DATE February 16, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Clint Eastwood discusses directing the movies "Flags
of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for The New York Daily News
sitting in for Terry Gross. Our first guest, Clint Eastwood, directed two
films last year about the same battle in the South Pacific, and both are up
for Academy Awards. "Letters from Iwo Jima" is up for four awards, including
Best Picture, Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay.
"Flags of Our Fathers," nominated for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound
Mixing, was released first. It showed the battle of Iwo Jima from the
American side, and told the story behind the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning
photo of five Marines planting the flag there.
That was followed by "Letters from Iwo Jima," which portrayed the bloody World
War II battle from the Japanese point of view. The Japanese soldiers in Iwo
Jima were told to expect to die there, and most of them did. About 20,000 of
the 22,000 Japanese troops on the island were killed in the battle. About
7,000 Americans died there. The Japanese general who was chosen to command
the battle, Tadamichi Kuribayashi, developed a strategy of digging underground
caves throughout the island, interconnected by about 16 miles of tunnels.
When the Americans invaded, they were attacked by soldiers who remained hidden
from view. But the Japanese were outnumbered. More than 70,000 Marines
arrived on over 800 ships. The battle lasted 36 days.
Terry spoke with Clint Eastwood last month.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Clint Eastwood, welcome back to FRESH AIR. And congratulations on your new
You know, as an American watching the movie, you're in a very almost awkward
situation. Usually in a war film, the film is told from your country's point
of view, you know, if it's an American movie. And, of course, you're rooting
for the soldiers and you're rooting for them to, you know, vanquish the other
side. But in this film, you become very fond of, you know, some of the
soldiers and leaders in it--not all of them but some of them. And you don't
want them to die. And at the same time, you don't want them to kill the
Americans who they're fighting. So you can't have a conventional war film
response to this movie.
Mr. EASTWOOD: No, absolutely. You're not--it isn't meant to take their side
of the story. It's just meant to show that they were in a very tough position
by being defenders of a cause that hadn't been working. And the Japanese at
that time were under the influence of a military complex that was very
aggressive, had been very aggressive throughout the world, and now they were
on the final defense. And so this is just to show their reaction and what
their people like. But what it boils down to is, when mothers are losing
their sons, mothers--whether they're Japanese or American or whatever
nationality--the reaction is always--has the same pathos.
GROSS: It was really interesting to watch how the Japanese military is
portrayed in the film. You know, I think most Americans know that there were,
you know, so-called kamikaze fighters during World War II who flew planes
right into their target, and the pilots basically committed suicide in the
attack. And you portrayed the kind of emphasis on honor and that killing
yourself would be better than surrendering and better, in some instances, than
retreating, as far as the Japanese military higher-ups were concerned.
There's a scene in the movie--and I hope you don't feel I'm giving too much
away here--but there's a scene in the movie where several of the Japanese
soldiers, knowing that they've lost their end of the battle, consecutively
blow themselves up with hand grenades that they've kept. And it's just a
really kind of shocking and just like disturbing scene to watch them kill
themselves like this. Can you talk a little bit not only about shooting it,
but what you had read or heard about this kind of thing happening?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, it was quite common philosophy at that particular time
of committing "seppuku" as they call it, or "hari-kiri" as we--but if you read
books, there's a book out called "The Kamikaze Diaries" about--that's in
English. And it kind of--it's letters also, letters back from these young
students who were conscripted into flying, and they picked these young college
students because they figured they give them a cram course in flying where
they were only going to fly one way. So it was--but most of the letters are
quite pathetic because you see there they're writing back and telling their
mothers that they really don't want to be doing this and they really don't
want to die, and they couldn't resist. The chain of command throughout the
Japanese military was very, very strict and very rough, and if you didn't go
along with it, you were in deep trouble.
GROSS: Could you talk a little bit about shooting that scene in which several
of the Japanese soldiers blow themselves up with hand grenades?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Yeah. Well, that actually happened, and we portrayed that,
the results of that, in "Flags of Our Fathers." But in the Mount Suribachi,
there was a point where the Japanese that were stationed in that section of
the island felt that they were overrun, that there was no hope, and so they
just started blowing themselves up. And that's very, very difficult for us to
understand from an American philosophy. But they actually did that and that,
and in the book "Flags of Our Fathers," they account for that sequence. They
chronicle that sequence, and it's a kind of an amazing thing. And so, in the
other one, we showed the actual--we show them leading up to it and how it came
about by a misunderstanding, actually, because General Kuribayashi didn't
believe in all that.
The interesting thing that made me want to tell the story about him was that
he didn't really believe in suicide attacks and banzai attacks and all these
things that were very common for the Japanese soldiers at that time. He
believed that being a dead soldier was not being effective at all, so he was a
very practical guy. And he came up with all the ideas of tunnelling through
the island and connecting tunnels that would make a person be able to get away
and fight another day.
GROSS: The film opens with shots of Iwo Jima today. Can you describe what it
looks like now and what it felt like to be there, knowing the casualties in
Mr. EASTWOOD: Yeah, it is, it's like visiting any battlefield, going to Utah
or Omaha Beach and Normandy or any of those battles here. And you can almost
feel the activity there. The first time you walk out on our Green Beach, the
Americans named it Green Beach, which is right at the foot of Suribachi, and
you walk out there on that deep black sand, and you start thinking about all
of the--and looking out there and visualizing an armada coming in of American
ships. It's quite overwhelming. And you think of all the Marine Corps
personnel who suffered casualties on that island. It's an overwhelming
And then the first--we did that the first trip over there. And then, later
on, when you go over there to film and then you film down in the caves where
the hospitals were all built underground in caves and the places where the
troops resided, you wonder how the hell they did it because it's amazing.
That island had a lot of geothermal activity, so these caves are immensely,
they're tremendously hot. And so there's just very humid things. In fact,
you go into them now, and they don't recommend you stay in there more than 15
or 20 minutes, but these people had to stay in there for days at a time.
GROSS: The cinematography is really--"beautiful" sounds like the wrong word
to use because we're talking about war here. It's not like it's pretty. But
the mood, the tone of it just seems so right. A lot of the sequences are shot
in something very close to black and white. I think the color is so subdued
it looks almost black and white, although it's very blue-grey more than it is
black-white sometimes. But the explosions are in full color. Would you talk
a little bit about, like, figuring out what look you wanted the film to have
and how you went about getting it?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, the film was shot in color, but I sort of desaturated.
We desaturated it down to the point where it didn't look comfortable color.
We didn't--we certainly didn't want the picture to have a Technicolor, in the
old-fashioned sense, Dorothy and Toto in "The Wizard of Oz" or something. But
we wanted--so we wanted to desaturate it down to where it looked almost close
to black and white. The colors were very subdued and, of course, explosions
are a little brighter because they're explosions. So it was just a question
of choices that we all made to have it have that look, which gave it the
noncomfortable feeling of war.
GROSS: Did you meet survivors of the battle of Iwo Jima from each side?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Yes. I didn't--not from the Japanese side so much. There's
not too many of them. Out of the 21,000--22,000 men that were stationed on
the island, only 1,000 survived, and we're not sure how many of them were
combat folks or whether they were Korean conscripted labor. But there were a
few, very few. And we didn't get to talk to too many of them, though I've
read articles by some of them that are all quite good. But American
survivors, I talked to quite a few of them.
GROSS: Is there an image that really helped guide you in making "Flags of Our
Fathers" from those conversations you had with survivors?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, yeah, there is. There's one image that is kind of
common, is that most of them that were in combat there, they just never really
spoke about it too much. They would get together and maybe have a Marine
Corps celebrations or Marine Corps organizations, but they wouldn't really get
into the--they didn't--there's not the gung-ho-ness that you'd think there
would be. There was just--it was a tremendous battle. It was intended to be
a three or four-day affair, lasted over a month. And they were pinned down a
good portion of the way. When you see an awful lot of your friends wounded
and killed, it's not something you forget easily.
BIANCULLI: Clint Eastwood speaking with Terry Gross.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Clint Eastwood. He's the
director of the films "Letters from Iwo Jima" and "Flags of Our Fathers," both
of which are in contention at this year's Academy Awards.
GROSS: Did you see a lot of World War II films in the '40s and '50s, and did
they have an impact on you?
Mr. EASTWOOD: Yeah. I saw a lot of them when I was growing up but, yeah,
they did have an impact on me. They were exciting as a kid to watch war
movies, and you're always rooting for somebody, mainly our side. And the
enemy was always portrayed as villainous, and our guys were always portrayed
as heroic. But those days are gone. I mean, that era was more black and
white with it all, and that isn't the way war is to somebody else, so it's fun
to look at it from different perspectives. But--and those wars, those war
pictures were mostly propagandistic. They were--they told--they were selling
America as great, and that's where the audience was and that's where it would
GROSS: Your view of violence in movies has really changed over the years, and
some of your early films were very violent, particularly the Sergio Leone
Westerns, like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." I mean, those films almost
take a certain pleasure in violence, in film violence? And, you know, the
last few movies that you've made are just--some of them are so much about the
costs of violence, whether it's, you know, in war or on the street. Was there
a turning point in your life where you started to rethink the--rethink film
violence and what you wanted to do with it? I mean, I think of the turning
point in your movies as maybe being "Pale Rider" and "Unforgiven," but in
terms of like what you wanted to do with your gifts when portraying violence
Mr. EASTWOOD: Yeah. I think I've been interested in that probably--I think
it's just a natural maturing of life as, at some point, you start thinking
about things a little differently, but that's part of the growing-up process,
and I always figured myself, even though I'm in my senior status right now, I
still consider myself a person who's growing up, so you're always changing or
thinking of things from a different perspective, and you're looking for
stories that think of things from a different perspective.
"Unforgiven," you mentioned, was a man who was haunted by violence, and so we
got into that thing where how it affects you personally and what it does to
your soul. And I think now, in present times, we're looking at World War II,
which is easy to look at, but what that has done--what that did to the souls
of those men when they came back, and how some of them had a hard time
adjusting to civilian life after being asked as very young men at an
impressionable age to go off and get involved with violent activity.
GROSS: If this is too personal, just let me know. You're in your mid-70s now
and, obviously, still directing great movies. Is getting older--how does
getting older compare to what you expected, say, being in your mid-70s would
Mr. EASTWOOD: Well, it's a lot better than I thought it would be. I think
that getting older is great if you're constantly learning something--you know,
providing you have good health and all the things that everybody wishes
for--but you know more. You can look at things from more perspectives and
you've seen more in life and if you enjoy it properly, it can be a nice
experience. A lot of people joke about it. Henry Bumstead, who was an
associate of mine who just recently passed away in his 90s, he used to always
say, `Ah, to be 80 again.' So it's all point of--it all depends on where
you're looking from. If you're 40, you say, `Oh, 30 wouldn't be bad.' Or if
you're 80, 70 looks pretty good. But it's a great learning experience about
life, and if you keep it as a learning experience, then it's always fun.
GROSS: You have such an iconic face because of the movies that you've been
in. I think all of us, as we get older, we look in the mirror and study how
our face has been changing with age, and you know, some people decide, `Oh,
well, it's changing. I don't want it to change, so I'll get cosmetic surgery
or something.' And if you don't, you examine your face changing and you make
of it if you will. You know, it's interesting or you regret it or, you know,
whatever. What's it been like for you with such an iconic face to watch your
face change with age.
(Soundbite of Clint Eastwood laughing)
GROSS: And to watch it on the large screen, as well as on the mirror, yeah?
Mr. EASTWOOD: I don't think one pays that much attention, you know, because
it's all a gradual process, and you're this way and you look this way at this
point of life. You've--you're this way, you feel this way at this point of
life, whatever it is, and you go on and you enjoy the going on. If you sit
there and worry about it and say, `Well, gee, I'll get cosmetic surgery and
I'll try to look like I did when I was 28,' that ain't going to happen. All
it's going to do is make you look like you're--you have a vanity problem with
it, and it's not going to be pleasant when people come up to you and say,
`Didn't you use to be so-and-so?' And so it's kind of--it would be kind of an
embarrassing moment, so I think people have to just accept things the way they
are and just move on, move on and say that was another phase. Your 30s were
one phase, your 40s were one phase and just keep on going.
GROSS: Is cosmetic surgery a problem for you as a director? Because so many
actors have had, or are having it done, and you can tell looking at them on a
Mr. EASTWOOD: It is a problem, because if you're casting a person in a film
and you say, `OK, I'd like to cast so-and-so in part,' say, well, now you have
to say, `Well, could you bring them in?' Before you could say, `Well, I know
his or her work because I've seen him in many pictures and so I don't have to
see them. I know how good they are.' But now you say, maybe, `Hm, well, let
me see how they are today,' because like you say, like you're insinuating
here, that they may not look the same. They come in and they say, `Geez,
they're all cosmetized,' if that's a word, and there you go. `That's not the
look I was expecting. That's not what was in my imagination when I thought of
casting that person.'
GROSS: Well, Clint Eastwood, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. EASTWOOD: Thank you very much, Terry.
BIANCULLI: Clint Eastwood, speaking to Terry Gross last month. He directed
"Letters from Iwo Jima" and "Flags of Our Fathers," two separate films looking
at the same World War II battle from different perspectives. "Iwo Jima" is up
for three of the most important Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director and Best
Original Screenplay. The Academy Awards are televised a week from Sunday.
I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Two miniseries about loyalty, betrayal and public office,
both British imports, "The State Within" on BBC America and
"Longford" on HBO
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross.
To start the second half of the show, I'd like to put on my FRESH AIR TV
critic's hat, which looks like Crocodile Dundee's, by the way, to talk about
two terrific new dramas coming this weekend on cable. Both of them come from
England, both are fabulously acted and written, and both will continually
surprise you with their plot twists and emotional depth.
One of them is a fact-based telemovie called "Longford," premiering Saturday
night on HBO. It's about a serial killer serving life in prison in England,
and a respected politician's unpopular attempts to lobby for her parole. The
other is a BBC America miniseries not based on fact called "The State Within."
It's like a shorter, British version of "24," and begins with a passenger
airliner blown up just after takeoff above Washington, DC.
Let's start with "Longford." It's written by Peter Morgan, who's on an
incredible run right now. He's up for an Oscar for cowriting "The Last King
of Scotland," and whether or not he earns an Oscar for himself, he most likely
will help Helen Mirren win one for another movie he wrote last year, "The
Queen." In "Longford," Jim Broadbent stars as Lord Longford, a knighted
politician whose lifelong passions include visiting and helping to
rehabilitate prisoners. When he's asked to come visit Myra Hindley, a
convicted murderer played by Samantha Morton, he does, even though she's
infamous for the crimes she committed with her lover, Ian Brady.
In England, Myra Hindley is the equivalent of Charles Manson, and when Lord
Longford talks at a family dinner about visiting her, the reaction he gets
from his loved ones, even his wife, is totally unsympathetic.
(Soundbite from "Longford")
Mr. JIM BROADBENT: (As Lord Longford) Anyway, she wasn't at all how I
imagined, expected. I found her charming, intelligent, attractive, even.
(Soundbite of woman clearing her throat)
Unidentified Man: A woman that murdered three children?
Mr. BROADBENT: (As Lord Longford) A woman who came under the spell of a man
and murdered three children.
Man: That's rubbish!
Mr. BROADBENT: (As Lord Longford) I spoke to the prison governor afterwards.
She's quite convinced that Myra Hindley was corrupted by Ian Brady, and to
consider them as equals is a great mistake.
Unidentified Woman #1: Dada, except that she procured those children, knowing
exactly what would happen to them.
Unidentified Woman #2: Never got into the car without a woman present.
Mr. BROADBENT: (As Lord Longford) The judge made a clear distinction at the
trial that Ian Brady was the initiator of these crimes and the actual killer.
Myra Hindley was merely a dominated and corrupted accomplice.
Woman #2: Distinction's irrelevant. Murder and accomplice are equally guilty
in the eyes of the law.
Mr. BROADBENT: (As Lord Longford) Killers of this kind almost always have a
prior history of offending. Myra Hindley had nothing, not even a blemish.
Woman #1: And wasn't there a tape?
Mr. BROADBENT: (As Lord Longford) What tape?
Woman #1: At the trial. I seem to remember there was a tape where one heard
the dreadful things they did to the little girl. I bet it was Myra Hindley's
voice one could hear.
Woman #2: Oh.
Woman #1: Not Brady's.
Mr. BROADBENT: (As Lord Longford) No. (Unintelligible).
BIANCULLI: Longford embarks on an uphill battle to gain her release, and the
movie becomes a multipronged character study. At what cost does he champion
her cause? Why does he persist? And most centrally, does she deserve his
support? The answers, like the characters, may surprise you.
HBO's "Longford" is one of those rare TV dramas where you end up being as
surprised as you are impressed, and keep thinking about it afterward. "The
State Within," which starts the same night on BBC America, is another one.
It's a six-hour drama doled out weekly in two-hour chunks. It stars Jason
Isaacs as a British ambassador stationed in the United States and Sharon Gless
from "Cagney and Lacey" as the US secretary of defense. When an exploded
plane above the capital seems to have been the work of an Islamic terrorist
who's a British national, the governor of Virginia orders that all people in
his state with similar backgrounds be rounded up and detained. The British
ambassador, the drama's hero, protests the move strongly to the defense
secretary, but she defends it just as forcefully.
(Soundbite from "The State Within")
Mr. JASON ISAACS: (As British Ambassador Mark Brydon) This is an illegal
act, never mind that it's a breach of international law. It shows total
disregard for basic human rights.
Ms. SHARON GLESS: (As US Secretary of Defense Lynn Warner) That is for
Congress to decide. As I understand, the governor of Virginia is acting under
the powers of the Patriot Act.
Mr. ISAACS: (As Mark Brydon) You don't even know who was behind the attack.
Pakistani fundamentalist...(unintelligible)...Islamist, Saudi...
Ms. GLESS: (As Lynne Warner) The bastard with his finger on the button was
British! And from what I hear, there're plenty more queueing up right behind
Mr. ISAACS: (As Mark Brydon) Do you know how many British Muslims there are
Ms. GLESS: (As Lynne Warner) It only takes one.
Mr. ISAACS: (As Mark Brydon) At least 3,000. Holiday makers, students,
business travelers, Visa holders. You saying they're all terrorist suspects?
It's an obscene act of racial discrimination.
Ms. GLESS: (As Lynne Warner) Obscene? Ask the guys riding your subway who's
being discriminated against next time some wacko decides to detonate himself.
I played along with your little stunt out there, all right? All that hot air
about strong bonds and unity. But my son did not die in Afghanistan so that
our so-called allies can blow themselves up in our own back yard!
(End of soundbite)
BIANCULLI: The initial explosion and terrorist threat turns out to be just
the tip of the iceberg. In "The State Within," Isaacs, as Ambassador Mark
Brydon, has to deal simultaneously with three different high profile problems.
In addition to the plane explosion, there's a former British soldier scheduled
to be executed in Florida and a newly-discovered body pulled out of a river in
West Virginia that has its fingertips and most of its face removed, but a
tattoo that reads "Made in Britain."
It takes about two hours of TV time before we learn that all three events are
connected somehow. Takes even longer for the ambassador to learn that. But
by that time, "The State Within" has established so many compelling characters
that the rest of the drama, with its high body count and unexpected twists and
turns, keeps piling on the pressure until it feels like it's going to explode.
Both of these dramas, at their core, are about loyalty and betrayal, and most
of all about trust and what it costs. In America, broadcast TV has all but
given up on making quality movies and miniseries. But thanks to British
productions and imports from HBO and BBC America, we can still see them.
Coming up, Ben Affleck. He stars as George Reeves in "Hollywoodland," a movie
that's now out on DVD.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Actor Ben Affleck talks about his new movie,
"Hollywoodland," his life and other roles
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
In the film "Hollywoodland," which just came out on DVD, Ben Affleck who plays
the man who played the Man of Steel. George Reeves, the actor who starred in
the 1950s TV series "Superman," sought fame, but he wanted it through movies,
not through playing a superhero in a TV series for kids. The success of
"Superman" took him by surprise, but also, according to the film, made it
difficult for him to break out of the role into other parts.
Terry Gross spoke with Ben Affleck last fall. His other movies include
"Chasing Amy," "Dogma," "Shakespeare in Love," "Pearl Harbor," "Armageddon"
and "Good Will Hunting," which he co-wrote with Matt Damon.
Let's start with a scene from "Hollywoodland," just after Reeves has gotten a
news from his agent. He's telling the news to the woman with whom he's having
an affair, the wife of an MGM executive. She's played by Diane Lane.
(Soundbite from "Hollywoodland")
Mr. BEN AFFLECK: (As George Reeves) Art got a call. They're picking up
Ms. DIANE LANE: (As Toni Mannix) They're what?
Mr. AFFLECK: (As George) Kelloggs. They bought it.
Ms. LANE: (As Toni) After two years?
Mr. AFFLECK: (As George) That's right. I will be on television in a month
wearing brown and gray underpants.
Ms. LANE: (As Toni) Well, hurray!
Mr. AFFLECK: (As George) Christ.
Ms. LANE: (As Toni) Well, maybe it wasn't your proudest moment...
Mr. AFFLECK: (As George) No, I'm quite sure it wasn't.
Mr. LANE: (As Toni) But you did create a very likable, very attractive, very
Mr. AFFLECK: (As George) Is that right?
Ms. LANE: (As Toni) Mm. I'd pick you in a second.
Mr. AFFLECK: (As George) Well, one thing we can be sure of, no one with a
lick of sense would watch that show.
(End of soundbite)
TERRY GROSS, host:
Ben Affleck, welcome to FRESH AIR. When you got the part of George Reeves and
you went back and watched again old episodes of "Superman," what things about
his acting did you notice that you'd never noticed before, things that you
wanted to do, too, when you were portraying him?
Mr. AFFLECK: Well, there are a number of things. You know, chief among them
was that he had a real, sort of, a real charm, and it was a kind of kindness
to him and a kind of sweetness that I think is what kids responded to, and I
don't think it's something you can really fake, but he seemed to have a really
good heart and that he enjoyed this idea and played with this kind of
fundamental central underlying element of the show that made it, I think,
really good. What it was was that he was sharing this experience with kids,
that he was sharing his secret with them and kind of--I mean, sometimes quite
literally winking at the audience.
GROSS: One of the things I think you capture about him as Superman is the way
he kind of almost plants his feet on the floor, shoulders back and almost like
military-style posture and then put his like hands on his hips.
Mr. AFFLECK: There was no--one of the nice things about the period is that
there wasn't a lot of pretense, you know. Nowadays we have a kind of--our
heroes have to also be sort of slouching and conflicted...
Mr. AFFLECK: ...and have the weight of the world on their heads.
Mr. AFFLECK: There was no pretense to that. It was like, he was Superman.
He was proud and strong and he had his hands on his hips and he looked out
into the middle distance because he was strong and he was going to protect
people. It wasn't, you know, this whole idea of like the hero now in movies
and stories is, you know, doesn't want to have the curse of these powers. You
Mr. AFFLECK: And he had no such qualms. And even the kind of acting and the
behavior style, and I think because if you kind of read further into it, there
was kind of a presentationalism that was present in acting, which was a kind
of self-conscious way of saying, `I know I'm about to sit on this couch and
smile at this woman and I'm going to do so in a way that I hope is kind of
endearing,' you know? Like Spencer Tracy, for example, did that really well,
or Clark Gable, you know?
GROSS: And there was even a more formal style of speaking in movies, no
matter how informal the characters were supposed to be. And all of this is
not your generation's style of acting, so do you feel like you had to change
your style of acting and not be conflicted and be more presentational?
Mr. AFFLECK: Well, playing him in a way--I mean, obviously people still felt
the same things, so one of the things I thought was really interesting about
this character was he was a guy who had the same conflicted feelings. In
fact, I think George had a tremendous amount of sadness, maybe depression,
definitely he was an alcoholic, probably addicted to pain pills by the end of
his life, and he was a very ambitious guy who suffered from the kind of
thwarted ambition and the continuing humiliation that that offered. So here's
a tremendous amount of pain and difficulty, and yet he's living in a world
that really--where you have to kind of stiff upper lip and, you know, be
gracious and still kind of be charming because anything less than that is to
admit a kind of unimaginable and terrible defeat. So I thought there was
something really dramatically interesting in, on the one hand, having a guy
who's full of agony and pain but, on the other hand, has to put on a good
GROSS: But when you're playing him as an actor on the set acting...
Mr. AFFLECK: Right.
GROSS: ...you have to go into a different...
Mr. AFFLECK: As Superman...
GROSS: Yeah, as Superman...
Mr. AFFLECK: Yeah.
GROSS: ...you have to go into a different acting style.
Mr. AFFLECK: Absolutely. And one of the things I did to research that that
was really interesting is rather than just watching him--I watched all his
movies, I listened to all his stuff, I watched home videos, I talked to people
who knew him, I went through the kind of, you know, the regular steps that you
would take, obviously researching somebody--but additionally I thought, you
know, here was a guy who was ambitious and kind of wanted to be other people,
right? There was a line where he says he'd like to have Clark Gable's career.
He is influenced in a way, not as much by who he actually is but by who he
wants to be, so I watched a lot of these movies of the time to see what were
the things that he would be emulating, what were the styles that he would be
trying to affect in his own performance, and so in effect, I tried to emulate
those as he would have...
Mr. AFFLECK: ...and in doing, I think, ended up with that same kind of style
which, you know, was popular in the '50s, which was to speak really fast, you
know, movies would be a lot shorter now if they had that '50s sort of clip of
like, `Say, fella, what do you know?' `Nothing, chum, I don't know.' `Hey,
back from the war?' `Sure am.' `Smoke Campbell's. They're milder.' It was
like, just, you know, very, kind of repeti-tet-a-ta kind of zipping through
your lines, and, you know, picking up on that and playing with that was really
fun for me, because it was so completely counter to the sort of ultra
tape-recorder realism naturalistic style of our time.
GROSS: What did it feel like to actually put on the famous tights and the
Mr. AFFLECK: It was daunting to a certain extent. We were really concerned
with realism in the sense that we wanted to be really consistent with how they
did it, particularly in that show, particularly when we were filming, you
know, scenes that had to do with either him as Clark Kent or him as Superman
because everybody, you know, who watched the show obviously would have a
pretty strong sense of what looked real and what didn't look real, you know
what jived with their memory and their sense of how it was, you know, done.
And so one of the things I was able to do, there's a television kind of
archive, memorabilia people here who have a museum, and I'm forgetting their
name, which is a shame, because I really appreciated what they did. But
anyway, he came by, brought the actual suit that George wore and the rubber
foam, you know, muscle suit underneath, and let me not only wear it, you know,
not only touch it but, you know, put it over my head and look at it, and it
was--that was a really kind of surreal moment where I was like sort of
reaching out and touching the actual clothes that he wore, and you could see
all these sweat stains in the thing. And you understood why it was so
oppressive. He complained bitterly about it.
And as he got more control, interestingly, later on in the series, there was
much less of Superman and much more of Clark Kent. He would get these rashes
and he would sweat. And you know, he drank all day while he was doing the
show because he was so miserable, and so then he would start to sweat the
alcohol, which would like break down the foam rubber, and it was just a
And the outside of the suit--you had this rubber that didn't breathe and then
the, you know, tights, as it were, was basically just a wool sweater. It was
knitted, you know, with the `S' on it and everything else, and, you know, that
combined with the fact that the film was so incredibly slow back then, it
needed so much light to be dumped on to--in order to be able to see
that--these giant incredibly hot lights, and also they hadn't figured out the
technology of keeping lights cooler, so he literally roasted in this outfit.
And I wanted to get a kind of a sense of that because everything I read about
him, they talked about how incredibly oppressive this outfit was, and I
thought that was kind of nicely and, you know, if not too obviously
representative of how onerous he found, you know, playing Superman. And the
whole experience was kind of a burden on him.
GROSS: One--the film isn't a comedy but one of the funny lines in the movie
is after he puts on his suit for a promotional appearance he says--and before
he walks out and meets his audience of children in this promotional
experience, he says to somebody after putting on the costume, `Is my penis
showing?' and I thought, this is exactly the kind of thing that everybody
always wondered if he thought about, you know? So is there any evidence he
actually said that and wondered about it?
Mr. AFFLECK: He was a very lively guy, and there's a lot of evidence that he
thought about it and joked about that kind of thing a fair bit, you know. He
was very--I don't know--ribald or whatever. He, you know, would make a lot of
jokes about his penis and what could or couldn't be seen, and his--you know,
taking his trousers off, and there's a scene in the movie where we do a bit
where he actually kind of--what he would do quite regularly, which is kind of
like break up on the set by pretending to, you know, like something with Lois,
where he says, `Do you want to see the real Man of Steel?' and he takes his
pants off and he's sort of like pawing at her, and then, you know, the chief
comes in and says, `Great Ceasar's ghost!' and he says, `More powerful than a
locomotive,' and he was the sexual innuendo and jokes like that, I think, did
a lot to--and talking about how obviously foolishly revealing the outfit
was--did a lot to kind of mitigate that embarrassment of feeling like a grown
adult working on a television show and as a way of kind of reminding
themselves that they were adults, you know, trying to hold onto their dignity
in some way, ironically.
GROSS: You know, in George Reeves' case he was typecast in that Superman role
and couldn't break out of it, and you know, a lot of people have drawn
parallels to like your life in the sense--not that you were held hostage by a
role but by your private life for a period of time because of the whole
Jennifer Lopez thing, the whole Bennifer thing. So are there ways in
which--that you identified with Reeves?
Mr. AFFLECK: There are a number of ways in which I identify with Reeves. I
guess there is a sense, kind of what you're alluding to, is there is a
typecasting that happened then which is about, you know, I can't watch George
Reeves in this movie and take him seriously as Captain Stark because I just
think of him as Superman, and I can't get it out of my head, and that's all
I'm reminded of so I have no abilities to suspend disbelief and follow along
with the story.
And I think there's a modern equivalent of that--it's similar but not the
same--which is you can get typecast as yourself. In other words, audiences
become so familiar with--particularly because the proliferation of all these
entertainment kind of media outlets which is basically, you know, gussied-up
tabloids, whether they're in print or in electronic media that, you know,
because there's so many of them, and there's this bigger audience, this bigger
market, they run out of materials so they have to kind of create material and
then they really, you know, they overdo the sort of inane, like the truly
pedestrian to the point where, you know, you really know what, you know, some
actor--maybe an actor you don't even like or whose movies you haven't even
seen, how--what they look like taking out the trash and what their marital
status is and where their kids go to school and what they look like in the
morning before they've put their makeup on or whatever it is. You get
inundated with these images, you know, that it becomes hard to think of the
person as Spaceman or as you know D.H. Lawrence, or something. You just
think, `That's not D.H. Lawrence.'
So that's the problem with that kind of typecasting, and I think because I was
in a kind of high profile relationship right around the time when media
companies discovered that there was a bigger market for this entertainment pop
culture stuff than they thought, and so everybody knew, as you say. There's
like nickname for a relationship or you know details about a relationship that
seemed--it's just kind of--you can't believe other people would know those
sort of things about somebody else. It's like stuff I don't know about, you
know, good friends of mine.
GROSS: Well, the idea of being typecast as yourself so that people can't
believe you playing a role is really interesting, and that certainly rings
true. You know, in playing George Reeves in "Hollywoodland," he's actually
having an affair through the movie with the wife of an MGM studio executive,
and the press basically doesn't cover that. And there's another studio
executive whose job it is to make sure that stories like that don't get
Mr. AFFLECK: I know. It was...
GROSS: ...you know, that the stars are protected. So did you think a lot
about the difference between press coverage of movie stars then and now?
Mr. AFFLECK: Yeah, I yearned for those days. I thought, how wonderful would
it be, how much better would my life have been, career, everything,
psychological well-being, if there was some, you know, velvet hammer enforcer
guy who, every time the press wanted to write something, you know, ugly about
someone's personal life, they just went around and broke their ankles. The
idea is just so appealing.
BIANCULLI: Ben Affleck speaking with Terry Gross. His movie "Hollywoodland"
has just come out on DVD.
Coming up, David Edelstein on "Breach," the new film about Robert Hanssen, the
treasonous FBI agent who sold secrets to the Soviets.
This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews the spy movie "Breach"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
The director Billy Ray won acclaim for his unsparing portrait of journalistic
fabricator Stephen Glass in the film "Shattered Glass." In "Breach," he
profiles a more dangerous deceiver: former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was
sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002 for selling secrets to the Soviets over
a 15-year period. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: Billy Ray's last movie, "Shattered Glass," and his new
spy drama "Breach" have the same kind of lurid appeal. The central figures of
both films are pathological liars, and we know going in that both men will get
nailed. But if that knowledge takes away some of the suspense, our superior
advantage gives us time to scrutinize these wrongdoers as their worlds
implode, to study them like specimens in a jar.
In "Breach," Chris Cooper plays the real life FBI trader Robert Hanssen, and
he's weirder than any "Star Wars" creature. We see him through the eyes of an
aspiring agent named Eric O'Neill, played by Ryan Phillippe, whose assignment
is to work as Hanssen's assistant and keep tabs on him while the bureau waits
to catch him passing secrets. The thing is it's really hard to spy on a
world-class paranoiac. And Hanssen is extra wary. After more than a decade
of supplying the Soviets with, among other things, the names of their own
turncoats, Hanssen seems to sense that this is the endgame, the final
Chris Cooper is outlandishly great. Watch him trudge down the corridors of
FBI headquarters with a face that's all wattles and pouches and scary hollows
with the look of a man trying not to scream while being nibbled by piranhas.
Watch his eyes dart around as he enters a room, registering scores of tiny
details. He could snap at any moment, as you can hear when he takes Eric out
to the woods for a bit of impromptu interrogation and target practice.
(Soundbite from "Breach")
Mr. CHRIS COOPER: (As Robert Hanssen) I test you at 25 yards, 15 yards,
seven yards and five yards.
(Soundbite of gunshot)
Mr. RYAN PHILLIPPE: (As Eric O'Neill) What're you doing?
Mr. COOPER: (As Robert Hanssen) You want to be an agent or don't you?
(Soundbite of gunshot)
Mr. COOPER: (As Robert Hanssen) (Unintelligible)! Left hand, right hand,
five yards with gun in holster. You get three seconds to fire five shots.
(Soundbite of gunshot)
Mr. PHILLIPPE: (As Eric O'Neill) What're you doing!
Mr. COOPER: (As Robert Hanssen) Who was calling you in the car?
Mr. PHILLIPPE: (As Eric O'Neill) What?
(Soundbite of gunshot)
Mr. COOPER: (As Robert Hanssen) I need to know if I can trust you.
Mr. PHILLIPPE: (As Eric O'Neill) Put the gun down.
Mr. COOPER: (As Robert Hanssen) I need to know if I can trust you!
(Soundbite of gunshot)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: One of many scary things about that scene is Hanssen's
fixation on his marksmanship. His bitterness toward the FBI comes from his
conviction that the intelligence guys like him can't rise to the top. It's
the ones who came up as cops who can shoot who become the directors. Being
passed over is one motive for betrayal, and director Billy Ray touches on
others. Hanssen is the son of a sadistic father and the husband of an
extremely devout Opus Dei Catholic, played by Kathleen Quinlan. Maybe he
needs to act out, to be a bad boy for once. At a certain point, though, the
director gives up on the single motive theory. Hanssen defies
explanation--Freudian, Jungian or Martian.
Chris Cooper lifts "Breach" way above the realm of an ordinary spy picture,
but Ryan Phillippe knocks it down a peg. After establishing right off the bat
that Hanssen has extrasensory perception when it comes to sussing out lies,
the director allows Phillippe to lie badly--that is, to lie like an
unimaginative actor who can't help signalling the audience that his character
is in a panic. It hurts Cooper's performance, to make him watch that kind of
obvious dissembling and not react.
Phillippe has another scene, a supposedly furtive meeting with his FBI
handler, played by Laura Linney, where he yells and carries on like an actor
seizing the moment. That's a big mistake, too. It hurts Linney's performance
to make her watch that kind of emoting and not say, `Keep your voice down,
moron, you're a spy.' Linney is such a smart actress though. Her frosty
demeanor early on sets you up for how her character will soften and show a
little emotion when the end is finally in sight.
The last part of "Breach" is terrifically tense, in part because director Ray
is so good at capturing the psychological essence of an ecosystem, in this
case, an ecosystem riven by territorial disputes. Hanssen despises the very
atmosphere that allowed him to flourish as a spy. The problem, he tells
O'Neill, is that cooperation is viewed as counteroperational. You hear that,
and wonder if the FBI's worst traitor had the insight to be its best director.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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.