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'Edmond': A Mamet One-Act, On Screen

Our film critic has a review of Edmond, a thriller directed by Stuart Gordon, with David Mamet adapting his own stage play.


Other segments from the episode on July 14, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 14, 2006: Interview with Robert Downey Jr.; Commentary on Aretha, Erma and Carolyn Franklin; Interview with Steve Coogan; Review of the film "Edmond."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Actor Robert Downey Jr. discusses his life and movie

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

In the new film "A Scanner Darkly," based on the novel by science fiction
writer Philip K. Dick, Robert Downey Jr. plays a dealer who traffics in
Substance D, a lethally addictive drug which causes overpowering paranoid

(Soundbite from "A Scanner Darkly")

Mr. RORY COCHRANE: (As Charles Freck) I heard you have to go cold turkey.

Mr. ROBERT DOWNEY Jr.: (As James Barris) Cold turkey doesn't even apply to
Substance D. Unlike the legacy of inherited predisposition to addictive
behavior substances, this needs no genetic assistance. There's no weekend
warriors on the deal. You're either on it or you haven't tried it.

Mr. COCHRANE: (As Charles) Well, I like it.

Mr. DOWNEY: (As James) Yeah. How many caps do you take per day?

Mr. COCHRANE: (As Charles) Mmm. It's very difficult to determine, but not
that many.

Mr. DOWNEY: (As James) Well, like the old school pharmacopeia, a tolerance
develops. You know, these visions of bugs, they're just garden-variety
psychosis but a clear indication that you've hurdled over the initial fun and
euphoric phase and passed on to the next phase. News from the guinea pig
grapevine suggests that whatever it is, we won't know until it's way too late,
see. You see, we're all canaries in the coal mine on this one.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Robert Downey's other films include "Good Night and Good Luck,"
"Chaplin," "Wonder Boys," "Less Than Zero," "The Pick-up Artist," "Short Cuts"
and "Natural Born Killers," He won a Golden Globe for his performance on the
television show "Ally McBeal." But for several years his talent was a hostage
to his drug addiction. In 2002, after several comebacks that were cut short
by drugs and after spending time in prison and court-ordered rehab, Downey was
finally cleared of all legal constraint and was cast in the film adaptation of
the Dennis Potter's BBC miniseries, "The Singing Detective." He played a
detective novelist afflicted with a crippling form of psoriasis which covered
his entire body in scabs and peeling skin and brought on high fevers and
hallucinations. The film came out in 2003 and that's when he spoke with


I'm wondering if it's not to personal to ask if you related to this character
from your own confinements either in rehab or in prison.

GROSS: Robert Downey Jr., welcome to FRESH AIR. You have a dual role and the
patient part of your role is in the hospital the whole time, too sick to
really move much. And he's going crazy, both from the fever of the illness
but also from the confinement of the hospitalization.

Mr. DOWNEY: Exactly.

GROSS: And he's totally trapped in his head and in these fantasies in his
head and in the flashbacks that are also going through his mind. I'm
wondering, if it's not too personal to ask, if you related to this character
from your own confinements either in rehab or in prison?

Mr. DOWNEY: It's interesting because, again, I kind of got it more as we
went along. And, you know, I'm not an ignoramus or anything, but it's kind of
like if you took somebody out of like, Folsom, and then said, `Now we're
shooting a prison movie.'

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. DOWNEY: You know what I mean? They'd be like, `Oh, I know what you're
talking about, I think.' And then pretty soon they'd be like, `Oh, let's see.
When he says chow time how should I react?' You know? I mean, it's like, for
me, I was focused mostly on what was right in front of me...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. DOWNEY: ...which was, you know, a big challenge, a high degree of
difficulty. And retrospectively I now have found it somewhat cathartic,
particularly when I see the audience watch the film and get it. And then I
can relax a little bit and then I watch it and I start to get it. Not just as
a film but as a parallel, you know, to my own life.

GROSS: I think that's interesting that you'd see that as a viewer, but you
didn't consciously try to work with it as an actor.

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, I did at certain points but, you know, for instance, I've
never been tarred and feathered...

GROSS: Mm-hm.

Mr. DOWNEY: ...that I remember...

GROSS: That's good.

Mr. DOWNEY: ...yet that was the physical feeling...

GROSS: Mm-hm.

Mr. DOWNEY: ...of the makeup, the way it was applied...

GROSS: Oh, right.

Mr. DOWNEY: ...the way that after you put on the prosthesis, there was a lot
of paint and gooey substances on top and then over that there was a gelatin
shellac that was applied, dried at high heats and then cracked to mirror the
flaking effect of the dead skin. So, I mean, that was just ridiculous. But
I'm not used to being uncomfortable in that way so it was kind of new

GROSS: Some people say that they think that being incarcerated actually
chan--you know, saved their lives because it forced them to be without drugs.
Other people say, `Well, you get drugs in prison,' but, you know...

Mr. DOWNEY: Yeah.

GROSS: ...I've heard both sides of that.

Mr. DOWNEY: You know, whatever floats your boat. Some people are so afraid
of being in the box that fear works for them. Some people are so afraid of
being in the box again that that works. I've never really had much of a fear
of either, you know, it didn't work for me at all. And it could never work
for me because, you know, I like a good box.

GROSS: You were OK, being, you know, alone and confined like that?

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, it was awful but, yeah, I wasn't, you know--it's not like
I was, `I can't take this any more. Oh, God, why me?' I was like, `Oh, I'm in
a box. This sucks. What am I going to read today?'

GROSS: You always strike me as a really brave actor, someone really willing
to take risks. And a lot of the personalities that you've played in your
films are those really edgy personalities: people who are obsessive or
they're liars or they're just--you know, they're kind of over-the-top in some
way or the other.


GROSS: And the roles that I think of--the movies that I think of there are
"Pick-up Artist," "Two Girls and a Guy," "Wonder Boys." I just think it's so
much fun watching you on screen.

Mr. DOWNEY: Oh, thanks.

GROSS: There's a scene--oh, God, I forget what the song is--but there's a
scene in "Two Girls and a Guy," which is a James Toback film in which you're
basically lying to everybody in your life in that movie. And there's a scene
where you break out into song and I'm forgetting what the song is.

Mr. DOWNEY: Oh, Jackie Robinson's "You Don't Know Me"?

GROSS: That's it. That's it.

Mr. DOWNEY: Mm-hm. Yeah.

GROSS: Can you just talk about that scene a little bit?

Mr. DOWNEY: Oh, yeah, he's a--he goes into his apartment, the two gals...

GROSS: This is it. Yeah.

Mr. DOWNEY: ...philandering or hiding in the loft closet. And he gets home
and he calls both of them on the telephone and tells them they're the only
one. And, you know, we know that that's about to blow up. But he's still
thinking everything's cool and he goes over to his piano microphone and sings
to himself in kind of than less-than-serious way.

GROSS: Why don't we hear that part of the scene?

(Soundbite of "Two Girls and a Guy")

Mr. DOWNEY:. (As Blake Allen) (Singing) "Ba da da, ba do. You give your
hand to me and then you say hello, and I can hardly speak my heart is beating
so. And anyone can tell, no, you don't know meeee-eeeee-eeeee. No, you don't
know the one who dreams of you at night, afraid and shy, honey! I let my
chance go by, the chance you might have loved me toooo-oooo-oooo. You give
your hand to me and then you say goodbye.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: It's a really fun scene I have to say. And you've been singing more
since then. You sang on "Ally McBeal." You sing...

Mr. DOWNEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...the final song in "The Singing Detective" even though your
character is lip-syncing in the credit sequence at the end, you're actually
singing. Do you like to sing?

Mr. DOWNEY: I've always liked it. And I've always encouraged people who
say, `I can't really sing.' I go, `You know what? It's fundamentally
impossible for the human body to not to be able to produce, hold, carry and
interact in complex ways with tones and music and all that stuff.' It's our
nature. Three-and-a-half billion years of DNA saying, `Sing.'

GROSS: So how old were you when you got your first agent?

Mr. DOWNEY: I was doing a play at The Colonnades across from the Public
Theater when I wasn't bussing tables at the Central Falls right down the
street on West Broadway. And I was in a play called "Fraternity" about SMU,
and someone came to see one of the other actors in it who wound up having an
interesting career himself, and they asked if they could talk to me and said
they'd be interested in signing me.

And the funny thing was I really was working as hard as I could when I did
that little play and I didn't expect much out of it. But I'd get there an
hour and a half before curtain and I'd do--I was, you know, like 16 or 17--I
would do yoga and I would run over the scenes and I would go out and touch the
lights. And, you know, all this kind of a really ethereal approach to doing
like a little `60-seat theater, who gives a damn' play. You know, but I
needed that and I ritualized it and it's funny, you know, it's almost like I
never have worked as hard since in a certain fashion as I did right right
very, very, very beginning of theater.

GROSS: Who were you hoping to become? Was there an actor or a certain type
of actor that you think you were modeling yourself on?

Mr. DOWNEY: Let's see. Later on when I was already up and running, Sean
Penn was a big deal.

GROSS: Mm-hm.

Mr. DOWNEY: Before that I was hugely affected by Matt Dillon, Ralph

GROSS: Mm-hm.

Mr. DOWNEY: ...Scott Baio, you know, all the guys who seemed like, `Wow,
look at them go!' And then when I got out to California, the whole Brat Pack
thing was already sealed up and rolling and I thought they were all amazing.

GROSS: What about older films? Did you watch a lot of older films when you
were getting started?

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, let me put it this way. I remember my dad bringing me to
see, like, "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "La Grande Bouffe" and Truffaut movies.
And, I mean, it's amazing the things that I saw before I was 10 years old.
And now there's the rating wars.

GROSS: Wasn't "La Grande Bouffe" the movie where they eat themselves to
death? Isn't that "La Grande Bouffe?"

Mr. DOWNEY: Exactly. Wasn't that great?

GROSS: I hated that film.

Mr. DOWNEY: It was awful, wasn't it?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DOWNEY: Yeah. I just remember the scene where the couple is making love
and someone's knocking at the door and the guy says, `I'm coming.' And I said,
`Why is that funny? God, I don't get anything.' And then as often as not we'd
be watching other movies and my dad would just stand up and say, `We're gone.'
I'd be like, `Why?' He goes, `Oh, this thing is ...(unintelligible).' And we
didn't even make it through the opening credits. He, like, didn't like the
visual and we were splitting.

GROSS: Well, that might have been helpful, though. Did he--was he always
pointing out these things that you never would have noticed as a child if you
didn't have a filmmaker father to point them out?

Mr. DOWNEY: Sure. And--but aside from that, I was given a very, very
specific education. You know, I mean, Preston Sturgess was, you know--we
named our Yorkshire terrier after him. Kubrick's our cat. You know, I mean
it was like everything was about great directors in our household, and

DAVIES: Robert Downey Jr. speaking with Terry Gross. He costars in the new
movie, "A Scanner Darkley," based on the novel by science fiction writer
Philip K. Dick and directed by Richard Linklater.

We'll be back after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: Let's return to Terry's interview with Robert Downey Jr.

GROSS: Your father was a filmmaker. What did you think of, like, moviemaking
as a life?

Mr. DOWNEY: I didn't think of anything else as a life. I mean, I knew I had
friends whose fathers were doctors or works down at the--you know, the
sporting goods store, which was great because I wanted a BB gun. You know, I
mean it was like--it just seemed like--and I have to credit my folks with
this, you know. It was a very organic approach to something technical,
artistic and kind of other-worldly. You know, my mother was--is a very, very
gifted actress and singer and comedian. And my father was primarily a writer
who decided that he should direct what he wrote to kind of keep it true to his
original intent. And he's an amazing director, a very influential director.

And--but more importantly than that was I had this sense of if you wanted to
do something that seemed like only a small percentage of people on earth were
chosen to do that, you could do whatever you wanted. My dad always says this.
He goes, `Anybody can act, hardly anybody can direct and nobody can write.' So

in descending order I'm kind of in, you know, I get the bronze medal, you
know, but...

GROSS: Well, he--your father, Robert Downey, is most famous for his film
"Putney Swope," which was a comedy about the advertising industry and about

Mr. DOWNEY: Yeah.

GROSS: What impact did it have on your life when that film became popular?
How old were you then?

Mr. DOWNEY: I was three or four when it came out. I think what it was is
there was a this huge reaction to it, particularly from, you know, the 10 or
12 guys you know that are my dad's age who've really kind of formed the
artistic element of maverick filmmaking since. So he was very much revered
and hailed this just, you know, super innovative guy. And so the only impact
it really had on me was I knew that my dad was something really, really,
really special. And I remember this day that he was wearing a Superman shirt
because that was kind of like the kind of shirts you were getting down on
Bleeker Street instead of the NYPD shirts or you know, whatever nowadays. And
I just remember, there's my dad and he's wearing a Superman shirt. And he had
a throne in his bedroom.

GROSS: He had a throne in his bedroom?

Mr. DOWNEY: You know, imagine what year it was, too. We're talking--you
know, this was like 33 years ago, you know. Everyone had a throne in their

GROSS: Oh, of course. Of course.

Mr. DOWNEY: Of course. Come on, you know, or they had the glass beads going
into the kitchen and, you know, the kitchen had a big, like, smiley-face
hubcap on the wall. I mean it was great. Everyone's cat was named something
like George Washington or Kubrick or whatever.

GROSS: So I'm getting the picture that you're really like the child of hippie
parents, very successful, film world hippie parents.

Mr. DOWNEY: Isn't that funny because they were actually squares?

GROSS: Really.

Mr. DOWNEY: But the same way that, you know, I might be considered a square
by people who really know me, and then before I go out to this premiere
tonight I'll put on, like, you know, a Helmut Lang shirt and a pair of cool
glasses and, you know, somebody else's jacket that I have to return in a week.
And it's like, `Whoa, look at him, he's mod.' And, you know, I'm not. I'm a
total nerd. I just clean up nice once in a while.

GROSS: So was there a lot of structure in your life when you were growing up?

Mr. DOWNEY: Oh, sure. Yeah, there was a structure. There was a structure
all right. Kind of like, yeah--that's how complexes are created, out of

GROSS: So, really, was there, like, discipline and structure or were you
pretty free to do whatever?

Mr. DOWNEY: Well, I went to school, you know. I went to school, I was in
judo, I was in chorus and drama. And that's all I got. Everything else...

GROSS: You dropped out of school at the age of 17, right?

Mr. DOWNEY: Yes, gladly.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. DOWNEY: Things had gotten to the point where Mom and Dad split up, Dad's
going back East. He says, `you can stay or you can go.' And then he left and
I was, like, `Why am I staying with a buddy of mine from high school in a
garage in the Venice Canals? I've got to get out of here. I've got to go to
New York.' So I went back to New York where I was from and then I started
working in theater and kind of put a little career together. And I couldn't
have done both. I couldn't have finished out the school year, waited till
summertime and then gone back East. I wouldn't have made it. I didn't have
any dough. I had a job at Thrifty's but all of us got fired because two of us
were stealing and, you know, it was just time--it was `time to move on.'

GROSS: So did you go for, like, acting training or did you just go right into

Mr. DOWNEY: Kind of both. I realized quickly that I was never going to get
a Casio commercial or a Dr. Pepper spot because I just couldn't bring myself
to say, when the lady comes in and says, `You're the Pied Piper and everyone
wants to be like you. Now let's get the next group in.' And I was like, `Oh
my God. I've got to go.' `No, no, you don't have to go. Come in here, we're
doing the auditions.' It was like, `No, swear to God, I don't know how to sell
a little keyboard.' But I learned, you know that little movie out--Todd
Graff's movie, "Camp"?

GROSS: Oh, I love that film.

Mr. DOWNEY: I went to Stage Door Manor.

GROSS: Did you really?

Mr. DOWNEY: Sure.

GROSS: This is a summer camp for the performing arts.

Mr. DOWNEY: Yes, and Loch Sheldrake it was initially, and Todd Graff and I
were in, you know, plays and learned stuff and I got to...

GROSS: Now wait. One of the funny things about "Camp," about the movie, is
they do these, like, overly sophisticated, ambitious, like Sondheim musicals,
these like...

Mr. DOWNEY: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: 12-year-olds. Were you in a position like that?

Mr. DOWNEY: (Singing) Join us now we're on a marathon. "Jacques Brel is
Alive and Well and Living in Paris," Jules Pfeiffer presents.' I was like,
`Who are all these people?' It was like, `Shut up, let him report. Come here,
kid.' It was great. Never forget it. And then there was Regional Theater and
then there was off-Broadway and musicals and so, you know, in my own way, you
know, when I'm out west, you know, there's very few people who were afforded
the kind of training I was. Like, what did you do? Well, I surfed and I went
to Baja and went to Club Med and got some drink beads and then I, like, did a
movie. You know, it's like I had it a little different than that.

GROSS: Well, I really want to wish you good luck and I really thank you for
doing the interview. Thank you very, very, very much.

Mr. DOWNEY: Yes, this was good.

DAVIES: Robert Downey Jr. costars in the new Richard Linklater movie, "A
Scanner Darkly." He spoke with Terry in 2003.

A year after that interview was broadcast Downey put out a CD, mostly of his
own songs, called "The Futurist." He also included this song, written by
Charlie Chaplin, with Allan Broadbent on piano and Charlie Hayden on bass.

I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DOWNEY: (Singing) "Smile though your heart is aching. Smile even though
it's breaking. When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by. If you smile
through your fear and sorrow, smile and maybe tomorrow, you'll see the sun
come shining through for you. Load up your face with gladness. Hide every
trace of sadness. Although a tear may be ever so near, that's the time you
must keep on trying. Smile, what's the use of crying. You'll find that life
is still worthwhile if you just..."

(End of soundbite)


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Rock historian Ed Ward discusses the story of Aretha,
Erma and Carolyn Franklin

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.

The Reverend C.L. Franklin was one of America's most important preachers, and
his church and home in Detroit were filled with music, much of it from his
three talented daughters. But while Aretha is still well-known today, the
other two Franklin daughters also made their own contributions. Rock
historian Ed Ward has their story.

(Soundbite of "Baby, Baby, Baby" by Franklin sisters)

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Baby, baby, baby, this is just to say how
much I'm going to miss you, but believe while I'm away, that I didn't mean to
hurt you. Don't you know that I'd rather hurt myself.

Ms. CAROLYN FRANKLIN AND Ms. ERMA FRANKLIN: (Singing in unison) "I hurt
myself, I hurt myself."

Ms. A. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Baby, baby, baby."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. ED WARD: In 1967 Aretha Franklin finally broke free from the Columbia
Records contract she'd had for seven years and signed with Atlantic, where
they were a lot more sympathetic to the kind of music she wanted to make.
They listened when she said she wanted to record Otis Redding's song
"Respect," and after she recorded it, they let her record "Baby, Baby, Baby,"
a song she'd cowritten with her younger sister Carolyn. Backup vocals on both
songs were by Carolyn and Aretha's older sister, Erma. Both were seasoned
veterans by then.

Erma, born in 1938, had been the first to jump into show business when Berry
Gordy and Billy Davis, a songwriting team, decided to start a record label and
picked her for their first artist. The three went to Chicago to talk Chess
Records into funding them and got turned down flat. Well, not totally. Chess
did buy three of the songs they'd intended for use for Erma's debut, all of
which became hits for other people. Erma returned to Detroit and then to
college. When she graduated, her father took her and Aretha to New York to
search for a record deal. Aretha was signed to Columbia and Erma to Epic, its
subsidiary. And although Aretha had some success trying to sing the jazz
numbers Columbia gave her, Erma's career fell flat, and she wound up as a
vocalist with the Lloyd Price Orchestra. It wasn't until Aretha switched
labels and got hot that Erma had any success. The great songwriting team of
Bert Berns and Jerry Ragavoy gave her a song that couldn't miss.

(Songbite of music)

Ms. E. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Didn't I make you feel like you were the only
man. Didn't I give you everything that a woman possibly can?

Unidentified Singers #1: (Singing) "Oh, oh, oh."

Ms. E. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "But with all the love I give you, it's never
enough. But I'm going to show you, baby, that a woman can be tough."

Ms. E. FRANKLIN and Singers #1: (Singing) "So go on, go on, go on, go on."

Ms. E. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Take another little piece of my heart, now,

Ms. E. FRANKLIN and Singers #1: (Singing) "Break it!"

Ms. E. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Break another little bit of my heart now,


Ms. E. FRANKLIN and Singers #1: (Singing) "Have it!"

Ms. E. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Have another little piece of my heart now,

Ms. E. FRANKLIN and Singers #1: (Singing) "You know you've got it if it
makes you feel good."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: But it did miss. It was a Top Ten soul record that was tickling
the bottom of pop charts when Bert Berns, in the middle of preparing Erma's
first album, dropped dead of a heart attack. Since he was also the record
company, there was nothing left. Erma got a job programming computers. A few
months into that job, she got to watch Janis Joplin with Big Brother in the
holding company take the song into the Top Twenty.

Erma finally got another record deal in 1969, but by then it was apparently
too late. Instead, it was Carolyn's turn. After an unsuccessful early run
under the name Candy Caroll, she spent time singing backup in the studio and
on stage with Aretha until RCA Records, not exactly known for its soul hits,
signed her up.

(Soundbite of "It's True I'm Gonna Miss You" by Carolyn Franklin)

Ms. C. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "I know that you're 'bout to put me down. I've
heard about the new love you found. You found, you found, you found her.
Although it hurts me deep down inside, Lord knows, he knows, he knows, he
knows I've still got my pride. And don't you dare, don't you dare worry about
me. I'll make it, baby, just you wait and see."

Ms. C. FRANKLIN and Unidentified Singers #2: (singing)
Hey...(unintelligible). It's true, it's true, it's true, it's true."

Ms. C. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "I'm gonna miss you so. Hey, hey, hey."

Ms. C. FRANKLIN and Singers #2: (Singing) "Baby..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: "It's True I'm Gonna Miss You" was a minor hit on the soul charts,
which is surprising because the song's over four minutes long, and it's really
not very good. What Atlantic was giving Aretha--sympathetic producers and
arrangers--RCA wasn't capable of giving Carolyn. She did manage to put one
other single on the charts in 1970, and in it, we can hear a glimmer of what
might have been.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. C. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Ooh-whoo, all I want to be is your woman. All
I want to do is make love to you."

Unidentified Singers #3: (Singing) "Make love to you."

Ms. C. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Whoa, oh, and take the honey, too. All I want
to be is your woman. I'll leave you love notes when I'm going out."

Singers #3: (Singing) "When I'm going out."

Ms. C. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Whoa, oh, dreams to think about."

Singers #3: (Singing) "Oooh."

Ms. C. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "I'll make you happy. And for you, there'll be
no blues. I'll make your life a game you never lose."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: Oddly, neither of these songs was written by Carolyn despite the
fact that she'd handed her older sister hits like "Ain't No Way" and "Angel."
Carolyn stayed with RCA until 1976, when they dropped her. Both sisters
continued to perform with Aretha until the mid-70s, but Erma eventually got an
office job with a charity. Carolyn died in 1988, age 44, and Erma died in
2002, at 64, both of them sadly enough, just footnotes in their sister's

DAVIES: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. A. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "If you want me, why don't you come on and get
me, honey."

Unidentified Singers #4: (Singing) "Whoo, whoo, whoo."

Ms. A. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Cause I can't hold on, not another minute,
baby." And, Lord, if you need me.

Singers #4: (Singing) "If you need me."

Ms. A. FRANKLIN and Singers #4: (Singing) "Why don't you come on and get
me, honey."

Singers #4: (Singing) "Whoo, whoo, whoo."

Ms. A. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Cause I can't save me, no, and not another
second, baby." Oh, oh...(unintelligible). (Unintelligible)...finds himself
left out. Just like calling up some hotel, some hotel, baby."

Singers $4: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

Ms. A. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Hey, hey, hey. What a heartache turned out. I
know what talking about."

Singers #4: (Singing) "What I'm talking about."

Ms. A. FRANKLIN and Singers #4: (Singing) "If you need me, why don't you
come on and get me, honey."

Singers #4: (Singing) "Whoo, whoo, whoo."

Ms. A. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Cause I can't hold on, not another minute,

Ms. A. FRANKLIN and Singers #4: (Singing) "If you want me, why don't you
come on and get me, honey."

Singers #4: (Singing) "Whoo, whoo, whoo."

Ms. A. FRANKLIN: (Singing) "Cause I can't save me, Lord, not another
second, baby. I learned a long time ago never to listen to empty words..."

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Coming up, "A Cock and Bull Story." We talk with actor and comedian
Steve Coogan.

This is FRESH AIR.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Steve Coogan discusses his work as a comic and actor

Comic actor Steve Coogan is just becoming known to American audiences, but
he's been a household name in Britain for years.

BBC viewers know him through his alter ego, Alan Partridge, a self-absorbed
and clueless TV talk-show host and radio deejay, and as we'll hear, he's a
masterful impressionist. Steve Coogan has appeared in the films "Coffee and
Cigarettes," "Happy Endings," "24-Hour Party People" and "Tristram Shandy: A
Cock and Bull Story," which has just come out on DVD.

Terry spoke to Coogan earlier this year when "Tristram Shandy" was released.


Now you've done a lot of impressions over the years. You got started, I
think, on "Spitting Image," which was a puppet satire of politics in England,
and you did voices for that. Were you always good at impressions?

Mr. STEVE COOGAN: Yeah, I did--you know, I used to do lots of voices and it
was a way into the business, you know. It's very difficult these days to try
and get on as an actor, very difficult, so you have to kind of do a quick
trick, something to get someone's attention very quickly to be noticed. And
impressions are one of those things. I used to do a lot of people, like, you
know, actors and politicians. (Imitating Roger Moore, Sean Connery and
Michael Caine, respectively) You know, I'd do Roger Moore and speak like that
in a very reserved kind of way; I'd do Sean Connery who of course has a real
deep Scottish brogue; and I'd do people like Michael Caine, who--altogether
slightly different with a very, very slight cockney sound to their voice.

GROSS: My God, that's perfect!

Mr. COOGAN: Yeah, well...

GROSS: That was really perfect.

Mr. COOGAN: Well, thank you very much. I...

GROSS: Has he heard you do that?

Mr. COOGAN: Michael Caine hasn't. Roger Moore has. In fact, I had--Alan
Partridge actually interviewed Roger Moore for real a couple of years ago for
a homeless charity in London.

GROSS: Oh, gosh.

Mr. COOGAN: And he agreed to do it. He was a very good sport. He didn't
mind Alan being ill-informed and wanting constantly to talk about James Bond,
which is something that Roger Moore sure has moved on from a long time ago.
So he was a great sport about that, and he knew that I'd been one of the
people who'd satirized him and poked fun at him on "Spitting Image," but it
was a very good kind of--of all the kind of--the British may have their
faults, but I think being able to laugh at themselves is one that they're
quite good at.

GROSS: It must be odd for you when you're playing a character in real life
interviewing a real person.

Mr. COOGAN: I...

GROSS: I mean, Roger Moore's part wasn't scripted, right?

Mr. COOGAN: Semi-scripted.

GROSS: Oh, was it? OK.

Mr. COOGAN: I gave him some ripostes because I knew Alan was going to say
unsympathetic things to him.

GROSS: Like what?

Mr. COOGAN: And--oh, I said something like--and I asked--I said, `Do you
think'--I said as Alan, I said, `Do you think I'd make a good spy, Roger?' I
think he said something like, (imitating Moore) `No, to be a spy, you have to
be subtle, well-observed, discreet, and intelligent.' And so of course, you

know, that didn't sit very well with Alan. So that was a lot of fun. Yeah.
And the character is quite popular in England.

I did an interview with Elton John on this TV show and that was great fun
because I said to him beforehand, I said, `Do you mind if I'm quite rude to
you as Alan?' And he said, `Do your worst,' you know. And so I was pretty
merciless with him, you know. I said, you know, I said, as Alan, you know,
you--I sort of talked about the fact that he was gay and...

GROSS: What did you say to him about being gay?

Mr. COOGAN: I said something like, `You are a gay man.' And I said, you
know, and you're allowed--you know, something about the kind of suit he was
wearing. He was wearing a pink suit. And I talked about it being, you know,
you wouldn't have worn that years ago. But after you, you know, came out--I
can't remember what it was. Something about him coming out and, you know,
wearing a pink suit and how I wouldn't wear something like that and--because
Alan's slightly, I think, sort of very--ever so slightly--he's never very
malicious, but there's just--he's ever, ever so slightly homophobic, which
makes for good comedy, of course, especially when you're interviewing Elton

GROSS: So how did you come up with the voice for Alan Partridge?

Mr. COOGAN: Well, you listen to lots of broadcasters on--I used to do lots
of voiceovers, actually, on TV commercials, you know, the kind of--`You want a
better deal from Ford, get down to blah-blah-blah today. It's only'--you

GROSS: Did you really?

Mr. COOGAN: `Forty-eight dollars a month,' and all that kind of, like--`APR
22 percent, blah-blah-blah.' You know, I'd do all that kind of stuff, cramming
in those inane, nasty, cheap, disposable radio commercials that we all try and
avoid but seem to intrude into our lives every day. So I did a lot of that.
And you'd get familiar with these kind of--some broadcasters, you get the
idea, seem--probably love the sound of their own voice a bit too much. Those
people who speak in a very deep, warm, brown voice on radio shows where they
talk in a very sort of subtle way like that. You get the impression that they
like the ups and downs of the timbre of their own voice. That kind of thing.
And so you hear all that stuff. And there is the--there's certain people who
because they are thinking as they speak will emphasize any word arbitrarily
for no reason whatsoever. So there's no proper syntax to what they're saying.

And you just think, why are they speaking like that? And so--well, obviously,
because they're not quite sure what they're saying. So there used to
be--there's a certain fashion in Britain at the moment for Scottish and Welsh
accents but very, very subtly applied. So you'll often see--and Irish also,
which used to be a real no-no because of course 50 years ago Irish were
second-class citizens in England. But now that you'll hear--you'll often hear
people on adverts with a very slight Irish accent like that because it seems
approachable and friendly and not distant like a lot of British accents. And
you'll hear the Scottish for the same reason because of course they were
oppressed by the English, so of course they can't be all bad, you know. So
that's used a lot because then it has that kind of slight anti-establishment
vibe about it, which makes something appear less governmental, I think.

GROSS: Did you study voice or did you just, like, pick all this up yourself?

Mr. COOGAN: I studied it a little bit. I went to drama school to study and
they teach you how to--because I'm from the north, and of course, you learn
what they call `received pronunciation,' which has always made me laugh, which
stemmed from the way you were supposed to be received by royalty.

GROSS: Is that what it means? You know, I've never--I've heard that
expression; I've never understood what it meant.

Mr. COOGAN: Yeah, and it's not received--it's the accent with which it
was--you had an accent which was acceptable for you to be received by royalty
so that--which of course is complete nonsense these days because the way the
royals speak is--no one else on Earth speaks like that, I think. You know,
(imitates British royal accent) the way they speak with a slightly upper
class...(unintelligible)...where you can't quite tell what they're
saying...(unintelligible). It's a ridiculous way to speak. And--but what
they generally mean these days is kind of like sort of BBC English, which is
very sort of accent-less and I guess is what your kind of CNN newscasters
sound like would be the American equivalent. That was what they taught you to
speak, because of course I'm from Manchester, so I have a northern accent, a
regional accent, which is, or was, quite pronounced and kind of...

GROSS: So what were you supposed to fix in your speech?

Mr. COOGAN: Oh, well, I mean, things like--you know, in your accent, you'd
say things like, (with accent) `I'm going upstairs to have a bath,' is how I
would've said it in my original accent, whereas in actual fact when you do
received pronunciation, you have to say, (with accent) `I'm going to go
upstairs to have a bath.' So there's little sort of subtle variations that you
become aware of. And it's also very--Britain's quite class-ridden and very
aware of class in a way that's not as prominent in America, although I think
obviously class is a real issue. It's something that people are acutely aware
of in Britain. So--and your accent says a lot about that. So you can sort
of--and people, whether they like it or not, do make judgments. Put it this
way: If I'm on the phone complaining about something not being delivered on
time, I use my poshest voice possible to intimidate the person on the other
end, whereas if I'm trying to--if there's some kind of big, heavy guy who's

being a bit threatening to me, I'll drop my H's and T's to sort of talk to him
on his level so he doesn't think I'm some rarefied poncey bloke.

GROSS: Just one more question. Do you feel like--when you're working in more
or less your own voice, do you feel like you're almost working with your hands
tied behind your back because you have this incredible gift for voices and
you're just using your regular old voice in it?

Mr. COOGAN: Yes and no. Sometimes it's easier because it's more relaxing.
It's like acting in your own clothes. If you wear your own clothes, you wear
the clothes you're comfortable in. If you put on--if I put on, as I have done
for when I played a woman on stage once--if you put on things that are
uncomfortable or you've got to dress up in things that are strange, then it's
easier to be different, but it's just--and it's easier to look more
interesting. You know, if I put a hat on and lipstick and wear a corset and
high heels, I'm certainly going to look slightly more interesting, if not
particularly pleasant, then I look right now. And the same thing goes with
your voice. If you put a voice on, it's kind of easy to get people's
attention, but it's not so comfortable, you know. I spent so many years, you
know, putting on silly voices and wearing wigs and mustaches and beards and
things that irritate your face that getting a chance to wear my own clothes
and speak in my own voice was like a kind of holiday.

GROSS: Steve Coogan, a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much.

Mr. COOGAN: Thank you very much, indeed.

DAVIES: Steve Coogan speaking with Terry Gross. His film "Tristram Shandy:
A Cock and Bull Story" is now out on DVD.

Coming up, David Edelstein on the new film "Edmond."

This is FRESH AIR.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews "Edmond," a David
Mamet movie starring William H. Macy

David Mamet has turned his one-act play "Edmond" into a movie. Originally
staged in the early '80s, the movie version stars longtime Mamet collaborator
William H. Macy. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN (Film Critic):

David Mamet's play "Edmond" is an early work, lean and stark from the days
before he won a Pulitzer in 1984 for "Glengarry Glen Ross," before his
driving, purposefully stilted dialogue attracted legions of imitators, before
Mamet himself became something of a self-parodist. It's the story of an

Everyman fighting vainly and horrifically against his dehumanization. It's
Mamet's version of Georg Buchner's "Woyzeck." But instead of a little man
losing his individuality in a new industrial age, Mamet's protagonist is a 70s
white American male, the kind who in "Death Wish" and "Taxi Driver" felt their
potency drained in the urban jungle.

"Edmond" begins with a lowly corporate drone, played on screen by William H.
Macy, asserting his freedom by leaving his wife and heading out into the
night. But free or not, he has no power. He can't afford the women he meets,
strippers and whores, mostly, and he's preyed on by bigger, nastier African
Americans. He arms himself and lashes out, but violence brings him no peace.
The ending, in which Edmond accepts his subjugation and muses, `When we fear
something, I think we wish for it,' is a psychosexual stunner and far more
fascinating than the conclusions of Mamet's subsequent plays and films.

"Edmond" is reductionist, and since Mamet's vision is vinegary to begin with,
the reduction can make you choke. There were walkouts at the screening I went
to, people repelled by the racism, sexism, misogyny and carnage. I was
repelled, too, but on its own acrid terms, the movie is impressive. The
director, Stuart Gordon, once ran Chicago's Organic Theater, at which Mamet's
"Sexual Perversity in Chicago" premiered before finding fame with the
outrageous mad scientist splatter comedy, "Re-animator." Gordon has been gone
too long from theater. You can taste his relish in staging each of Edmond's
mostly emasculating encounters. Mamet wrote the screenplay and there's no
attempt to make the work more cinematic. You either go with the artificiality
or you laugh at it. I found myself doing both but also savoring the diction
of Mamet prose, like Joe Mantegna, who sets the tone in an early bar scene.
His character speaks with both anger and envy of blacks who just want to,
quote, `sit under the tree and watch the elephant.' He doesn't blame them, he
says, because the pressure of modern life is too much. And Macy's Edmond nods

Macy is a strange camera object. His ears stand out from his white and
slightly wattled face. At first, he's monotonic and internal, but he grows
ever-more insistent. He begs a strip-club waitress, played by Denise
Richards, not to take advantage of him and gets himself thrown out of the
club. After challenging the honesty of a card shark, he's beaten and robbed
by black men, but he pawns his ring for a big knife and turns the tables. He
turns them too far, actually. In his newfound potency, he meets a waitress
played by Julia Stiles, who's never seen anything like him.

(Soundbite of "Edmond")

Mr. WILLIAM H. MACY: (As Edmond) Sit down.

Ms. JULIA STILES: (as Waitress) I can't. I'm working.

Mr. MACY: You can do anything you want to do. You don't sit down because
you're working. The reason you don't sit down is because you don't want to
sit down because it's more comfortable to accept a law than question it and
live your life. All of us, we've bred the life out of ourselves. We live in
a fog. We live in a dream. And we are dead. How old are you?

Ms. STILES: (As waitress) Twenty-three.

Mr. MACY: (As Edmond) I've lived in a fog 47 years. Most of the life I have
to live, it's gone. I wasted it because I didn't know. And you know what the
answer is? To live. That's it. In one moment for which I thank God to live.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: That's some clunky dialogue there, and when Edmund goes home
with the waitress, it's bizarre, because he's spattered with blood. And it's
not like he looks like Brad Pitt. Stiles can't make sense of the character.
Maybe she's too realistic an actress. Or maybe it's that a true confused
innocent like this waitress is outside Mamet's range. But there are actors in
"Edmond" you'll see with new eyes, like George Went, as a Russian pawnshop
owner; Mena Suvari, as a prostitute who's all pleasure and then all business;
and then Bokeem Woodbine, as the muscular black man with whom Edmond shares a
prison cell. It's disgusting, depressing, absurd and dated. Yet "Edmond" is
still worth braving to experience America's best-known serious playwright at
his most eviscerating.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

(Soundbite of music)


DAVIES: And why are we playing this music? Because today our producer,
Monique Nazareth, is getting married. To Monique and Patrick,
congratulations! And best wishes from all your pals at FRESH AIR.

For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(Soundbite of music)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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