S.?
NOAH: I do. I do definitely, depending on where I am. And code-switching is fun for me. You know, I don't even do it intentionally. I just find, speaking to one person, I change a few words; I change my tone; I change my accent slightly. It's a seamless transition that I do without even thinking like a chameleon. I don't think that I'm doing it; I just do it.
GROSS: So one more thing - I'm thinking, like, when you took over "The Daily Show" after Jon Stewart left, there was a sense of, OK, we have a biracial president; now we have a biracial host of "The Daily Show."
GROSS: You know, like - you know, so, like, there's this kind of...
NOAH: Both half-African. What are the chances?
GROSS: Both half-African, exactly.
GROSS: So there's this - some kind of like, he's not American, but there's this simpatico, you know, with, like, the moment that we're living in politically. And now, like, things are really shifting politically. And I still think there's this sense of like, you have this sense of the times, but it's coming from a different part of you than...
GROSS: ...You know - would you talk to that?
NOAH: It's interesting - it's funny that you just mentioned that. I never thought of it like that before, that simpatico. I feel like it's almost fitting - isn't it? - that when there was a half-black, half-white, half-African man, he was in the White House, he was being mocked by Donald Trump - I think it's only fitting that now Donald Trump gets mocked by a half-black...
NOAH: ...Half-white, African man when he's in the White House. So I feel like that actually worked out. I never thought of that.
GROSS: Trevor Noah, recorded in 2016. "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" is nominated for two Emmys. And that concludes our series of interviews with Emmy nominees. You can catch up on the entire series on our podcast. The award ceremony is Monday, September 17.
Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Khalida Brohi, who grew up in a tribal region of Pakistan. Her mother was forced into marriage at the age of 9. Khalida's cousin was the victim of an honor killing. Khalida was the first girl in her village to go to school. Her education made her realize that girls and women should no longer accept this kind of treatment and should insist on their rights. She's written a memoir about her life and her work as a women's rights activist. I hope you'll join us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
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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.