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Investigative journalist Bob Woodward

Investigative journalist Bob Woodward is assistant managing editor of The Washington Post. He's the author of eight nonfiction bestsellers, including All the President's Men and The Final Days — both on Watergate and President Nixon — and The Brethren, about the Supreme Court. For his newest book, Bush at War, he had behind-the-scenes access to the Bush administration in the first 100 days after the Sept. 11 attacks.


Other segments from the episode on November 21, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 21, 2002: Interview with Bob Woodward; Review of Missy Elliott's new CD "Under Construction;" Interview with Jeremy Northam.


DATE November 21, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Bob Woodward discusses his career covering Washington
politics and his new book, "Bush at War"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Bob Woodward, has written a new book called "Bush at War." It's a
behind-the-scenes account of the Bush administration's first 100 days after
September 11th. An epilogue covers more recent planning on how to deal with
Iraq. The book is based on notes Woodward obtained from more than 50
meetings, including ones held by the National Security Council. Woodward
interviewed more than 100 people involved in the decision-making and execution
of the war and conducted two interviews with President Bush. In Woodward's
1991 book, "The Commanders," he wrote about the lead-up to the Gulf War during
the presidency of George H.W. Bush. Bob Woodward became famous for his
investigative reporting after breaking the Watergate story with his colleague,
Carl Bernstein.

Now you report in your book that before the attacks, the Pentagon had been
working for months on developing a military option for Iraq. Who was arguing,
even before September 11th, that we should be trying to overthrow Saddam

Mr. BOB WOODWARD (Author, "Bush at War"): Well, I think it's been on the Bush
administration agenda from the beginning, and a lot of people in the Pentagon,
Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz and sec--the deputy, Wolfowitz, and the
secretary, Rumsfeld, very interested in doing something in Iraq. In fact, on
the first night the secret meeting in the White House the day of 9/11,
Rumsfeld said, `Should we use this as an opportunity to go after Iraq?'

GROSS: Now what about Dick Cheney and Colin Powell? They were both leaders
of the first Gulf War. They went after Iraq then. How did they feel about
including Iraq on the Bush administration agenda before September 11th?

Mr. WOODWARD: I think somewhat differently. As we know, and I think the book
shows, in more vivid detail, Vice President Cheney is a hard-liner, a hawk.
Powell, as was the case in the 1991 Gulf War, is the reluctant warrior. So
there was a kind of latent tension before 9/11 within the administration and
that kind of set the stage for Iraq. But interestingly enough what happened,
Bush clearly decided in the first week after 9/11 that we were going to go
after bin Laden and al-Qaeda and not Iraq. And when I talked to Bush twice,
he kept emphasizing he knew he couldn't attack Iraq in the first phase of any
war on terrorism.

GROSS: Do you get the sense that any of the feelings about the importance of
going after Saddam Hussein--if any of that has to do with aftermath from the
Gulf War? You know, like, `Well, we didn't get him that time, so this time
we're gonna get him'? And, you know, in other words, is it personal at all?

Mr. WOODWARD: I found no evidence of that. I talked to lots of people,
looked at lots of notes of meetings and so forth and I think it's in the back
of people's minds. But the people, particularly Cheney and Powell and Bush's
father, who was president during the Gulf War, feel they did the right thing;
that if you look back and get back into the details of this, you find that the
UN resolution authorizing force in the Gulf War said the purpose is to eject
Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis from Kuwait, which had been invaded and taken
over by Saddam. That goal was achieved. It was not on the list of things to
do at the time, `Go to Baghdad and overthrow the regime.' And so as they look
around and they say, `We are the superpower, we have the capacity to remake
the strategic world, and this man is a threat, he's violated UN resolutions
for a decade; let's think about going.'

GROSS: My guest is Bob Woodward, and his new book is called "Bush at War."

You know, President Bush was willing to go it alone if necessary in taking on
Iraq. It was Colin Powell who was the biggest force within the administration
to insist that we had to try to get a coalition, get UN support. How did
Colin Powell win on that, in a sense that, you know, President Bush made his
address to the United Nations and ended up getting support for this round of
weapons inspections? What did Powell do to convince the president?

Mr. WOODWARD: I think perhaps one of the most important dinners of recent
history was August 5th at the White House when Powell had asked for a private
meeting with the president. That meant Condoleezza Rice, the national
security adviser would sit in. And Powell had actually drawn up a list of
reasons why the president could not go to war alone. He actually said to the
president, `You may want to go alone, it may seem nice, but you can't.' He
then laid out essentially eight reasons why, in addition to kind of
elaborating on the consequences of a war with Iraq, if the United States was
doing it alone and did not operate with allies, some sort of coalition, or
through the UN.

It's a compelling argument. I lay it out in my book, and the president
adopted it. There was lots of push back from Cheney and Rumsfeld. At various
stages in this, up to the last minute, September 12th, it was not absolutely
clear what President Bush was going to do. The speech that he gave had 24
drafts. And the asking for new resolutions was in, was out of the speech. He
finally agreed it would be in there. But it did--literally did not make it
into the version that was in the TelePrompTer. He knew it was so important
when he saw that it was not there. He ad-libbed and said the United States
would ask and seek new resolutions on Iraq. That was done, as we know now,
and the Security Council passed those resolutions 15-to-0. So...

GROSS: What was it like for Colin Powell to go it alone within the Bush
administration? You say, for instance, one of the big difficulties he had was
that he was supposed to pretend in public that the differences within the war
cabinet didn't really exist.

Mr. WOODWARD: That's right. President Bush likes agreement and consensus,
at least in public. Though he did--when I talked to him about this, the
president said, `I want people to have different points of view, and I want
them to argue forcefully,' he would like that to be done only in private, and
then everyone salutes and comes out and says, `We agree with the president's
decision.' The tensions on this issue go so deep, have to do with the world
view of the individuals, their sense of where we are in this moment in history,
that it was almost inevitable that they surface.

GROSS: What is Powell's attitude, if you know the answer to this, about
maintaining that public face of unanimity even when he strongly disagrees with
the Bush administration direction?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, he agrees on this. He won the day.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. WOODWARD: And it may be the most important issue, that at least it
appears now to be that, pending before the president and the National Security
Council, and they are going--he is way--on some other issues, certainly in the
first 18 months of the Bush administration, as I report, he felt somewhat
isolated. Had never made the personal connection with the president, which
Powell is kind of a specialist at. Has very strong personal connections with
all kinds of people, as does the president. They just didn't get in step, in
sync. Powell has worked on that relationship. I think it has improved. But
there were moments when he used to joke with his deputy that he had been put
in the refrigerator or the icebox only to be brought out and used when needed
by the White House.

GROSS: My guest is Bob Woodward. He's written a new book called "Bush at

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Bob Woodward is my guest. His new book is called "Bush at War" and
it's an inside look about what happened inside the Bush administration in the
first hundred days after September 11th. There's also information, a little
more recent than that, about Iraq.

Let's look at one of the issues shortly after September 11th, and that was how
much should President Bush have emphasized bin Laden as like the central
figure? And that was the subject of some debate within the Bush
administration. What was the debate about? Who was on each side?

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, it was particularly Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who
said don't emphasize bin Laden. In fact, in the famous speech that the
president gave to Congress on September 20th, nine days after the terrorist
attacks, Rumsfeld up to the end was saying, `Don't even mention bin Laden in
that speech once.' The president decided he had to and did mention him once
and of course as people may recall he said publicly that he wanted bin Laden
dead or alive. There was much emphasis on that when they didn't get bin
Laden, and it was pretty clear he had escaped, and that perhaps he was dead.
There was much less emphasis on him in operational terms, the fact that we
have been able to destroy sanctuary that bin Laden had in Afghanistan, the
fact that the CIA has rounded up or had foreign intelligence services or
police forces in 80 countries round up thousands of terrorists, suspected
members of bin Laden's organization, has put a crimp in the organization, and
certainly disrupted some terrorist plans.

Now I think there's much more disappointment that they haven't found bin Laden.
Bush has a private scorecard in his desk where he X's out people when they're
killed or captured, and Bush's tendency is to personalize things. I think he
takes--it's bin Laden vs. Bush. The fact that bin Laden has survived
certainly the biggest manhunt in perhaps the history of civilization is
frustrating to the president.

GROSS: In doing the research for this book, did you learn anything that you
didn't know before about what the Clinton administration had tried to do with
bin Laden or about if the Clinton administration was effective in passing off
its information about bin Laden to the Bush administration?

Mr. WOODWARD: The Clinton administration had done a lot, particularly through
the CIA. They actually and a tracking team of paid Afghan agents in
Afghanistan who were following bin Laden around and could report with some
regularity where he was. They were not authorized to try to kill him or
assassinate him. And there was an unwillingness to really even seriously
consider that or do that. The same in the first nine months of the Bush
administration, they really never got an anti-bin Laden policy going, but it
is the capacity the CIA had that was funded and created during the Clinton
years that made after 9/11 the rather remarkable on-the-ground effort by the
CIA possible. And if there had not been that support or the money or the
willingness to support some of the activities in Afghanistan, some of the
covert work that was done, the Afghan war, at least the first phase of it,
would not have gone the way it did.

GROSS: Can you give us a sense about what the process is of the war Cabinet
meetings, like what--how the meetings are run, what the interactions are like
between the people?

Mr. WOODWARD: It starts off generally with the CIA director giving an
intelligence update or, in the case of the war in Afghanistan, a progress
report, what's going on. Then Secretary Powell would give a rundown on the
diplomacy and what's going on in his area. Then Secretary Rumsfeld would give
an account of the war or war plans. Those are the three main players in the
war Cabinet who have operational responsibility. Cheney, the vice president,
tends to not say a lot, tends to speak at the end.

GROSS: Is he there or is he on speaker phone?

Mr. WOODWARD: He is there, much of the time, but if he is off at his
undisclosed location, he comes up on what they call SVIDS(ph), which is a
Secure Video Conferencing System. So not only his voice, but his face is
there. And Condi Rice tends to coordinate and think about what they're going
to meet about next. And the president interjects. When I interviewed him he
said, you know, quite candidly, `Sometimes I tend to be almost a gasbag at
these meetings and go on and talk too much and it's a bad habit and I should
stop it.' He interjects and talks quite a bit, and one of the things I found,
he's the ultimate decision-maker. Dick Cheney is not running the government,
though Dick Cheney is probably the most important overall adviser on these

GROSS: President Bush is well-known for hating leaks, for liking to have
unanimity among his people, and for being pretty tough with the press in terms
of not revealing a lot of information. A lot of reporters have actually been
complaining about how difficult it is to get information from the Bush
administration. What were you able to learn about President Bush's process
for maintaining that kind of public unanimous face and for trying to prevent

Mr. WOODWARD: Well, he's pretty strong on it. At the same time, I was able
to get a very unusual amount of information. I had the luxury of time to work
for months and months on this. And when I sent him a 20-page memo outlining
what I knew, said I wanted to talk to him, he sat for two hours and 25 minutes
and answered up to 300 questions about what actually happened in the course of
the war and some of the attitudes he had and where it came from. He, I found,
was not resistant. He didn't deny a thing. And some of the issues were very
sensitive. At the same time, he knew his voice would be included in this
book, and that I had a lot of very specific information, made the calculation,
for reasons I don't fully understand, to answer the questions, and I think he
ought to do more of that. I think the biggest fear in this country,
particularly in a time of war, a time when there are so many threats out
there, the biggest threat is secret government, and the less secretive it is,
the better off we all are, and ultimately the better off the government is.

GROSS: In your interview with President Bush, what's one of the most
surprising or telling things that he revealed to you?

Mr. WOODWARD: Overall, that he has a vision of--almost wants to remake the
world, this idea that American leadership is going to be the shaping force in
the world. As he said, `I will seize the opportunity to achieve big goals.'
And wants to be the liberator in countries where people are oppressed,
maintains his goal is world peace, that he's concerned about mothers and
starving children, and that there is a determination--and at one point he
said, `Maybe it's my religion.' Maybe it's just a gut instinct. Maybe it's
visceral, but that he feels you either believe in freedom and worry about the
human condition or you don't. And that he--it is an almost Woodrow
Wilson-like view of creating a New World Order and using his presidency for
that purpose. I did not expect him to outline that.

GROSS: Well, Bob Woodward, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. WOODWARD: Thank you.

GROSS: Bob Woodward's new book is called "Bush at War."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

Coleman Hawkins was born 98 years ago today. Here's his classic recording of
"Body and Soul."

(Soundbite of "Body and Soul")


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, we meet British actor Jeremy Northam. He recently starred
in "Gosford Park," "Possession" and "Engima." On Sunday, he plays Dean Martin
opposite Sean Hayes' Jerry Lewis in the CBS movie "Martin and Lewis." Also,
Ken Tucker reviews "Under Construction," Missy Elliott's fourth CD.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Review: Missy Elliott's new CD "Under Construction"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Missy Elliott has just released her fourth album titled "Under Construction."
Rock critic Ken Tucker says that the rhythms and production style Elliott has
devised with her producer, Timbaland, take on added ambition with this new
collection, which both looks back at hip-hop's past and ahead to its future.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. MISSY ELLIOTT: This is a Missy Elliott exclusive. (Rapping) And I came
to bring the pain hard-core to the brain. Ooh, baby, what's your name? I
love the way you spit in the game. You made me change my thinking all guys
are the same. You are the type of guy I want to marry in months, got exactly
what I want. And ain't no faking the funky attitude. It's funky and you're
making me crawl. Come on. Yes.

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Maybe you know Missy Elliott from her extravagantly surreal videos filled with
wild sci-fi costumes and showcases for her ample imagination. After hits like
"Get Ur Freak On" and her "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack cover of "Lady Marmalade,"
Elliott might have turned into a novelty act. Instead, as the title of this
collection announces, Elliott sees herself as a work that's "Under
Construction," and part of what that means is making a statement of

Throughout "Under Construction," Elliott condemns the violent rhetoric that
may have contributed to the murders of hip-hop artists from Tupac Shakur to,
most recently, Run-DMC's Jam Master Jay. As she says just before the start of
this beautiful piece of wistfulness, with guest vocal help from Jay-Z, `Let's
just have fun. It's hip-hop, man.'

(Soundbite of "Back in the Day")

Reverend JESSE JACKSON: Brothers and sisters!

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Rev. JACKSON: Brothers and sisters, I don't know what this world is coming

JAY-Z: What's up, Missy? Timba?

Ms. ELLIOTT: This is another Missy Elliott exclusive.

JAY-Z: (Rapping) Oh, yes. Yes. Oh, one for the brothers. I came from the
gutter. No, I came from my mother, but you know what I mean. Hope is here to
stay like permanent crease in your jeans. Me and Missy be the new tag team.
Whoomp, there it is! We like Grayin' Ghost(ph), AG(ph) and showbiz. We
public enemy number one. Our Uzi weighs a ton. This is a house run.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Singing) What happened to those good old days when hip-hop was
so much fun? Oh, having parties in the summer, you-all--Come on--and no one
came through with a gun, gun, gun.

It was all about good music, you-all. It helped to relieve some stress.
Uh-huh. Oh, we was under one groove, you-all--You-all. So much love between
North and West--Come on. Go back in the day--Come on--British Knights and
gold chains, do the preppy and cabbage patch and wear your laces all phat.
Back in the day, in the day. Hip-hop has changed. Yes, it did.

TUCKER: That song, "Back in the Day," begins with a snippet of Jesse Jackson
and ranges back across the whole history of hip-hop over the past two decades.
It's a masterly sprawl with a subtle, percolating beat by producer Timbaland.
It runs beneath Missy's sweet vocals and the choral harmonies. Toward the
end, she sings, `I want to go back in time,' and it doesn't come across as
empty nostalgia, but as a vivid remembrance of how crucial this music has been
to her life.

On another cut called "Gossip Folks," she has the wit to sample Frankie
Smith's 1981 rap novelty "Double Dutch Bus" and give that wispy pleasure some
emotional weight.

(Soundbite of "Gossip Folks")

Unidentified Singer: (Rapping) ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) My ...(unintelligible).

Unidentified Singer: (Rapping) ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) Is ...(unintelligible)?

Unidentified Singer: (Rapping) ...(Unintelligible) down ...(unintelligible).

TUCKER: Further into "Under Construction," Elliott has established the mood:
contemplative, tough and tender within a single verse, intensely romantic.
The stage is set for a hip-hop ballad, which she pulls off on a duet with
Beyonce Knowles called "Nothing Out There For Me."

(Soundbite of "Nothing Out There For Me")

Ms. BEYONCE KNOWLES: (Singing) My man don't like my friends.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) Girl, you're man ain't no good. Why he tryin' to keep
you in?

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) He say they influence me.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) If I was an influence, I'd have been saying leave.

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) But, boy, I love him so.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) Girl, we late for the club. Why you still don't want
to roll?

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) Because I've got my prize right here.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) But there'll be guys at the party.

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) Ain't nothin' out there for me.

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) Ain't nothin' out there for me.

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) Come on.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) OK.

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) This is where I want to be.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) OK.

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) I done already been in the streets and
I ain't come across nothing so sweet.

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) So sweet.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) OK.

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) He's the only man that I love...

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) Is that right?

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) ...and I don't need more than one.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) OK.

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) So don't worry when I'm hangin' out.
He's the only one that I'm thinkin' about.

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) I know he's insecure every time I leave out the door.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) And you lettin' him spoil your night. Live your life.
You ain't even his wife.

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) He ain't gotta worry about me 'cause I've got
something more sweet.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) Oh, you must have got a diamond ring. Great.

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) And I know I'm so lucky. Ain't nothing...

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) OK.

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) Ain't nothin' out there for me.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) OK.

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) This is where I want to be.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) OK.

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) Where I want to be.

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) I done already been in the streets,
and I ain't come across nothing so sweet.

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) Uh-oh. OK.

Ms. ELLIOTT and Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) He's the only man that I love, and I
don't need more than one.

TUCKER: We should never forget that her full stage name is Missy
"Misdemeanor" Elliott. There's a lot of frank sex talk on "Under
Construction" that would get her and I in trouble if we played it here. But
for grown-ups, Elliott's raunch is part of her maturity, as well. It's so
rare to hear a hip-hop woman speak with such self-assurance and confidence
about herself and her friends. But the music, far from needing an `under
construction' warning sign, sounds like a glimpse of a life that's a completed
work of art.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Under Construction" by Missy Elliott.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. ELLIOTT: (Rapping) I've been checkin' on your moms and dads and your
brother since the day you left. Passed on and went away with God, but for
your mama, it's been so damn hard. I hate to even hear her cry. Aaliyah, she
asked me why would her baby girl go this way. Can you give me better words to

Come on--one day she'll see you again with the same old beautiful smile. With
the voice of the hummingbird, you'll be singing them same old songs. Aaliyah,
can you hear me? I hope that you're proud of me. Me and Jim, we been doin'
our thing. But it's never been the same since you had to go. Ain't never met
a friend more incredible. Oh, I know you in real good hands with God, but
damn, I miss you...

GROSS: Coming up, actor Jeremy Northam. He plays Dean Martin in the new CBS
movie, "Martin and Lewis." This is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Jeremy Northam discusses his role in the made-for-TV
movie "Martin and Lewis," and some of his other experiences as an
(Soundbite of song)

Mr. DEAN MARTIN: (Singing) Gee, but it's great after being out late walkin'
my baby back home. Arm in arm over meadow and farm, walkin' my baby back
home. We go along...


My guest Jeremy Northam plays Dean Martin in the CBS movie "Martin and Lewis,"
which will be shown Sunday night. The movie is about the showbiz partnership
of Martin and Jerry Lewis, with Lewis played by Sean Hayes of "Will and
Grace." Dean Martin's actual recordings are used in the film; Northam
lip-syncs. But he did his own singing in "Gosford Park," in which he played a
charactered based on the singer and songwriter Ivor Novello. Here's Northam
and Hayes in a scene from the new TV movie shortly after Martin and Lewis
meet. They're sharing the bill at a nightclub, and after the show, Jerry
Lewis is goofing around with a table of customers.

(Soundbite from "Martin and Lewis")

Mr. JEREMY NORTHAM: (As Dean Martin) Do you know who that is?

Mr. SEAN HAYES: (As Jerry Lewis): Some real nice fellow, I hope.

Mr. NORTHAM: (As Martin) Nice fellow? That's Lucky Luciano, that's who that
is; Murder Inc. You got to know who you're talking to in these clubs.

Mr. HAYES: (As Lewis) So what do I do?

Mr. NORTHAM: (As Martin) You pray. I'll talk to him. If you're still alive
by the midnight show, it might mean he forgives you.

GROSS: Jeremy Northam is a surprising choice for portraying Dean Martin.
Northam is British, and he's best known for more formal period roles in such
films as "The Winslow Boy," "The Ideal Husband," "Possession" and "Enigma";
characters that are the opposite of Martin's cool. Northam told me that he
wasn't very familiar with Martin's work with Lewis, so he caught up by
watching their TV show and rare footage of their act at the Sands and the
Copa. I asked Northam about the mannerisms and sensibility he picked up on
for his portrayal of Dean Martin.

Mr. NORTHAM: I looked at the physical side of things, thinking, `Well, how
am I going to look like Dean?' I don't look like Dean at all, in my mind. I
don't have the sort of physical stature. I don't have the same physical
history as he has. But I became obsessed with his hands, for instance. He
had these enormous hands, and the knuckles were all broken from when he used
to box for cash and never used to bind his hands properly. So his knuckles
were all ruined. And he had these rather prominent, I thought, hands that he
used in a very idiosyncratic way. So that became--that was the first thing
that I really looked at.

And then I wanted to find out what tunes they're going to use in the piece.
They were rather undecided because they had to get clearance rights, of
course. And they arrived rather late. And the reason behind that--I think
the producers are rather puzzled by that. I demanded to have the sheet music,
and they said, `Well, why do you need that?' And I said, `Because I want to
learn the songs and then see what Dean does with them.' You get a standard
version on the sheet music, and then hear how he changes the phrasing, maybe
even sometimes the words, where he breathes and how he makes the very
beautiful but idiosyncratic sound that he makes when he was singing and,
therefore, trying to find the speaking voice, and so it goes on.

GROSS: Now you mentioned you wanted to see the sheet music so you could
really understand what Dean Martin was doing with a song, and you wanted to
use his singing style since the music was being dubbed and we actually hear
his voice singing. You wanted to use that singing style to help you find you
speaking voice when you were playing Dean Martin. Can you talk about finding
that voice, what you took away from the singing and how you used that for the

Mr. NORTHAM: Well, he had quite a deep voice, but a very light vibrato at the
top end of the voice. And the vowels are placed in a very particular way in
the mouth, very different from mine. So--I mean, had I been doing the singing
as well, I don't think I would have gone as far as I did with the speaking
voice. But because we had Dean's singing voice, I really had to go further
than perhaps I otherwise would have done with the speaking voice. So...

GROSS: Because you had to get your speaking voice to match his singing.

Mr. NORTHAM: As much as I could.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NORTHAM: And, you know, it's a very impossible task, because I think only
Dean Martin can make the sound that Dean Martin made. But I suppose it was
just trial and error, really. And I always felt on set that I was going
massively over the top, that I was way too much. And I don't know whether it
is or whether it isn't, but it was interesting to try.

GROSS: I'm thinking, like, who else has played both Dean Martin and Ivor
Novello, the British singer who you played in the movie "Gosford Park."

Mr. NORTHAM: I know. It's a funny mixture, isn't it? A gay Welsh composer
and an Italian singer from Steubenville, Ohio.

GROSS: Yeah. Well, you know, a lot of people have seen "Gosford Park," but
not that many Americans really know who Ivor Novello was. So just describe
who the character that you played, Ivor Novello, was in British music history.

Mr. NORTHAM: Well, as far as I can remember--I'm no great expert myself, but
Ivor Novello was a bit of a prodigy when he was young. He wrote a famous
First World War anthem, best known, I suppose, as "Keep the Home Fires
Burning." Actually, its real title is "When the Boys Come Home." He was the
child of a singer, and he became an actor, a concert performer. And he went
to Hollywood. He didn't quite make it as an actor in Hollywood, although he
performed in a film called "The Lodger," one of the early Hitchcock movies.
But he wrote in Hollywood, as well. He wrote screenplays and was something of
a script doctor.

And he then performed in his own musicals, which was sort of like light
operettas rather than American musicals, which he toured for years and years
and was enormously popular. When he died in the '50s, his funeral was
attended by hundreds of thousands of people, and people say to this day that
there were three hugely attended and very influential funerals of the 20th
century in Britain. One was Winston Churchill's, one was Princess Diana's and
the other was Ivor Novello's.

And he was--you know, he's brought into "Gosford Park" as something of a
device, really. The film is set in the early '30s when he was about to kick
off, really, his musical theater career, and the songs from that time fitted
the period of the film very well.

GROSS: Well, I want to play "And Her Mother Came, Too" from the soundtrack of

Mr. NORTHAM: Oh, do you have to?

GROSS: Oh, yeah, I really like it. This is from the soundtrack of "Gosford
Park." In the movie, you're at the piano...

Mr. NORTHAM: Yeah.

GROSS: ...accompanying yourself. I don't imagine you actually played piano,
too, in the film, did you?

Mr. NORTHAM: I--well, if you played one of the other tracks--on the CD, it's
all my brother playing the piano. And on the film, there's two tracks which I
play and sing live, and the rest is my brother prerecorded and then me singing
live over the top. My brother's a professional pianist, and he's actually
accompanied a lot of people, doing a lot of Novello down in the West Country
in England, and so he was the perfect person to ask for it. It was the first
time we'd ever worked together, as well. It was very nice.

GROSS: Did Robert Altman, the director of the film, know all this when he
hired you?

Mr. NORTHAM: No. No. No, he--no, there wasn't even a part written when I
met him.

GROSS: Oh. So he cast you before he even knew who you were going to play?

Mr. NORTHAM: He said, `You know, I'm thinking of putting this character in
there, you know, this guy. You don't know anything about Ivor Novello?' And
I gather that years and years ago, he--in fact, the film that was going to
be--that turned out to be "M*A*S*H" was actually initially a First World War
story, believe it or not. So he'd done a lot of research for Ivor Novello for
that original movie. And when "M*A*S*H" came along, he said, `Oh, I can use
everything that he'd been working on for this other script in "M*A*S*H,"' and
Ivor Novello was put on the shelf. And years later, he thought, `Oh, that
could be handy.' So, you know, he invented this character based on Novello to
appear at the country house in "Gosford Park."

GROSS: OK. Well, here's Jeremy Northam from the soundtrack of the film
"Gosford Park," singing the Ivor Novello's song "And Her Mother Came, Too."

(Soundbite of "And Her Mother Came, Too")

Mr. NORTHAM: (Singing) I seem to be the victim of a cruel jest. It dogs my
footsteps with the girl I love the best. She's just the sweetest thing that I
have ever known, but still we never get the chance to be alone. My car will
meet her and her mother comes, too. It's a two-seater, still her mother
comes, too. At Ciro's when I am free, at dinner, supper or tea, she loves to
shimmy with me, and her mother does, too. We buy her trousseau and her mother
comes, too. Asked not to do so, still her mother comes, too. She simply
can't take a snub, I go and sulk at the club and have a bath and a rub, and
her brother comes, too.

We lunch at Maxim's, and her mother comes, too. How large a snack seems when
her mother comes, too. And when they're visiting me, we finish afternoon tea,
she loves to sit on my knee, and her mother does, too. To golf we started,
and her mother came, too. Three bags I carted, when her mother came, too.
She fainted just off the tee, my darling whispered to me, `Jack, dear, at last
we are free,' but her mother came, too.

GROSS: That's Jeremy Northam singing on the soundtrack of the film "Gosford
Park." Northam plays Dean Martin in the CBS movie "Martin and Lewis," which
airs Sunday night. We'll talk more with Northam after a break. This is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is actor Jeremy Northam. He starred in "The Winslow Boy,"
"The Ideal Husband," "Possession," "Enigma" and "Gosford Park." He plays Dean
Martin in the CBS movie "Martin and Lewis," which will be shown Sunday night.

My guest is Jeremy Northam, and he stars as Dean Martin in a CBS movie called
"Martin and Lewis," about the relationship between Dean Martin and Jerry
Lewis, and that movie will be shown this Sunday night on CBS.

One of your early breaks came on the British stage when you were--I guess you
were the understudy for Daniel Day-Lewis when he was playing Hamlet, and
something happened.

Mr. NORTHAM: Actually, you know, that wasn't a break at all.

GROSS: It wasn't a break?

Mr. NORTHAM: No. Because it didn't--you know, I know everyone wants to think
that it's like "42nd Street," but it really isn't and...

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, that's what I was thinking.

Mr. NORTHAM: know...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. NORTHAM: ...`He went out an understudy and came back a star.' It's
really not true. Nobody knew that I was going on. Everyone turned up at the
theater for 30-odd performances expecting to see Daniel Day-Lewis play the
part, and unfortunately, they found me there. I don't think anyone has ever
cast me for another job on the basis of having seen me struggle my way through

GROSS: Well, it sounds like you think the result was massive disappointment
on the part of the audience.

Mr. NORTHAM: I think it probably was, actually. Yeah.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. NORTHAM: I think I'd be pretty disappointed if I'd turn out to see Daniel
Day-Lewis play Hamlet and got someone you'd never heard of.

GROSS: Well, what happened? You know, I read articles about it, and the
articles all say he had some kind of breakdown in the middle of the
performance. I mean, what actually happened?

Mr. NORTHAM: Well, he left the stage about a half an hour into the show, and
it was at the National Theatre in London. And, you know, there's three
auditoria there, and there's several shows playing in each one at the same
time. And I was playing the lead in a play called "The Voysey Inheritance"
down in the Cottesloe. On certain nights, I was playing Captain Molineux,
which was the lead in "The Shaughraun," a play by--a 19th-century melodrama by
Boucicault in the Olivier. I was playing Osric in "Hamlet," understudying
Hamlet, and at that time, rehearsing Laertes, who was--currently, Laertes was
actually leaving the production soon, and a new Hamlet was being rehearsed in
in Charleston. So I was doing that by day, and I was just trying to get
through the week basically. You know, we hadn't done a staged rehearsal of
the play for five months. There was no indication that I was going to have to
go on. So it came out of left field.

GROSS: And so Daniel Day left in midperformance, Daniel Day-Lewis?

Mr. NORTHAM: Yes, he did.

GROSS: And you had to go on in midperformance. You must have been totally
unprepared for that.

Mr. NORTHAM: Yeah, and it was fairly ridiculous, I have to say. You know, it

GROSS: My, how you've changed, Hamlet.

Mr. NORTHAM: I didn't want to go on. I don't think any of the cast wanted me
to go on. And it was a bit of a one-sided fight between me and the text, and
the text came out on top. And you could hear the flipping of seats throughout
the performance.

GROSS: You mean people were walking out?

Mr. NORTHAM: Because it was a long evening, anyway, you know, made even

GROSS: Did you even remember your lines? I mean, there are so many

Mr. NORTHAM: Well, that was the problem. It wasn't so much remembering it.
The fact that there were so many of them and they were so unfamiliar in my
mouth, so there were many slips and fumbles. And it got better on subsequent
nights, but it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. It
became, you know, on subsequent nights, exhilarating and very exciting and at
the time, it was just terrifying. And I think just as terrifying to the rest
of the cast. I mean, since then, I've been in the same situation where people
have unexpectedly gone on and you have to carry on performing with somebody
you've never acted with before, and you find yourself doing the classic thing
of talking to one person downstage right and then the answer would come
upstage left, because you'd forgotten that that's where the reply came from.
And as for knowing which was Rosencrantz and which was Guildenstern--well,
forget it.

GROSS: Now I know one of the roles you have coming up now is "The Singing
Detective," which is a new movie based on the Dennis Potter TV series that
played in the United States on public television...

Mr. NORTHAM: Yeah.

GROSS: ...a few years ago. And like "Pennies From Heaven," in the TV series,
anyway, this is a story in which popular songs, older popular songs, are used
to express the innermost feelings that the characters are having. And they
lip-synch along to these records in these kind of...

Mr. NORTHAM: And also the characters' sort of place in the cultural scheme
of things, in a peculiar way.

GROSS: Right--are sung. Uh-huh.

Mr. NORTHAM: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: Are determined.

Mr. NORTHAM: Yeah. I didn't have to do any of that lip syncing. I've got a
very peripheral and interesting but small part in the movie. The lead's
played by Robert Downey Jr., who plays the writer.


Mr. NORTHAM: And I play the nemesis of his imagination, really, a character
called Binney, who, in the story, happens on several different levels, if
people remember from the TV series, that the writer is locked inside his own
body, covered with psoriasis in a hospital ward and the only thing that's
really working is his imagination. And to sort of keep him going, he
translates the characters that are around him in his present life into
characters in a kind of pulp fiction in his head.

So I'm somebody who he imagines is having an affair with his estranged wife
and who he imagines is stealing his material from under his nose. And he
becomes a sort of a lowlife, double-dealing scum in this kind of '50s film
noir in his head. And he also becomes the recalled memory of the man who
screwed his--sorry, I can't put it any more delicately--he remembers seeing
screwing his mom when he was an eight-year-old kid. And so it's a strange
kind of role, really, existing in somebody else's imagination, but

GROSS: Well, good. Good luck with the movie.

Mr. NORTHAM: Thank you.

GROSS: And thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. NORTHAM: My pleasure.

GROSS: Jeremy Northam plays Dean Martin in the CBS movie "Martin and Lewis,"
which airs Sunday night.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. MARTIN: (Singing) When marimba rhythms start to play, dance with me, make
me sway. Like a lazy ocean hugs the shore, hold me close, sway me more. Like
a flower bendin' in the breeze, bend with me, sway with ease. When we dance,
you have a way with me. Stay with me, sway with me. Other dancers may be on
the floor, dear, but my eyes will see only you. Only you have the magic
technique. When we sway, I grow weak.
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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