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Novelist Elmore Leonard on his sequel to "Get Shorty."

Novelist Elmore Leonard. "Be Cool" (Delacorte Press) is his newest book. It continues the story of Chili Palmer, the small time Brooklyn crook in "Get Shorty" who became a Hollywood movie producer. John Travolta played Chili in the movie version. "Be Cool" has Palmer dabbling in the music industry. It's also soon to be a new film.


Other segments from the episode on February 24, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 24, 1999: Interview with Wes Anderson; Interview with Elmore Leonard; Review of Sebastian Faulks' novel "Charlotte Gray."


Date: FEBRUARY 24, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 022401np.217
Head: Wes Anderson
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest Wes Anderson directed and co-wrote the new comedy "Rushmore." Our film critic John Powers described it as "pulling off the miraculous feat of being a completely fresh teen comedy." For "Rushmore," Anderson won the New Generation Filmmaker award from the L.A. Film Critics Association. He won the MTV Best New Filmmaker award in 1996 for his first film, "Bottle Rocket."

"Rushmore" stars Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer, a 10th grader at Rushmore Academy. He's a scholarship student who's the head of every club, loves the school but flunks out anyway and ends up in public school. He's also fallen in love with a teacher at Rushmore and has enlisted one of the school's benefactors, played by Bill Murray, to help win her over. But Murray's fallen in love with her too.

Here they are at a restaurant celebrating the success of a new play by Max that he's just staged at his new public school. The teacher he has a crush on has brought along a date.


JASON SCHWARTZMAN, ACTOR: I like your nurse's uniform, guy.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: These are OR scrubs.

SCHWARTZMAN: Oh, are they? Well, they're totally inappropriate for the occasion.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, I didn't know we were going to dinner.

SCHWARTZMAN: That's because you weren't invited.

BILL MURRAY, ACTOR: Take it easy, Max.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You were the one that ordered him whiskey and soda.

SCHWARTZMAN: So what's wrong with that? I can write a hit play, why can't I have a little drink to unwind myself?


So tell me Curly, how do you know Ms. Cross?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We went to Harvard together.

SCHWARTZMAN: Oh, that's great. I wrote a hit play and directed it. So I'm not sweating it either.

MURRAY: Can we get a check please?

SCHWARTZMAN: What do you think you're doing?

MURRAY: Getting the check.

SCHWARTZMAN: No you're not. Excuse me. I just want to thank you for accommodating us. You see we only thought we were going to be three, but someone invited himself along. So I apologize.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: It's quite all right, sir.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You're being rude, Max.



SCHWARTZMAN: No, I'm not. I'm just trying to figure out why you brought this gentleman to my play, and my dinner which was invitation only. Would you like me to pass the creamer, Doc?



UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: What is wrong with you?

SCHWARTZMAN: What is wrong with you! You hurt my feelings! This night was important to me!

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: How did I hurt your feelings?

SCHWARTZMAN: Oh, my God! I wrote a hit play! And I'm in love with you.

GROSS: Now "Rushmore" is really dependent on having a terrific young actor who can play a 15-year-old. And I think that must be hard to find. You were really lucky you found someone really terrific in Jason Schwartzman. Were you worried though for a while that it would be hard to find someone who was really good and could play a 15-year-old?

WES ANDERSON, FILMMAKER, "RUSHMORE": Yeah, well we spent a year trying to find somebody to play that part. And we really had no movie if we didn't -- if we didn't have someone great. And what happened was after all this time and we'd searched all over America -- eventually we were searching Canada. We had casting directors in every state.

And we -- and then eventually we opened it up to England. Me and my co-writer Owen Wilson had decided that we could have an English actor who would be doing a fake English accent to play the character, which would actually be a real English accent, but in the context of the movie it would be fake.

We had gotten that desperate. That we were coming up with those kind of ideas. And then this kid Jason Schwartzman came in and I just -- he was nothing like what I had sort of planned. I thought we were -- physically -- looking for a 15-year-old Mick Jagger. And he was sort of a 15-year-old Dustin Hoffman.

But then as soon as I saw -- as soon as he did the scene, you know, he auditioned and read a scene. And then I just felt like we had him. And I realized that the main thing I was looking for was someone who was 15 years old, or 16 years old, who could -- who had sort of presence and force to carry -- to be the center of a movie. And that's what I'd sort of been waiting for.

And all the other ideas of the preconceptions of what it ought to be like were -- I threw them out the window as soon as I realized I had someone who could kind of be the star of a movie.

GROSS: Schwartzman is Talia Shire's -- is Talia Shire's son. And Talia Shire is what? Francis Coppola's sister and plays the sister of Al Pacino in the "Godfather" movies.

ANDERSON: Right. Right.

GROSS: So he must have been at least acquainted with movies.

ANDERSON: He'd been on some sets, but he wasn't really brought up around -- you know, I don't know. He tells it that he's not -- that he didn't grow up on movie sets. I know he visited them. But he never acted before.

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

ANDERSON: But he'd obviously been around creative people all his life.

GROSS: You also cast Bill Murray in the role of the self-made tycoon who becomes Max's helper and then his rival. Why did you see Bill Murray in the role? Bill Murray is great. Did he ask to be in the film or did you approach him?

ANDERSON: He was someone that we had in mind when we were writing the script. And we had always thought that he was, you know, we weren't going to be able to afford him or we weren't going to be able to get access to him. And those things just proved to be wrong.

And I always loved him in -- there are some movies where he's doing something very different from his sort of comic persona like "Ed Wood" or "Mad Dog and Glory," "Tootsie," "Razor's Edge" also. And so it was sort of with those performances in mind.

And then when I met him I thought that he had all kinds of things that we could sort of draw on for the character and kind of tap into. Like he'd never played -- he never had a family in a movie before. And he's got five kids and he's been a father for 17 years or something.

So there were all kinds of things, and I'm always excited to see him in an unusual role, so all those things kind of fed into it.

GROSS: Did he do much improvising within the film?

ANDERSON: We didn't. I thought it was going to be a thing where we just -- where we just hand him the scene and step back and he kind of wings it, which I think he's done on lots of movies. But as soon as we started working on it we started to feel like there was a story that we wanted to tell that was in the script, and you know, Owen Wilson -- Owen and I had worked hard on the script and we sort of felt good about it. And then Bill kind of agreed with that, and we just sort of stuck to the script. Very very quickly we sort of figured that out.

GROSS: There's a scene when he's really -- he's at a party in his own home in the backyard by the pool, but he's so alienated from the party that he climbs up on the diving board with a cigarette and a glass of scotch in his hand and then just kind of like dives in. And probably plans on staying underwater until he sees the kids swimming around there.

Was any of that -- was that all in the script?

ANDERSON: Yeah, that was in the script. That was sort of a scene that was -- the first half of the scene was sort of a Cheever kind of thing of a midlife crisis -- kind of alcoholic haze. And then the second half of the scene is, I think, draws a little bit -- steals a little bit -- from "The Graduate."

Because there's a scene in "The Graduate" where Ben -- where Dustin Hoffman is -- he's given a birthday present and it's a diving suit and he goes -- so he jumps in the water, and then he just stays down there away from the party that his parents are throwing for him. And that's kind of what Bill Murray does in this scene, he just stays under.

GROSS: Even though the film is set in the present and the center of the film is a 15-year-old. A lot of the records that you use in the movie are from the '60s, including Chad and Jeremy's "Summer Song," which I thought was an unusual choice. Why so many '60s records, and particularly why that one?

ANDERSON: Yeah, well that -- initially my plan was to score the whole movie with songs by the Kinks. Because I sort of felt like the character that he's playing is very -- he sees himself as a total establishment figure. And I think he wants to be headmaster of the school one day.

But he's -- what's really going on in his mind is all the usual kind of teenage adolescent angsty kind of anger and everything. And -- so that's why -- the Kinks would not be the music that he would listen to, but it would be sort of his emotional state.

And then I sort of expanded it to the whole British invasion, because I started doing some research on it. And that Chad and Jeremy song was just one where I listened to the song and it made me think of a whole montage for the story. So I just kind of figured out the visuals to go with that song.

I sort of felt like it belonged at a certain point in the story. So that one actually kind of inspired the sequence that it goes with.

GROSS: You didn't think it was unusual to have music from a different period than the period being described in the movie?

ANDERSON: No, I don't ever -- I don't really usually use the music in a away that connects too literally with what's happening in the story. And I also think the movie is sort of a fable in a way. The clothes that the people wear and the design of the sets and things doesn't really reflect anything in reality exactly. It's slightly off reality.

And it's sort of -- and I think it lets the movie -- it kind of gives it a sort of tone where it has its own logic and things where you might in real life say, well, they would never let him do that. He would never be able to get away with that. In this world, they sort of make sense. They're sort of logical.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Wes Anderson. He directed and co-wrote the new movie comedy "Rushmore." Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Wes Anderson. He directed and co-wrote the new movie comedy "Rushmore." And he also co-wrote and directed the film "Bottle Rocket."

I want to ask you about your first movie "Bottle Rocket." It's about two good friends and their buddy who are starting to pull off these robberies inspired by one of the friends, who has probably watched a lot of movies and TV shows. But he wants to pull off these robberies like they do in the movies, like they do in heist movies.

And he has -- he wants the secret signals, and the detailed plans, and the orders that he gives everybody. What inspired this story?

ANDERSON: Well, the actual characters came from -- was mostly inspired by people we knew and kind of the friendships among our gang in Texas at that time. And so the story was originally not -- I think the heart of the story is not a crime kind of story. The crime stuff was something -- the way they have the secret signals and the safe crackers and all that kind of stuff is about -- that's the same way that we're interested in crime, as something from movies.

So that -- there's a big robbery at the end of the movie, and for me the main reason that that robbery even exists is so that we can have a chance for the characters to throw smoke bombs, really. And there's another scene where they rob a bookstore which -- that's -- just really -- I worked at this bookstore and I always thought, God, it would be so easy to rob this place.

So that's how we ended up having them rob a bookstore. And when they robbed the bookstore they wear these pieces of tape on their nose, which are their disguises. And that came from this TV show called "Delvecchio," that Judd Hirsch was in, where there was a scene where these guys had mugged this old woman.

But she couldn't identify any of them because they had tape on their nose and it distracted her. And at the end of the thing, Judd Hirsch has this great idea: he brings everyone in for a lineup and she can't tell who's who. And then he tells them all to put tape on their nose and then she can pick the guy exactly. Those were our influences.

GROSS: So is the idea here to create characters who borrowed too much from movies and TV shows?

ANDERSON: Yes. I think they borrow way too much -- we probably borrow too much and so do they.

GROSS: Now did you do that in your life? Were their characters or particular movies that you imitated?

ANDERSON: Well, there are movies that we've all seen a million times that we're sort of almost unconsciously quoting, you know, regularly. And then some of the characters in the movie are just our friends playing themselves.

Like there's one character, this guy named Kumar, who's this old Indian -- older Indian man -- who we used in both "Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore." And he's our friend who teaches Yoga and lives above this coffee shop that his son owned in Dallas. And he was just someone we knew well and always -- anytime we were thinking of a story we -- he was -- one of the first things we come up with is what is Kumar going to play?

GROSS: In "Bottle Rocket" the characters need some experience actually robbing a house. So they decide to rob the house of one of the guys who's doing the robbery. They decide to rob his mother's home. But he says that you can't rob his mother's earrings because he just gave them to her as a gift.

And he makes a list of other things that no one is allowed to rob. And I want to play a scene in which he's just found out that his friend, who is the ring leader of this little group, actually did take the mothers earrings.


OWEN WILSON, ACTOR: Man, you got another ball. Should I play your game?

LUKE WILSON, ACTOR: Listen, Dignan, I know you remember the list because you signed it. You signed the things Dignan's not supposed to touch.

OWEN WILSON: The thing is I can't be sorting through all that in the middle of a burglary. There's just not time for it.

LUKE WILSON: Hey, I don't care. OK? I bought the earrings for my mother on her birthday. I went down. I picked about myself.

OWEN WILSON: Hey, one thing is every valuable item in the house was on that list.

LUKE WILSON: Maybe we should have robbed your house. You ever think of that? No, I bet that never crossed your mind.

GROSS: What conspired that scene and the whole idea of robbing your own family's home?

ANDERSON: I think it was we wanted to sort of quietly reveal the fact that these thieves cannot be taken seriously. And we wanted to do it in a kind of left-handed way where it's unstated, but where slowly you would suddenly realize what the situation was. Because they rob the house and then they sort of split up the loot and get ready to celebrate.

And then over the course of the conversation you don't even know what one of them is getting upset about. And slowly you begin to realize what's happening. And I think it kind of -- at the moment when you realize that that's what the robbery was -- robbing their own house, and that it was very regulated. They were only supposed to steal things that were -- basically that wouldn't be noticed.

Then I think you kind of get the tone of the movie and the kind of characters they are. And that it's not a gritty "Mean Streets" story of crime. It's more -- it's kind of a more good natured -- although "Mean Streets" is a bad example, because "Mean Streets" is actually about his own -- Scorsese's -- own experiences with these guys he knew in his neighborhood.

So it's more like a "Mean Streets" kind of thing, but you can just know that it's not a true story about guys who are criminals. It's a story about some guys who grew up in some neighborhood together and ran around in each other's backyards.

GROSS: Did you see "Mean Streets" and think now how does this apply to me and my suburban Texas neighborhood?

ANDERSON: Well, "Mean Streets" is -- "Mean Streets" is a movie that Owen and I both always loved, but we have -- there's not much -- it's such a foreign place. It's like a foreign film for us. But I think it influenced us in terms of the way it tells a very personal story and it kind of finds a style in which you can tell. It's almost a sort of documentary about his neighborhood and certain people who grew up there and he's kind found a way to make it into a dramatic movie.

GROSS: Did you ever steal things when you were a teenager and think it was really cool?

ANDERSON: I never even stole a pair of scissors when I was a teenager. I was extremely uptight about that.

GROSS: Did you have friends who did?

ANDERSON: Yeah. Yeah. But I was like a very righteous teenager and kind of humorless.

GROSS: Humorless?

ANDERSON: In some ways. I mean, when I look back I just don't understand who I was. I feel so alienated from that person. I feel like I was a real stick in the mud.

GROSS: What was the turning point for you of becoming who it is that you are now?

ANDERSON: It was probably -- it was probably -- it was when I saw -- it was probably some movie. I can't think of what movie it would've been. It was probably some movie where I sort of think, you know, that's really what I want to be more like.

There was probably some kind of "Catcher in the Rye" experience or something, you know.

GROSS: It's really hard to change you are deep down, no matter how good movie is.

ANDERSON: Yeah. Yeah. But maybe a book can do it.

GROSS: Maybe a book. There you go. I read someplace that you made super 8 movies when you were a kid

ANDERSON: Yeah. My father gave me a super 8 camera when I was about eight or nine, and my brothers and I made just about a hundred super eights over the years.

GROSS: What kind of movies were they?

ANDERSON: Well, there was a long series of Indiana Jones movies. Indiana Jones in different countries going after different artifacts. And then there were a lot of private investigator stories. And what else? We had one that was -- that was basically about a volcano going off, and it was animated with models. It was that kind of thing. We had a Lego science-fiction movie with little Lego spaceships exploding and that kind of thing.

GROSS: Did any adults see those super 8s and think, the kid's got talent?

ANDERSON: Well, I don't know if people were thinking that I had talent, but we were relentlessly showing those movies to anyone who would watch them. We had regular screenings. We would sometimes charge admission.

GROSS: Really? Who would pay besides friends and family who felt obliged?

ANDERSON: That's it.


GROSS: Right. And you were spared the embarrassment of reviews, right?

ANDERSON: Right. We only got encouragement.

GROSS: When you were a kid did you go to see kid movies or did you go see adult movies, and what were the kid movies like when you were young?

ANDERSON: Well, you know, the movies we really loved -- we loved "The Pink Panther" movies back then. And we loved -- and there were other things like "The Bad News Bears" movies, there was a whole series of those. The first one was really good and the other ones didn't really live up to the title.

But there also was a bunch of good Disney movies at that time. And there was one called "Candle Shoe" with Judy Foster that I really loved. And I think of movies that kind of -- and maybe there's ways that those movies might influence a movie like this. Especially a movie like "Candle Shoe," were there's sort of a mystery in a movie like that in a way that you sort of -- are kind of like when you read a novel when you're 14 years old or 12 years old.

You sort of get into the world of the novel and you're more committed to that world and get lost in that world in a way that sort of hard to do later in your life. And I still have the same experience with some movies where you just give yourself completely over and get submerged into it.

GROSS: Do you know what your next movie is going to be?

ANDERSON: Yeah, our next movie -- the next script that Owen and I are working on now -- and it's set in New York. And it's about a family of geniuses. And it's a large ensemble cast, and we're just getting rolling on it. Hopefully we'll be shooting it around the end of the year.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

ANDERSON: Well, thanks very much for having me, Terry.

GROSS: Wes Anderson directed and co-wrote the films "Rushmore" and "Bottle Rocket."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Wes Anderson
High: Film director and writer Wes Anderson. The 29-year-old director has a short but impressive list of films to his credit: "Bottle Rocket" and this year's "Rushmore." Both are offbeat films with a love of character and idiosyncrasies. Both films were written by Anderson and his writing partner Owen Wilson. "Rushmore" stars Bill Murray.
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Lifestyle; Culture; Owen Wilson; Wes Anderson

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Wes Anderson

Date: FEBRUARY 24, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 022402NP.217
Head: Elmore Leonard
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Elmore Leonard is on a winning streak. The recent movies "Get Shorty," "Jackie Brown," and "Out Of Sight" were adapted from his novels and won him new audiences. Although he was already no stranger to the bestseller list. His new book is a sequel to "Get Shorty," so let's start there.

The film adaptation of "Get Shorty" starred John Travolta has Chili Palmer, a loan shark sent to Los Angeles to collect a gambling debt from Harry Zimm, a B movie producer, played by Gene Hackman. Palmer follows Zimm and breaks into the home of the producer's girlfriend, Karen Flores, played by Rene Russo.

In this scene Palmer tries to muscle the money from Zimm.


JOHN TRAVOLTA, ACTOR: Now Harry, a marker is like a check.

GENE HACKMAN, ACTOR: I know what a marker is.

TRAVOLTA: And they don't want to deposit yours and have it bounce. That annoys them. And your dear friend, Dick Allen, has been calling you leaving messages on your machine and you haven't gotten back to him. So he asked me as a favor to look you up. So I follow you here and I see you in a window with a woman. Looks a lot like Karen Flores, the actress from "Grotesque." You're not looking at me, Harry.

HACKMAN: Why do I have to keep looking at you?

TRAVOLTA: Because I want you to.

HACKMAN: So now you're going to get rough, huh? I make good by tomorrow, you're going to break my legs.

TRAVOLTA: Come on, Harry.

HACKMAN: You tell Dick Allen I'll cover those markers in the next 60 days at the most. If he doesn't like it then that's his problem. So you want me to call you a cab?

TRAVOLTA: So you make movies, huh?

HACKMAN: I produce feature motion pictures. No TV. You mentioned "Grotesque" before; that happens to be "Grotesque Part 2" that Karen Flores was in. She also starred in three of my slime creatures releases. You may have seen them.

TRAVOLTA: I got an idea for a movie.

GROSS: When Chili Palmer returns in Leonard's new novel, "Be Cool," he has two films under his belt. The hit "Get Leo," and the flop "Get Lost." Now he's ready to make his third movie about a rock singer who wants to be a star.

One of the things that you're famous for as a writer, and this is the thing I think that makes your novels so great to adapt into screenplays is your dialog. It's lively. It's colorful. It's funny. And it reveals a lot about the people who are speaking it.

There's a paragraph I'm going to read -- it's a small thing I want to point out here -- I just really like it a lot. Let me get to the page. This is a scene in which a few of the characters are driving to the club that has swing bands performing. And I'll just pick it up here.

"Elliott said guys went in there to shoot pool and at night they had swing bands perform. One of them, Johnny Crawford the kid that used to be on `The Rifleman' on TV -- Chuck Connors kid. Elliott hadn't seen the series. It was before his time. But he knew about it. Rajee (ph) couldn't remember if he had seen it or not when it was on, but he said, `yeah, The Rifleman. It wasn't bad for what it was you know what I'm saying?'"

And I love that, the guy who can't remember at all.


He says, "yeah, it wasn't bad for what it was, you know what I'm saying?" There is something so perfect about that. That's -- it's kind of like fooling himself and fooling the other people.

ELMORE LEONARD, NOVELIST, "BE COOL": Yeah, Rajee probably believes what he said. Yeah. And he is certainly -- he is loaded with confidence. Which is just baloney. He's a street talker.

GROSS: I love the way you added the "you know what I'm saying?" Because to be speaking about something you know nothing about and then ask for "that's true, isn't it?" From somebody else. That's great.

LEONARD: Because I know that I'm going to move my stories with as much dialog as possible, and this goes way back. I've always paid attention to dialog. I've always listened. I've always made sure that each character has a different sound -- an identifiable sound.

GROSS: I think it's really good the way you capture somebody faking it in your dialog.

LEONARD: Mmm-hmm. I try not to use any adverbs to let you know exactly how they're saying it, you know. Because I feel, well, if I've presented the character properly you know what he sounds like. I mean, and you know when he's being truthful and you know when he's been sarcastic and you know when he's honest. So I rely on my development of the character to keep me from using adverbs.

GROSS: Now you have pages that are just dialog, there's really no exposition outside of the dialogue. And I think when you write a lot of dialog you get into a lot of substitutions for "he said" and "she said." You know, "he retorted," "she opined," "he rebuked her." And I think you try to stay away from that.

LEONARD: Far away.

GROSS: Yeah, and sometimes...

LEONARD: ...I use only "said."

GROSS: You use only "said," and sometimes there isn't even an annotation of who's speaking. And so you really have to keep track because there's a new paragraph, but it doesn't say who the speaker was each time somebody speaks. And tell me why you do that, why you don't always say who is speaking.

LEONARD: Well, more often than not, the "he said" is put in for a pause -- a beat -- rather than for identification.

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

LEONARD: Because if just two people are speaking you can -- they're alternating -- their lines alternate, you know. This guy and then this guy. When you have three people talking it becomes very difficult. Just one more character and it compounds the problem of identification. And then you have many more "he saids" "she saids" in it.

I learned something from Raymond Carver about "he said" -- using the verb "said." And very often Carver would use, within a paragraph, "said" two or even three times. And you know it's not for identification. It's continuing -- the dialogue is continuing. But it's in there for a beat -- beats -- so that you'll just pause a moment before the next -- a bigger beat than a period, you know.

GROSS: Now you don't have to worry about the "he said" type of thing if you're writing a screenplay. It's just the person speaking, a colon, and then the dialogue they speak.


GROSS: Do you like that?

LEONARD: Well, I don't like writing screenplays so I stopped doing it. I need -- I had to write screenplays, but selling my material to -- having it optioned had bought in Hollywood and then writing screenplays supported my book writing for 15 to 20 years.

But finally I got to the point where I didn't have to write screenplays so I didn't have to listen to all the various ideas that came off the tops of heads at story conferences. And I could just go home then, I mean, sit home then and write my book without anyone telling me what to do, and knowing that it's going to sell.

I mean, knowing at least that the publisher is going to buy it. Knowing that my editor likes what I do. And knowing that I've got more satisfaction out of writing a book than I ever will a screenplay. That was a simple decision to make.

GROSS: If there weren't people telling you want to do in the movie world and if you had complete independence, would you want to write more screenplays? And I ask that because in some ways you seem perfect for the part. Since screenplays are dialog and that's something you're so good at.

LEONARD: I know but it's deceiving, because when you take my manuscript -- 350 page manuscript -- and you bring it down to 120 page shooting script, an awful lot of the good stuff's gone. You come down to plot. And this is what interests Hollywood, plot. And plot, to me, is not what makes my book move.

It's the characters. The characters are the most important element: how they interact, who they are, what they think, even little set pieces. Things that are part of their back stories. Those are all much more interesting to me than what's going to happen. Although I know by now how to write it in such a way that you leave off before something happens and you go to another scene.

I mean, in a way it's kind of in a movie format, you know, that you end with the question. You don't really know what's -- but what happens is not the most important thing about the book. It's how they get there. It's the ride -- it's the ride not the -- finally the -- where you arrive at.

GROSS: In your three recent movies, "Get Shorty," "Jackie Brown," and "Out Of Sight," did you work on the screenplays at all?

LEONARD: No, I didn't. I did -- Scott Frank, who is up for an award for "Out Of Sight" -- an Oscar -- he and I disagreed on certain things. He would call me while -- we became friends when he was doing -- when they were shooting "Get Shorty."

GROSS: I would just say he wrote the screen adaptation of "Out Of Sight."

LEONARD: Yeah. Mmm-hmm. And because we were friends now he would call me up when he was writing "Out Of Sight" and tell me -- to tell me where he was having problems, or just in general what he was doing. And a couple places we disagreed. The Albert Brooks character, for example, in the movie he wanted to bring in and do scenes with him.

Whereas in the book he's only in a back store. He's only told about. And I said I don't think that it's necessary to bring the character in. The fact that there's a lot of money at his house that is the pie in the sky for the characters who want to go and steal it. And that's all really you need.

And I didn't agree with his idea for the ending where -- because I said it's the woman's -- it's the federal marshal -- it's her story not his. And I think you should end with her and her attitude about the affair she had with him. And Scott Frank said, yeah, well, it's her book but it's his movie because he's George Clooney. And he's going to sell more tickets than Jennifer Lopez.

But neither one of them sold that many tickets. And he was right -- he was right about the ending, and he was right about Albert Brooks' presence in the movie. I think it worked and I told him.

GROSS: My guest is Elmore Leonard. His new novel, "Be Cool," is a sequel to "Get Shorty." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Elmore Leonard. His new novel, "Be Cool," is a sequel to "Get Shorty."

Now, let me ask you about the screen adaptation of "Rum Punch," which was Quentin Tarantino's movie "Jackie Brown."


GROSS: This is one of those rare times in movie history when the novel has a pretty happy ending, where the couple get -- the two people -- the man and the woman get together. And in "Jackie Brown," the movie adaptation, they don't get together.

LEONARD: Well, I'm not sure that in the book they get together. I think there's a possibility, but it's still up in the air. Is he going to go with her or not? She's got all the money in the car, and is he going to go with her? I don't think it's that clear in the book, because I wasn't sure myself.

GROSS: You're the guy who knows. So I defer to you on this one.

LEONARD: I remember when my editor at Delacorte read the manuscript and she said, "you know, it ends awfully abruptly." I said, "I know it does, but it's over." And she said, "well, why don't you just let it coast a little bit. Just a page or so."

Well, without adding any new material, which I did, so then I took the two pages -- the final two pages -- and rewrote them as three pages and just kind of -- I don't know exactly what I did, but it didn't have the same -- it still has kind of an abrupt feeling, but it wasn't as abrupt as the original manuscript.

In the screen version now, which I think is the most closely adapted of any of my -- of any of mine that have been made into movies -- that Quentin's screenplay expanded the a little bit on scenes. He took his time with it. And he told me this is what he was going to do, that the first half of the picture is getting to know the characters and then finally we will get them into action.

And I resented the fact that some of the critics said, well, it's too long. Too long -- it wasn't too long for Quentin, and he's the one who's making the picture. This is his movie. It's like a painting. It's like looking at a painting on a wall -- oh, it's too wide. You ought to cut about to feet off the right hand side.

This is the artist's -- this is his baby. This is what he did, what he is proud of. And I thought the movie was great. I loved it.

GROSS: I loved it too. One of the really nice things about the movie is the two romantic leads in it are Robert Forster and Pam Grier. They're both middle age -- they'd be over the hill by Hollywood standards, right?


GROSS: And there's something just like so touching about the relationship of these two really hard boiled people with each other.

LEONARD: Well, that was the idea, that it is a romance. He called me two years before he started -- he was going to do a book of mine called "Kill Shot," but then he decided -- he called me up and said, "I've decided to do "Rum Punch" because it's the best woman's part I've seen in a long time."

And he had already thought of Robert Forster for the bail bondsman. Didn't mention though -- didn't mention Pam Grier. And he must have had her in mind, but he didn't want to spring that on me, I don't think, yet. Because then just before he went into production he called me up and said, "I've been afraid to call you for the last year."

And I said, "why because you're changing the title and you're making the lead a black woman? And he said, "yeah." I said, "well, I like Pam Grier and I like your movies so go ahead do whatever you want. It's in your hands, I'm not going to make any suggestions."

GROSS: Is there a scene in any of the recent film adaptations of your novels where you particularly liked hearing the actor doing lines that are straight out of your book?

LEONARD: Yeah, in "Rum Punch" -- in "Jackie Brown" when Sam Jackson was trying to get -- I forgot who it was -- to get into the trunk of the car. And Quentin liked that so much he even elaborated on it. The scene is longer in the movie than it is in the book. It's usually the other way around. I thought that worked extremely well.

GROSS: What did you like about it?

LEONARD: Well, just the way -- I just felt that these two guys were really -- they were really into it. I mean, they were really doing it. They were really those characters. They were so believable to me.

GROSS: And how much of that was improvised, how much of it came right out of the book?

LEONARD: Well, I was on the set when they were shooting that scene, and there were -- they started to improvise and Quentin said, "no, stay with the lines as they're written. You can improvise later." And he made sure that the characters stayed with his dialogue. Then he would let them try things.

And it was the same way with Barry Sonnenfeld in "Get Shorty." The actors had to stay with the words as written. Because what happens is when actors begin to make up their own lines, they're usually lines that you thought of and discarded as being trite or too obvious.

It's funny, in story meetings you -- the studio executive will come up with what he thinks is a great idea. He doesn't realize that in writing a book over a period of six or seven months that you've thought of all these ideas and you've discarded them. And you've come up with what you believe is the best idea to make the story work, you know.

GROSS: I want to play some of that scene with Samuel Jackson getting Chris Tucker into the trunk from "Jackie Brown." The language is filled with expletives, which we're going to have to bleep out. How come you use so many expletives in your dialogue?

LEONARD: Because that's the way those people talk.


I remember my mother saying, "oh, that's terrible." I said, "mother, I don't talk like that, but they do. What am I going to do?" It's a fact. But I think it really does spark it up though. There's no question about it. And it's not descriptive at all. They're are sounds but they're emphatic sounds.

GROSS: Here's Samuel Jackson getting Chris Tucker into the trunk with lots of expletives from "Jackie Brown." Elmore Leonard, thank you very much.

LEONARD: Thank you, Terry.


CHRIS TUCKER, ACTOR: Man, you must be out of your (expletive) mind if you think I'm going to get in this dirty ass trunk.

SAMUEL JACKSON, ACTOR: You ain't going nowhere but to Koreatown, man. You ain't going to be in here no more than 10 minutes.

TUCKER: Man, I ain't riding in no (expletive) trunk for no minutes, man. Why I can't ride up front with you?

JACKSON: You can't ride up front with me. The surprise element is 90 percent of it.

TUCKER: I'm sorry, man, but I ain't getting in no (expletive) trunk.

JACKSON: I can't believe you do me like this.

TUCKER: Do you like what? Man, I just ain't climbing in no trunk.

GROSS: Elmore Leonard's new novel is called "Be Cool."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Elmore Leonard
High: Novelist Elmore Leonard. "Be Cool" is his newest book. It continues the story of Chili Palmer, the small time Brooklyn crook in "Get Shorty," who became a Hollywood movie producer. John Travolta played Chili in the movie version. "Be Cool" has Palmer dabbling in the music industry. It's also soon to be a new film.
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Lifestyle; Culture; Elmore Leonard

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Elmore Leonard

Date: FEBRUARY 24, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 022403NP.217
Head: Maureen Corrigan
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Sebastian Faulks has just published a new novel called "Charlotte Gray." It's the last in a trilogy of novels about France, which includes the bestseller about World War I, "Birdsong." Book critic Maureen Corrigan says that with his new novel Faulks has written himself into hostile territory for his imagination.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Two summers ago I took my first trip to Paris. Of course I saw a few museums and cathedrals, but I would have managed to see even more sites if I hadn't squandered valuable hours browsing around in, what else, bookstores.

I particularly remember one damp happy afternoon spent in the English language bookstore called the Village Voice. I was rooting around a table filled with new paperbacks, and I picked up "Birdsong," Sebastian Faulks much acclaimed novel about World War I partly set in the bloody trenches of France.

"C'est magnifique!" Exclaimed the book store clerk. And then she smiled and nodded her head up and down vigorously at me when she saw that even that elementary French phrase struck fear into my heart. I bought that paperback edition of "Birdsong," even though I was pretty certain that the hard cover was buried in my "must read" pile back home, because I was so grateful for that moment of communion between book lovers who didn't speak the same language

Well, I don't think they'll be recommending Faulks' new novel, "Charlotte Gray," at the Village Voice or any other bookstore in Paris this year. The strongest aspect of this very uneven novel is its nuanced rendering of "Real Politique" (ph) in France during the German occupation. And the account isn't flattering to the French.

While Faulks does scatter a few resistance fighters in black berets throughout his story, most of his ordinary French characters direct their contempt not at the Germans, but at Jews, the English and homegrown Communists. In the pragmatic view of the French person in the street here, the Vichy government represents the last stand against Bolshevism.

As one character puts it, "being occupied by a well behaved foreign power would enable France to put in place peacefully the conservative internal reforms it had long needed." Unfortunately, the political picture Faulks paints of wartime France is just about the only part of his novel that doesn't succumb to stereotype.

In fact, long stretches of "Charlotte Gray" read like Danielle Steele goes to war. The novel opens in early 1942. Night has fallen and a daredevil RAF airman named Peter Gregory is climbing into his Spitfire, off to fly yet another bombing run over France. Meanwhile, at a train station in Scotland a young woman named Charlotte Gray bids her mother farewell as she leaves for London to find some kind of work to help the war effort.

You guessed it: Peter and Charlotte meet and fall in love. Then his plane is downed behind enemy lines, and Charlotte, whose fluent French has qualified her as a courier for some very hush hush military intelligence agency, resolves to sneak into France to rescue him.

Faulks' language is as melodramatic as his plot. Before flying his last mission, Peter suffers an attack of nerves and we're told that "he had not been able to absorb, as well as he had thought, the things the last two years had shown him. He was still young and he had seen in that short time things that normally only old men knew. And then there had come this woman."

Listen, at the end of that passage you can hear the made-for-TV miniseries soundtrack clashing to crescendo right before the commercial break. I'll read almost any story about World War II, and "Charlotte Gray" certainly isn't the silliest I've sped through. But what happened to Sebastian Faulks?

"Birdsong" was so discerning, so finely imagined, so unexpected. Occasionally, you sense Faulks' old writerly intelligence at work here. But mostly, in the hackneyed parlance of this novel, it's gone missing.

Maybe World War II just isn't Faulks' war. It's a lit-crit commonplace to say that World War I inspired great poetry, while the Second World War produced great prose. "Birdsong" was a great poetic novel. I'm afraid "Charlotte Gray" is merely prosaic.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "Charlotte Gray" by Sebastian Faulks.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "Charlotte Gray," the new novel by Sebastian Faulks.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Maureen Corrigan; Sebastian Faulks

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Maureen Corrigan
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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