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Filmmaker Andrea Arnold On 'American Honey' And Preserving Mystery In Film

Arnold's latest film, which won the Jury Prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of a group of abandoned teenagers who travel together selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door.


Other segments from the episode on September 29, 2016

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 29, 2016: interview with Andrea Arnold; Interview with Stephen Falk & Aya Cash; Review of TV show Westworld



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The new movie "American Honey," which won the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, was written and directed by my guest Andrea Arnold. It's about a group of teenagers who are abandoned, are homeless and have become something of a family traveling together by van from town to town, state to state selling magazine subscriptions door to door, making up different explanations depending on who opens the door.

Arnold first learned about magazine crews - or mag crews as they're called - from a New York Times article about them. The stars of the film include Riley Keough, who plays the magazine crew's hardened boss, and Shia LaBeouf, who's her enforcer and most smooth-talking salesmen.

They both give terrific performances, but most of the cast is comprised of teenagers with no acting experience, including the lead Sasha Lane, who plays a girl who runs away and joins the mag crew. Andrea Arnold also directed "Fish Tank" and "Wuthering Heights" as well as several episodes of the series "Transparent."

Let's start with a scene from "American Honey." The Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf characters are going door to door. It's her first time doing this, and he's telling her to ignore the sheet of sales tips she was told to memorize and take his advice instead.


SHIA LABEOUF: (As Jake) You read the handbook last night? You know about the five sales tips?

SASHA LANE: (As Star) Yeah.

LABEOUF: (As Jake) That's a bunch of [expletive], all that. You ain't got to listen to all that. See, 'cause in Jake's book, there's one step - not five, just one. It just takes one step. Once you get this one step down, you're the chief of the tribe. And I'm going to teach you that one step today, you know what I'm saying?

Basically, as soon as they open the door and look at you, that's the critical moment. That's the make-or-break moment 'cause in that second, you've got to work them. You've got to read them. You've got to be able to scan them to figure them out, figure out what kind of person that person wants in their life. Then you've got to be that person, you know?

It's like, a couple of the other agents are really rigid about the five - the five sales steps and all this [expletive], so they'll pick a spiel that's, like, some sad [expletive], like mama's got cancer or my foot is falling off. I'm trying to get my life back together. You know, I got a little lost there in my teens, and I'm really working on myself, man. And, oh, you know, my dad, he died in Iraq. Any sad spiel, and they'll just say it over and over and over again 'til it's meaningless.

This person - this person doesn't give a [expletive] about magazines, right? They want something from me. So if I'm a G, I'm going to figure out what that something is, and I'm going to work that.

LANE: (As Star) Yeah?

LABEOUF: (As Jake) And that's a power agent. All right, let's go. You're my good luck charm. Here we go.


GROSS: Andrea Arnold, welcome to FRESH AIR. So this movie is inspired by real magazine crews, like mag crews. Some of the actors that you cast were not professional actors. I think most of the kids in the mag crew are not...

ANDREA ARNOLD: Yeah, most...

GROSS: ...Are not professional actors. Were any of them people who had been in a mag crew, selling magazines door to door?

ARNOLD: One of our girls, Nadia (ph), she'd been in a mag crew. She's really good at it because I - at the very beginning, I used to fuss. We got them all together, we sent them out. And we had somebody from a mag crew come teach them how to sell. And then I sent them out, like, selling just to see how they would do (laughter). And Nadia was pretty good at that.

GROSS: So what stories did you hear from the one person who you cast who had actually done this sort of work?

ARNOLD: When we were casting it was a different thing. It was always much, much briefer kind of interactions with people. So I never really asked her that much about it before we started, and then we're all filming. But I had chatted a lot to people who had done it before, so I heard a lot of things.

One of the girls I met, she literally came out of jail. And she was standing at a gas station and a mag crew kind of rolled in to get some gas. And they said, do you want to come with us? And that was it, she was gone. You know, she went because she had nothing to lose. And she stayed for a long time, and she had a lot of stories. I mean, she had - you know, she experienced some quite bad things, but she also made money and she made friends and she stayed for a long time.

She told me that actually towards the end - which I think this happens because a lot of the managers in the mag crews have been people who have been in the mag crew for a long time and then they become managers, they're people who are good at it and then become managers - she said that she hit someone at one point because they hadn't sold very much. And at that point she realized that she suddenly kind of questioned herself, like, oh, I've gone too far. You know, like, what have I - what's happening? Why am I doing - you know, how did I get here? And that is the thing that I think made her leave in the end is that - she turned into something she didn't - she wasn't happy about.

GROSS: So the people who actually subscribe to the magazines through the teenagers who are in these mag crews, do they ever get the magazine? Is the whole thing a scam, or is there actually a magazine that's delivered in the end?

ARNOLD: Some people get a magazine, some people don't. That's my understanding. And I think a lot of the people I met who had met the mag crews, when they bought the magazines, they were really trying to help the person that was in front of them. They were - they were not thinking really about the magazines. They were not - I mean, I must've bought at least seven, you know, subscriptions. But I never got one. But I don't think anyone was - I think - my sense is that most people were not expecting to get them.

GROSS: The main character, the teenage girl who's named Star in...


GROSS: ...In the film, she's kind of seduced into joining the group by the Shia LaBeouf character, who...


GROSS: ...Realizes that she's probably poor and unrooted. And he kind of plays the potential boyfriend to her and kind of seduces her to come along. And then the head of the crew, a woman who is played by Riley Keough, who is Elvis Presley's granddaughter - and she's terrific in this - she says to Star, you've got anyone who'll miss you? And Star says no. And so the head of the crew says, OK, you're hired. And that just seems so key, like, being seduced into it and then making sure that there's no one who's going to miss you to make sure that - that means that you're vulnerable and also that no one's going to come looking for you.

ARNOLD: Yeah. That - I felt when all of the people I talked to, that was pretty - I'm actually really happy you picked up on that little moment because that was really important to me, the no one's going to miss you thing. That was my sense from talking to a lot of these kids. And what I read is that there was no one going to miss them, and they were not leaving very much behind. And then they would find these people the same age, and they would stay in the same hotels and they'd party and they'd see things. So it was kind of a mixed thing. They had a good time, but it was also not an easy time for some of them. So...

GROSS: There's a scene in the film where Star, who was the young teenage girl who was seduced into joining this group - it's the Shia LaBeouf character Jake who...


GROSS: ...Who kind of lures her in. And, you know, they have sex together. And she's kind of got a thing for him now. But she has to report to Krystal, who's really hardened, tough woman who runs the crew. So she knocks on Krystal's motel room door, and Krystal starts, like, telling her what to do. And then she realizes that Jake is there, too. And then as Krystal's kind of ordering - you know, like, telling Star what she has to do, she basically tells Jake that she wants him to do her legs. So he has to take out the lotion, crouch down and start massaging her legs with lotion, which is a very kind of sexual act because she's wearing either a bathing suit or - I mean, a bikini or underwear. I'm not sure which it is.

ARNOLD: Confederate bikini.

GROSS: Yes, right. And so it's this really strange power scene where the Krystal character, the crew manager, is showing her power over the Shia LaBeouf character. And she's also showing the teenage girl, who's now part of the crew, that she's going to be dominated, too. How did the image come to you of getting Shia LaBeouf on his knees, massaging - lotioning the legs of the crew leader?

ARNOLD: (Laughter) I just want to get one of your facts straight. It's fake tan, as opposed to lotion...

GROSS: Oh, it's fake tan. I didn't realize that.

ARNOLD: Yeah - yeah, no, it's fake tan.

GROSS: Oh, I thought it was body lotion.

ARNOLD: And there's a scene after...

GROSS: I thought it was moisturizer.

ARNOLD: You didn't wash your hands because Jake has, like, fake tan on - you know, orange hands. With all of my scenes, I don't want to go into them. I don't really know what's going to happen. And when I'm writing them - I mean, when I was writing that scene, I didn't kind of expect that to happen. And then I was thinking, well, Crystal - what's she doing? Oh, she's like putting fake tan on and just thought, oh, Crystal's been to the shop. She's got a boat load of stuff. She's trying things on. She like buys clothes all the time because she's not happy with herself, so she's constantly kind of buying clothes and trying, you know, make up for the things she doesn't feel good about. And she wants to look brown all the time (laughter).

So she (unintelligible) in there, and you can't do your fake tan yourself very easily. So she's got Jake doing it. And when I wrote that, I thought this is kind of strange. And I think even when we were doing it, everyone was thinking, wow, how is this going to work because it's kind of such a strong image? But I just went for it. I've always kind of taken risks, I guess, with these things. I never know how they're going to work out. I don't know when we go into that thing how it's going to work out. I think - yeah, this is kind of - this is a little strong, but I'm going to go with it. I don't feel that safe when I'm making scenes thinking, oh, maybe it's going to work, maybe it's not, you know.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Andrea Arnold. She wrote and directed the new film "American Honey." Let's take a short break here then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Andrea Arnold. She wrote and directed the new film "American Honey." I'm interested in your approach to casting especially the casting of the teenagers who were not professional actors. How do you go looking for them when you're not putting out a casting call?

ARNOLD: I mean, I do this pretty much on almost all my films. This is how I do things I'm always casting a mixture of actors and non-actors. And we do something called - we call it street casting, where we just go out. Sometimes I don't go out in the very beginning. I work with casting directors, and they kind of - people who have done this before and they will go out to, like, places where the kind of people we're looking for might hang out. So they'll go. Like for this film, they went out to like county fairs or they go to Wal-Mart, and they would just sit around and like look for people that might be the right kind of people for the film. So it's, you know - it's a really different way of casting (laughter). It's actually far more complicated and hard work and actually the people who do it are amazing. And I get really into it, so I go out, too. And I've done quite a lot of it myself, you know. We get some of those deckchairs and sit outside Wal-Mart. And like watch all the kids go by (laughter). And that's how we actually found Sasha. That's how we found all of them really. It was pretty much that way.

GROSS: Wait. So walk me through this. You're sitting in a chair outside the Wal-Mart...


GROSS: ...Watching the kids go by. Looking...


GROSS: ...Looking for somebody to cast in your film. What do you tell them so that you don't sound totally crazy and that you don't sound like, you know, a pervert trying to get them into some kind of trap?

ARNOLD: I mean, normally at the beginning, we might do some kind of general casting call which is on the Internet and usually that looks pretty legitimate. So we can show them that and say look this is a real thing (laughter).

GROSS: Right.

ARNOLD: Yeah. We sometimes have some real convincing to do because they think you're just, you know - when we are Sasha, she was on a beach in spring break. And there are quite a few kind of people going around looking for girls to be in porn films. And...

GROSS: Exactly.

ARNOLD: Yeah. Exactly, and so, you know, I completely am on the side of them when we go up to them. I want them to feel safe. I don't want them to feel kind of weirded out by us, you know. So I - we do everything we can to kind of make them feel comfortable and show them things that I would never expect them to come with us unless they felt comfortable. So we showed them things. We show the casting call. We have leaflets, you know, we have numbers they can call, you know. So we do our utmost to make them feel safe. I wouldn't want it any other way, actually, because I wouldn't want them to be feeling unsafe and come with us, you know.

GROSS: So...

ARNOLD: And usually when we when we take it any further if we meet them say in spring break, we'd meet them on the beach and we'd say, oh, look, we're going to do some auditioning up at Wal-Mart car lot later.

GROSS: (Laughter).

ARNOLD: You know (laughter), and - which is where we did most of our auditioning. So Wal-Mart car lot in spring break down in Panama City Beach is just rocking. It's just such a great place to be. I loved hanging out there because it's such a lot of the life going on there, a lot of twerking.

GROSS: (Laughter).

ARNOLD: I still can't twerk I've been trying. Have you ever tried to twerk? It's so hard.

GROSS: Me? No, I have never tried to twerk.


ARNOLD: Some people can move one cheek different to the other. I don't know how the hell you do that. It's so clever.

GROSS: So since I don't have the answer to that, let me ask you another question. So your 2009 film "Fish Tank" also started a teenage girl who wasn't a professional actress. And she plays a teenager whose mother is an alcoholic and pays little attention to her, and the mother has a new boyfriend played by Michael Fassbender. And through kind of teasing and flirtation and teaching her how to use his video camera, Michael Fassbender's character eventually seduces the teenage girl into having sex with him. It's a kind of complicated relationship, all wrong. Why did you want to make a film about this kind of relationship?

ARNOLD: Yeah. But, see, you're talking about stuff that I can't possibly talk about because, you know, when I make films I don't want to be discussing these things because I feel like, one, they're really personal and, two, they're really complicated. And I wouldn't want to try and uncomplicate them for anybody who is about to see the film. So to try and sit here and explain it, for me, would sort of unravel some of the mystery of it.

And I think the mystery in films is really important. And that if we try to explain things too much then you take out the fun of the film. For me, the space and the, you know - if people go see "Fish Tank," I would love them to not know - I wouldn't want to explain to them what I kind of intended or what I felt were the intentions of each of those characters. I think that that has to unravel in the film, and I leave room for people to put themselves - or to work it out or to go argue in the bar afterwards. But if I explain it, I feel like then we take the mystery of film away. And I feel like we overexplain everything in life, and I am desperate to leave a mystery in what I do. Even though it's tough, but I'm desperate to leave it.

GROSS: So the the two films of yours that I've seen "Fish Tank" and your new film "American Honey" are about teenagers with a focus on teenage girls who have little or no affection from their mothers. Their mothers have alcohol or drug problems. They - they're both broke. I'm wondering what your teen years were like. You grew up in - what in America is called a housing project. So tell us a little bit about what your home was like.

ARNOLD: Oh, that's so personal (laughter). I put all the stuff in my films, so that I don't, you know - I can't talk about those things. I'm sorry.

GROSS: Oh, OK. So you don't want talk about your life?

ARNOLD: Yeah. Well, because my family are alive. And so, you know, I wouldn't want to talk about those things. Really, you know, my mom was a single mom. And there were four of us, and she - it must have been incredibly tough for her. So, yeah, I can't talk about that. I'm sorry.

GROSS: That's all right. That's your call.


GROSS: So both of those films that I mentioned "Fish Tank" and "American Honey" are about teenage girls...


GROSS: ...Who need a way out of the situation that they're in. And in "American Honey," the way out is joining this magazine crew. And in "Fish Tank," what she thinks is going to be her way out is dancing. She wants to become a professional dancer. And she was always, you know, practicing her moves and everything. You were a dancer - right? - in England?

ARNOLD: A little bit. Not like in any huge professional sense (laughter).

GROSS: I thought you danced on "Top Of The Pops," the pop music show.

ARNOLD: Yeah, that wasn't that professional (laughter).

GROSS: Oh, really.

ARNOLD: Yeah, it wasn't kind of - I've always loved dancing all my life. But I've never been trained in any way. So most of my kind of dancing, in those early days, was kind of things where you didn't have to have any kind of ballet training. And I actually - I remember going for an audition for "Cats," which I thought, maybe all we have to do is go around the stage like a cat, you know, be like a cat. So I went to that audition, and I thought I'm just going to go around the stage like a cat. And just do my own sort of version of a cat. And, of course, everyone there is doing kind of like plies and an official kind of thing. And I'm going around with my paws out, trying to be a cat.

It must have been hilarious to watch. I can't imagine. But those kind of experiences made me not want to go near any of them ever again because it's something quite vulnerable about going around the stage like a cat and everyone else is doing their ballet, so yeah.

So, you know, I got a place, at a kind of a really good dance school. I got - actually got a place but I needed to get a grant in order to go there because it was away from home. And I wasn't able to get a grant because I hadn't done ballet and stuff. So I never officially did it, but I was always dancing. I've always found ways to dance, however, you know, wherever life has taken me. I dance just basically all the time now. I dance all the time.

GROSS: Now, I read that you hosted a couple of teen shows in England. There were shows that I hadn't heard of because I don't think they've been on in the U.S. So can you describe those shows for us?

ARNOLD: One of the - the one I did mostly, for a long time, I was very young when I started it. I was about 18. And I just left home. And I didn't know how I was going to, like, you know, live my life, what I was going to do. And I just went to the audition kind of because I saw it. And I thought it might be a way of - I'd been kind of done a lot of acting at school. And it's something that I'd loved doing and felt that would - might be some way in which I could earn a living.

So I went to an audition just out of the blue. And I somehow got it I don't know how the hell I got it, but I did. And I ended up doing it for quite a few years. And it was a great thing for me because I had money for the first time. There was a gang of people that worked on it, you know, that I became really close to. It was like a huge family. I got to meet people and do things and travel and see the world.

And it was a huge, huge experience for me at that time, and opened up my eyes to so many things. I learned so much about cameras and about putting things together and all the kind of things that I use now in what I do. So it was tremendous training and a very good kind of - it was home for me for a long time. And I, you know, was very lucky to have landed there.

GROSS: You seem particularly interested in making movies about teenagers and - in the hopes that you might be able to answer this (laughter) - I'm going to ask you why the teenage years are especially interesting for you?

ARNOLD: I don't know. People ask me that all the time, like - I always think every time I work on a project I've kind of got to work something out for myself. So, you know, I think it's, you know - that if I make another film and it's about kind of people who are 60 that maybe have worked some stuff out, I lost.


ARNOLD: I don't know. I'm always impressed when filmmakers know exactly what they're doing. I think, how do they know? How do they - they have themes and they want to make a theme about theirs. And I think wow that's - I wish I was like that. I just don't know why I'm like obsessed with this particular image or the story. And I'm trying to unravel it and work it out. It's complicated.

GROSS: Andrea Arnold, thank you so much for talking with us.

ARNOLD: Pleasure. Thank you.

GROSS: Andrea Arnold directed the new film "American Honey." After a break, we'll hear from the creator of the FXX comedy series "You're The Worst," Stephen Falk and the series co-star Aya Cash. And John Powers will review the new HBO series "Westworld" which premieres Sunday. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Yesterday, the cable network FXX announced it was renewing its series "You're The Worst" for a fourth season. When it premiered in 2014, many critics called it one of the best new shows on TV. The series was created by our guest Stephen Falk who serves as the executive producer. He was also co-executive producer of the Netflix series "Orange Is The New Black" and the Showtime series "Weeds." "You're The Worst" is sort of an anti-romantic comedy about Gretchen, played by our other guest Aya Cash, and Jimmy, played by Chris Geere.

They live in LA, and are both fairly successful at their jobs. Gretchen is a music publicist. Jimmy published a novel that was a critical success but didn't sell very well. He's working on his next novel. They're brash and self-centered and have been unsuccessful with relationships.

In the first episode, they meet for the first time outside a wedding reception. Jimmy has just been thrown out of the party because he caused a scene with the bride, who's his ex-girlfriend. Gretchen is leaving the wedding with a gift in her arms.


AYA CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) You get another one of those?

CHRIS GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Pretty expensive.

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Good job in there.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Getting married doesn't remove you from the burden of having to act like a human being.

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Totally, those two are doomed.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Right? Has any couple ever had a more dishonest start to a marriage? I mean, the [expletive] to have a traditional Catholic ceremony...

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) When she's already had two abortions.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) You're pretty.

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Thanks.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) How'd you know her?

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) I'm friends with the sister.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) You're friends with fat Lindsay?

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Yeah, me and fat Lindsay are hella close.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) So what have you heard about me?

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Nothing, just that you're the worst.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Says the girl who just stole a blender from a wedding.

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) No, really? Oh, man. I thought it was a food processor.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Who's the worst now?

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Yeah, well...

GROSS: After a one-night stand where they reveal to each other all the horrible things they've done, they decide to start a relationship. Although the show is a comedy, it's been praised for how it deals with issues like clinical depression, the death of a parent and PTSD, the subject of last night's episode. Steven Falk and Aya spoke with FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado.

ANN MARIE BALDONADO, BYLINE: Steven Falk, Aya Cash, welcome to FRESH AIR.

CASH: Thank you.

BALDONADO: Now, Stephen Falk, you're the creator of "You're The Worst." How did you first sell the show when you were trying to get it made?

STEPHEN FALK: I went into FX and basically said - I was always a big fan of "Mad About You," which was like an NBC show in - when I was in high school and early college, I think. And I found it really romantic. It was, you know, sort of a long-term depiction of a marriage, in this case, but of a relationship. And it was - really kind of went through the minutia of the day to day of that kind of stuff. It was like a rom-com in slow-motion. And I was always fascinated by that.

And so I went in - and then I was also sort of - had become really fascinated by British sitcoms and the fact that the Brits tend to allow for actual humanity in their characters and not to require their characters to hold up to some sort of false ideal of proper, good behavior. And so I sort of married those sensibilities. I kind of pitched it as a boozy English-ey, cable-ey update of "Mad About You."

BALDONADO: And how would you describe the main characters, Jimmy and Gretchen?

FALK: I think they're both narcissists. They probably have substance abuse problems to certain extent. They're both pretty good at their jobs, but they're incredibly self-involved and are sort of completely uninterested in their own psychology or in Jimmy's case too interested in his own psychology.

They don't follow normal societal rules. They talk in movie theaters. They are mean to kind of everyone they come across, if they deserve it. They kind of think everyone is dumb and annoying. And yet they very much love each other and think of themselves as a little team against the world. But really, I mean, they just sort of stand in for the dark parts of all of us that are still deserving of love at the end of the day.

BALDONADO: Stephen, one thing that works for them as a couple is that they started out by telling each other all the horrible things they've done at the beginning. They think, you know, why lie about it if it's going to be a one-night stand? Get all of that garbage, all of the horrible stuff out there early on. Do either of you have any experiences you want to share about that time, you know, that beginning of a relationship when you're figuring out what to share with someone or how to kind of craft what you want the other person to think you are?

FALK: (Laughter).

CASH: No, thank you. No, I...


CASH: Yeah. I mean, I think we all - we perform different sides of ourself in different situations and with different people. And I think when you're interested in someone romantically, there's a tendency to sort of try to show the good parts first. You know, bait and switch is a term that's used often. I feel like we think we have to hide certain parts of ourself.

But the truth is that the things that you fall in love with are usually not the things that you're first presenting. The reasons why you - I think intimacy is created through vulnerability and through - through showing sides of yourself that you don't necessarily think are the best. So it's a misunderstanding of how we fall in love. Personally, I am a very patient person. I tend to date people who show me a lot upfront that would make people run away. I had a boyfriend get arrested a couple of dates in. I had a boyfriend pee in my roommate's closet a couple dates - actually, that's the same guy. And he ended up being a wonderful, wonderful human. And we dated for two years. But it all happened within the first month.

BALDONADO: I went back and watched the first episode. And out of the gate, there's a lot of sex on the show. There isn't nudity, really, but there is sex. But it's integral to the story and to the characters. Stephen, why did you want to include that aspect into the series?

FALK: Well, if it's - if you're going to have a show about - about romantic relationships, I think sex is integral to that. I think we're a bizarrely puritanical culture. American pop culture has gone in a really odd direction where sex is usually portrayed either as just for titillation, both in movies and TV, or it's treated, like, deeply, deeply seriously and with all the sort of sexiness of it stripped out. And that always really bothered me. And every time I, you know, got the opportunity to do sex scenes on "Weeds," to write them, I did because I think it's a great joy of being alive and being a human.

BALDONADO: Aya, what did you think when you saw those scenes in that first episode? I would think it could be something uncomfortable to do.

CASH: I mean, I want to answer that with, yeah. I mean, like, I'm cool with it, and I had no reaction. And I think philosophically I'm very much on the same page as Stephen. But in reality, I was like, oh, God, no. I mean, it's terrifying to do. And I had never done them before, and I've been very specific about not doing nudity and not auditioning for stuff like that mainly because it is so - you know, as a lady, you get asked to take your clothes off all the time. And I think most of it is pretty unnecessary because I thought this script was so interesting and good. And I sort of understood the point of the sex scene. I got on board, but that doesn't mean I didn't have normal sort of human insecurities and anxieties about it. I remember sort of getting the nudity writer and being like what nudity writer? We're on FX. What? What? And they were like you can show side boob and butt. And I said, OK, you get side boob but show his butt. I think that was the agreement we came to for the pilot.

So, you know, it's a scary thing. And maybe I'm just a product of the culture that I live in, but I was definitely sort of nervous about it. Doing it is different because all the lead-up is sort of neuroses and then you get there and you just - everything normalizes it's your - I don't feel super uncomfortable once we're doing that because it's with people that I like and trust. And your arm hurts because you're lying back on it for two hours, and your feet go numb. And, you know, it's not sexy at all.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview that FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado recorded with Aya Cash, the co-star of the FXX series "You're The Worst" and Stephen Falk the creator of the series. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado recorded with Stephen Falk, creator of the FXX series "You're The Worst" and Aya Cash, the co-star of the series.

BALDONADO: Now, Aya, your parents are both artists, and you've said that you grew up thinking being an artist was a viable career, didn't have to be about fame and fortune. You know, you can be kind of a worker artist. Can you talk about growing up in San Francisco with artist parents and how that affected what you thought being an artist would be?

CASH: Yeah. My dad was a - he did street theater with a group called the Pageant Players. They used to go on in the intermission of the Living Theatre. And the Living Theatre would scream give them all your money you bourgeois pigs because Pageant Players were like more underground than the Living Theatre. So he did that for a while. He played in a Balinesian gamelan for many years which is like a Balinesian orchestra and traveled around the world during that. He then was a musician playing flute and some light drug dealing. Hi, dad - very, very minimal (laughter) nothing hard - and then met my mom by fixing her flute because he fixed instruments. Then he became a therapist briefly and now he's a Buddhist teacher and Les Priest. If that's not an artistic life, I don't really know what is. So he taught me, one, that money wasn't important.

Neither of my parents were money driven, and that life is not necessarily about the things that our culture tells you that they're about. And that's a very - that's a very privileged point of view. My mom is a poet and a novelist and a memoirist. She would kill me if I was on FRESH AIR and didn't say her full name and her new book - Kim Addonizio, "Bukowski In A Sundress" is her new book. She also has a book of poems called Mortal Trash. There you go, mom. By the way, my mom's reaction and my husband's reaction to going on FRESH AIR was the same thing was, oh, my God, [expletive] you.


CASH: Because they both love to be on FRESH AIR. So, anyway, my mom is...

FALK: At least it was in that order.

CASH: Yeah. They were very excited for me, and we hate you. So my mom my entire life was a writer. And so, again, never about money, she really didn't sell out at any point. I remember people being like you should write a screenplay or you should write this or do that. And she just did her own thing. If she needed money she wrote. I mean, she was in Penthouse with an erotic short story because it paid really well. You know, she did things to pay the bills, but she really - she's always stuck to her artistic vision and what she thinks is important as opposed to what anyone else tells her is important or valuable. And I really respect that.

BALDONADO: Now, Aya, your training - you've done a lot of theater and your training was more for acting on the stage. And, like you were saying, "You're The Worst" is a comedy but it's a comedy-drama meld. I've read you talk in an interesting way about the difference between doing crying or sad scenes onstage versus for TV and film, specifically talking about Shakespeare and how you have to cry for Shakespeare. Can you talk about the difference of playing more dramatic roles for this stage versus for the TV show?

CASH: Yeah. Well, I think in both. If it doesn't say in a line I'm crying or, oh, I'm so sorry, did I get you wet with my tears kind of thing, I try not to - you never want to make a choice to cry. That's sort of not - and nobody's going like let me get - let me force these tears out in real life. It's sort of something that happens. So you want to stay sort of in the moment and let that happen or not happen as opposed to pushing it.

Onstage, you get a very long runway. So if you start at the beginning of a play, you have a - you have an hour maybe to get to a scene that you're having a huge emotional breakdown of being in that character and just sort of going straight through. It's like you sort of get on the ride and then get off at the end of the night. Film and TV is so - you do these little truncated bits sometimes a couple lines at a time. We had a - there's a scene in one of the episodes where I sort of go off on everyone. That was maybe a four-page scene that we would do in one. So sometimes you get a little lead-up, but it's definitely not the same experience as going from minute one and then finishing a play. And so I find that sort of harder to do. You know, the thing about TV is there's editing, too. So if you screw up a line or if you mess something up, they're going to take the best lines from the best takes and put it together. I mean, I do think that television is - in many ways, the actor is the least important and yet the most lauded because you can really craft a performance in the editing suite. I mean, not to discount that you need to bring something, but it's very manipulatable. So you also have to trust that and not get mad at yourself. If you stumble in a theater show, you know, you've got to sort of just get back on the wagon and keep going. But if you stumble in TV, you get to do it again. And that's a luxury that I have also enjoyed, that, you know, they're going to - and trust that they're going to pick the best.

BALDONADO: Another one of the strengths of "You're The Worst" are the supporting characters - Edgar, who is Jimmy's best friend, and Lindsay, who's Gretchen's best friend. I want to play a quick scene between those two friends played by Kether Donohue and Desmin Borges. They have asked for all four of their friends to - for all of them to go out to dinner together, and they've now been stood up a few times already. And Lindsay is wondering why their friends, Jimmy and Gretchen, don't seem to care about them.


KETHER DONOHUE: (As Lindsay Jillian) Why are they treating us like this?

DESMIN BORGES: (As Edgar Quintero) Lindsay, I think we're sidekicks.

DONOHUE: (As Lindsay Jillian) Ew, I am not a sidekick. I'm Beyonce, not Kelly Rowland. If I'm on a motorcycle, I'm driving the motorcycle, not riding in that [expletive] little side motorcycle thingy for poor people and dogs.

BORGES: (As Edgar Quintero) Think about it - in your relationship with Gretchen, are you the Mary Tyler Moore or the Rhoda?

DONOHUE: (As Lindsay Jillian) Who are those people? They sound ugly.

BORGES: (As Edgar Quintero) OK, in "Flipping Out" on Bravo, are you the Jeff Lewis or the Jenni We-Don't-Know-Her-Last-Name?

DONOHUE: (As Lindsay Jillian) Oh my God. I am totally the Jenni We-Don't-Know-Her-Last-Name. Actually, I do. It's Pulos. I'm a big fan.

BALDONADO: That's a scene from "You're The Worst." Stephen Falk, can you talk about the supporting - they're more than that, but the best friend characters, Edgar and Lindsay?

FALK: Yeah. I mean, I love playing with form, and I think, like, when - I remember when I first - I probably read or saw "Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead" by Tom Stoppard. It's this play that takes two very minor characters in "Hamlet" and sort of makes them the - central to their own story, and everything that goes on in "Hamlet" is happening sort of around them and they're witnessing it. And I thought that was an incredibly interesting shift. So that's sort of where that idea of sidekicks becoming self-aware came.

And there's this trope in - when you have a rom-com, you need confidants. You know, it goes back to Shakespeare and probably before that. Juliet has her nurse. You know, you need someone who is working behind the scenes as a sounding board and giving advice and making the liaisons happen. And it's just kind of built into the form. But that always then kind of rankled with me. The idea that someone would sort of exist just to be subordinate to someone is not really how anyone lives their life. And, I mean, I'm sure Smithers has his own - he's central to his own drama and not just a sidekick to Mr. Burns.

So that was what interested me about that, of taking OK, well, I need Jimmy and Gretchen to be able to talk to someone about their budding relationship. But at the same time, the dramatist in me couldn't have those characters just be sidekicks, so I wanted them to have some sort of self-awareness in that. It's a little bit of a meta moment, but it's - it helped springboard them into their own storylines.

BALDONADO: Stephen Falk and Aya Cash, thank you so much.

FALK: Thank you.

CASH: Thank you.

FALK: Thanks for having us.

GROSS: Stephen Falk is the creator of the FXX series "You're The Worst." Aya Cash is the co-star. They spoke with FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado. The new HBO series "Westworld" premieres Sunday. John Powers will review it after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. On Sunday night, HBO premieres "Westworld," a new futuristic series starring Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden. Adapted from the 1973 movie "Westworld," it's about a high-tech theme park whose visitors get to live out their wildest dreams of being in the Old West. Our critic-at-large John Powers has seen the first few episodes and says that the show has a lot more on its mind than you may expect.

JOHN POWERS, BYLINE: I have a friend in London who's at war with her car's GPS. Although she nearly always puts it on, she's driven mad by its voice, which is female, and refuses to follow its directions. She spends whole trips arguing with, barking at and sometimes cursing this imaginary woman.

She'd never be this rude to an actual human being. But, of course, a GPS doesn't have feelings. But what if it did? That's one of the many timely questions raised by "Westworld," the darkly exciting new series that's HBO's biggest gamble since "Game Of Thrones." Developed by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, it's an ambitious reboot and rethink of the clever but clunky 1973 movie by Michael Crichton, who would go on to write the more popular but less provocative "Jurassic Park."

The show takes its title from the name of a futuristic theme park where visitors come to live out their Wild West fantasies. Inhabited by astonishingly lifelike androids known as hosts, Westworld lets guests ride the high country, gun down an outlaw, fall for a cowboy or bed a beautiful bargirl, all with no risk. Meanwhile, behind the scenes the park is run by a huge team, topped by its genius creator Dr. Robert Ford, played by Anthony Hopkins, its lead programmer, Bernard Lowe - that's Jeffrey Wright - and tough Theresa Cullen, who represents corporate, which has sinister plans of its own. She's played by Sidse Babett Knudsen, from "Borgen."

Everything goes smoothly until there's a glitch in the android's operating system. Triggered by an apt line from "Romeo And Juliet," these violent delights have violent ends. Some of the hosts begin acting out in nasty ways. Not to give anything away, but this makes matters tricky for everyone, from Westworld's management to a scary ultra-violent repeat guest known as gunslinger. That's Ed Harris of the chilling blue eyes.

At the center of the action are William, a nice guy tourist played by Jimmi Simpson, and the show's heroine Dolores Abernathy. Brilliantly played by Evan Rachel Wood, she's a rancher's daughter who discovers that life is a lot more complicated than she ever realized. Here, Jeffrey Wright's character Bernard meets with Hopkins's pensive, almost Olympian Dr. Ford to discuss why the androids have taken to misbehaving.

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Dr. Robert Ford) So our creatures have been misbehaving. And you haven't yet isolated the (unintelligible). That's so unlike you, Bernard, unless of course you have and are simply embarrassed by the result.

JEFFREY WRIGHT: (As Bernard Lowe) It's the code you added, sir, the reveries. It has some...

HOPKINS: (As Dr. Robert Ford) Mistakes is the word you're too embarrassed to use. You ought not to be. You're a product a trillion of them. The evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool - mistake.

POWERS: Now, "Westworld" is clearly a big-budget production filled with big-name performers. I haven't even mentioned Thandie Newton's sexy madam or James Marsden's preeningly romantic gunslinger. And its nifty production design lovingly recreates the Old West Hollywood style and gives us the cool, soullessly sterile labs where scientists continually program and rebuild murdered androids.

As you might guess, the series asks us to think about our relationship to technology, in particular the machines that come ever closer to displaying human intelligence and emotions, as the android hosts do here. After all, it's one thing for a techno genie to satisfy our needs, quite another for to have needs of its own. What if we create beings that can grow beyond our ability to know and control them?

In Crichton's original film, the human heroes are threatened by run-amok androids. This new version flips that idea, conjuring a reality in which the androids are abused by human beings. It joins a long tradition that sympathizes with manmade made creatures, like Boris Karloff's Frankenstein, who was as touching as he was scary. And it joins movies like "Blade Runner" and the recent "Ex Machina" in suggesting that fabricated creatures may be smarter, more passionate and indeed more profoundly alive than the people who made and enslaved them.

At bottom, this unexpectedly resonant show isn't really about technology but about the human soul whose operating system has a glitch that some call original sin. Watching "Westworld's" guests exploit the hosts for their many different pleasures, I found myself thinking about tourism in our own world, where travellers often treat foreign lands as theme parks and locals as disposable extras, think of Ryan Lochte in Rio. Or even worse, visit exotic countries to buy easy, cheap sex or slaughter their animals for sport. Bursting with violent delights and violent ends, "Westworld" is shot through with a melancholy truth - that nothing is more human than behaving inhumanly.

GROSS: John Powers is film and TV critic for Vogue and


GROSS: If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like our interviews with Antoine Fuqua, the director of "The Magnificent Seven," Peter Berg, the director of "Deepwater Horizon" and Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold, who is investigating the Donald J. Trump Foundation. Check out our podcast.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman and Thea Chaloner. Therese Madden directed today's show. I'm Terry Gross.

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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