December 12, 2014
Guests: Richard Linklater - Jill Soloway
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Our first guest today is Richard Linklater, director of the film "Boyhood." It just received five Golden Globe nominations, including one for Linklater as best director and another for best motion picture drama. Both Fresh Air critic David Edelstein and New York Times film critic A. O. Scott have named "Boyhood" the best film of the year. "Boyhood" was shot over the course of 12 years, so we watch the actors getting older for real, which gives their characters a sense of authenticity. "Boyhood" was written and directed by Richard Linklater, who spoke to Terry earlier this year when the movie was released. It comes out on DVD next month. Linklater also made the films "Slacker," "Dazed and Confused," the "Before Sunrise" trilogy, "School Of Rock" and "Bernie." "Boyhood" begins when the main character, Mason, is 6. His sister is a couple years older. They live in a small Texas town with their mother, who is divorced from their father. Over the next 12 years, we watch the children grow up as their parents stumble their way through the next stage of adulthood. The parents are played by Ethan Hawke ,who costarred in Linklater's "Before Sunrise" trilogy, and Patricia Arquette. Both of them received Golden Globe nominations also. The boy is played by Ellar Coltrane, and the sister is played by Linklater's daughter Lorelei. Here's a scene from the film. The mother is now remarried but has discovered that her new husband drinks and has an authoritarian streak. He's forced her shaggy-haired son to get a buzz cut. The boy is embarrassed by how he looks. Soon after, alone in the car with his mother, he lets her know how angry he is.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOYHOOD")
ELLAR COLTRANE: (As Mason) I mean, he didn't even ask. He just cut it. I mean, it's my hair.
PATRICIA ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) Well, no wonder you were angry. I'd be angry too.
COLTRANE: (As Mason) I look like a Martian now.
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) Honey, you know what? I'm going to talk to him about it later, OK?
COLTRANE: (As Mason) I tried to call you, but you didn't answer your phone.
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) I'm so sorry. I've been so busy with school. Hey, for what it's worth, it's hair, and it will grow back. Now I can see your pretty eyes and your foxy face.
COLTRANE: (As Mason) Why'd you even marry him? He's such a jerk.
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) Bill has his good qualities. You know, nobody's perfect. And now we have a family.
COLTRANE: (As Mason) We already had a family.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Richard Linklater, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, throughout my life...
RICHARD LINKLATER: Thanks.
GROSS: ...I've always wondered like - gee, what's that baby going to look like as a child, and what's that child going to look like as a teenager, and what's that teenager going to look like as an adult, and what's that adult going to look like as an elderly person? When I was in, like, grade school, I used to think like - what's the kid sitting next me going to look like an adult? Because I couldn't fathom kids my age looking like adults - it seemed just unimaginable to me that we'd all grow into what adults look like. And I'm wondering if that's part of what you were thinking about in shooting this film over 12 years.
R. LINKLATER: (Laughing) Well, I don't know if that was the main motivation, but it was certainly kind of - part of the idea was to see people transform in one sitting of a movie - to see them transform into that young adult in this case or see the adults get older. I mean, that is the fascinating journey we all make. You just kind of have to admit you're collaborating - your main collaborator here is really an unknown future. So I would have each year to kind of incrementally adjust and maybe go toward who he was becoming. At the beginning, that's not really him. He's playing this fictional character. But by the end, all those years later, I think his character had morphed largely - still a fictional character - but, you know, that's really him sitting up on the mountain at the end. I would say that's Ellar.
GROSS: How much of the story did you have in your mind when you set out to make the movie and how did that change as the years went by and the actors you were working with, particularly the children, one of whom is your daughter, changed?
R. LINKLATER: All - it's both - the macro and the micro.
GROSS: And you changed too, I'm sure.
R. LINKLATER: Yeah.
GROSS: I'm sure you've changed over 12 years. And your idea of how children mature and what happens to parents - I'm sure that changed over 12 years.
R. LINKLATER: Of course, I looked forward to that. That was kind of built into the design of the movie. Even as I structured it and knew the trajectories of the characters and kind of all the physicality - oh, they're moving here, there's a divorce, you get your degree, you move again. The dad comes into your life and, you know, all this. I kind of had that all worked out. But I was kind of looking forward to, you know, the new ideas that would emerge in the process, you know. I had notes I know I wanted to hit later in the film that I knew I couldn't even articulate yet. I knew oh, that'll be eight or nine years before I truly will know the right tone for that scene. But there it sits as a placeholder way into the future. So it's kind of good to know what you're working toward. But it's also rare in film that you have this luxury of time. You know, we filmed 39 days over about a 4,200 day stretch of time, which is incredible. It gave me so much time to just think and process everything we had done so far. I could edit, attach that to this ever-growing film. Year-by-year, it's becoming larger. I would edit the entire film again - watch it, think about it - what does the story need? Incorporate whatever is going on in the culture that I felt was relevant. And then also my incrementally aging and growing-up cast - being in touch with them and what's going on in their lives.
GROSS: Now, you cast your daughter as the older sister in the movie. And she's, like, what, a couple of years older than her brother?
R. LINKLATER: Yeah, she was 9 and Ellar was 7 when we started, yeah.
GROSS: So tell me why you cast your daughter. I was thinking part of the reason - I'm guessing here - that part of the reason was if you were willing to put your daughter through it, then you'd feel more comfortable putting Ellar, Ellar Coltrane through it.
GROSS: And also his parents would feel more comfortable thinking, like, well, his own daughter's doing it, so he's going to treat my son OK.
R. LINKLATER: They don't know who they're dealing with. You know, I never really thought of that. I guess that might've impressed them that oh yeah, I'm putting my family on the line for this. But it was really - it almost felt like I didn't cast Lorelei. She - once it was apparent that the older sister was in her age range, you know, the kind of - starts off kind of the annoying older sister. She sort of insisted on the part. She sort of took the part like, daddy, well, I'm playing that part. She had grown up on movie sets. She'd been in other movies, little parts. And it was just very natural for her. She was very extraverted at that point in her life. And, you know, the sassy kid you see at the beginning of the movie, that was her.
GROSS: But didn't it cross your mind that there might've been one of those moments of - I hate you daddy and I hate your movie?
R. LINKLATER: I didn't think that at the beginning because she was so gung-ho. But surprise, you know, here comes puberty (laughing). You know, adolescence and, you know, here we go. She did have a year where she was like dad, can my character, like, die?
R. LINKLATER: You know, she was (laughing) - that wasn't, like, director-actor, that was daughter-father. And it was really cute, and I couldn't quite figure out if she was having an emotional reaction to the dressing up for the Harry Potter book signing that year. It seemed irrational to me at the time, and I'm like, well, no Lorelei. You know, that would be a little dramatic for the film we're making. You know, she got through it. And then she really came back aboard and she never wanted to bail again. She was really a trooper and I'm very proud of the work she did. She was great.
GROSS: So you describe the character that your daughter, Lorelei Linklater, plays in the movie as like the annoying older sister.
R. LINKLATER: Starts off that way
GROSS: Starts off that way. So here's her starting off as the annoying sister moment.
R. LINKLATER: Oh yeah.
GROSS: And she's singing the Britney Spears hit, "Oops, I Did it Again." And her younger brother is just feeling, like, tormented by being forced to watch her sing this. And she's, like, dancing around the room and everything. So, let me just play that moment. And you'll hear him just kind of feeling tormented and then she starts kind of, you know, tormenting him. And then the mother walks in and...
R. LINKLATER: ...She fakes crying.
GROSS: And, yeah. She fakes that he hit her when really she's the one who's been picking on him. So here's the scene. And this is Richard Linklater's daughter, Lorelei Linklater, as the older sister and Ellar Coltrane as the brother.
(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM, "BOYHOOD")
LORELEI LINKLATER: (As Samantha, singing) Oops I did it again. I played with your heart. I got lost the game. Oh baby, baby. Woops you think I'm in love, I was sent from above.
COLTRANE: (As Mason Jr.) Stop.
L. LINKLATER: (As Samantha, singing) I'm not that innocent.
COLTRANE: (As Mason Jr.) Quit it.
L. LINKLATER: (As Samantha, singing) You see my problem is this, I'm dreaming away, wishing that heroes truly exist.
COLTRANE: (As Mason Jr.) Quit it.
L. LINKLATER: (As Samantha, singing) I cry watching the days. You see I'm a fool, in so many ways.
COLTRANE: (As Mason. Jr.) Mom.
L. LINKLATER: (As Samantha, singing) But to lose all my senses...
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) What the hell is going on in here? Do you guys know what time it is?
L. LINKLATER: (As Samantha, crying) He's throwing things at me.
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) Mason, do not throw things at your sister.
COLTRANE: (As Mason Jr.) She's faking. She hit me first.
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) Listen, both of you. I'm going back to bed. I don't want to hear another peep out of here for an hour. Go to sleep.
COLTRANE: (As Mason Jr.) Faker.
GROSS: That was Patricia Arquette as the mother. My guest Richard Linklater wrote and directed the movie which is called "Boyhood." So I think that's great, and I was wondering if your daughter Lorelei at the time was singing, "Oops, I Did it Again," around the house. And I was wondering also what you thought of it when she was - when she was singing around the house because you know, Britney Spears was so - kind like of sexualized as a young teen and parents were like, oh my gosh, do I really want my daughter being that sexualized, that young.
R. LINKLATER: No, my daughter lives in another - at that age lived in another century. She was listening to harpsichord. She's kind of a medievalist. So, she wasn't really that familiar with Britney Spears. I mean, she knew the name and I think she had heard the song. She had to kind of learn that for the movie. But she was singing and dancing to her namesake, Marilyn Monroe's character in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," singing "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend." That she would sing and dance to, at a drop of a hat. She was a big Marilyn Monroe fan at that time. So, I even filmed as a backup, in case it ever got the rights to the Britney Spears song, I had her doing a take of - from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." So that's really more who she was.
GROSS: My guest is Richard Linklater. He wrote and directed the new film "Boyhood." And his other films include "Dazed and Confused" and "Slacker" and "Bernie." So I want to jump ahead in time a few years in the movie - and this is a scene when your daughter, Lorelei Linklater, is in high school. We just heard her when she was about 9, now she's in this scene. She's in high school. And her younger brother's in middle school. And so in the scene she's with one of her girlfriends talking at home in her bedroom and her mother walks in and is really angry that she neglected to do what she promised to do, which is pick up her younger brother from middle school. So here's the scene.
(SOUNDBITE FROM FILM, "BOYHOOD")
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) Samantha. Why the hell didn't you pick up your brother like you said you would?
L. LINKLATER: (As Samantha) OK, Mom. Mom, I know you're going to say - she was running late, and we couldn't turn around.
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) No, no. No excuses. The bottom line is, you didn't do what you say you were going to do. You stranded your brother.
L. LINKLATER: (As Samantha) It's embarrassing to ask my friend to turn around and get some kid at the middle school.
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) What do you mean, some kid? He's your brother. And you know what? We've helped Janey out before. I mean, she lives right around the corner, it's no big deal.
L. LINKLATER: (As Samantha) Sorry
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) You know what, Samantha? You need to start thinking long and hard about who you want to be. Do you want to be a cooperative person who - who's compassionate and helps people out, or do want to be a self-centered narcissist?
L. LINKLATER: (As Samantha) You know what? You're right. I am this horrible person, but honestly he's not a baby anymore - you don't have to treat him like one. He's in eighth grade, and he can find his way home if he wants to.
ARQUETTE: (As Olivia) You know what? When Gabby leaves, you and me are going to have a chat.
GROSS: That's Lorelei Linklater and Patricia Arquette in a scene from Richard Linklater's new movie, "Boyhood." And I - I love just hearing back to back the clip where daughter is like nine, and singing "Oops, I Did it Again," and hearing her in high school - it's much more interesting when you can see it too. So "Boyhood" is not a thriller, but I found myself being nervous during a lot of the movie because I was always worrying that the kids will hurt themselves, or get into trouble, or something is going to go wrong. And it made me think - I'm not a parent, but it made me think about how parents probably live their lives that way because there's always so much to worry about when your children are going up.
R. LINKLATER: It's the worst thing that gets imposed on you as a parent. Like your carefree days are over because - just that part of you - what's that part of the brain that's on the lookout for all danger? I mean that goes on...
GROSS: ...It's called my brain
R. LINKLATER: Yeah, just your entire brain.
GROSS: Yeah, yeah.
R. LINKLATER: Yeah. Well, that goes on red alert that - that gets - that knob goes to 11 and you're spending your whole time like, okay how are you going to - your job is to protect your kids, to such a degree. But you see it, we're conditioned. Audiences are conditioned, you know. In the film, there's a scene where these boys are like, throwing these saw blades at a...
R. LINKLATER: ...Sheet rock I could feel it in audience, and it was the last thing that crossed my mind. It had crossed my mind in the shooting of that that there would be blood, or violence or any mistakes - it was just these guys kind of screwing around. But I felt it in the audience like, OK this is where the kid falls back on the blade and you know we have to - cuts off a finger or something, but it just - that usually doesn't happen in life, and this thing was so much about kind of - you know most - you get through life and there aren't these huge traumatic - there's a lot of little things. And there's another scene where his dad is warning him, don't drive and text. He is on a little road trip, driving with his girlfriend - she hands him the phone - he looks at a picture while he's driving - OK, here's where the car goes off the highway.
But you see how much were conditioned in our, you know plot-based storytelling to have - to set these things up and pay them off and you realize just how fake that is to life. Most of us do survive do survive childhood. Most of the bad things don't happen. You know, we spend all our lives in fear for these things that never happen. And when things do happen, it's unexpected - it's not the way you thought you would and you realize there's nothing - not much you could have done to prevent it, sometimes. You know, but it's - it's just - you know, it's an unpredictable - there's just a random element to i, but yet you have to be concerned as a parent. So it's - it's - it's a tough trick to maintain.
GROSS: But you're so right that were conditioned in movies to expect like, oh this is where the saw amputates his arm...
R. LINKLATER: Yeah.
GROSS: ...Or this is where the car drives off the road or, yeah.
R. LINKLATER: It just doesn't happen. But that doesn't mean the film isn't a good drama.
GROSS: But the thing is, sometimes it does hap - sometimes it does happen.
R. LINKLATER: Sometimes it does, you know. Who gets through childhood without some stitches or a broke - you know, you're going to wear a cast at some point. Something is going to happen. But I just - that itself wasn't that dramatic to me. I was going for the little drama of life where maybe it doesn't feel that dramatic to the - to the parent like, oh we're moving you know just - you're the new kid in school, so what? You know, but for the kid that's - that's highly dramatic - that's traumatic, you know? So, I was trying from the kid's perspective get, just how dramatic you know, life can feel, even though it maybe to another perspective it doesn't feel that way or look that way, but it - it is. It's pretty dramatic. Just getting through life is pretty dramatic.
BIANCULLI: Richard Linklater speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. His movie, "Boyhood," has just been nominated for five Golden Globe awards. This is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's return to Terry's interview with writer and director Richard Linklater. His move, "Boyhood," which covers 12 years in the life of a fictional family and was filmed over as many years, has just been nominated for five Golden Globes, including best motion picture drama.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: The parents in "Boyhood" are divorced. They're played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. And so she becomes a single mother. She goes back to school to get a psychology degree and hopes to earn a decent living teaching. But it's very hard on her and on her two children when she's in school because she can't give them the attention that she wants or that they want to have. And it's hard for her to focus on school, too. I read that your mother went back to school when you were growing up. Were your parents divorced?
R. LINKLATER: Yeah, my mom was a young mom from the late '50s, early '60s. You know, good Catholic girl. She had her kids - I think when she had her third kid, me, she was 22. And I think she was very smart and still wanted an education and all that. So my childhood was my mom in school, my mom graduating. My mom graduated from college when she was, you know, a certain age. And then she got her masters. And then working getting, you know, teaching and then getting a college teaching job. So Patricia's academic career kind of is based sort of on my moms, that element.
But my parents divorced when I was 7, so in this movie they're divorced from the very beginning because I didn't really want the audience to know too much about what happened there, kind of the way the kids - your parent's separation is kind of a mystery. You never know exactly what happened, maybe you never do. But certainly from a kid, you know, point of view you get pulled aside and said OK, well, Daddy's going to live here and, you know, they just kind of explain it to you. But it's kind of a mystery as to what happened between them before the movie starts. And even in the - at the very end of the movie, we're still learning - there'll be a little hint or a little something, we still kind of hear more about that relationship.
GROSS: The character of the father in your movie - the Ethan Hawke character. When Ethan Hawke has a new girlfriend who he eventually marries in the film, his in-laws - they're really warm and loving, not only to him but to the whole extended family, to his children from another marriage. But they're also, like, so culturally and politically opposite from the Ethan Hawke character. They're very Christian. They're very politically conservative. They have guns. They're culturally opposite. But they're such lovely people. And I thought it was really good that you created these characters who aren't culturally like you or like his character and created two such great people.
R. LINKLATER: Yeah. I'm glad you see it that way because some people sort of laugh like oh, they're these - his new step-grandparents seem a little, you know, they represent a lot of our country. And it's kind of based loosely on my own step-grandparents who were the sweetest people, who embraced my sisters and I as family immediately and loved us. And they were just wonderful. And yet there was that Christmas at age 13, you know, I call it my redneck bar mitzvah year where, you know, I did get a Bible with my name in it and a shotgun in the same year. And you realize it's just cultural. And most people get guns, they use it sportingly and recreationally, and nothing bad ever happens. You know, you learn safety, like he says. And nothing bad happens with those guns. So that's the vast majority of our culture. And I think a lot of people are sort of afraid of it, but you realize it's just cultural.
GROSS: Richard Linklater, thank you so much.
R. LINKLATER: Yeah. Thank you for having me. Good talking to you.
BIANCULLI: Writer and director Richard Linklater speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. His movie, "Boyhood," has just been nominated for five Golden Globes, including best motion picture drama. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross. The Amazon series "Transparent" has been nominated for two Golden Globes - one for best comedy TV series and another for its star Jeffrey Tambor as best actor. This is the first time that an Amazon original series has been nominated for the Golden Globes.
In "Transparent," which launched earlier this year, Tambor plays a 70-year-old father who comes out to his three adult children as a transgender woman and begins a new life transitioning from male to female, from Mort to Maura. The series also follows Maura's three self-absorbed adult children, all of whom are dealing with their own issues relating to identity and sexuality, while trying to process that their parent has had a secret life.
The creator of "Transparent" is our next guest, Jill Soloway. The series is based in part on her experiences with her own parent who came out as a trans-woman a few years ago. Soloway also has been a writer and producer on HBO's "Six Feet Under" and Showtime's "United States Of Tara."
Terry Gross spoke with Jill Soloway earlier this year. Here's a scene from the second episode in which Jeffrey Tambor's character is forced to reveal the truth after coming home in women's clothes not realizing that his older daughter Sarah would be in the house. Tambor's character is shocked to see Sarah, who is married with two children, kissing her old college girlfriend. Sarah is shocked by how her father looks. He tries to explain.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRANSPARENT")
JEFFREY TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) So I have something to tell you.
MELORA HARDIN: (As Tammy Cashman) OK. So do you guys - you want me to leave?
TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) Yes, please.
AMY LANDECKER: (As Sarah Pfefferman) No, please.
HARDIN: (As Tammy Cashman) Oh, OK.
TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) You can stay. It's fine.
LANDECKER: (As Sarah Pfefferman) Please stay.
HARDIN: (As Tammy Cashman) OK, yeah, sure.
TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) So yes, when I was a kid - ever since I was five, I felt that something was not right, and I couldn't tell anybody about my feminine side. It was a different time, you know, very different time. And, pretty girl, I just - I had to keep all those feelings to myself.
LANDECKER: (As Sarah Pfefferman) Dad.
TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) No, no, no, let me do this. It's - please, God, let me do this. People led secret lives. And people led very lonely lives. And then, of course, the Internet was invented.
HARDIN: (As Tammy Cashman) The Internet - can't hate on that Internet. It's magic.
LANDECKER: (As Sarah Pfefferman) I'm sorry. I'm sorry, dad. I'm sorry. I'm just trying - can you just help me out here? Are you saying that you're going to start dressing up like a lady all the time?
TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) No, honey, all my life - my whole life I've been dressing up like a man. This is me.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Jill Soloway, welcome to FRESH AIR. Why did you want the main character in "Transparent" to be an older man in his 70s - or an older woman, I should say? But a trans-woman - but a trans-woman who isn't coming out until her 70s. So she's lived more than 69 years as a man.
JILL SOLOWAY: Right. Well, the story's personal. My own parent came out around the age of 75. And pretty shortly after they came out, I got a very strong feeling that this was going to be my creative destiny. I was going to create this show. Older transitioners are really, I think, the next group of people that we can get introduced to. I think people, you know, know Laverne Cox now and Janet Mock. There's also this younger generation of transfolk who are really political and who have access to great medical care from early on.
Older transitioners are a whole different group of people. Because of the way that society has only recently begun to evolve, a lot of older transitioners had to live a life of secrecy. Many of them are cross-dressers - secret cross-dressers. It just felt like the most perfect opportunity to tell a story about secrets, about boundaries, legacy, gender, family, all the things I'm obsessed with.
GROSS: Let's hear another scene, and this is from the first episode of "Transparent." And the parent who has been known as a father until now is at a transgender support group. He - she hasn't yet come out to her children, and she knows she needs to. She knows she wants to. She was going to. She had all three adult children over to dinner and was preparing to tell them, and said I have something to tell you. And they all assumed that, oh, no, dad has cancer, dad's going to tell us - and they got off onto such a sidetrack, he just gave up. And he didn't tell them, and he got very frustrated - she didn't tell them and got very frustrated.
SOLOWAY: There you go. I was going to correct you.
GROSS: So after trying and failing to come out to her children, Maura, played by Jeffrey Tambor, is speaking to a transgender support group about how frustrating it's been to not be able to go through with it and actually tell her children.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TRANSPARENT")
TAMBOR: (As Maura Pfefferman) One more thing. I made a commitment here last week that I was going to come out to my kids, and I didn't do it because it just wasn't time, you know? But I will, and it will be soon. I promise you. I promise you. I promise you. They are so selfish. I don't know how it is I raised three people who cannot see beyond themselves.
GROSS: And at that point in the series, episode one, I thought he is so right. These children are so selfish.
SOLOWAY: You thought she is so - she is so right (laughter).
GROSS: She is so right, yes. You know, these children are so selfish, and you know, you learn more about them and how they got that way as the episodes go on. But speaking for myself, I was so disappointed that they didn't have more empathy for him and what he was trying to tell them. Why did you make the children that way?
SOLOWAY: Well, I didn't - I've never really felt like I've made the children a certain way. I don't really write these characters or do things with them. I feel more when I'm writing sort of like I'm a court stenographer and I'm listening to these characters. I feel like the kids, like Sarah, Josh and Ali, exist out in the world as these souls. And when I write, I kind of just listen to them. So it's not my fault that they're jerks.
SOLOWAY: They just - there are certain large shapes to the show that came to me very quickly. You know, what you're seeing in that first scene is them at their worst. And, you know, as things evolve over five seasons, hopefully this will be a journey of healing and of becoming and of learning and growing and experimenting and loving. And, yeah, we had to start with people who had a lot to learn.
GROSS: So we just heard the Jeffrey Tambor character talking about how difficult it's been to come out to her children as trans. You actually experienced this from the point of view of being a child whose father, it turned out, was trans. You'd always thought of...
SOLOWAY: Whose parent.
GROSS: No, I'm saying this intentionally.
SOLOWAY: OK (laughter).
GROSS: You thought of him as your father. He was your father in your mind, and then you found out that in his mind, he's been a woman. And he's been posing as a man but he's felt - but she's felt like a woman. How old were you when you learned the truth about your parent?
SOLOWAY: I think I was maybe 46.
GROSS: So what was your first reaction when you were told?
SOLOWAY: Honestly, you know, I've been so obsessed with things like gender, sexuality, feminism, the feminine. And I think for a while there I used to sort of ask myself, either what am I running for, or what am I running from? I wasn't sure (laughter). I really was in some ways relieved that I thought, oh, this is what - this is what I have not known. There were just so many missing pieces to a journey that felt like a relief.
The first things that, you know, of course I communicated to my parent were love, and I love you unconditionally, and I'm so proud of you, and this is so brave of you and tell me more. Yeah, it was interesting, I think, to grow up in a family with this really huge missing piece and not know what that piece is. It's sort like you're feeling around in a dark room. It's like the elephant in the room, but all the lights are off. So you're feeling around, and you're feeling this quite huge thing. And it was just - it was an amazing relief for the lights to go on.
GROSS: So when your parent came out as a trans-woman, did she want to take hormones? Was she interested in surgery? Or was just being able to dress and behave like she wanted to sufficient in terms of expressing her true self?
SOLOWAY: Yeah, my parent is on their own journey, and I think I'd rather just, you know, let them speak to their journey. You know, they're a private person. I think this has already been an incredibly exposing journey that...
GROSS: What - your show has been an incredibly exposing journey?
SOLOWAY: I mean, can you imagine? Can you imagine coming out?
GROSS: No, no, it's like you finally come out to your kid after, like, decades, you come out as trans and it's like, you immediately turn around and do a show about it.
SOLOWAY: It's horrible, honestly. I mean...
GROSS: (Laughter) Did you ask your parent for approval?
SOLOWAY: I did tell my parent I was writing a show about a family and that there was going to be a trans-parent. But when you work in Hollywood, as I have, you never think anything's going to happen. I've been writing pilots that haven't gotten made, sometimes two or three a year for 10 years. And a lot of times, they were based on people. And in the early days I would say, like, hey, just so you know, I have a character who has your name and acts like you. And they would be like, oh, I better read it. And then you'd go through all this stuff trying to get people OK with the fact that you're using them in your writing, and then it would never even be on the air. And you just wasted a whole bunch of time and, you know, added a bunch of, you know, drama to your relationship...
SOLOWAY: ...With the person feeling like, oh, you're writing about me - it never happened, you know. It never happened. This is my first pilot that I've ever gotten made. So I didn't really want to talk about it too much until I knew that it was going to happen.
GROSS: So by the time you told your parent, it was already a done deal (laughter). Is that what I'm hearing?
SOLOWAY: I mean, you know what? I'm so lucky that my parent has been so excited and lovely and loving about having to speed up their journey so that this story can happen. I mean, the thing I tell my parent and my sister and my mother, all of us who feel like, wow, this is really personal. I mean, even though the show is totally fictional, there are so many things about it that feel like they speak to parts of our family. But I've already met so many people who've told me that they've been able to use the show to come out to their kids. It's bigger than us.
BIANCULLI: "Transparent" creator Jill Soloway speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. More after a break, this is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's conversation from earlier this year with Jill Soloway, creator of the Amazon series "Transparent." It just received two Golden Globe nominations, the first ever earned by the Amazon's streaming service.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Jill Soloway will be back in the second half of the show. She created the Amazon original series "Transparent." The entire first season is available on Amazon. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: The family in "Transparent" is Jewish. It's the Pfefferman family. And one of the characters in "Transparent" is a woman who's a rabbi. I was reading some interviews with you. And one of the comments you made was that watching Lena Dunham's series "Girls" - I'll quote you, you said, (quote) "it was angering for me at first because I had spent decades hiding unlikable, unattractive, Jewish girls in likable, attractive, non-Jewish actors and characters." Please explain.
SOLOWAY: Well, I think there's some old adage like, you know, write Jewish, cast British. Have you ever heard that?
GROSS: No (laughter).
SOLOWAY: Yeah, that was - that was what we were taught the old-school TV writers were doing, which is, you know, there's a writers' room filled with these kind of Borscht Belty Jewish guys, you know? And TV shows like "Friends" have a lot of pretty girls. And so, yeah, that's the adage that you - that you write from that place of the pain and the vulnerability and the sadness and the comedy of Jewishness, but you have people who look good say the words.
Look good, that's not right (laughter).
GROSS: Unlike Jews.
SOLOWAY: I guess I should change that description.
GROSS: Unlike Jews, who never look good.
SOLOWAY: That's horrible.
GROSS: You made your bed.
GROSS: Now, you must sleep in it.
GROSS: So how is it different to write about Jewish characters?
SOLOWAY: Well, I don't know. They're - I mean, God, I could talk for a few hours about what Jewish people are like, but, you know, I want to tell the truth. I want to tell the truth in every detail. I want to - you know, there's a scene at 10, which is - hopefully won't be a spoiler to say that the whole family's sitting around at the end of a shiva, and everybody carries the sort of, you know, big tinfoil serving things to the dining room table. And then everybody sits around. They take the big - they take the big serving spoons and just kind of feed themselves and each other. Shelly, you know, tastes the coleslaw. Maura wants a bite. Shelly feeds her a bite. You know, I don't know if that's Jewish or not, but to me, that's just, like, the Jewey-est thing you can do after everybody leaves a party is just put all the food in the center of table and just go at it shtetl style.
Yeah, I just - I just love the comedy, you know, food and flesh and that kind of warm feeling, that boundary - there's something boundary-less, I think, about a Jewish family that - that is really funny to me.
GROSS: So your sister is a writer on "Transparent." There are three adult siblings in the series and they all have kind of secrets in their past and skeletons in their closet that they kind of like to pull out and show to each other, you know? Just, like, they're pretty good at pushing each other's buttons and bringing up...
GROSS: ...Things from the siblings' past that is really kind of, like, painful or embarrassing. And is that reflected in your relationship with your sister who's also your fellow writer on the show?
SOLOWAY: Faith and I are pretty - actually, I think the Pfeffermans are a lot more kind of feisty than Faith and I. My sister and I really, I think, mostly make each other laugh and protect each other. And yeah, I wouldn't - I mean, the siblings are in some ways me and Faith because Faith is my older sister. She's a lesbian.
I would say in my 20s, I was probably sort of like Ali. And then in many ways Faith is like Ali - reminds me of her - you know, Faith's backpack, Faith's wallet. We used all of the details of Faith physically to be Ali, and I'm a lot more like Sarah - Silver Lake mom, kids. And we both really feel a lot of Josh in both of us. I feel a lot like Josh. I really relate to Josh a lot. But, you know, Faith and I as people, we're nowhere near - we're nowhere near as pokey as the Pfeffermans are with each other. We're pretty chill with each other.
GROSS: How did "Transparent" end up on Amazon as opposed to say HBO, where you worked on the show "Six Feet Under," or Showtime, where you were the show runner for "United States Of Tara?"
SOLOWAY: Yeah, I think - I think when I, you know, had that moment in my head, you know, this is my TV show, I'm going to write it. I think in my head it was HBO or Showtime for sure. And the people at HBO did say yes, we love it, of course we'll buy it. Just so you know, we're going to develop it. We're going to work on it. And it might take years before it gets on the air and of course, it may not even get on the air.
And Amazon said we want this, we'll buy it, we're going to know in a couple of weeks if we're going to shoot it. Once we shoot it, it's going to be aired. They have a process where everybody sees the pilots. And if you have a pilot at HBO or at Showtime, if they decide they're not sure about it, nobody ever sees it. And they also own it forever. And I couldn't stand the thought of this thing that was, like, my one big story - I'm finally ready guys, OK, this is what I'm meant to do. If it doesn't rise up the ladder at HBO the way it should, it belongs to them forever.
So Amazon's kind of nimbleness with the deal, and then the fact that, you know, I could potentially get it back if need be if they didn't buy it - I could turn it into a movie. There was all kinds of openness to the process that made me feel that I was safe there.
GROSS: So sexuality has, you know, been a subject for you even in the movie that you made - the independent film "Afternoon Delight." Can you talk about why sexuality has been an important subject for you in your work, or is it purely intellectual?
SOLOWAY: Oh, it's 100 percent intellectual. Yeah, I'm not interested in sex at all, just the idea of sex.
SOLOWAY: I don't know, you know, it's just like I think of my work as this kind of holy trinity - funny, dirty, sad. It's...
GROSS: Oh, OK.
SOLOWAY: ...Really easy to do funny. You get a lot of funny people in a room, the show's funny. And it's really easy to do sad, you know? You just kind of put on some sad music and write dramatically. Everybody can do that. It's really hard to get dirty right. There's a lot of porn, which is really meant for commercial reasons, and then there's, you know, all of the kinds of filters that we understand about filming sex because it's usually filmed by men. So yeah, I take it as this kind of - it's my rallying cry. It's part of the - to me it's part of the toolbox of undoing some of the ways in which women see themselves being seen to write about sexuality. I mean, it's also interesting from trying to get people to go you have to watch the show.
GROSS: Jill Soloway, thank you so much for talking with us.
SOLOWAY: Thank you.
BIANCULLI: Jill Soloway, creator of "Transparent," speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. The Amazon streaming series just earned two Golden Globe nominations, one for best comedy series and the other for its leading actor, Jeffrey Tambor. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. The seventh feature by the writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson, best known for his films "Boogie Nights," "There Will Be Blood" and "The Master," is the first film adaptation of a novel by Thomas Pynchon. It's a laid-back mystery called "Inherent Vice," starring Joaquin Phoenix. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: I don't know what Paul Thomas Anderson has got with "Inherent Vice," which might or might not be a good thing. I don't mean to sound so indefinite, but the movie, which is set in 1970, in a beach town south of LA, is like a gorgeous stone or art object. And maybe you need to get baked to be on its dissonant, erratic wavelength. It's groovy, campy, dreamlike, funny, funny-strange and funny-ha-ha.
It's like nothing else, except the novel, which is Thomas's Pynchon's contribution to the LA-stoner-private-eye genre, the highest, so to speak, achievements of which are on film, Robert Altman's take on Raymond Chandler's "The Long Goodbye" and Joel and Ethan Coen's "The Big Lebowski." All their narratives unravel as they go along, and this one isn't too raveled to begin with.
Its slurry rhythms are set by Joaquin Phoenix, one of America's best, and slurriest, actors. He plays Doc, ex-drug-dealer-turned-licensed-hippie-private-eye. And he twitches a lot under twin clumps of sideburn and takes his sweet time muttering his lines. Really, if Phoenix weren't such a brilliant, witty, emotionally true performer, he'd be intolerable. In the first scene, Doc is vegetating in his disordered beach bungalow when Shasta appears, the willowy hippie chick, played by Katherine Waterston, whom he loved, and who drifted away.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INHERENT VICE")
JOAQUIN PHOENIX: (As Larry "Doc" Sportello) That you, Shasta?
KATHERINE WATERSTON: (As Shasta Fay Hepworth) Thinks he's hallucinating.
PHOENIX: (As Larry "Doc" Sportello) No, it's just the package, I guess.
WATERSTON: (As Shasta Fay Hepworth) I need your help, Doc.
PHOENIX: (As Larry "Doc" Sportello) You know I have an office now? It's like a day job and everything.
WATERSTON: (As Shasta Fay Hepworth) I looked in the phone book. I almost went over there. Then I thought better for everyone if this looks like a secret rendezvous.
PHOENIX: (As Larry "Doc" Sportello) Somebody keeping a close eye?
WATERSTON: (As Shasta Fay Hepworth) To spend an hour on surface streets, trying to make it look good.
EDELSTEIN: Shasta is nervous, and rightly so. She's dating a Jewish real estate mogul, guarded by neo-Nazi bikers, and she's been contacted by his wife and the wife's boyfriend, not to drive her off, but bribe her into helping them put the man in the loony bin. Already the geometry is bizarre, and the movie has barely started. Then Shasta and the mogul disappear. Though, this is the sort of detective film where she might be dead or might have flaked off because she needed more space. Nothing is too clear.
What matters is, Doc loves her enough to rouse himself and go to work, bumping up against Aryan gangs, masseuses, drug-addled dentists, runaway rich girls, undercover police informants and cops, so many cops. Foremost among them is a hard-ass, buzz-cut-wearing, civil-rights-violating policeman, known affectionately as Bigfoot, who moonlights as an actor. Josh Brolin plays him with deadpan genius. He's always beating up on Doc, but the two have a strange kind of infantile, mismatched buddy thing going on. They need each other to exist.
On paper, "Inherent Vice" looks like Anderson's return to ensemble movies after the relatively intimate "The Master," but it's more of a pedestal for Phoenix. He's in every scene, with guest stars popping in and out. Jena Malone has a cute scene as the ex-junkie wife of a supposedly OD'd surf band sax player. Reese Witherspoon, with a lacquered hair helmet, is a strait-laced assistant DA, sleeping with Doc. It's fun seeing the couple from "Walk The Line" reunite under radically different circumstances. Martin Short, with his inimitable loopy rhythms, sidles in as a sleazeball dentist. Singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom plays Doc's friend and does twittery voiceovers from Pynchon's book. There are so many wonderful actors - Benicio Del Toro, Michael K Williams, Owen Wilson, Jeannie Berlin, Martin Donovan, Jefferson Mays and more.
As a mystery, the film is less coherent than Pynchon's novel, no mean feat. But there is meaning in its madness. "Inherent Vice" depicts an especially unstable era when the air is starting to leak out of the whoopee cushion that is the counterculture, leaving paranoid bad vibes and developers ready to move in and build condos. Anderson and his longtime cinematographer, Robert Elswit, bring a free-floating, scrambled, centerless mode of being to life. The movie never gels, but it's rich enough to make you want to go back and watch it again - maybe even again. Anderson is certainly a self-indulgent filmmaker, but some selves are worth indulging. It's a visionary mess.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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