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Movie Review: 'Seabiscuit'

Film critic David Edelstein reviews Seabiscuit.



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Other segments from the episode on May 25, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 25, 2003: Interview with Charlotte Rampling; Interview with Chris Cooper; Interview with Jeff Bridges; Review of the film "Seabiscuit."


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

Interview: Actress Charlotte Rampling discusses her life and
her career

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.

Charlotte Rampling was a major international star when she was young, and a
daring one. Her movie roles in the 1960s and '70 range from mainstream
comedies and dramas, like "Georgy Girl" and "The Verdict," to Woody Allen's
Dark "Stardust Memories" and even darker movies, like "The Damned" and "The
Night Porter." Yet after that run of bold films and performances, Rampling
spun into a long bout of depression that prevented her from acting for many
years. In 2001, she made a major comeback, starring in "Under The Sand," a
French film directed by Francois Ozon. Ozon has just made his first English
language film called "Swimming Pool," and once again, Rampling is the star.
She plays Sarah Morton, a mystery novelist whose editor tries to snap her out
of a writer's block by sending her to his vacation home in the south of

(Soundbite of "Swimming Pool")

Ms. CHARLOTTE RAMPLING (Actress): (As Sarah Morton) I don't give a damn about
money or success. I just want to find...

Unidentified Actor: An inspiring plot.

Ms. RAMPLING: (As Sarah Morton) No. You don't understand. It's got nothing
to do with inspiration. I'm fed up with murders, investigations.

Unidentified Actor: Do you like France?

Ms. RAMPLING: (As Sarah Morton) I like frog's legs. So what?

Unidentified Actor: My house. Why don't you go there for a while, hm?
Breathe some fresh air. It's free. It's out of season. The weather's
glorious. There's a swimming pool.

Ms. RAMPLING: (As Sarah Morton) Would you come and visit me?

Unidentified Actor: Well, I have got my daughter, but maybe I'll come for a

BIANCULLI: Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers wrote that Rampling's
performance in "Swimming Pool" adds nuance, not to mention a nude scene that
shows off a body Demi Moore would envy. Terry Spoke with Charlotte Rampling
in 2001 after the release of "Under The Sand."


You were born in England in 1946. Your father was a British colonel who
became a NATO commander. What did he do in World War II?

Ms. RAMPLING: He was a gunner in the royal artillery, and he was posted to

GROSS: So you grew up just after the war in England. Did you have vivid
memories about the war through what your parents told you?

Ms. RAMPLING: No, because my father never spoke of it, and it was very true
about a lot of people who had been through the war. People didn't speak about
things like that in those days, so I never knew. I never knew anything about
anything that my father had done because he wouldn't tell me. And I still

GROSS: You must feel like there's a whole part of him that you don't know.

Ms. RAMPLING: There is, and you never know because it might just all come out
just before he dies. When I say all come out, you know, in a way that's
rather romantic illusion, but he is beginning to talk now. Since my mother
died, he's beginning to talk, which is really quite extraordinary. So you
never know. You never know until somebody dies what they will reveal.

GROSS: I don't know if your father talked to you about this, but he won a
gold medal in the 400-meter relay in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. This was
the Olympics that was documented in the Leni Riefenstahl movie "Triumph of the
Will." Could you see him in the film?

Ms. RAMPLING: Yes, oh, yes. I mean, I only knew about that through somebody
else who told me that they'd seen my father in a film, and that he had won
this medal. I mean, that's as much as he's, you know, boxed into his
isolation. And so then I found out, and I said, `Dad, I'm sending you a film
that you're in,' and then we started to break down--he started to break into
it and I tried to talk about it a bit, and he talked about it a bit. But it's
a most beautiful film, and he runs like a god, because he had catch up a race
that the runner before him was losing, because he was ill, Frank Wolfe(ph).
My father was in the second lap of the relay, and it's an extraordinary race.
And the BBC recorded it, too, as one of the most outstanding athletical feats,
and he won a record for that race. He held a record for many, many years, for
running absolutely, and then after that, I think he stopped, because he ran so
well that, I think, he couldn't bear it and he had to stop. They're strange
people, the men of those years.

GROSS: Did you have a strict upbringing? Was he strict with you?

Ms. RAMPLING: Yeah, but although I resented, I'm quite glad I did have a
strict upbringing like that.

GROSS: Well, were you told before you started acting that you were beautiful,
and did that make your life any better, any easier? Were there any surprising
complications from that?

Ms. RAMPLING: No, 'cause I don't think you really sort of do know that you're
beautiful in a funny way. I know this sounds odd again, but if you ask any
young beautiful woman, they just sort of--you just want to be part of the
pack, actually, at that age. You just want to learn how to grow up and not be
taken out and sort of be shown that you're too different. I mean, that's how
I felt.

GROSS: But usually, you know, the assumption is being really attractive
increases your stature, makes you more liked, more popular...

Ms. RAMPLING: Yeah, it does.

GROSS: ...more everything that young girls want to be.

Ms. RAMPLING: Yes, but, I mean, I knew that I didn't deserve it, and it
wasn't anything to do with me. So I knew from a very early age that I should
never play with this as some kind of weapon because it didn't belong to me.
And it was useful. It could be useful, and it sure has been useful, and, you
know, I've had fantastic years knowing that I'm beautiful. But I was also
terrified about why did people like me more than my friend who was less
beautiful? Why did I get the advantages? Why was always I asked out to
parties, and they weren't?

GROSS: Were there things you really wanted to be noticed for that you felt
you had more earned that were more about your talents or your personality?

Ms. RAMPLING: Well, you think so, but you don't quite know at that age. You
know there are other things, deeper, deeper hidden things, that you want to
learn about as you grow older and as you grow up, deep things that you feel
that are your value, your own personal unique value, that only belong to you
as a unique individual being part of a collective, but just almost on your
own. And beauty is something that gives you pathways into all these fields if
you want to, but I've really beaten myself up about it in a sense that I felt
that I really had to earn it, that's all. But then if I'd been ugly, it would
have been the same thing. I'd have fought as hard to be accepted, and just
because I'm not good looking, you know what I mean?

GROSS: Yes. Right.

Ms. RAMPLING: The battle is the same.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. RAMPLING: The battle actually is the same, but supposedly the beautiful
ones, you know, have the luckier coin.

GROSS: You started making films when you were 17. You were 20 when your
older sister died of a brain aneurysm, so you already had several films that
you made. So just as you were, you know, becoming a star and entering into
this exciting world, your sister died, and so you were in this kind of
increasingly glamorous world at the same time you lost her. There must have
been, well, just an incredible contrast between the world you were entering
and the grief that you were feeling.

Ms. RAMPLING: Yeah, and that's when I stopped making fun pictures. I was
having a lot of fun. I was really having fun for three years, sort of in my
life. I really had fun. I mean, I'm not saying that, you know, haven't had
later on, but much later on. And the guilt was just terrifying, you know,
when somebody dies, and especially with my mother almost, you know beside
herself with grief. You just say `I can't make fun films anymore.' So that's
when I went into the darker side and did, you know, films. I sought out films
that psychologically were much more painful.

GROSS: Well, let me get to one that's probably about as dark as it gets, and
this is a film you're very famous for, the 1974 movie "The Night Porter." And
you play a concentration camp victim who, several years after the war, you
meet up with a Nazi who abused you in the camp, and you both start up a very
disturbing kind of sadomasochistic sexual relationship. The Nazi is played by
Dirk Bogarde, who you also worked with in 1969 in "The Damned." How did you
feel about taking this role? I mean, this is a role that some people would
describe as very dark. Other people might describe it as disturbing. Others
might call it kind of sick. You know, it's a pretty heavy role.

Ms. RAMPLING: Yeah, it's about forbidden things, you know. And it's about
areas that we don't often really want to go into and analyze and think about
and turn over and look at. You know, it's about the deep, dark fantasy world
that, you know, perhaps we dream about, but we don't really want to admit it.
And I think the reason I took this film, I've lived on a very instinctual
level, and my choices are sort of just, you know, grabbed somewhere inside.
Because if you start to analyze why you would do "Night Porter,"--and I just
had a baby who was my first son who was three months old.

And when Dirk Bogarde called me, 'cause I had worked with him in "The Damned"
(unintelligible) before. And when he called me, he said, `Look, I've decided
to do this film after five years--'cause I turned it down three times--`I've
decided to do this film. There's only one girl that can do it, and I won't do
it with anyone else but you.' They wanted Romi Snyder at the time, who was a
much bigger star. I wasn't a star at all at that time, so I didn't, you know,
wield any money or power name. But when Liliana Cavani saw me with Dirk, she
said that that was it, and there was a kind of fascinating thing that happened
with Dirk and I around this subject, Dirk for his reasons from the war and the
pain and the horrors that he had lived through through the war, and me for
what I had been through on a personal basis. And so, you know, again, that
was what we put into the film.

GROSS: What did you think of as your character's motivation for entering into
this relationship with an unreformed Nazi?

Ms. RAMPLING: Well, she was abused and couldn't do anything else. Like
abused children, she was very young, she was 16. And when she saw him again,
it was the only thing that had really ever deeply affected her, whether it was
love, whatever it was. It was so affecting to her, this experience that she
had when she was 16 in the camp, that when she saw him again, she could not
resist it, and had to go plunging back into that darkness.

BIANCULLI: Our guest is Charlotte Rampling. Her new film is called "Swimming
Pool." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to our interview with actress Charlotte Rampling.
She's starring in the new film "Swimming Pool." When we left off, she was
talking with Terry about her controversial role in "The Night Porter."

GROSS: There's a very provocative scene in "The Night Porter" in which you're
singing a very sultry cabaret kind of song in a room of Nazis. You're moving
around the room slowly and evocatively wearing baggy pants which are held up
by suspenders, and the suspenders are the only garment that you're wearing
from the waist up. Would you describe filming this scene?

Ms. RAMPLING: Well, strangely, as films are, that scene was the first scene I
had to make in the film. And I arrived, and I not only had to learn the song,
a German song of Monet Lufius(ph), an old song of hers, but we also had to,
you know, learn what we were going to do in this very sort of evocative tragic
scene. And it was the first thing we did. And you just do it.

(Soundbite from "The Night Porter")

Ms. RAMBLING: (Singing in German)

GROSS: That's Charlotte Rampling singing in a scene from the 1974 film "The
Night Porter."

So what was the experience like of making a film that's this dark and this
sexually dark? I mean, was it a disturbing experience for you to make the

Ms. RAMPLING: Yeah, but--yeah, completely disturbing, completely disturbing,
but you sort of put yourself on hold, you know. There's an odd technique that
you have in this business, is you put yourself sort of slightly in denial
about a lot of stuff because otherwise, you can't really do it.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. RAMPLING: And you know that you can command your body into action to do
it absolutely as you want to do it, but your mind is not quite connected to
what you're doing. Your mind is somewhere else.

GROSS: Had you sung much before this movie?

Ms. RAMPLING: No, just like everybody, you know, singing away. And you're
doing--in voice classes, too, that I take, and there was, you know, singing
lessons and how to project your voice. So I had worked on it, but the voice
had to be very bad, really. It had to be not too good. It had to be the
terrified sort of strange voice of a 16-year-old singing under duress, but
also in a way getting sort of a bit high on it. So there was all that mixed

GROSS: Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I had read that you had considered
singing when you were in your teens, but your father didn't want you to be a
singer, because it meant wearing short skirts at cabarets. I laughed so hard
when I saw that, because this is your singing debut here.

Ms. RAMPLING: Yeah, actually that's very interesting you bring this up. I
just haven't thought about it. Absolutely true. A nightmare come...

GROSS: He was worried about you wearing a short skirt, and here you are,
like, you know, wearing nothing but suspenders and pants.

Ms. RAMPLING: Right. A more decadent debut could you have not.

GROSS: Precisely. Did he ever see the movie?

Ms. RAMPLING: Well, he said he'd never seen it, but I found out that he had,
but years and years and years later, and I wonder, actually, if he really had
anyway. But we don't talk about my films at home. Well, my mom doesn't
because she can't, but my dad never talks about my work. It's one of the
subjects that we don't talk about.

GROSS: Right. I got it.

Ms. RAMPLING: But he's talking. As I say, he's, you know, coming out now a
little bit, and he's ready to begin. I mean, he was interested in why I went
to America, and `What is this film, you know, "Under The Sand"?' First time
we've ever actually talked about it. And this is since my mother died,
interestingly. It's quite strange things unlocked, aren't they? You never
know. And so he's now talking a little bit about them. And he's realizing a
little bit what I've done in my life, and he's saying how proud he is of me
and things like that, so it's really moving.

GROSS: You know how you were saying after your sister died, you really wanted
to take roles that weren't, like, funny and entertaining, but roles that were
in dark films, because that was the mood that you were in? Did you, at some
point, move away from that and feel that you could do entertaining or funny
films again, they didn't have to just be about darkness?

Ms. RAMPLING: Well, that came later. You see, that came, I would say, in my
late 30s, really, when I decided not to make any films at all, 'cause it just
wasn't--I mean, all this wanting to go into the darkness through films had
been extraordinary, and I'd learned a lot, but I'd come to a dead end. And I
then sort of had to go into my own particular world. And then when I came out
of that--I suppose that you can call that the depressive time, right? So when
I came out of that a few years later, then there was much more fluidity and
choice and, yeah. And now films, I don't know where they'll lead me, but I'm
much freer to be able to choose now. I have that choice.

GROSS: Are you saying you went through a period of depression where you
didn't even want to work?

Ms. RAMPLING: Yeah, and that was very necessary, too, obviously, on the kind
of journey I was on, if you look in retrospect. I just, you know, had to go
into that, too, and just shut down. And then, you know, you learn other
things which bring you out, and you carry on.

GROSS: How long was that shutting-down period?

Ms. RAMPLING: Well, it wasn't a complete shutdown all the time, but a
complete shutdown for about three years, and then it sort of eased and eased
and eased, and then you realize that you're coming into the light, and you're
able to actually begin doing things and connecting with the world and all
that. And then, you realize that, you know, you're coming back into yourself,
really, because you just completely lose yourself. It's really like dying, I
suppose, in a way.

GROSS: Was this in the '80s, in the '90s?

Ms. RAMPLING: This was in the '90s, yeah, yeah.

GROSS: One last question. When you were going through your depression, were
you confident that you'd come out of it, and that you'd eventually work again?


GROSS: Right. That sounds like it went on for a few years.

Ms. RAMPLING: But, you know, you have two options--Don't you?--to somehow
come through it or to take your life? You have two options, and that's why
depression is a very serious thing, because you do have the option. A lot of
people take the other option. I didn't. You know, there'd been enough death
in my family, but I didn't know whether I'd come through, because, you know,
you have no idea.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. RAMPLING: But I think most people do. I don't know the sort of numbers
of it, but you do somehow. I don't know how, and there's all sorts of
different ways, but you do come through. But it takes an awful long time. I
mean, there are various degrees, you know. There are various degrees. There
are various intensities, too, some people's much milder than others, you know,
thank goodness.

GROSS: You know, people always wonder, if you're talented, if, you know,
you're a movie star and you're beautiful and you have money, how could you be
so depressed, right? Like, why, when you have so many gifts? I think some
people find that incomprehensible, but it seems like it's just kind of beyond
all that. It's something more internal than that.

Ms. RAMPLING: Yes, because, you see, it's about your soul. It's about your
spirit, and your spirit doesn't know about all that, and your soul doesn't
know about, you know, advantages in this world, wonderful advantages. I have
been given beauty, you know, and children and a career and all that. Your
spirit and your soul doesn't know about that, and that's what we're talking
about. Your spirit is yearning so, so deeply, and is in such pain, and you
don't know why, and that's what you somehow--it's not having to find out, but
you just have to nurture it and just to hope that, you know, you will come
back wanting to live again.

GROSS: Well, it's great to see you in movies again, and I want to thank you
so much for talking with us.

Ms. RAMPLING: That was very nice. Thank you. Thank you for talking to me.

BIANCULLI: Charlotte Rampling, speaking with Terry Gross in 2001. Rampling
stars in the new film "Swimming Pool." I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Actors Chris Cooper and Jeff Bridges both star in the new film
"Seabiscuit," based on the best-selling book. Coming up, we feature archive
interviews with them. And David Edelstein reviews "Seabiscuit," which opens

(Soundbite of music)

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

Interview: Chris Cooper discusses his film career and his role in

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross.

In a summer when fantasy movies and sequels have dominated the theaters but
not necessarily caught fire at the box office, a movie opens today that's
grounded firmly in reality. It's called "Seabiscuit," and is the story of the
racehorse whose hard-luck story, harder-luck jockey and incredible will to
persevere against long odds made him the hero of millions during the
Depression. By the way, the original movie made about this famous horse,
1949's "The Story of Seabiscuit," is shown tonight on the Turner Classic
Movies cable network.

In the new film "Seabiscuit," Chris Cooper plays the role of Seabiscuit's
trainer. It's the latest in a winning run for Cooper himself. Before this,
he's grabbed rave notices for such offbeat roles as the homophobe in "American
Beauty" and the orchid thief in "Adaptation." Terry spoke with Cooper earlier
this year, shortly after he won an Oscar for "Adaptation."


So the character you're playing, John Laroche, is the orchid thief. He's
somebody who, you know, spends a lot of times in swamps looking for rare
orchids, he has a very colorful and mysterious past in which he's done his
share of exaggerating and lying and has had some--has been a real loser in a
lot of ways, but he's obsessive and gifted at the same time. And, you know,
the Meryl Streep character in the movie is trying to figure out what to make
of him.

Mr. COOPER: There was a scene where Susan Orlean and I are driving in the
truck at night, and he was becoming a little philosophical about why people
spent time around him, and he began to realize that these people that spent
time around him were probably very lonely, and that did play into Susan
Orlean's life at that time. She was thinking over her relationship with her
husband. She was not passionate about anything, and that turned out to be a
very, very touching, good choice.

GROSS: Let's hear that scene that you just mentioned in the truck with Meryl
Streep. And this is my guest Chris Cooper with Meryl Streep in a scene from

(Soundbite of "Adaptation")

Mr. COOPER: (As John Laroche) So I got married and me and my beautiful new
wife--my now ex-wife, the bitch--opened up a nursery. People started coming
out the woodwork to ask me stuff and admire my plants and admire me. I think
some people were really spending time with me because they were lonely.

(Soundbite of song playing on the radio)

Mr. COOPER: And you know why I like plants?

Ms. MERYL STREEP: (As Susan Orlean) Uh-uh.

Mr. COOPER: Because they're so mutable. Adaptation's a profound process.
It means you figure out how to thrive in the world.

Ms. STREEP: Yeah. But it's easier for plants. I mean, they have no memory;
you know, they just move on to whatever's next. With a person, now,
adapting's almost shameful. It's like running away.

GROSS: Now for your role in "Adaptation" you had to do prosthetics for your
mouth because the character has missing teeth, which is a part of his
biographical story. Is this the first time you had to do the whole prosthetic
thing for a role and go through the hours, you know, of fitting it on and
gluing it on before each day's shooting?

Mr. COOPER: Yeah, certainly the mouthpiece. I mean, it was just a very
expensive set of Halloween teeth that fit very securely over my teeth, and you
did have to make extra space in the mouth cavity to, you know, work around
those new set of teeth. But I think I've done three other characters who were
burn victims that involved quite of lot of, you know, exterior prosthetic work
around the face, but that was the first time I ever had to use the mouthpiece
and it did take some real getting used to.

I had several pair a month and a half to work with, and, you know, I'd walk
around the house with them and just talk with my wife and talk with my son's
caregiver and talk with my son, and they just had to put up with it. But I
got very used to it, very comfortable.

GROSS: I know your son has cerebral palsy. Did he get why you were wearing
this thing or why you looked so weird all of a sudden?

Mr. COOPER: Yeah, yeah, he does. His best vision is sort of to the side, and
I would get these very side-looking expressions of, `Oh, Dad, you're doing it
again,' you know. And he'd had little giggles here and there. But he puts up
with it. It's very normal around the house.

GROSS: You grew up in Kansas City.

Mr. COOPER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And your father was a doctor. And I think the family also had a
cattle ranch...

Mr. COOPER: Yes.

GROSS: ...that wasn't your home, but you were there summers. So how did that
work that there was a cattle ranch that your family owned, but it's not where
you lived?

Mr. COOPER: We lived in the city, in Kansas City, Missouri, and the cattle
ranch was in Kansas City, Kansas. And we had a hired hand who looked over the
cattle, and he was also a security guard at Leavenworth prison, so he carried
two jobs. And it was during the winter months--in some respects, it's not
that difficult. You just need to keep shelter for the cattle and you need to
feed them, and they're pretty much on their own throughout the winter. And
then in summertime, there is haying, and in the spring, there is calving
season. And there's a lot of barbed wire fence to put up or repair. So I
would spend springs and summers out there and weekends throughout the year.

GROSS: Everything I know about cattle I learned as a child by watching
"Rawhide," the TV series about the cattle drivers that gave Clint Eastwood his
start. And I realize that's about the cattle drive, which is the next step
after the cattle ranch. Did you watch "Rawhide" when you were a kid?

Mr. COOPER: I watched "Rawhide" on occasion. I was more of a "Rifleman"...

GROSS: Oh, that was a great show, too.

Mr. COOPER: ...person, myself.


Mr. COOPER: Yeah. No, we did that. We had...

GROSS: They didn't teach you as much about cattle.

Mr. COOPER: Yeah, but we had the cattle drive. When the mommas are ready to
drop their calves, you have to keep an eye on them. And then six months
later, when the calves--they call them six-month heifers--that's when you
start to wean them from their mommas. And that's another roundup, to separate
the cows from the calves. And then at that time you also do the castrating
and the vaccinating and the tattooing, which is an ear identification number
for the cattle.

GROSS: Did you like that work?

Mr. COOPER: I loved it. I loved it. At that time it was either acting or
ranching. And they are obviously two extremes, but I just loved the life
there. And it was a very pleasant way to live, I thought.

GROSS: So your father was a doctor, and he owned a cattle ranch. What did he
think about you trying to become an actor? Did he prefer that you become, you
know, a doctor/lawyer-type of professional?

Mr. COOPER: Well, Dad, knowing his own profession, he never pushed my being
a doctor. His hours were ungodly, going from hospital rounds in the morning
to the office. Then he was one of the last doctors to do house calls. And
then he would be called at 2 or 3:00 in the morning for emergencies. And I
saw the toll that it sort of took on my mother's and father's relationship.
Though they were in love with each other until the day he died, it was not an
easy life. He was a very dedicated man. However, when I mentioned that I was
interested in being an actor, he really thought that was about the silliest
thing a person could do for a living. And then once I started getting work,
he did become very, very supportive, and I think he had a touch of pride in
seeing some of the early work.

BIANCULLI: Chris Cooper speaking earlier this year with Terry Gross. He
stars in the new film "Seabiscuit." We'll hear more after this break. This

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to our interview with Chris Cooper, who's starring
in the new film "Seabiscuit."

GROSS: You didn't start making movies until you were--What?--35, and John
Sayles cast you in the lead of "Matewan," which is about a coal miner strike
in West Virginia.

Mr. COOPER: Right.

GROSS: Are there things that you learned making your first movie with John
Sayles and, also, doing "Lone Star" with John Sayles? That's the movie I
first really noticed you in, "Lone Star." I thought, `Wow, this is somebody
to keep an eye on.'

Mr. COOPER: Yeah. Well, early on in shooting "Matewan," that being the
first film, I was over the moon, you know, just being involved. For a first
film, there could be nothing better than working with James Earl Jones and
David Strathairn and some of the other actors. What I did learn early on was
to really conserve energy. I was looking over the shoulder of John and
Haskell Wexler, the cinematographer, and in scenes that I was not even
involved with. I was just watching other actors work, watching the crew at
work, the technicians, trying to get an understanding of lights and lenses,
every aspect of filmmaking. And I was burning myself out, you know, for the
scenes that I had to do. So, truly, that was an outstanding lesson--was to do
your work and leave the rest of the work to the other cast and crew and save
your energy 'cause there's a lot more work to come up.

GROSS: Well, the next big role that you're in is in "Seabiscuit," the movie
based on the best-selling book about the racehorse. Tell us a little bit
about your role in that.

Mr. COOPER: The character is Tom Smith, and he's a bit of a mystery man.
There's not very much information about him. But he was one of the last of
the cowboys at the turn of the century. He would rope and break and sell
mustangs for a living. And once the cowboy era came to an end, they were out
of work. And so what did they do to make a living? That's when the idea
of--What do you call it?--those dude ranches. When the dude ranches came into
existence, cowboys would work there, or they could work at Wild West shows.
And that's, indeed, what Tom Smith did. Then he moved on to farrier work.
That's, you know, working with horses. And he did a bit of horse training at
Mexican race tracks, but a man who, I think, probably felt more comfortable
and spent more time with animals than he did human beings.

GROSS: So although the Western era on TV and in the movies is over, your
cattle ranch experience is actually paying off again.

Mr. COOPER: Again, yeah. Sure did.

GROSS: Well, Chris Cooper, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. COOPER: Oh, very welcome. Thank you, Terry.

BIANCULLI: Chris Cooper stars in the new film "Seabiscuit." He spoke with
Terry Gross earlier this year.

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

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

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

Review: "Seabiscuit" movie based on Laura Hillenbrand's novel of
the same name

For a time in the 1930s, a scrappy racehorse named Seabiscuit was America's
biggest celebrity, ahead of FDR and Clark Gable. Two years ago, Laura
Hillenbrand captured the public's imagination all over again with her
best-selling book, "Seabiscuit." The new movie, with the same name, is
directed by Gary Ross, who wrote "Big" and "Dave" and directed
"Pleasantville." It stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper. Film
critic David Edelstein has a review.


A lot of people have been chomping at the bit for the movie of "Seabiscuit."
Like me, they were thrilled to pieces by Laura Hillenbrand's best-seller about
the most celebrated racehorse who ever lived. With its layers of detail that
puts you deep inside the action, the book had an easy cantor that finally
became a joyride. It told the story of three disparate and traumatized men,
who, in the 1930s, found a common obsession in a horse no one wanted, a small
misshapen animal with a lazy disposition and an unruly temper. With his
ferocious drive and his relish for not just winning, but coming from behind in
high theatrical style, that horse would also become the obsession of a
traumatized nation.

The movie, directed and written by Gary Ross, is winning rhapsodic reviews.
It looks beautiful. The dirt flies up in lyrical slow motion, and the white
light transfigures the jockeys. Randy Newman's music is yearning and
plangent. The chords descend, yet the notes reach out for something. My bet
is the ineffable. There might as well be a sign under every radiant image
that says, `Wasn't that a time?'

The camera plunges you into the middle of the races so that even when you
can't tell what's happening, you're turned on by the speed, and the streaking
horse bodies and the thunderous soundtrack. I don't mean to look a gift horse
in the mouth. "Seabiscuit" has some stirring sequences, fine performances and
not incidentally, many excellent hats. But consider the introduction of Chris
Cooper as Seabiscuit's ornery trainer, Smith. While the music sighs
plaintively, he surveys the prairie once filled with horses and now defaced by
automobiles and chain link fences. If you think this vision of 19th century
America sadly contemplating the end of the frontier is flat-footed and
pseudopoetic, where Hillenbrand had been precise and evocative, you'll groan
the way I did, or you might be honestly moved. That's what makes horse races.

Cooper is playing a man described by Hillenbrand as so taciturn, he might be
in the early stages of invisibility. And as written and performed, he
certainly does recede, but then everything but the races is more pictorial
than dramatic. The scene you're going to hear is as intimate as the movie
gets. Tobey Maguire is the jockey Red Pollard, who has angered Smith by
whacking back at riders who fouled him. Jeff Bridges plays Seabiscuit's
owner, a multimillionaire Buick dealer who celebrated the death of the horse
before losing a son in an auto accident.

(Soundbite of "Seabiscuit")

Unidentified Actor #1: ...inside. Silver Treasure(ph), Microscope(ph). But
at the wire it's Silver Treasure, the winner by two and a half lengths.

Mr. CHRIS COOPER: (As Tom Smith) What the hell were you thinking?

Mr. TOBEY MAGUIRE: (As Red Pollard) He fouled me. What am I supposed to do,
let him get away with that?

Mr. COOPER: (As Smith) Well, yeah, when he's 40 to 1.

Mr. MAGUIRE: (As Pollard) He almost put me in the rail.

Mr. COOPER: (As Smith) Well, did he? Look, we had a plan.

Mr. MAGUIRE: (As Pollard) He fouled me, Tom. What am I supposed to do? He
cut me off. He fouled me!

Mr. JEFF BRIDGES: (As Charles Howard) Son, son, what are you so mad at?

EDELSTEIN: Bridges played a cockeyed optimist car magnate in "Tucker," and
this performance is an older, deeper version with notes of melancholy that
anchor the movie. But the eye-opening turn is by Maguire. True, he's not the
first actor to leap to mind as a wiry hotheaded jockey, but once I got past
the absence of the actor's most distinctive trait, that slightly morbid
shyness, I began to see how impressive he was. Maguire has dieted himself
down to bone and sinew so that his eyes pop out, shining and hungry.

There is, however, a major absent character, Seabiscuit. I have a friend, a
horse nut, who felt let down by the book, because he wanted to read about a
horse and not people. He might as well skip the movie in which Seabiscuit is
played by 10 different anonymous animals. Once in a while, there's a close-up
of his eye to show you, I guess, that he's not blind. But the charged
relationship among horse, trainer and jockey is alluded to by a narrator
without really being dramatized. In "The Black Stallion," the director,
Carroll Ballard, proved you could photograph a horse to make every ripple of
his physique seem expressive without ever anthropomorphizing him. But you
look at Seabiscuit and think, `Oh, a horse.'

The movie does catch you up in the climactic race, and it has a final shot I
won't spoil that suspends the action at just the right mythic instant. But
the best thing about "Seabiscuit" is that it will make a lot of people hungry
to read the book. They've seen the pretty pictures; now they'll want to enter
the world.

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

(Soundbite of music)


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.

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