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A Look Back at Composer Elmer Bernstein

Bernstein died Wednesday at the age of 82. He was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, but won only one — for his music for the film Thoroughly Modern Millie. His best known film score was for The Magnificent Seven (which was later used for a Marlboro cigarette commercial). His other film scores include The Man With the Golden Arm, To Kill a Mockingbird, Great Escape, Sweet Smell of Success and The Ten Commandments. (Originally broadcast on Jan. 10, 1991.)


Other segments from the episode on August 20, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 20, 2004: Interview with Elmer Bernstein; Interview with Peter Sarsgaard; Review of the film "We don't live here anymore."


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

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Peter Sarsgaard discusses his career in film

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

Peter Sarsgaard stars in the new film "Garden State" from write, director and
actor Zach Braff, who plays Andrew Largeman in the film. Sarsgaard plays
Mark, a high school friend of Andrew's, who's never left town or had any big
ambitions. When Andrew returns home for his mother's funeral. He finds Mark
is still getting high and pulling scams for cash. In this scene, they're in a
housewares store. Mark has picked up a box of knives and walks over to the
returns department.

(Soundbite of "Garden State")

Mr. ZACH BRAFF: (As Andrew Largeman) Why are you buying knives? I don't need

Mr. PETER SARSGAARD: (As Mark) I'd like to return these.

Unidentified Actress: You got a receipt?

Mr. SARSGAARD: (As Mark) Actually, no. They were a gift.

Unidentified Actress: Why are you returning these?

Mr. SARSGAARD: (As Mark) They're not sharp enough.

Unidentified Actress: They're not sharp enough?

Mr. SARSGAARD: (As Mark) No, not for what we need them for. They couldn't
cut cans.

Unidentified Actress: You bought them to cut cans?

Mr. SARSGAARD: (As Mark) No, but in the commercial, it said if I wanted to
cut cans, I could.

Unidentified Actress: Well, it comes with a sharpener. Did you try it?

Mr. SARSGAARD: Yeah, they're just--I don't want them.

Unidentified Actress: OK.

Mr. SARSGAARD: They're not sharp enough.

Unidentified Actress: OK. OK.

DAVIES: Sarsgaard got his start in "Dead Man Walking," and he co-starred in
"K-19" and "Shattered Glass." His breakthrough performance was in "Boys Don't
Cry," based on the true story of Teena Brandon, a young woman with a sexual
identity crisis who moved to a new town, dressed as a boy, fell in love with
another woman and was killed by the woman's ex-boyfriend. Sarsgaard played
that boyfriend, Jack Lotter. Here's a scene in which Lotter and his
ex-girlfriend, Lana, are at a birthday party for Teena Brandon, who's now
using the name Brandon Teena. John's not only jealous. He suspects that
Brandon isn't what he says he is. As they watch Lana dance, John sits down
next to Brandon and puts his arm around him in a half-friendly, half-menacing

(Soundbite of "Boys Don't Cry")

Ms. HILARY SWANK: (As Brandon Teena): She's beautiful, isn't she?

Mr. SARSGAARD: (As John Lotter) Oh, man. I've known her since she was, like,
this high. I could tell you stories about her.

Ms. SWANK: (As Brandon Teena) Yeah, what kind of stories?

Mr. SARSGAARD: (As John Lotter) She told me about you guys, and I can't think
of a better guy to get loud to than you, so happy birthday!

Ms. SWANK: (As Brandon Teena) Thanks, John.

Mr. SARSGAARD: (As John Lotter) Yeah, there's this one thing you gotta
remember, though, man, is this is my house.

Come on! Turn up the music!

DAVIES: Later in the film, John Lotter rapes and murders Brandon Teena.
When Terry spoke to Sarsgaard last year, she asked him about portraying such
an unlikable character.

Mr. SARSGAARD: I remember reading a story about John Lotter before we
started. You know, it was about--he was being taken to a reform school by
his mother, and he was going along the highway. And, you know, I don't know
how fast they were going, but he really, really did not want to go to reform
school, and he was very, very close with his mother, and he was very upset.
And he jumped out of the car as the car was moving, because he wanted to be
with his mother so badly. And that--I think that was a very significant story
to me when I heard about it. And that's not so much playing someone
as--because his life is so different than mine, something like that sort of
allows me to love him, you know, which is what you have to do with those


Well, empathy is so important when you're acting, but when you're--I imagine
it's hard to find empathy for somebody who's not a good person.

Ms. SARSGAARD: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, your director really helps you
in that situation, because they--on that movie, Kim Peirce, the director,
made me feel like--she made me feel like a stud and the sheriff of the town,
that I was a kind of law enforcement, you know, albeit my law, which was
a--had some kindness to it. Like, I did not want to mete out the punishment.
It was not something that--I felt like I was being forced to do it, which is,
you know, a kind of psychology that Kim just worked over on me, you know, and
a good director will do that.

They'll just start seeing the world through your--helping--seeing the world
through your eyes with you, you know, like over your shoulder, going, `Look at
this new guy who came into town, and now your ex-girlfriend is all over him.'
This is the woman who is the only person that wrote letters to John Lotter
when he was in jail and, you know, really, his only connection to the real
loving world that we all know. And so, you know, at first, my bad feelings
toward Brandon Teena in that movie have nothing to do with the fact that it's
a woman dressed as a man or, you know--it really has to do with the fact that
a very small man that looks like I could beat up is taking my ex-girlfriend
from me.

GROSS: I know some people who didn't see "Boys Don't Cry," because they
didn't think that they could sit through what they knew was coming, which was
that she--you know, that Brandon Teena, Teena Brandon gets beaten, gets raped,
gets killed. Can you talk about what it was like to do those difficult

Mr. SARSGAARD: Yeah, I mean, it can be very technical some of the time. I
mean, you're obviously--my main concern doing those scenes is that I don't
hurt the other person. And so frequently--you know, I've been on both sides
of violent scenes in movies, and I always prefer to be on the receiving end,
because you don't have to worry, you know. The main problem in doing them is
that you want it to look real, you want it to--because the fake version of
that, I think, is kind of socially irresponsible. But so you want it to have
a sense of reality, but you also don't want to hurt your co-star.

So that's mainly what's going through my mind a lot of the time. And because
of that, it's hard to indulge all of the animal instinct stuff that comes up
in you while you're doing it, you know. You need to have people there that
know what they're doing and give you all the equipment you need. I mean, in
terms of doing a rape scene, you have to figure out logistically what you're
doing, you know. I mean, it's the kind of stuff nobody talks about, but it's,
like, you have to take down your pants, because people do when they do it, and
that will not look real for the movie. And presumably, she wouldn't have
hers on, but then we don't want--you know, it's uncomfortable. And so, in
that movie, we actually put a dam in at one point to try to, you know, just
to have something literally for me to hit when I was raping her.

So it's incredibly--I mean, when I--and so, when I'm talking it about it in
that way that's so detailed, you can understand how it's not just doing a
rape scene. It's, like, a whole logistical thing with people's feelings and
people's bodies and trying to take care of everyone.

GROSS: Did you find yourself apologizing to Hilary Swank because you had to
treat her rough in the scenes?

Mr. SARSGAARD: I didn't, no. I didn't, because it seemed like the amount
that it was upsetting her was not an amount that was going to affect her
life, you know, like, you know, her daily life as she went out, but that it
might be good in the scene. And, you know, after we finished the movie, she
and I, you know, patted each other on the back, and I congratulated her on
her Academy Award and everything and felt so good about it. And we're
friends now, but while we were doing it, if I had apologized each time after
I did a take or something, I mean, it's--then, I'm not John Lotter and
she's--you know, it makes her job harder, I think.

GROSS: Your first film role--I think this was your first role--was in "Dead
Man Walking."


GROSS: What was your part in the role.

Mr. SARSGAARD: I was...

GROSS: Or your part in the film, I should say.

Mr. SARSGAARD: I was the boy who was raped and murdered. The reason Sean
Penn goes to death row, he rapes and murders my girlfriend and I. So, yeah,
that was another rape scene. I had been on the receiving end, see, from that

GROSS: Well, did that help, having been on the receiving end in a movie?

Mr. SARSGAARD: Absolutely.


Mr. SARSGAARD: Absolutely. Well, because I knew, doing "Boys Don't Cry," in
doing the rape scenes and everything, that, you know, Hilary, who's the
victim in that scene, wants, as an actor, for--that all of this effort that
you're going through--and it's physical, and it's emotional, and it's all
these different things--that if you're only going to do it halfway, it's
really almost as hard as doing it the whole way, and that you really might as
well go all out, you know, because we don't need to see sort of how it
happens in movies. Isn't it going to be more effective and more informative
in our lives if we see closer to how it might really happen?

And, you know, Sean Penn always errs on the side of, `it might really happen,'
you know, so--and Sean very much took care of me and Missy Yager, who played
the girl in that scene. I mean, the next day, everyone got us massages and
everything, and, I mean, it was--that scene was very elaborate also, because
we got thrown down in the mud and then raped and murdered. But obviously, to
do another take, we had to go take showers, get dried off, put on makeup and
our clothes and go do it again from being dry and not muddy, 'cause we were
filming in the bayou in Louisiana. So that scene went on all night, you know.

GROSS: So did being, like, really tired, as the night wore on, help in
looking like a scared...

Mr. SARSGAARD: Oh, I think...

GROSS: ...and under-attack young man?

Mr. SARSGAARD: Yeah. I mean, I think it actually helped wear me down. I
think takes probably one through four were unusable, because I'd never been
in a movie before, so I actually--the energy that I had from just having a
camera pointed at me and acting with Sean Penn and doing all of this, it was
probably too much, you know. So by the eighth take, I'm sure it was just...

GROSS: They had to beat you down first.

Mr. SARSGAARD: ...more reasonable. Right, right. It was more reasonable.
It was like the Stanley Kubrick style. Beat the actor down until they just
will do it.

DAVIES: Peter Sarsgaard speaking with Terry Gross in 2003. He's now
starring in the film "Garden State." We'll hear more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's 2003 interview with actor Peter Sarsgaard.

GROSS: You were an English and history major at Washington University. What
had you planned on doing when you were out of college?

Mr. SARSGAARD: I wanted to be a writer. Actually, one of the reasons I went
to Washington University was because Stanley Elkin, a very great short story
writer and novelist, was teaching there. And I, you know, was just a huge
fan. And so I got to meet Stanley, and I actually performed his short story,
"Poetics for Bullies," which is in the "Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and
Criers Collection." And then it turned out William H. Gass was teaching
there, who's also an incredible thinker and novelist. And Howard Nemerov was
there at the time, and I just became sort of, like, just in--you know, I don't
know that I learned anything from any one of these guys except just to be
around people that were just so fully committed to something so specific. You
know, Stanley's writing is so specific, and he did it his entire life.

GROSS: Well, Stanley Elkin had MS, and toward the end of his life, he was,
you know, very sick and had lost a lot of physical functioning. What was it
like to be around somebody who was both your mentor, but was very, like,
disabled at the same time?

Mr. SARSGAARD: Well, you know, he was in a wheelchair. I mean, you'd never
know with Stanley, though, because, I mean, he's just--he just kind--he sort
of made humor out of bile, you know, I mean, which is like, you know, lemonade
out of lemons. I mean, he--I remember one of his stories is about a guy in a
wheelchair who has to go to the bathroom, and his wife leaves him right as he
has to go to the bathroom, and he has to figure out how to go to the john.
And that's how the story starts. So Stanley always had, like, a great deal of
humor about his circumstances, I think, and just a keen, keen wit. And that's
something that no disease could kill in him.

GROSS: Why did you abandon the idea of writing?

Mr. SARSGAARD: You know, a combination of I wasn't sure I was very good at
it, and also, it's not--sitting alone, writing is not in my personality.
You know, I very much need someone to say, `action' and `cut.' I need people
to make me do what I do for a living. I have a whole team of people that
send me scripts and make sure I read them and ask me questions about them.
And then you work with a director who you want to serve. And I work better
when there's a group that I can disappoint. You know, if I were writing, the
only person I could disappoint would be myself, and I'm too willing to do

GROSS: Oh, you'd have an editor you could disappoint.

Mr. SARSGAARD: Oh, OK. Great. But, you know...

GROSS: So what led you to acting?

Mr. SARSGAARD: Well, at first, a little bit randomly, I just started doing
plays in college. And then, this program that's at the New School, the Actors
Studio program, had kind of a satellite program. I think it was before
they even started it at the New School. And Shelley Winters and Ellen Burstyn
came down and, you know, taught for a bit. And Carlton Kaller and all these
people that are studio people came down, and they wanted non-actors, you
know, people who are not in the theater department, because, you know, I
think there's a little bit in the Actors Studio--there's a little bit of this
idea that the best actors are going to be the ones who didn't want to be
actors or something. You know, there's some sort of romanticization of what
it means to be an actor, you know, `We found this guy,' kind of thing. And so
I was drawn to it just because I wanted to meet famous people. And I--you
know, this class in particular. And I was very influenced by the ideas,
because it's sort of a somewhat intellectual way into acting, you know. I
liked the idea behind it.

GROSS: Now you said you got into acting, in part, 'cause you wanted to meet
famous people. Now that you've met and worked with a lot of famous people,
is meeting famous people still of any interest?

Mr. SARSGAARD: Meeting people that are--I would say, not meeting famous
people, but meeting people that I respect is always interesting, you know,
that I've respected from afar. That said, it's very difficult to act with
somebody that you respect in that way.


Mr. SARSGAARD: Oh, because there's a distancing thing that happens. I mean,
for example, if you're supposed to--if your lover in the film is an actor
that, like, I've watched in movies since, you know, say, the early '90s or
something like that, after I got out of college, and I have to be intimate
with them, they're still going to be kind of in my head from these other
movies. And so there's a process that takes usually, I think, a very brief
period of time, depending on how willing they are to drop it. It's really up
to that person to let go of the--it's empowering to have that kind of
respect. And it's up to them to let go of that power in order to act with

GROSS: Who has that happened with?

Mr. SARSGAARD: I've been fortunate. It's happened with a number of--you
know, with Liam Neeson, it happened with me. Actually, Liam plays--and I
play--a kind of--he's--we are basically lovers in "Kinsey." I mean, I'm--his
wife is also my lover in the movie, so it's a little bit confusing. But I,
you know, grew up watching Liam Neeson in movies, and he's got this incredible
power and charisma as an actor, and it's difficult to imagine that person
being your lover if you've seen them in movies for all that length of time.
But Liam is exactly the kind of guy that lets go of that kind of power the
moment you meet him, or, you know, tries to. And then it's up to the two of
you to negotiate some new relationship, you know.

GROSS: Did Sean Penn let go of that power when he was killing you in "Dead
Man Walking," or did he keep that power so as to better be...

Mr. SARSGAARD: He kept it.

GROSS: ...forceful with you? Uh-huh.

Mr. SARSGAARD: Yeah, he kept it. I mean, I think there was no reason for
him to let go of it. Yeah, and it absolutely depends on the role. I mean,
some of the time, it can work to your advantage. Harrison Ford in "K-19,"
never let go of it with me, and it's because he played my commanding officer.
And he was the Daddy Warbucks that I had to go talk to when everything was
going wrong, and it was much better if he kind of kept that enormous presence
that he has. And, you know, all I could do was react to it.

And, you know, he--so many of the circumstances in that movie were true to
life. I was on--I had never been on a nuclear submarine before. My character
had never been on a nuclear submarine before, and was asked to be the guy who
took care of the heart of the machine, the reactor officer, you know. I had
never been on a hundred-million-dollar movie before. I had never acted with,
you know, Harrison Ford in this situation. And I was entrusted with a very
significant part of the story, kind of in the, you know, heart of the movie in
some ways. And it was incredibly intimidating, and every day was very
stressful for me on that movie, but I think it looks right in the film so...

GROSS: Well, Peter Sarsgaard, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. SARSGAARD: Thanks a lot.

DAVIES: Peter Sarsgaard speaking with Terry Gross last year. Sarsgaard's now
starring in "Garden State."

Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews the new film, "We Don't Live
Here Anymore." It's based on two stories by Andre Dubus. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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Review: New movie "We Don't Live Here Anymore"

The film "We Don't Live Here Anymore" is a new family drama about marriage
based on the work of the late Andre Dubus. The ensemble cast includes Laura
Dern, Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts and Peter Krause. Film critic David Edelstein
has a review.


Tolstoy wrote that `each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' And I
would add that when it comes to marriage, especially with children, each
unhappy couple reinvents the wheel, the torture wheel. Each of us, after all,
has a different threshold for four-letter words and infidelities and all the
other forms of emotional battery that you'll find in "We Don't Live Here
Anymore," which is like a bad marriage greatest hits collection.

The movie is based on two related novellas by the late Andre Dubus, and it's
not a film to see if you're contemplating tying the knot. In fact, it's a
workout if you're already entwined. The movie is a chamber drama for four.
There's practically no one else in the thing but two couples and their
children. The men are Jack, played by Mark Ruffalo, and Hank, played by Peter
Krause. They're college English department academics with beards, but they're
also pretty fit, and their regular running dates turn into macho competitions.

On a related front, they're playing out a more perverse game that involves
seducing each other's wives. Jack's wife, Terry, is played by Laura Dern, and
Naomi Watts is Edith, who's married to Krause's Hank. When we meet these
four, they're drunk in Jack and Terry's kitchen. Jack and Edith, that's
Ruffalo and Watts, if you're keeping score, go off to buy beer. They smooch,
declare their desire and make a date for the next day. Krause's Hank doesn't
miss this. His own affairs are legion, and he has designs on the miserably
unhappy Terry. Miserably isn't a word I use lightly. Laura Dern turns Terry
into one of the more full-throttled neglected spouses in the annals of film.
She's so haggard, it's alarming, and her mouth, which has always been mobile,
is now halfway to Claymation. It's constantly collapsing and reforming. It's
no wonder Ruffalo's Jack squirms when she's in his face.

(Soundbite of "We Don't Live Here Anymore")

Ms. LAURA DERN: (As Terry Linden) We've been married so long that you're
bored, is that it?

Mr. MARK RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Terry...

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) No, is that what it is, 'cause you can leave

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Terry.

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) I mean, maybe you and I should sit down and talk
about how long this thing's going to last...

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Terry!

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) ...between you and me.

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) I am not going anywhere.

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) No, it's fine, Jack...

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) I have never wanted to go anywhere...

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) ...and the kids will be fine...

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) I am not suffering...

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) know, if you're suffering...

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) ...and I am not...

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) ...if this is such a disappointment..

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) What are really worried about, Terry?

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) Other husbands touch their wives.

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Do you see Hank fondling Edith every second?

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) Hank doesn't love her. He told me when you were

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) He said that to you?

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) Yeah.

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Oh, yeah?

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) Yeah.

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Why? Why did he tell you that?

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) I don't know. He just said it.

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Well, what were you guys doing? He just
blurted that out? It seems odd.

Ms. DERN: (As Terry Linden) We were talking. How else do people tell each
other things?

Mr. RUFFALO: (As Jack Linden) Well, usually when people say things like
that, they're doing other things.

(End of excerpt)

EDELSTEIN: You have to understand, "We Don't Live Here Anymore" doesn't build
to that scene. The movie starts at that level and keeps climbing. Even the
lame excuses of the furtive lovers as they head out the door to take the car
in or do some work in the library hit you like blows, especially when the
needy kids are being lied to, along with the spouses. The film is presented
more or less from the perspective of Ruffalo's Jack, but it doesn't take his
side or anyone else's side. They're all in their way suffering. The
director, John Curran, made an Australian film called "Praise" which was like
"Sid and Nancy" if you took away the violence and satire and rock 'n' roll and
left only the grasping. This movie ups that grasping quotient. It's rooted
less in a film tradition than in the suburban spouse-swapping novels of the
early '70s, only not so glib. The '70s is when Dubus wrote these stories and
when the screenwriter Larry Gross adapted them.

And the movie is dated by the fact that these women don't have careers or
hobbies. But the ebb and flow and overflow of the characters' emotions exert
a strong pull on our own. Jack is a sensitive guy but his passivity towards
his wife is a form of cruelty. He pretends to be asleep, while in his car out
front, his best friend seduces Terry, and then he takes sadistic pleasure in
letting her know he saw everything. You look at Jack and think, `What's
eating him? Is he just not ready to grow up and accept responsibility for his
family?' He certainly has a scary role model in Krause's Hank who has that
monumental sense of self-entitlement. You see in artists who decide their
work gives them license to indulge their every fleeting desire.

Some critics have accused the movie of being too florid, too undiluted, too
much. But I think in that muchness it approaches the psychological condition
of marriage. Often the camera is so close, that the characters' pain twists
you up. Then you're distanced by floating long shots. The score, by Michael
Covertino, is full of spooky disharmonic shimmers, like astral winds. It's
perfect music for people too much on top of each other, yet lost in space.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.


DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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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