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A Journey to the 'Frontlines of Humanity'

As the United Nations' former under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland has tracked down violent guerrilla leaders, confronted warlords and addressed humanitarian crises around the world. His new memoir is A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of Humanity.


Other segments from the episode on March 4, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 4, 2008: Interview with Jan Egeland; Interview with Chris Cooper.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Formerly of the UN, Jan Egeland discuss new book "A
Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

Jan Egeland has a way of finding trouble. For more than 30 years, he's flown
to scenes of international conflicts and humanitarian crises, meeting with
guerilla leaders, warlords and dictators and organizing efforts to alleviate
human suffering. Egeland is a Norwegian who's worked in his country's foreign
service, in the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and was the United Nations'
undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs from 2003 to 2006.

He's written a memoir of his experiences in Darfur, Lebanon, the Congo,
Zimbabwe and other crisis points called "A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness
Report from the Frontlines of Humanity." I spoke to Jan Egeland about some of
his peacemaking efforts, including several trips to Colombia, a country torn
by factional political violence since the 1940s. In the late '90s, Egeland
trekked deep into the Colombian countryside to meet with Manuel Marulanda,
leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist guerilla group
commonly referred to as the FARC, or FARC.

Well Jan Egeland, welcome to FRESH AIR. When you finally met with Manuel
Marulanda--I mean, this is a man who, as you said, was fighting in the hills
for decades. And I think one gets a certain mentality when one spends a life
in armed conflict, always in opposition, never having to govern, and also
isolated from outsiders. And I'm wondering kind of what your impressions were
of him. Did he understand your role at the UN?

Mr. JAN EGELAND: Well, I think he did. He told me, `Listen, you're the
first man from an international organization I have met in my 40 years of
struggle.' Then he turned to my colleague, James LeMoyne, and told him, `And
you're the first gringo I have met ever.' And then my friend said, `You mean
alive, yes?' And then he said without smiling, `Yes, alive.' So the man is a
worrier. He's a peasant. But he should not be underestimated.

The FARC, the united Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, had at that time,
in year 2000, 2001, had 17, 18,000 boys and girls, women and men under arms.
It was the biggest illegal armed group in the western hemisphere, fighting in
the biggest war of the western hemisphere. It is a situation where it's
beyond me, really, that we haven't has an international community worked
harder with the Colombians to end.

DAVIES: Now, as your efforts to negotiate peace in Colombia proceeded over
many weeks and months, you had a number of meetings in these remote jungle or
mountainous locations, where you drove sometimes it appeared at some personal
risk, and eventually at some point you got some of the guerrilla leaders to
accompany some of your folks on a trip to Norway and other places in Europe.
I thought this was fascinating. Explain the idea of that trip.

Mr. EGELAND: The idea of the trip was to bring the two negotiations teams,
the government team and the guerrilla team, to see for themselves in Europe
that, post-Cold War, as we were there, you know, the left and the right could
cooperate, that there were social welfare systems. There were social
democracy systems that could give what they said they were struggling
for--namely, the working class and the landless and so on--that they could
actually achieve a lot through democratic means. So, indeed, some of these
guerilla leaders, including Raul Reyes, who made big news as he was killed in
the Colombian government army raid into Ecuador a couple of days ago only.
Raul Reyes led the FARC team with four other FARC commanders. Three of them
had never been out of the jungle even before, and just imagine how it would be
to come to Oslo, Stockholm, Rome, Paris, sit in the Norwegian parliament where
the socialist parliamentarian and the conservative parliamentarian would be
sitting, you know, next to each other. And they would say, `We disagree on
everything except that the only sensible thing in this place is to discuss how
we can find a compromise on labor rights, on taxation, on distribution of
common wealth, etc.'

DAVIES: So you have these two groups of people--people from the mountains who
had been fighting all these years, government people--the two sides who have
seen each other as bitter enemies for years, maybe decades; and they're
traveling to a place where you hope that they will see people who are
ideological adversaries work together under a system in which both get
something. And they also get to do this together and get to know one another.
Describe a little bit of what you saw of their personal interaction. Did you
see change, for example, among the guerilla leaders?

Mr. EGELAND: Big personal change. I mean, they didn't only get some trust
and confidence in us as facilitators and hosts for this whole Euro tour, as it
was called, they also started to relate well to each other. The last night in
Oslo we brought them--this was winter, and it was snowing--and we brought them
on a horse sled into the woods where we sat and drank and ate in a Norwegian
cabin. And later at night they started to sing to each other as they do
in...(unintelligible)...a region of Colombia, where one side starts a phrase
and the other one has to sing the response in rhyme. It's very difficult, but
it was amazing to see that they could do that. Why? Because some of the
guerilla leaders and some of these government officials and industrialists
came from the same part of the country. So, naively I actually thought that
this was a breakthrough.

DAVIES: So what happened when they got back to Colombia?

Mr. EGELAND: Well, my naive optimism turned out to be totally misplaced,
because when they came back the positive press releases they had jointly
issued in Norway and elsewhere had caused great resentment among the
commandantes who were in the jungle. They were forced to leave all clothes,
etc., that they bought on the trip, every gift that they were given and so on,
it was burnt up because their comrades said that they are probably tracking
devices; and they were forced to repent this streak of compromise attitude.
And we were back to the old lack of confidence in each other, which in a way
you can understand after 30, 40 years, where there have been a lot of treason
on either side, and a lot of people who gave in their arms and tried to
integrate were killed by right-wing paramilitary groups. The whole thing went
astray, and today the war is continuing unabated in Colombia.

DAVIES: You know, you describe how this effort at peace ultimately fell apart
in part because there were these right-wing paramilitary groups wreaking havoc
and inciting revenge. But another point that you made in the book is that you
have discovered in many efforts at achieving compromise and peace that you say
peace work is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent hard, organizational labor,
and that Pastrana, the president of Colombia--although he had a vision for
peace and a commitment to it--didn't really develop the organizational
capacity to get the hard work done. And I'm wondering, what does that mean in
a situation like this?

Mr. EGELAND: Remember, in this situation you start with zero confidence
among the parties, with a lot of bad blood, and also a lot of real blood
flowing among the parties. It's very hot, usually. The whole situation, when
you meet, is usually very negative. So people sitting, academically working
on peace theory do not understand really that it's very hard because there is
no rationality in the situation; and therefore you have to work very hard,
very long. And you have to be prepared to have 99 out of 100 efforts fail.
And still it's worth the work.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Jan Egeland. His new book is "A Billion Lives:
An Eyewitness Report from the Frontlines of Humanity." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is Jan Egeland. He is the
former United Nations' undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs. His
account of work in trying to resolve conflicts and address humanitarian crisis
around the world is called "A Billion Lives."

I wanted to talk to you a bit about a fascinating meeting that you had with
Robert Mugabe, the leader of Zimbabwe. And Mugabe was one of two rebel
leaders in Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia, when it was a white-ruled country.
He was the leader of one of two rebel groups. They were ultimately successful
and instituted majority rule, but the country has sort of fallen apart. He's
become an oppressive dictator. And you went to talk to him about getting him
to accept UN assistance in some emergency housing needs. Briefly, what was
your goal there? What was the crisis you were addressing in Zimbabwe when you
met with Mugabe?

Mr. EGELAND: I went there in December 2005 because Mugabe and his party had
undertaken a disastrous eviction campaign of tens of thousands of city
dwellers from their houses, some from shacks, some from real houses. These
were mostly people supporting the opposition, and the whole excuse was that
this was urban renewal. But what they really did was to bulldoze a lot of
homes. So I went there to protest this, of course, but also to say we wanted
to help the hundreds of thousands now of homeless.

DAVIES: Well, I wanted to talk a little bit about the process because I
thought it was a fascinating dynamic. He meets you and he is surrounded by a
bunch of his ministers. And it sounds as if initially he's sort of performing
for them. I mean, you say tens of thousands of people need temporary tents
because they need shelter; and he blusters and evades and says, `There is--no,
no, we need permanent housing. We don't need tents.' And then at some point
you really bore in and you say you tried to establish eye contact. What was
going on there?

Mr. EGELAND: This is a leader of the, as you said, of the anti-apartheid
struggle in what was once Rhodesia. He's one of the elder statesmen of
Africa. He should know that his people were massively suffering. Zimbabwe
was the breadbasket of the Southern African region; now, they need to have
emergency relief from abroad, including from the United States, to feed two to
three million of their people. And what it showed--and I think part of the
problem was that, yes, he had his own ministers sitting around watching us--he
was not willing to realize the real situation. And I did ask therefore for a
meeting eye to eye with him.

DAVIES: Just to clarify, Jan Egeland, you're saying you asked his ministers
to leave? You said, `I want to speak with you alone'?

Mr. EGELAND: Yes. If it's not going well in group, I always ask, `Can I
have a few minutes with you one to one?' And sometimes they agree, sometimes
they don't. In this case, he agreed; and that turned the meeting into more of
a real dialogue, whereas before then he had said all of these things like,
`Tents are for Arabs. I don't want tents for our people. Build permanent
housing.' Which, of course, I could say, `We cannot build permanent housing
for hundreds of thousands of people from one day to the next. We will not
even get money for that. You evicted these people. The donors will give us
zero for housing when you evict people like that.' So we had a complete clash.
When I met him eye to eye, he was willing to listen, and I thought we had
actually some understanding of how to try to get out of this vicious cycle
that Zimbabwe was locked in.

DAVIES: And what was the result? Were you able to get him to accommodate the
UN in providing some temporary shelter for these homeless families?

Mr. EGELAND: Yeah. We finally got agreement of giving temporary shelter to
a few thousand people, number one. Secondly, that the World Food Programme
was able to provide more food, more widely. The World Food Programme has an
excellent program there. But the dilemma I had in this situation was that I
always made a point out of telling the truth of what I saw to the press when I
would leave a place like that, so I end up the meeting by telling Mugabe, `I
hope you understand that when I go now to South Africa tomorrow I have to tell
what I've seen.' And he said, `Yes, well, if you say what you've seen and not
what Britain wants you to say, it's fine.' So I went out and I said, `It's a
meltdown in Zimbabwe. Average life expectancy has gone down from 66 to 35
years. It's the biggest fall in life expectancy in any place in peace time
probably ever. It's a meltdown.' Mugabe was so angry with what he saw that he
denounced me at a big party meeting, calling me a hypocrite and a liar, which
of course was not the best frame for future dialogue between the two of us.
However, the UN team was able to implement many of my proposals.

DAVIES: One of the things that interested me about this meeting and some of
the others that you describe in the book was it showed how you had to
constantly, when you're coming into situations where you would deal with
guerilla leaders or warlords or dictators, and on the one hand you want to
establish a friendly rapport so that you can be heard and be treated as
someone making a good faith effort to improve things; on the other hand,
there's the imperative to confront them with the horrible truth of their own
brutality at times. And do you ever find that you push too hard and people
say, `Get out of here. I'm not going to talk to you anymore.'

Mr. EGELAND: Yeah. I pushed very hard. I mean, of course, the meeting with
Mugabe was a very tough one. I do not regret, though, speaking truth to these
people. I think they very, very seldom hear that kind of truth. In the
situation much more like the one I describe in the book of Mugabe sitting
always with 10 ministers around him who nod constantly to whatever he would be
saying. You would have lots of places where people would say absolutely crazy
things, and you would see 20 heads nodding all the time. So it's very
important that we confront them with the truth. I've done that also in the
Middle East, always trying to say exactly what I've seen. What are the facts
as such?

However, in my work the biggest dilemma was not this necessarily, of not
becoming their enemies, it was that I needed to make sure that our people on
the ground were not thrown out.

DAVIES: You know, one thing that's clear as we read your book and describe
your experiences in Lebanon and Israel and Iraq in developing the Oslo Accords
is that you have a habit of saying what you mean and at times creating
controversy. One was when you were overseeing, trying to coordinate efforts
for relief for the terrible tsunami which struck in the Indian Ocean, and you
made a comment about the developed nations being stingy. This earned you a
personal rebuke from President Bush and created several news cycles of
comment. Looking back, were you a little too candid there or would you have
done it just the same way?

Mr. EGELAND: Well, I had said the same thing many times before and I've said
the same things many times after; and I'd like to tell you again that I feel,
yes, rich companies there are drowning--I mean, like Europeans and North
Americans and oil-rich Gulf countries--are drowning in luxury now--we're two,
three, times richer than we were a generation ago--that we give on average 0.2
percent of our gross income to the dispossessed and the billion lives that are
now just struggling to survive. I think that's really stingy. I mean, I
don't know in any of the holy texts or scriptures it says `keep 99.8 percent
to yourself and be generous with 0.2 percent.' They say a tenth is very often
the ideal.

What I might not have done if I'd lived again is to say it in--even though I
got the question, which was a general one--I shouldn't have said it at the end
of the first tsunami press conference when all eyes of the entire world was
watching me, because it was misunderstood by one US journalist as if I was
talking about the tsunami relief--which I wasn't--and the US relief--which I
wasn't--so that started the whole cycle, which led to thousands of hate mail
and a hundred right wing radio hosts, you know, being after my scalp. And I
didn't need that as I was coordinating relief for millions of tsunami victims.

DAVIES: You know, you got the job of undersecretary general for human affairs
just as there was this terrible bombing in Iraq which hit the UN mission and
killed special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. And there was a debate then
about whether the United Nations should even remain in Iraq, I mean, given
that it really had no clear and formal role. I mean, the United States was in
effect an occupying power with a coalition provisional authority. Do you
think there's a constructive role for the United Nations in Iraq today? And a
lot of people believe the troop surge has made a difference, things are more
peaceful. Can the UN play a positive role now?

Mr. EGELAND: Well, indeed, security has improved of late. There are fewer
massacres and fewer terrorist attacks. However, if we are to succeed in Iraq
long term, I do, yes, think that the United Nations, the regional
organizations and the neighbors of Iraq has to become more involved longer
term. And, yes, I think the United Nations is the organization in the world
to most successfully do nation building, democracy building and also regional
security, together with regional organization. That's the whole experience of
Africa, where there is 50 percent more peace and less war now than there was
20 years ago. So, indeed, longer term, I think, yes, the UN will get a more
important role and should have a more important role.

DAVIES: Well, Jan Egeland, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. EGELAND: Thank you for having me.

DAVIES: Jan Egeland served as the United Nations' undersecretary general for
humanitarian affairs. His new book is "A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report
from the Frontlines of Humanity." I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Actor Chris Cooper discusses his career

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.

Since playing an introspective sheriff in the 1996 film "Lone Star," actor
Chris Cooper has gradually become more familiar to movie audiences, winning an
Oscar in 2003 for playing an eccentric orchid thief in "Adaptation" and
delivering a riveting performance as FBI agent Robert Hanssen in "Breach."
Mary McNamara of the LA Times wrote, "Cooper has long been an actor's actor.
A slight man, he can project heft when he needs to, and his lined and watchful
face, eyes tending toward a squint, can seem naturally menacing or noble, lost
or kind."

Cooper was a late bloomer in film. He spent years in theater and didn't make
his first movie until he was 37. Although he's made over 40 films since then,
he's never become immersed in Hollywood culture. He and his wife of 25 years,
actress Marianne Leone, still live in Kingston, Massachusetts.

Cooper is starring in a new film with Patricia Clarkson, Pierce Brosnan and
Rachel McAdams called "Married Life." Cooper plays a middle aged married man
who's in love with a younger woman. Here he is with his wife, played by
Patricia Clarkson, at bedtime in their suburban home.

(Soundbite of "Married Life")

Mr. CHRIS COOPER: (As Harry Allen) You know, the other week at the cabin,
John O'Brien was telling...(unintelligible)...that he thinks a woman who does
a lot for a man can pay a heavy price.

Ms. PATRICIA CLARKSON: (As Pat Allen) What do you suppose he meant?

Mr. COOPER: (As Harry Allen) Oh, it's all rather uncomplicated, I'm sure.
He was drinking. You know John.

Ms. CLARKSON: (As Pat Allen) What is the price a good wife pays? Tell me.

Mr. COOPER: (As Harry Allen) I don't know. Just skip it. It'll upset your

Ms. CLARKSON: (As Pat Allen) No, go on.

Mr. COOPER: (As Harry Allen) I'll tell you he was probably thinking that if
a married man falls in love with another woman, a dedicated wife is surprised
and hurt; and she remembers him as he was before they married, and she sees
him now as she made him, a better, finished product altogether, a product
another woman is soon going to enjoy.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Well, Chris Cooper, welcome back to FRESH AIR. In this new film,
"Married Life," describe the character that you play, Harry Allen.

Mr. COOPER: Harry Allen, I guess we'd say he's upper middle class, very
successful man, and a home builder. This takes place in 1949, so he's made
his money from the house building boom. But he's reached a point in his
marriage where I think it's gone a little bit flat. His wife, played by
Patricia Clarkson, I think, sort of has modern attitudes about love. Harry
Allen, having lost his parents very early in his life and being pushed off to
an aunt, and that aunt moved him to a boarding house, he never felt he had
affection in his life; and he was a bit of a romantic. And though this
marriage was, as Pat, his wife, says, it's based on sex, he's looking for
more. And he pursues that.

DAVIES: You know, part of this story is about people whose love has grown old
and familiar and that they've come to take one another for granted, but it's
also about the power of new love. This is a middle-aged man who is crazy in
love with a younger woman.

Mr. COOPER: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: And I wonder, is a middle-aged man in this kind of infatuation any
different than a lovesick teenager or a college kid? Do you play him any

Mr. COOPER: I think that's a pretty good comparison. I was interested in
developing the naivete of this man and the narcissism. And this is something
that the audience won't see, but for my own comfort as an actor and developing
a background, I went on a little sentimental journey, took a look at my mother
and father's relationship, a man who was very dedicated to his job to the
point that he was a bit naive about the outside world. My mother, I think,
was very strong in the same respects that the character of Pat is. And so I
would agree with you that Harry, always believing he never had someone to be
romantically involved with or somebody who gave him affection, he went to this
younger woman in pursuit of that.

DAVIES: I'm just--how did you do this reconstruction or reminiscence about
your parents' and grandparents' relationships? What was the raw material?

Mr. COOPER: The raw material is simply, you know, sitting back and using my
imagination, and some observation that I just told you about. My mother and
father were imaginings that I tried to apply to Harry. As I said, my father
was very, very dedicated to his work and, not that it happened, but that he
was so trustworthy of my mother, she very easily could have had an affair and
my father would have probably never even dared suspect.

DAVIES: Yeah. Clearly, one of the themes of this film is how little we
sometimes know about the person, you know, sharing our lives and our beds.

Mr. COOPER: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: And I'm wondering, do you feel that way about your own marriage? Do
you feel like you have a pretty good idea of what's going on with your wife or
are there mysteries?

Mr. COOPER: Oh, I certainly hope I do.


COOPER:; I'm sure there are some mysteries. I mean, I can--if I string all
the months that I was gone from home in '06--working on three films, I was
away from home for seven months. But then on the other hand, when I'm home,
I'm there 24/7. Marianne and I are literally in each other's face throughout
the day. But it's always interesting. She's a writer/actor, and we make a
great team. I depend on her take on anything that I'm working on. In fact,
in many instances scripts and jobs that I've been hesitant to take, she has,
you know, pressed me to think about it. If I so fear it, all the more reason
to take that job. And they have turned out to be some of the most rewarding
pieces of film work I've done.

DAVIES: Huh. Can you think of an example of that, something that you
wouldn't have taken but for her advice?

Mr. COOPER: Oh, sure. Yeah. I did a film called "American Beauty" with
Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening. And as I kept reading that script, I got
into more and more of a--just a deep funk about it. I thought it got to be so

DAVIES: And that's remind the audience about your role. I believe you played
a sort of repressed homosexual guy, former Marine, living a suburban life.

Mr. COOPER: Yeah. Colonel Fitts was newly retired. I created the idea that
here was a man and his family who lived on a base all their life, and here
they were moving into a new neighborhood. He's newly retired, away from
everything that he knows. And this is a lost man coming to this neighborhood.

DAVIES: And reading it, you didn't want to do the role, and your wife said go
for it?

Mr. COOPER: Yeah. I was a little frightened of the character and where I
had to go in creating and portraying the character. There was a lot of
newness, stuff I was unfamiliar with, places I had to go with my sexuality as
an actor and just as a person that was a little freaky. But she suggested
when you're that fearful, that's a point of challenge and you should go after
it. And I will be forever grateful that she helped me make that decision.

DAVIES: Yeah. Well, it was a memorable performance, and you got a lot of
great attention for it. You know, I'm wondering, what was the risk, do you
think, in going those places with your own sexuality and personality? What do
you think you feared?

Mr. COOPER: When I receive a script, I like to have it as long a period as I
can, because I will be working on it every day or every evening, when the
house is quiet. And it's along the lines of the Robert Hanssen character in
"Breach." I didn't know if I wanted to, for three and four months, deal with
this character and go to those places, those dark places that that character
had to go. In the development of the "American Beauty" character Colonel
Fitts, this was a man who I thought sort of loathed himself, who and what he
was. So I didn't know if wanted to deal with that for months and months. And
the same was the case with the Robert Hanssen character in "Breach."

DAVIES: Well, Chris Cooper, you got a lot of critical acclaim for the film
"Breach," which you starred in last year, directed by Billy Ray, in which you
played Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent who, for 20 years, sold secrets to the
Soviets, was finally arrested. And it's about the relationship between
Hanssen and a younger agent sent to kind of track his movements and get him,
in effect, with the goods. You know, the cliche question for an actor is,
`What's my motivation?' And the fascinating thing about the real character
Robert Hanssen is that, you know, he went to prison, still is in prison...

Mr. COOPER: Yes, he is.

DAVIES: ...but never really explained why he did it, why he sold these
secrets to the Soviets for 20 years. And it's not explained particularly in
the film; but I wonder, as an actor, did you feel you needed to understand why
he did this?

Mr. COOPER: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, in the film after his capture, we
toy with three possibilities of why he may have committed. And, as you said,
he's never come forth to say, but I certainly had to justify it for myself and
give myself reason for the character.

DAVIES: And so in your head, what was he up to?

Mr. COOPER: I think it was a combination of, in deed, being a very bright
man and being rabid anti-communist. I think he believed that. I believed in
his devout religion. I thought he was a devout man in his religion. And he
went to great lengths to show the FBI how vulnerable they were to anybody with
some pretty good technology to breach the firewall. And I think he just was
not listened to. Add to that, he had a rather unfortunate relationship with
his father. His father was always very belittling and wanted to keep Robert
under his thumb, never let him be too cocky. I think he had some real
problems to deal with, and so I sort of insert all of that into reasons why he
did what he did.

DAVIES: You know, the heart of the film, really, is the relationship between
your character, Robert Hanssen, and this younger agent, Eric O'Neill, who was
sent to watch him, and he's played by Ryan Phillippe. And I thought we'd hear
a clip from the film in which--this is early in the film and two, you're sort
of establishing your relationship. And this begins with a conversation about
getting new computers for the office. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of "Breach")

Mr. COOPER: (As Robert Hanssen) There are pallets of new computers in every
corridor of this building. Why don't you go get one?

Mr. RYAN PHILLIPPE: (As Eric O'Neill) OK, I'll just fill out a req form.

Mr. COOPER: (As Robert Hanssen) You're not listening. Just go get one.
Those req forms are for bureaucrats. Actually, get two. That dinosaur on my
desk is useless to me.

Mr. PHILLIPPE: (As O'Neill) Agent Hanssen, my name is Eric.

Mr. COOPER: (As Hanssen) No, your name is clerk. And my name is sir or
boss, if you can manage.

Mr. PHILLIPPE: (As O'Neill) Yes, sir.

Mr. COOPER: (As Hanssen) And if I ever catch you in my office again, you're
going to be pissing purple for a week.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that's our guest Chris Cooper in the film "Breach."

Boy, tough relationship there.

Mr. COOPER: Well, you know, a lot of colleagues will tell you that they were
very irritated with this man. He did believe himself to be smarter than most
of the people at the FBI.

DAVIES: You mean Hanssen's colleagues at the FBI, yeah.

Mr. COOPER: Yeah. Hanssen's colleagues at the FBI.

DAVIES: The other interesting challenge, it seemed to me, in crafting this
character, is that Hanssen was a guy that people didn't know much. I mean, he
was passed over at the FBI. Some people called him "the mortician," a guy
utterly without charisma.

Mr. COOPER: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: And I'm wondering, how did you craft this guy who could be so
seemingly dull and yet be interesting enough to carry a film?

Mr. COOPER: Well, we were lucky enough to have Eric O'Neill with us for
about a week before we started shooting, and Ryan...

DAVIES: And he was the real FBI agent who worked with him.

Mr. COOPER: He was the real FBI agent.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. COOPER: Yes. And we peppered Eric, Ryan and I peppered him with all
sorts of questions for the week we had him available. There was no audio that
I could go by. And I was provided with about 30 seconds of videotape at the
time of Robert Hanssen's capture. Now, the man is 6'4", and it got to the
point where I asked Eric to give me his best impersonation of the guy. And,
indeed, his delivery, his pace was very, very lethargic, and he did have this
attitude as if he was talking down to everybody he came in contact with.
Well, I presented that the first day of shooting and Billy Ray said, `You
know, you got to move along. If you continue at this pace, we're going to
have a four-hour film.' So some things had to go out the door. I wasn't 6'4".
I had to pick up the pace of the character. But on the other hand, I mean, I
got the word from Eric O'Neill he was very satisfied with aspects of the

DAVIES: Our guest is Chris Cooper. His new film is "Married Life."

You know, one of the things that occurred to me as I saw your new film is that
you play a, you know, a middle-aged guy who has a regular job, and you're not
a sheriff or a cop or a military commander. You've done so many great roles
where you're doing that kind of thing. Was that part of the appeal? I mean,
is Hollywood come to see you a little bit as the guy who's always the sheriff?

Mr. COOPER: Yeah. And I've begun to kind of speak a little bit publicly
that I hope to put a moratorium on CIA, FBI and military men. I think I've
played a handful of them. If something comes along that's real interesting,
I'll probably come aboard again. And I think it has to do with your age range
and what kind of characters are available out there. I just, to answer your
question, I find it kind of interesting that for the film--and I'm speaking
about "Adaptation"--the character of John Laroche, for which I received
probably the most notoriety, characters like that just haven't come my way.
And that was a real stretch as far as, you know, comparing most characters
that I've played.

DAVIES: Perhaps in the service of showing Hollywood a little bit of what you
can you do, I wanted to play a cut from a not-as-well-known film, "Silver
City," which was a John Sayles film. You've done a lot of work with him.

Mr. COOPER: Yeah.

DAVIES: And in this one you play a politician who is--and this might sound
familiar to some people--he's the son of another well-known politician, but
this guy you play, whose name is Dickie Pilager, is kind of the ne'er-do-well,
has had a little bit of a problem with drinking. He's an underachiever, and
he's running for the governor of Colorado kind of really on the momentum of
his family name. And here's a cut where he is maybe a little underprepared
for a give-and-take with reporters, who catch him on the way in to the
Capitol. Let's listen to this.

Mr. COOPER: Let it rip.

(Soundbite of "Silver City")

Unidentified Actor #1: (In character) With the amount of federal money coming
into the state decreasing...

Mr. COOPER: (As Dickie Pilager) I'm not raising taxes.

Unidentified Actor #2: (In character) Well, what about the shortfall and
social programs?

Mr. COOPER: (As Pilager) I repeat, I'm not raising taxes. We can't just
keep throwing the taxpayers' hard-earned money at these perceived, you know,
and some of them I admit are real so-called social problems. Have to get our
priorities straight, and education is a priority, health care is a priority.
Our economy is a priority. The environmental--the whole environmental arena,
that's a priority. Big priority. Building new roads and maintaining the
present--keeping the infrastructure in place where it belongs, that's a

Unidentified Actor #3: (In character) What isn't a priority, sir?

Mr. COOPER: (As Pilager) What's not a priority?

Actor #3: (In character) Yeah.

Mr. COOPER: (As Pilager) Is those matters which are of less of a--not that
they're not important, but if you're going to have a front burner, which is
where you want your priorities...

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that is our guest, Chris Cooper, playing the politician Dickie
Pilager in the film "Silver City."

Well, let's talk a little bit about it. This obviously kind of reminds us of
President Bush at some of his less flattering moments. Did you look at tape
of the president? How did you guys put this thing together?

Mr. COOPER: Oh, gosh, you know, since, boy, really the day of 9/11, I became
such a news junkie. I just watched too much news, and Bush's delivery and all
were very, very familiar. I just thank goodness that--originally John wanted
me to play the Kris Kristofferson character, and at the last minute he asked
me to play Dickie Pilager, and it was just great. It was just great fun
playing that character.

DAVIES: Do you want to do more comedy?

Mr. COOPER: Oh, I would love to. I would love to. Something--I'm, you
know, not of a 16-, 17-year-old mentality, but some adult light comedy would
just be terrific. And I thought, you know, Pierce Brosnan in this film,
there's about a six- or seven-minute stretch in a scene where he discovers
something about my wife and he brings the lightest touch and a light, light
comedy to it that's just delightful; and I'd love to find--I'd love to try
something like that.

DAVIES: You know, you were on FRESH AIR a few years ago, and you told Terry
Gross then that you had just worked with Maggie Smith, the actress, for the
first time. And you said you'd felt a little intimidated by it and had
watched some films of her to kind of get acclimated.

Mr. COOPER: Oh, man.

DAVIES: And you mentioned that you kind of felt intimidated, you know, acting
with De Niro and some other, you know, great actors for the first time.

Mr. COOPER: Sure.

DAVIES: Are those days behind you now?

Mr. COOPER: No, not at all. Not at all. I mean, and there I was working
with Meryl Streep in "Adaptation" and terribly, initially, intimidated with
the idea of working with her. But she is a such a great girl, such a great
person. You know, there was one day where we were working on a scene--tt's
not in the film--but things were going right as far as I was concerned. And
we were into our third and fourth take and we were going back to our mark, and
I was mumbling to myself and berating myself for things not coming together.
And I heard this little voice behind me, and it said, `Stop whining.' And that
was Meryl. And I really took that to heart.

And I think since working with her, I've tried to enjoy the whole process of
working in film. I had a tendency to take it a little too seriously. But I'm
enjoying it more and more now. But I'm as intimidated working with folks now
as I ever was, and I hope it always continues. Don't ever want to think that
I can just rest on my laurels.

DAVIES: You know, I wanted to ask you about something I read, and sometimes
these stories aren't quite what they're advertised as, but I read that long
ago you wanted to be a lounge lizard. Is that true?

Mr. COOPER: Well, initially I wanted to be a singer, yeah; and I tried to
sing at every opportunity I could. I sang at the church choir, I sang in my
high school choir, and in that choir there was a male octet; and I sang on a
band. We did, you know, college dances and fraternity parties, and I was
crazy about Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett. And my parents had taken me to
Las Vegas when I was, I think, 14 years old and I just fell in love with that
real, you know, seemingly adult atmosphere, and was a pretty good singer.
And, matter of fact, I'm looking for a singing role in a film; perhaps, you
know, a country western singer or something like that. But, yeah, I was real
serious about it for a while.

DAVIES: I guess what's interesting about it is that, you know, you sort of
described yourself as someone who sees all of the acting roles as a challenge.
You never take anything for granted. You're always a little afraid you're not
going to quite measure up. And, you know, the nightclub singer is the most
confident guy we know. He's there like, you know, he's holding that mike, and
the band is behind him and he owns the world.

Mr. COOPER: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I could kind of relate to it. I remember
when I used to do some of these--it was in the late '60s when I was in this
band. There were places were teenagers could go to dance. The place in
Kansas City was called...(unintelligible)...Castle, and it was a place where,
you know, people from all over the county could come together and different
high schools would dance there. And it was a really good kind of powerful
feeling. And, you know, I think back on it now, perhaps the singing wasn't as
intimidating as the acting, now that I think about it. It was a real joy. It
was a real joy performing.

DAVIES: All right. Well, get back out in front of a nightclub audience
sometime. We'll look forward to seeing you.

Mr. COOPER: Some day. Some day.

DAVIES: Well, Chris Cooper, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. COOPER: All right, sir. Thank you. Enjoyed it.

DAVIES: Actor Chris Cooper. His new film "Married Life" opens Friday.
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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