DATE July 15, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Carl Zimmer discusses his new book and how Thomas
Willis' research became the basis of modern neurology
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, in for Terry Gross.
We're going to look back to the time when scientists were just discovering the
function of the brain through very primitive experimental brain surgery. Carl
Zimmer is the author of the book "Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the
Brain--and How it Changed the World." It's just out in paperback. It focuses
on the work of Thomas Willis, one of the fathers of neurology, who began his
surgical investigations into the brain in 1662. This was a time when many
scientists were also alchemists, a time when many scientists believed that the
soul was located in the liver and heart, a time when a scientist could be put
to death if his work challenged the teachings of the church. Carl Zimmer
spoke with Terry Gross early last year.
In the mid-1600s, when Willis was beginning his research, scientists believed
that the heart was the center of thought, perception and action. Scientists
didn't yet know about the existence of nerves and didn't understand the
importance of the brain.
Mr. CARL ZIMMER (Author, "Soul Made Flesh"): The brain as we think of
it--the brain as this three pounds of flesh, the brain that we know has these
billions of neurons that are trading signals and chemicals, no one knew the
brain as being such a thing. The funny thing is that the one thing in the
head that they were struck by were these little holes in the brain. If you
were to cut off of someone's--the top of someone's head and look in their
head, you would see a few kind of squiggly little recesses right at the core
of the brain. And so people started imagining that these must be very
important, that they were called ventricles, and they had this idea that, in
life, they were expanded to be these beautiful vaulted spheres and that
spirits would rush through them, and these were spirits that you would
actually breathe in from the air. In a sense, you were sort of breathing in
part of the world's soul and it became the spirits that would flow through
your body. And they would go through these chambers, these ventricles, and
then on their way into the rest of the body. But the brain itself, no one
TERRY GROSS, host:
The book focuses on the research of Thomas Willis, who was a scientist in the
1600s and who you consider the father--I guess people in the field consider
him the father of neurology. When he started to investigate the brain, what
was the current theory at the time of intelligence and perception?
Mr. ZIMMER: Well, you can get some interesting insights into what people
thought about the mind and intelligence and the brain and so on by looking at
contemporary sources, like Shakespeare, for example. Or if you look at the
journals of 17th-century doctors, you get some interesting ideas. So
intelligence really wasn't a factor then. I mean, people didn't talk about
IQ. They didn't really even talk about idiocy vs. intelligence. It just
wasn't sort of on their radar. They saw people as being these combinations of
humors, these strange substances like black bile and yellow bile, choler,
phlegm, and then when these got out of balance, they would alter a person's
temperament. So we think of personality as being this thing that is the
product of our brains and the way that our brains work and the way that the
neurons are exchanging chemicals. No one had any sort of concept like this.
So Thomas Willis was steeped in all these sorts of ideas, I mean. And so as a
young doctor, he would try to apply them. He would try to apply the ideas of
ancient doctors like Galen, for example, because that's what he had been
taught. But there were just a lot of other ideas kind of roaming around at
the time that were challenging this conventional wisdom, so that he began to
wonder, for example, `If I am treating an hysterical woman, a woman with
hysteria, is it really the case that her womb is rising up in her belly,'
which is what Galen and everyone else believed, `or is there some other
explanation that I should be looking for?'
GROSS: Thomas Willis was part alchemist and part physician. What did it mean
to be an alchemist in the 1600s?
Mr. ZIMMER: Well, alchemists were not really the sort of stereotype we have
of them today as being from the bad old days before real science got started.
They were investigating nature. They were doing experiments. They were
trying to understand what matter was made of. And there was actually a long
tradition of using alchemy for medicine, to try to figure out how to create
drugs that could transform the body in the same way the philosopher's stone
was supposed to transform lead into gold. And so this was not something that
Thomas Willis would learn in his lectures at Oxford. They were being taught
the conventional wisdom from Galen and Aristotle and the other Greeks. But on
the side he was working for a woman who was a--sort of a home doctor of sorts,
and he was having to make these medicines based on alchemy. And so that got
him interested in the whole concept, which helped to make him think about the
body not as the four humors, whatever that means, but as sort of a place where
chemical reactions took place. And so he wanted to know what were the
chemicals that made up the body. Ultimately, his question became: What are
the chemicals that make up the brain?
GROSS: He performed a lot of surgery on corpses to remove and study the
brain. What are some of the things that struck him most when he first saw a
Mr. ZIMMER: He was very impressed by it as a very elegant device. People
were starting to think of the body as a machine, but no one really thought of
the brain as a machine because it tended to look like just a lot of mush. But
with his methods, he was able to appreciate just how intricately put together
it is, how many different parts it actually has, how the blood vessels creep
around to every little nook and cranny in the brain. He called it a curious
quilted ball. And he also realized that these ventricles that had dominated
our understanding of the anatomy of the head and were supposed to be where
these spirits were, that had dominated our thinking for a thousand years or
more, that they were just empty holes, that they had nothing to do with the
business of the soul.
GROSS: Now he also did a lot of experiments on animals--dogs, for instance.
What are some of the experiments he did on the brains of dogs?
Mr. ZIMMER: One of the great ideas that Thomas Willis had was that different
parts of the brain are responsible for different functions of the body, that
you could actually look at a part of the brain and say, `This is responsible
for doing one thing. This is responsible for doing another thing over here.'
This is really where all modern neuroscience comes from, trying to parcel up
the brain and figuring out its anatomy to figure out what it does. And so he
was the first person to really talk about that, but he had to prove it. One
of the things that he did was he did an experiment on a dog to show that one
part of the brain, near the base, was responsible for kind of our involuntary
functions, like the beating of our heart or the breathing of our lungs,
whereas our voluntary motions and our thoughts were going on elsewhere. So
what he did--and this is quite a grisly experiment--he would open up a dog's
skull. He would damage part of the brain near the base and then stitch the
dog up and see what happened. Well, the dog suffered a pretty horrible death.
Fortunately not all of his experiments were quite as gruesome. He was able,
for example, to show that there was this elegant network of blood vessels that
supplied the brain with blood and that you could--even if you cut off one
artery going to the head, the others could compensate. And so he did this
with a dog, and the dog, he reported afterwards, would follow him around the
town as he went to visit his patients. It was perfectly happy. And this was
further proof to him that the brain was this wonderfully constructed device
that had this essential supply of blood given to it in order to work.
GROSS: Before Thomas Willis, the popular theories were that spirits or the
humors affected, you know, intelligence and emotion. Did Willis end up
believing that there was still some role for spirits in the body?
Mr. ZIMMER: Thomas Willis kept on talking about spirits, but what he was
talking about when he said spirits was something very different from what came
even a century before. In the Renaissance, people believed that there were
lots of different spirits in the body. There were vital spirits coming out of
the heart and other spirits coming out of the liver that were responsible for
your desires and your appetites, and the animal spirits that were in these
ventricles. Not only that, but there were souls in everything around us.
There were souls in plants and in the sky, and there were spirits moving
around, sort of enacting their will.
And what Thomas Willis did was he took all those ideas and made them
mechanical, made them chemical. He said, `Yes, there are spirits, but all
they are are a special kind of corpuscles,' he called them. You could think
of them as molecules or atoms or some sort of information-bearing thing. And
in this way, he was really part of the scientific revolution, which was trying
to take these mystical souls out of nature.
GROSS: The soul was really the province of the church. How did his research
and his theories affect the religious teachings of his time?
Mr. ZIMMER: Well, what happened was that the church started backing away
from insanity, in the sense that it was no longer considered a matter for the
church. The church would often accuse, for example, Quakers of being
fanatics--of, you know, just being nuts. And, you know, they would--the
Quakers at the time were doing some pretty radical things like walking around
naked in the streets to jolt people out of their complacency. But after
Thomas Willis started sort of explaining human nature according to the brain,
the church started to say, `Well, these people just must have, you know,
disordered brains and we just need to send them to the doctors.' And so this
was a real fundamental shift that occurred. And, you know, remarkably, the
church that had been so disturbed by the implications of the scientific
revolution, through Thomas Willis ended up embracing one of the central parts
GROSS: Were there things that the church had seen as demonic possession that
it started to see as a disorder of the brain?
Mr. ZIMMER: Yes, absolutely. Epilepsy, for example, had for centuries been
considered a sign of possession. Nightmares had as well. How else to explain
how someone could close their eyes and feel that they were being transported
to some distant place, or how could you explain how someone would start raving
and screaming and foaming at the mouth? It must be demons. Thomas Willis
looked very carefully at these explanations and he said, `I don't think so.'
And he used his new kind of neurology to say epilepsy is really just a
chemical imbalance. It's the explosions that normally happen in a very
orderly way in the body getting out of control so that you're having sort of a
kind of a wildfire of the mind, as it were. And so the church would back away
from these sort of disorders, saying, `OK, well, these, too, are the province
of medicine. They're not for the church anymore.'
GROSS: When did Willis' ideas about the brain start to catch on?
Mr. ZIMMER: Surprisingly, they caught on really fast. A lot of scientists
have had to suffer for years in obscurity before they really grabbed the
attention of their society, but Thomas Willis' first book about the
brain--it's called "The Anatomy of the Brain"--came out in 1664. And it was
an immediate hit. It went through four editions in the first year. I think
it went through about 20 editions all told. It was being published well into
the 1800s. And his illustrations, which were done by Christopher Wren, you
could still see in textbooks in the 20th century. So these ideas took hold
immediately, not just his ideas about how the brain was structured or how the
brain worked, but his ideas about the soul and about diseases of the soul and
of the brain. It's probably a sign of how ready society was for an
explanation like his. The scientific revolution had been going on for quite a
while at that point and people were starting to be able to accept these ideas.
And so he just came along at the right time and was smart enough to put all
these things together.
GROSS: When Thomas Willis died, did he donate his own brain to science?
Mr. ZIMMER: There's no record of that. He...
GROSS: I just really wonder if he would have wanted his skull cut open and
investigated after death.
Mr. ZIMMER: I'm sure he would have hap--been happy for someone to look at
GROSS: He probably would have wanted to do it himself. I bet he was dying
Mr. ZIMMER: He would have loved to have known what it looked like.
So thank you. Thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. ZIMMER: Oh, well, thanks. It's been a real pleasure.
DAVIES: Carl Zimmer speaking with Terry Gross in 2004. His book "Soul Made
Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain--and How it Changed the World" is just out
Coming up, critic at large John Powers looks at the summer blockbusters "War
of the Worlds" and "Batman Begins."
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Two summer blockbusters, "Batman Begins" and "War of the
Worlds," are reflections of America's obsession with terrorism
DAVE DAVIES, host:
"Batman Begins" and "War of the Worlds" are two hit summer movies that are
reworkings of old material. Critic at large John Powers says only one film
seems to capture the mood of our time.
As last week's bombings in London reminded us, we live in an era officially
defined by the war on terror. Naturally all this seeps into our popular
culture, where two current blockbusters, "Batman Begins" and the "War of the
Worlds," have clearly been touched by America's current obsession with
By now, everybody knows the story of "Batman Begins." Christian Bale plays
Bruce Wayne, whose parents were murdered when he was a boy. Driven by rage
and the desire for revenge, he transforms himself into Batman, a crime fighter
who's also something of a creature. To defeat evil, he must tap into his own
dark ruthlessness, even if this means Batman isn't really likeable. Now such
an idea should carry a timely sting in this age of terrorism, with all the
tricky moral questions raised by Abu Ghraib, the Patriot Act and pre-emptive
war, especially since the film's villain is an apocalyptic terrorist who wants
to destroy Gotham City in order to purify it.
But given all this topical subject matter, the movie is strikingly
old-fashioned. The Batman saga was created during World War II, and it still
has the reassuring vibe found in old comic books and "Star Wars" movies. It's
a franchise. Curiously enough, what may be most old-fashioned about the new
"Batman" is its idealism. Batman believes in both action and community, as he
explains to his loyal butler Alfred, marvelously played by Michael Caine.
(Soundbite of "Batman Begins")
Mr. MICHAEL CAINE: (As Alfred) Are you coming back to Gotham for long, sir?
Mr. CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Batman) As long as it takes. I'm going to show the
people of Gotham their city doesn't belong to the criminals and the corrupt.
Mr. CAINE: (As Alfred) In the Depression, your father nearly bankrupted
Wayne Enterprises combating poverty. He believed that his example could
inspire the wealthy of Gotham to save their city.
Mr. BALE: (As Batman) Did it?
Mr. CAINE: (As Alfred) In a way. Their murder shocked the wealthy and the
powerful into action.
Mr. BALE: (As Batman) People need dramatic examples to shake them out of
apathy, and I can't do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I'm flesh and blood. I
can be ignored. I can be destroyed. But as a symbol--as a symbol, I can be
incorruptible. I can be everlasting.
Mr. CAINE: (As Alfred) What symbol?
Mr. BALE: (As Batman) Something elemental, something terrifying.
POWERS: If Batman dreams of shaking his fellow citizens out of their apathy,
the hero of Stephen Spielberg's "The War of the Worlds" just wants to stay
alive. Tom Cruise stars as Ray Ferrier, an irresponsible, divorced father
who's been given his kids for the weekend. But just after they arrive,
monstrous alien war machines rise from the concrete and start pulverizing
everything and everyone. So Ray takes his kids and heads for the hills.
Ever since H.G. Wells wrote his original novel in 1898, "The War of the
Worlds" story has been a repository for cultural anxieties. While Wells'
book reflected that era's anxieties about run-amok technology and threats to
the British Empire, Orson Welles' famous panic-inducing radio broadcast
offered a foretaste of World War II. Spielberg's new version clearly taps
into our fears of terrorism. After the space invaders hit, we even see people
carrying around posters of missing loved ones.
The single most striking thing about "War of the Worlds" is that a Tom Cruise
hero makes no attempt to fight back. He leaves that to the military, who we
see in the background fighting and dying. In fact, the only civilian who does
try to fight is a clammy survivalist played by Tim Robbins. Faced with an
enemy too mysterious and powerful to challenge, Ray's only goal is to protect
his own family. He seems to believe that old line from the movie "Mars
Attacks!": `Puny humans, resistance is futile!'
Then again, the movie's real theme isn't battling terror, it's watching it.
From the opening scenes of Ray's aghast gaze as the invaders destroy his
neighborhood to the moments when Ray covers his daughter's eyes to Ray's son
abandoning his family with the words `I want to see it,' Spielberg's film is
obsessed with the voyeurism of horror: the over-empowering desire to look at
the spectacle of destruction rather than battle it. This is a voyeurism the
movie audience shares. We enjoy the big-budget mayhem in the safety of an
air-conditioned theater. Eerily enough, it's this very aura of passivity that
makes "The War of the Worlds" feel so true. It captures a quintessential
modern experience. We watch endless televised images of terrorist
destruction, but ourselves do nothing to fight it. We watch images of our
soldiers in Iraq, but it feels as though there's nothing we can do. Like the
space invaders, history is just too big and powerful.
In his famous 1940 essay "Inside the Whale," George Orwell wrote that
post-World War I Europe had become so overwhelming that it led to the
increasing helplessness of all decent people. Rather than trying to change
their world, they found it unchangeable, and therefore sought some sort of
refuge in the private realm. Precisely that same attitude runs through "The
War of the Worlds," which is very much a document of our time. After two
hours of flamboyant death and destruction, the film winds up like so much of
Spielberg's work: with the preservation of a family. Talk about seeking
refuge in the private realm. Sure, a billion people were slaughtered by those
evil Martians, but Ray learned to be a good father. Now that's a happy
DAVIES: John Powers is film critic for Vogue and author of "Sore Winners,"
now available in paperback.
I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: Coming up, invitations are for losers. Vince Vaughn shows up
uninvited, then tries to score in the new film "Wedding Crashers." We'll hear
from Vaughn, and our film critic David Edelstein has a review of the film.
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Interview: Actor Vince Vaughn discusses his life growing up and
his film career
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, sitting in for Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of "Wedding Crashers")
Mr. VINCE VAUGHN: Come on, baby! From my family to yours, (unintelligible).
DAVIES: In the new film "Wedding Crashers," Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play
a pair of divorce mediators who refine the ploy of hitting up single women by
showing up uninvited at the weddings of complete strangers. FRESH AIR's film
critic David Edelstein has called the film `one of the most delightful
comedies in a long time.' We'll hear his review of "Wedding Crashers" a
little later. But first, a conversation Terry recorded with Vince Vaughn in
Vaughn has appeared in the films "Clay Pigeons," "Dodgeball," "Anchorman" and
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith" among many others. He made his movie breakthrough in
the independent film comedy "Swingers," starring his friend, John Favreau, who
also wrote and directed the film. Vaughn and Favreau paired up again in the
film "Made." Favreau played an amateur boxer who needs money. He hooks up
with his do-nothing friend, played by Vaughn, working for a mob boss in LA.
The job brings both of them into the unfamiliar world of money and guns.
Favreau knows they're in over their heads, but Vaughn thinks he's cool enough
to fake it, which, of course, keeps getting them deeper into trouble. Here
they are on the way to their mission, flying first-class for the first time.
The flight attendant has just told Vaughn he can choose from a selection of
(Soundbite from "Made")
Mr. VAUGHN: What's the overhead on something like that? What's the action
that's gonna come my way for the videos?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: The action that's gonna come your way?
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah.
Mr. JOHN FAVREAU: What's it gonna cost him for the videos?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: Oh, no. You're up front. Everything's free
Mr. FAVREAU: Oh, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. See that?
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah. Oh, wait a minute. That--see now? They set you up
(unintelligible) when they drop this on you. And I bet there's a hidden tax
for this ...(unintelligible).
Excuse me, sweetie.
Unidentified Flight Attendant: Yes.
Mr. VAUGHN: Where the drinks are concerned, is that a hidden tax? Does that
fall under the complimentary up-front service, as well, or is that something
you pay for?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: No, no. They're complimentary. Would you
care for another one?
Mr. VAUGHN: They're complimentary?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: Yes.
Mr. VAUGHN: You bet your ass I would.
Mr. FAVREAU: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Unidentified Flight Attendant: OK.
Mr. VAUGHN: Thank you.
Mr. FAVREAU: Can I get a Cutty on the rocks, too? Is that complimentary?
Unidentified Flight Attendant: Yes.
Mr. FAVREAU: Thank you.
Mr. VAUGHN: Cheers, man. You hear that? (Censored). Everything up here
Mr. FAVREAU: OK.
DAVIES: A scene from the film "Made." Terry asked Vince Vaughn to talk about
Mr. VAUGHN: When John and I did "Swingers," that was actually the very first
time that I ever flew first class, going from Los Angeles to Venice for the
film festival. And so when I was on first class, I was a bit overwhelmed by
it, and I remember John being uncomfortable because I rang the bell and I
asked some questions. But, of course, you know, I didn't hit on the
stewardess or flight attendant during that time or...
TERRY GROSS, host:
What questions did you ask?
Mr. VAUGHN: I was just, like, `Is this for free?' And I said, you know, `So
if I want, like, you know, a glass of champagne, that's free, and I could get
more glasses of champagne?' She was, like, `Yeah.' I was, like, `Are you
serious?' You know, I just couldn't believe it. I was, like, `Now not only
is there, like, one movie I can choose from, but you're saying that there's
like a list of videos and I choose the video that I put in? I can watch any
video that I want to watch?' And I was just amazed that that was happening.
And Favs was kind of embarrassed, like, you know, `Act like you've been here
before.' And my point of view was, `But I haven't been here before. Why
should I cheat myself out of this first-time experience, you know?'
So then as we took it, you know, made in the movie with the mob, it was made,
as far as being an actor having an avenue in, we exaggerated it then for the
comedy and also for who the characters were and what they had to serve for the
overall story of the plot.
GROSS: There's also first times in New York in a swank New York hotel. Did
you have any of those first-time experiences yourself where you maybe said
something inappropriate or acted too overwhelmed by the riches?
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah, the biggest one...
Mr. VAUGHN: The biggest one that sticks out was I remember that--so we do
"Jurassic Park," which was like I went from, like, "Swingers" and did this
other little film called "The Locust." Then I go--which was a very small
budget--to "The Lost World." Then I was just amazed by the toys and the
amount of people that they had and the time that they had to shoot. And when
that was over with, there's a thing called Toy Fair, which I'm familiar with
'cause my dad is actually a toy salesman. But they made toys and stuff for
"Jurassic III," and so now you go to Toy Fair and they're sort of selling the
toys to the buyers, which would be like Toys 'R' Us or any of those
And so they asked the actors to come and, like, we had to come out, like, with
lights and stuff like that and be a part of it and, like, meet the people and
stuff. It was a very odd experience. And they said, `You have $150, I think,
in incidentals,' which means that, you know, the mini bar and, you know, the
telephone's included in that in this case and room service and that kind of
stuff. So I thought it was like $150 for the three days I was there, so I was
budgeting. And then I realized afterwards, 'cause Jeff Goldblum was there,
that is was actually $150 every night I could have spent in the room. But I
was, like, budgeting, thinking that $150 had to go over the whole time. And I
was just amazed by that number figure to be spent in a day on sort of
pleasantries, you know.
GROSS: Well, something similar happens to your character in "Made." He's
told by Peter Falk, who is like the mob guy who's assigning them a job--he's
told that they have a daily stipend, and your character thinks, `Oh, and what
Mr. VAUGHN: Right. The per diem. I remember I was...
GROSS: The per diem. That's what it was. The per diem, yeah.
Mr. VAUGHN: First time I heard that was on location hired as an actor and
they said, `You have X'--I didn't know what the word `per diem' meant at all.
And they said, `This is your per diem.' I just thought, like, `Boy, am I
getting over on these guys. They're giving me some cash money up front,' you
GROSS: You and John Favreau also starred together in "Swingers," which, like
"Made," he wrote and directed. And in "Swingers," you played somebody who
was--he played somebody who was very naive and is reluctantly led into Vegas
by you, 'cause you--he's broken up with his girlfriend and you think Vegas is
just what he needs.
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah, exactly.
GROSS: And you're really arrogant and really faking it with a lot of flare...
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah.
GROSS: ...in this movie. Let me play a short scene.
Mr. VAUGHN: OK.
GROSS: In this scene, you're--this is your first time at one of the casinos
with John Favreau's character and you're demonstrating to him how to pick up a
Mr. VAUGHN: Right.
GROSS: ...at the casino.
(Soundbite from "Swingers")
Unidentified Waitress: I walked around for an hour with that stupid Scotch on
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah, you got knocked out pretty fast.
Unidentified Waitress: Oh, a couple of high rollers like yourself.
Mr. VAUGHN: You believe it?
Unidentified Waitress: I'll go get you that Scotch.
Mr. FAVREAU: You know what? Forget about it. I didn't even want it. I
just wanted to order it.
Unidentified Waitress: Well, can I get you something else? I mean, you
really shouldn't leave here without getting something for free.
Mr. FAVREAU: Why ruin a perfect night?
Mr. VAUGHN: Listen, bring a single, malted Glengarry for me and one for my
boy, Mikey, here. And if you tell the bartender to go easy on the water, then
this 50 cent piece has your name written all over it. OK. I want you to run
along 'cause I'll be timing you. I'm gonna keep time; one, two, three,
Mr. FAVREAU: What an (censored).
Mr. VAUGHN: Baby, that was money. Tell me that wasn't money.
Mr. FAVREAU: That was so demeaning.
Mr. VAUGHN: She smiled, baby.
Mr. FAVREAU: I can't believe what an (censored) you are.
Mr. VAUGHN: No, baby, she smiled.
Mr. FAVREAU: She was smiling at what an (censored) you are.
Mr. VAUGHN: Oh, no, no, no. She was smiling at how money I was; what I did
Mr. FAVREAU: Could we get out of here--All right?--because I'm not gonna pay
for a room and I gotta get out of here.
Mr. VAUGHN: Mike, what the hell do you want to get out of here for? The
honey baby's bring us a cocktail.
Mr. FAVREAU: What are you, nuts? Do you think she's coming back here?
Mr. VAUGHN: Baby, I know she's coming back here. Did you even hear what she
said? `You shouldn't leave without getting something for free.' Baby, she
wants to party. She wants to.
GROSS: Vince Vaughn, in this scene, we heard one of the catch phrases that
you became well-known for after "Swingers," which was `You're so money' or
`That was so money.' That's a phrase that you came up with for the film?
Mr. VAUGHN: Sort of. I mean, it's sort of a Frankenstein, that phrase,
because money existed in sort of a sports culture or a hip-hop culture, but
sort of going `You're so money' and--or `You're so money, you don't even know
it,' it was sort of the phrase that caught on, which was, `You don't even know
it and you're so' is sort of what I added to it. And I used to say that a
lot, half jokingly, with John when we were friends and, you know, "Swingers"
was based on a real-life experience in that he did break up with his
girlfriend in order to move out after he filmed "Rudy," to pursue acting. And
he was really kind of, you know, in a bad way about it and I sort of, you
know, took him out. And the places that I took him was The Dresden, The
Derby, and I was sort of into swing music and that lounge scene and, of
course, you know, John exaggerated for comedy's sake. And we always look at
comedy sort of as an overcommitment to the ridiculous. So the fact that, you
know, Trent would say this and believe it so much and sort of spin it as if
this was the ultimate truth and you had to get this down is, to me, kind of
pathetic. I was always sort of surprised that Trent was perceived as cool.
GROSS: Were there people who thought that your character was so cool in the
movie, they tried to emulate you?
Mr. VAUGHN: I've heard that, yeah. I've had people come up and say, `Well,
boy, I'm the Trent in my group' or this or that. I just thought--I always
thought it was funny because I always just thought--like, you know, these
guys, I mean, you look at the movie, we're, like, playing video games, you
know. It's not like--the only girl I think Trent ever goes home with is the
waitress, and it doesn't really work out with them. They go in the back and
knock some stuffed animals off the couch and that's about it, and then it gets
interrupted, you know.
But I think that Trent had a real innocence to him. You know, he's not
maniacal or manipulative. Manipulative, but not from a complete understanding
of what he's doing. I think he's very innocent. I think a lot of men--young
men at that age--it's just sort of the thing of it's such a big deal. In a
way, I think it shows women as very powerful because all this time and all
this attention is spent on sort of, `How do we communicate with the opposite
sex?' So, in a way, I think it really shows the power that women have,
especially where men are concerned, because their whole lives are sort of
dictated around, you know, how to connect or talk or communicate with women.
GROSS: "Swingers" was really the movie in which you were noticed. What was
your life like when you were working on "Swingers" with John Favreau?
Mr. VAUGHN: Well, it was, you know, very much in the moment at the time,
meaning there was no plan of anything. You know, we did the movie for
$250,000 in, like, 21 days, so it was completely off the radar. And part of
the reason we were able to do it so cheaply is a lot of it was illegal. We
didn't get all the permits and things that you'd need if you were a larger
movie that was being tracked on the radar. A lot of the places that we shot
at did us favors because we knew the owners, and they'd let us shoot there for
free. And it actually, you know, gave the movie a great feel that it felt
very authentic; that this--these were the people that would be at those
places. And it brought a real energy that worked for the movie. But it came
from a place of economics, of that was the only way we could get the movie
done. And, in a way, that really served it and made the movie better.
And the making of "Swingers," honestly, Terry, I was just looking to get tape
to get an agent. I didn't have an agent at the time. I mean, I didn't know
what would come of the thing. You know, we were putting this thing together,
and we had read the screenplay for a year, trying to get it set up so it
was like a play. We were able to go and shoot and make our days very quickly
because we all knew our stuff very well. But, you know, there was always a
hope or a dream that it could get bought or that it could be seen, but the
odds were just so against it. And we were lucky in that we did what we wanted
to do and what we thought we found funny and sort of truthful what our life
experience was. You know, we didn't portray in that movie ourselves out to
be, you know, street guys or, you know, really overly successful with girls or
dealing with heavy problems of drugs and stuff like that because that wasn't
our experience. We were really out-of-work actors playing video games who
liked girls and were sort of trying to figure out what was the best way to
meet girls. And I think by being simple and telling the story not having
things go good in Vegas, I think it became something that was somewhat
universal and a lot of people could relate to.
DAVIES: Vince Vaughn speaking with Terry Gross in 2001. We'll hear more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's 2001 interview with actor Vince Vaughn.
GROSS: I want to ask you about another role that you played, and this was in
the movie "Clay Pigeons." This was one of two movies that you starred in with
Joaquin Phoenix. And in this film, you play a cowboy who's very glib, who it
turns out he's a con artist and, not to mention, a serial killer. How did you
envision the part?
Mr. VAUGHN: Well, I saw it--to make it not so serious and have it be sort of
funny and not take it so serious so that it could come off like a bad HBO
movie. And I was fascinated by the response to Trent, to some degree, and I
thought, `Well, can you play someone who's killing people in a way that has
all these--what's considered to be pleasant social graces and still have him
be liked by people; give him a point of view and some sort of, you know,
really messed-up code that somehow he followed and go on that journey with
sort of this guy who--how he perceived himself and all these sort of things.
And I guess I've always been more drawn and fascinated to those kind of
characters because I find them more interesting. And also, it's sort of my
life experiences of people that I knew. I mean, I would go to the racetrack
as a little kid. My dad would take me all the time. And a lot of the people
that I met were colorful people, interesting people, and a lot of them, you
know, good people but hustlers, you know. But with my dad being a salesman
and sort of the people that I met, I was always really just sort of fascinated
by that mind-set.
GROSS: Well, in this scene from "Clay Pigeons," you're at a bar. You've just
walked in and you're trying to pick up a character played by Janeane Garofalo.
And there are, as you mentioned, kind of traces of your character, Trent, from
"Swingers" in your approach here. Let's hear it.
(Soundbite from "Clay Pigeons")
Mr. VAUGHN: Damn good-looking girl; drinks Johnnie Walker Black, even pays
with her own money. I can't wait to start dreaming tonight.
Ms. JANEANE GAROFALO: You're very colorful.
Mr. VAUGHN: Oh, you don't know the half of it. I'm like a big fireworks
show. I'm very bright, like Lite Brite.
Ms. GAROFALO: You know what? No offense, but this seat is saved.
Mr. VAUGHN: Who for?
Ms. GAROFALO: First guy not wearing denim.
Mr. VAUGHN: You're not from around here, are you?
Ms. GAROFALO: What makes you say that?
Mr. VAUGHN: Well, you don't look like the town much. You don't. My name's
Lloyd. I won't bite you.
Ms. GAROFALO: That's a plus, Lloyd.
GROSS: That's a scene from "Clay Pigeons."
Vince Vaughn, do you want to say anything about that scene?
Mr. VAUGHN: Just that, you know, that was--my favorite scenes in the movie
was with Janeane Garofalo. I think she's incredible. And some of that was
improvised, and she's just so great and so available. It was really very easy
to respond off of her. I mean, I knew I had the burden of Janeane, who's a
very bright, sophisticated person, although she's playing this character and
she knows ultimately that she has to give in to me because that's, you know,
the script and sort of where we need to take it for the movie. So she's open
to that. So my job's a little easier, but I knew it had to come off
believable that you bought that I made her laugh or that I got her to be open
to talking to me. And so, you know, I went in there with a real specific
point of view. And really, the biggest thing with those kind of things are
listening and really paying attention to her movement and her talking and
seeing what--you know, what was the way in, what was the way into this
GROSS: You grew up in Minnesota. Would you describe the neighborhood that
you were from?
Mr. VAUGHN: Well, I didn't really grow up in Minnesota. I was born outside
GROSS: You grew up in Chicago, right.
Mr. VAUGHN: I lived there for about a month. My dad was a salesman for
Swift meat company, and he was transferred. I lived in Minnesota for one
month and then I was raised in Buffalo Grove, which is sort of a middle-class
suburb in Illinois. And I lived there till I was eight, and then I moved to
Lake Forest, Illinois, which is an upper-class suburb of Illinois. And I
lived there until I was 18 and graduated ...(unintelligible).
GROSS: Were your parents moving up, financially, when you moved up to a
Mr. VAUGHN: My dad was. Yeah, my dad was. My dad was a very driven man in
that, you know, he grew up not very well off or well-to-do and, you know, sort
of self-motivated and put himself through college. He used to work in a
factory in the summer to, you know, pay for college and that and, you know,
got a job right away working sales for Swift's meats and then got transferred
around and moved up and did very well. And then he became--and then
moved--switched over to the toy industry. So then he opened up his own
company when we moved to Lake Forest. And it was big deal, I think, for my
mom, in that--who grew up sort of blue-collar as well, to sort of give us
kids a better education opportunity than what they had. A big part of the
reason for us moving there was because of the schools and the academics, which
is sort of funny. I became an actor, and I never went to college.
GROSS: Now I read that you were in a class with problem kids. Is that
Mr. VAUGHN: Yeah, you know--well, the thing--as time has gone on, people
have learned more, but I went into a class--one period a day, they would make
me go to a classroom with, you know, maybe 10 or 12 other students, all who
had no obvious sort of retardation or anything, but it was more learning
disabilities. But for me, it was like--you know, and I sort of felt like
McMurphy in "Cuckoo's Nest" and I've said that before, in that you'd have the
tallest girl in the whole school. She would never talk, she'd never raise her
hand in class, but, you know, you sort of look at that and say, `Well, this
girl's already sticking out in a sort of way. Maybe she doesn't feel like
raising her hand,' you know. And I think most of the people there--it had
more to do with sort of an emotional position based on a physical thing.
Chuck Suitmeyer was in the thing and his parents were still farmers and he
dressed differently than everybody else, so that probably had more to do with
it than anything else.
But we would go. And it was embarrassing because you'd be 10 years old, and
you'd go for one period a day, and they'd make you play Candyland. And
everyone in the school knew you were going to this classroom, so as you're
struggling to have a social life, that was definitely something that was a
hindrance. But it was really a gift for me. I mean, in a way, it made me be,
I think, more outspoken and that sort of thing in order to have friends. And
I was always very popular and well-liked; not just by one group, but, I think,
by most of the kids in my schools growing up. And I felt a need to sort of
counter that by, I think, being funny and having a sense of humor and maybe
being a bit confrontational with teachers and that sort of thing.
And when I first went into the class, I was very kind of mean to the other
kids. And I felt like, `I don't belong here. These kids are, you know--these
kids are crazy. I don't belong here with these kids.' And then that kind of
grew into me feeling very connected to them and very protective of them and,
you know, going out of my way to try to include them in--you know, whether we
were playing kick ball at recess or whatever, I would go and, you know, pick
them for my team, and I felt very including of them after a while.
GROSS: What was your learning disability?
Mr. VAUGHN: I don't know. I don't know what it was. I think I just had a
short attention span, and I think everyone learns differently. And, I mean, I
was in all normal classes. It was just that, you know, certain kids who they
felt like needed one class a day to go, but it's not like the class was
effective. There was nothing that was done there. It was just a place to put
these kids, you know. And all the other people that were in the class were
all fine and very capable people, and I think probably it had more to do with
the family home experience or a physical thing in school or, maybe, you know,
a dyslexia that was, you know, better understood now today than it was in
the early '70s. Sort of the thing to do then was sort of throw Ritalin at it,
GROSS: Yeah. Were you ever treated with Ritalin?
Mr. VAUGHN: They said that they wanted to put me on Ritalin. My mom gave it
to me one time, and I reacted badly to it. And then both my parents--my dad
says, you know, `There's no way my son's gonna go through life doped up.
There's just--you know, how can he process or learn anything or mature or grow
if he's not--doesn't have his senses about him, you know? He's not going to
be able to process anything.' So I was lucky that my parents were--you know,
had that sort of vision. A lot of parents went through it, I think, with
their kids, but, you know, when the school's telling you it's the right thing
and it's helping them, you know, it's just hard to say that they did bad. But
my parents--I was fortunate enough--knew that that wasn't the right thing.
DAVIES: Vince Vaughn speaking with Terry Gross in 2001. He's starring with
Owen Wilson in the new movie "Wedding Crashers."
Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the film. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn's new movie "Wedding
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn star in the new comedy "Wedding Crashers." It's
about two single divorce mediators with a unique strategy for meeting women.
Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:
When I saw the poster for "Wedding Crashers," I groaned because lately I've
been thinking that Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are Johnny One-Notes, whose
shtick is getting old. You've got Wilson, the adorably diffident, semi-stoned
surfer dude made a little more vulnerable by a nose that goes in, like, six
different directions, and Vaughn, the really tall, sleazy, jabbering wild man.
We get it already. Plus, one or both seem to show up in a movie every month.
But the preview for "Wedding Crashers" was a hoot. And the director, David
Dobkin, made a half successful black comedy in 1998 called "Clay Pigeons," in
which Vaughn was great as a serial killer whose bland bon ami grew creepier
with each new corpse.
I'm glad I didn't blow the movie off because I'd have missed one of the most
delightful comedies in a long time. No, it's not Preston Sturgis. The center
is mushy, and it's totally formulaic. But the script by Steve Faber and Bob
Fisher is one of those high-speed, ping-pong-banter marvels in which you're
still laughing from the last great line when you're hit by another and
another. And say what you will about Wilson and Vaughn--they have Cracker
Jack timing. Vaughn is like the machine that shoots tennis balls--thunk,
thunk, thunk--while Wilson lulls you with his lazy rhythms, and then when your
guard is down, nails you with the joke.
You get an inkling in this early exchange which sets up the premise. Here are
two guys, John and Jeremy, who work as mediators in divorce cases and have a
suitably jaded view of long-term relationships and marriage. Their seasonal
hobby is showing up at weddings and seducing marriage-minded females. And now
they're mapping out the next few strenuous weeks.
(Soundbite of "Wedding Crashers")
(Soundbite of slap)
Mr. VINCE VAUGHN: It's wedding season, kid!
Mr. OWEN WILSON: You sandbagging son of a...
Mr. VAUGHN: I got us down for 17 of them already.
Mr. WILSON: OK. Now how many of them are cash bars?
Mr. VAUGHN: Great question, love where your head's at, and two of them
actually are. But I got us covered.
(Soundbite of drawer and Velcro)
Mr. VAUGHN: Purple Hearts. We won't have to pay for a drink all night.
Mr. WILSON: Oh, yeah. Perfect.
Mr. VAUGHN: We are going to have tons and tons of opportunities to meet
gorgeous ladies that are so aroused by the thought of marriage that they'll
throw their inhibitions to the wind.
Mr. WILSON: And who's going to be there to catch them?
Mr. VAUGHN: Grab that net and catch that beautiful butterfly, pal!
EDELSTEIN: I wish that excerpt had gone on longer--See, we have to use what
the studio gives us--because it's amazing the way the writers sustain that
pitch. The first act is non-stop conquests. John and Jeremy show up at
weddings where nobody knows them, but they don't keep a low profile. They
dance with the bride and her family, they entertain the kids under the
admiring eyes of their female prey, they make toasts. It climaxes in a
dizzying montage of surrendering women that's intercut with the pair as they
dance to "Shout," `a little bit softer now, a little bit louder now.' It
builds and builds and then explodes.
This is all pretty sexist. But given the moralistic climate of the moment,
it's exhilarating to see a genuinely R-rated comedy with dirty talk and casual
"Wedding Crashers" has incensed some conservative commentators because Senator
John McCain, a one-time critic of filthy Hollywood values, shows up in a
cameo. But the joke's on them because the values are still rather
traditional. After their series of triumphs, Wilson's John sits depleted on
the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with the tall, straight Washington Monument
in the distance practically mocking him, and asks, `Is that all there is?'
These feckless studs will have to get their comeuppance and let true love
pitch a tent in their hearts.
This happens when they crash the so-called Kentucky Derby of weddings, the
daughter of the Treasury Secretary, played by Christopher Walken. Would you
let him handle your money? John is instantly smitten by the bride's sister,
played by Rachel McAdams, and she's too ravishing and unaffected, not to
mention smart, to seduce and abandon. So John breaks all the rules of wedding
crashing and prevails upon Jeremy to go to the family's country house. Jeremy
fights him because he's already made it with a third daughter, played by Isla
Fisher, whom he thinks is a little clingy. He calls her a stage 5 clinger.
In the film's second half, the conflict is between these increasingly helpless
con artists and an extended family of ruthless blue bloods, indefatigable
sailors, quail hunters and bone-crunching touch football players. Director
Dobkin and the writers keep everything in riotous motion at least until the
last 20 minutes when the film turns sappy and conventional. But it's a mark
of a good seducer that you recognize the hustle but go along anyway because
resisting--that would be a drag. "Wedding Crashers" gives you a great shallow
romp without making you feel bad in the morning.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for Slate.
(Soundbite of "Shout")
Unidentified Group: (Singing) I feel all right. Ooh. Now that I got my
woman, I feel all right. Yeah, yeah. Every time I think about you--you've
been so good to me. You know you make me want to shout--send my hands up
and--shout--throw my head back and--shout--kick my heels up and--shout--come
on now. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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.