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Doug Glanville: From The Ivy League To Center Field
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Our guest, Doug Glanville, is a former Major League Baseball player but
hardly a typical pro athlete. Before getting into the game, he got an
engineering degree from an Ivy League school, and he now writes columns
about the world of sports for the New York Times.
His new book, "The Game From Where I stand," is an inside look at the
culture of pro baseball with subjects as trivial as how to pack your bag
when you've been cut from a team and as serious as managing romantic
relationships and facing the end of a promising career.
Glanville spent 15 years in professional baseball, nine seasons in the
big leagues with the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Texas
Rangers. Besides writing columns for the Times, he's a baseball analyst
for ESPN. He spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Well, Doug Glanville, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, because FRESH AIR
is produced in Philadelphia, which is you where you played the most of
your major league career, I was certainly aware of you as a ballplayer
for many years and was aware that you were a graduate of the University
of Pennsylvania. And I wanted to begin by asking you whether you felt a
little different from a lot of the guys around you? You know, there's
this image of ballplayers, maybe it's exaggerated and outdated, but you
know, guys who chew tobacco, spit, scratch themselves, don't read books
without pictures, and you're this Ivy League guy with an engineering
degree. Did you feel you were different from your teammates?
Mr. DOUG GLANVILLE (Former Baseball Player; Author, "The Game From Where
I Stand"): No, the interesting thing about that is it started more when
I first got drafted. I think it converged through much more of a common
space of if you look from the minor league experience versus the major
And I think of the movie "Bull Durham," where Crash Davis is talking to
the main character, who's played by Tim Robbins, and he says, you know,
you have fungus in your shower shoes. And he said in the minor leagues,
you're a slob, and in the big leagues, they can consider you colorful.
So I think the fact that I was different, with this sort of academic
background that's maybe not associated with professional athletes, that
became something that was very much of a unique interest level for Major
League Baseball. In the minor leagues, it was sort of, you know, you
were kind of the alien in the room, more so. But it was interesting how
it changed over the years and became more and more something positive.
DAVIES: Your degree was in engineering. Did those skills translate at
all, give you an edge in the game, you know, which obviously involves
angles and dimensions and fast calculations?
Mr. GLANVILLE: Well, I thought it would be more of an advantage than it
ended up, actually. You know, I used to get teased as being called the
rocket scientist when I was with the Cubs. And you realize fairly
quickly, at the professional level, you have to have moments where
you're sort of blank. You're not thinking. You're not calculating.
You're just in a space to perform and react and trust your instincts.
Yes, you can use the engineering to prepare. That was very important. I
had a system. I had to figure out why does this guy throw pitches in a
pattern, so I can be prepared.
Those things mattered, and it certainly helped that I had an academic
approach to preparing for my opponent and also to figure out what I'm
doing wrong to make corrections. But in the end, a lot of it is
instinct, and your preparation can be well-crafted and sort of
engineered, but when it comes down to it, you have to react to that ball
because you have a split second to make a decision.
DAVIES: Now, baseball's different from other sports in that there's
typically this long apprenticeship in the minor leagues. I mean, in a
lot of sports, you'll see a player drafted and will become a pro that
year or the next year and have a big impact. In baseball, folks spend
years in the minors. You were a first-round pick in 1991, and I guess
your first big league year was what, '96?
Mr. GLANVILLE: 1996, yes.
DAVIES: Yeah, so give us an example of something you learned in the
minors that, you know, that tells us how you weren't ready. I mean, why
do you need to spend all those years in the minors?
Mr. GLANVILLE: Well, absolutely I was not ready. If I was drafted and
went to Major League Baseball, I wouldâve been very quickly an engineer
right away. I feel like thereâs a lot of components to baseball
particularly. You have â you can master one aspect, and then there's
other aspects you have to conquer. So you have to be a solid base
runner. You have to play defense. You also have to hit. You have to hit
the curve ball.
So there's so many elements of it. So you can excel and maybe be major-
league caliber when you get drafted, but fairly soon, as you climb the
ladder and up the ranks, you will find that you'll get exploited for the
other things you don't do. And that's the beauty of baseball. It's a
day-to-day exchange, and you're constantly updating your information on
your opponent, on yourself.
So, to sort of be able to conquer all these things right out of college
was just not possible, certainly where I was. There are very, very rare
exceptions. There's a guy on the Cincinnati Reds who's pitching now who
didn't play in the minor leagues, but that is extremely rare.
But outside of the experience on the field, it's off the field. It's the
emotional development. You're 20 years old. You're thrust in an
environment, you have to learn how to be on the road, away, manage your
money, deal with your social environment. That's another learning
experience, how do you talk to the press?
So all these things are part of your development, and because baseball
is so specialized and it takes a lot of time to develop, and you really
do need some minor league time. And I think that's a tremendous asset
for baseball because it does create a lot more humility, I believe, in
the sport than versus other sports where you're able to sort of get
drafted and go right to the top.
DAVIES: You played center field, and the name of your book is "The Game
From Where I Stand." What's special about being in center field?
Mr. GLANVILLE: Well, center field was very personal to me. It was a
marriage made in heaven, so to speak, because I always was an observer,
and I always enjoyed being able to get this panoramic view of
everything. And center field affords you that opportunity. You're in the
middle of the outfield. You're in the grass. You can roam free. You are
the captain of the outfield, but also, you see everything going on in
front of you, from where the catcher is setting up, where the
shortstop's moving, where my Dad is sitting in the stands. You really
have this perspective and see everything that the game affords.
DAVIES: You know, there's also, anybody who's been to ballparks and has
sat at various places in stadiums know that there's a special
relationship sometimes between fans who sit in the outfield and the
outfielder they're nearest.
I mean, if you're in the infield, there's a lot of people and there's a
lot of noise, but in the outfield, it's kind of a little quieter out
there. And I wondered if outfielders can hear individual hecklers.
Mr. GLANVILLE: Well, it's all about timing, and the hecklers that are
really good know when to yell at you. So you hear them loud and clear.
You know, it's a little down time, the pitching coach is out visiting
the guy who's struggling with his curve ball, and all of a sudden,
you're out there, and you hear the guy yelling.
So of course, my favorite comment was a guy who had done a lot of
research on my history and realized I was engineer who did a paper about
building a new stadium at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. So I was
really struggling when I first came over to Philly in 1998, struggling
and hitting like .190. So the guy yelled out: Hey Glanville, why don't
you design a stadium you can hit in?
(Soundbite of laughter)
DAVIES: So I thought that was very witty, and of course, he said it when
it was â you could hear mosquitoes and crickets out there. So, you know,
that â I had to tip my cap to that guy, but I've heard worse, certainly.
But, you know, you just, you learn to kind of tune it out, but you will
hear it. There's no way around it.
DAVIES: Now, an outfielder who can roam the field like an antelope and
snag any ball hit there is not going to be in the big leagues unless
they can hit. And you became a lead-off hitter, which is a special, you
know, species in the game. What was your job as a lead-off hitter that
was different from just swinging the bat?
Mr. GLANVILLE: Well, my job actually was debatable, and I think that's
the beauty of the discussion that baseball affords. I think most people
would say that a lead-off hitter's job is to get on base, and that's the
simplest version of it, to say get on base any way, any shape and
DAVIES: Which means you take a walk, get hit, what?
Mr. GLANVILLE: Talk a walk, get hit, lay down a bunt. The one that's
quantifiable, which is walking, getting a hit, getting hit by a pitch,
which goes into your stat column as on-base percentage, is one way. Now,
you could get on base in other ways, like reaching on an error or
something along those lines.
So the on-base percentage is something that haunts a lead-off hitter.
You're always measured up against this number .400, 40 percent of the
time, you get on base safely. I was nowhere near that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GLANVILLE: So that was a little bit of my problem because I was
below that, probably .325 â I'm guessing a little bit about what my
career average was. So I was much more aggressive for a prototypical
lead-off hitter. So when I wasn't hitting, that was the problem because
I wasn't going to take a walk, and therefore, I wasn't get on base that
But I would contend that there's other ways to be an effective lead-off
hitter, one of which is if you have the speed, you put pressure on the
other team. The defense has to rush throws. If you do get on base,
however way, they have to pay attention to you because you might steal
the next base.
I think there's factors in being aggressive. Getting a hit is different
than getting, you know, working a walk because now you've probably moved
a runner an extra base instead of one base. So there's ways that you can
offset not being a great on-base percentage by being a spark and putting
pressure on the defense.
DAVIES: You know, one of the things that you mention in the book was
that there was a period, whenever you led off a game - you were the
number one in the batting order â but whenever you led off a game, you
would enter the batting box with your head down. Why?
Mr. GLANVILLE: You know, it was a ritual. You know, when you lead off a
game, one of my teammates used to say: You go, we go. You are the spark.
You start the engine. And you need to sort of get into sort of almost
like a spiritual space to start off, you know, a great game.
So I used to do that as a sort of tone-setter to figure out: Okay, where
am I? Let me get my mind clear and then get started. So I would look
down and, of course, Greg Maddux learned how to exploit that at some
point, as smart as he is because he would study the films and realize
I'd walk in the, you know, get in the batter's box with my head down.
And he started quick-pitching the first pitch of the game, so every time
I looked up, it was no balls and one strike within two seconds.
So I started to put one eye on him and, you know, he took me out of my
game. So I had to figure out ways to take him out of his.
Mr. GLANVILLE: Maddux, of course, the terrific pitcher for many years
for the Atlanta Braves, right. We're speaking with Doug Glanville. He
spent many years as a lead-off hitter in the major leagues. His new book
is called "The Game From Where I Stand." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is former major league
ballplayer Doug Glanville. He writes regularly for the New York Times
and has a new book called "The Game from Where I Stand."
You know, the other thing you see in baseball is if you get a hit and
you go to first base, you'll sometimes see a little casual chat with the
opposing team's first baseman. And in the warm-ups, you know, you guys
are sharing the field. There might be a little chatter here. And I
always wondered whether there's any unwritten rules about how friendly
you can be with the competition, whether managers, coaches, other
players felt like you shouldn't be talking to those guys.
Mr. GLANVILLE: Well, I think that parallels sort of maybe how our
country is run. You have sort of federal mandates and you have state
mandates. State mandates are something like talking at first base, which
is basically team by team.
So the teams - some teams are like, okay, you can talk a little bit.
Other teams are not that friendly with it. I know the Cubs, when I first
came up, were not into fraternization. They didn't like it. So when you
had to run in the outfield when you were warming up, you had to run at
an angle or bow out towards the fence because they didn't want you to
connect with the other team that was running from the other foul line.
So that was one way the Cubs handled it.
Now, when it came to conversation, what did we talk about at first? It
was mostly idle chatter. I mean, if you got a hit, you were feeling
pretty good, so you'd look for some sort of acknowledgment from the
first baseman. Or you'd say, oh, yeah, way to swing it, man. That's all
right, or you know...
But you don't have a lot of time over there at first base because
especially if you're a base stealer, like myself, you got to get ready
to take that bag. You got to steal that base. So you don't have time for
too many pleasantries.
There was guys like J.T. Snow(ph), for example, that didn't speak to me
until maybe my last year. So it was about eight years before he actually
said something. I don't know what that was about, but I guess he finally
warmed up eventually.
DAVIES: You know, I looked at your stats before I came to the interview,
and you really had some terrific years. I mean, you had years where you
hit, had 200 hits, where you were in the, you know, top 10 or 20 in the
league in stolen bases and batting average. But eventually, of course,
you reach your 30s, and things change. And I wonder, as you got towards
the end of your playing career, could you feel your skills degrading?
Mr. GLANVILLE: Well, I definitely felt differently, certainly. I mean,
one of the biggest and clearest examples is that I got hurt. And I had
never been on the disabled list my entire career, and then all of a
sudden in Texas, I signed as a free agent. I'm excited about the future.
I'm getting â I'm starting again, and I wasn't the year before in
Philadelphia, in '02, and then I tear a hamstring tendon, just something
basic as running down the baseline.
So I knew then that I was getting older in this game, and it wasn't just
roll out of bed and hit anymore. It was stretch, prepare, weight-train,
lift, and even though I'd been doing some of those to get ready for a
game before, now I had to do it on an exponentially more intense level.
So, you know, this was part of the rite of passage of a player, and you
know that you're going to get older and slow down. Now, I don't think my
speed necessarily changed, but it was the ability to explode or how â
the preparation it took to actually get that speed.
So when you're more time getting ready for the game than actually
playing the game, you know you're getting older. So â and so it was
pretty clear that it was changing for me.
DAVIES: You know, for you and a lot of players, you, toward the end of
your career, you would play, you know, platoon roles where you would
only play some games or you'd be on the bench and pinch-hit or come in
late in the game as a defensive replacement for another outfielder. Talk
a little bit about what it's like mentally to be in that role after
spending many years as a starter.
Mr. GLANVILLE: Well, it's a very difficult transition, especially not
only many years professionally as a starter, I started since I was five,
you know what I mean. I was a kid, and I was used to being the guy,
being the starter. So it was very shocking to change and try to adapt to
the new culture of being a role-player or a fourth outfielder, as they
say in my case.
But, you know, you do learn, and you do watch other guys go through it
earlier, and you recognize it could be your time. But it doesn't
necessarily make it easier to transition into being this guy that has to
all of a sudden start stretching in the sixth inning in the locker room
because he may pinch hit or pinch run late in the game, and it's April,
and it's 40 degrees, and you can't get loose. I mean, this is not a very
So I went through that primarily in 2004, and quite frankly, it was a
very frustrating year. I didn't perform well, for sure, but I also was
just miserable in trying to figure out how to be ready every day, and
the times that I did start, it seemed like I was facing a Cy Young
winner every day. So it just made it worse for me, but you know, players
all come to that fork in the road, and you have to make that decision,
if you want to go out on top as a starter or, you know, hang on to the
game a long time as a role-player and accept that this is going to be
DAVIES: You know, one thing I don't think I realized until I read your
book was that a lot of times when people are in those fill-in positions,
they will be plopped in by the manager on a day when the best opposing
pitcher is on the mound so that not only do you not get to play very
often, but you get to come off cold and face the toughest guys in the
league. Why do they put you in that role?
Mr. GLANVILLE: Yeah, that is no fun at all, no fun at all. Well, you
know, in some cases, in my case in particular, Marlon Byrd was emerging,
and he was â the Byrd era was beginning, and Glanville era was kind of
DAVIES: You mean, he was the up-and-coming center fielder for the
Mr. GLANVILLE: Yeah. So he was about to replace me as this next guy, and
I did go to Texas and came back, and Marlon shined that year. So, in
2004, that was his job, basically. So I took a reduced role. So I was a
mentor to Marlon and helped him learn the position, but on the flip
side, when Marlon started struggling early on, they didn't want him to
play against the toughest pitchers. So what they would do is they'd say,
okay, Glanville would play on these guys to give Marlon a break and make
sure he keeps his confidence so that he can get going against the weaker
pitchers, I'll say.
As a result, my schedule looked like this: two weeks, you know, not
play, and then when I did play, it was Tom Glavine, it was Al Leiter, it
was Randy Johnson, it was Brad Radke, it was, you know...
DAVIES: The best pitchers out there.
Mr. GLANVILLE: I mean, these guys were Cy Young winners, I mean most of
them. And so, to try to get your A-game going after you've kind of sat
and you have no rhythm is very tough. And the guys that do it, I tip my
cap, but it was a really difficult thing for me to try to figure out how
to be ready.
In that Radke case, they didn't even tell me that I was playing that
day. I got to the stadium. It was a day game. It was like 9:00, and
they're like, oh, by the way, you're in the lineup. There was a day in
San Diego where Pat Burrell(ph) got hurt. I didn't find out until it was
â you know, right before the game.
So that's what happens when you're the role-player. You don't have the
cushy life of, oh, well, you know what, you're the starter. You're the
guy. You know, don't worry about it, just get ready. Now you have to
just be ready on call, and that is not very easy when you're accustomed
to being the guy and starting every day.
DAVIES: I think you finished your career as - doing a spring training
with the New York Yankees, hoping to earn a spot on their club. And then
I guess a week before the season, they gave you your release. Was it
hard to let go of the game then?
Mr. GLANVILLE: Well, it was a tough moment because, despite having what
I considered good options, you know, I had this wonderful Ivy League
engineering degree, I can do a lot of different things, I certainly knew
how to make a living only through baseball. That was my life. That was
my livelihood. And so there's no really preparing for that moment where
someone gives you the pink slip and says, oh, you know what, you know,
we don't need your services.
So even though I knew I was getting older, I still had to deal with that
transition. And the Yankees called me in the office a week to go in
spring training in 2005 and said, you know, sorry, but, you know, we
just don't feel like this is, you know, going to work, and we have to
let you go.
And it was a moment where I â it was a week, I think I spent a week in
my apartment in Tampa, Florida, waiting to see if there was another team
that would call. And most of the calls I got were front-office jobs. Oh,
you want to be a GM or something? I was like, you know, I'm still
looking for a job here. What are you guys doing? You know, I can still
But then eventually, the San Diego Padres called and they offered me a
triple-A contract, which I was not interested in doing. I was really
thinking Yankees or bust, or major leagues or bust. And I really thought
about it and I had met my wife, and I was sort of like, you know, I've
kind of done it.
DAVIES: Do you ever play ball, sandlot, softball, anything?
Mr. GLANVILLE: No, I really â I haven't really picked up a bat. I picked
up a bat at my wedding. We had a very creative rehearsal dinner. Instead
of the traditional dinner, we had a barbecue at a minor league stadium,
and we took batting practice and had a home run derby. So that was â
that's the last time I picked up a bat and really tried to hit a ball
DAVIES: How long ago were you married?
Mr. GLANVILLE: 2005, yeah, so about five years.
DAVIES: You know, I have all these memories of you hitting high
fastballs, and you haven't picked up a bat in five years? That makes me
want to cry.
Mr. GLANVILLE: Yeah, in some ways I want to cry, too, but it's just sort
of a new day. I will get back to the game on the field. I'm confident.
My son is not quite old enough yet, but soon I'm sure he's going to get
into it. I mean, I'm going to have my daughter out there. I think she's,
you know, already showing to be, like, a good athlete at eight months.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GLANVILLE: So I'll get back to it. I'll probably go to fantasy camp
maybe, you know, one of these days, but I don't want to do it before I'm
40. You know, I'm still under 40, and I don't want to go out there and
realize I couldâve still played. That's frustrating. So I need to go
until I've, like, lost even more of a step, and them I'm, like, okay, I
should be in this fantasy camp.
DAVIES: Well, Doug Glanville, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. GLANVILLE: Thanks for having me on.
GROSS: Doug Glanville is a sports columnist for the New York Times and a
baseball analyst for ESPN. His new book is called "The Game from Where I
Stand." You can read the first chapter and find links to all of
Glanville's columns on baseball on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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A Novelist's Son Finds His Own Voice On-Screen
TERRY GROSS, host:
(Soundbite of music)
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross.
My guest Rodrigo Garcia wrote and directed the new film "Mother and
Child," which is about adoption from several different points of view.
Annette Bening plays a woman who got pregnant at the age of 14 and gave
up the child for adoption. That child, who is an adult now, feels
abandoned by her mother. She's played by Naomi Watts. Kerry Washington
plays a woman trying to adopt a child.
Garcia's work usually focuses on relationships. He directed several
episodes of the first season of HBO's "In Treatment," about a
psychiatrist and his patients. Garcia's father is a Nobel Prize-winning
writer Gabriel Garcia MÃ¡rquez.
Let's start with a scene from "Mother and Child." Kerry Washington and
her husband are at a Catholic adoption agency explaining to the nun why
she and her husband are ready for a child. The nun is played by Cherry
(Soundbite of movie, "Mother and Child")
Ms. KERRY WASHINGTON (Actress): (as Lucy) Weâve been married for four
years and weâve been trying from the beginning but we just haven't been
able to. And weâve been hoping, you know, against hope, as they say, but
that just isn't going to be. And weâve accepted that. And we're not
bitter, I donât think. Do you think we're bitter about it? No. No, we're
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WASHINGTON: (as Lucy) So we could be good parents. You know, Joseph
is a very tender man, affectionate and we could learn to love a baby in
a minute, even if it wasnât ours. Would we get to name the baby
Ms. CHERRY JONES (Actress): (as Sister Joanne) It depends on the
circumstances. Sometimes the biological parents and the adoptive parents
agree on a name.
Ms. WASHINGTON: (as Lucy) We can agree to agree.
(Soundbite of clearing throat)
Ms. WASHINGTON: (as Lucy) Well, we're ready now to adopt. Blood is
important but it's the time spent together that really matters. Isn't
GROSS: That's a scene from "Mother and Child." Rodrigo Garcia, welcome
to FRESH AIR. Why did you want to center your movie on three women whose
lives revolve around adoption?
Mr. RODRIGO GARCIA (Writer, director, filmmaker): My original idea was
not about adoption at all. I was actually interested in people who, you
know, who are separated, who for some set of circumstances, be it, you
know, exile, distance, divorce, death, whatever, sort of live apart from
one another and live, you know, longing for one another. A person who
sort of has the ghost of an absent one in their lives.
So I thought I would, you know, take a mother and child separated at the
baby's birth and that, you know, I made the mother 14, so that clearly
she had not made an informed decision, it had been made for her. And the
story would really start, you know, 35 years later when the women have
never met and are fully grown and they are, you know, making their way
in the world with that absence in their lives. You know, they're each
other's ghost, as it were.
And then later, you know, I introduced the character of Lucy, played in
the movie by Kerry Washington and she's a third woman who's looking to
adopt a baby. And I always thought of her as also having that absent
person in her life that she longs and it's, you know, that baby that she
dreams of that she's never met yet.
GROSS: One of the questions that some characters ask of other characters
in the movie is, do you believe in God? Why did you want to put that in?
Mr. GARCIA: You know, when I was doing the research about, you know,
some of these adoption stories, accounts and memoirs that people wrote
about, you know, it seemed to me - and again, I'm talking about the old
system, what they called the closed adoption, the secret adoption. The
one that was, you know, surrounded pregnancies and adoptions with shame.
It seemed to me that a lot of people who had gone through the looking
for someone, trying to find someone, trying to connect felt a little bit
under this sense that life had been fated.
You know, if I had been given to this family or if this family had
adopted me instead of this other one, you know, the stories of looking
for each other were full of near misses and coincidences. You know,
women who, you know, might be looking for each other out in the world
and then they would eventually find out that for five years without
knowing it they had worked in the same building or, you know, lived in
the same city at the same time.
Fate, circumstance, a feeling of coincidence seems to hover over these
stories. And, you know, it just - for me it inspired the question, you
know, is it a fluke? Is it luck? Is it the die rolling is someone, you
know, calling the shots? I am not a religious person, so my first
instinct is not to think, you know, that there's divine intervention
but, you know, I honestly donât, you know, who pulls the strings of some
of these extraordinary coincidences of people meeting or missing each
GROSS: You mentioned that you did research. What kind of research on
adoption did you do?
Mr. GARCIA: I only read accounts. You know, I did not specialists. I
read memoirs, diaries, interviews with people who had, you know, been,
you know, separated. And I use it as an active verb because again, I'm
not talking mostly about, you know, women who are older and who made
informed adult choices to say itâs better for me and for this unborn
baby if I, you know, put the baby up for adoption. I'm talking mostly
about, you know, very young girls in the '50s, '60s, even the early '70s
who, you know, were pretty much forced, first of all to hide their
pregnancy and then to give up the baby.
So, you know, I didnât - the movie was never about adoption. It's not a
treatise on adoption. It's not a primer on adoption. You know, it's a
look at the nature of a separation, of a forced separation.
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is writer and director
Rodrigo Garcia. His new movie is called "Mother and Child." He also was
the show runner on "In Treatment" and directed and wrote many episodes.
Since youâve done a lot of series television, particularly for HBO, I'm
wondering if you feel cramped writing a movie compared to having like a
whole season for characters to evolve?
Mr. GARCIA: You know, the truth is most of the television I've done for
HBO, I've directed episodes and I've directed pilots but I haven't
written them. In the case of "In Treatment," I was the show runner
which, you know, in some ways, you know, is considered the head writer.
There's a writing team that, you know, the show runner is the head
writer. You know, were adapting the show from an extraordinary Israeli
show called "Be-Tipul," which was just, I thought, wonderful and I
thought it could definitely translate into practically any, you know,
Western country, for sure.
Of course, we did work. You always adapt and you always try to improve
on whatever area that you can but, you know, that show was very good and
very strong. So I have never in TV had to face the blank page
completely, as it were. You know, I think itâs daunting to be a creator,
show runner of a show. I donât how, you know, the men who run, you know,
"24," or "Lost," or, you know, certainly, "Sopranos," "Six Feet Under,"
I donât know where, you know, they have the wherewithal to come up - you
know, they have writing staffs but still, hour after hour. I mean,
that's something that I feel, you know, could crush me.
GROSS: In adapting the Israeli TV series into the HBO series "In
Treatment" can you think of an example of something that didnât
translate from the Israel version to the American version?
Mr. GARCIA: You know, I think in some ways we did not soften any of the
conflicts. You know, we left the conflicts as they were and wherever we
could up the conflict we did. Perhaps, and, you know, I'm saying this
with a bit of a chuckle because I think people who've seen both series
recognize it, there is a more direct way of dealing that the Israeli
doctor and patient have with each other. You know, there is a way of
talking to each other that I think by American standards would just be
But I think, you know, I think Israelis, at least in my experience with
Israeli friends and Israeli acquaintances, you know, they're very
comfortable talking very directly to each other. And I think, you know,
in the U.S. people are more circumspect or more polite or, you know,
more, you know, they want to sort of sometimes beat around the bush,
whereas - even in therapy, you know, whereas the Israeli characters
really went at each other.
So we did have to change, I think, the tone of how people spoke to each
other. And that's just a cultural thing. You know, it was still therapy
whether youâre talking directly or indirectly, you know, the Israeli
characters, like the American characters, were often lying to themselves
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Rodrigo Garcia and he
wrote and directed the new movie "Mother and Child." He was also the
show runner on "In Treatment." He directed the pilot of "Big Love," an
episode of "The Sopranos," some of "Six Feet Under."
Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more about your
life and your work. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Rodrigo Garcia. He wrote and directed the new film
"Mother and Child." When we left off, we were talking about directing
episodes to the HBO series "In Treatment," about a psychiatrist and his
My favorite storyline in "In Treatment" is the storyline between the
therapist, played by Gabriel Byrne, and his therapist played by Dianne
Wiest. So I thought I'd played an episode that you developed and
directed from season one. And in this episode, Paul, the therapist
played by Gabriel Byrne, he's had an infatuation, really, with one of
his patients who's been very flirtatious with him, even to the point of
like describing in great detail kind of pornographically sexual
encounters she's had with men. She's also had an affair with one of his
other patients, as if to try to create jealousy on the therapistâs part.
So the therapist really wants to have an affair with her. He wants to
sleep with her. But he knows that his therapist will say that that's
wrong. So here's a scene between Paul and his therapist, whoâs played by
(Soundbite of HBO series, "In Treatment")
Mr. GABRIEL BYRNE (Actor): (as Paul) I know you think itâs a problem
that I have this jealousy over Laura's affair with Alex.
Ms. DIANNE WIEST (Actress): (Gina) No, not necessarily.
Mr. BYRNE: (as Paul) Jealousy is not on your list as reactions a
therapist should have, or is it a list of no-no feelings?
Ms. WIEST: (Gina) Is that what you want from me, a list? Would that make
Mr. BYRNE: (as Paul) I doubt it.
Ms. WIEST: (Gina) Hmm. You keep putting words in my mouth. Maybe you
want me to be unreasonable so you have something to push against.
Mr. BYRNE: (as Paul) This topic - this topic always brings us back on to
shaky ground, doesnât it?
Ms. WIEST: (Gina) What topic?
Mr. BYRNE: (as Paul) The boundaries between therapist and patient.
Teachers marry students. There's no big deal about it. What's the - I
mean, is it really wrong?
Ms. WIEST: (Gina) It's different, Paul.
Mr. BYRNE: (as Paul) I remember Charlie, your patient, he used to call
me after sessions and he'd say, this no sex with the therapist thing,
itâs driving me crazy. Is it for real? There's got to be a loophole. Am
I never going to get to sleep with Gina? Okay, let' say I stop Laura's
therapy, let's say I send her to somebody else, as you want me to do.
Surely in six months time I can call her up and say...
Ms. WIEST: (Gina) No. No, you can't. You can't.
Mr. BYRNE: (as Paul) All right, then a year, 18 months, when it's cooled
Ms. WIEST: (Gina) No, Paul, no. There's no cooling off period. It's not
about cooling off. It doesnât change the dynamic. In six months or 10
years, she'll still be a patient.
Mr. BYRNE: (as Paul) But that's just some (bleep) some lawyer came up
Ms. WIEST: (Gina) No. It's not a law. It's beyond a code of ethics. It's
essential. It's something you carry inside you. Can't you see that?
Mr. BYRNE: (as Paul) So what youâre saying is that there is no
conceivable set of circumstances in which...
Ms. WIEST: (Gina) None.
Mr. BYRNE: (as Paul) I just (bleep) fundamentalists. You know, there's a
lot of people who would disagree with this.
Ms. WIEST: (Gina) Then go to them.
GROSS: That's Dianne Wiest and Gabriel Byrne in a scene from season one
of "In Treatment." And that episode was directed and developed by my
guest Rodrigo Garcia.
You know, watching the series, I always wondered how could Paul, the
therapist, be such a really good therapist most of the time but be such
like a really petulant patient.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: You know, like a really irritating patient.
Mr. GARCIA: It's worth clarifying that, you know, part of the problem is
the relationship between Paul, played by Gabriel Byrne, and the
character Gina, played by Dianne Wiest, is that the nature of their
relationship is very messy. You know, she calls him on it more than
once: are you here as a patient or do you want me to be your supervisor?
Are you asking my opinion as a colleague? Are you asking my opinion as a
friend? That's why their discussions like the one just heard, gets so
messy. You know, and it doesnât sound like patient-therapist because
they keep it messy. You know, they get themselves...
GROSS: And she used to supervise him when he was studying.
Mr. GARCIA: Yeah.
Mr. GARCIA: She used to supervise him and also, you know, he was her
protÃ©gÃ© back when and, you know, theyâve gone into this and itâs messy
and I think he keeps it messy. I think he keeps it messy to try to gain
the advantage and try to get her to agree with him in these very dicey
propositions that he's making. But, you know, fine actors. I have to
say, I had not heard this exchange for a long time, maybe a couple of
years. And they are so, you know, well-suited to each other and they're
GROSS: Oh, they're great together. Yeah.
Mr. GARCIA: It's a great dynamic and no one let's anyone off the hook.
GROSS: You know, Dianne Wiest, she was really a revelation to me in
this. You know, I've seen her in movies, but I've never seen her be so
kind of self-contained. Like there's so much that she - she is very
still physically. She is just always sitting in the chair very, very
still and calm. And you could see all these things flickering on her
face, like sadness, grief, anger but it's all very contained...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: You know?
Mr. GARCIA: You know, a lot is made in TV and movies of dialogue. And,
you know, great dialogue is great and it can be fun and snappy and
provocative but, you know, what great actors do, which is great and what
movies do and which and TV and it's intoxicating, is not, you know,
people talking but people listening, you know, people reacting. And an
actor like Dianne, you know, it's - you can see the thought, you know,
on her face and eyelids and the twitch of a cheek. I mean, it's just -
it's like this pool of intelligence, emotion, insight.
GROSS: Now, Warren Leight, who was I think one of the chief writers on
the series, was quoted as saying one of the qualifications to write for
the series was to have been in therapy. Did you already have that on
Mr. GARCIA: I did have it. I was the show runner the first year and
Warren was the show runner the second year, so we didnât really overlap.
But yes, I had that. I mean, I'm not a lifer but I had, you know, I had
some good experience with it, yes.
GROSS: Well, now, was that helpful to writing the show or were the
characters in the show so different and were the confrontations so much
more theatrical that your experience didnât quite apply?
Mr. GARCIA: Well, it all applies and it, you know, it's funny how, you
know, how much of therapy overlaps with drama. You know, the patients
want something. Sometimes they know what it is, sometimes they donât.
They come to therapy looking for it. Sometimes they won't admit that
they're looking for it. Sometimes they come to therapy to talk about one
subject and once they're there they avoid talking about it for days,
months, sometimes years, sometimes a lifetime.
You know, there were just some dramatic choices that the original
creators made that really, I think, were genius regarding the show.
First of all, you know, to center the show around the shrink's own
crisis. Of course, the patients have to work and they were very engaging
and, you know, they all had to work individually, but at the center of
the show is the doctor's own crisis. And, of course, seeing him with his
sessions with his on supervisor, you know, helped you get to know him
better. But, yes, I mean, you know, everything, you know, draw from
everything and your own experience. Lying to yourself in therapy is very
GROSS: Now in addition to working on "In Treatment" for HBO, you
directed episodes of "Six Feet Under," the pilot of "Big Love," an
episode of "The Sopranos," did they all have different styles? Did you
have to learn different styles for each one of the shows?
Mr. GARCIA: They do have different styles and I learned their own styles
from those shows. You know, I think "Big Love" is a little different
because I did the pilot. And I think in the pilot you work with the
creators of the show, the people who wrote the pilot, Mark Olsen and
Will Scheffer in particular wrote "Big Love" and it was just a very good
You know, I worked with them to, you know, bring the pilot together and
create a tone for the pilot and a mood for it, et cetera. That's
different from visiting an episodic show like I did on "Sopranos" or
"Six Feet Under." It's great fun and it can be done well and I truly
enjoy it but, you know, I donât want to come in and reinvent anything.
You know, I try to watch as many episodes as I can of a series when I'm
first on it.
If I can, I watch every episode of the series in order so that I'm
really soaked in it, and that I learn that tone from the series and I go
in and I work in that key, as it were. You know, I'm not coming in to
reinvent. I still want to contribute, do it well, look at performance,
try to, you know, give the scenes a spark, make it vivid and juicy, but
I'm working in the key of "Sopranos," in the key of "Six Feet Under."
GROSS: My guest is Rodrigo Garcia. He wrote and directed the new film
"Mother and Child" and has done a lot of directing for several HBO
Weâll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Rodrigo Garcia. He's
directed and written a new film called "Mother and Child." He also was
the director of many of the episodes of season one of "In Treatment" and
he directed the pilot of "Big Love" and did other work for HBO as well.
Your father is the novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who's best known for
his books "A Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of
Cholera." He won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1982. So, he wrote
screenplays in addition to novels. When you were growing up, did you
think that writing novels were any more important than screenplays from
watching your father work?
Mr. GARCIA: No. I mean, it was all storytelling. You know, I grew up in
that environment where, you know, storytelling was always in the
foreground. You know, all of my parent's friends were, you know,
writers, poets, screenwriters, painters, some actors, some playwrights.
It was all equally good. You know, everything from telling a good joke
well to writing a novel, it was all highly regarded. And when I was a
kid my father not only wrote, but he would also write screenplays,
usually co-write them often with directors. So, you know, him sitting in
the living room hashing out a story with a director was, you know, also
part of our childhood.
GROSS: Did he talk about writing a lot and did you pick up things about
writing just from conversations?
Mr. GARCIA: Yeah. He was always talking to other writers and, you know,
I never thought that I was going to be a director, much less a
screenwriter. I always was interested more in images and being a still
photographer or in camera work. When I sat down to write what became my
first movie, my first screenplay, it was hard to write. But, you know, I
had picked up, you know, on some of the way, you know, writers write and
rewrite and where inspiration might come from and how you develop
inspiration into an idea and an idea into something dramatized into a
story. So I did have, you know, a sort of a knowledge of what the bones
of what it is, you know, what you need to do to write.
GROSS: Now, your father was famous for magical realism where, you know,
magical or surreal things are happening in otherwise realistic settings.
You write very intimate stories where the plot revolves around your
charactersâ relationships and their emotional lives. Do you see yourself
as working in some ways in opposition to your father's work?
Mr. GARCIA: You know, I work - you know, I write the script that comes
out of me. You know, I donât think, you know, is this like him? Is this
not like him? You know, I grew up in a world very different from his. I
mean, we grew up in the same household, but he as a kid grew up in 1920s
and '30s, small town in Colombia, a small town that had seen better
days, you know, where he heard stories, you know, from his great uncles
and great aunts and grandparents.
You know, I had a upbringing in Mexico City as a, you know, middle-class
kid with money, who traveled. And, you know, itâs such a different
upbringing that, you know, I chose something that is an expression of
what I've seen and what I've heard, you know. In some ways it's not by
design but I'm glad we work in very worlds, you know, that way I haven't
had to suffer the comparison at least of the worlds.
GROSS: So you were born in Colombia but you grew up in Mexico City. Did
you see a lot of TV and movies growing up in Mexico City, and were many
of them American?
Mr. GARCIA: I did watch, you know, more TV than I should have, I think.
You know, I think back then there was less concern with how many hours
of TV we watched. A lot of the shows were American. You know, I did as a
kid watch, you know, dubbed into Spanish everything from, you know, "The
Flintstones" to "The Addams Family" to "Mr. Ed," "The Brady Bunch," "La
Familia Brady." But also, movies â I mean, I was not a movie geek by any
standard. But, you know, in my teens already my father's own taste in
film started, you know, trickling down to my brother and I. And, you
know, he was a big fan of Truffaut in particular, and of Kurosawa, so,
you know, those were directors that we were, you know, very familiar
GROSS: When you were growing up in Mexico, did you watch any of those
Mexican vampire movies?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GARCIA: Of course, and the vampire movies and the wrestling movies,
and often the wrestling movies with vampires in them.
GROSS: Oh, I haven't seen any of those.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GARCIA: Oh, the combination is endless, believe me, and maybe a
Frankenstein monster somewhere in the back.
GROSS: So did you watch them for fun when you were older or just like
when you were younger?
Mr. GARCIA: Yeah, no, just as a kid. It's not really my genre except, of
course, you know, sometimes there are excellent examples of that genre.
But mostly, you know, I've always been a fan of, you know, the kind of
movie that I like to make, you know, that I try to make, which is, you
know, the contemporary, you know, realistic, psychological movie.
GROSS: Now, there was a period when I think your father was considered
subversive by the United States and he was denied a visa to the United
States. And I'm wondering what impact that had on you?
Mr. GARCIA: Well, you know, it's funny because, you know, we grew up in
a world, of course, in the '60s and '70s, you know, my parents were left
wing and they were openly left wing. So, of course, you know, the role
of the U.S. in Vietnam, in Chile, in Argentina and, you know, the
training of death squads for Central America, I mean, that was
considered, of course, the enemy.
On the other hand, you know, my father had great American friends and a
great love and admiration for the U.S. And he always said that his
biggest regret was not being fluent in English so that he could, you
know, know the country better. And, of course, you know, writers like
Hemingway and Faulkner had been really, you know, instrumental in making
to some extent the writer that he was.
So, yes, so I found myself in the situation where I was in college here
in the U.S. in a country where my father could hardly get a visa to
visit, except maybe like a one-time entry or something like that.
GROSS: So, another question about your father, have you ever used him as
a first reader or would you prefer he be more of a last reader?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GARCIA: You know, he's someone who reads my scripts when Iâm, you
know, in early pre-production, and he's always been very supportive. In
fact, he's an easy reader. In that sense, he's not an ideal reader for
feedback because he's quick to be supportive. And he, you know, he's
very high on my films and my television work and shows it off to his
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. GARCIA: Thank you for having me.
GROSS: Rodrigo Garcia wrote and directed the film "Mother and Child."
You can watch clips from the film on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm
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