Skip to main content

An Oscar with your 'Ratatouille'?

Ratatouille, an animated film about a rat who becomes a chef in a Parisian restaurant, is nominated for five Academy Awards, including best animated feature. Director/writer Brad Bird and comedian/actor Patton Oswalt chat about making a believable fantasy film.

06:48

Other segments from the episode on February 22, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 22, 2008: Interview with Paul Thomas Anderson; Interview with David Croneberg and Viggo Mortensen; Interview with Brad Bird and Patton Oswalt; Interview with…

Transcript

DATE February 22, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Paul Thomas Anderson on his film "There Will Be Blood"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We've got a show full of Oscar nominees.

(Soundbite from "There Will Be Blood")

Mr. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Ladies and gentlemen, if I say
I'm an oilman, you will agree. I've traveled across half our state to be here
and to see about this land. I'm a family man. This is my son and my partner,
H.W. Plainview. I have many wells flowing at many thousand barrels per day.
I can guarantee to start drilling and to put up the cash to back my word.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Daniel Day-Lewis as an oil man during the early days of the oil
industry in "There Will Be Blood." It's nominated for eight Oscars, including
Best Picture and Best Director. Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed the
film. he also made "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia" and "Punch Drunk Love."

"There Will Be Blood" is loosely based on the 1927 novel "Oil" by Upton
Sinclair, and it's set in California in the early days of the oil industry. I
spoke with Anderson in December.

You had to learn so much to recreate the period, and you had to learn a lot
about the early days of oil exploration. Let's talk a little bit about that.
I mean, like in the early part of the film, when the Daniel Day-Lewis
character is first learning how to dig for oil, I mean, the technology is
basically like a bucket on a pulley that he pulls up by hand.

Mr. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON: Yeah.

GROSS: And then he deposits the oil in a big puddle by the well.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, that's it.

GROSS: Yeah. And then things kind of like grow a little from there. Go
ahead.

Mr. ANDERSON: That's, I mean, all that stuff just comes from the written
descriptions of how Edward Doheny first found oil right near Dodgers Stadium
near downtown LA, essentially using what they knew of silver miners, which is
you'd dig a hole. And then they realized they were down about, you know, 50,
60 feet and that they were choking on the fumes. They say, `Well, we can't be
down here to get this stuff up out of here. How are we going to do it?' And
they built an A-frame, you know, with a 50-foot eucalyptus tree that they'd
shaved down and were just trying to drive it into the ground. I mean, these
really primitive, primitive techniques.

And the funny thing is, as much as it's changed, it's still kind of the same
as it is today, just driving an enormous pole into the ground over and over
and over again until, you know, you poke the monster enough and it erupts.

GROSS: There are some really horrifying accidents that happened during the
course of the movie while people are digging for oil. Did you study up on
what typical accidents were like in those early oil days?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, we read about a few, you know, and then they're all so
graphic. I mean, there were a few written about in Upton Sinclair's book, and
then a few just from various other sources that we had. But then when we
built the derrick and we got out there, and we had this terrific guy named Jim
Farmer, who's an old oilman who came out to help us out with some of the
details of the drilling. And, boy, once we met him, I mean, the stories just
came fast and furious, you know, I mean, to the point where you just had kind
of had enough, you know, I don't need to hear about one more accident, you
know, but quite honestly, you were aware of the dangers every single second;
particularly when you've got a film crew around, you know, just everything was
dangerous. The danger that something was going fall, the danger that your
fingers were going to get caught somewhere. I mean, it's horribly dangerous
labor, and particularly out there where I think, at the time, these oil guys
were working 12 hours shifts. So for 12 hours, they would work, and then
they'd go to wherever the bar was and drink for 10 hours, sleep for two hours,
probably stop at church on the way in, then do it all over again, you know.
So not only is there the danger just in general, but factor in booze and heat
and all the rest and it's just amazing.

GROSS: So is one of the accidents in the movie based on a story that you were
told about a real accident or something that you read?

Mr. ANDERSON: The bit falling was a character named Joe Gunda who you met
briefly, the bits fall and he's down in a cellar, which is a place where they
sort of collect the mud. That was from the Upton Sinclair book, where I first
read it. And then talking to some of our old-timers and oil guys, they would
just tell us endless stories about bits falling, guys drowning in the mud,
maybe they'd get hit in the head by something that fell, and that wouldn't be
what killed them, but, you know, drowning in this mud would be the thing that
got them. Not to mention the work that they were doing, you know, high up.
These derricks were 80 feet tall. So, you know, from time to time, people
would fall.

And then, I mean, and we're not even factoring in what happens when these
things do come in. Ideally for them, they knew when they were coming in.
They knew they'd sort of hit a certain sand that they were looking at and
smelling and saying, `OK. We're very close.' And they could prepare however
they did prepare for the gusher to come in. But those times when a gusher
would come in and they didn't know it, you were in trouble. You were in a lot
of trouble, particularly if you light on fire, and anything could light it on
fire. Just a rock shooting up out of the ground could be a spark that could
catch a flame.

GROSS: And that happens in the movie, and there's this huge fire that erupts
after the gusher starts gushing. And I'm thinking about how challenging that
scene must have been to create. First of all, I don't know if an oil fire
burns differently than, say, a wood fire or any other fire, and if you had to
make sure that you were creating an oil fire so that the fire would look
authentic.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, well, black smoke is the key, you know. Oil burns
black, and we were using diesel fuel, and it burned pretty darn close to how
real crude oil would burn. We augmented it a little bit with some digital
effects, just helping to kind of darken it a little bit, but it sure felt like
the real thing when we did it, you know. We had a special effects guy,
terrific guy named Steve Cremin, whose job it was to get thousands of gallons
of diesel fuel spouting up in the air and then to light it on fire. And he
said to us, you know, `There's no--I cannot guarantee that I can put this fire
out. I can do it and I can turn it off, but once that derrick catches on
fire, there's a chance I might not be able to put it out.' We thought he was
just playing it safe, you know, that that would be--but the second we lit the
match, it was clear there was no way we were going to be able to put it out
because the wood was so dry. There was so much gasoline. And we were
essentially forced to do that entire sequence within two takes in about 45
minutes before the derrick tumbled to the ground.

GROSS: And the fire's alive. I mean, so you're shooting something that has
like a life of its own.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah. Yeah. It doesn't take direction very well.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. ANDERSON: But that's what's fun about it, too, you know. It's great. I
mean, we were so nervous leading up to lighting that fire because, first of
all, we were in love with our derrick. You know, we were so proud of it. And
we knew we were going to be completely melancholy when it was gone. Mixed in
with it, we were all completely petrified at the prospect of screwing it up.
I mean, what are you going to do? We're not going to build it again. That
wasn't going to happen, you know.

And obviously we were pretty careful. We weren't going to do it if the wind
was blowing too much. But to be really honest with you, it was kind of one of
the benefits of shooting out in west Texas, because they're a lot looser out
there, you know. I don't think we could have done anything like that in
California. They would have had a heart attack out there.

GROSS: Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed "There Will Be Blood," which
is nominated for eight Oscars.

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

Interview: David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen on "Eastern
"Promises"
TERRY GROSS, host:

We're featuring Oscar nominees on our show today. Viggo Mortensen is up for
Best Actor for his performance in "Eastern Promises." It's directed by David
Cronenberg, who also directed Mortensen in "A History of Violence." I spoke
with them both in September.

"Eastern Promises" is a thriller set in London about a nurse midwife who
delivers a baby while the mother dies in childbirth. Tracking down the baby's
extended family leads the midwife to a man she doesn't realize is a Russian
crime boss.

In this scene, the crime boss' driver, who also does the family's dirty work,
is driving the midwife home. The menacing-looking driver is played by Viggo
Mortensen; the nurse is played by Naomi Watts.

(Soundbite of "Eastern Promises")

Ms. NAOMI WATTS: (As Anna) Have you ever met a girl called Tatiana?

Mr. VIGGO MORTENSEN: (As Nikolai) I made love to the girl's called Tatiana.

Ms. WATTS: (As Anna) She was pregnant.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Nikolai) Ah. In that case, no, I never heard of her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WATTS: (As Anna) She died on my shift.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Nikolai) But I thought you did birth.

Ms. WATTS: (As Anna) Sometimes birth and death go together. She came in
with needle punctures all over both arms, probably a prostitute at the age 14.
Do you think Semyon...(unintelligible)...knew her?

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Nikolai) I am driver. I go left, I go right, I go
straight ahead. That's it.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Viggo Mortensen, you not only had to learn a Russian accent for the
movie, you have to speak with a really commanding presence and sometimes a
very menacing voice, which is totally unlike how you're speaking now. You
sound very soft-spoken, completely nonthreatening the way you're speaking now.
Would you talk a little bit about what you did vocally, both in terms of the
accent but also in terms of the menace that your voice sometimes assumes?

Mr. VIGGO MORTENSEN: Well, there's one thing that I've noticed, or that has
been brought to my attention, and it makes sense to me, you know. People have
said--I speak Spanish because I was raised in a, you know, until I was 11,
mostly in a Spanish-speaking country, in Argentina, so I speak Spanish like I
do English. And also because of my family and living there I speak Danish,
but when I speak Spanish, for example, people have said to me, `You sound
different. You seem--not just the words, but the tone and your body language
is different.'

GROSS: Hm.

Mr. MORTENSEN: And it's something that--the language informs you, the sounds
you make and the ideas behind them, the sort of concepts that are particular
to a culture and a language change the way you present yourself, even without
you realizing it. It helps you. It does a lot of the work for you. And the
language in this case really helped. And there are--you know, I had the
advantage from speaking some Latin language that certain R sounds or hard J
sounds, I could get to them easier. But there are some vowel sounds or
combination of sounds that are particular to Russian--and also Ukrainian,
which I speak a little bit of in the movie, although you wouldn't know that
there's a transition into Ukrainian briefly that a Russian would know or
Ukrainian, But those sounds were a little harder to get, the ones that are
very specific. But we eventually got there.

It was the effort of getting there that also--I just found myself moving
differently and seeming different when I was concentrating on getting those
sounds right.

Mr. DAVID CRONENBERG: It didn't surprise me to finally realize that he spoke
fluent Spanish and Danish and pretty good French and some Italian, some
German, maybe. And also, for both movies--more for this one, but even for
"History of Violence"--accent, language, was a key thing...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CRONENBERG: In a weird way "Eastern Promises" is about language. And to
a lesser extent, but still important, "History of Violence" was, too. Now,
Viggo's really doing two accents in "History of Violence" because the sort of
Indiana accent is not his natural accent, and it's very subtle. And then
there's the Philly accent that comes later that is, you know, also extremely
subtle but really important.

And then once we'd worked together, I realized that he wasn't just good, he
was great, I have to say. And so then, of course, he was a marked man for me.
Because now I want him to be in every movie that I do. When I was reading
"Eastern Promises" and reading the role of Nikolai, it reminded me that Viggo
had always seemed to me to have a Slavic element to his looks, to his face, to
his cheekbones, and I don't know whether that's Danish and some great
grandmother was messing around with Russians, or I don't know. You never
know.

And I had thought that when we were shooting "History," because a director has
a relationship with an actor that's really quite bizarre and not much known
which continues beyond the actor's actual physical presence. You know, I'm in
the editing room and I'm obsessively looking at my actors' faces...

GROSS: Oh, sure, yeah.

Mr. CRONENBERG: Looking for the best take, the most subtle intonations of
their voice, and sometimes I'm even taking sounds from one take and putting
them in the mouth of another take. So you become incredibly sensitized to an
actor's face and physical presence and voice, and so all of that that I'd gone
through with Viggo in "History of Violence" really made me feel that he was
absolutely the perfect guy for Nikolai.

GROSS: David Cronenberg directed "Eastern Promises." Viggo Mortensen is
nominated for Best Actor for his performance in the film.

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

Interview: Director Brad Bird and actor Patton Oswalt on
"Ratatouille"
TERRY GROSS, host:

"Ratatouille" is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Animated Feature
Film. In June, I spoke with Brad Bird, the film's writer and director, and
Patton Oswalt, the comic and actor who does the voice of the main character,
Remy. Remy is a rat who yearns to be a chef. Here's a scene from
"Ratatouille." Remy is talking to the ghost of the late celebrated chef and
restaurant owner Gusteau in the rafters of Gusteau's old restaurant. They're
looking down into the kitchen, where the kitchen porter has accidentally
knocked the soup pot from the stove and is desperately trying to recreate the
soup, throwing everything in sight into the pot. Gusteau speaks first.

(Soundbite of "Ratatouille")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BRAD GARRETT: (As Gusteau) Now, who is that?

Mr. PATTON OSWALT: (As Remy) Oh, him? He's nobody.

Mr. GARRETT: (As Gusteau) Not nobody. He is part of the kitchen.

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) But he's a plongeur or something. He washes dishes or
takes out the garbage. He doesn't cook.

Mr. GARRETT: (As Gusteau) But he could.

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) Uh, no.

Mr. GARRETT: (As Gusteau) How do you know? What do I always say? Anyone
can cook.

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) Well, yeah, anyone can. That doesn't mean that anyone
should.

Mr. GARRETT: (As Gusteau) Well, that is not stopping him. See?

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) Wh--no! No! No, this is terrible! He's ruining the
soup and nobody's noticing? It's your restaurant. Do something!

Mr. GARRETT: (As Gusteau) What can I do? I am a figment of your
imagination.

Mr. OSWALT: (As Remy) But he's ruining the soup! We've got to tell someone.
He's...

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of something falling with a clunk, splash)

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Patton, what was your reaction when you got the call saying, `You're
perfect to play a rat.'

Mr. PATTON OSWALT: I think my reaction was more--I wasn't even concentrating
on, `well, I'm going to be a rat,' was that I had gotten a call from Pixar and
it was a Pixar movie being directed by Brad Bird, because I'm such a Pixar fan
from back in the day. I mean, the short films "Luxo Jr." and "Red's Dream," I
would see them at animation festivals, and then I watched all the Pixar films.

Mr. BRAD BIRD: You're a nerd, Pat.

Mr. OSWALT: I'm--oh yeah, I'm a huge Pixar nerd. So it's like asking, you
know, a guy--it's like asking some weird "Star Trek" shut-in, `Hey, would you
like to play Kirk's son?' `Excuse me? What? Oh, all right, you know.' You
can't even--I couldn't even get my mind around that I was doing this.
Luckily, it was a two-year process of doing the voice, so I've been able to
get my footing at this point. You know, if it had been quicker, I would be
the worst guy to promote this movie...

GROSS: Brad...

Mr. OSWALT: ...because I would just be me going, `I can't believe I met Brad
Bird and we talked and we had sandwiches. OK, so this is weird.' It would be
so pathetic. You wouldn't want to talk to me right now.

GROSS: Brad Bird, did you cast Patton Oswalt? And what made you think that
his voice would be perfect for the main rat?

Mr. BIRD: Well, actually, you know, he was talking. I heard this comedy
routine he did, "Black Angus" about Black Angus, and he was so volatile about
food and so passionate and funny about it, you know, it just struck me,
`That's the character.' You know? He's so volatile, but in a good way. I
mean, you know, Patton has very strong opinions about anything and he'll let
you know, and when he loves something, he "loooves" it, and when he hates
something, he "haaates" it. And that kind of extreme emotion is perfect for
Remy, you know.

GROSS: Patton, can you do a little bit of the Black Angus bit that Brad Bird
heard you do?

Mr. OSWALT: Yes, it is very early in LA. I'll try to do it with the same
energy that he heard it, but basically it's about how the commercials for the
Black Angus restaurant. And Black Angus used to be a very friendly
restaurant, where, `Come in and have a steak and have a baked potato. It will
be a good time.' And you go, `That sounds fine.' And then over the past few
years the commercials have turned into this like gauntlet of threatening food
where it doesn't even look pleasant any more. And there's this--it sounds
like an initiation rite.

(In character) Now at Black Angus we'll start you off with an appetizer
platter featuring five jumbo deep fried gulf shrimp, served with a side of our
butter and cheese cream soup, and 15 of our potato bacon bombs and a big bowl
of pork cracklins, with our cheesy butter sauce.

Mr. BIRD: And what the hell? A couple of corn dogs.

Mr. OSWALT: Exactly! I mean, you're like, you know, `We're each going to
split that.'

(In character) No! You'll each get your own! Then we'll take you to our
mile-long soup and salad bar with our he-man five head of iceberg lettuce
salad served in a canoe, with 18 pounds of ranch dressing, and what the heck,
four cheeseburgers.

Like, `Oh man, you know what? I just--how about I'll just get a little mixed
green salad?

(In character) Hey, I'll put on a dress and curtsy before I bring you a mixed
green, buddy!

`Uh, why are you yelling at me?'

And it just keeps--it just never ends.

Mr. BIRD: Yeah.

GROSS: Brad Bird, why did that make you think of the refined rat in your
movie?

Mr. BIRD: You know, I don't know. I think it was the passion that I was
responding to more than anything else. The fact that he could get so wound up
about the food, you know, because, you know, Patton also talked about how he
just loves steak, you know? And...

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

Mr. BIRD: The weird thing is I didn't really grok that Patton was a foodie.
That was just one of many routines that...

Mr. OSWALT: Did you just say grok? You just said...

Mr. BIRD: Grok. That's a Steve Jobs word, by the way.

Mr. OSWALT: You called me a nerd and you said grok?

GROSS: It precedes...

Mr. BIRD: Hey, that's a Steve Jobs word...

GROSS: It precedes Steve Jobs, doesn't it?

Mr. BIRD: ...and I learned it from Steve Jobs.

GROSS: Isn't that from like Vonnegut or something? Is it...

Mr. OSWALT: I think it's Heinlein.

Mr. BIRD: I don't know. Steve used it and..

GROSS: No, oh, it's Heinlein. Robert Heinlein. Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: Oh, I just nerded out again!

Mr. BIRD: You outnerded me, yes.

Mr. OSWALT: Like, excuse me, Terry. No, it's Heinlein, not Vonnegut.
Excuse me, no, but you're wrong.

Mr. BIRD: Oh yeah. Isn't that Lovecraft? Yeah.

Mr. OSWALT: Grok.

Mr. BIRD: Yeah. No, I actually heard that from Steve Jobs. So, yeah, OK.
So Steve uses that word.

Mr. OSWALT: Oh, OK, good.

Mr. BIRD: But I didn't know that he was a foodie. We actually hired him and
he was working before I knew that he was--this is like a major thing for
Patton. If he goes to any town, he scouts out what is the most happening
restaurant in that town...

Mr. OSWALT: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BIRD: ...and he will send you a menu. I mean, he will e-mail you...

Mr. OSWALT: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Mr. BIRD: ...the menu from a great restaurant, and he's e-mailed me a few.
And he'll like say...

Mr. OSWALT: Yeah.

Mr. BIRD: ...`Order this!'

Mr. OSWALT: Oh, yeah.

Mr. BIRD: And, you know, I mean, he's a major foodie, and that's perfect.
But we didn't know it when we hired him.

GROSS: Brad Bird wrote and directed "Ratatouille;" Patton Oswalt does the
voice of the main character, Remy. "Ratatouille" is nominated for five
Oscars, including Best Animated Film.

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

Interview: Writer/director Tamara Jenkins on "The Savages"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're featuring Oscar nominees on
today's show. "The Savages" has two nominations, Best Actress and Best
Original Screenplay. I spoke with Tamara Jenkins, the writer and director of
the film. Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as Wendy and Jon
Savage, siblings who have just found out their estranged father has dementia.
After they move him into a nursing home, Wendy insists on trying to get him
into a more up-scale place. During the screening process, Wendy makes it seem
as if her father is more mentally with it than he really is.

Here's the scene right after that, when Wendy and Jon are outside arguing.

(Soundbite of "The Savages")

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) What'd you say to them?

Ms. LAURA LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) I said he was pretty good except he goes
in and out every once in a while.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) "In and out"? Wendy, the man's got dementia.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) I--I--I know, but they only had beds for
people who are more independent. I thought if we could just get him in there.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Now, why are you wasting our time on fantasies?

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) She said she would put him on one of the
waiting lists! I mean, she--Jesus! I'm just doing it for dad.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Dad's not the one that has a problem with the
Valley View!

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) No, I'm just trying to improve his situation.
Is that a crime?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) There's nothing wrong with dad's situation!
Dad's situation is fine. But he's never going to adjust to it if we keep
yanking him out of there. All right, and actually, this upward mobility
fixation of yours? It's counterproductive and, frankly, pretty selfish.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) Selfish?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Yeah. Because it's not about dad. It's about
you. You and your guilt. That's what these places prey upon.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) I....

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) I happen to think it's nicer here.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Of course you do. Because you're the consumer
they want to target. You're the guilty demographic. The landscaping? The
neighborhoods of care? They're not for the residents; they're for the
relatives, people like you and me who don't want to admit to what's really
going on here.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) Which is what, Jon?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) People are dying, Wendy! Right inside that
beautiful building right now, it's a...(word censored by station)...horror
show!

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Tamara Jenkins, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's a pleasure to have
you on the show. Love the film.

Ms. TAMARA JENKINS: Oh, thank you.

GROSS: You know, I was telling a friend about your movie "The Savages," and I
said something like, `Well, it's a movie about two adult children who are kind
of estranged from each other who get together to take care of the father
they're kind of estranged from, who now has dementia and has to be taken to a
nursing home.' And he said...

Ms. JENKINS: And they said, `I do not want to go see this.'

GROSS: No, wait, and I said, `And it's really funny.' And they looked at me,
they were so puzzled. And I thought, like, when you sat down and knew you
were making a comedy--and it's not like a slapstick comedy, but, I mean,
there's parts of it that are just like really funny--how do you figure out
where the humor is in such a really sad situation?

Ms. JENKINS: I mean, I guess a couple things. I think it's a sort of
sensibility that is kind of part of my DNA or the way that I see, and I don't
really separate--I mean, the world separates comedies from tragedies and, you
know, dramas from farces, but I actually think that if you are paying close
attention in life that you'll see that they actually are operating in stereo
most of the time, if you kind of look underneath, you know, if you look under
the tablecloth or look through the curtains or, you know, if you're sort of
attentive, you can kind of hear under tragedy is a kind of human farce
happening also.

GROSS: One of the things the daughter has to do is fly with her father from
Sun City, where he'd been living in a retirement community...

Ms. JENKINS: Yes.

GROSS: ...to Buffalo, New York, where her brother teaches and, you know,
she's taking him to a nursing home in Buffalo.

Ms. JENKINS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Now, I know from our previous interview that you flew with your
father...

Ms. JENKINS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...to assisted living or nursing home, I'm not sure which.

Ms. JENKINS: Right.

GROSS: But what was your experience like flying with him on the plane, and
how incapacitated was he at that point when you were flying with him? Like,
that's such a difficult thing to do, and I think it's something so many people
have faced, making a really difficult trip, yeah.

Ms. JENKINS: Yeah, and it's a sort of--and it's kind of almost this, you
know, invisible thing. Until you've had the experience, I don't think you
quite--and now anytime I'm on an airplane and I see--I feel like I see it all
the time now, like suddenly my, you know, eyes--I've woken up. And I think
that I didn't quite, as, you know, Wendy doesn't quite, understand the
complexity of the task at hand. Besides the emotional impact of, you know,
what she's doing, I don't think she even realizes sort of the physical burden
of transporting someone who kind of can't take care of themselves. And I
think the sort of gravity of that becomes more and more clear.

GROSS: When your father had dementia, were there certain things that were
like essential, deep parts of his personality that became more pronounced,
even if they were different during his dementia period than they were before?

Ms. JENKINS: Yeah, it was a very--with both of my family members who
suffered from dementia, it almost felt like--sometimes it felt like an
amplification of them in this, you know, like the volume sort of being turned
up on aspects of their personality that might've been slightly more buried.
It was very heightened, but it didn't feel unfamiliar, their behavior.

GROSS: And what was it for your father? Which qualities?

Ms. JENKINS: I think it was a kind of volatility that was always there that
just seemed louder and more--the swings of it were sort of really strong and
striking. And also that sort of interesting thing about someone with dementia
where they sort of retreat. They retreat and you feel like they're not
present, and then they will just wow you with some zinger. Like, you didn't
even know they were there. You didn't know that they were present, and then
some, almost like a punchline, comes flying through the night, and you can't
believe it. So my father was actually really funny, and sometimes out of the
blackness of dementia, he'd just say something and slay you.

GROSS: Now, you cast Philip Bosco to play the father, and he's really
terrific in the role, a very kind of crusty, sometimes bitter and sometimes
just like really, really sad. And I guess I'm curious what the audition was
like, or whether you just kind of said, `You got the role.' Or whether there
was an audition.

Ms. JENKINS: No, there was an audition, and I was very concerned about the
casting of the part, and it was very important to me that he wasn't
trivialized, that the character wasn't trivialized as a bastard with a twinkle
in his eye. I just didn't want that cute-ification that I think often occurs
with difficult old men, just felt like that would be a disaster, and I wanted
it to be very honest.

And so I was reading people, and my casting director, Jeanne McCarthy,
suggested Phil Bosco. And I was being a really dumb literal director-person,
and I was thinking, `Oh, Phil Bosco, he plays judges and, you know, kind of
well-heeled patriarches, and he does Shaw, and he's too fancy.' Anyway, in
walks Phil Bosco, and he sat down in our little room, very small room where we
were reading people, and he read with my casting director, and it was the
scene in the diner where the kids ask him if, you know, `Dad, you know, what
would happen if you were in a coma?' He says, `What the hell kind of question
is that?' `You know, the place, the Valley View, they need it for their
records.' `You know, what the hell kind of hotel is it?' `Dad, it's not a
hotel, it's a nursing home.'

So he was reading the scene, and when Jeanne, who was playing opposite him,
kind of, you know, reads the line, `Dad, it's, you know, not a hotel, it's a
nursing home,' I think inside that pause, the way he was sort of absorbing
that information, was quite beautiful and stunning. And he wasn't, you know,
cloying for--he wasn't begging for sympathy, he was just blunt and tough and
just playing it so truthfully and so straight, I really was kind of nuts for
him. And I very unprofessionally leapt up and hugged him after his audition.
And he kind of straightened himself up and started heading towards the door,
and I think that he became very suspicious of, `What kind of movie is this?'
Directors don't usually leap up and hug people after readings. And he turned
around on his way out and--just to make sure that it wasn't some fly-by-night
operation--he said, `So Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, they're
attached to be in this, right?' I think he thought--and I said, `No, no, no,
really. Really, I swear. This is very professional.' But I think he was
suspicious, rightly so.

GROSS: I love that scene because, you know, as you say, he doesn't like play
it for pathos or sympathy or anything. By the end of the scene he's yelling
at the two kids that they're idiots, you know?

Ms. JENKINS: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: It's a great scene. Why don't I play it?

(Soundbite of "The Savages")

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Dad, we need to talk about a couple things.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) But we--we--we don't want you to take it in
the wrong way.

Mr. PHILIP BOSCO: (As Lenny Savage) OK.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Yeah, it's just, it's a couple of questions
that'll make everything easier in the long run.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) OK?

Mr. BOSCO: (As Lenny Savage) Mm.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) OK. In the event--in the event that something
should happen, um...

Mr. BOSCO: (As Lenny Savage) Mm-hmm?

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) How--how do you want us to, um...

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Dad. Dad. What if you're in a coma?

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) Jon...

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Would you--would you--would you want a
breathing machine to keep you alive?

Mr. BOSCO: (As Lenny Savage) What kind of question's that?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Well, it's a question we should know in case.

Mr. BOSCO: (As Lenny Savage) In case what?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) In case something happens.

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) Nothing's going to happen right now. Nothing
new.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Right, it's just procedure. It's something
they want for their records.

Mr. BOSCO: (As Lenny Savage) Who?

Ms. LINNEY: (As Wendy Savage) The people who run the place. The Valley
View.

Mr. BOSCO: (As Lenny Savage) Huh. What the hell kind of hotel is it?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) Dad, it's not a hotel. It's a nursing home.

(Soundbite of silverware)

Mr. BOSCO: (As Lenny Savage) Unplug me.

(Soundbite of sigh)

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Jon Savage) What?

Mr. BOSCO: (As Lenny Savage) Pull the plug!

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: And that's Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Linney and Philip Bosco in a
scene from the new film "The Savages," and Savage is the last name of the
family. And my guest, Tamara Jenkins, is the writer and director of the film.
She also made "Slums of Beverly Hills."

The children in your story, they're both writers. She's writing a
semi-autobiographical play, or, as she describes it, a subversive
semi-autobiographical play. He's writing a book about Brecht. And their
father just isn't like a book kind of guy, and you realize that there's
probably a lot of things that they would never be able to really share. And I
guess I'm interested in hearing why you wanted to create that kind of
relationship onscreen, where the children's lives are so different from the
parents. They're so much, even if he wasn't suffering from dementia, they
wouldn't get about each other.

Ms. JENKINS: Yeah, I mean, I guess that has to do with what we were talking
about before in terms of the estrangement being, you know, extra doubled up.
And, I mean, I feel like it's something I've seen, you know, in many
relationships between parents and children, a kind of almost like
foreign-ness, like, `Who are you? What have I wrought?' And in my own
experience, you know, I have three brothers who are professors and I think
that, actually, in my family, you know, none of my parents were educated, and
no one went to college, let alone having, you know, gone out and gotten PhDs
and teaching at universities. So it was certainly something that I was
familiar with, that sort of estranged, you know, just feeling like, you know,
that you were from different planets to a certain extent. But I know that I'm
not alone in that. I mean, I think that even, you know, parents and children
that have more in common can often feel that their offspring or their parents,
that nobody knows where the other person came from.

GROSS: Tamara Jenkins wrote and directed "The Savages," which is nominated
for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress.

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

Interview: Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman on "Juno"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Our final Oscar nominees today are from the film "Juno." Diablo Cody is
nominated for her screenplay, Jason Reitman for directing the film. He also
directed "Thank You for Smoking." Cody's entree into writing was through her
blog, in which she chronicled her experiences as a stripper.

"Juno" stars Ellen Page as Juno, a 16-year-old who has sex one time and gets
pregnant. She decides to have the baby and find a worthy couple to adopt it.

Let's hear the scene in which Juno breaks the news about her condition to her
father, played by J.K. Simmons, and her stepmother, played by Allison Janney.

(Soundbite from "Juno")

Ms. ELLEN PAGE: (As Juno) I'm pregnant.

Ms. ALLISON JANNEY: (As Bren) Oh, God.

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) I'm going to give it up for adoption, and I already
found the perfect couple. They're going to pay for the medical expenses and
everything. And--and--and what, 30 year--odd weeks we can just pretend that
this never happened.

Mr. J.K. SIMMONS: (As Mac) You're pregnant?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) I'm sorry. I'm sorry. And if it is any consolation, I
have heartburn that is radiating to my kneecaps, and I haven't taken a dump
since Wednesday. Morning!

Ms. JANNEY: (As Bren) I didn't even know you were sexually active.

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac) Who is the kid?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) The baby? I don't really know much about it other than,
I mean, it has fingernails, allegedly.

Ms. JANNEY: (As Bren) Nails, really?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) Yeah.

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac) No, I don't--I mean, the--who's the father, Juno?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) Um, it's--it's Paulie Bleeker.

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac) Paulie Bleeker?

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) What?

Mr. SIMMONS: (As Mac) I didn't think he had it in him.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, welcome to FRESH AIR. Why did you want to
write a story where the teenager becomes pregnant at age 16, decides to have
the baby but give it up for adoption?

Ms. DIABLO CODY: It all came down to sort of this central image that I had
in my mind of this teenage girl who was, you know, a little, kind of rough
around the edges and a little eccentric sitting across from a couple who were
very affluent and kind of polished. And they're essentially having to
audition to adopt her baby. And to me that was a really kind of powerful and
strange image and, to me, the power dynamic at work there was really
intriguing. And I could see an entire film just kind of in that exchange, and
so I decided to build a whole story around that.

GROSS: Jason, what interested you in this screenplay? What did you relate to
in it?

Mr. JASON REITMAN: I just found it completely original in every way. I
thought these were characters I'd never seen before. They were fully fleshed
out. The script had sophisticated moves.

You know, it's interesting--I didn't actually remember this story until after
we finished shooting, but I have to imagine on a subconscious level this had
to do with my interest in the project--when I was 12 years old, my parents
decided to adopt a baby girl, my little sister. And they sat me down one day
and said, `Jason, tomorrow we're going to have a social worker who's going to
come visit our home and evaluate whether or not we're a good enough family to
adopt a child.' And I remember that day, that audition day, when this woman
was in our house and was asking us questions and we were all on our best
behavior. My sister and I, who normally fight, were treating each other
really well that day. And, I don't know, I just remember that feeling, and
oddly I feel as though Diablo and I kind of came to this project from either
perspective, Diablo having grown up in a Juno MacGuff-type house, and me
having grown up in a Mark and Vanessa Loring-type house.

GROSS: You grew up in the wealthy family house that was auditioning?

Mr. REITMAN: Yes. Well, when you see the film there's this moment in which
Juno is running up the staircase of the house of the wealthy family, and
there's this series of photos of Mark and Vanessa, played by Jennifer Garner
and Jason Bateman, and they're dressed in all white: white jeans with a
tucked-in white turtleneck in these goofy poses. And that was taken directly
from my childhood, unfortunately.

GROSS: Oh, really? Your parents were wearing--that series of photos?

Ms. CODY: (Unintelligible).

Mr. REITMAN: Every year we did a series of photos. One year it was the all
white. One year it was jeans, white T-shirt and Ray-Bans. And the third
year--and this is probably the worst of them--was underwater.

Ms. CODY: That's so cool.

Mr. REITMAN: No, it really is not.

GROSS: There's been several articles recently about the fact that, in some
films, people who don't really necessarily want to have the baby end up
keeping it and rejecting the idea of abortion, and two examples would be
"Knocked Up" and your film, "Juno." So I'd like you to talk a little bit
about, Diablo, making the decision, you know, that she's not going to have an
abortion and also what you think people may or may not be reading into that?

Ms. CODY: Unfortunately for me, you know, there--it was a strange
coincidence that there was so much sort of unplanned pregnancy material
circulating this year. It's just, it's in the zeitgeist for some reason. You
know, we had like "Knocked Up," "Waitress," our film. And all of them follow
a pregnancy. But that's in the service of the narrative. Certainly in
"Juno," she's not pregnant for political reasons. You know, we didn't intend
to make a movie about teen pregnancy and the options available to people who
find themselves in that situation, not at all. You know, we just wanted to
tell a personal story about maturity and relationships, and the pregnancy is
just--it just kind of motivates the story, I guess.

GROSS: Jason, your father Ivan Reitman is a director, and he directed, among
other things, "Ghostbusters," "Meatballs." Are there things that you feel you
learned as a director from watching your father?

Mr. REITMAN: The most important advice my father gave me, he called me up
and he said, `You know, Jason, don't worry about making a scene funny or more
dramatic. It's almost impossible. And your barometer for comedy and drama
will never be your barometer for truth. When you're watching the scene ask
yourself, "Does this feel honest?" Because that's really your job there, to
make it feels real. You have to trust your screenplay. You jumped onto the
screenplay because you thought it was funny, you thought it moved you, and at
this point it's just a question of are the actors being real? Listen to what
they say, how they're saying it, what they're doing while they're saying it.
And if anything feels inauthentic, you should jump on that.'

GROSS: That sounds like really good advice.

Mr. REITMAN: It's amazing advice, the kind of advice you wish you'd get in
film school, the kind of advice that you think would be passed around often.
But my father's the only person I've ever heard give that, and now I try to
spread that as much as possible.

GROSS: Jason Reitman is nominated for an Oscar for directing "Juno." Diablo
Cody is nominated for writing it.

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

Review: David Edelstein on the film "Be Kind Rewind"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Our film critic, David Edelstein, has a review of the new comedy "Be Kind
Rewind," starring Jack Black and Mos Def. It was made by the 44-your-old
French-born director Michel Gondry. He first became known for directing
innovative music videos for Bjork and award-winning commercials. His first
hit feature, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," was directed from a
script by Charlie Kaufman. Since then, Gondry has directed his own scripts,
the semi-autobiographical "The Science of Sleep" and now "Be Kind Rewind."

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind" is pokey and
amateurish, but that's not as damning as it sounds. It's a movie about
unslick people; it's a monument to unslickness. Mos Def plays Mike, a clerk
in a dilapidated New Jersey video store that still rents tapes because the
owner, Mr. Fletcher, played by Danny Glover, is behind the times and proud of
it.

The set-up is so loony it's an eye-roller. Mike's paranoid pal Jerry, played
by Jack Black, gets electrocuted breaking into a power plant, picks up a
magnetic charge and inadvertently erases all the store's videos. Egad!
Because the building is on the verge of being turned into condos, and because
Fletcher, who's away, keeps tabs on the boys via a neighbor, a child-woman
played by Mia Farrow, Jerry and Mike have to keep the business going, which
means shooting their own zero-budget versions of effects-heavy blockbusters
like "Ghostbusters," "Rush Hour 2" and "Robocop." It's "Let's Put on a Show"
retold as "Let's Remake a Movie."

"Be Kind Rewind" takes a long time to get going, but once Mike and Jerry tote
their one measly video camera into a public library to re-enact
"Ghostbusters," it's hard not to bliss out.

(Soundbite of "Be Kind Rewind")

(Soundbite of cards ruffling)

Mr. MOS DEF: (As Mike) And action.

Mr. JACK BLACK: (As Jerry) Eee! Start over. Sorry. Cut.

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) What?

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) I looked right into the lens. We got to start over.

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) We can't start over.

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) I looked right in the lens!

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) You know, you just have to do one good take, all right?
Don't--listen, what you're doing is good. Just do the same thing.

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) I am doing good, right?

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) Yeah, just do the same thing.

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) Am I doing great?

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) You're doing great, but don't look at...

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) All right. You're doing good, too. With the
cinematography.

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) All right, thanks. OK, good.

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) Mm.

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) OK, go. Check the cards. Check the...

(Soundbite of footsteps, drawer opening)

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) OK, you're doing--that's good, that's right! That's
great!

(Soundbite of Black imitating spooky music)

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) Put your head down. Put your head down! I can't see!
OK, go back to the shelf.

Suspecting nothing, and ghost!

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) Ah!

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) Ghost!

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) Ah! Ah! Wah!

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) Go!

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) (Singing) When you're walking down the street...

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) Yeah.

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) (Singing) And you see a little ghost, what you going
to do about--Ghostbusters!

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) What--what is that?

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) That's the "Ghostbusters" theme song.

Mr. DEF: (As Mike) No.

Mr. BLACK: (As Jerry) I'm pretty sure it is.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Those reenactments account for maybe 10 minutes of "Be Kind
Rewind." Gondry might think he's parodying dumb comedies in which poor people
rally to save beloved institutions from foreclosure, but too often his film
just resembles them. To make the movie's outlandish premise work, the
characters have to act like borderline idiots. Mos Def, who's a gifted actor,
is a on simpleton autopilot; and Jack Black would be a better clown if he were
as physically inventive as he is energetic. Because this is a fairy tale, the
customers who rent the crude tapes don't come back with baseball bats, but
with fervent requests for more remakes, or "swedes," in the film's distinctive
patois, because at first they're presented as the special Swedish versions.

The movie runs down, and yet it has an oddball integrity that's very likeable.
A French auteur steeped in deconstructionism, Gondry begins by exploring the
gulf between the new democratization of movie-making, because everyone has
digital video cameras, and the daunting amount of money, technical resources
and personnel it takes to make anything that the mainstream audience will want
to see. But that gulf can be bridged, he suggests, with wit and humanity.

In "The Science of Sleep" and many of his music videos, Gondry's designs are
right on the border between computer generated and handmade, a kind of
childish surrealism that can leave you elated. The funniest things in "Be
Kind Rewind" are not the moments in which Mike and Jerry look like Ed Wood's
worst nightmare, but when they find rather breathtaking ways to do for pennies
what would cost a Hollywood hack millions, and be less expressive, to boot.

Fats Waller holds this ramshackle picture together. He's the nonconformist
who's the source of Mr. Fletcher's dreams and civic pride, and the subject of
the movie's final act. When Hollywood swoops down and accuses Mike and Jerry
of copyright infringement, they make something original, a Fats Waller biopic
cast with many of their loyal customers. In "Be Kind Rewind" pop culture
fosters a sense of community, a communion among these stumblebums, their
customers and us, the audience. In a simple, but never simple-minded, way,
Gondry is a true transcendentalist.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Questlove spins the soundtrack of his life in 'Music is History'

In his new book, Roots co-founder Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson starts in 1971 and moves year-by-year through his life, writing about memories, turning points and the songs he listened to.

52:30

Documentary follows the divers who risked it all in the Thailand cave rescue

In June 2018, the world held its breath for 18 days as a group of elite cave divers risked everything to rescue 12 boys and their coach from an underwater cave in Northern Thailand. A talk with the film makers who made a documentary about the rescue, and with one of the divers who helped rescue the boys and their coach.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue