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Film Director Noah Baumbach on Young Adulthood and Jealous Love

Baumbach's latest film is "Mr. Jealousy," about an irrationally jealous young man who is obsessed with his girlfriend's ex-lovers. He joins the therapy group of his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend in order to learn more about him. Baumbach wrote and directed the film, as well as his previous debut film "Kicking and Screaming." "Mr. Jealousy stars Eric Stoltz, Annabella Sciorra, and Chris Eigeman who we hear from later in the show.


Other segments from the episode on July 8, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 8, 1998: Interview with Noah Baumbach; Interview with Chris Eigeman.


Date: JULY 08, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 070801np.217
Head: Mr. Jealousy
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is Noah Baumbach, the writer and director of the new film comedy "Mr. Jealousy." It's his second film. His first, "Kicking and Screaming," was made right after college and it was about people just leaving college trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

Mr. Jealousy stars Eric Stoltz as Lester, an aspiring writer who hasn't published yet. He falls in love with Ramona, an art historian played by Annabella Sciorra, but he's obsessively jealous of all of her previous lovers, particularly of Dashiell, a successful writer. Dashiell is played by Chris Eigeman, who we'll meet a little later.

Lester is so jealous of Dashiell that he decides to join Dashiell's therapy group under an assumed identity. Lester hopes to find out if Dashiell is still in love with Ramona. Here's a scene in which Lester is probing Ramona about her previous lovers.


ANNABELLA SCIORRA, ACTRESS, AS RAMONA: In college, it was just Donald, Sandra, Max and Arlo, and Jeff. And then after college, Art, Dashiell, Mikey, Rick. You know.

ERIC STOLTZ, ACTOR, AS LESTER: Whoa, whoa, wait a second. Who's Mikey? Some 12-year-old?

SCIORRA: Just some guy. I've mentioned him to you I'm sure.

STOLTZ: No. We went through our lovers. You never had a Mikey.

SCIORRA: Well, I forgot. I left it out accidentally.


Maybe we didn't do it. I don't remember. Maybe we just did like, you know, other stuff; everything but.

STOLTZ: We slept together on the first date.

SCIORRA: Mm-hmm.

STOLTZ: You were awful trusting. And for all you knew, I could have been some maniac.

SCIORRA: You used a condom.

STOLTZ: That's not what I mean. You could have waited. You could have let me wait.


STOLTZ: Why were you so quick to make love to me?

SCIORRA: I liked you.

STOLTZ: So, you hop in the sack with everyone you like?

SCIORRA: No. What? Are you using my behavior with you against me?

STOLTZ: I'm just saying that I think you moved a little fast with me.

SCIORRA: I don't believe you.

STOLTZ: I'm just saying.

SCIORRA: Are you jealous of yourself?

GROSS: When the characters played by Eric Stoltz and Annabella Sciorra fall in love, they start to share lists of former lovers. That seems like a very kind of dangerous game, doesn't it?

NOAH BAUMBACH, DIRECTOR, "MR. JEALOUSY": For them, I think it is. I think it -- the narrator in the movie even says, you know, that it's sort of -- a way for them to flirt was to talk about their past lovers. And I sort of always find that interesting on first dates; sometimes a way to sort of break the ice; in some ways to acknowledge that this is a date. You tend to maybe bring up -- you know, ask about: "oh, who was your last boyfriend?" And then it becomes this sort of odd, you know, courting.

And, yeah, I don't think it's advisable probably.


Certainly not for the character in this movie.

GROSS: Now your -- your first two films, Kicking and Screaming and Mr. Jealousy, are about that period of almost limbo after college or at the tail-end of college when you're not quite a fully formed adult yet. You don't have like a full life of your own yet, but you're not really a student anymore either.


GROSS: So it's that -- it's that in-between period when you don't know exactly what you're going to become. You don't know if you'll be successful at pursuing the thing that you want to pursue, if you're lucky enough to know what it is you want to pursue yet.

Why does that particular transitional period interest you? I guess it's in part because of your age.


Still being in your 20s, yes?

BAUMBACH: Right. 28. I'm interested in how sort of friendships or relationships that have developed over a long period of time, when people go through times of sort of individual change. In Kicking and Screaming, it's a group dynamic; how that group dynamic changes when each of them individually have to sort of move on. Do they end the friendships? How do the friendships change? And that was sort of the big thing that interested me in that movie.

With Kicking and Screaming, it was people who had graduated college and they just didn't want life to happen to them. They wanted no experience. They wanted to stay where they were. And with Mr. Jealousy, it's people who now have had some experience, and I think now they're afraid that nothing will happen to them.

And they want as much experience as possible, so they create these kind of sort of neurotic adventures for themselves to somehow, you know -- I -- I guess, inject adventure into their lives.

GROSS: Did you have friends who almost resented your determination and your early success at actually getting a film made? 'Cause there is this sense of when you're young of -- at least, well, you're sticking together. I mean, you're all going through this transition together and you'll all lost together. And when somebody starts to break rank and actually move on to something, it's really unnerving for the people who are still in that transition.

BAUMBACH: And you get a lot of left-handed compliments. You know, sort of, you know, "when did you stop beating your wife" kind of questions that you have to handle. You know, "I'm sorry about some of those reviews" -- you know, things like that.


GROSS: That's right.


GROSS: I guess things aren't all that good for you after all, are they?

BAUMBACH: Yeah. "It seems like seems sort of slowed down for a period," you know.

GROSS: Right.


BAUMBACH: With this sort of mock concern.


Well, that even sort of informed some of Mr. Jealousy, that kind of -- I think at different points in my life, I've felt on either Chris Eigeman's character Dashiell or with Eric Stoltz's character Lester. Lester sort of wants to hate Dashiell so much because he's a successful writer.

GROSS: Dashiell is the ex-boyfriend who...

BAUMBACH: He's the ex-boyfriend.

GROSS: ... who's a very successful writer. Right.

BAUMBACH: And then sort of discovers, in some ways, he's -- I mean, he turns out -- Dashiell turns out to be almost the most sympathetic character in the movie. And so, I think certainly that informed some of that, creating that dynamic between those two guys.

But you know, at the same time, it distinguishes all your friends who really are supportive and sort of rise to the occasion. You know, you sort of realize that it's -- it -- I guess it's tough on both sides.


GROSS: Your parents have both been film critics. Your mother, Georgia Brown (ph) for the Village Voice; your father Jonathan Baumbach before he became a novelist I think was a film critic for Partisan Review.


GROSS: So, did you see a lot of movies when you were young?

BAUMBACH: I did see a lot of movies. And a lot of good movies way before I was old enough to appreciate them. My father was a film critic when I was very young and my mother became a film critic when I was in college. So, I think it was good in a way.

I didn't really feel ever like I was growing up with critics. I just felt that I was growing up movie lovers. And so, it was great. It was great to be able to, you know, at an early age rebel against foreign films and go out and just see movies with the cast of Saturday Night Live in them.

And then come back around and realize that, you know, some of those guys aren't so bad.

GROSS: So, what were some of the touchstone films in your family that you absolutely had to see?

BAUMBACH: Well, I -- like -- one of my first movies was a Brassone (ph) movie called "Lancelot Du Lac" (ph) which...

GROSS: That was one of your first films?


BAUMBACH: Yeah. All I remember is horses legs. I'm afraid even to go back and see it, 'cause it has such an odd impression in my -- my psyche. They would sort of try and find movies -- like I saw "The Wild Child" movies that -- the Truffaut movies -- movies that in some ways could -- you know, you could justify children seeing.

Later, anything by Jean Renoir or then sort of Antonioni (ph) and Fellini and -- I mean, just so many. Then I was sort of introduced to all, like, the Howard Hawkes and John Ford movies. And then I was sort of off and running once I started to, you know, see those and enjoy them.

But in college, it was -- I got to sort of find things on my own also, and then come back and say: "have you seen this movie?" And they'd be like, "yeah, of course -- we tried to drag you to it." So you know, they certainly didn't insist I see things. They sort of let me discover things on my own, too, which I think is the best way.

GROSS: Would your parents, when you were young, take you to films that had sex in it, as long as the film was, you know, kind of intellectual and artistic?

BAUMBACH: They were sort of careful about it, although some tended to sort of -- to sneak through. I think about halfway through "Last Tango in Paris," I was escorted out of the theater.


GROSS: Before the butter.

BAUMBACH: Yeah. Although -- didn't even -- exactly -- before the butter, thankfully. They didn't have to explain too many things to me afterward. But my father's sort of love of film even got him in trouble because one time sort of -- I was even sort of a young teenager -- there was a movie called "Private School for Girls," and if you couldn't tell from the title, it was directed by a man named Noel Black (ph), who had made a movie called "Pretty Poison" with Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, which is a really -- now I've seen it. But my father's like "that's a terrific movie. This guy -- Noel Black's a great director. Let's go see this Private School for Girls."


So about 10 minutes into that, we were, you know, in the parking lot and my father was mumbling "soft core pornography" under his breath as I was tossed in the backseat.


GROSS: What were the conversations in your family like after movies? Did you have really good serious talks about films?

BAUMBACH: Yeah, we would -- my father and I also would sort of tend to like -- if movies we liked, but thought things could be different, we would tend to go on and on about like -- what if they had done this with the ending? Or if the movie had ended here and not there; or if -- you know what would be great? -- and there's a lot of sort of like trying to like figure out our own versions of the movies.

And then also later on, directors who maybe sort of made a few really good movies, but then made a lot of movies afterwards that were not as good, we would sort of go on all these theories of what happened to, you know, "X" director; what -- you know, could it be this? Could it be that?

Of course, later I discovered it just was like a cocaine habit and alimony payments and -- but at the time it was always very interesting 'cause we'd really try and get into, you know, "I think he got too interested in" -- you know, something, you know, whatever.

But it -- but yeah, there was a lot of sort of fun, sort of -- my whole family a lot of our sort of reminiscences together are sort of based around seeing movies.

GROSS: Now I think for some young filmmakers, if their parents see the film and maybe don't really like it, and can't cover up the fact that they don't really like it -- the filmmaker could say: "well, it's a different generation. What do they know about movies anyways?" You couldn't really say that if your parents didn't like your films.

So fortunately, they've liked them.


I mean, hopefully they've liked them. I don't know what they thought of them.


GROSS: Did they like them?

BAUMBACH: Yes, they both -- they claimed to like them both -- both movies very much.

GROSS: Did you in a way not want to hear the full review from them? And just be protected from that?

BAUMBACH: Usually I've -- the first time I show it to them, I've -- there's that, you know, I hope this, you know, I hope they like it because they're going to end up having to see about 10 other cuts afterward as I try and get their input as I get closer and closer to the final film. But I tend to involve them even pretty early in the script stage; show it to them and ask their thoughts.

And I've also used them in small parts in the movie so they tend to see the, you know, some of the -- the filmmaking. And so, it's not like I'm showing them something that is, you know, completely new to them. But the first time I showed them anything, there's a lot of anxiety about it.

GROSS: My guest is screenwriter and director Noah Baumbach. His new film is called Mr. Jealousy. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Noah Baumbach. He wrote and directed the new film Mr. Jealousy. His first film, Kicking and Screaming, was about a group of 20-something college graduates hanging around their college town unsure of what they should do with their lives.

One of the characters, Chet, played by Eric Stoltz, has dealt with the issue by staying in college -- remaining a perpetual student. He also works as a bartender, and in this scene, he's serving his friend Grover, played by Josh Hamilton. Grover can't figure Chet out.


JOSH HAMILTON, ACTOR, AS GROVER: Do you plan to leave here ever?

ERIC STOLTZ, ACTOR, AS CHET: Why would I leave?

HAMILTON: I don't know.

STOLTZ: You know, I sold term papers to make a living and slept with undergraduates -- the whole deal. After my seventh or eighth year, I began to feel like I was using myself. Somehow I experience my time as a postponement of my life, but eventually, I just realize that this is my life.

HAMILTON: I can see getting used to it.

STOLTZ: I met a woman -- my third American History of the 20th Century professor. We had this child.


STOLTZ: It is nice. It's nice. But it's not for everyone. Some people need to have a real career, which is something that I've never really understood, you know, why someone would want to be a vet or a lawyer or a filmmaker. I'm paraphrasing myself here, but I am a student and that's what I chose. You might need to choose something else, and that's...

GROSS: When you made Kicking and Screaming right after college, had you -- did you have any movie experience? In other words, did you have any idea what you were doing? Or did you have to fake your way through the first film?

BAUMBACH: There's plenty of faking. I -- I had never actually been on a movie set before I made Kicking and Screaming, which I blurted out at the New York Film Festival to my cast, and everyone who was on the panel with me all just sort of turned around and looked at me, like "we're gonna kill you."

But I -- and I don't even mean to say that cavalierly. I just had -- was so sure in my head that I wanted to make movies and that I knew what I would do -- had I got the chance, that it never even really occurred to me, 'cause I mean, my feeling was like: why do I want to be on someone else's movie set? I just want to be on my own.

GROSS: How did you get money that first time around?

BAUMBACH: Oh, boy, it was -- it was a really long -- I mean, it -- everything happened relatively fast for me, but it was a -- the financing fell through twice. The way I ended up actually getting the money was writing the part that Eric Stoltz plays in Kicking and Screaming, I ended up writing in a weekend, to get him into the movie to justify the financing.

So, that was a big movie-making lesson right then and there.

GROSS: Well particularly a few years ago, when you made Kicking and Screaming, Eric Stoltz was the king of independent films. You almost weren't legally allowed to make one without him in it.


GROSS: But you were totally untested, so why did he agree to be in your independent film?

BAUMBACH: He had read the script and liked it a lot, but was too old to play someone who just graduated college. And I didn't really have anything for him. He was going to play a cameo as a video store clerk. But then when the company that financed the film said, you know, what we -- you know, we were arguing over other casting choices, and they said: "well, looks like we can't finance the film, but if we could use Eric's name to market it, we'll give you the money."

And I knew Eric wouldn't agree. He was doing like a, you know, minute and a half cameo, that he wouldn't agree to let us use his name, and it would have been silly to try. So he was in Scotland doing "Rob Roy" at the time, and the producer and I wrote him a letter, and I just made up the part as we were writing the letter, and faxed it to him saying that this guy's been in college for 10 years. He's still writing his thesis. And it was just -- it was just insane.

So I didn't know what I was doing. And he agreed within 24 hours to play a part that hadn't been written. And that ended up getting the movie made. And it was one of those things, too, that I wrote it, so I knew I could cut it out if I didn't like it. And it ended up making the movie better.

So, it's just one of those sort of -- it was a good lesson to learn because I think before I'd made a movie, I really felt like every little thing I did was sort of part of the process and you know, this -- the script is perfect and each move I've made with this money person or this producer is all a step in one direction. And then you sort of realize that none of that means anything. It all comes down to, you know, what gets the money right in that moment.

GROSS: When you started directing, how did you learn to figure out when a take was actually going to look good on film? 'Cause, you know, you were unused to comparing what a scene looked like with the naked eye and what it looked like when it was processed on film.

BAUMBACH: Yeah, that's a good question. I -- even -- I remember the first time I saw dailies. I mean, I was just -- I mean, I really was shocked. I couldn't -- I couldn't even like think about takes. I was just like wow, it's in color and focus.


That's what we did. Those are -- I was there. It really was pretty -- it was really strange. I mean, I think it is something you learn and just sort of get used to is getting an idea. I mean, I do look through the camera as much as I can, certainly when I set up the shot, and then watch on the monitor. And you know, it just becomes a kind of feeling.

GROSS: Now you have another movie coming out called "Highball" (ph) -- is that the title?

BAUMBACH: Highball, yeah.

GROSS: And it was made with some of the same cast members as Mr. Jealousy and it was made right after Mr. Jealousy wrapped. Tell us something about the film and why you did it so -- so right on the heels of Mr. Jealousy.

BAUMBACH: Well, it was sort of a bit of an experiment. My feeling always is that it's easier to keep shooting once you're shooting, than it is to stop shooting and then start up again. So I wanted to make a movie in some ways like the first movie I never made, like something -- I always imagine I make -- I would have made Kicking and Screaming for, you know, just a -- you know, $100,000 with all my friends in someone's garage.

But I was lucky enough to get a little more money for it. So this was a movie -- we shot it for about $200,000. And I used the same cast -- some of the same crew. And it was one location. It was three parties over a year -- a birthday party, Halloween party, and new year's party. And I wanted to make a movie that was just all funny, with no pathos. You didn't -- nobody learned anything; just a movie with a lot of idiots.

And so, that's what it was. And I'm really happy with it. It was -- but it was, you know, a real specific thing to try and make a movie in six days that worked.

GROSS: Now in a moment, we're gonna meet Chris Eigeman, who is one of the stars of Mr. Jealousy, and in Mr. Jealousy he plays an ex-boyfriend of the Annabella Sciorra character. And Eric Stoltz is very jealous of him. He's a successful writer, and Eric Stoltz is not only jealous of him because he is a former boyfriend of Stoltz's girlfriend, but he's also jealous of him 'cause he's successful.

Did you write this role for Chris Eigeman?

BAUMBACH: When I'm writing parts, I generally aren't -- don't think of actors that specifically because I don't want to sort of -- when I'm writing, I like to sort of keep it free and just think of the characters. But I basically in the back of my head knew I was going to give it to Chris. I had really valued working with him on Kicking and Screaming and wanted to work with him right away again.

So, it's also a part where you expect to not like the guy. You expect to hate him. And I wanted to play on certain expectations that you have with I think a Chris Eigeman character, 'cause he often plays somebody who's maybe a little prickly. And that to start off with those expectations about his character and then, in the second half of the movie, sort of change that around completely.

GROSS: Well Noel Baumbach, thank you very much for talking with us.

BAUMBACH: Thank you. My pleasure.

GROSS: Noah Baumbach wrote and directed the new film Mr. Jealousy.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Noah Baumbach
High: Film director Noah Baumbach. His latest film is "Mr. Jealousy" about an irrationally jealous young man who is obsessed with his girlfriend's ex-lovers. He joins the therapy group of his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend in order to learn more about him. Baumbach wrote and directed the film, as well as his previous debut film "Kicking and Screaming." Mr. Jealousy stars Eric Stoltz, Annabella Sciorra, and Chris Eigeman who we hear from later in the show.
Spec: Movie Industry; Mr. Jealousy
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Mr. Jealousy
Date: JULY 08, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 070801np.217
Head: Chris Eigeman
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Actor Chris Eigeman is best-known for his roles in Whit Stillman's films "Metropolitan," "Barcelona," and his current film "The Last Days of Disco," in which Eigeman plays the manager of the disco.

Eigeman is also starring in Noah Baumbach's new film Mr. Jealousy. He plays Annabella Sciorra's former boyfriend, who her current boyfriend Eric Stoltz is insanely jealous of. Stoltz has even joined Eigeman's group therapy sessions under an assumed identity to find out more about him.

What worries Stoltz most is that passionate sex scenes in Eigeman's novel are really based on Stoltz's girlfriend. And Stoltz thinks Eigeman has come close to admitting that in a former session. So, Stoltz keeps getting Eigeman to talk about the novel.

In this scene, Eigeman is talking about the novel and how he deals with it with his current girlfriend, Irene.


CHRIS EIGEMAN, ACTOR, AS DASHIELL: The other night, feeling guilty, I told Irene that the character in my book, Charlotte, the one who takes part in the erotic sex scene, was based on an actual girlfriend of mine.

ERIC STOLTZ, ACTOR, AS LESTER: You told the truth?

EIGEMAN: Charlotte was a girl I dated in New York after college. The real Charlotte -- God my memory is terrible -- the real Charlotte was a bit of a tart.

STOLTZ: A what?

EIGEMAN: What a Phillip Roth character might call a "chippie." She had a number of lovers for a woman her age, at least in my experience. In college, she dated a lot of those younger teachers that everybody had crushes on. The guys wanted to be -- the girls wanted to (expletive deleted) -- one history teacher in particular. It used to bother me a lot then. Now, I am one of those guys.

GROSS: Chris Eigeman, welcome to FRESH AIR.

EIGEMAN: Thanks.

GROSS: Let me ask you to describe your character in Mr. Jealousy.

EIGEMAN: Dashiell is a writer who's written one book that sort of gets heralded as a sort of like zeitgeist novel of Manhattan and young Manhattanites, not dissimilar to say, you know, "Bright Lights, Big City," "Less Than Zero."

And Noah and I sort of modeled the character on a lot of those guys. And also up to and including David Foster Wallace (ph) -- certainly the way David Foster Wallace looks. We -- 'cause when he had done, I guess, "Infinite Jest" (ph), he had his dust jacket -- he had like long hair and sort of scruffy face. And we were like: this is who we want this to be.

GROSS: Now, he's somebody who is an ambiguous figure during a lot of the movie. You don't know what -- whether you should dislike him like the Eric Stoltz character does...


GROSS: ... 'cause he's so jealous of him, or whether you know, he's a good writer and a likable guy. So, how did you see him inhabiting the character?

EIGEMAN: This was the first character that I've ever played who never ever lies. He only tells the truth. There's no reason for Dashiell to lie. You meet him most of the time in therapy, where it's completely counterproductive to lie.

And for a long time when I was doing the part, it -- it -- there was this ill-fitting feeling to the whole thing where I wasn't sure why things felt the way -- and I was like, oh, it's because the character's never lying.

So in my view, you know, Dashiell's a great guy. He's incredibly sweet. He's good natured. He means well. He hopes for the best. He's trying to get better. He's trying to be a better writer. He wonders if he even can be a good writer. He wonders about the success and whether it's earned or just sort of happened.

So that's my -- that was my take on Dashiell.

GROSS: Now, Noah Baumbach said that he was really surprised at some of your line readings.

EIGEMAN: Yeah, I was...

GROSS: ... readings of lines that he wrote. Yeah.

EIGEMAN: Yeah, I heard him say that and I went through it in my head, like: which lines could we be talking about?

GROSS: Well what do you think?

EIGEMAN: I don't know. I do think that I have -- it's either, you know, nurture or nature, but I do have some specific timing things that I will do that, you know, they can help or they can hinder, but I suspect that's what he's talking about.

GROSS: You also always seem to play characters that are kind of confrontational.


GROSS: That whether they're lying or telling the truth, they just kind of -- they're just kind of -- they're very blunt and they say -- they just say it.

EIGEMAN: I know. I don't know what in me attracts writer-directors to have me do that stuff. I don't think that's the way I am particularly, but that's the way I come off or something.

GROSS: Well...

EIGEMAN: My wife I think has a different take on that. She's like: no, no, no, you are that way.


GROSS: Now, now, now -- describe your character in The Last Days of Disco.

EIGEMAN: Des (ph) is a -- he's sort of a club manager, or the under-manager of a club that's not dissimilar to Studio 54, who spends his time trying to bring his friends into the disco. And his friends are these -- they're almost like proto-yuppies. I mean, it's before -- "yuppy" is this word that just starts getting thrown around right at this time and it's not a compliment.

And so I -- I spend my days trying to get these guys into the club. So I'm sort of like Normandy Beach to these guys. If they can just get to me, I can get them in the club.

GROSS: Let's hear a scene from the film.


ACTOR: Yuppy scum? In college, before dropping out, I took a course in the propaganda uses of language. One objective is to deny other people's humanity, or even right to exist.

ACTOR: In the men's lounge someone scrawled "kill yuppy scum."

ACTOR: Do yuppies even exist? No one says "I am a yuppy." It's always the other guy who's a yuppy. I think for a group to exist, somebody has to admit to be part of it.

ACTOR: Of course, yuppies exist. Most people would say you two are prime specimens.

ACTOR: We're not yuppies.

ACTOR: You think we're yuppies?

ACTOR: You're seriously saying you're not yuppies?

ACTOR: No. "Yuppy" stands for young upwardly mobile professional. "Nightclub flunky" is not a professional category.

ACTOR: Contrary to popular belief...

GROSS: Now, where were you, Chris Eigeman, during the disco era? Did you participate in any way?

EIGEMAN: No, I pretty much sat it out. I'm old enough or young enough just to have missed it. I grew up in Denver, and so when disco hit say in about, I don't know, 1972 or '3, Denver didn't have an enormous disco horizon. I remember that there were two of them and one of the discos that, you know, where parents or godparents were going to or friend's parents were going to, was a steakhouse during the day, and then at night, they like swept all the gristle off to one side and dropped down a disco ball and it became a disco.

But it was -- I don't know whether it's still there or not, but it was at this really sort of prominent corner in Denver, and you always drove by it and all the kids knew something was going on here. And it was called "The London Broil" -- which I thought was just fantastic.


Like if you had to come up with a name that works both for a disco and a steakhouse, that's it.

GROSS: Oh, that's great. That...

EIGEMAN: I mean, to this day, I wonder whether it's there. I'll so -- I'm sure I'll get a chance to go back and look for it, or I'll be sued by whoever it is that owns it.

GROSS: Let's fix it up for the kids at night.

EIGEMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Oh, so...

EIGEMAN: It was just amazing.

GROSS: Did you dance?

EIGEMAN: No. I actually -- dancing is something that never came easily to me. I'm a lousy dancer. In fact, on Disco, they hired a choreographer because I was supposed to dance, like everybody else in the film. And the guy -- the first day of dance rehearsals or whatever -- taught me the Hustle.

And I really tried to learn it. I dutifully, you know, memorized the steps and this is where you clap and all of that. And then I went home and showed my wife, who laughed incredibly hard. And it was laughter directed at me. It was not supportive. It was not friendly. It was a "you look like an idiot" kind of laugh.

And the next day, the guy tried to teach me something else, and it wasn't going well. And then I would go back to the production office where there'd be big charts for the dance numbers, and my name was systematically being crossed off each dance routine.

So, apparently my dancing caused nausea in both the choreographer and others, so I was just cut.

GROSS: My guest is Chris Eigeman. He's starring in two films, The Last Days of Disco and Mr. Jealousy. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Chris Eigeman. He's starring in two films, Mr. Jealousy and The Last Days of Disco.

Most of your film experience so far is in the films of Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach.

EIGEMAN: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: You've been in each of -- each of their films.


GROSS: And their films are about two different worlds. Whit Stillman's films are about the world of people who grew up in wealthy families...

EIGEMAN: Yeah, a certain amount of privilege and all that.

GROSS: Right. And who are from the kind of circle where, you know, the women in the circle were debutantes.

EIGEMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And Noah Baumbach's films are more about people who come out of a more kind of bohemian kind of background.


GROSS: Though the ages are similar in -- though that's not true, 'cause the era's more of 1980s for Whit Stillman's. But anyways...

EIGEMAN: Well, but the characters' ages...

GROSS: The characters' ages...

EIGEMAN: ... are the same.

GROSS: ... are similar. Exactly.

EIGEMAN: Which is good because otherwise I'd have to put on a fake mustache or something to play them.

GROSS: There you go. There you go. Do you feel more connected to either of those worlds? The bohemian world or, you know, the debutante world?

EIGEMAN: Wow -- no one's ever asked me that before. I think, you know, in all honesty I straddle both, which sounds like a cop-out, but it's actually true. My sister in Denver was a deb, and I, you know, did that whole routine. I escorted her down the steps. I got dressed up like an idiot -- all of that stuff.

But yet I went to -- you know, I went to a high school in Vermont called Putney (ph) that is -- that is -- some would call very liberal or bohemian. I mean, I loved it. I thought it was -- it was the best education I could have gotten.

And when I was at high school, I was asked to escort somebody in New York to a deb party, and I took the bus out of Vermont and came down to New York City, and the mother saw me. And I had really long hair. I had hair down to about my mid-back, and I had two earrings in, and I was wearing clogs.


And I was immediately put back on the bus and not allowed to escort the girl at whatever ball it was. So you know, it's -- you know, a bit of this, a bit of that.

GROSS: Right. So how did you get your first part in a Whit Stillman movie, which was Metropolitan -- the movie that's specifically about debutantes and their escorts.

EIGEMAN: And their escorts. I read an audition announcement in the trades in New York, and I'd been in New York for really only about a year. And I went to the audition, which was a cattle call. It was -- you know, everybody it seemed was there. Thousands of people were standing in a line. The line snaked out of the building. The audition was like on the fourth floor and the line snaked through the stairs and out onto Lafayette Street and down the street.

So I lived really close by, so I kind of grabbed a number and went back home and hung out. And then went through that audition. And then the auditions kept going for about four months. They started in about fall, and it was well into December before the last audition. And the last audition was -- I was sitting in a room with a lot of Whit's producers, who -- three or four of these guys, who were these very well-dressed, young, kind of scary-looking guys.

And they knew that they had my fortune in their hands to make or break as they saw fit. And they weren't being very nice about the whole experience. And one of the young producers crossed his legs, and I noticed that a price tag was dangling off his sock. And I mentioned that if wanted to become a real producer, he should learn to take the price tags off his clothes.


GROSS: What a nice way of putting it.

EIGEMAN: Well -- and they didn't laugh. No one laughed, but Whit laughed. Whit kind of cackled in the background. And I actually think got me the job. I think -- again, sort of going back to what you talked about originally, is the guy who just says it, which is something occasionally I can do in life and thankfully was able to do it in that moment.

GROSS: Now, but what went through your mind when you were saying that, 'cause that could definitely be a make or break moment, and lo, turned out to be a make moment. It could have easily been a -- what a jerk -- how can -- you know.

EIGEMAN: Yeah, get rid of this guy. How did you ever consider him?

GROSS: Yeah.

EIGEMAN: I don't know. I think I had just sort of had it with these idiots who were sitting around and -- and you know, there's a part of being an actor that is -- that's always unpleasant, which is that constant judging thing that goes on in rooms, you know. And that -- that's the part that I never handle particularly well. I always get irritated at it. So, I'm sure that's what was coming to the forefront.

GROSS: Now it's funny 'cause on Last Days of Disco, the character that you're playing is the character that always has to evaluate -- evaluate people who want to get into the disco and decide...


GROSS: ... who's worthy; who's kind of beautiful enough...


GROSS: .. to be -- who's hip and beautiful enough to be let in. So, you're in that position that makes the judgments, and you...

EIGEMAN: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: ... and you're on the other end of that. Yeah.

EIGEMAN: Exactly. Which also explains why I as a human being have never gone to a disco and have never stood on the other side of the velvet rope, because there's enough rejection in my life. I wouldn't want to go out and search for it at night for recreation.


GROSS: Well how much -- how much rejection has there been in your life? Have you lost out on a lot of roles that you tried to get?

EIGEMAN: Oh, yeah, I mean -- yeah. Somebody came up with some statistic. I doubt it's true. But it might be close, which is: at your best -- at your best game, an actor lands about one out of 20 jobs; one out of 30 -- something like that.

I remember I got a job -- right after Metropolitan I went to Hollywood to do a TV pilot. And it was a job that I was not -- I was very proud to have gotten, but didn't really want. It wasn't a great job. It -- and I always sort of felt queasy about taking it, but I took it and then I got fired from it, which sort of taught me the lesson of, you know, there's like three kinds of jobs.

There's the -- really the good job that you'd kill to do; and then there's the lousy job that you know you would never do. But then there's this middle area, and at some point after the firing, I decided I'd like to stay away from even the little -- you know, the middle area, the gray area, and only do jobs that I would really love, which explains why, you know, I've done -- I've worked with two directors solely.

GROSS: You have this knack of when you take characters who in some ways are very unlikable, of still making them kind of likable -- you know?


GROSS: You find the sympathetic part in them, and I'm wondering what the trick to that is?

EIGEMAN: I don't know, but it's nice to hear that it worked.


I -- I think that there are maybe two ways of looking at acting, and one of the ways is, you know, put on the rubber nose and change your voice a little bit, and that sort of -- you know, the Olivier thing. And then there's the Spencer Tracy thing of just standing where you're supposed to stand and tell the truth.

And I tend to do the Spencer Tracy thing. But as a result of that, it means I drag all the characters that I'm playing over to me. So hopefully, whatever sort of sympathetic qualities you're sensing might actually be mine.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. You know what I also think really works for you in the roles that you take -- you tend to play very kind of verbal people. And I think you just handle that really well; that you -- you really have a knack for that kind of verbal interplay, and forgetting the kind of smartness that these characters have.

EIGEMAN: Right. Yeah. I think that...

GROSS: Can you tell us?

EIGEMAN: ... I mean, I'm much happier with the sort of long, beefy speech as opposed to the -- the sort of quick clever banter.

GROSS: Right.

EIGEMAN: Which is why, you know, doing Mr. Jealousy was, you know, a walk in the park for me. I loved it because it was -- it was just these huge monologues that I got to sit and do, and trying to find the corners in them and trying to find the humor in them. And that was fantastic.

When I see a page that's, you know, three lines -- all of whom have to be funny -- I'm -- you know, that's like "oh no." Now I'm at sixes and sevens, so I'm not sure what to do with it.

GROSS: When you worked on Whit Stillman's middle film, Barcelona, I read that you gave up smoking while making the movie. And I'm wondering like what went through your mind to give up smoking during such an important period when you were probably really tense and there was so much at stake. It's probably the last time that most people would think of...

EIGEMAN: And we were in Spain, where everybody smoked also.

GROSS: Oh, sure.

EIGEMAN: So, you know, made it even harder.

GROSS: Yeah.

EIGEMAN: I don't know. I felt that I was slowly but surely losing all control over my life, which is not an unfamiliar feeling when you make a movie, especially when -- and that was the first movie ever made where it was -- it's the only movie I ever made -- where it was out of the country.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

EIGEMAN: So you know, everything was about the film; every waking hour; every sleeping hour was about the movie. And I'd started smoking when I was like 13 or something and I loved it. I just thought it was the best -- I mean, to this day, I miss it. And I knew that this would not be a bad time to quit, 'cause I felt everything sort of slipping away from me. And I needed to get some control over my life. So I quit smoking in the middle of the film.

Now Whit, I don't think, has forgiven me for it, because apparently I became pretty difficult towards the latter days of that shoot. And apparently on -- on Disco, there was a rider on everyone's contract which said if you smoke today, you must continue to smoke throughout the film and you are not allowed to quit.


So, you know, I don't know. I -- it just seemed like the right time to do it.

GROSS: Now if you were offered a role that you liked, but it required the character to smoke, would you take the role, knowing that it might get you hooked again on cigarettes?

EIGEMAN: Well yeah, there's -- actually in Mr. Jealousy and Disco, I smoke.

GROSS: That's true. That's right.

EIGEMAN: But -- yeah, but I smoke those -- they have these cigarettes that are like phony cigarettes. They're like filled with rose petals or something. I don't know. And you can smoke them and they smell disgusting and the crew really hates you for it. But you know, you can smoke those.

GROSS: Did you inhale?

EIGEMAN: Oh, yeah. I mean, any excuse. And my wife...

GROSS: That's the thing -- yeah.

EIGEMAN: ... exactly -- my wife, who also quit, was -- she -- we made a deal that whenever I had to go smoke one of these phony cigarettes for a film, she was allowed to smoke exactly as many phony cigarettes. So, I'd come home I'd -- like I got to smoke 14 phony cigarettes. And so she'd just sit down and light up 14 phony cigarettes and smoke them all.


I tell you -- the weirdness of marriage, huh?

GROSS: So it didn't make either of you start smoking again?


GROSS: Good.

EIGEMAN: No, 'cause it's just rose petals smoke. You know, which...

GROSS: But it gets you back in the habit of having...

EIGEMAN: You go through all...

GROSS: ... a thing in your hands and your mouth.

EIGEMAN: ... all those cherished motions you get all over again.

GROSS: My guest is Chris Eigeman. He's starring in two films, Mr. Jealousy and The Last Days of Disco. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Chris Eigeman. He's starring in two current films, Mr. Jealousy and The Last Days of Disco.

So now I understand that you've made a new pilot that's actually going to be broadcast.

EIGEMAN: Yeah, there'll be a -- I guess ABC's picked it up for a midseason replacement.

GROSS: Does that mean this summer?

EIGEMAN: It means I think anytime from October on, we can appear.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

EIGEMAN: So they've -- they put an order in for 12 episodes, which is a lot, so I guess they're trying to bank them up so that we're ready to go whenever they want us.

GROSS: What's -- what's the program?

EIGEMAN: It's called "It's Like, You Know" and it's about a New York writer who goes to L.A. The guy who wrote it, Peter Melman (ph), was a writer...

GROSS: He worked for "Seinfeld."

EIGEMAN: ... yeah, he was executive producer of Seinfeld. Exactly. And it's sort of Peter's story about a New York journalist who goes to L.A. to write for -- in Peter's case he was writing for Jerry Seinfeld. I'm not doing that. The character doesn't write for a comedian. He just tries to write, but is unable to escape the clutches of Los Angeles.

And I -- the character comes to L.A. with a certain amount of hatred for the city that's unfounded, but is there nonetheless. And it's to do with his friends who live out there and -- we've only done the pilot, so what's in store, I've yet to see. But when I read it -- again, it fell into the category of jobs I would kill for.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

EIGEMAN: When I -- I had written -- Noah and I wrote a script together for NBC a couple years ago, of a sitcom that they bought, but they never made. And when I read Peter's script, it was the best pilot script I'd ever read. And I'd tried writing these things, you know, so I knew it was fantastic. So, I met with Peter and his executive producer and, you know, went through the process of getting the job.

GROSS: So, it sounds like another role that's very verbal.

EIGEMAN: Very verbal -- big, long, beefy speeches hopefully. And you know, a lot appeals to me about doing a sitcom, I gotta tell you. It's -- you know, the work-a-day world just beckons. I love the idea of waking up every morning and having a job to go to. Unfortunately, that job's in California, which is a bit of a problem, but you know, still, the idea of just going to work is so appealing.

GROSS: You've been living in New York?

EIGEMAN: Yeah, yeah. And I think for a while I'll just commute back and forth until, you know, hopefully the life of the show will go on and then we'll move out there.

GROSS: Yeah, you've mentioned how appealing it is to have like a job -- daily work, to have.


GROSS: I always wonder what actors do when they're not working and there's so much time they have when they're not working.

EIGEMAN: They go out of their minds.

GROSS: Well, how do you spend your days when you're not working?

EIGEMAN: Well, I walk my dog a lot, which is great for the dog.


I mean, she's so happy when I'm unemployed.

GROSS: A very fit dog.

EIGEMAN: She's -- yeah, right -- she's in top physical condition when I'm not working. So, I do that. I will -- you know, cook dinner, clean up; you know, try to find another job. All the sort of cliches are true. I mean, you know, I try not to have my wife come home after working -- come home at six o'clock and I'm still in my bathrobe.

I try not for things like that to happen, but -- but you just sort of -- you putter. You putter around the house. And I love it. You know, I don't mind puttering, except there are times when I actually miss or feel left out of things like rush hour, 'cause I have no reason to go onto rush hour traffic or to get in the subway in rush hour. Everybody else does. I sort of feel left out sometimes.

GROSS: Do you have certain guilt rules? For example, are you not allowed to enjoy yourself during working hours because maybe you should be working?

EIGEMAN: Nice. Yeah. Have you talked to other actors who told you that?

GROSS: No, no.

EIGEMAN: Really? No, that's totally true. You know, I won't sit around the house and read, for example, whatever good book I'm reading, 'cause that's sort of relaxation time.


You know, I'll go and ready "Domby and Son" (ph) during the middle of the day or something that's not necessarily that pleasant. And I'll do -- you know, I'll read the John Irving at night or whatever.

GROSS: Are you allowed to go to a matinee during the day? That -- I mean, that's kind of work. You have to keep up with the industry.

EIGEMAN: You know, you can argue to my accountant that going to movies is work, but really I try not to do that. Noah and I will sometimes go to a movie in the afternoon, but I -- you know, I still feel sort of a little uncomfortable being one of eight people at a two o'clock showing of, you know, "Armageddon." It always makes me feel just a little weird.

GROSS: So, are you at the point where people are recognizing you now?

EIGEMAN: Yeah, now -- I mean, it's always sort of broken along two different lines. In New York, people -- because my first movie was Metropolitan, the way people started recognizing was they thought we'd prepped together. You know, they were sure I went to whatever -- you know, Hotchkiss or whatever high school they went to. And then we go through the dance of, no, I didn't go to high school with you; no, I didn't go to Harvard with you.

Yes, you know me from that movie. And now we're getting away from that, where people just sort of recognize me 'cause I've been around or whatever. So.

GROSS: Well Chris Eigeman, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

EIGEMAN: Thanks a lot.

GROSS: Chris Eigeman is starring in two current films, Mr. Jealousy and The Last Days of Disco.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Chris Eigeman
High: Actor Chris Eigeman. He is currently starring in two films "The Last Days of Disco" and "Mr. Jealousy." In Mr. Jealousy he plays Dashiell, the ex-boyfriend of Ramona, played by Annabella Sciorra, a young woman who falls in love with Lester, played by Eric Stoltz. Eigeman has spent the last decade working with two film directors: Noah Baumbach and Whit Stillman
Spec: Movie Industry; Mr. Jealousy; The Last Days of Disco
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Chris Eigeman
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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