Director Don Roos Seeks 'Happy Endings'
Don Roos wrote and directed the new film Happy Endings, starring Tom Arnold, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lisa Kudrow and Laura Dern. Roos, who also directed The Opposite of Sex and Bounce, is known for creating dysfunctional characters who bump into one another in unpredictable ways.
Other segments from the episode on July 12, 2005
DATE July 12, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Charles Sennott discusses the recent London bombings,
the US and British responses to terrorism and his experiences
covering the Middle East
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
After covering terrorist attacks in the Middle East and the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq, my guest Charles Sennott has been covering the terrorist
attacks in London. He's London bureau chief and a foreign correspondent for
The Boston Globe, and was formerly The Globe's Jerusalem bureau chief. He's
about to return to Boston with his wife and four children, where he will spend
the next academic year as a Nieman fellow at Harvard University. He intends
to study and write about the contemporary history of religious fundamentalism
in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths and examine the role religion is
playing in shaping the news from Washington to the West Bank.
This morning, Sennott went to a studio in London to talk with us about last
week's terrorist attacks and their aftermath. I asked him to compare how
Americans reacted to September 11th with how the English reacted to July 7th.
Mr. CHARLES SENNOTT (London Bureau Chief, The Boston Globe): I think there
are a lot of differences. I think there are more differences than there are
similarities. But I think the first thing in terms of the differences is that
September 11th was really a qualitatively different event. I mean, this was
many more people killed. This was a direct attack on one of these huge
symbols of America, of capitalism, of the twin towers reaching up into the
sky. The July 7th attacks were smaller in scale, which is important, and also
they were attacks deep down in the tunnels of The Underground, and I think
those two kind of physical aspects of the attack are really important to point
When September 11th happened in New York City, you know, America was
completely shocked. It was left asking this question we heard over and over
again: `Why do they hate us?' In London, on July 7th, this was totally
different. This was a nation filled with dread and some kind of grim
expectation, and I think the operative question here among Londoners was:
`Why did this take so long?'
And it's very interesting that the two mayors of this city even kind of seemed
to represent and embody the differences in these two responses to the attack
and these two different understandings of the attack. You know, in New York,
Mayor Giuliani emerged, the tough prosecutor, greatly admired as someone who
spoke out forcefully, stood on the rubble, bound the city together in its
resolve to fight terrorism. And the mayor here, Ken Livingstone, couldn't be
more different. He's known as "Red Ken," and his response has been this very
subdued response. He's quietly commuting on The Underground to work. He's
saying the city will go on. `We're not going to let a few criminals'--and he
didn't call them terrorists--he said `a few criminals'--`to change our way of
And I think in those two mayors, if you bring it up to the fed--you know, kind
of to the national level, you also had a different response. In America with
September 11th, it was a very military response: swift, firm, to go at the
source of this and to go right into Afghanistan with air strikes and with
Special Forces. Here, the response is much more a police response. It's much
more a kind of sense of perspective that this country survived the Blitz; it's
lived through a generation of a bombing campaign by the IRA in London. The
response is one in which they want to bring criminals to justice.
GROSS: For President Bush, September 11th was a defining moment. The nation
seemed to rally behind him. He developed a military policy to try to deal
with terrorism, and the war has become increasingly unpopular in the United
States. But for Prime Minister Tony Blair, how are the attacks of last week
in London affecting his popularity and affecting, you know, how he's seen?
Mr. SENNOTT: Well, for now what we see is a real strong sense of resilience,
and I think there's a great solidarity right now. We're not hearing anyone
yet criticizing Tony Blair about his bringing the country to a very unpopular
war in Iraq and how that has perhaps created the conditions in which London
has now been targeted. You hear it on talk radio a little bit; it's not a
lot. I think there's a certain amount of kind of British decency here, you
know. I think they're saying that they're going to--first, they're angry; now
they are talking about how they're going to respond, and there's a calm
resolve to it.
And I think eventually, down the road, after the kind of national mourning is
over, after there have been funerals, I think you will hear a lot of talk
about how this bombing is a result of Britain's support for the US-led war in
Iraq. You can almost here the responsible voices holding back on saying that.
But you can hear some kind of renegade members of Parliament, like George
Galloway, who have already begun to say it, who've already said that this is,
you know, a sense of London reaping what it sows, and that has been hugely
controversial here. I do think we're going to hear a lot more about that in
the near future.
And I think that unlike the way in which America has kind of trusted its
leadership and said, you know, `We as a country'--I think there's a general
consensus--I could be wrong about this, but I do think there is a general
consensus that they want to see the US government and its military go after
those who are seen in America as the perpetrators of this event, whether
that's in Afghanistan or Iraq or beyond. Here I think there's a sense that
the war in Iraq has very little to do with the struggle against terrorism, and
that it may, in fact, undercut efforts to fight terrorism and that it may, in
fact, be inflaming the situation, making the world less safe. And I think we
will continue to hear that voice come out of the United Kingdom, and I think
Blair's political pressure that's been imposed upon him will remain there,
even after this attack.
GROSS: You were at the G8 Summit when London was attacked. How did you first
hear about the bombings?
Mr. SENNOTT: Well, in spirit of a beautiful morning of great confidence and
excitement in London, I was driving from Edinburgh towards Gleneagles when two
other colleagues from major newspapers--I won't give their names--decided it
might be a great idea if we stole a few hours to go fishing.
GROSS: Oh, no!
Mr. SENNOTT: And we pulled into a little tiny lake where there was a
beautiful fishing lodge, old stone, and we kind of looked at our watches, and
we said, `You know, we're really early. We're really on this. We'll rent
some rods. Let's do it.'
And just as we were moving on that, you know, we began to hear about the bombs
being, quote, "power surges" and none of us really bought that, especially
with the report of three explosions. And, of course, that moment of a
wonderful sunny morning of great optimism, where we thought we could steal a
few hours before we came back and wrote that lead story about how great the
world leaders are in terms of addressing this issue of poverty and AIDS in
Africa--and, of course, all of it changed, and all of that horribly
depressing, dark stuff that so many of us have been covering all over the
world--whether it's in Jerusalem, New York City, Madrid, London--we were back
on that story, and that was a very depressing moment.
GROSS: Your wife and children were in London while you were at Gleneagles.
Now you've been through these kinds of attacks before. You served as the
Middle East bureau chief, the Jerusalem bureau chief for The Boston Globe.
Did you have a plan, a strategy already in place about what to do when there
was a terrorist attack and you were separated from your family covering a
Mr. SENNOTT: Well, there is, you know, very sadly, this grim familiarity to
this for us as a family. We know it's kind of like you go into auto-drive.
And this would be true of any correspondents who've been based in Jerusalem,
or any families who are Israeli or who are Palestinian, for that matter, who
live in these conflict zones, that when bad things happen, the first thing you
do is you get on the phone and, of course, have to be very patient because all
of the phone lines go down. So you have to keep dialing. I think I had, you
know, at least 50 attempts before I got through to my wife to find out things
were OK, she's OK and we both remarked to each other that, you know, `Here we
are again, checking on each other for another bombing incident in another city
where we're living.' And it feels these days increasingly like the whole
world is Jerusalem, like the whole world is experiencing this sense of dread
of `When is the next bomb?'
GROSS: What are some of the things you think we can learn from how Israel has
dealt with terrorist attacks in terms of--things you think they've done right
and things you think they've done wrong?
Mr. SENNOTT: Well, I think there are things that each country can learn from
the other. I think that what America can learn from Israel--and some of the
lessons are positive; we can learn a lot of good things from them. And d some
of them are very negative. I think that we don't want to mirror some of the
mistakes they've made.
The good things are a resilience. When you cover a bombing in Jerusalem, it
is amazing how quickly the shop owners have swept up the glass, how quickly
the place gets back to normal, how the people will not allow terrorism to
change their daily lives. There is a great determination and resolve to that,
a courage that is admirable.
I think on intelligence terms, the Israelis understand who is who within these
terrorist structures, but I don't think they've asked enough questions about
`Why are they so angry?' I don't think there's enough intense examination of
the actual source of the despair, the disaffection and what can quickly be
transformed into hatred in these pockets of despair, of a sense of double
standards, of different policies in the Middle East between the way the West
deals with Israel or the way it deals with other allies in the Middle East.
And I think that that self-examination of those harder questions is something
that we in America should be doing more of, because it, frankly--you know, I
think there's a perspective among a lot of people within Israel itself that
Israel didn't do enough of that, and its kind of more blunt military response
to terrorism--reoccupying land, going in with tanks, taking it on as a
military operation to defeat terrorism--really is a mistake. It's a misguided
policy among most of the counterterrorism experts who I talk to. They see it
as a failed approach to a problem, that if you greet terrorists with tanks,
then they win inevitably because you've dragged your country into a war which
is a completely inequal conflict, and they're going to win every time that
I think there is something very healthy in the way the British have approached
this as very much a criminal investigation, very much looking at it as
something that needs to be a matter of law and order, people brought to
justice and an investigation in which they will rely on their excellent
security services to figure this out.
GROSS: How would you compare how the US and the UK has dealt with extremists
and has dealt with that balance between surveillance and civil liberties?
Mr. SENNOTT: Both places are struggling with that balance. It is the most
difficult balance for an open democratic society in this new, modern struggle
against terrorism that we're facing. I think both are succeeding and failing
in different ways. I think in the United States, the approach is very much
more prosecutorial. They are looking to investigate these cells to result in
In doing that, they have carried out this policy of extraordinary rendition,
which is extremely controversial over here in Europe. It is viewed as
illegal, unjust, wrong, and they don't want to have any part of it. We saw a
glimpse of this in Milan--Remember?--where the CIA operatives picked up the
suspect off the street, a militant Islamic cleric, and have done this version
of extraordinary rendition, which is a very polite word for a snatch-and-grab
operation. The idea is that they pick them up off the street and then they
export them to a different country, many of those countries using torture to
extract information. That, in Europe, is viewed as way beyond the line, and
America is being greatly criticized for that in Europe. We saw this in Italy,
because they have actually issued arrest warrants for those CIA officers and
the government has claimed that it did not approve this operation. The CIA
has claimed that it did seek approval; it hasn't really gotten back to us on
whether or not it got approval for that operation.
For the British, I think it's a strategy of what's called disruption. The
British approach it very differently. They're trying to keep very close
surveillance through a lot of wiretaps on phones, using a lot of informants,
and it's a strategy they used with the IRA, and that is to say very close to
the pulse and then go in and disrupt the cell before it can carry out a
bombing. The problem with that approach is you don't end up in prosecution.
The British have had 700 people arrested under counterterrorism laws since
September 11th and only 17 convictions. So what they're doing is basically
rounding people up who they think might be about to act, or might be involved
with a group that is about to act, as a way to say, `We're here and we know
what you're doing,' and to disrupt the bombing. And that has also been
sharply criticized by civil rights organizations here.
GROSS: My guest is Charles Sennott, London bureau chief of The Boston Globe.
We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: We're talking about the terrorist attacks in London with Charles
Sennott, The Boston Globe's London bureau chief and former Jerusalem bureau
London is considered to have become something of a center for Islamic
extremists. What's behind that? How did London become a center?
Mr. SENNOTT: Well, London has always been one of the great crossroads of the
world, and that would be true for Muslims of the world. I mean, there are so
many people from Pakistan here and from Iraq and from Afghanistan. It has
very lax asylum laws. It welcomes those who are seeking refuge from political
persecution in their home countries. That's one reason it's brought these
Another reason is a kind of--it's a grappling hook for immigrants. And so,
you know, when you have communities who are Iraqi or Moroccan or Afghani or
Pakistani, they begin to coalesce around neighborhoods and mosques. And they
are very much an immigrant community that is a very lively, vibrant part of
London, one of the great parts of London, you know, that you have this
sprawling Muslim community that's full of wonderful, hardworking, decent
But in some very dark corners of that community, there are mosques where
Islamic militant sheiks, like this legendary one, Abu Hamza--this is the guy
with the one eye and the hook for a hand, who became a symbol of this idea
that there really is a hotbed of Islamic militancy in London. He took over a
mosque called the Finsbury Park Mosque. The Finsbury Park Mosque was
literally and physically taken over from that vast majority of moderate
Muslims who don't want anything to do with these guys. Through fear and
intimidation, they bullied their way into the mosque and for several years, he
preached openly about a call for jihad.
GROSS: Well, the cleric from the Finsbury mosque is in prison now and the
mosque is now a moderate mosque again. Have you been to any of the more
militant mosques in London?
Mr. SENNOTT: I have. I've spent a fair amount of time at Finsbury Park. And
watching that process that you pointed out, of seeing the moderates reclaim
their mosque, is something really encouraging. It really speaks to where the
"war on terror," as it--I would put that in quotes--needs to go, which is to
enlist the vast majority of Muslims who want absolutely nothing to do with
this tarnishing of their faith. They are, in fact, so angry about it that
we're seeing, finally--and a bit late, to be honest--them stirring and
reacting to this and really coalescing, coming together, to speak out, to
reclaim their faith, as they see it, to take it back from those who want to
carry out violence, the killing of innocent people, in the name of Islam. And
that is where I think the true battle of terrorism needs to go, and I think
that's where you really begin to see change.
So as much as Finsbury Park is this depressing symbol of the hotbed of Islamic
militancy that London has become in many ways, it's also a great example of
what can happen when the majority of Muslims reclaim their faith.
GROSS: Well, how was the mosque reclaimed, so to speak?
Mr. SENNOTT: It's an interesting story because it happens on two levels. One
is the police raid it and, interestingly, that police raid was very unpopular
among the entire Muslim population. They felt that it was going too far, that
it was a Rambo-like move. And in a way, it was the police raid to arrest
Hamza, Abu Hamza, that sort of sparked the confidence in the moderates to come
in and take it over, to say, `Hey, it's not the police operation we want here.
We want people power. We want people to come in and reclaim this mosque.'
And I've talked to some of the people who were involved in that process, and
this was, quite literally, a physical confrontation. They had to go in, and
those who had surrounded Abu Hamza, who were very much Islamic militants, who
openly speak of the attacks of September 11th as, quote, "self-defense," who
have called many of the bombers who carried it out heroes--these are people
who have a deep hatred for the West. And they physically went after them.
They pushed them out of the building; they reclaimed it physically. And it
was a pretty heroic act that kind of went by quite quietly on the streets of
GROSS: You've also been to mosques in the Middle East, haven't you, radical
Mr. SENNOTT: I have. I mean, I've met with Sheikh Yassin of Hamas. I've met
with Nasrallah of Hezbollah. And I think all of us who've covered the Middle
East find ourselves in these places through our years of reporting on this
unfolding story of Islamic militancy and where it's coming from. We've all
had a chance to talk with them, to hear their grievances. And I've also had a
chance to put it directly to them about the killing of innocent people and how
could that possibly be justified in the name of Islam. And, you know, you
never get a very good answer, frankly, because it isn't justified within the
tenets of that faith. But what they will completely turn to, almost every
time, is that the innocent killing of Palestinians is happening every day in
Israel, the innocent killing of Iraqis is happening every day at the hands of
US troops. So it's very much a sense not of the essence of Islam, but more
the very blunt, ancient, rigid message of the Hebrew Bible, of the Old
Testament, of an eye for an eye.
GROSS: Charles Sennott is The Boston Globe's London bureau chief and former
Jerusalem bureau chief. He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: The filmmaker who wrote and directed "The Opposite of Sex" has a new
comedy that's also about sex, intimacy and wild dysfunction. Coming up, we
talk with Don Roos about his new movie, "Happy Endings."
Also, Charles Sennott talks about preparing to come home to Boston after
covering the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq and London.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Charles Sennott, The
Boston Globe's London bureau chief and former Jerusalem bureau chief. He also
covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for The Globe.
You're packed and will soon be leaving your home in London to come back to
Boston, where you're going to take some time off from reporting for the
newspaper to be a Neiman Fellow. This is a journalism fellowship, and while
you have this fellowship, you're going to be researching how fundamentalisms,
Islamic, Christian and Jewish, have been affecting world politics and life in
the world. Why have you chosen that subject and why are you looking at all
Mr. SENNOTT: Well, I'm just so drawn to this subject because it is shaping
every news event I cover. I think that this turn towards fundamentalism in
this part of our time line in history, you know, the end of the last century
and the beginning of this century, is very much one of the great events that
is happening in the world. And I think we as journalists, we report on it all
the time, but I don't think we understand it. I don't think we hear the music
of religion enough. I don't think we know the texts well enough. I want to
become familiar with all of the texts, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, so
that I can speak on some surer footing with people who are headed towards this
militancy because I think we in the media fail almost every time in
understanding deeply these faith communities, what they mean and how there are
these very wayward elements, fringe elements that are going in such wrong
directions and how we need to be much smarter about challenging them, asking
them the hard questions. And I think the only way I'll be able to do that is
to back up, to study, to deepen my knowledge of those faiths and then come
back at it as a reporter.
GROSS: You will soon be coming back to Boston. What are the things you're
looking forward to or not looking forward to about coming back to the States?
Mr. SENNOTT: Well, like any Bostonian, I am returning to the true holy land
which is Fenway Park, right? Fenway Park is the thing I have longed for the
most, also fishing off Waysqueek Point(ph) and just the feeling of being home.
I really feel strongly and warmly about getting home to family and friends and
colleagues and reconnecting with America. I have to be honest that I also
have a sense of dread about how much America has changed, and I keep hearing
that from friends back home, that I'm not going to be prepared for the ways in
which the country has changed.
GROSS: Just one more thing. Although you haven't lived in America for about
nine years, you certainly know media coverage in America very well. You know
the television and newspaper reporting, although things have changed a bit in
those nine years. But how would you compare the media coverage of the
terrorist attacks in London last week with what you've come to expect of
American media coverage of attacks?
Mr. SENNOTT: I think the British coverage has been very cautious, that it's
been very unwilling to go into the realm of speculation, and it's an
interesting caution for a newspaper industry that has very little caution on
other issues. And I've been impressed with the sense of going slow, being
right, and I see the American coverage of the attacks on London as maybe a
little bit over the top in the way that we're approaching it and the way we're
quoting Rudy Giuliani, who came here to visit, about, `This is, you know, a
country that survived the Blitz. This is, you know'--this sense of comparing
it to World War II I see more in the American press than I do in the British
And I think we've been criticized. In fact, today, in the Guardian, The
Boston Globe, The New York Times, the LA Times were criticized for talking
about this hotbed of Islamic militancy and not giving a fair enough context of
the greater Muslim community here. And I think that's a fair criticism. I
think too often the larger context of the Muslim communities gets trimmed out
or we don't have the space or there's no kind of conspiracy behind it. It's
sort of the machinery of our industry that we don't provide enough context,
but I think it was a fair criticism. The Guardian really stung us a bit
today, and I think we should listen to that and we should reflect on it and we
should try to do better to be sure we capture not just that little Islamic
militant mosque but an understanding of the larger Muslim community and the
grievances that it feels about US policy in the Middle East without painting
them all as potential militants. Many of them are just hardworking successful
people who are thinking about things in the world and want to voice their
criticism of US policy.
GROSS: Well, I wish you a good move back to Boston. Charles Sennott, it's
been a pleasure to talk with you again. Always is. And thank you very much.
Mr. SENNOTT: Thank you.
GROSS: Charles Sennott spoke to us from a studio in London. Our interview
was recorded this morning. He's The Boston Globe's London bureau chief and
former Jerusalem bureau chief.
Coming up, the writer and director of the movie "The Opposite of Sex" talks
about his new film, "Happy Endings." This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Don Roos discusses writing and directing his newest
movie, "Happy Endings," and other films and screenplays
TERRY GROSS, host:
Two stepsiblings who make a colossal mistake and sleep together, a gay man who
suspects he may be the sperm donor of his lesbian friend's baby, a young woman
who seduces a young gay man and his straight father--these are some of the
unusual plot twists in the new comedy "Happy Endings." It was written and
directed by my guest Don Roos, who also wrote and directed the films "The
Opposite of Sex" and "Bounce." "Happy Endings" opens this weekend. It stars
Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern, Steve Coogan, Jesse Bradford and
Let's start with a scene from it. Kudrow plays a woman with a secret. When
she was a teen-ager, she got pregnant and intended to have an abortion, but
she had the baby and put it up for adoption. She has no idea what became of
her child. In this scene, she meets a mysterious young man named Nicky,
played by Jesse Bradford. He's tracked her down to tell her that he knows her
secret. He even has her son's adoption files. Nicky is a would-be
documentary filmmaker with a proposal involving her son.
(Soundbite of "Happy Endings")
Mr. JESSE BRADFORD: (As Nicky) Do you want to find him? Because I can tell
you how, on one condition, which is you let me film the whole thing, you
finding your kid. See, I need to get the AFI. You know, do you know AFI?
AFI is the American Film Institute. So they have scholarships--well, they
have, like, one scholarship a year. So I need a killer film, a documentary,
like you finding your kid.
Ms. LISA KUDROW: (As Mamie) I don't believe this.
Mr. BRADFORD: (As Nicky) Yeah. OK, yeah, we'll have to fake parts of it.
Sure, we would. But the emotion would be true, your guilt and stuff. That
would be our selling point. I'm so glad that you're not a dog. I mean, you
know, even if the story is great, people want to look at good-looking people,
you know, all things being equal. So huge relief when I saw you, you know.
And I can make you look better. That's lighting.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Mamie) I don't need to see my son. I was going to have an
abortion, in fact, until someone talked me out of it.
Mr. BRADFORD: (As Nicky) If you don't care about him, then why'd you keep
updating the adoption agency with your addresses? There four of them in the
Ms. KUDROW: (As Mamie) He has the information. He can contact me if he wants
Mr. BRADFORD: (As Nicky) He won't. He threw it away, the whole file. That's
how I got it. If it wasn't for me, you'd go to your grave without ever seeing
him. You can keep that. I have the original if I need it to reshoot finding
it for the movie. There's other stuff, too. There's other stuff like this
that I can--anyway, just say yes. I mean, it's win-win here.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Mamie) This is a human being you're talking about.
Mr. BRADFORD: Yeah, who you gave away, OK? I mean, come on, don't be like
that. Look, I know that this is one of those big ideas, but it's really just
better if you just say yes to the movie because otherwise I have to charge you
25K just for the info; that's what they want at AFI for a year.
Ms. KUDROW: (As Mamie) OK, you tell me where my son is or I'm going to the
police. In fact, no, I'm going to go to the police anyway, you miserable
jackass, and I'm going to press every charge they come up with. How's that
for a big idea?
GROSS: Don Roos, welcome back to FRESH AIR.
Mr. DON ROOS (Writer/Director, "Happy Endings"): Thank you.
GROSS: Several sexual taboos are broken in your movie, not graphically, but I
mean the characters break them. And in the movie there are consequences for
these violations, but they're not the predictable ones and there's nobody kind
of preaching the morality behind these taboos. So you're not being led in the
predictable directions, although again there are consequences. And I'm
wondering why you wanted to go into the consequences of breaking certain
Mr. ROOS: I guess it's a lot about me being gay, which was, you know, when I
was growing up--I was born in 1955, so coming of age in the '60s, in the early
part of the '60s, there was nothing more taboo than being gay, and there
wasn't anybody in your--of course, there's nobody in your family who's gay; at
least, there weren't gay families or gay parents back then that I was aware
of. And you're very alone, and yet it feels right for you, and yet society is
against it. So I think my initial attraction to taboos is that, that--why are
they there? Why are we so afraid? What are the mechanisms that society uses
to punish people for breaking taboos? And they never really feel like taboos
to the people who are breaking them.
GROSS: Now abortion, adoption, lesbian parents using sperm donors are all
issues in your movie. You recently became a father.
Mr. ROOS: Yeah, you know, and my politics changed a lot, in a way, when I
became a father because I depend upon young women and young men choosing not
to abort. So I was--all my life I've been a right-to-choose kind of guy, but
secretly hoping that girls in this country would--that there were girls who
thought it was wrong. I depended, to build my family, on girls thinking that
abortion was not for them. It was weird.
GROSS: So you adopted?
Mr. ROOS: We adopted, yeah. We adopted. And we were hoping to find a girl
who thought abortion was wrong and yet gay parents were a fabulous idea. So
it's a very narrow group, you know.
GROSS: (Laughs) What are the circumstances between the mother of your child?
Mr. ROOS: Well, I can't go into a lot of it because it's almost not even my
story to tell; it's our daughter's story to tell, and she should know things
first. But we--how it works nowadays for adoption, or at least how it works
in Los Angeles, is you contact a lawyer and say that you would like to adopt,
and he has an outreach program where girls in trouble contact him and they
kind of--those girls are asked, `Are you opposed to a same-sex couple? And if
you aren't, I have some names for you.'
So she called us. She called about four couples, interviewed us. We sent her
a letter with photos of ourselves, and she chose us. So it's a wonderful way,
I think, for the birth mom--I can't speak; I'm not a birth mom--but it sounds
like a wonderful way for her to have kind of a control of--and kind of a
parenting decision; the most important parenting decision she gets to make
herself, and she has a little bit more power.
GROSS: Now "Happy Endings" has been playing at some gay and lesbian film
festivals before it opens nationally on Friday. And you recently said, `Gay
cinema has grown up; our movies have become just as tedious as theirs.' What
were you thinking of?
Mr. ROOS: Well, I mean, we now have the ability to make tedious sex comedies
and exploitation films, just like the straight society has been able to do for
years. In fact, the industry is founded on appealing to our basest instincts.
So I think we're there now, thankfully. It's just harder to treat a
responsible gay topic 'cause I think it's more threatening. If you were
looking at gay characters who are dying of AIDS, that's fine. If you're
looking at gay characters wearing a dress, that's fine, or who are very camp
and decorating, or are the gay best friend, you know, the E. Barton(ph) part
that gays play in movies all the time where they are the best friend of Sandra
Bullock and they join with her in saying men are pigs. That's easy to do.
But to do a movie about gay parents or to take the love life of a gay man
seriously, like I did in "The Opposite of Sex," makes people very
uncomfortable, just like gay marriage makes people uncomfortable. What is so
threatening about that? I don't know.
GROSS: You recently said, `It's a terrible climate right now, but personally
I've never felt as a gay man freer than I am right now. It's a weird
dichotomy.' Would you talk about that dichotomy?
Mr. ROOS: If you read the papers, yeah, you're scared, especially after this
last election where everybody that I know who was gay, you know, took to their
beds for a day or two 'cause it was so personal; it felt personal, those
anti-gay-marriage laws in states, you know, being supported by the majority of
people. Certainly we're not the first group in America who has been reviled
and hated and feared, but we really felt it. There was no way to deny that
they don't like us.
On the other hand, I live in California, and I'm very proud to be a
Californian. And we have very, very good laws here. For example, when our
adoption is, you know, finally final, you know, when it goes to the judge,
both of our names, two male names, will be on the amended birth certificate.
That's unusual. Both of us adopt as parents this child. So that's a freedom.
And I'm also free to make my films; I'm just not free to make them with a $20
million budget; it has to be 5, and we all get paid scale. But I'm free to
make them, and I think that's a consequence of a lot of work by activists
before me. So when I talk about, you know, being gay in America today, I have
to not just respond to what I read in the papers, but actually look at my life
and realize that I've never been freer.
GROSS: Since you've written gay characters for movies and television, what
effect do you think gay characters in movies and on TV have on people who
don't really know gay people or at least don't realize they know gay people?
Mr. ROOS: Well, I'll give you a very good example. When we were first
speaking to our birth mom and I asked her--I said on the telephone, our very
first conversation, I said, `Let me just ask you why you are interested in
your child being raised by a same-sex couple.' And she said, `Well, do you
ever watch "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"?' And I said, `Yes.' And she
goes, `Well, my mom and I watch that show, and we think those guys are so fun
and they deserve to have kids. They're just--I think they'd be great parents,
all those guys on there. They're so funny and'--so there's an example of
these characters, even those that some of us in the arts disapprove of, who
can really make a difference by just opening up somebody's mind in the middle
of the country who may not have ever seen a gay character before in a positive
way or at least a non-threatening way.
GROSS: Who do you disapprove of?
Mr. ROOS: Gay characters who--you know, some of them are stereotypical. For
example, I think the one I love the most, Carson, is the typical flamboyant
gay character that would have been just as appropriate in 1930 and 1940 and
1950 as he is today. And a lot of people who are, you know, activists
disapprove of "Will & Grace," for example, because they think it confirms
stereotypes. I always find those stereotypes to be alive and well in the gay
culture, and they exist, and I approve of them. So--but that's the kind of
character that I think is easily digestible by the audience, and even those
characters make a big difference.
GROSS: You wrote Lisa Kudrow's part for her.
Mr. ROOS: Yeah, that's right.
GROSS: What are some of the qualities of Lisa Kudrow that you built this part
around, that you wanted to work with as a director?
Mr. ROOS: When I say this about Lisa, she's always a little put off by it.
But there was so much pain behind her eyes as an actress that I trust her. I
trust her to get the pain of these ridiculous characters. I mean, Lucia was
an uptight spinster, really, but if you played it like that, it wouldn't have
been funny and it wouldn't have worked or it wouldn't have, you know, felt
real to the audience. There's a pain in every character that she plays. And
there's also the mask for the pain that she also plays. And you can see both
with her. You see what's inside her, and you also see her covering it. And
It goes without saying that she's an incredibly gifted comic actress. I would
think to myself as I was watching "Friends"--you know, I often do when I'm
watching a movie--is imagine the words the characters are saying typed out on
a script page. And many of her biggest laughs were not on funny lines, but
there was just something inside her comedically that came out. So she has
that going for her. She has comedy; she has incredible pathos and pain. Her
body is very expressive. The way she moves is very distinctive.
And she is a lot of fun and smart. In fact, during "The Opposite of Sex," she
frightened me 'cause I thought she was the smartest person on the set, so
I--and I was a first-time director, so I tried to not get shown up by her.
GROSS: Your partner, Dan Bucatinsky, is an executive producer on her show, so
I guess you both have a chance to work with her.
Mr. ROOS: Our house is Lisa Kudrow, 24-7. He...
Mr. ROOS: She's the third gay man in our house. She--we all met, of course,
in "The Opposite of Sex," and for the next five or seven years, every Friday
night Dan and I would go to her dressing room when they taped "Friends," and
we would be in her dressing room watching on a television. They feed the show
up to the dressing rooms of the actors. And we would eat the free food and
watch the show. And for us it was this incredible opportunity to be around a
television classic. It would be like watching "I Love Lucy" in 1957. We
wanted to be there, and we had a ball with Lisa. And one night they got to
talking and they decided to form a television company together, which has
been very successful.
Mr. ROOS: So we compete for her now. We compete who she likes more, who has
more face time with her, whose calls she takes first. It's sick.
GROSS: My guest is Don Roos. He wrote and directed the new film "Happy
Endings," which opens this weekend. We'll talk more after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Don Roos. He wrote and
directed the new movie "Happy Endings." He also wrote and directed "The
Opposite of Sex."
The movie that you made in between your two independent films was "Bounce,"
and that starred Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow. You directed it. Was
directing a movie with Paltrow- and Affleck-level stars and a big budget
different in any major ways than directing "The Opposite of Sex" and "Happy
Mr. ROOS: It did change a lot. I think the biggest change was that was a
script I directed that I did not write for myself to direct.
Mr. ROOS: I wrote it to prove that I could write straight people after I
wrote "The Opposite of Sex." When I wrote "The Opposite of Sex," I thought,
`Oh, my God, you could not be gayer. You've got to write straight people
instantly, emergently.' So I did, and when they couldn't find anybody to
direct it, which might have told me something--when they couldn't find anybody
to direct it and "The Opposite of Sex" came out, they said, `Oh, why don't
you?' And that, I think, was the biggest difference. It wasn't a world I had
planned on bringing to life.
It also is true that the more money you spend on a film, the more you have
lost your voice. You have got to take care of those stockholders. They own
you if they pay for you. And when they pay $40 million for you, they can
demand changes. They can take out objectionable things which interest you
and maybe interest very much a small portion of the audience, but offend a
larger portion of the audience. And I guess what I realized is I can't do
what I want to do without offending people, that it's--you know, if I'm not
offending people, I'm doing something wrong.
GROSS: You've not only written your own movies, like "The Opposite of Sex"
and the new one, "Happy Endings." You've been a script doctor for other
people's films, like I think...
Mr. ROOS: Yeah.
GROSS: ...you worked on "Legally Blonde 2." What else did you serve as
script doctor for?
Mr. ROOS: Well, I never say. I can't confirm that. I never say what
projects I work on, ever.
GROSS: Oh, I see. I see. OK.
Mr. ROOS: You can, but I don't confirm it, because it's--to me, I was
rewritten as a young screenwriter by other people who were kind enough not to
seek credit, and I was always very grateful to them, because credit means a
great deal. So I do all my work anonymously.
They call me in, usually when a film is pretty close to shooting, and there
are huge problems that they have neglected to take care of, like character
development or a third act or dialogue that sounds reasonable. These things
slip by, 'cause making a movie is so much about getting the talents together
into the film and not really much about the story, the script. So they pay me
a weekly rate to, you know, give them a third act or give them dialogue that
sounds like people speak. And it's a wonderful way to--it's a little
parasitical, but it's a wonderful way to practice writing without your ego.
One of the things that's hard about writing is you're always--you're writing
and you're judging, you know, `Do I have something important to say? Am I
being deep? If they hate it, they hate me.' When you're solving problems as
a writer, it's a great freedom. It's really a wonderful way to be a
craftsman. So I do enjoy it.
GROSS: Because sexual relationships--not graphic sex, but sexual
relationships--are at the center of "The Opposite of Sex" and your new movie,
"Happy Endings," I'm wondering, if this isn't too personal, if the urgency and
the importance of sex and sex as being so kind of central to who we are or who
you are--has changed as you've gotten older, and now you're in your 50s and
now you've recently adopted a daughter so, you know, you're a father for the
first time. Has your whole sense of, like, where sex fits into life shifted a
Mr. ROOS: I'd have to say no. I'd have to say not that I'm aware of. You
know, I think a lot of it is growing up gay, where something that you desire
to do makes you an outcast and really damns you to hell for eternity. That
gets your attention. You suddenly think, `Wow, sex is really important.' I
remember thinking as a child, `I wish there was no such thing as sex. I wish
people just were their daytime selves and nothing happened at night ever,'
because it was so troubling. So that happened, and then of course, being a
young man in the '80s, when sex killed your friends, that is very important.
And it's the same kind of thing today. I mean, my family that I've been able
to form, this child that we brought into our life is a direct result of
somebody's sexual activity, somebody's sexual impulses or urges that they may
not have even been aware of. For better or worse, I think it's a major, major
preoccupation with myself, and I don't think it's changed much.
GROSS: You know, as serious as you are about sexuality as being at the center
of life, you make comedies about sex, so obviously you also see an absurd or
ridiculous aspect to how we behave as sexual beings.
Mr. ROOS: Oh, yeah. I don't think there's anything more ridiculous than sex.
I've always felt that. When I first found out what it was, I thought, `You
can't be serious,' that you can actually...
Mr. ROOS: You know, that's not--that's a joke. Yeah, I think it's very
ridiculous, and particularly our inability to see sex as just a natural human
desire, and instead we put all of these things on it and we make people
special when they're just affairs or we, you know, assume that it's
life-changing when it's just the next one, or we assume it's just the next one
when it's the way a child is brought into the world. We're very mixed up
about it and it's very hard for us to look at sex. It's a part of our nature
that's incredibly important but mysterious, very mysterious, and so we act
very comically about it, very comically.
GROSS: Well, Don Roos, thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. ROOS: You're welcome. I enjoy your show, so it's an honor to be on it.
GROSS: Don Roos wrote and directed the new film "Happy Endings." It opens
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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