DATE November 30, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Bill Condon discusses his new movie, "Kinsey"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Bill Condon, wrote and directed the new film "Kinsey" based on the
life of Alfred Kinsey, who conducted groundbreaking research into human
sexuality. In the '40s, Kinsey was a biology professor who studied the gall
wasp and found that no two wasps were the same. He decided to expand his
research to humans, specifically to the study of human sexuality, a subject
that was considered taboo. His 1948 book "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male"
was based on thousands of interviews with people about the most intimate parts
of their lives. He followed that up with a book about female sexuality. His
work was enormously controversial in its time and remains so among those
people who believe he opened the door to sexual amorality. Filmmaker Bill
Condon also wrote and directed "Gods and Monsters," and he wrote the
screenplay for the musical "Chicago."
Here's a scene from "Kinsey" after Kinsey has decided to investigate human
sexuality and teach a course on marriage. He's in the classroom. Kinsey is
played by Liam Neeson.
(Soundbite of "Kinsey")
Mr. LIAM NEESON: (As Alfred Kinsey) Why offer a marriage course? Because
society has interfered with what should be a normal biological development,
causing a scandalous delay of sexual activity, which leads to sexual
difficulty in early marriage. In an uninhibited society, a 12-year-old would
know most of the biology, which I will have to give you in formal lectures.
So let's start with the six stages of the coital sequence. Both sexes
experience all six stages equally.
(Soundbite of chalkboard being pulled down)
Mr. NEESON: (As Alfred Kinsey) Stimulation. Who can tell me which part of
the human body can enlarge a hundred times? Miss.
Unidentified Woman #1: I'm sure I don't know, and you have no right to ask me
such a question in a mixed class.
Mr. NEESON: (As Alfred Kinsey) I was referring to the pupil of your eye,
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. NEESON: (As Alfred Kinsey) And I think I should tell you you're in for a
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: I asked filmmaker Bill Condon to describe how Alfred Kinsey did his
research. How was he able to get people to talk candidly about their sex
lives when they would be unlikely to feel comfortable discussing such an
intimate subject with friends or even spouses?
Mr. BILL CONDON (Screenwriter-Director, "Kinsey"): One of the most original
things about the methodology was that he always assumed you had done
everything. So it was never, `Have you ever, you know, masturbated?' It was,
`When was the first time you masturbated?' With every question, the burden of
kind of admission was taken off of you. It was just assumed you had done it
all, so there was an extremely non-judgmental approach. He also had these
ways of bringing the questions back to the same place over and over again and
really being able to test whether your answers were consistent, you know. So
he worked in a lot of trip wires to weed out the liars and the exaggerators,
which, of course, is, you now, one of the real problems with taking sex
histories. And, you know, in general, having collected these eight million
gall wasps, he was trying to apply the same idea to sex: `If I can just get
more than anybody else.' You know, his aim was to get a hundred thousand. He
actually wound up getting about 28,000, but that's still more than anybody had
or has since then.
GROSS: Now do you think that the--even though he got thousands and thousands
of people to respond to his survey, do you think that they were a
representative sample of either Americans or of people in general and their
approaches to sex?
Mr. CONDON: Well, it's interesting. You know, I think, first of all, it's
nothing more than a snapshot of the country at the time, you know, so that the
male volume really represents men during World War II and the female that--a
little later. No, you know, he had solved one of the big challenges facing
sex researchers but, in doing so, created another problem. You know, the
challenge was, inevitably, somebody who's going to talk to you about his or
her sex life is probably more sexually comfortable and active than people who
won't, so, therefore, you know, the data might already be skewed in a certain
He came up with this idea, with the help actually of Ray Kroc's brother, you
know, the founder of McDonald's, that they would get 100 percent groups; they
would get people who'd gotten together for a reason that had nothing to do
with sex--a bowling league or a ladies sewing circle--and get a hundred
percent of those people to give their sex histories actually using tactics
that, you know, no one could get away with today. You know, the first 40 or
50 percent would fall in pretty easily. Then he'd use them to convince, you
know, the next 20 or 30 percent. And the holdouts, really, were subjected to
threats--they were no longer going to be in the bowling league or the sewing
GROSS: Oh, gee.
Mr. CONDON: ...and late-night phone calls, until finally everybody agreed to
do it. So...
GROSS: Talk about peer pressure.
Mr. CONDON: Exactly. So he felt, `If I just get enough of these groups, then
it has to all add up to, you know, a kind of representative sample of
America.' And, of course, that wasn't true. You know, he oversampled in
certain groups: you know, too many inmate histories, for example, something
that he corrected in the female volume. Everybody always raises this issue of
10 percent of males being homosexual, you know, and Kinsey actually never said
that. Kinsey actually thought--again, for him, homosexual was an adjective
describing acts. He thought on the sixth end of his scale, people who are
involved in exclusively homosexual acts--that that was anywhere from 2 to 4
percent of the population, which basically falls in line with what people
What he did say was that 10 percent of the population had had exclusively
homosexual activity for three years in their adulthood. Now you have to
remember, again, snapshot of a time and a place; this is America during
wartime, A, and, B, at a time when most schools were single-sexed. So these
are things that wouldn't apply today. But that's an example of something
where a strict look at his data comes up with basically the same result as
what people come up with today.
GROSS: One of the questions that you have him asking in the movie, a question
I really like, that isn't directly related to sex is this: `How young were
you when you no longer...'
Mr. CONDON: Yes.
GROSS: `...thought of your parents' home as your own?' And there's two
things I really like about that question. One is that it doesn't say, `How
old were you?'
Mr. CONDON: Yes.
GROSS: It says, `How young were you?'
Mr. CONDON: Yeah.
GROSS: And the other is, like, what a really interesting question to ask.
Like, `At what point...'
Mr. CONDON: I know.
GROSS: `...did you realize that this is no longer what you're about...'
Mr. CONDON: Exactly.
GROSS: `...or the center of your life? You've moved on to becoming an adult
person, a differentiated person.'
Mr. CONDON: I know. I love that question, too. And it was obviously, you
know, sort of a real find for, you know, when I was writing the script because
it allows you to sort of deal with so much in the context of sexuality. And
that's what he would do. He would ease in with these biographical questions
and then slowly start to expand, so that you got a question like that that
isn't directly about sex but in some basic way is because obviously that
differentiation does happen during the onset of adolescence.
GROSS: Now you interviewed one of Kinsey's researchers as background...
Mr. CONDON: Yes.
GROSS: ...for the screenplay. What are some of the things--like, which
researcher was it, and what were some...
Mr. CONDON: Yeah.
GROSS: ...of the things you learned either about the research or about
Kinsey's own life?
Mr. CONDON: It was Paul Gebhard, the character played by Tim Hutton in the
movie. And, actually, we had a wonderful screening the other day at The
Kinsey Institute at IU for over 1,200 people, and he was there. And I was so
relieved to talk with him afterwards and get his seal of approval. You know,
the thing that struck me more than anything about him was the absolute sense
of openness and the non-judgmental nature of talking to him. Here I was in
this sort of awkward position of interviewing the ultimate interviewer and
having to, you know, jump in and ask some pretty, you know, intimate
questions: `What was sex night like at the Kinseys?' for example, you know.
And he was so matter-of-fact about it all, about the affair that he'd had with
one of the other researchers' wives when he first arrived in Bloomington, the
effect that had on his marriage. It was, again, so open that I really got a
glimpse into how these guys pulled it off, you know. There's just something
so matter-of-fact about everything that was discussed.
GROSS: What is sex night at the Kinseys?
Mr. CONDON: Well, you know, they did--it wasn't that frequent, but they did
get into--Kinsey, you know, did start to promote this idea of open marriages
and kind of a sex--a life where everyone would sort of enjoy each other and
kind of, you know, trying to strip away all the other things that go with
that. You know, it was one of the kind of wackier sort of things he tried,
you know. And Kinsey's somebody who fell into this study--you know, started
talking to people about sex, traveling the country talking about it, then
started observing it, then started filming it and then finally sort of, you
know, went into this further point of kind of trying to actually create this
sexual--I wouldn't call it utopia but a certain sexual environment where
everything was--would be open, you know, kind of a swinger way before his
time, you know. He just...
GROSS: This is one of the things that a lot of people find very troubling
about his life 'cause...
Mr. CONDON: That's correct.
GROSS: ...you know, he's not exactly, like, the dispassionate scientist just
observing behavior under the microscope. He's trying out a lot of things
himself, a lot of things that were perceived as definitely violating, you
know, the moral code of the time.
Mr. CONDON: That's correct. And I think that's the trouble, I think, people
get into. You know, they very quickly then say that the work was a gender
(unintelligible), for example, and there's--I really have found no proof for
that idea. His first passion was science. You know, the idea of having
collected these gall wasps--well, now he could collect as many human
beings--was, for him, more important than anything. Work was more important
than anything, you know. But I think, you know, it's a problem that people
who work in this area really face because everyone sort of applies their own
kind of code to other people's behavior. So especially when they hear that he
was actually having all this extracurricular activity, there's
immediately--people leap to the conclusion that that's what the whole point of
it was. And there's really--that is not the case.
GROSS: The way you portray him in the movie, he's somebody who is very
scientifically interested in sex and becomes very interested in the pursuit of
sex himself, but that the way you portray him--he's kind of emotionally tone
Mr. CONDON: Yeah.
GROSS: ...the consequences that sex can have, for instance, if you're married
and then you have relations with somebody outside of that marriage.
Mr. CONDON: Yes.
GROSS: Your spouse is likely to be upset. And he's a little uncomprehending
about those kinds of emotional consequences. Is that based on research that
you did about him?
Mr. CONDON: Absolutely. You know, uncomprehending, impatient, you know, so
driven by this work. And, again, these are--I think that anyone who's
unsympathetic to him will find plenty in this portrait to kind of confirm that
point of view. You know, he is a complicated character, you know, a
complicated person, and that was absolutely a part of it. You know, again,
starting with the idea of studying sex scientifically, which meant for him
outlets, namely orgasms, and then, you know, stripping away religion and
morality and culture from that and then extending that idea further and
further into his own life until it became almost a mission with him is
something that is understandably, you know, upsetting for people. It's--I
think you have to kind of have a complicated view of the world to really kind
of countenance the whole picture, you know?
GROSS: My guest is Bill Condon. He wrote and directed the new film "Kinsey,"
which stars Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest, Bill Condon, wrote and directed the new film "Kinsey." It's
based on the life and work of Alfred Kinsey, who conducted pioneering research
into human sexuality.
Here's an example of a scene that describes a side of Kinsey's life that a lot
of people would find disturbing. His wife walks in on him as he's sitting on
the edge of the bathtub in his robe, and there's blood dripping from between
his legs. And he explains that he's just circumcised himself. Explain what's
Mr. CONDON: Well, toward the end, Kinsey, who dabbled in a lot of things to
try to understand them, did get involved in certain masochistic acts. And,
again, this is the truth, and I think, you know, it's a movie's job or a
dramatist's job to try to understand that. And in the scene that you're
describing, he has his own explanation, which is, you know, `I just wanted to
experience it,' you know, which I--it was the explanation that he would give
to people. She immediately sees it in a different way. You know, she says,
`Don't--stop punishing yourself.' This comes at a low point, you know, toward
the end of his life when the female volume's been attacked and his funding's
been slashed and he's under, you know, the cloud of a court case. And he
feels that the work has kind of been a dead end and been a failure, you know.
So she sees it more clearly as an attempt to punish himself.
And I think the movie itself has yet another explanation, which is I believe,
you know--and I think this is kind of common. You know, I think it's common
in artists, for example. But you look at Kinsey as somebody
who--self-described as someone who was tormented and damaged by this very
repressive childhood and extremely intolerant father, you know. And one of
the lessons of that father was about the shame of sex. And so what happens?
He liberates himself. He discovers nature and science and all these things
that make him treat those ideas as mumbo-jumbo, you know. Then he starts in
on this mission which he hopes will save other people--he said this over and
over--from the torment that he experienced.
But what happens to that voice of shame? It doesn't just disappear. You
can't--you know, like an artist going deeper and deeper into a subject and
then sharing what they discover with the world, it doesn't mean that those
wounds are healed necessarily. And it--the way I read it and, I think, the
movie presents it is that it's the kind of reincarnation of that sense of
shame, you know, of the prudery that the father represented, you know, and at
a very weak moment, kind of, you know, really punishing himself.
GROSS: Now you're talking about his repressive father. There's a scene in
the movie in which he basically does a sex survey with his own father.
Mr. CONDON: Yes.
GROSS: And the father explains that as a way to punish him for masturbating
and to prevent him from doing it further, this harness was created for him...
Mr. CONDON: Yes.
GROSS: ...so that he could no longer do this.
Mr. CONDON: Right.
GROSS: And it becomes clear in the movie that this is one of the reasons why
he became so repressed and intolerant and was so repressive in the way he
brought up his son. But although that story was told to Kinsey, it wasn't
told to Kinsey by his father. It was somebody else who he was administering
the survey to who told him.
Mr. CONDON: That's correct.
GROSS: That's during...
Mr. CONDON: Yes, who also had had a similar kind of repressive trait. So,
yeah, that is me combining two ideas: Kinsey always wishing he'd taken his
father's history and never having had a chance to do it and speculating about
something like that about his father and then this one subject. For me, it's
less about Kinsey than a whole position, you know. But the fact that there
was no breakthrough with the father, you know, that is dramatic license,
there's no question.
GROSS: There are several religious Web sites right now that are protesting
your movie and are outraged that Kinsey should be discussed in a way other
than condemning him. I'll quote a couple of things.
Mr. CONDON: Sure.
GROSS: The Catholic Outreach Web site writes, `A committed atheist, Kinsey
was determined to undermine the traditional moral climate of America and paved
the way for widespread acceptance of all kinds of perversity, including
pedophilia and bestiality.' On the Web site of Concerned Women for America,
this is written: `He believed that all sexual behaviors were natural,
including bestiality, pedophilia, homosexuality, sodomy and sadistic sex.
He argued that sex and morality had no connection.' Have you been keeping up
with the Web sites?
Mr. CONDON: I have, you know. And I think the only thing that's accurate
there in what you quoted was `a committed atheist,' you know. There are
groups that have just demonized him over the years, again, with charges like
pedophile, which, of course, are completely untrue. He was--it's this
distinction that people seem unwilling to make between speaking to a pedophile
and then using the data and supporting or promoting pedophilia or sex with
animals or anything else, you know. And, you know, sometimes you just wish
they would be more honest about their real concerns, you know, which I think
in general it's everything that's happened over the last 50 years, which they
kind of, you know, attribute all to Kinsey, which I think is really giving him
much too much credit.
But, you know, for example, today there's someone called Judith Reisman,
who's been writing about him for years and really is this sort of these
pedophilia charges. And just to put them in context, you know, here's a
little expert from The Talk of the Town in this morning's New Yorker: `To
a reader of Reisman scholarly papers, it sometimes appears that there is
little for which she does not hold Kinsey responsible. In her research on
gays, for instance, she's written that the recruitment techniques of
homosexuals rival those of the Marine Corps. The Kinsey paradigm, she holds,
created the moral framework that makes such recruitment possible. Reisman
also endorses a book called "The Pink Swastika," which challenges the myths
that gays were victimized in Nazi Germany. "The Nazi Party and the Holocaust
itself," she writes, "were largely the creation of the German homosexual
movement. Thanks to Alfred Kinsey," she warns, "the American homosexual
movement is poised to repeat those crimes. Idealistic gay youth groups are
being formed and staffed in classrooms nationwide by recruiters too similar to
those who formed the original Hitler Youth."'
This is the kind--that's the level that you're dealing with, the level of
reality, basically. But, again, charges which are accurate--for example, you
quoted `avowed atheist'--this was true--are thrown in with charges like
pedophile, which have no basis in fact. And over the years things that have
become more culturally palatable, like a supporter of Planned Parenthood or
of abortion or of homosexual--tolerance of homosexuals have sort of fallen by
the wayside, and they've landed on this one charge, for which, you know, there
is no gray area in our culture, nor should there be: pedophilia. So it's a
little frustrating because it's--you're not dealing on a rational level with
somebody. You're just dealing with these kind of--these made-up charges.
GROSS: Bill Condon wrote and directed the new film "Kinsey." He also wrote
and directed "Gods and Monsters," which won an Academy Award for best adapted
screenplay. He wrote the screenplay for the musical "Chicago," which won six
academy awards. He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH.
(Soundbite of song)
Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) ...do with my baby tonight, and pitch the
woo with my baby tonight. But, brother, you'll fight my baby tonight because
it's too darned hot. According to The Kinsey Report, every average man you
know much prefers his lovey-dovey to ...(unintelligible) when the temperature
is low. But when the thermometer goes way up and the weather is sizzling hot,
Mr. Pants(ph) for romance is not 'cause it's too, too, too darned hot. It's
too darned hot. It's too, too darned hot.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we remember Leroy Aarons, the founder of the National
Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He died last weekend at age 70. In
1990, he commissioned a groundbreaking survey of gay and lesbian reporters,
many of whom had been afraid to come out of the closet. We'll listen back to
a 1992 interview. Also, we continue our interview with Bill Condon about
writing and directing the new film "Kinsey."
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Bill Condon. He wrote
and directed the new film "Kinsey," which stars Liam Neeson as the now-famous
scientist who researched human sexuality in the 1940s and '50s. Alfred Kinsey
was controversial in his time and remains controversial among those people who
believe he condoned and encouraged sexual amorality. When we left off, we
were discussing some of the Web sites that have condemned Kinsey, the man and
There were people picketing certainly at a theater in Philadelphia, though I
don't think the pickets lasted very long.
Mr. CONDON: Right.
GROSS: But has this been happening around the country, that there were
pickets, at least for the early screenings of "Kinsey"?
Mr. CONDON: Yeah, we--I was just in St. Louis and did a book signing there at
a Borders, and there were a number of people outside, none of whom had seen
the movie, by the way. A friend of mine went out and asked, and everyone
said, no, of course they hadn't seen it. And I guess, you know, that's always
the disappointing thing. And it's an odd position to be in because I think,
you know, people think people who make movies just want any kind of publicity,
any kind of controversy. But it's a little different here because if you look
at the movies that, you know, have had this kind of controversy swirling
around them in the last year, like "The Passion of the Christ" or "Fahrenheit
9/11," they were about Jesus Christ or about George Bush. You know, these
are--people have made up their minds about those people. But Kinsey is
somebody who still--you know, who's basically forgotten. You know, as much of
a celebrity as he was in his day, I think, you know, he's just a footnote for
most people now.
So it's just frustrating to think that, again, people with pickets and these
words on them--it's very much like Communists in the '50s, to my mind. You
know, it's just convincing people just to stay away. You know, some of these
people--Dr. Laura Schlessinger went on "The O'Reilly Factor" a couple years
before we started shooting, you know, asking people, you know, to write in and
try to stop this movie from being made. You know, they tried to take an ad in
Variety, which, to its credit, didn't run it. But, you know, over the years
Liam Neeson's mother has gotten letters from people sort of, you know, egged
on by these Web sites. So it's just a shame that they just are so afraid of
the talk, basically, you know, just--or letting people make up their own
GROSS: So what impact have those efforts to either prevent you from making
the film or prevent people from seeing the film...
Mr. CONDON: Right.
GROSS: ...and to discredit Kinsey's research--what impact has that had on you
personally or on your ability to make...
Mr. CONDON: Sure.
GROSS: ...you know, the ease with which you were able to make the movie?
Mr. CONDON: Yeah. You know, ultimately, it was a tough movie to get
financed, and it's very hard to know what all went into that. You know, it's
a film that--the script I finished in 2000, and it took us three years to get
the money together. And, you know, it's--I assume part of that did have to do
with the controversy surrounding him, you know, but a lot of other things,
too. It's just hard to get, you know, a kind of drama made that--you know, a
$10 million budget, it's, you know, very--you know, outside of the studio
In general, now it's been interesting. I think the most surprising thing for
us a week ago was the fact that, you know, public television stations take
these interstitial ads, and we place...
GROSS: They're not ad. They're underwriting or enhanced underwriting.
Mr. CONDON: Is that right?
Mr. CONDON: OK. OK, good.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CONDON: Thank you for that. The--but, you know, all of the stations
around the country had accepted an ad for Kinsey. Obviously this is what we
feel our target audience is. And WNET in New York rejected it with an e-mail
saying it was not because of anything in the commercial, but it was simply the
content of the film and their anxiety about their viewers and calls and all of
that stuff. Now once that was kind of talked about in the press, they
backtracked and said, `No, no, no. It's because we don't take commercials,'
which isn't really the case, I think, you know, and also because the
commercial itself was too racy. But, you know, we do have that original
e-mail, and that was the first impulse. And that was a little surprising. It
was the same week as "Saving Private Ryan."
And suddenly it felt as if these culture wars that we've all been talking
about are, you know, heating up a little, you know, where people on both
sides--and certainly, in this case, on the right--are really starting to feel
that they can have an impact on these things. And it's that thing you worry
about most, which is self-censorship. You know, it wasn't because people had
called and complained about the commercials; it was the fact that they might
and also, obviously, the fear of the FCC that maybe had convinced this
station, you know, manager to not take the ads.
GROSS: Do you feel that the campaign to prevent this movie from being made
had a chilling effect on you? Did you watch what you said, or do you think
you were any more cautious in showing anything sexual or any more careful in
how you presented Kinsey as a result?
Mr. CONDON: You know, oddly, I think it was the opposite. I think it was--I
felt I had to include--for example, the scene with the pedophile had been in
the movie, but it hadn't been quite so prominent. But I felt...
GROSS: Why don't you describe the scene for listeners who haven't seen it?
Mr. CONDON: Well, Kinsey did interview this man, an omniphile, really. I
mean, he had sex with five generations of his family and, you know, 200
species of animals and hundreds of underaged boys and girls. Kinsey had been
in touch with him, and he had sent him books of data and then finally sat down
with him and took a 17-hour sex history. It was the longest one he ever took.
And he is the source for these charges--the fact that Kinsey talked to him,
did not have him arrested. I should say--I don't know that it's really to the
point, but when they finally did meet, that the man was old and died less than
a year later, and that activity was in the past. But, still, it's not really
the point. The point is that Kinsey saw his role as being the father
confessor of sex and that the whole project was based on trust and anonymity.
But there are people who now complain about that. I think that's legitimate.
I think it's a legitimate, you know, criticism or something to discuss.
However, again, this kind of blurring of the distinction between talking to or
about something and endorsing it is where, I think, they get into dangerous
waters, you know. It's similar to people not being able to, in sex education
classes today, talk about AIDS for fear that somehow they're endorsing the
idea of activity that would lead to it, you know?
GROSS: So you were saying you made this scene with...
Mr. CONDON: No. Well, it had been there, yes.
GROSS: You set up this scene longer than it otherwise would have been.
Mr. CONDON: Right. Yeah, you know, dramatically it just took on a little
more weight. And I think it was because, in a way, knowing that these people
are out there, I wanted to be sure to include that argument and show where it
came from, you know, and not sort of--again, I hadn't been leaving it out
before but really give it some--its proper weight in the movie and let you sit
there and make up your own mind about how you feel about the fact that he just
continues on with this interview. You know, he--there were discussions he had
with people on his staff about using this data, and, you know, above all, he
was interested in facts and data and what he'd collected. And, you know, you
can make up your own mind about that.
GROSS: We've talked a little bit about some of the criticisms against Kinsey
in our time. What were the criticisms like when he was actually doing his
research in the '40s and '50s?
Mr. CONDON: Yeah. Well, you know, there are certain groups that were--came
out against him: obviously the attacks for the statistical methodology; also,
you know, people like Lionel Trilling; Margaret Mead. You know, Margaret
Mead--he's taken all the fun out of sex; Lionel Trilling, `Where's the love?'
you know. Gore Vidal today was talking about how he repeated that criticism
that Trilling had made to him directly to Kinsey. And he said, `But I can't
measure love,' you know. `That's not what I'm about.' But I think there
was--certainly, you know, The Times was never a fan. And there's a certain
kind of New York intellectual crowd that never really embraced Kinsey, you
know--again, thought there was something limited in the whole enterprise.
GROSS: Of course, you had to face the question of how to make a movie about
somebody who is very explicitly researching sex and yet get a rating that
Mr. CONDON: Yeah, that's...
GROSS: ...people to go see the movie.
Mr. CONDON: Yeah.
GROSS: So can you talk a little bit about the standards you set for yourself
about what to show and what not to show and why you used those standards?
Mr. CONDON: Sure. You know, the whole issue of the rating was a real
challenge in two ways, I have to say. First of all, I wanted to suggest just
how revolutionary Kinsey was. You know, he marched into a classroom it the
late '30s, in the context of all these hygiene films, and put up a slide of
intercourse, of an erect penis and a vagina, you know? And I wanted to both
be able to show that in an R-rated movie and also to suggest just how shocking
that was, you know. And the second problem I approached, you know, with a
kind of classic studio style of filmmaking, so that you're in this kind of
pretty academic setting and you're deep into the movie, and it all feels sort
of traditional, and then suddenly this slide is there. And I have been
pleased to see it with audiences where the gasp that happens among the
students is kind of mirrored in the audience--you know, a little bit of
nervous rustling at least.
But when we shot it, I was never really sure--I had to shoot a backup of just
a clinical drawing because I was never sure we'd get that past the MPAA. And
we sent the movie over to them, and they called after a long day of discussion
and said, `We're giving you an R for pervasive sexual content, and thank you.
We learned a lot.' So I--we were all relieved.
GROSS: Did they explain why they didn't object to that slide?
Mr. CONDON: You know, honestly, they didn't. But I can just assume it's
because it's done in a clinical context; that, you know, if you describe
pornography as, you know, the use of imagery or words to arouse--to get a
sexual reaction, that clearly was not what that was doing, you know.
GROSS: My guest is Bill Condon. He wrote and directed the new film "Kinsey."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Bill Condon. He wrote and directed the new movie
"Kinsey," which is a biography of Alfred Kinsey, the scientist who researched
These are more biographical questions about you...
Mr. CONDON: Sure.
GROSS: ...but I'm wondering, like, did you have sex education when you were
Mr. CONDON: We did actually. I went to a Jesuit high school, all boys, and I
remember Father Duffy(ph) teaching us about 69 when I was probably 13. And,
you know, it was one of those--it was in the late '60s, and it was in New
York, and we couldn't possibly be, as students, more rebellious than the
faculty was at that moment, you know. And so I--it was a very progressive
school in that way. So, yes, I--early on--but as I was saying to Gore Vidal
today, the first book I think I read about sex was "The Prisoner of Sex" by
Norman Mailer when I was probably 13. And, you know, he had lots of theories.
In fact, Gore reminded me that it was over "The Prisoner of the Sex" that the
famous battle on "The Dick Cavett Show" happened with Norm Mailer. But one of
them was, of course, `My only outlet at the time, which was masturbation--that
every orgasm that, you know, isn't implanted without a condom in a woman is
another chapter of the great American novel that's just been wasted.' I mean,
you know, he has very specific ideas about, you know, his own fluids, I think.
So I can remember, you know, that--and it's been so interesting for me later
on to read about Kinsey, and he talked about, you know, Freud reinventing sin
as neurosis, you know. And for me, very early on, the sense of having grown
up in a devout Catholic household, you know, there was certainly a sense of
sin and shame connected with sex. Then to pick up, as the first book to get
over that, Norm Mailer and hear some of this, that left me completely
GROSS: Having made "Kinsey" and then being in a position like now of talking
about the movie and the issues it raises publicly, have you found that there's
an unbridgeable gap between people who think sex is shameful and sinful unless
it's marital procreative sex and it's something that really shouldn't be
discussed in public...
Mr. CONDON: Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: ...that there's an unbridgeable gap between those people and the people
who think that sex is fine to talk about? It's OK to see pictures of it.
It's not anything--it's private but not embarrassing.
Mr. CONDON: Yeah.
GROSS: Do you think that those two worlds just are not communicating well and
are unlikely to meet in the middle?
Mr. CONDON: You know, I wouldn't have thought so up to now. I mean, I think
things do get very, kind of, I don't know, thrown into relief by elections,
for example. But it does feel as if--I think it's all so complex. And, you
know, I remember Pauline Kael used to write about the fact that in movies,
only liberals have good sex. And we all know that's not true in real life,
you know; that even now, you know, these, you know, articles about where
"Desperate Housewives" is, you know, most popular, and it's in the red
states just suggests how complicated and--everybody is, you know. And
everybody is individual. You know, for me, I had a great time showing this
movie to a more conservative audience in St. Louis last weekend. I remember
my favorite screening of "Gods and Monsters" was to a highly Mormon audience
that were laughing complicitly with, you know, Ian McKellen and he's trying to
Brendan Fraser out of his trousers. And you got the sense that some of them
would have stoned him, you know, in daylight. But here you are at nighttime,
you know, in the dark in the dreamworld.
And I think sex is deeper than politics. You know, I think it's--there's--so
the unfortunate thing for me is that the real gap is is the same one that
Kinsey was focusing on: between what we do and what we say we do, you know.
So, yes, maybe it's--there is always going to be the gap between people who
don't want to talk about it. I don't know truly who are the people who think
there's only one way to do it, you know. And I think they--it'd surprise you,
you know, which people feel that and which people don't.
GROSS: I really like the casting in the movie. And I think Liam Neeson and
Laura Linney are terrific. And just on a more trivial note, in terms of the
way the film was done, Laura Linney playing Kinsey's wife is--you portray the
character as somebody who isn't spending a whole lot of time thinking about
how she looks.
Mr. CONDON: No. No.
GROSS: You know, her clothes are kind of haphazard...
Mr. CONDON: Yeah.
GROSS: ...and lacking in style. On the other hand, they're not so
screamingly lacking in style...
Mr. CONDON: Right.
GROSS: ...that we'd be making fun of her. She just looks like the kind of
person who, you know, isn't aware of style, doesn't really care about it. And
I thought it was just exactly right. I don't know if she was that way in real
life or not, but I think for the character you're portraying her as being,
that she was just perfectly dressed.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CONDON: Well, thank you. And that's--Bruce Finlayson did the costumes,
and Laura Linney, who was so intent on getting that right--and it is how she
was. And it's kind of what we wanted to celebrate, you know. Again, in--you
know, most movies that are about sex...
GROSS: She wasn't a vixen.
Mr. CONDON: Exactly, yes, but that's the point. It's everybody's having sex,
you know, including--you know, in movies, you don't get that sense. It's only
the pretty people who are having sex, you know. But in real life, that's not
the case. And so it was--to me, one of my favorite scenes is Laura; Liam,
shirtless; and Peter, shirtless--and before we started shooting, I said,
`Bellies out,' you know. And everybody had a very ordinary body, and that's
what's happening in the world.
GROSS: Well, Bill Condon, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. CONDON: Oh, thank you so much, Terry.
GROSS: Bill Condon wrote and directed the new film "Kinsey" starring Liam
Neeson and Laura Linney.
Coming up, we remember newspaper reporter and editor Leroy Aarons. He founded
the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Remembering Leroy Aarons, who died Sunday at age 70
TERRY GROSS, host:
We're going to remember Leroy Aarons, the founder and first president of the
National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, former executive editor of
the Oakland Tribune and former West Coast and New York correspondent for The
Washington Post. He died Sunday at the age of 70. He was being treated for
bladder cancer when his heart failed. I spoke with him in 1992. In 1990,
just a few months before he founded the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists
Association, he reported on the results of a survey of gay and lesbian
journalists. He was asked to coordinate the study by the American Society of
Newspaper Editors. He was chosen because he was a ranking editor, was already
out at work and was in a good position to locate other gay journalists willing
to participate in the study.
(Soundbite of 1992 interview)
Mr. LEROY AARONS (National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association): So I set
up a team, and we began to do that, I think, rather successfully. And we did
it by telephone calls, by word of mouth, by posting fliers in newsrooms. And
I began to develop, for the first time in my life, a network of personal
contact with gay and lesbian journalists on newspapers all over the country.
And among other things, what I began to hear was a desire to connect. I
called, you know, one journalist at The Providence newspaper who had heard
about this, called me and was terribly excited most of it, as were most of the
journalists. And he said, `Do you know anybody else at my newspaper?' And I
said, `Yeah, I do, but I can't tell you because of this whole confidentiality
thing.' And he said, `God, is there some way that we can begin to connect and
link up?' So that planted the idea in my mind.
Then I delivered the results of the survey, which showed fairly predictably
that there was homophobia in the newsrooms; that gay journalists perceived
their own institutions doing a mediocre job in general on coverage and that
they had a sense of isolation and living in the shadows. When I delivered the
results of that survey to the--the gathered editors, my editor peers in
Washington, in 1990, I had to make a decision. `Do I come out publicly
nationally, or do I not?' And happily, in retrospect, I made a decision to
say, `Yes, I'm a gay man and an editor,' and I'm proud of ASNE for
GROSS: Do you think that there are any unique problems that a journalist has
in coming out?
Mr. AARONS: Yes, there are. One is there are possible career implications.
Secondly, there's the question of perception. They face the possibility that
they may be seen as representing some kind of a special interest. And they
struggle with this issue, the advocacy vs. the objectivity. And it's a new
experience because while Afro-American journalists banded together in
associations 15, 17 years ago, Hispanics and the rest, gays and lesbians are
just experimenting with this. I think what they're beginning to learn is
that they need to make the argument that they insist upon being seen as
professionals who've been in this business for years and years doing, you
know, competent, excellent jobs with high professional journalistic standards.
That does not end just because you come out and be totally who you are.
GROSS: You decided to come out nationally when you were giving the results of
the survey that you were commissioned to do. Was that a hard choice?
Mr. AARONS: It was a difficult choice. I had come out in '83 at my own
newspaper, the Tribune, when I came onto my first job there. That was a tough
move as well because--I've been in journalism for 34 years now, and 24 of them
I lived as a closeted person and a closeted professional, living in fear that
someone would spot me going into a bar and that it would have some impact on a
kind of personal rejection or perhaps some career implications. In making
that decision before hundreds of peer editor colleagues, the night before I
was to give the--deliver the findings, the text of my statement did not have
my coming out statement in it.
I woke up the next morning and began to think, you know, `Here I am talking
about other gay and lesbian journalists living in the shadows, and I'm
going--I just can't walk up there and pretend that I am something that I'm
not.' So I added the words that I described before at the end. And,
interestingly, there was a subtext that kind of echoed internally for me
reflexively, which was, `Here I am, world, all of me at last.' So I have to
tell you that these are not easy decisions, both in terms of professional
issues and in terms of personal issues.
GROSS: I'm wondering, in this group that you've created, if you feel that
there are a lot of journalists who are much more radical in their approach to
gay issues and gay rights than you are, and if so, how you feel about that,
if that makes you uncomfortable or not.
Mr. AARONS: Well, I guess that there probably are journalists in our group
who would view me as being somewhat on the conservative side of the spectrum.
And we've had discussions constantly within our organization--and I think
these are legitimate discussions--as to, you know: How do you serve your role
as a member of your journalistic craft and, at the same time, deal with your
responsibility to these issues? I have to say that I probably started out a
lot more conservative than I am now in building the organization with many
colleagues who have helped to do this--worked together with them. And in
exposing myself to a lot of information and a lot of study and examination
that I hadn't before, I think that it's moved me a little bit toward the left
and perhaps some of my colleagues a little bit more toward the center.
GROSS: What issues do you feel you've moved on?
Mr. AARONS: Well, I think that I've begun to get a broader perspective on the
role of a gay journalist in the press. I think that, you know, to hide behind
the notion of objectivity in the face of injustice seems to me to be just
that, to be hiding. I think that one of the traditions of journalism is to
fight injustice, to work on behalf of the underdog. And I guess the other
thing that's been happening to me is the more I read about and experience and
watch the effort to force gays back into the closet, the fact that
homosexuality is one of the last places where scapegoating is considered
permissible, I start to feel some passion about this that may have been
suppressed before, to be perfectly honest with you.
GROSS: Leroy Aarons recorded in 1992. He died Sunday at the age of 70.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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