DATE September 19, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Bryan Fuller and Barry Sonnenfeld talk about their
careers and their new TV series, "Pushing Daisies"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of Broadcasting & Cable magazine and
tvwworthwatching.com sitting in for Terry Gross.
"Pushing Daises," the ABC series about a pie maker with a touch that can
restore life, is up for 12 Emmys Sunday night. Also, the show's first season
came out on DVD this week, and the second season begins October 1st. Today
we'll talk with Bryan Fuller, the creator of the show, and Barry Sonnenfeld,
the director of the pilot episode. Both of them are nominated for Emmys.
Barry Sonnenfeld also directed the "Addams Family" and "Men in Black" films,
as well as "Get Shorty." He started his career as a cinematographer and shot
several films for the Coen brothers, including "Blood Simple" and "Miller's
Crossing." Bryan Fuller broke into TV by writing for two series in the "Star
Trek" franchise. Then he created the cult TV shows "Wonderfalls" and "Dead
Like Me," and also wrote and produced for "Heroes."
"Pushing Daisies" revolves around a young man named Ned, played by Lee Pace,
who's also up for an Emmy. Ned has the unusual and unexplained gift of
bringing dead people back to life with a single touch. Here's a scene from
the pilot, which is now out on DVD. Ned works with a private detective on
unsolved murders. Their current case is the murder of Ned's childhood
sweetheart, a woman nicknamed Chuck. In a funeral home, Ned awakens Chuck
from the dead. But unless he touches her again within a minute and takes her
life away for good, someone else will die.
(Soundbite of "Pushing Daisies")
Mr. LEE PACE: (As Ned) Chuck, wait!
Ms. ANNA FRIEL: (As Chuck) Who are you?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) Do you remember a little boy who lived next door to you
when your dad died?
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Ned? Oh my God! Hey, how are you?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) Good. You look great. Do you know what's happening
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) I had the strangest dream. I was being strangled to
death with a plastic sack.
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) You were strangled to death with a plastic sack. That's
probably an odd thing to hear, but I wasn't quite sure how to sugarcoat it.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Oh. Oh.
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) You only have a minute--less.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) What can I do in less than a minute?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) You could tell me who killed you so, you know, justice
can be served.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Well, that's really sweet, but I don't know who killed
me. I went to go get ice and I dropped my rumkin ice maker and as I was
thinking, `That was dumb'...
Mr. JIM DALE: As she was thinking that was dumb, Chuck was strangled to
death with a plastic sack.
(Soundbite of crash)
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) And then you touched my cheek.
(Soundbite of knocking)
Unidentified Man: (In character) What's goin' on in there?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) Just a second!
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Is my time up?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) I'm sorry.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Well, thanks for calling me Chuck. Do you know, no
one's called me Chuck since--since you.
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) I used to, when I lived next door to you. I had a cru--I
was in--you were my first kiss.
Ms. FRIEL: (As Chuck) Yeah? You were my first kiss, too. Do you want to be
my last kiss? First and last? Or is that weird?
Mr. PACE: (As Ned) That's not weird. It's magical.
(End of soundbite)
BIANCULLI: I spoke with Barry Sonnenfeld and Bryan Fuller last fall, and
began by asking Bryan Fuller to describe the premise of "Pushing Daisies."
Mr. BRYAN FULLER: The story is about a young man named Ned who is a pie
maker. And he discovers, as a child, that he has a gift that he can touch
dead things and bring them back to life. But this gift has a caveat or two,
and those caveats are: If he touches the dead ones, they come back to life;
if he touches them again, they go back to being dead, and dead again forever,
never to be revived. And the third caveat is, if he lets a dead person live
for longer than a minute then someone else has to die. And he decides in our
pilot that his childhood sweetheart, when she dies, she deserves to be brought
back for good and makes the decision to let somebody die to get his lost love
BIANCULLI: Now, every time I describe this to people, after telling them that
I think it's my favorite new show of the fall, they look at me like I'm
slightly deranged. But once you get past that initial description, can you
talk about why it is that you're able to hit grace notes that make this more
intelligent and witty and less just sci-fi strange than it sounds?
Mr. FULLER: I think it just goes to the characters and the character
relationships. So we're all wanting to be in relationships, and we all want
someone to love in our lives. And all those relationships are going to come
with complications. And if the basic complication is that you can't touch
each other, then it forces you get to know somebody and be intimate in a way
where you don't have the hurdle of physicality to get over because it's never
BIANCULLI: Part of what's so charming about the pilot is the visual look,
which, Barry, you bring to it as the director, or are greatly involved in
bringing it as the director. How do you collaborate together and with the
costume designer and with the lighting designer and with the actors, even, to
make sure that everybody's on a uniform tone for something that's kind of like
Mr. BARRY SONNENFELD: Well, for me--and this is Barry talking--for me, the
definition of a director is a sort of the tone police. And a director has to
decide what the tone of a show is going to be and then make sure everything is
consistent to that tone, whether it be the lighting, the camera angles, the
nature of the way actors talk, the pace in which they talk, the way the camera
covers the way those people talk, the costumes they wear. And, again, A,
based on Bryan's script, the tone to me was quite obvious. Although I will
say that the tone is a very narrow bridge to walk on in this show, that it
could have gotten too joke-y or too sad or too silly. So Bryan's script sort
of defined the tone. It was my job, with Bryan, to maintain that tone in
everything, from visual effects to camera angles to lighting. But that's
the--to me, that's the job of the director.
BIANCULLI: And why the focus on so many stage actors? This is by no means a
complaint, but you have Kristen Chenoweth, Swoozie Kurtz, Ellen Greene, some
really remarkable talent there in supporting roles.
Mr. FULLER: It really wasn't any sort of intentional agenda to get a lot of
stage actors. I think it was, the training of stage performers is more
conducive to the tone of the show. And I used to work on "Star Trek" for many
years, and we often found that since "Star Trek" was a heightened reality that
we would cast a lot of stage actors because they found a way to make that
heightened reality emotionally real. And so with Kristen and Swoozie and
Ellen and Anna and Lee, who all have a lot of stage training, they made the
heightened reality real.
BIANCULLI: Barry, let me ask you a question about the Coen brothers. You
started as a cinematographer on "Blood Simple" and "Raising Arizona,"
"Miller's Crossing," which is one of my absolute favorites. And I'm
wondering, did you develop and absorb their style or did they develop and
Mr. SONNENFELD: You know, Joel and Ethan Coen and I worked on our first
three movies together. In fact, the first time I had ever been on a movie set
in my life or the Coen brothers in their lives, was the first day on the set
shooting "Blood Simple." None of us worked our way up, we just sort of got
lucky and raised some money and made the movie. And I had done a lot of still
photography work before that and loved the wide angle lens. I thought it had
a real energy to it. And so we developed a look together and, you know, I
learned a lot from them and they learned a lot from me. But it was really
incredibly collaborative, very much the way it is now with Bryan and myself on
BIANCULLI: One thing that you do in your films as director that seems to
carry on to the television program is to trust your actors a great deal, to
have some scenes go in wide frame where we get to see what two or three of
them are doing at a time, and to trust them to act. Is that an accurate
assessment, and is that something that you're doing intentionally?
Mr. SONNENFELD: That's an incredibly astute question, and I'm going to take
a minute to answer that. First of all, I think great comedy plays in two
shots because you have action and reaction in the same shot. If you look at
all the screwball comedies by Preston Sturgess or Howard Hawkes, you've got
Cary Grant in a bathrobe and you've got Katharine Hepburn calling him Mr.
Bones, which isn't his name...
Mr. SONNENFELD: ...in "Bringing Up Baby." And the only reason--or part of
the reason that works is because it plays out in a two shot. You have Cary
Grant reacting while Katharine Hepburn is being hysterical in the same shot.
It requires really good writing, first of all, so that you don't need to cover
the scene in order to edit out the bad words or the stuff that you cringe when
you read it going to work that morning. And then, in addition, the director
has to pace the actors to give you the comic pacing in that shot so you don't
have to try to pace up the scene later by covering the close-ups. But I find
a lot of comedies are shot in a really lazy style, with a lot of close-ups.
And I never want to cut to the punchline of a joke. I want the audience to
think they're smarter than me.
Mr. SONNENFELD: So that they see where the joke is, and it's as if they
don't even know that I knew where the joke was. I like them to discover where
the joke is.
BIANCULLI: My guests are Bryan Fuller, the creator of "Pushing Daisies," and
Barry Sonnenfeld, the director. They're both executive producers.
What were the first movies or TV shows you saw that really sparked your
Mr. FULLER: I would say one of the biggest influences on my writing and
imagination was "The Twilight Zone." It's, you know, very often they were one
act plays that had characters that were reacting very realistically to
incredibly absurd situations. And they always kind of had an emotional
realism to them. But we were allowed to see this fantastic world that wasn't
contained within the parameters of reality.
BIANCULLI: Well, Barry, same question to you.
Mr. SONNENFELD: I came very late to movies because I had this painfully shy
childhood. I wasn't a moviegoer. You know, A, I was profoundly thin,
couldn't get a date and didn't want to go to movies by myself. And B, the
only thing you would see at movies was people falling in love and having dates
and getting married. And I knew that wasn't going to happen to me, either.
So I came very, very late to movies and my--the movie that to this day is my
favorite movie that was one of the first movies I saw was "Dr. Strangelove."
BIANCULLI: Oh, wow.
Mr. SONNENFELD: Which is, you know, as black a comedy--you don't want, you
never want to tell anyone you're making a black comedy because the studios
never want to make black comedies. I remember trying to get a movie made at
Paramount after "Addams Family" did over $100 million, and the head of the
studio saying, `Well, you know, we don't make black comedies here.' And I
said, `Well, kind of. "Addams Family?"' But I'm a big black comedy fan, and
"Strangelove" is my favorite movie.
BIANCULLI: Well, that's really interesting because Kubrick films most of the
scenes in "Strangelove" in exactly the way that you've described as you
preferring to set up your comedy scenes.
Mr. SONNENFELD: Well, you know, you're absolutely right. One of the things
that makes "Strangelove" so great is to see Sterling Hayden and Peter Sellers
in the same frame, looking in the same direction, with Jack D. Ripper
explaining why, you know, you can't drink water and milk and, you know, the
whole purity of essence thing.
Mr. SONNENFELD: So that movie is often played in the comedy two shot. And
what makes it hysterical is seeing action and reaction in that same shot. So
when I mentioned Howard Hawkes and Preston Sturgess, I should have also
mentioned Kubrick as he directed "Strangelove."
BIANCULLI: Bryan Fuller, creator of ABC TV series "Pushing Daisies," and
Barry Sonnefeld, director of the show's pilot, in a conversation from last
year. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to my 2007 interview with Bryan Fuller, the creator
of the new series "Pushing Daisies," and film director Barry Sonnenfeld, who
Your first jobs in what we could call show business...
Mr. SONNENFELD: I know where this is going, Dave.
BIANCULLI: You don't even know...
Mr. SONNENFELD: That's so cheap. That's so cheap.
BIANCULLI: Listen, you don't even know to whom this question is directed yet,
because both of you guys broke in, if my information is correct, in fairly
unorthodox and very different fashions. And I was just going to ask who wants
to go first?
Mr. SONNENFELD: I want Bryan to go first.
Mr. FULLER: I started in porn, and that's actually a segue into Barry's
story. So I'll let him go. That was very passive-aggressive of me.
Mr. SONNENFELD: And I wasn't going to mention it. When I got out of film
school I had--I thought I had some talent as a cinematographer. So I thought
if I owned a camera, I could call myself a cameraman without being sort of
effete about it. So I bought a used 16 millimeter camera, and the first job I
got was shooting nine feature length pornos in nine days. The nine days were
so sexually disgusting, perverse and--you know, my theory is if porns included
the sense of smell, no one would ever go see a porn again.
BIANCULLI: Well, thank you for sharing that. So "Blood Simple" would be the
first thing on your resume?
Mr. SONNENFELD: Actually, "Blood Simple" would be the second thing. I shot
a documentary called "In Our Water" that was nominated for an Academy Award.
BIANCULLI: Oh, that's right. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
Mr. SONNENFELD: No, no, no. I love documentaries. And, in fact, it helped
me create--it helped me discover, I didn't create it--it helped me discover a
certain style of shooting involving sort of wide angle lenses. And it's a
different way of shooting documentaries. But "Blood Simple" was the first
time I was a cinematographer on a feature film for the Coen brothers, shot in
BIANCULLI: But didn't you get "Blood Simple" because of your work on the
Mr. SONNENFELD: Oh, no. I got the job on "Blood Simple" because Joel Coen
and myself were the only two Jews at a party filled with WASPs on the Upper
East Side one night. And we sort of smelled each other from across the room
and came together, and we discovered that we had both gone to NYU film school,
although we didn't know each other then. And he was telling me that he'd just
written the script for "Blood Simple" and he was going to shoot a trailer as
if it was a finished film and use that as a technique to raise money. And I
said, `Hey, I own a camera.' And he hired me that night, and we went off and
shot the trailer that would have become the trailer for "Blood Simple." And a
year later we were on a movie set. But, no, it's merely because I owned a
camera that Joel Coen found me that night and hired me.
BIANCULLI: Wow. Which scenes were used in the trailer?
Mr. SONNENFELD: Well, because we didn't have any actors yet, you know,
because we hadn't raised the money, it was shot in a very sort of stylized
way. So we shot the yellow lines of a road. And you know the scene near the
end of "Blood Simple" where Emmet Walsh shots holes through the bathroom...
BIANCULLI: Oh, yes, sure.
Mr. SONNENFELD: ...wall and you see those beams of light. So we re-created
that, but we didn't have what are called squibs or any explosives, so we cut
big round holes in a wall and then patched them up again. And while I dollied
in on the wall, a guy in the back, Don Wiegmann, behind the wall, was hitting
the holes with a hammer. And that's how we created--but, you know, the plugs
went out so fast you didn't see them in the darkness.
So, you know, the funny thing is, we then shot "Blood Simple" and had a real
professional guy with squibs and explosives, and we set the holes according to
a specific pattern, and it didn't look nearly as good as it did with--as
compared to Don Wiegmann with a hammer in the back of the wall.
BIANCULLI: And, Bryan, if you still remember the question.
Mr. FULLER: You asked, Dave.
BIANCULLI: Yes, I'd like you to answer it in terms of--no, no, no. I'm just
saying the way that you broke into the business was very unusual. It may have
smelled better, but...
Mr. FULLER: It was much more olfactory-friendly. I started--I submitted a
spec script to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and got invited in to pitch. So
there was a time when "Star Trek" had an open script submission policy at
which they--which went away shortly afterwards because of the lawsuits. But I
managed to get in under the gun with folks like Ronald Moore who, you know,
re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica" for the Sci-Fi Channel.
Mr. FULLER: And it was a great way to get into writing, and just--I saw the
show. I liked the show a lot and I decided to write a spec script. And I did
and it got me in the door, and I sold a couple of stories. And they gave me a
script, and I was on staff for four years.
BIANCULLI: Can you define what a spec script is?
Mr. FULLER: Oh, a spec script is something that you write that you're not
getting paid for. And oftentimes writers will use them as a resume. It's a
sample of your work that shows that you can actually write a script. And
there's two ways to do it. You can either write an original spec script,
which is basically a pilot that hasn't been ordered, but a pilot that you
would like to see and like to write. And the other one is to look at a show,
an existing show like "Desperate Housewives" or "Ugly Betty" and write an
episode that you come up with and give it to people. So it's a writing
BIANCULLI: And what did you learn most in terms of doing television, and
specifically fanciful television?
Mr. FULLER: I got into writing to become a "Star Trek" writer. I was a
rabid fan. I had shelves and shelves and shelves of action figures in my
bedroom that scared away more dates than I care to admit to. And so it was
really--if back then you told me, `You're going to write for "Star Trek" for
20 years,' I couldn't have imagined a happier career.
But after writing for "Star Trek" for four years and bumping up against the
parameters of the storytelling, which sometimes were very restrictive because
there was always that magical reset button and you could never carry story
arcs over the episodes. Because they were so heavily syndicated that it just
simply wasn't allowed, I began to get itchy and wanting to tell stories with a
little more emotional depth. Because one of the things about the "Star Trek"
universe, especially "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine" and
"Voyager," were that the characters were so much more evolved than we were
that they wouldn't be terrified when they're looking at a giant Borg cube
about to assimilate them. They would handle their jobs and they would behave
responsibly and calmly, and I just had a hard time relating to that after a
certain point. And then my last year on "Voyager" I wrote "Dead Like Me" on
BIANCULLI: Bryan Fuller, Barry Sonnenfeld, thank you very much for being on
Mr. SONNENFELD: Thank you, Dave.
Mr. FULLER: Thank you!
BIANCULLI: Bryan Fuller and Barry Sonnefeld in a conversation from last fall.
Both of them are up for Emmy awards Sunday for their work on "Pushing
Daisies." The first season of that ABC comedy series has just come out on DVD.
I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Mike Myers discusses his father's death, the genesis
of Austin Powers, Guru Pitka, and influences in his life
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.
"The Love Guru" was released on DVD this week. It features the first original
character created for the movies by Mike Meyers since he came up with Austin
Powers and all the colorful alter-egos for that series of film comedies. When
Mike Myers was a cast member of "Saturday Night Live," from 1989 to 1995, he
became famous for his sketches like "Wayne's World," "Coffee Talk with Linda
Richman" and "Sprockets." In his three "Austin Powers" movies, he played both
the swinging superspy and his arch rival, Dr. Evil. His newest big screen
effort, "The Love Guru," is built around a character he's been developing for
years, Guru Pitka. Pitka has a ritzy ashram in LA where many celebrities come
to seek enlightenment. The character is in part a comic tribute to Deepak
Chopra, whom Myers describes as a close friend. In fact, Myers wrote the
introduction to Chopra's new novel about a comic, a character who bears some
similarities to Myers.
Let's listen to Terry's interview with Mike Myers, recorded this summer when
"The Love Guru" was first released. But first, here's a scene from "The Love
Guru." It's a flashback. The young Pitka, who is still known by his American
name, Maurice, is in India, sitting at the feet of his guru, along with
another young acolyte. The guru is played by Ben Kingsley.
(Soundbite of "The Love Guru")
Mr. BEN KINGSLEY: (As guru) Deepak, why do you want to join the
Unidentified Actor #1: (As Deepak) To seek my true self.
Mr. MIKE MYERS: (As Maurice) All right, kiss ass.
Mr. KINGSLEY: (As guru) Maurice, why do you want to join?
Mr. MYERS: (As Maurice) I want to become a guru so girls will like me, then
I will like myself.
Mr. KINGSLEY: (As guru) Deepak, you'll enjoy love in all forms.
Maurice, you must wear this chastity belt.
(Soundbite of elephant trumpeting)
Mr. MYERS: (As Maurice) Chastity belt? That sucks!
(Soundbite of gong)
(End of soundbite)
TERRY GROSS, host:
Mike Myers, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's a real pleasure to have you here.
Let me start by asking you to describe the character of Guru Pitka.
Mr. MYERS: Well, the character is--he's an American who was raised in an
ashram in India, and he is taught a nondenominational, fictional belief
system, kind of like the force in "Star Wars," called drama. And he's taught
in the ways of drama by his guru, the Guru Tugginmypudha, who is played by Sir
Ben Kingsley, and he's the number two guru in the United States, number two
self-help spiritualist in the United States. Number one is Deepak Chopra, and
he lives in his shadow.
GROSS: Now, Guru Pitka has a self-help book for every problem in the world.
What are some of the titles of his books?
Mr. MYERS: "I Know You Are, But What Am I?" Another book he has about
self-talk is called "Stop Hitting Yourself. Stop Hitting Yourself." And he
has a book on the grieving process called, "What's This? A Dead One of
GROSS: And I like, "If You're Happy and You Know It, Think Again."
Mr. MYERS: Yes, that's correct. Yes.
GROSS: Did you read a lot of those books before writing the movie?
Mr. MYERS: In 1991, my father passed away. Two things emerged creatively
for me. One was Austin Powers. My parents are from Liverpool, England. My
dad used to literally wake me up at night, even on a school night, to watch
British comedies. So Austin Powers is a tribute to all the British comedies
that my father made me watch, in essence. I'm glad he did. And the Guru
Pitka started as a way of dealing with that loss. It kind of rocked my world.
I didn't understand why the universe would take away the one guy I wanted to
see all of this amazing success that was happening, all of my dreams--more
than my dreams because I never thought it would go this well. He died in '91,
and I just started reading. I started reading things, philosophical things,
spiritual, and this is something I've been working on for many, many years. I
wanted to have a very silly delivery system for some ideas that I actually
GROSS: So you were raised in part on British comedies. You say your father
used to wake you up in the middle of the night to show them to you.
Mr. MYERS: He'd be like, `Ooh, there's something really funny.' And I'd be
like half asleep in my jimmy-jams and I knew I had like a math test in the
morning. And he'd go, (Liverpudlian accent) `Well, you can study the math
test in the morning. This is really funny. It's Peter Sellers in "I'm All
Right, Jack," and you'll love it.' And I would wake up and he'd make me a cup
of tea to wake me up. He's like, (Liverpudlian accent) `Ooh, let's make some
tea and watch Peter Sellers.' And it's one of my happiest memories. It was an
amazing bond, you know, with my father. You know, it's...
GROSS: What about James Bond films? Like how were you first exposed to them?
Mr. MYERS: Well, of course, he was British, and so my dad, you know, British
people are--there's nobody more English than an Englishman who no longer lives
in England. And so he lived in Canada, and his house looked like a house in
Liverpool. It was like Canadian on the outside and, you know, filled with,
you know, brass horses and figurines and, you know, pictures of Liverpool and
stuff. James Bond was British. My dad loved Sean Connery. He loved Michael
Caine. Michael Caine because he had a working-class accent. Most actors were
like, (British accent) `Hello. I say, how are you? I'm from England.' And my
dad had a (Liverpudlian accent) Liverpool accent like, you know, `Great, love
He would say the word squirrel, (Liverpudlian accent) `squirrel.' And I'd go,
`Hold on. There's not that many L's in that word.' (Liverpudlian accent)
`Squirrel, cookbook, squirrel.'
And, you know, Michael Caine was one of the first people with a working class
regional accent to be in the movies. Sean Connery was just British cool.
Just, he's British. We're so happy he's--you know what I mean? And, you
know, there's a lot of stuff that you're endowed with, you know?
GROSS: So let me play a scene from "Austin Powers," and this is from the
first "Austin Powers" film. And Austin Powers is on the trail of Dr. Evil,
and he's with a fellow spy, a beautiful spy, of course, played by Elizabeth
Mr. MYERS: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And they're pretending to be husband and wife so that they can check
into the hotel together, and here they are having just checked into their
(Soundbite of "Austin Powers")
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. MYERS: (As Austin Powers) So which side of the bed do you want?
Ms. ELIZABETH HURLEY: (As Vanessa Kensington) You're sleeping on the sofa,
Mr. Powers. In fact, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that
the only reason we're sharing a room is to keep up the context that we're a
married couple on vacation.
Mr. MYERS: (As Austin Powers) Right. Shall we shag now, or shall we shag
later? How do you like to do it? Do you like to wash up first? You know,
top and tails, whore's bath? Personally, before I'm on the job, I like to
give my undercarriage a bit of a "How's your father?"
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's so funny. Mike Myers and Elizabeth Hurley in the first "Austin
Powers" film. And I should say, in that scene, you're wearing an orange
jacket, multicolored striped pants and a blue polka-dot shirt.
Mr. MYERS: Mm-hmm. Yes.
GROSS: So how did you come up with words like, you know, deciding you were
going to use "shag" a lot and "shagadelic"?
Mr. MYERS: I, you know, me and my brothers are the only people in my gene
pool who are not from Liverpool. I have a couple of cousins who are just
north of London, but they were all from Liverpool. And they would say things
like shag and randy and, you know. The genesis, I mean, everything evolves.
The first time I did a character that was like Austin Powers, I did it on
stage. And it was a parody of all those British shows where...
(In character) ...really, really enthusiastic scientist would tell you how
And so it was a show called...
(In character) ..."This Is How It's Made."
And so I would show, like...
(In character) ...`This is a clothes washer, and here we have the barrel that
the clothes go in and a piston that goes up and down. Does that make you
horny? Does it? That piston, does it make you randy? To you, is it Eros
manifest?' And that's where that crazy riff came from, and it just really made
the audience uncomfortable.
And that just was that thing of the '60s and everything that was sexualized,
eroticized. There was sexy jobs, being a stewardess; sexy countries, Sweden.
You know? And just how one day that just didn't happen anymore. And that's
really the genesis of "Austin Powers," is whatever happened to swingers? I
literally was driving home from hockey practice, and I heard "The Look of
Love" by Burt Bacharach and went, `What happened to swingers?'
GROSS: You know, I like in Mel Brooks' movies--a lot of his movies are based
on the premise like, if Mel Brooks was back in history, what would history be
like? You know?
Mr. MYERS: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: If Mel Brooks was a romantic lead, what would that be like? Did you
feel that way about "Austin Powers"? If you, you know, if Mike Myers was this
kind of like international spy, a man of mystery, what would he be like?
Mr. MYERS: Mm. Well, I would be operating from a tremendous amount of low
self-esteem and unprocessed wounding. You know, it's funny, when I started
going out with girls, it was just right at the end of the sexual revolution.
So I watched my older brothers, and I was like, `Wow, this is great. I can't
wait.' And then it was like, `Whaa, whaa, whaa, but not for you.' You know,
that looks great when you're 11. It's like, `Wow, I can't wait.' You know?
`That'll be awesome.' They were like on the game show, and `It's a brand-new
car!' I get on the game show and `It's a donkey.' Whaa, whaa, whaa. So it is
a little bit of a fantasy realized.
But, you know, the main thing that's interesting, you know, "Austin Powers,"
the reason, in my opinion--and this is the dramatic thesis, if you will, of a
very, very broad and silly comedy. And everything I do is broad and silly. I
try and give it an underpinning of something that is on my mind, but
ultimately the delivery system is very broad and silly. But my belief is that
the sexual revolution didn't end because of a sexual counterrevolution. I
don't think the right had anything to do with it, the moral right or whatever
you want to call them. I think what happens is that that kind of swinging is
an unsustainable lifestyle. I think when people cheat, it hurts their
feelings. You know what I mean?
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Mr. MYERS: I think that--you know what I'm saying?
Mr. MYERS: I think that kind of stuff hurts. There's a hangover. There's
an aftertaste. There's a price to be paid.
GROSS: So were you scarred by...
Mr. MYERS: So true love triumphs over lust is the message of "Austin
GROSS: So were you scarred by missing the sexual revolution?
Mr. MYERS: I felt a little ripped off, yes. It didn't seem at all fair.
BIANCULLI: Mike Myers, speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. More after
a break. This is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview from earlier this year with
Mike Myers, writer and star of "The Love Guru." The movie has just come out on
GROSS: Now, there was a period when I was sure you were Jewish even though it
turns out you were raised Protestant.
Mr. MYERS: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: But I think I thought you were Jewish because you did the Linda
Richman character so well on "Saturday Night Live."
Mr. MYERS: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: And she was the Jewish woman from New York with the big '80s
eyeglasses and the bouffant hair that she'd keep fluffing with her hands, and
her conversation always had Yiddish words in it like verklempt...
Mr. MYERS: Yeah.
GROSS: ...and shpilkes.
Mr. MYERS: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: So what did--where did that come from?
Mr. MYERS: Well, when I grew up in Toronto you would hear in culture, like
even the Indians in "F Troop" were like, `I'm an Indian.' You know? `This is
meshugga.' You know?
Mr. MYERS: You know, as a comedy fan, you know, everybody, you know, Phil
Silvers, you see this. My father was like, people weren't American, they
weren't Canadian, they weren't English. They were from "Showbiznia." You
know, Bing Crosby was from Showbiznia.
Mr. MYERS: And you just hear an accent that is New York, and I'm guessing
now New York Jewish, could be New York Italian, it's hard to know. And when I
came to New York I couldn't believe that that accent existed in nature and
that it wasn't just a literary convention. And it all came down to hearing
somebody say, `Would you like a coffee?' A coffee? And I thought k-a-u-p-h-y,
coffee. You mean coffee. And it was daughters, dogs, coffee, you know, no
big whoop. And it's mellifluous. And it's--because of comedy culture, it's
familiar and it's comforting. The language of Yiddish is, I guess, it's
onomatopoetic. You know, to say something is drek--actually the word shrek is
Yiddish for scare. `Oh, I got such a shrek.' And now that I live in New York,
and have since 1989, it's the language of my people, I feel. I get very happy
when I travel abroad and I hear, you know, dogs, daughter, coffee. And, you
know, since I'm 12, pocketbook, online, all of these things that remind me of
what is now my home, which is New York City, you know.
GROSS: What did you love about expressions like verklempt? Like, `I can't
talk now, I'm getting verklempt.'
Mr. MYERS: `I'm getting a little verklempt.' It sounds like it is. You
know, you go into somebody's house and it's schmick, which means clean. `They
keep a very schmick house. Although, there's not enough windows, it's a
little finster.' Which is dark. Nit ahin, nit aher, that's another one I
GROSS: For neither here nor there.
Mr. MYERS: That you know. Yeah, it's nit ahin, nit aher, and gai
gezunterhait...(unintelligible)...these are the things. It feels closer to
the sentiment. It's a very...
GROSS: But does verklempt mean...
Mr. MYERS: ...expressive language.
GROSS: Verklempt means `I'm getting choked up.'
Mr. MYERS: Yes.
Mr. MYERS: And then some stuff I made up. Like shpilkes is real, but
"geneckteckessoink" is not. You know? `He has shpilkes in his
geneckteckessoink. I'm getting a little verklempt when I talk about him.
He's in Boca Raton. He's recovering nicely, but he is shpilkes in his
GROSS: Now, you were a child performer. I mean, you were in commercials
starting when you were nine or 10. Did you get the kind of training
that--like a lot of kids in the '60s and maybe in the '70s, too, were trained
as if they were old vaudevillians, you know, like they would need to tap dance
and sing and do comedy and acting.
Mr. MYERS: Right.
GROSS: Were you trained to do all of that?
Mr. MYERS: I wasn't. You know, Conan O'Brien, when I first got on the show,
because he was a writer on "Saturday Night Live," he looked at me and he said,
`You're from olden days, you're from yesteryear.' And I went, `I guess I am.'
I don't know. Just recently PBS had a pledge, and they had the singing and
dancing documentary, and I was watching, you know, "An American in Paris" and
"Gigi." And I was like, `God, I want to make a movie like that.' Then I
thought, of course, not at that level of skill, but in my own way, I did sort
of make movies like that. There is dancing in "Austin Powers" and in "The
GROSS: There's a little "Singing in the Rain" tribute.
Mr. MYERS: Yeah. And I'm just saying it's like, you know, I think I'm old
school that way. I think the training I did as an actor as a child ultimately
is irrelevant to what I did in my adult years. I think it's night and day. I
think, you know, when you're a little kid it's the, `Isn't it great that he
can do that for a little kid.' And then once you hit 18 there's no `for a
little kid,' you know, disclaimer attached to it. I loved doing it as a kid.
It was very, very interesting. My real training began at "Saturday Night
GROSS: What's the worst thing that happened to you live on "Saturday Night
Live"? The thing that really caught you up short.
Mr. MYERS: On "Sprockets," it was "Dieter's Dance Party." And Lorne said,
`If you can take two minutes out of the sketch, the sketch gets in.' And he
said this with--the show's at 11:30, he said this at 11:10. So I ran
"Broadcast News" style to the PAs and I made cuts, and it went from "Dieter's
Dance Party Top 10" to "Dieter's Dance Party Top 5." And they still hadn't
changed the cue cards. And so some dude was behind the cue card guy sweat,
buckets of sweat, changing the cue cards, because you can never really
memorize your lines on "Saturday Night Live" because they change all the time
because of standards and practices and Lorne's notes between dress and air.
And I had to stall at one point. I go, `Number three,' you know, "Who Are You
to Accuse Me?' or whatever the name of the song was. `Number four, uhhhhh.' I
did an `uhhhhhh,' And the dude was furiously writing on the card.
"Shreibmaschin" by The Love People, or whatever the name of it was.
The other thing was when I did "Wayne's World" it was a cold opening. It was
the day that the Gulf War broke out. It was being changed 33 seconds up until
air because we wanted to make sure that if the invasion, the first Gulf War,
was going to be horrendous casualties that we would be sensitive to the people
in the armed forces. So anything that we thought might suggest, I don't know,
being anything other than appreciative of the men in the armed services, we
cut with 33 seconds to go to a live show. So those are the two moments that
were very significant to me.
I've also cracked my head a million times backstage.
Mr. MYERS: My body is mostly--oh, sure, because I go night blind. You know,
it's very, very bright lights and then you go backstage to make a quick
change, and I can't see anything. Literally they have to, you know, pull me
by the hand. I've like cut open my hand. My head is mostly scar tissue now.
GROSS: Have you been bleeding live on the air?
Mr. MYERS: Yes, I have. And then you just have to put the bleeding hand
downstage behind your back.
GROSS: Seriously? Yeah?
Mr. MYERS: Oh, many times. I get very nervous or not--it's adrenaline. And
sometimes you cut yourself, you don't even know it.
Mr. MYERS: And I've like knocked out teeth. I've got a scar over my right
eye. My hand is all cut up. Many, many, many, many quick change accidents.
GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. MYERS: Not at all. My pleasure.
BIANCULLI: Mike Myers speaking to Terry Gross last June. "The Love Guru" is
now out on DVD.
Coming up, David Edelstein reviews two new movies, "Towelhead" and "Hounddog."
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: David Edelstein on the films "Towelhead" and "Hounddog"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Two movies in limited release explore the topic of underage rape.
"Towelhead," set in suburbia in the early '90s, is directed by Alan Ball,
whose movie "American Beauty" examined that same place and time. "Hounddog"
is set in the '50s in the rural South and stars Dakota Fanning as a
13-year-old who worships Elvis Presley. Our film critic David Edelstein
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: Underage girls are raped in "Towelhead" and "Hounddog,"
and while both films condemn the act, obviously, the approaches are so
different it's worth going beyond the moralizing to consider their ways of
framing the violation. "Towelhead" is a faithful adaptation of Alicia Erian's
novel about a 13-year-old mixed-race girl Jasira, played by Summer Bishil.
Men have started sniffing around her. Her mother's boyfriend volunteers to
shave her pubic hair, which results in her being punished, sent off to live in
the Houston suburbs with her Lebanese dad. Men of all ages and cultures
project on Jasira like crazy. Her father slaps her when she wears a revealing
outfit. Her neighbor, a racist military reservist played by Aaron Eckhart,
shares his porn magazines. She likes them. She might like him, until he goes
It's incendiary material, but director Alan Ball cools it down and keeps it at
an ironic distance. He presents Jasira as a ripe sexual object, and as I
watched, I didn't know how to feel. Ball wants to suggest the girl's mixture
of victimization and, on some level, sexual excitement, a mixture that's
finally irreconcilable. But in Erian's novel, that detached tone comes across
as Jasira's way of protecting herself, to keep from disintegrating as her
natural desires are turned against her. Ball's detachment feels clinical; it
deadens the audience.
The press dubbed Deborah Kampmeier's "Hounddog" "the Dakota Fanning rape
film," and rumors of its subject provoked denunciations and even death
threats. But whatever else it is or isn't, "Hounddog" is not remotely
exploitive. It's an allegory of subjugation and emancipation, of liberation
through art. It unfolds in the '50s in rural Alabama, a lazy and
beautiful--but dangerous--place, where Fanning's pre-pubescent Lewellen
literally shakes off the oppression of her brutal father, played by David
Morse, and her puritanical grandmother, played by Piper Laurie. She sings
Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" and wriggles her body. Her renditions are goofy
and unself-conscious and blissful.
(Soundbite of "Hounddog")
Ms. DAKOTA FANNING: (As Lewellen, singing)
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
Cryin' all the time
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FANNING: (As Lewellen, singing) Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine
(Soundbite of kiss)
Ms. FANNING: (As Lewellen, singing) Well, they said you was high class
But that was just a lie
Well, they said you was high class
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FANNING: (As Lewellen, singing) But that was just a lie
Well, you ain't never caught a rabbit
And you ain't no friend of mine
(Soundbite of drums)
Mr. ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) You ain't nothin' but a...
(End of soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: When a little playmate says he can get her a ticket to an
Elvis concert, she eagerly follows him into a barn, where a teenage boy waits
in the shadows. The rape isn't explicit, and Lewellen endures it with an air
of disbelief. Her powerlessness takes awhile to sink in.
The focus of "Hounddog" isn't child rape anymore than Elvis worship. It
opens--too heavy handedly--with a snake sliding up a branch, and serpents are
everywhere. But Kampmeier finds a way to turn the clunky symbols inside
out--literally. Although Lewellen never tells anyone what happened, a black
caretaker, played by Afemo Omilami, finds out and sees how she's shut down and
stopped singing. When he tries to engage her, she calls him the N word, and
he says they both are that. Both have been demeaned and poisoned. He guts a
rattler and squeezes out its venom, and the metaphor is right there: the
poison can be used. Maybe Lewellen will never sing "Hound Dog" with the same
childish abandon, but she might, if she can muster the courage, come closer to
the meaning of the song. She could sing it like the blues.
It's easy to criticize "Hounddog" for being too obvious, and Kampmeier
could've been craftier in making the black man more of an individual than a
healing angel. But the film is haunting anyway. Fanning is a child actor
with a grownup soul, and every move, every breath, seems mysteriously right.
Early on, you're torn between elation at her openness and the urge to cry a
warning. Those conflicting feelings are never resolved, but the movie does
suggest a means of transcendence through art and pop culture, whereas
"Towelhead" hides behind fashionable cynicism. Both films, however, pose the
same urgent question: How can any girl navigate this oversexualized culture
without giving up something of herself? However much we think we've advanced,
the question lingers, crying out to be transformed into works like these.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.