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Family Quest: 'Everything Is Illuminated'

Adapted from Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, the film follows a young man trying to decipher family history. Elijah Wood plays the fictional Foer, who traces his grandfather's life in a Ukrainian village.


Other segments from the episode on September 22, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 22, 2005: Interview with John Madden; Interview with Tom Wilkinson; Review of the film reviews “Everything is illuminated.”


DATE September 22, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: John Madden discusses his films "Proof" and
"Shakespeare in Love"

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

John Madden is a veteran director of stage, television and screen. His
best-known work is the film "Shakespeare in Love," which won seven Academy
Awards including best picture. British by birth, Madden has worked on both
sides of the Atlantic for nearly 30 years. His other feature films include
"Ethan Frome," "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," and "Mrs. Brown." His new film
"Proof" is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn. Before
making the film version, Madden directed the London stage production of the
play. Both the film and the London production starred Gwyneth Paltrow.
Paltrow plays Catherine, a woman in her 20s coping with the illness and death
of her father, a brilliant mathematician who suffered from schizophrenia.
Catherine cared for her deteriorating father while pursuing her own career in
theoretical math. She worries she may have inherited his mental illness. In
this scene from "Proof," Catherine is talking to her father, played by Anthony

(Soundbite of "Proof")

Ms. GWYNETH PALTROW: (As Catherine) How old were you...

Mr. ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Robert) Mmm?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) ...when it started?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) What?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) You know. When you got sick?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Ah, 26, 27. Is that what you wondered about?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) I've thought about it.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Just because I went bughouse doesn't mean you will.
This stuff is not strictly hereditary. They know that now. Listen to me.
Life changes fast in your 20s and it shakes you up. You're feeling down.
It's been a bad week. You've had a lousy couple of years. No one knows that
better than me. You're going to be OK.

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) I am?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Yes, I promise you. The simple fact that we can
talk about this together is a good sign.

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) A good sign?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Yeah.

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) Oh, how could it be a good sign?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Because crazy people don't sit 'round wondering if
they're nuts.

Ms. PALTROW: They don't?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Of course not. They've got better things to do.
Take it from me. A very good sign that you're crazy is an ability to ask the
question, `Am I crazy?'

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) Even if the answer is yes?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Crazy people don't ask. You see?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) Huh.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) So come on. What do you say? Let's call it a
night. You go up and get some sleep and then in the morning you can...

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) Wait.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) What's the matter?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) It doesn't make sense.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Sure it does.

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) No.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Where's the problem?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) The problem is you are crazy.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) So?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) So you said a crazy person would never admit

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Ah, I see.

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) So...

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) It's a point.

DAVIES: Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow in the new film "Proof,"
directed by my guest John Madden. I asked him what made him want to bring
this story from the stage to the screen.

Mr. JOHN MADDEN (Director, "Proof"): Partly the fact that it's rather
unusual material for a film. You know, you're seeing a character under
intense pressure, under the pressure of bereavement, not just any bereavement
but the loss of somebody with whom she was entirely symbiotic at that point
because she'd given up most of her adult life or a good part of her adult life
supporting her father, and trying to halt his decline, his slide into serious
mental disorder. And so you're dealing with a character who's lost her sense
of self and so forth. She doesn't quite know who she is. She doesn't know
where her father ends and she begins. She doesn't know how to life now
without him. She shares some of his talent and interest in mathematics, and
she's been trying to give him the illusion that he is still working by working
alongside him. But most particularly, she's sort of lost her grip on a
certain kind of reality.

Without giving the game away, that conversation you hear them having--which is
a very strange conversation where he's assuring her that a good sign that
she's not crazy is the fact that she's even worrying about it, and she points
out that he is crazy, so that disproves his theory--is a kind of marvelous
glimpse into some of the things that are going on, which is--among them are,
you know, is she crazy herself. Is she about to--or is she already way down
the slope of mental instability and going towards where her father was? Is
she a reliable witness of her own experience? Is what she remembers true or
not true? And these, of course, relate to the central mystery of the story,
'cause it's a mystery story.

DAVIES: I read that when Gwyneth Paltrow performed that role in London on
the stage, her father was then living. When she performed in the film, her
father had died. And of course...

Mr. MADDEN: The horrible...

DAVIES: ...the relationship...

Mr. MADDEN: ...kind of congruity. Yes, that's absolutely true. When...

DAVIES: Did you see a different kind of performance? Do you think it gave a
depth or insight that...

Mr. MADDEN: Well, it certainly did and it certainly did for her because I
think that, you know, look, as an actress I think she certainly would attest
to a difference, and she may be selling herself short as an actress because
actually it was a completely unfettered emotional performance on stage, which
is pretty devastating to perform and to watch as well. And then she was, I
think, drawing on the fear of her father's death because he had had several
encounters, several bouts with cancer at that point, although that was not
eventually what he died from. He died from a pneumonia that was related to
the cancer or had come about because of the cancer.

When--and he and Livana(ph) came to see her in a very early performance, and
that day is very vividly etched on my mind, and then he died between doing the
play and doing the film. So then she was, as it were, going back into
something she already knew, but now with this sort of subtle shift that it was
a fact. All of those emotions are the kind of range, the spectrum of emotions
that that implies, are implicit in what the character's doing as well because
she goes through I suppose not accepting his death, in a sort of state of
denial about his death. Then having to accept his death as a fact and so on.
So it's very hard to describe what the difference is. I think it's only that
it's like she stripped away several layers of skin between doing the play and
doing the film. It's just a very naked kind of performance. The pain is very

DAVIES: One of the interesting things about the material in this play is that
it involves a brilliant mathematician, and when we get into the world of
theoretical math, like any other world, there is competition and there are
stars and there are posers. I'm wondering did that appeal to you--kind of
getting into this other world of...

Mr. MADDEN: I love that. There's this sort of keyhole effect you do in any
movie where--what I call the keyhole effect--which is the sort of pleasure of
looking into a world that you don't know anything about. As a director it's
incumbent on you to kind of try and understand or--as much about that world as
you can--it's research basically. But you know, it's what part of the
pleasure of, say, you know, Mrs. Brown seeing the royal family when it isn't
the royal family, or the queen when she wasn't a queen, or seeing what it was
like backstage at a Shakespeare play. That kind of thing is terribly
interesting or fascinating...

DAVIES: Did you...

Mr. MADDEN: ...hopefully for an audience as well as ...(unintelligible) and
likewise, as you say, mathematics--the idea that they party, that they take
drugs, as you say, that there's competition, that, you know, people feel like
second-raters and other people are stars and there's hero worship. The words
that they use to describe the work that they're doing is so kind of
fascinating. We think of it as being such a dry, geeky academic subject, and
one of the very nice things that the play observes is that it isn't that way.

There's a point which I know always gets a laugh, both in the theater and with
the movie, I've noticed, where Hal, the character that Jake Gyllenhaal plays,
who is a grad student who believes himself to be a second-rater 'cause he's
already over the hill at the age of 26, is talking about a proof that is, you
know, central to the story, and he declares--he tried to describe the proof.
He says, `The proof is very hip.' And an audience always laughs at that. For
a long time, I didn't quite understand why, but it's because--it's the
conjunction of the word `hip' with the idea of high mathematics seem
completely incompatible concepts to people, but they're not, because the
cutting edge of mathematics is extremely modern, extremely exciting,
pioneering stuff.

DAVIES: My guest is director John Madden. His latest film is "Proof." We'll
talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: My guest is John Madden. He is a director of many films, including
"Shakespeare in Love." His latest is called "Proof."

Your film "Shakespeare in Love" was an extraordinary success, and one of the
things that I loved about it was that it sort of gives us this look at
Elizabethan London, which isn't pretty. I mean, it's noisy and chaotic and...

Mr. MADDEN: Smelly.

DAVIES: ...kind of dangerous, and tell us about creating this world of
Elizabethan London--the details.

Mr. MADDEN: Well, obviously, there's an enormous amount of clues to all of
this in the plays themselves, which make references which sometimes are lost
on us, and so we drew on a lot of that. You know, one of the glorious things
about the piece was the sort of spirit of anachronism, I suppose, that Tom
Stoppard in particular kind of relished and pursued into every available kind
of crevice in the material. And it's...

DAVIES: What do you mean by that? An anachronism? Obviously it's...

Mr. MADDEN: Well, the story takes place both in the Elizabethan time and
also in the modern time because in a very obvious sense it was the beginning
of show business; that's one of the things that it posits, that you know, had
Shakespeare been alive today he'd have been a contract writer for Warner Bros.
probably. And so the whole idea that, you know, the acting profession, the
notion of stars and celebrities and budgets and going over budget and falling
behind deadlines and all of this kind of thing is all sort of built into the
story, and, you know, we--as you said in your introduction, we wanted--we were
very anxious to create a world that was not that kind of pristine world that
one somehow imagines in period pieces, perhaps even from Shakespeare's plays.
It's just teeming, it's full of low life; it's--you're sharing space with
animals. People are throwing feces out of the window and you have to, you
know, keep your wits about you to make sure they don't land on you--that kind
of thing. You know, they were writing with ink, which they couldn't get off
their fingers. It just--we kind of pursued a reality into every corner, into
every crevice.

DAVIES: You know, I know that you directed a lot of Shakespeare early in
your career.

Mr. MADDEN: Yeah.

DAVIES: Did you envision this being the Will Shakespeare? I mean, did you
kind of...

Mr. MADDEN: No, because--I mean, one did and one didn't. The lovely thing
about--this had this sort of doubleness all the time, that it was so glorious
that it was completely disrespectful about Shakespeare and the world in the
sense that it didn't mind, you know, sending the whole thing sky-high with an
outrageous joke. But at the same time, it was completely respectful of the
work and the world that the work represented. So it took the poetry
seriously; it took the drama seriously; it took the character seriously. But
it was not afraid to be completely irreverent about him, and of course,
Shakespeare is somebody who is, generally speaking, approached with a
reverence that is afforded few other people.

DAVIES: Oh, this is--yeah.

Mr. MADDEN: You know, beyond Michelangelo and few others--you know what I
mean? So the fact that one was free to imagine him as somebody who was just
desperate to get his pants off and--was refreshing. It was nice to know that,
that--you know, who liked getting drunk. You know, it's not the way one
thinks of him.

DAVIES: Who would tell a lie and...

Mr. MADDEN: Yes, and was, you know--yes, exactly, and competitive and
jealous and really pissed off when Marlowe comes up with a better title than
the one he's managed...

DAVIES: Right. Right. Right.

Mr. MADDEN: dream up and so on. So...

DAVIES: That doesn't seem so disrespectful to make him human, which is sort
of what it's all ...(unintelligible) done.

Mr. MADDEN: Well, that's, of course, the point.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. MADDEN: That's what it did. It made him human. And it made him
approachable, and that was a kind of joy to see that actually--to see somebody
also transcending themselves, which is one of the kind of hidden pleasures of
it--both the actors in the plan and him in terms of what he's writing. He's
suddenly--he's writing beyond himself and writing beyond his capability and
beyond what he's known.

DAVIES: I'd like to play a clip from the film that I really liked. Folks
will remember this is really the climactic scene, I guess, in which the play
"Romeo and Juliet" has been performed and then the master of the rebels,
played here by Simon Callow, comes into basically arrest everyone because they
have committed the unspeakable sin or crime, I guess, of having a woman in the
cast, and what no one realizes is that Queen Elizabeth herself is actually in
attendance. Let's listen to this clip.

(Soundbite of "Shakespeare in Love")

Mr. SIMON CALLOW: (As Mr. Kilnik) That woman is a woman!

Unidentified Man #1: What?

Unidentified Man #2: A woman? You mean that goat?

Mr. CALLOW: (As Mr. Kilnik) I'll see you all in chains in the name of Her
Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Dame JUDI DENCH: (As Queen Elizabeth) Mr. Kilnik! Have a care with my name.
You will wear it out. The queen of England does not attend exhibitions of
public lewdness, so something is out of joint. Come here, Master Kent. Let
me look at you. Yes, the illusion is remarkable and your error, Mr. Tilney
is easily forgiven. But I know something of a woman in a man's profession.
Yes, by God I do know about that.

DAVIES: That's from the film "Shakespeare in Love," directed by my guest
John Madden.

And I have to say it was interesting watching you listen to this film. You've
heard that scene hundreds of times. It still brings you a smile.

Mr. MADDEN: It does. It does. I just--there's so much in it, and the text
is incredibly rich and it was a joy to direct because of that.

DAVIES: And you had Judi Dench giving that memorable performance of Queen
Elizabeth for which she won the best supporting actress Oscar that year.

Mr. MADDEN: That's right.

DAVIES: The film got seven Oscars. Gwyneth Paltrow won for best actress.
It was the best picture. And at some point, I pictured you on Oscar night
watching people walk off with these Oscars in performances that you directed,
and the film was your own, and you, who were nominated for best director,
wondering, `Hey, where's mine?'

Mr. MADDEN: Ah, well, I would have felt the same way, but it was a foregone
conclusion in my mind that since we were competing in the year that contained
"Saving Private Ryan," which, you know, was a formidably directed film, the
first 40 minutes of which sort of made movie history I think in a way because
it dealt with war--the shooting of war in a way that, you know, pushed the
frontiers back, and Spielberg being Spielberg. I didn't really ever think that
that was likely. So I'd sort of relaxed on that one long ago. However, the
thrill beyond all thrills, of course, is the fact that it won the best picture
because that's an award for everybody and everything. I didn't somehow get to
take the piece of gold home, but it's not a worry to me, I have to say.

DAVIES: Tell me a little bit about Judi Dench and what kind of--what you did
to bring that performance from her--that memorable performance of Queen

Mr. MADDEN: You know, she's an actress that one grew up admiring. I mean,
she was really ubiquitous in my youth. She was both an incredibly powerful
force in the theater--she played--you know, I'd seen her do countless
Shakespearean roles. But she also was very well-known from television work,
and one had just admired her immensely. And she seemed like a kind of
absolutely natural choice, if a rather daunting one for Queen Victoria. She
turns out, of course, to be the most absurdly approachable person. I mean,
she's so not grand, she's so not `the dame' or what one would imagine when one
hears the word `dame.' She's very mischievous and very open.

She has a kind of--and it was partly making me smile there listening to that
clip. She has an extraordinary understanding of the dynamic of language, I
think. I think one of the things that's amazing about her as an actress--she
is--has--it's a quality I always notice when she's on stage. The audience
leans towards her when she comes on; it's quite extraordinary. In fact, I've
noticed it because I've watched out for it. She magnetizes people to her
because they want to know her, they want to get close to her; there's
something terribly available about her. But beyond that, she had an
incomparable sense of the dynamic of how to weight a line--you know, just the
simple line, `Mr. Tilney, have a care with my name. You will wear it out.'
You know, just--somebody might put a pause before `You will wear it out,' and
the line would never work as well as it does in her mouth. It's such a glib
example. But she just knows how to time things perfectly. She knows how to
time things emotionally, comically. And she just--you know, that's just one
part of an extraordinary array of skills that she has.

DAVIES: You know, before I let you go, John Madden, I have to ask you one
question and that is about living with your name in America. And I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: ...ask this because my name, Dave Davies, as it happens--if you
Google my name, the first 9,000 hits will be the lead guitarist for The

Mr. MADDEN: Right. Indeed.

DAVIES: ...whose name I share. Not that I bear any kind of fame in
particular, but I've had to live with this--in the shadow of...

Mr. MADDEN: The namesake issue.

DAVIES: ...this guy. You bear the same name as a legendary football coach

Mr. MADDEN: I do.

DAVIES: ...commentator who had a bit hit video game. Has that affected your
life? What's that been like?

Mr. MADDEN: Well, it affects my life every time I go to meet a limousine
driver, which sounds very swanky, but you'll know that, you know, if you're in
any kind of professional context where you're having to move around, there's
driver comes to meet you. And the number of times so used to seeing the
disappointed face when I appear. They don't actually even believe it's me. I
kind of point to their sign and say, `Yes, that's me,' and they look kind of
nonplussed because they're expecting this--I don't know even quite what he
looks like, but I know he doesn't look like me. He's rather larger than me.

DAVIES: He's a big guy. Right. Right.

Mr. MADDEN: So I get that. I get the jokes from the immigration officers
when I come in, although, again, famously he doesn't fly, does he?

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. MADDEN: So I don't know quite what their expectations there are. But
I've never met him. I've never met him.

DAVIES: Well, you keep doing this good work, you will be more famous than him
someday. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. MADDEN: Thank you.

DAVIES: Director John Madden. His new film is "Proof," starring Anthony
Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: Coming up, actor Tom Wilkinson tells us about playing upper-class
lawyer in the new film "Separate Lies." He also stars in "The Exorcism of
Emily Rose." And a review of the new film "Everything is Illuminated."

(Soundbite of music)

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

Interview: Actor Tom Wilkinson on his film roles and on being an

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

Tom Wilkinson is a British actor who impressed American movies audiences in
1997 with "The Full Monty," where he played a laid-off factory manager who
joins a ragged band of male strippers. He earned an Oscar nomination in the
film "In the Bedroom," where he and Sissy Spacek starred as a couple dealing
with the murder of their only son. Wilkinson has been familiar to British TV
and stage audiences for years, appearing with Helen Mirren in the "Prime
Suspect" series and in many other roles. He began focusing on movies in the
'90s and his other film roles include "Shakespeare in Love," "The Patriot,"
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Batman Begins" and "The Exorcism of
Emily Rose."

Wilkinson stars in the new movie "Separate Lies," which opens across the
country September 30th. He plays James Manning, a high-powered British lawyer
whose well-ordered life is shattered when he learns about his wife's
infidelity and a hit-and-run accident which compels him to lie for his wife
and her lover. Steven Holden of The New York Times wrote, `Mr. Wilkinson
nails every detail of this self-satisfied snob: the intimidating legal-eagle
glare that James directs at everyone, including his wife, Anne, his oratorical
speech that inflects even casual observations with an undertone of judgment.'

Here's a scene from "Separate Lies" in which Wilkinson and his wife, played by
Emily Watson, are talking about what went wrong in their marriage.

(Excerpt from "Separate Lies")

Mr. TOM WILKINSON: (As James Manning) I've let you down, haven't I? I must
have done, otherwise, none of this would have happened.

Ms. EMILY WATSON: (As Anne Manning) No, you haven't. It was my fault. I
did it. I did everything. Can't we just leave it at that?

Mr. WILKINSON: (As James Manning) No. No, no, no. We can't leave it. I
need to understand it. Look, here am I, thinking we are very happy, only to
discover that, on the contrary, we--or at any rate you--are very unhappy.

Ms. WATSON: (As Anne Manning) No.

Mr. WILKINSON: (As James Manning) Well, what is it? Am I thoughtless? Am I
unkind? Or is it something more prosaic? Am I a bad lover? Is that it? Is
his (censored) bigger than mine? Does he give you more orgasms than I do?

Ms. WATSON: (As Anne Manning) No. He isn't--it's nothing like that.

Mr. WILKINSON: (As James Manning) Well, what is it?

Ms. WATSON: (As Anne Manning) He's easy to be with. He doesn't seem to want
anything from me.

Mr. WILKINSON: (As James Manning) And that's good, is it?

Ms. WATSON: (As Anne Manning) Yes. It's good. It's very good. You have
such standards, James. Whatever I do, I always fear that I am letting you
down in some way, that I'm not measuring up, I'm getting it wrong, I'm
disappointing you.

Mr. WILKINSON: (As James Manning) And you don't disappoint him.

Ms. WATSON: (As Anne Manning) I don't think he cares enough either way, and
that's just so relaxing.

Mr. WILKINSON: (As James Manning) Oh, well, I'm sorry I'm not more relaxed.
Killing someone seems to stick in my mind.

DAVIES: In "Separate Lies," you play a powerful lawyer in a seemingly happy
marriage, but you discover all kinds of problems. What drew you to this role?

Mr. WILKINSON: I liked the idea of playing somebody from the upper middle
class, because it's not something I do. It's not a class that I--my
background is much more sort of blue collar, so I thought it was a wonderful
opportunity to play somebody from the upper middle class. You know, that's
something I don't think I've really done much of before, and certainly not in
this way. And I felt that Julian Fellowes, the writer-director, had done a
great job in sort of describing the kind of idyllic world that he was a part
of at the beginning of the story, this wonderful, kind of reassuring
middle-class world of, you know, wealth and security and a beautiful
chocolate-box-pretty England and all the things that he considers to be, you
know, the cornerstones of his life. In fact, what he'd simply done, it turns
out, is sort of build a prison for his wife. He thought he was bestowing upon
her the sort of, you know, gifts of love and marriage and continuity and
security, etc., etc, and what he'd simply done is imprisoned her. And
that--and I felt that a man sort of finding his way out of the prison that
he's built for himself and his wife was an interesting story.

DAVIES: You know, and it's interesting because as you described that, I'm
picturing you in that role, and you convey the sense of privilege and power in
little things: the way you stand, the way you hold a drink, the tone of your

Mr. WILKINSON: That's part of the business of acting, that you have to sort
of figure out what it is that people find important, what are their values,
what they want above all, what it is that they want out of any given

DAVIES: And this character, James Manning, the high-powered lawyer, what is
it that he values? What does he want?

Mr. WILKINSON: Well, I think he wants more of the same. One of the
characteristics of that class, I am led to believe, is that they believe in
continuity, but the continuity is not the continuity between now and the
future. It's a continuity between the past and the future. They want things
to be like they always have been. `If it was good enough for my father and my
grandfather, it's certainly good enough for me and good enough for my
children.' You know, in a certain sense, they lead a rather unexamined life,
and that's the sort of penalty that poor old James Manning pays when he
realizes that his wife is being unfaithful to him, because, of course, his
first response would be, `But why? She's got everything she needs. What
could possibly motivate her to have an affair with this fellow?' and so on and
so forth.

So it's that sort of--you know, the more you can establish somebody reveling
in the things of his power and wealth and so on, the more you'll--the more fun
the audience will have watching him sort of looking again at his job and
thinking, `Is this the best job I should be doing? Should I have been doing
something else? Was this the right house to be living in, or should I have
lived something'--you know, seeing somebody sort of rebuild the sort of moral
universe that has been shattered.

DAVIES: Well, it is fun to watch.

Mr. WILKINSON: It's fascinating.

DAVIES: Yeah, it is fun to watch. Yeah. Yeah.

You were born in England. Your dad was a farmer when you were young. And
then you moved to Canada, I think, from ages five to 11, right? And then back
to England, where your father pursued a number of different activities. And
I'm wondering--and it's a pretty varied background--kind of what those travels
might have exposed you to or that--I mean, did that affect the kind of
creative insight that you draw on in your career?

Mr. WILKINSON: I'm not sure. The thing--what it crea--here's the situation:
As far as my family are concerned, from my father's family and, indeed, my
mother's, but my father's particularly, they were farmers in the same bit of
England for a thousand years. There is just no evidence of anybody, any
member of my family as anything other than a farmer, and--my grandfather was a
farmer, my father was a farmer, and to all intents and purposes, had things
turned out differently, I would have been a farmer, and my brothers would have
been farmers. The point--but what happened, of course, that this was kind of
shattered. This sense of continuity was shattered completely. One reason is
the farm went, and there was no--was never any question that I was going to
follow in my father's footsteps.

So this sort of, as it were, discontinuity perhaps gave me a kind of
rootlessness. There was no home. There was no--nothing I could sort of
return to, nothing I could say, you know, `That's the real me there,' you
know. `It's--I should be running the farm, but my brother is running the
farm.' There was no farm. There was nothing of that. So--and I think in a
certain sense, rootlessness, in that sense, is quite good for an actor. It's
not necessarily going to make an actor, but it means they are much more
wide-ranging in the things that they will allow themselves to be influenced
by, that they're perhaps not as set in their cultural ways as perhaps they
could be if they had that thing which we crudely call a strong sense of
themselves. An actor probably doesn't have a strong sense of himself in that
sense, and I think probably that's one of the reasons.

DAVIES: Reinventing yourself, in effect...

Mr. WILKINSON: Yes. Yes.

DAVIES: life and on the stage. Right. Right.


DAVIES: Actor Tom Wilkinson. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: My guest is Tom Wilkinson. He stars in the new film "Separate Lies."
Wilkinson started his career on the British stage and on British television
before moving into films.

Well, in 1995, you were introduced to a much wider audience with the film "The
Full Monty," and to remind our audience, this is a story of a group of men who
lose their jobs when their Sheffield steel plant closes and one of them
hatches upon this idea of creating a male strip team. This is a remarkable
film, and it was hugely successful, but I can imagine, when you looked at the
script, you must have thought, `My heavens, what is this?' What was your

Mr. WILKINSON: I had no hesitation whatsoever in doing this film. I read it,
and the first time I read it, I thought, `This is good, and I want to get it
made.' And it was a point in my career where I decided, `I'm going to stick
with films. I'm not going to do any more television or theater. I'm going to
stick with films until I find out whether it's going to work for me or not.'
But this one, I just simply had no--not the faintest hesitation in doing it.

DAVIES: What told you it was going to work? Because it seems to me, so much
of what works here is--I don't know--the chemistry of these guys, the way you
all do it.

Mr. WILKINSON: Yeah. Well, the script itself is almost perfect. I mean, it
was never changed from the day-one filming to the time we finished. I think
they added a couple of scenes sometime after, but just sort of general kind of
fill-in scenes. But I thought kind of the writing was wonderful and worked
perfectly. But added to that, I thought it was one of the most brilliantly
cast movies that I've ever seen. You know, there were lots of actors in it,
none of whom I've ever heard. Robert Carlyle I knew, but the rest of them I'd
never heard of. And they turned out that they were just perfect for it. And
that, together with, you know, all the rest of the kind of imponderables that
go to making a film, it absolutely achieved what it set out to do.

DAVIES: Well, I wanted to talk about another role that you played, which was
a real interesting part in an HBO film called "Normal," in which you played a
man in a small Illinois town who is married, has two kids, is active in his
church, works in a tractor factory, but who eventually confronts the idea he
believes he is in his heart a woman and wants a sex change operation. And I
thought we'd play a clip here, and this is a scene very early in the film in
which you, this man, and your wife, played by Jessica Lange, are getting
marriage counseling from your minister, played here by Randall Arney. Let's

(Excerpt from "Normal")

Mr. WILKINSON: (As Roy) I've been struggling with something for a long time.
I prayed for years for it to go away, but it won't.

Mr. RANDALL ARNEY: (As Reverend Muncie) Go on.

Mr. WILKINSON: (As Roy) I was born in the wrong body. I'm a woman. I've
known it all my life.

Ms. JESSICA LANGE: (As Irma) Oh, my gosh, Roy. (Laughs)

Mr. ARNEY: (As Reverend Muncie) Good grief, Roy. I don't know what to say.

Mr. WILKINSON: (As Roy) No, I don't either, except I love Irma very much.
The last thing I want to do is cause her any pain.

Ms. LANGE: (As Irma) Roy, are you having an affair?

Mr. WILKINSON: (As Roy) Oh, Irma, no.

Ms. LANGE: (As Irma) Well, this doesn't make any sense.

Mr. ARNEY: (As Reverend Muncie) Roy, I have to agree. I mean, you've been
married to Irma for 25 years. You have two wonderful children, and suddenly
out of nowhere, you make this strange declaration?

Mr. WILKINSON: (As Roy) Not out of the blue. I've been hiding it for years,
been in agony. I can't go on living my life like this. I'd rather die.

Ms. LANGE: (As Irma) Oh, my God, Roy. Do you mean that?

Mr. WILKINSON: (As Roy) Yes. Yes.

DAVIES: That was my guest, Tom Wilkinson, and Jessica Lange in the film
"Normal." That's a pretty remarkable scene. How did you prepare for that
one? Do you recall shooting that?

Mr. WILKINSON: I didn't prepare for it in the sense that you possibly mean
in the question, but I knew what was going to happen in the film. And what I
really wanted to do was make that scene a scene in which something that was of
central importance to this guy's existence, but this is the first time he ever
talked about it--I mean, it's self-evident that that is what the scene is
about. And so it is--I mean, in fact, because of the way we filmed it, the
tremendous outpouring of emotion that was present in that scene, that I felt
was present, happened a little bit in the earlier takes than the ones that you
saw there, because it slightly took me by surprise that, you know, something
that you thought, well, you've got to--this is something that he's not
talked--that he's bottled up. This is something that he's saying for the
first time in his life, and it's of such central importance to him that it
means so much.

And anyway, the fact of the matter is, it's a tremendously kind of emotional
scene, and I knew that would happen. There was just something that has
happened in the last few years about my abil--well, what I--years ago when I
used to do scenes when I was required to weep, I couldn't do it at all. And
now I've turned into John Gielgud. I can weep--I can weep at anything, you
know. And so--but--and I knew that would happen in that scene, and it did.

DAVIES: Looking at this scene a second time, I was fascinated watching you in
the moments before you reveal this secret, where you and your wife and the
minister are talking about other things that might be bothering
you--headaches, pressure at work--and we can see you as a guy who's figuring
out whether he wants to just paper things over for another day...


DAVIES: ..or whether he is going to reveal this shocking fact about himself.
And I was reminded of something that I read Todd Field, the director of "In
the Bedroom," said about you, which was that it was fascinating to watch you
when you're not speaking or where you don't have much to do in a scene. And I
was thinking that a lot of what was interesting about that scene was your
expressions that--you could see this guy struggling with this decision. `Do I
just pretend it's OK, tells a superficial story or spill it out?' What goes
on in your head when you're not talking?

Mr. WILKINSON: Acting, for me, is, as I get older, even simpler than it was
when I first started out--is that basically what you have to do is adopt
completely--completely and absolutely--the point of view of the character
you're playing. And that--what that liberates you to do, I think, is to--and
I don't want to get technical and boring and actorish and stupid about it. It
just means that you are that character all the time when you're doing the
scene. Soon as it stops, you're back to who you are, but while you're in it,
you're allowed to--you know, you're thinking what the character is thinking.
You are--you know, and part of also the strategy of acting, and it's something
else that's quite technical, is don't give stuff away. Don't play the end
before the beginning.

One of the things that you want to do in the course of a performance is make
every little new direction and new twist and turn a surprise. Now if you'd
have seen my character looking doomed at the beginning of the scene, the
audience would have been prepared for something weird. They--you'd think:
`What? Something weird is going on with that guy. Ooh, I'd better watch it.'
But if you see a guy who's going along with his wife, sort of notion of a
little tune-up, nothing important and, indeed, perhaps he himself is trying to
put off the big moment that he can't--and it isn't put off until the instant
he's--the instant he's saying it is when he sort of makes the decision that
that's what he's going to say. So that's always what I would say to any kind
of actor or, you know, anybody who aspires to something in the narrative arts.
Don't give the end away when you're doing the beginning. You've got to
do--you know, surprise is perhaps the storyteller's greatest weapon.

DAVIES: You've had a lot of these interesting roles. I mean, that is one
where you're a, you know, woman trapped in a man's body. I mean, "The Full
Monty," "In the Bedroom." How do you decide which roles you will take? You

Mr. WILKINSON: Simple, Dave. You just follow your nose. You ask the
simple, really instinctive questions like, you know, can I shine in this role?
Can I do this role better than anybody in the world? Is there something in it
that I recognize? Nothing--you know, it's not really not to do with the money
or the director or the other members of the cast. The first simple thing is,
am I going to enjoy playing this character? And it's childish, I know, and I
shouldn't, for my great age, be admitting to something so sort of, you
know--do I like the look of this toy? Or am I going to wait till the next toy
shop and see if there's something even cuddlier? No. That's how it works.
It's purely an instinctive decision.

DAVIES: Well, Tom Wilkinson, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. WILKINSON: Thank you, Dave. It's been a pleasure.

DAVIES: Actor Tom Wilkinson. He's starring in "The Exorcism of Emily Rose"
and with Emily Watson in "Separate Lies," which opens across the country next
week. Coming up, a review of the new film, "Every Is Illuminated."

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

Review: Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel "Everything Is

Jonathan Safran Foer's acrobatic first novel, "Everything Is Illuminated," was
published in 2002 to rave reviews and went on to become a surprise
best-seller. Now it's been adapted for the screen by the actor Liev
Schreiber. Our film critic David Edelstein has a review.


It's no big news that dense, unwieldy novels often lose their souls in
translation to film. So even if "Everything Is Illuminated" doesn't click,
you have to give points to the writer and director, Liev Schreiber, for taking
on Jonathan Safran Foer's jigsaw epic, a smart-alecky collage of mangled
English and faux Jewish folk tale that takes all one's powers of concentration
to follow, let alone interpret. Foer was born in 1977, two worlds away from
the shtetls of Eastern Europea and the Holocaust that wiped out the last of
them. And you can feel him trying every color on his palette, every string on
his klezmer violin to summon a dead or repressed past into the living present.
Schreiber is best known as an actor, and he has chosen, in his first feature,
to seize on the modern-day odyssey part of the novel, the one with the obvious
Holocaust hook, and find a wide, straight path to the big themes.

The movie begins as a bouncy three-man odyssey. The narrator is Alex, played
by the Ukrainian-American punk musician Eugene Hutz. Alex lives with his
family in Odessa and helps run a company that specializes in driving rich Jews
around the Ukrainian countryside in search of their lost heritage. His client
is one Jonathan Safran Foer, played by Elijah Wood. Foer wants to locate a
village called Trochenbrod, and the woman he thinks saved his late grandfather
from the Nazis. Alex's grandfather, played by Boris Leskin, is their driver.
He's dyspeptic and anti-Semitic, and the question bubbles up, what did he do
in the war?

Much of "Everything Is Illuminated" consists of these three men in a battered
old car plus a manic mutt named Sammy Davis Jr. Junior, after the
grandfather's favorite American entertainer. If you've seen Jim Jarmusch's
"Down by Law," you'll recognize the mixture of deadpan and malapropism in
Alex's conversation with Foer.

(Excerpt from "Everything Is Illuminated")

Mr. EUGENE HUTZ: (As Alex) How much currency would a first-rate accountant
receive in America?

Mr. ELIJAH WOOD: (As Jonathan Safran Foer) I don't know. A lot, probably if
he or she is good.

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex) She?

Mr. WOOD: (As Foer) Or he.

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex) Are there Negro accountants?

Mr. WOOD: (As Foer) Yes. There are African-American accountants, but you
don't want to use that word.

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex) And homosexual accountants?

Mr. WOOD: (As Foer) There are homosexual everythings. There are homosexual
garbage men.

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex) And how much currency would a Negro homosexual
accountant receive?

Mr. WOOD: (As Foer) You really shouldn't use that word.

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex) Which word?

Mr. WOOD: (As Foer) The N-word. Well, it's not `the' N-word, but...

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex) Negro?

Mr. WOOD: (As Foer) Yeah, that one.

Mr. HUTZ: (As Alex) But I take them all the way. They are premium people.

EDELSTEIN: That's good stuff, and Hutz's Alex dominates the movie with his
hip-hop cadences and strangely illuminating bad English. But there isn't much
urgency here, and Schreiber's direction is relentlessly coy. He loves
marooning objects in the center of symmetrical frames, and he even resorts to
dog reaction shots. That lusty, witty klezmer soundtrack made me laugh out
loud for about half an hour, until I realized it was ironing out all the
dissonances, killing the sense of mystery we should feel in this Ukrainian
countryside with its buried secrets. I started wishing it was hunting season
on klezmer bands.

There's nothing wrong with Elijah Woods' Foer, except he's not a dramatic
character. He wears huge glasses and dark suits and walks like a robot or one
of the Men in Black. In the novel, he's a writer, but in the film, he calls
himself a collector and methodically bags and tags every item that reminds him
of something: a piece of boiled potato, a grasshopper, a handful of soil.
The woman at the end of his odyssey is also a collector, except on a much
vaster scale. Her boxes hold the history and culture of a place that's now
extinct. What a payoff this might have been, the idea of collection gestures
toward all the great themes, the illusiveness of memory and history, the
importance of storytelling, both to sift through and distill our past.

But Schreiber doesn't know how to get these themes into our bloodstream. So
the movie remains abstract and rather closed. When the so-called illumination
comes and the secret is revealed--and, by the way, it's a different secret
than in the novel--it's both horrific and surprisingly banal. Schreiber has
adapted Foer's "Everything is Illuminated" prudently, but I'm not sure the
words `prudent' and `Foer' belong in the same sentence. Better an insane,
inchoate fiasco than a self-consciously artistic mood piece that illuminates

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for Slate.


DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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