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TV critic David Bianculli previews three shows with season openers this Sunday: Extras and Rome on HBO, and the popular Fox TV series 24.

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Other segments from the episode on January 12, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 12, 2000: Interview with Helen Mirren; Review of albums by alumni of "American Idol"; Interview with Alec Baldwin; Review of the television shows "Extras," "Rome,"…

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DATE January 12, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Actress Helen Mirren discusses her many roles,
including playing Queen Elizabeth I in "Elizabeth I" miniseries
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Monday could be a big day for actress Helen Mirren. She's up for three Golden
Globe Awards. Two are for her portrayals of British monarchy, Elizabeth I in
an HBO miniseries and Elizabeth II in the film "The Queen." The third
nomination is for her role as detective Jane Tennison in last season's
episodes of the BBC mystery series "Prime Suspect."

Helen Mirren was introduced to many American viewers 15 years ago when she
played Tennison in the first "Prime Suspect" series. She has a long list of
other stage, screen and television credits, and earned Oscar nominations for
Best Supporting Actress for her performances in "The Madness of King George"
and "Gosford Park."

Here's a clip from her film "The Queen," directed by Stephen Frears. In this
scene, Princess Diana has just been killed and the queen, played by Mirren, is
on the phone with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

(Soundbite from "The Queen")

Mr. MICHAEL SHEEN: (As Prime Minister Tony Blair) Coming down from London at
the earliest opportunity, it would be a great comfort to your people and would
help them with their grief.

Ms. HELEN MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth II) Their grief? If you imagine I'm
going to drop everything and come down to London before I attend to my
grandchildren, who've just lost their mother, then you're mistaken. I doubt
there is anyone who knows the British people more than I do, Mr. Blair, nor
who has greater faith in their wisdom and judgment, and it is my belief that
they will, any moment, reject this--this mood which is being stirred up by the
press in favor of a period of restrained grief and sober private mourning.
That's the way we do things in this country. Quietly, with dignity. That's
what the rest of the world has always admired us for.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: I spoke to Mirren last year when she played a 16th century monarch,
the temperamental and passionate Elizabeth I in the HBO miniseries.

(Soundbite of "Elizabeth I")

Ms. MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth I) Well, gentlemen, I've come to hear you
talk, and I trust you will watch me while I listen.

Unidentified Actor: Your Majesty, we beg to raise the question of your
marriage.

Ms. MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth I) Well, so long as you do not come to me to
complain about your wives, I am content.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Well, Helen Mirren, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. MIRREN: Thank you.

DAVIES: Can you think of anything in the reading that you did about Elizabeth
that you thought gave you some, you know, emotional insight into this woman?

Ms. MIRREN: I think one thing in particular that really affected me was
reading that, at one point, she was so angry, she actually passed out.

DAVIES: Really?

Ms. MIRREN: Yes. And I thought, `Wow, that's like really angry.' I can't
imagine being so angry that you literally pass out. And then, you know, you
really got the--I got the impression of an incredibly tempestuous emotional
woman, where she was unafraid of her own emotions. She had no reason to be
afraid of them. She could let them loose because she was a queen, she could
do anything. She could cry, she could scream, she could throw shoes, she
could shut herself away, she could, you know, really play up, you know, as far
as she wanted to without any kind of censure really.

DAVIES: I thought we should listen to a clip from "Queen Elizabeth I" in
which you play the monarch. And the one I thought we would hear is where you,
as Queen Elizabeth, learn that the Earl of Leicester, whom the queen has had a
long-running affair or flirtation with, she has learned that he is actually
secretly married. He is played here by Jeremy Irons. And, of course, my
guest Helen Mirren, Elizabeth I. Let's hear her discover that her friend is
actually married.

(Soundbite of "Elizabeth I")

Ms. MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth I) Oh, you son of a whore!

Mr. JEREMY IRONS: (As Earl of Leicester) Your Majesty, you must know that...

Ms. MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth I) Know what, my lord?

Mr. IRONS: (As Earl of Leicester) ...that I would never have taken a wife if
there were but a chance you would smile upon my suit.

Ms. MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth I) I never--I never wish to see your face
again.

Mr. IRONS: (As Earl of Leicester) My heart still runs on you. I swear it.

Ms. MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth I) Be off before I hang you. I'm minded to
hang you now, with my own hands, too.

Mr. IRONS: (As Earl of Leicester) Bess...

Ms. MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth I) Get out of my sight.

(Soundbite of crowd of people laughing and talking)

Ms. MIRREN: (As Queen Elizabeth I) We forbid you access to our presence.
You are no longer welcome at our court. Be gone, sir, now.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: You know, what's interesting about listening to that scene is that we
hear the queen when she loses control actually use the word "I" in public,
refer to herself in the first person singular. And then she realizes it,
composes herself and begins speaking in the royal "we."

Ms. MIRREN: Yes.

DAVIES: "You are no longer welcome in our presence."

Ms. MIRREN: Yes.

DAVIES: Did you sort of have to become comfortable with a public and a
private Elizabeth in developing this character?

Ms. MIRREN: Yes. I mean, that's very much what our piece is about is the
public vs. and intertwined with the private. It's very difficult to go
behind the velvet curtains or the heavy oak doors of history, you know, and
find out what that person was actually like in private, because obviously so
much of what we read is very much either through contemporary writing that's
flattering--highly flattering. No one quite, you know, certainly wouldn't
dare criticize the queen.

DAVIES: You know, one of the things about portraying a 16th century queen is
you wear a lot of stuff.

Ms. MIRREN: Yes, oh.

DAVIES: Stuff in your hair.

Ms. MIRREN: Couldn't be enough for me. I'll tell you.

DAVIES: Yeah, you liked it, huh?

Ms. MIRREN: I loved all of that. Oh, I loved it. Yes. It was great.

DAVIES: Well, I read that--did you also wear contact lenses to tint your
eyes?

Ms. MIRREN: Yes, I did. I noticed that when I looked at all the portraits
that her eyes were always very black, very dark. And although it was very
fashionable to have white skin, the only descriptions that I could find of her
that were maybe truthful, like she described herself as having rather sallow
skin. So she wasn't this white-skinned, red, you know, rosy-cheeked person at
all. She was--her red hair was natural. And then one of the ambassadors
described her as having black eyes. And I thought this black-eyed look, which
is very piercing, it's quite intimidating. If you know anyone with very dark,
dark brown eyes, you know, it's quite a piercing, intimidating look it gives
to their eyes. I thought that would be quite a good tool, so I--and I thought
it's probably historically accurate. So, yes, I wore dark brown lenses.

DAVIES: Now, of course, it's interesting that in addition to this portrayal
of Elizabeth I, you play Elizabeth II, right, the current queen.

Ms. MIRREN: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: How would you compare the two? Is there any connection?

Ms. MIRREN: There's a big connection. You know, it's very interesting.
Such completely different personalities. You couldn't get more extreme
differences in personalities. Elizabeth I very--not governed by her emotions.
Far from it. She was governed by her sense of power and her sense of
autocracy, but a much more emotional person. And this present queen who is
governed by an overriding sense of self-discipline, duty and sacrifice. But
the thing that they absolutely have in common is this single-minded dedication
and desire to be who they are. And I think they share that, absolutely. And
it's what makes both of them, I think, very mighty monarches. And I think
Elizabeth II will, as history travels on, will be looked back on as a very,
very iconic and important figure in British history.

DAVIES: We're speaking with actress Helen Mirren. We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: My guest is actress Helen Mirren. She's nominated for three Golden
Globe Awards for her roles in "The Queen," "Prime Suspect" and "Elizabeth I."

You went into films in, I guess, in your late 20s. And then in the '70s, I
read, you sort of took a hiatus from a traditional acting course and joined
Peter Brook's Experimental International Center of Theater Research, which
involved, I guess, touring Africa and parts of the United States, performing
in very small settings, California farm workers. What...

Ms. MIRREN: Yes, indeed. I met Cesar Chavez, in fact.

DAVIES: Right. What appealed to you about that?

Ms. MIRREN: We worked...

DAVIES: And then what did you get from that experience?

Ms. MIRREN: Well, you know, it was part of my sort of my search, my holy
grail to try and be better. And having done a lot of Shakespeare in a
very--in that formal theater environment, I felt it was time to throw
everything up in the air. And I was lucky enough to be around when Brook was
just beginning that particular period of his life's work. And I joined for
just one year. So, yes, we traveled through Africa. We started in Nigeria
and went down to Nigeria--south of Nigeria and then back up again, traveling
in Jeeps and working in just very, very small villages, never in any towns.
And then we came to America, and we worked with the chapter of Campesino and
with other theater groups in America.

DAVIES: Was this for you more a matter of developing your acting craft or was
it a matter of personal or political growth?

Ms. MIRREN: Not political. It was apolitical. I mean, I think it was
personal. Yes, personal acting growth. Not personal growth as a person,
although, of course, it turned into a bit of that, as well, because when
you're challenged like that--and it was very, very challenging, difficult
work--you are, you know, you do have to make some sort of personal growth.
Which, I think, actually it's probably I'm still in the process of learning
from that experience now. But it was very much to rediscover other ways of
acting.

I don't know that I really actually learned anything in reality except for
conquering fear, maybe.

DAVIES: I wanted to talk about another film for which you received a Oscar
nomination for Best Supporting Actress. That's "Gosford Park," a film I don't
know well because I've only seen it twice. It's wonderfully complex.

Ms. MIRREN: You've only seen it twice.

DAVIES: Yes, I've only seen it twice.

Ms. MIRREN: I know what you mean about--that's the nature of Altman's
movies, isn't it? Yes.

DAVIES: Right. There's so much happening that...

Ms. MIRREN: Yes, absolutely.

DAVIES: ...you could never quite get it all.

Ms. MIRREN: Yes.

DAVIES: I mean, this is one in which there's, I guess, a weekend party in a
British estate in the 1930s, and the wonderful thing is that we see the world
of the affluent, the middle-class people, and then also below stairs, their
servants, which you occupy in this case. And I wanted to--thought we would
listen to a clip from the film. This is--just to explain what's happening
here. In this you play the housekeeper of a wealthy man, Lord William
Stockbridge, who hosts this party and is actually murdered in the course of
it. And it turns out that when your character, Mrs. Wilson, was a young
girl, she was one of many servants whom Stockbridge had sexually preyed upon.
She bore a son which had been sent away to an orphanage, but which now many
years later, it turns out, returns to the estate as a valet of one of the
guests. He recognizes his father and decides he's going to kill this man who
had abandoned him. But your character, Mrs. Wilson, sees this coming and
instead poisons Stockbridge first so her son, in fact, can't be accused of
killing him. And the scene we're going to play here is a memorable one in
which you were discussing this with another servant, played by Kelly
Macdonald. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of "Gosford Park")

Ms. KELLY MACDONALD: (As Mary) But even if Robert is your son, how did you
know that he meant to harm his father?

Ms. MIRREN: (As Mrs. Wilson) What gift do you think a good servant has that
separates them from the others? It's the gift of anticipation, and I'm a good
servant. I'm better than good, I'm the best. I'm the perfect servant. I
know when they'll be hungry and the food is ready. I know when they'll be
tired and the bed is turned down. I know it before they know it themselves.

Ms. MACDONALD: (As Mary) Are you going to tell them?

Ms. MIRREN: (As Mrs. Wilson) Why? What purpose would it possibly serve?

Ms. MACDONALD: (As Mary) What if they find out what happened?

Ms. MIRREN: (As Mrs. Wilson) Not much of a crime to stab a dead man, is it?
They can never touch him. That's what's important, his life.

Ms. MACDONALD: (As Mary) And your life?

Ms. MIRREN: (As Mrs. Wilson) Didn't you hear me? I'm the perfect servant,
I have no life.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: And that's our guest Helen Mirren in the film "Gosford Park." She's
speaking there with Kelly Macdonald.

A wonderful scene. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about...

Ms. MIRREN: Yes, lovely piece of writing in that...(unintelligible).

DAVIES: ...making that? Well, what was interesting, I think, in every--a lot
of actors like to be with Altman because, I mean, his reputation is that of a
lot of improvising and free flowing. I mean, this is--you've come from, you
know, performing a lot of Shakespeare. What was it like to work with Altman
in...

Ms. MIRREN: Well, it's a bit of a misnomer, really, that, you know, Altman
is all about improvisation. It's not actually true. He choreographs very
precisely. You know, he loves the text and the text is important, but what he
does do is he has everybody miked all the time. And so as important as the
visual story is the sound story in an Altman movie. And because you're miked,
everything you say--and sometimes you do improvise it, all actors do, you
know--those little moments of improvisation can be used. And then, of course,
the way he shoots is very--just very extraordinary, and it creates this
improvisational look to the movie that in reality is very, very carefully
choreographed and very precise, in fact. That was my experience, anyway.

DAVIES: Yeah. What do you mean by the way he shoots creating that feel?

Ms. MIRREN: Well, I mean, he'll--it's a sort of technical thing. But, for
example, he very often shoots with two cameras, and the two cameras are often
moving simultaneously, which is sort of unheard of on, you know, when you're
shooting a movie. And you'll never know if you're in close-up or if you're in
a wide shot or if it's a midshot. While you're playing the scene, you don't
know what kind of shot you're in, so you can't become conscious in that
particular way. It's a particular kind of technique that's very--visually it
creates a sort of rather extraordinary thing. And also for the actors, you
play it almost like a play. You play the whole scene through, not quite
knowing when you're on camera, if you're off camera, if you're in close-up.
So it's very individual, and I love the way he worked. I thought it was
amazing.

DAVIES: Well, Helen Mirren, in 1991 you had a role with which you've become
much identified when you played Jane Tennison in the "Prime Suspect" series.
I thought we'd hear a little bit of the first "Prime Suspect" series. And
this one is one in which you have been a district chief inspector, that's the
rank where you should be able to handle a murder investigation, but the men in
the department have found ways not to let you actually get an investigation to
cover. And in this case, one person who has begun a major investigation, one
of the officers has died and you've come in to assert your right to get
involved in this major police work.

(Soundbite of "Prime Suspect")

Ms. MIRREN: (As Jane Tennison) This may not be the right time, sir, but
under the circumstances, I'm not quite sure when would be the right time. I'm
offering to take over the murder investigation. I don't have to tell you that
I am qualified to handle this investigation and that I've been waiting
for--well, I don't have to tell you how long--18 months. And in that time,
I've had to handle more paperwork than I did at Redding for my whole five
years dealing with sex cases. I know DCI Shefford was at a crucial stage of
the investigation.

Mr. JOHN BENFIELD: (As Michael Kernan) Inspector, I have to see his wife
this afternoon. Don't expect me to make any decisions now. This is not the
right time.

Ms. MIRREN: (As Jane) Well, when is the right time? Look, I am the only
officer of my rank who is continually overstepped, side-stepped, whatever.
Just give me the chance to prove that I can...

Mr. BENFIELD: (As Michael) You don't have to prove yourself to me. Let me
think about it.

Ms. MIRREN: (As Jane) Well, that's not enough, Michael. I'm getting sick to
death of this so-called metropolitan police survey being thrown at me. So,
all right, apparently 90 percent of the time the general public would prefer a
male officer. But until one of us gets a chance to prove that that survey is
a biased, outdated load of...(censored by network).

Mr. BENFIELD: (As Michael) A close...(censored by network)...a man who I
respected highly died right there. And now, Inspector, is not the time to
thrust your women's rights down my throat. I'll get back to you.

Ms. MIRREN: (As Jane) Thank you, sir.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: That was my guest Helen Mirren playing Jane Tennison in the original
"Prime Suspect" series. Acting in that scene with her was John Benfield.

You know, a lot of the fans of that series, me included, could hardly imagine
anybody but you in that role. Did it seem like a perfect fit when you read
it?

Ms. MIRREN: I don't know about that. I mean, I did recognize that I was
jolly lucky to have it, you know, because it's so rare even to this day,
incidentally, that a woman drives the narrative of a drama. You can have very
good female roles and things but rarely are they actually driving a narrative.
And then it was even less likely, especially on television or anywhere. So,
you know, that was what fascinated me, the fact that it was a female character
driving the narrative.

The fact it was a police thing and Jane Tennison, all the rest of it, didn't
really impinge upon my consciousness. I just saw that it was a really lovely
complex role.

DAVIES: Did you learn any gestures or vocal mechanisms that you put into that
character, do you recall, watching cops?

Ms. MIRREN: The only thing was that I, you know, a woman--policewoman who
was quite high up said she never folds her arms. I thought that was very
interesting. Police are very, very into body language. They can read you
like a book, the good detectives. They understand body language extremely
well. It's how they do their job a lot of the time. And she said, `Don't
fold your arms.'

DAVIES: Because....

Ms. MIRREN: Because folding your arms, it looks--you think you're being
strong. And I laugh now, I often see, you know, those big posters of women
playing policewomen, and they're always standing there with their arms folded,
thinking, oh well, this looks powerful and strong. Not. You know, folding
your arms is a defensive action, and much more powerful is to stand with your
arms relaxed by your side, open, you know, ready.

DAVIES: Well, Helen Mirren, thanks so much for spending some time with us.

Ms. MIRREN: Thank you very much.

DAVIES: Helen Mirren. She's nominated for Golden Globe awards for her
television roles in "Prime Suspect"and "Elizabeth I," and the feature film
"The Queen." I spoke to her last year.

I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

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

Review: Critic Ken Tucker describes albums of Kellie Pickler,
Fantasia Barrino, Chris Daughtry and Taylor Hicks

DAVE DAVIES, host:

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

The new season of TV's "American Idol" starts on Tuesday, but four previous
"Idol" stars--Taylor Hicks, Fantasia Barrino, Kellie Pickler and Chris
Daughtry--have all put out albums within weeks of each other. Rock critic Ken
Tucker say their styles vary widely but that quality control is a common
problem.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. KELLIE PICKLER: (Singing)
Baby I got plans tonight
you don't know nothing about
I've been sitting around way too long
trying to figure you out
You just say that you'll call, and you don't
and I'm spinning my wheels
So I'm going out tonight
in my red high heels.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. KEN TUCKER: That's Kellie Pickler, the "American Idol" finalist who
seemed to enjoy playing the role of ditzy blonde during her appearances on
this country's most popular talent show. For her major label debut, the North
Carolina native has turned out a country album that's completely respectable
by the current standards of the Nashville industry. Which is to say, if you
think acts like Rascal Flatts and Sugarland are making country music, as
opposed to twangy pop, you'll like Kellie Pickler well enough. The song I
played at the start of this review, "Red High Heels," is a top 10 country hit,
and her album "Small Town Girl," fits the "American Idol" template: emphasize
your humble roots, suggest heartache without ever veering into despair or
agony.

By contrast, aching hard rock, not country, is the genre for Chris Daughtry,
the "Idol" finalist who fronts a band called "Daughtry." Like Pickler,
Daughtry sidles up to real feelings without actually tapping into them.
Unlike her, he likes to yell about the situation rather than croon about it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHRIS DAUGHTRY: (Singing)
I was blown way
What could I say
It all seemed to make sense
Your taking everything away
And I can't do without
I try to see the good in life
The good things in life are hard to find
We're blowing away, blowing away
Can we make this something good

Well I try to do it right this time around
It's not over
Try to do it right this time around
It's not over
But a part of me is dead and in the ground
This love is killing me
But you're the only one
It's not over.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: That's Chris Daughtry, sounding, unfortunately like 57 other
generic hard rockers. The "American Idol" conundrum is this: a contestant
emerges from the TV series with a built-in audience that gives him or her an
enormous advantage over any other new artist in the marketplace. But, what
the TV fans want is for you to retain the same persona you presented to them
on the show, which is usually some variation on the humble novice. But to
prove you're a legitimate artist, you have to demonstrate expertise. You have
to veer off the middle of the road that made you appeal to the broadest range
of people with cell phones who'll vote you to become the "American Idol." Some
can maneuver this tightrope. Carrie Underwood, for example, has sold millions
of country pop tunes and won all sorts of country awards.

And then there's Clay Aiken, the hero of some teenyboppers and grandparents,
and now known mostly for getting into a public spat with TV host Kelly Ripa.
What can I say? It's a tough gig.

One of the few "Idols" who's made artistically challenging and satisfying
music is Fantasia Barrino. On her new album she works with Big Boy from
OutKast to perform a solid chunk of hip hip called "Hood Boy."

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FANTASIA BARRINO: (Singing)
Let me tell you about a player I know
Six foot...

Group of Singers: (Singing)...four

Ms. BARRINO: (Singing) Suit twenty...

Group of Singers: (Singing)...five.

Ms. BARRINO: (Singing) He's all the way live
See where I come from
We like 'em like that
He don't' talk smack
he just twist caps off
see that's the only kinda dude I'm demandin'
And let the girl like me understand it
And the ones that ain't
they still gotta have it
they don't know why
But they chained to...

Group of Singers: (Singing)
I need a hood boy
Wifebeaters and chains
always in the trap
and he looks so mean
I need a hood boy
go'on head pretty
We don't like them there
need something realer
I need a hood boy

Ms. BARRINO: (Singing)
I need a hood...

Group of Singers: (Singing)
hot boys, rock boys
street boys, B-boys
man I love them boys

Ms. BARRINO: (Singing)
Come on, come on, come on and say...

Group of Singers: (Singing)
Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Ms. BARRINO: (Singing)
He knows how to treat a lady

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: Finally there's this past season's winner, Taylor Hicks. The
prematurely white-haired leader of fans who've been dubbed "The Soul Patrol,"
his audience responds to his raspy voice because that sound has a place in
rock history, even if you're too young to know who Joe Cocker or Tom Waits, or
Ray Charles is. Raspy white-boy funk is not Hicks' shtick. It's what he
knows and it's what is packaged neatly on his self-titled debut.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TAYLOR HICKS: (Singing)
It's a whole new education
I'm learning from you all the time
There's no need for explanation
Your examples do just fine

I'm getting an A in broken hearts
I got my degree in crying
You tell me it's not fair
but I am so gone
I want to love you
while you do me so wrong
And to think I sat there
singing you a love song
I give you everything and
all I get from you is your runaround.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: Unfortunately for Hicks, the kind of soul music he's drawn to is
better communicated with more furtiveness or frustration or anger or lust.
None of these qualities behooves a freshly minted "American Idol." Maybe after
some of that luster is tarnished a bit, he'll make another record that will
dig deeper within himself and go to emotional places where the soul cannot be
patrolled.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly.

Coming up, a conversation with Alec Baldwin. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

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

Interview: Alec Baldwin on his career and political views
DAVE DAVIES, host:

Actor Alec Baldwin is nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his role in the
NBC comedy "30 Rock," in which he plays a studio executive in charge of a
sketch comedy show something like "Saturday Night Live." Washington Post TV
critic Tom Shales called Baldwin's performance "rare and rich," saying, "He
avoids doing the easy thing, which would be playing the executive as a
clueless doofus"

(Soundbite of "30 Rock")

Mr. ALEC BALDWIN: Are you familiar with the GE trivection oven?

Unidentified Actor #1: I don't cook very much.

Mr. BALDWIN: Sure. I gotcha. New York, third wave, feminist, college
educated, single and pretending to be happy about it, overscheduled,
undersexed. You buy any magazine that says "healthy body image" on the cover,
and every two years you take up knitting for a week.

Unidentified Actor #2: That is dead on.

Actor #1: What are you going to guess my weight now?

Mr. BALDWIN: You don't want me to do that.

(End of soundbite)

DAVIES: Baldwin has had a long and successful Hollywood career starring in
such films as "The Hunt for Red October," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "The
Getaway," "Miami Blues" and "Pearl Harbor."

Terry spoke to Alec Baldwin in 2003. He told her about the days when he first
got to New York City. While he was studying acting at NYU, he was also a
waiter at Studio 54.

Mr. BALDWIN: By the time I worked there in the fall of 1978, '79 rather,
the--it was all over, you know, no one was really going there anymore. I
mean, there might be some people would roll in late at night to...

Terry Gross, host:

Mm-hmm.

Mr. BALDWIN: ...just as a pit stop from some other place they were going
that was now more, you know, favored. But when I worked there it was very
funny because I just, you know, I was like Jim Nabors, you know, I was like
Gomer Pyle. And I'm working at this big disco with all these people, and I go
up into the balcony and some older guy in a beautiful suit would walk up to me
and hand me a $100 bill and say, `I want you to go to the deli on 8th Avenue
and get me a box of Benson & Hedges, in a box, in a box. And I want you to
get me a lemonade and I want you to get me'--and he had like, you know, he had
his menu of exactly what he had to have. And he said, `I want you to do get
that for me and come back and meet me and Enrique up here, my boyfriend, and I
are going, to, you know, do something nice for you. OK, run, run, run, run,
run, run, run. Run, run, run.'

And I was like, `So nice of you to ask me to do this for you,' you know, trot
off, come back. The guy would give you like 50 buck in a tip because he'd
want to stay up there and get it on with Enrique in the balcony all night.
You know, just make sure that my Brandy Alexanders keep coming. And it was
just so bizarre to me because I--this was my introduction to all the exotic
birds of Manhattan.

GROSS: When you started your career you were, among other things, the young
hunk. And I think we know more about how, you know, beautiful actresses--the
predicaments they're in and how they're marketed when they're young. We know
more about that than we do about, like, the young leading men. What were some
of the expectations of you early in your career, you know, as the young hunk?

Mr. BALDWIN: Well, God, what I wouldn't give to be the young hunk again. I
mean, it was so much easier.

But for me, I think my early sense of what was good about this business was
more theater directed than film directed.

I started--the first job I did was a soap opera here in New York. I can
remember I was on a cast of a daytime soap with a cast where, at any given
time, three or four or five people were in a Broadway show at the same time.
And that was how I kind of got birthed into the business--was surrounded by
those people who said the theater was really the only place that you can be
satisfied, you know, as an actor.

GROSS: Well, that soap opera that you were on was called "The Doctors." And,
you know, I was wondering if being on a daytime soap early in your career
helped you or hurt you? Hurt you in the sense that a lot of people, you know,
look down on daytime soaps and think that the acting isn't the best and that
good acting isn't even particularly encouraged on it. So, you know, that kind
of thing might be held against you. People might almost, you know, snicker at
a starring role in a daytime soap. On the other hand, some actors say it's
just the greatest experience.

Mr. BALDWIN: Well, I think, you know, it's a variety of things. One, people
don't really understand the dynamic of daytime TV, which is that it evolved
from radio. And early daytime television up through the '60s and even the
'70s was predicated on the same formula, which is you wanted to turn the TV on
on Monday, and if you turned the TV on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we
hadn't really proceeded too far from Monday. You know, if you missed the show
on Tuesday and Wednesday, when you came back on Thursday, you could pick up
right where you left off.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BALDWIN: And, of course, every Friday program was where we restated all
the facts of what had evolved during the week. So I'd say, `You know, Terry,
I really am glad that you have taken over Palmer Industries now and that you
and Jett are reconciling your divorce.' And, you know, there was like a recap,
and there's a mechanism to it, which is very artificial, but it was about an
audience that is a kind of a come-and-go audience, you know. And for me, it
was a great experience.

GROSS: I thought we could listen to one of your great movie scenes, and this
is from the movie "Glengarry Glen Ross," which is based on a David Mamet play.
The movie is about salesmen who are selling this worthless land, but they have
to make it seem like this land is really great and you're getting a really
great deal, so the people who they sell to are mostly these real, like, naive
losers. So you play the manager who's sent in from the main office to light a
fire under these guys and to get them to, like, keep selling. I'm going to
play part of your monologue.

(Soundbite of "Glengarry Glen Ross")

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Blake) ...because we're adding a little something to this
month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado.
Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives.
Third prize is you're fired. You get the picture? You're laughing now? You
got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them.
You can't close the leads you're given. You can't close...(censored by
network)! You are...(censored by network)! Hit the bricks, pal, and beat it
'cause you are going out.

Unidentified Actor #3: The leads are weak.

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Blake) The leads are weak. The...(censored by
network)...leads are weak? You are weak.

Unidentified Actor #4: I've been in this business 15 years.

Unidentified Actor #5: What's your name?

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Blake) (Censored by network)...you. That's my name. You
know why, mister? Because you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight. I drove
an $80,000 BMW. That's my name. And your name is "you're wanting." And you
can't play in the man's game, you can't close them, then go home and tell your
wife your troubles because only one thing counts in this life: get them to
sign on the line which is dotted. You hear me, you...(censored by
network)...faggots?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's my guest, Alec Baldwin, in a scene from "Glengarry Glen Ross."

That scene must have been so much fun to do because, well, the writing is so
good. Can you describe a little bit your approach to learning and digesting
that, really, pretty long monologue and figuring out, like, how you want to
pace yourself in it, where the pauses are going to be, how dramatic to get?

Mr. BALDWIN: Well, you know, doing that film was interesting because the
role that I played was not in the play, and Mamet had added that role to the
screenplay for the movie because he felt that they needed to be--we needed to
see the stakes raised a little higher at the onset of the film. So he added
this scene and we went in there, and it was an enormously difficult and
unpleasant thing for me to have to do because here were these actors who I
loved, Kevin and Jack and Ed and Arkin, and I had to go in and, really, just
kind of pee all over them. You know, it was just this horrible scene, you
know, in terms of--if you did it right, you know, you didn't want to back off.
And I just didn't want to do that. You know, they were all getting along so
well, and all had a great time shooting together.

And I walked in to shoot the scene for just two and a half or three days
because we rehearsed a full rehearsal period prior to the shooting, which is
very rare. And so we did that, and, you know, you could tell it was going to
be really tough, you know, because, I mean, I had to be so nasty to these
people. And I left, and, you know, I came back and they started shooting for
a couple weeks. And it was one of those things where you come to work, and
they're all sitting around the coffee urn and eating a bagel and laughing and
having a good time, and I walk in and they're like, `Oh,' you know, `schmucko
is here,' you know. And I come in, and I've got to pity them; they know
what's coming, which is I've got to just kind of singe their hair all day.

But I guess my point is that doing those really tough scenes is not fun. You
know, it really isn't fun because to be that person--you know, when you play
Hitler or you play Ted Bundy or anybody you play--it's challenging, but it's
not really fun. You know, I did "Streetcar Named Desire" on Broadway quite a
while ago, and my friends would come up to me, particularly younger guys, and
they'd say, `Boy, it must be so much fun for you to get up there on stage and
get all that out of your system every day.' And, you know, back then I was,
let's see, 34 years old in 1992. And I said, `I realized a couple weeks into
the run of the show that I don't have that much in my system to begin with and
that around the second month of the run, I almost wanted to put my arms around
Blanche and say, "Hey, Blanche, why don't you and I sit down, have a drink and
try to work this out? You know, let's be friends."' And so all of that
contentiousness and all of that kind of drama with people, it does wear you
out after a while.

GROSS: Alec Baldwin, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. BALDWIN: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it.

DAVIES: Alec Baldwin, speaking with Terry Gross in 2003. Baldwin is
nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his role in the NBC comedy "30 Rock."

Coming up, David Bianculli on three TV shows that begin new seasons this
Sunday. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

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

Review: David Bianculli of Entertainment Weekly describes three
returning TV shows, "24," "Extras" and "Rome"

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This weekend, three television series return that have our television critic
David Bianculli pulling out his positive adjectives, but for very different
reasons. Here are his reviews of HBO's "Extras" and "Rome" and the Fox series
"24," all of which kick off new seasons Sunday night.

Mr. DAVID BIANCULLI: Three excellent series returning to TV this weekend.
"24," "Extras" and "Rome" offer very different viewing experiences.

"Extras" stars and is co-created by Ricky Gervaise and Stephen Merchant, who
concocted the original British version of "The Office." Gervaise plays a
struggling actor who in this new season tastes fame as a character on a
popular but bland sitcom, but doesn't much like the taste. "Extras" is a show
that makes great use of guest stars, like David Bowie and Diana Rigg, who poke
fun at their own images, and is the sort of subtle comedy that rewards
repeated viewing.

Here's Gervaise as actor Andy Millman, a former movie extra whose sitcom
script is being produced with him as one of the leads. Yet when his
ineffectual agent, played by Merchant, visits him on the set, Andy isn't
happy. But his agent has a solution in the form of another client, played by
Shaun Williamson.

(Soundbite of "Extras")

Mr. STEPHEN MERCHANT: Hey Buddy. All right? How's it going? All set?

Mr. RICKY GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) I'm not sure I'm doing the right
thing.

Mr. MERCHANT: No?

Mr. GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) This is not the comedy I set out to do. I
wanted to write something real that people could relate to and it's all
changed because people stuck their nose in, you know?

Mr. MERCHANT: I'm hearing you, all right? But do you know what? This is
typical first night nerves. All right? I know what you're thinking. You're
thinking, `Oh, the script's not funny. You know, it's crass. It's lowest
common denominator.' And, you know, you're right, but don't worry about it,
because people will watch anything. All right? Particularly if it's on after
"East Enders" and they've got to change the channel. Those sort of morons
will help us win the ratings war. And, you know, ratings in the end are what
count, and merchandise.

Mr. GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) Well, it's not what counts with me. All
right? I wanted to write a good credible comedy that would stand the test of
time.

Mr. MERCHANT: Yeah, I know. OK. Well, I agree. And I was just saying that
because I thought that's what you wanted me to say.

Mr. GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) Well, don't. Tell the truth.

Mr. MERCHANT: Well, I will. And the truth is if you're not happy, I'm right
behind you.

Mr. GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) Right.

Mr. MERCHANT: And, you know, I've got the perfect replacement.

Mr. GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) For what?

Mr. MERCHANT: For you, for your character. It's only Barry.

Mr. GERVAISE: All right, Sean.

Mr. MERCHANT: He's all set. Knows all the lines? He's ready to go? He can
step in. What's your character's catchphrase?

Mr. GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) It's not a catchphrase. There's several
real ways to actually say it.

Mr. MERCHANT: What was it?

Mr. GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) `You're having a laugh. Is he having a
laugh?

Mr. MERCHANT: Look at that. Nothing. Stony faced. And I love a giggle.
Me, I love a laugh, don't I.

You do it.

Mr. SHAUN WILLIAMSON: (As Barry) Is he having a laugh? Is he having a
laugh?

Mr. MERCHANT: He's good. I don't know how he comes up with it.

Mr. GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) He didn't come up with it.

Mr. MERCHANT: Yeah. The thing about Barry is--and I noticed this, right?
People will laugh at him, they never laugh with him. That's extraordinary.
Look at that face. There's a sort of undercurrent of tragedy to it, isn't
there?

Do it.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Is he having a laugh? Is he having a laugh?

Mr. MERCHANT: I love it because he's desperate.

Mr. GERVAISE: (As Andy Millman) Yeah, the role's taken. Cheers.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. BIANCULLI: The HBO program returning immediately before "Extras" this
weekend, also beginning its second season, is "Rome." This series got off to a
slow series dramatically, but by the end of the first 12 episodes and the
assassination of Julius Caesar in the Senate, it had become the most gripping
toga drama since "I, Claudius." OK. So there haven't been that many. But
HBO's last new drama "Carnivale" started going nowhere fast and ended up going
nowhere very slowly. "Rome," by contrast, has picked up pace and focus and
this second season is all about the transfer of power. Some characters remain
calm and crafty, while others around them lose their heads, literally. "Rome"
isn't as satisfying or as deeply original and unforgettable as HBO's
"Deadwood" or "The Wire," but few TV shows are. Yet "Rome" has matured into a
strong drama series, and its period setting makes it unique in today's crowded
but derivative television landscape.

Finally, also beginning on Sunday, is the new season of "24" on Fox, with
Kiefer Sutherland returning as counter-terrorist unit agent Jack Bauer. The
story picks up 20 months after last season's cliffhanger, when Jack saved the
world, again, only to be arrested and carted away by agents of the Chinese
government. This time the US is suffering a series of terrorist attacks by
suicide bombers from Atlanta to Los Angeles and CTU agent Chloe, one of Jack's
few remaining loyal contacts, is given some puzzling marching orders. She
checks with Nadia, her new boss.

(Soundbite of "24")

Unidentified Actor #6: (As Chloe) Nadia, I just got a weird request from
Homeland Security. They want to set up a channel and I wanted to clear it
with you first.

Unidentified Actor #7: (As Nadia) Consider yourself clear.

Actor #6: (As Chloe) They want it formatted according to military specs...

Actor #7: (As Nadia) Coordinating an assault with Cobra attack helicopters
from Camp Pendleton.

Actor #6: (As Chloe) When?

Actor #7: (As Nadia) Thirty minutes.

Actor #6: (As Chloe) But assault on who?

Actor #7: (As Nadia) Assad.

Actor #6: (As Chloe) What are you talking about? We don't even know where
Assad is.

Actor #7: (As Nadia) We will. We have a lead.

Actor #6: (As Chloe) No we don't. If we did, I would know about it.

Actor #7: (As Nadia) We found a way to get Assad's location.

Actor #6: (As Chloe) How?

Actor #7: (As Nadia) Jack Bauer.

Actor #6: (As Chloe) Jack's in a Chinese prison.

Actor #7: (As Nadia) Not any more. The president negotiated his release two
days ago.

Actor #6: (As Chloe) Jack's coming back?

Actor #7: (As Nadia) Yes.

Actor #6: (As Chloe) Well, why did the Chinese let him go? Why today? Is
this something to do with the attacks? How do we think Jack's going to lead
us to Assad?

Actor #7: (As Nadia) Chloe, I can't talk about this. Not yet.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. BIANCULLI: I won't spoil any surprises, but the first four hours of this
year's "24," shown Sunday and Monday night in two-hour blocks, contain at
least two jaw-dropping moments and at least one significant death. Once
again, "24" hits the ground running and never takes a breath; or lets you take
one, except during the commercials.

I'd like to take a moment, though, to salute all three of these series for
something that's not often discussed: the way they're scheduled. In
"Extras," Ricky Gervaise plays a character who talks about making a sitcom for
the ages, one that's good enough to hold up. In real life, he's already done
that with "The Office" and now with "Extras." And he's done it, in part, by
using the same approach John Cleese took when making the classic comedy
"Fawlty Towers" 30 years ago. Cleese made six episodes, then stopped for a
bit, made a second season of six more, then packed it in. For "The Office,"
Gervaise made 12 episodes over two seasons, and a two-part special and called
it quits, leaving behind one of TV's best modern comedies. He plans the same
sort of finish for "Extras." Sometimes, especially in TV, less really is more.

"Rome," too, is on a shorter schedule than the 22 episodes normally turned out
by the broadcast networks. It presents 12 episodes a year and shows them
without interruption or preemption.

"24," of course, is the broadcast model that succeeds where so few have dared
to try. It presents 24 episodes, so its season is even longer than the
average broadcast series, but it doesn't start rolling them out until January.
So it can run them all without taking a hiatus or filling time with a rerun.
For a show with the dramatic momentum of "24," that's crucial, and scheduling
it in such a view-friendly way is brilliant. And if you don't think that's so
important, ask yourself when's the last time you thought about "Lost," which
has been on hiatus since November.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

(Credits)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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