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A Birthday for the King of the Blues

Blues singer and guitarist B.B. King celebrated his 80th birthday on Sept. 16, 2005, and also released the new album 80, featuring blues duets with musicians including Elton John and Eric Clapton. This interview originally aired on Oct. 22, 1996.

38:06

Other segments from the episode on September 23, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 23, 2005: interview with B.B. King; Review of the film film “The History of Violence;" Review of the television show "Extras."

Transcript

DATE September 23, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: New season of shows
DAVE DAVIES, host:

Ricky Gervais, star and co-creator of the original British version of "The
Office," returns with a new series this weekend on HBO. TV critic David
Bianculli says it's almost unfair to expect any follow-up to "The Office" to
be as brilliantly funny. But, in this case, lightning does strike twice.

DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:

In "The Office," Ricky Gervais played a middle management boss at a company
selling paper products from a backwater town in England. His character, David
Brent, was astoundingly clueless, mistaking ridicule for affection, making one
career-destroying mistake after another, and having absolutely no concept
about his own lack of intelligence or social graces. That character, like the
show, was a total delight. Not like the Americanized version now showing on
NBC, which, by contrast, is tone-deaf.

So what do Gervais and his writing and directing partner Stephen Merchant do
for an encore? It turns out they do a new comedy series co-produced by the
BBC and HBO about one of HBO's favorite subjects: show business. The new
series is called "Extras," and Gervais stars as Andy Millman, who's been
appearing in films for over five years, but only barely. He's what they call
in the movie business `a background artist.' He stands around in costume, or
follows behind the stars as they get to act, but never gets to say a word
himself.

What Andy wants more than anything is to score a single line of dialogue.
That concept is by no means a recipe for success, especially on HBO, where
comedies about show biz have been hit and miss affairs. Larry David's "Curb
Your Enthusiasm" is a hit. So is "Entourage." But Lisa Kudrow's "Comeback"
was a huge miss. And HBO recently, and rightly, announced it wasn't coming
back for a second season.

One element that makes "Extras" so good is that Stephen Merchant has stepped
out from behind the camera to co-star with Gervais. He plays Andy's agent, a
guy so hopelessly inept that he can't even figure out how to answer his own
cell phone before it stops ringing. Andy himself is smarter than David Brent
from "The Office" was and more self-aware, but even less successful. And
Andy's agent is a big reason why.

Their scenes together, as when Andy gets summoned to his agent's office, are
full of awkward silences and Andy's quiet frustration. And they're great.

(Soundbite of "Extras")

Mr. STEPHEN MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) Nothing's come in, according to that.

Mr. RICKY GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Nothing's come in?

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) No.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) OK, good. Wow, that was well worth it. I
mean, apart from sitting there and waiting for the phone to ring, what have
you done? Have you called anyone? Have you sent the script out?

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) What script? Sorry.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Oh, man, the script I gave you two months ago.

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) Script, that sounds good.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) The sitcom.

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) Yeah? Funny?

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) You haven't read it?

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) What's it called, 'cause I can
(unintelligible) to that?

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) "When the Whistle Blows."

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) I'll just write that. "When the W Blows."

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Don't put W, you'll forget what the W stands
for. Write it all out.

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) No, "When the Wind Blows."

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Whistle!

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) I'll put that in. `W equals wind.'

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Whistle!

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) Whistle. It's there. It's in.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) That's safe, then, is it? That's done. I
can forget about that. That's on it's way, yeah. I got my best man on it.

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Safe hands, safe hands.

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) Do you want to put another
(unintelligible).

Mr. MERCHANT: (As Andy's Agent) May as well. And then when nothing comes in,
just phone you up and cancel it.

Mr. GERVAIS: (As Andy Millman) That's a plan.

BIANCULLI: Andy also has a best friend at work, Maggie, played by Ashley
Jensen. She's a little man hungry, and not quite as quick as Andy, but she's
very nice and very amusing in her own right.

And then there's the secret weapon of "Extras," which is the idea that each
week's show takes place on a different film set, allowing for guest stars to
show up, playing often twisted versions of themselves. In the premier
episode, Andy and Maggie get work on a film about World War II. He's dressed
as a Nazi, and she's dressed as a Jewish refugee being hidden by nuns. One of
those nuns is played by Kate Winslet, who spends her time between scenes
chatting with the extras, advising Maggie on how to please a new boyfriend by
talking dirty to him on the phone, and explaining why she took the role of the
noble nun in the first place. And since this is Kate Winslet and she's
dressed in a nun's habit as she says these things, they're even more
unexpected.

(Soundbite of "Extras")

Ms. KATE WINSLET: (As herself) Oh, hi ya. How did it go with your dirty
phone call?

Ms. ASHLEY JENSEN: (As Maggie) Oh, haven't done it yet. I'm working up to
it.

Ms. WINSLET: (As herself) Well, here is another one that's always good. Just
deal with the preliminary stuff, and then you go, `Hang on. Why is this slut
from next door just coming into my bedroom and is taking her bra off?' And
then you just pretend you're getting on with that.

Ms. JENSEN: (As Maggie) I couldn't do that.

Ms. WINSLET: (As herself) Of course, you could. You're an actress.

Ms. JENSEN: (As Maggie) No, I'm not. I'm just an extra. You're the actress.

Ms. WINSLET: (As herself) Brilliant actress, by the way.

Unidentified Man: Yes, I'm an actor as well. ...(Unintelligible) in this
film, I'd love to be part of this, so I'd just like to say I think, you know,
you doing this is so commendable, you know, using your profile to keep the
message alive about the Holocaust.

Ms. WINSLET: (As herself) Thank God I'm not doing it for that. I mean, we
don't really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It's, like, how
many have there been? You know, we get it. It was grim. Move on. No, I'm
doing it because I've noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust,
guaranteed an Oscar. I've been nominated four times, never won. And the
whole world is going, `Why hasn't Winslet won one?'

Unidentified Man: Yeah, yeah.

Ms. WINSLET: (As herself) That's it. That's why I'm doing it.

BIANCULLI: When Ben Stiller shows up in a subsequent episode, he's even more
willing to poke fun at himself, and he's just as uncomfortably hilarious to
watch. "Extras," right from the start, is another classic comedy from
Gervais. For him to do it twice in a row is an absolute rarity, just as
amazing as when Larry David went from co-creating "Seinfeld" to creating and
starring in "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Both shows are little TV miracles, and
beginning this weekend, they're paired together on HBO.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News.

Coming up, David Edelstein on the new film "The History of Violence." This is
FRESH AIR.

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Review: David Cronenberg's film "A History of Violence"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

Director David Cronenberg began his career making films with horrific and
invasive images, but in the last few years has moved into the realm of
psychological torment. His new movie, "A History of Violence," is based on a
graphic novel. And film critic David Edelstein says the brutality this time
is both physical and emotional.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

Violence is the dominant cuisine of world cinema, so any movie that pretends
to critique it while serving up a scrumpdillyicious platter of blood and
shattered bone is bound to get some critics shouting `masterpiece.' That's
what you hear about David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence." And before I
go on, let me say that it is a sensational piece of filmmaking. It's staged
and shot and acted and scored like nothing else this year. And it has images
that will bury themselves in your brain rather like an ice pick. I have
nothing bad to say about it except that it shouldn't for a second be taken too
seriously.

"A History of Violence" opens with a long, flat take. The camera travels
along the exterior of a cheap motel, in front of which two low-life homicidal
scum bags make small talk before killing an entire family, including a little
girl. This happens, thankfully, off screen, although nothing that follows
does. When the child is shot, there's a cut from the gun blast to another
little girl as she wakes from a nightmare, screaming. Her daddy, Tom Stall,
played by Viggo Mortensen, tells her it's OK, there are no monsters, when, of
course, we know there are.

The setting is a small town in the Midwest, and Tom and his pretty
ex-cheerleader, now lawyer wife Edie played by Maria Bello have a
picture-perfect homestead. Tom is picture-perfect, too, with his sky-blue
eyes and rangy diffidence. He owns a luncheonette on Main Street and pours
coffee while chatting about the weather, and would seem an image of Norman
Rockwell purity if not for those killers from the opening passing through
town, in need of fast cash and--well, I don't want to spell out what happens
here or anywhere else, because the film revolves around a big secret. Either
Tom is not what he appears to be, or a bad case of mistaken identity is going
to force him to become something other than a man of peace.

By and by, three more bad men, dark-suited gangsters, saunter into that
luncheonette. Their leader, played by Ed Harris, has a modeled, milky, dead
eye which nonetheless fastens on Tom.

(Soundbite of "A History of Violence.")

Mr. VIGGO MORTENSEN: (As Tom Stall) Well, welcome to Stall's. Would you
gentlemen like some coffee?

Mr. ED HARRIS: (As Carl Fogaty) You're the hero.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Tom Stall) Oh, I don't know, sir. It's just...

Mr. HARRIS: (As Carl Fogaty) You're the big hero. You sure took care of
those two bad men.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Tom Stall) I really don't like talking about it, sir.
We're trying to get back to normal here. Can I offer you gentlemen some
coffee?

Mr. HARRIS: (As Carl Fogaty) Sure, give me some coffee. Make it black.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Tom Stall) Yes, sir.

Mr. HARRIS: (As Carl Fogaty) Joey.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Tom Stall) And your friends?

Mr. HARRIS: (As Carl Fogaty) They don't drink coffee. It doesn't agree with
them, Joey.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Tom Stall) Whose Joey?

Mr. HARRIS: (As Carl Fogaty) You are.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Tom Stall) My name's Tom, sir.

Mr. HARRIS: (As Carl Fogaty) Of course it is.

EDELSTEIN: That's a fascinating exchange, pitting Mortensen's tense easiness
against Ed Harris' easy tension. Whether he's Joey or not, the heroic act of
violence that put Tom in the public eye is going to beget more and more
violence. And Cronenberg gives that violence a kinetic charge as well as the
tightness and compression of a frame in a great action comic, or its high-brow
cousin, the graphic novel, like the one that this movie is based on.

Those sudden bloody discharges are thrilling, even orgasmic. But they also
leave you sickened because Cronenberg cuts briefly in an extra frame, like the
comic books, to men with heads shattered and faces beaten literally to bloody
pulps. But here's the thing. Those extra frames don't sicken us morally.
Even though "A History of Violence" is suffused with loss, it's in every bar
of Howard Shore's gorgeous, elegiac score. The right people are always on the
right end of the right kind of violence.

"A History of Violence" does have dissonances. When a police chief warns the
gangsters that the town, quote, "protects its own," he's both reassuring and
unnerving. It might protect them from people like us, too. Two remarkable
sex scenes add wrinkles. The first is a piece of nostalgic play acting for
which Edie dons her cheerleader outfit and Tom services her lovingly. The
second is its opposite, a virtual rape that is explosively unresolved.

Maria Bello gives the film an emotional core, and Mortensen's transitions are
so subtle that you almost buy his incredible character. Ed Harris, and later
William Hurt, give bravura performances, laugh-out-loud hammy, but with
shockingly vicious undercurrents.

That's how I think of this movie, too, hammy and shockingly vicious. But what
strikes some critics as complexity feels to me like shame, the shame of David
Cronenberg, an uncompromising director whose bloodshed has always been morally
disturbing, doing simple-minded pulp violence and, like his protagonist, doing
it just a little too triumphantly.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for Slate.

(Credits)

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.

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